Rosa Luxemburg

What Now?


First Published: Die Gleichheit, February 5th, 1912.
Source: Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, edited and introduced by Robert Looker.
Translated: (from the German) W.D. Graf.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins with special thanks to Robert Looker for help with permissions.
Copyright: Random House, 1972, ISBN/ISSN: 0224005960. Printed with the permission of Random House. Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004.


For almost two years the activities of the Social-Democratic Party were geared mainly to the Reichstag elections. The great event is now behind us, and we can review the overall situation. Have the Reichstag elections created a completely new situation which holds new political prospects and perhaps demands a change in the tactics that our party has employed until now? Reading the liberal papers, one might almost think so. For the liberal press is filled with victory exultations and joyful ecstasy: the Blue-Black Block has been beaten, an oppositional Leftist majority has been returned to the Reichstag over the Junker-clerical reaction, and all this is a result of the determined liberal-bourgeois front against the Right! The mutual assistance of liberalism and Social Democracy on the second and third ballots, it is said, has brought about this fundamental change in the political situation. Now let the liberals in Germany indulge themselves in the pleasant anticipation that the fraternal covenant between the workers’ party and the bourgeoisie in the Reichstag will become a permanent one. This diet might not seem a bad one, especially to the palates of the handful of peculiar enthusiasts within our own ranks, who for a considerable time have hoped that a ‘great block’ ranging ‘from Bassermann to Bebel’ would bring about a decisive change in German politics, and who have prophesied a joyous resurrection of a liberalism once generally supposed to be dead. Unfortunately, this loudly self-proclaimed resurrection of bourgeois liberalism is again nothing more than a great humbug. The joyful faith that liberalism’s boasts have inspired in many Social Democrats could only thrive in the first delirium of victory.

‘Figures and facts, facts and figures!’ as Mister Gradgrind in Dickens’s Hard Times would say. How does the legend of the manly virtue of liberalism appear in the light of figures and facts? On the first ballot, its Left wing gained zero mandates, its Right wing 4. This signified a return to the situation of 1903, the normal situation, and the primary fact established here is this: liberalism no longer exists on its own strength as an independent political party. The brave warrior with whom, arm in arm, Social Democracy is supposed to challenge the century, can itself exist only by the grace of Social Democracy or of the Reaction.

Then came the second ballot and liberalism’s real heroic deeds began. Only in Bavaria and in the Imperial Provinces [Alsace-Lorraine] did the masses of liberal voters generally stand by the slogan, ‘the front against the right’, on the second and third ballots. And how did they vote in the rest of the Reich? On the day of the first ballot, the People’s Party handed over sixteen constituencies to the Reaction, and the National Liberals did the same in two constituencies. On the day of the second ballot, the People’s Party unhesitatingly played two constituencies into the anti-Semites’ hands; except for Cologne and Heilbronn, the liberal voters in virtually all the other districts scattered in such a way that though a small number did vote for Social Democracy, a far greater number went over to the Reaction, and fell upon Social Democracy from the rear. If we were able, nevertheless, to win such a great number of mandates on the second ballot, this was ultimately possible only because we brought other reserves to the polling-booths, and particularly because on the first ballot we had already gained a lead sufficiently large that not even the liberal turncoats were able to trip us up. And the same thing, only worse, happened on the day of the third ballot: in every constituency in which we were victorious, the majority of progressives and of National Liberals defected to the camp of Reaction. Of the 11,000 progressive votes in Potsdam-Osthavelland, for example, 1,200 fell to Social Democracy and 6,200 to the Reich Party! On this ballot, too, our victory would have been impossible without the heavy preponderance of our voters from the first ballot. In very few constituencies did the liberal votes that we received in the last two ballots outweigh the liberal votes that strengthened the Reaction against us.

That the results of the last two ballots were so different in comparison with those of the first ballot is thus not rooted in facts such as that the liberal troops, after making a few blunders, resolutely marched forward along the austere road of virtue. This phenomenon can be explained by the much more simple fact that the government’s wise strategy was to bring its big guns to bear first of all on precisely those constituencies in which it was in the stronger position vis-a-vis Social Democracy, where the government, as the strongest party, was in the lead from the outset in the run-off elections of the last two days. The legend of the great saving electoral assistance rendered to Social Democracy by the liberals can thus be traded on by the progressives who have every reason to delude themselves and the world. It was not due to the liberals’ assistance, but in spite of the betrayal by the liberal masses, that so many mandates fell to us. Our own strength carried us to victory where we were opposed by progressives and by National Liberals, and in the final analysis our own strength generally carried us to victory wherever the Reaction opposed us. Our own 4½ million voters, the Social-Democratic masses, triumphantly carried our banners from their first powerful onslaught right up to the last ballot, ignoring the Reaction’s resistance and the liberals’ betrayal.

It may be in the interests of the liberal politicians to conceal these facts. Social Democracy, by contrast, would be guilty of the political fighter’s greatest mistake – underestimating its own power – were it to lend its support to this liberal legend. Drawing on its own power, which is more independent than ever, drawing on the primeval historical strength of the proletarian class struggle, and borne by its opposition to all bourgeois parties, Social Democracy won its great victory. And we would be doing an injustice to the enthusiastic proletarian masses who thronged to us in their millions if we were to diminish victory, their victory, by falsely interpreting it according to the liberals’ wish. Admittedly there have been those on our side who have for the moment confused the clearly drawn line of the main struggle, and who have helped to exaggerate the legend of the liberals as our comrades-in-arms and of the liberals’ acts of valour. But this was done by means of a somewhat too industrious attempt to court liberal support on the part of our central organ, and then in the run-off campaign by means of the slogan, ‘against Blue-Black Block’, which our leading officials, in consonance with the liberals, declaimed somewhat too loudly. A detached examination of the results, however, reveals that from beginning to end we fought and won on our own strength, and that for the most part the liberals’ assistance was an optical illusion. In the end it turned out to be merely a negative virtue consisting in the fact that a very few liberal voters did not vote against us and for right-wing reactionary candidates. To be sure, our victory in many of the closely contested constituencies would have been prevented had all the liberals gone over to the Reaction. But if one examines the power relationships from party to party, is this a service which can be attributed to and praised as the foundation of a reliable relationship between brothers-in-arms? The inconsistent, undisciplined mass of liberal voters, the majority of whom could go over to the Reaction at any time, is not an army with which the Reaction can be defeated. ‘No sword will I forge from pap,’ sings Siegfried. And if the majority of liberals – the progressives included – ordinarily gave the Reaction a helping hand, despite their parties’ electoral slogans, they were also strongly supported by the Reaction. This is an established fact – no matter what songs the bards of liberalism may sing about their latest epic of heroism. Conservatives and anti-Semites helped the progressives to beat us in a dozen constituencies. In a further dozen, their attempts at lending them a helping hand were beaten back by the superior power of Social Democracy.

Thus the inner wretchedness of bourgeois liberalism, as well as its intimate connection with the Reaction, has been reaffirmed admirably in this election. And thus the sole actual result of the glorious brothers-in-arms relationship between the liberals and Social Democracy is the certainty that the masses of Social-Democratic voters saved from the deluge a few dozen deputies of this liberal species for the Reichstag.

It would be a miracle if all this had happened in any other way. Parliamentary manoeuvres and electoral strategies cannot change historical facts, conjure away class interests and bridge class conflicts. The development of large-scale capitalism in Germany, which in recent years has proceeded powerfully and with such dizzying speed, and the imperialist age of global politics, which has just arrived with drums beating and trumpets sounding, will not be eliminated by any cunning parliamentary device. Their brazen logic, however, does lead to an increasing fragmentation of bourgeois society, and their brazen stride is trampling clown mercilessly the last remnants of what is called bourgeois liberalism and bourgeois progress. The notion of a resurrection of bourgeois liberalism in Germany for purposes of a joint action with Social Democracy against the Reaction – and the idea that it could happen now, in the age of growing imperialism – is nothing more than a foolish dream, nothing but a counterfeit. Only those who have an interest in confusing the proletariat’s class-consciousness could pass off this piece of tin as real money.

Let those who have such an interest, namely liberal organs of the type of the Berliner Tageblatt, or politicians such as Herr Haussmann, jump for joy and triumphantly hoist the banner of the united Left over the debris of the Blue-Black Block – this is the ‘Left’ whose majority is supposed to include the same National Liberal Party which only yesterday the Berliner Tageblatt itself, in a lucid moment, called ‘a fallen maiden’. Social Democracy cannot base its hopes and its battle strategy on the ‘fallen maidens’ of bourgeois liberalism. Instead it must say to itself in sober recognition: the Blue-Black parties have been beaten, but Blue-Black politics still predominate. The next military bill will show that in the new Reichstag social Democracy will be just as isolated as ever in its opposition to the Reaction. However, if one is in favour of militarism and imperialism, one must also be iii favour of the indirect taxation and tariffs which are a part of these, in the same way that ‘b’ follows ‘a’. The united majority of the bourgeois parties on military and colonial questions might at best be shaken somewhat by a domestic controversy on questions of taxation and tariffs; the controversy might well revolve around a larger or smaller loophole in the inheritance tax law intended to conceal the robbery of the mass of working people. The questions of militarism and imperialism today represent the central axis around which political life revolves. In these questions and not, for example, in the question of ministerial responsibility, lies the key to the political situation. And, considered from this point of view, the result of the great election campaign, as far as we are concerned, is the knowledge that the political situation has remained the same, except in so far as it has grown even riper. We must be prepared not for a decline but for a mighty upswing of imperialism and thus an increase in class conflicts. And, accordingly, the dominant feature of the situation in the new Reichstag is not an antithesis between ‘Right’ and ‘Left’, but, as before, the old antithesis between all the bourgeois parties and Social Democracy. To make the masses of the people aware of this as acutely as is humanly possible – and this in opposition to all the drivel of liberal-historical falsification – this is the primary, urgent task of our party.

An important new state of affairs, and in this sense a new situation, has of course been created by the last elections. This is the unique growth of Social Democracy’s power, the product of the acute class development and of the party’s role as the pillar of the revolutionary proletarian class struggle. Such an increase in power imposes certain obligations on our party. If we did not use the enormous growth of the masses of our supporters to gain new conquests for the class-conscious proletariat, to advance the cause of socialism, then we would prove ourselves unworthy of victory.


The primary concern of liberal politicians after the great election campaign is naturally the world-shaking question: who shall be President of the Reichstag? But for a party such as Social Democracy, whose power lies not in parliament, nor in parliamentary manoeuvres and back-room string-pulling, but outside in the mass of 44 million people, the post of president in a bourgeois parliament constituted by a three-quarters majority, which we oppose as vigorously as possible on all vital questions concerning the people, is a matter of sincere indifference. If this post even brings us into conflict with our republican principles, we can let it be stolen from us by some liberal. specialist in parliamentary pomposity. We will best serve the needs of the hungry and enslaved millions who have placed their hopes in us, who have given us their trust, if we acquire positions of real power, not decorative sham posts, in a parliament in which we do not have a majority. And our party can create for itself a position of real power in parliament only if it applies thoroughgoing, vigorous and resolute battle tactics. As the strongest party by far in the Reich, we are obliged to change over to the offensive all along the line, thus making the interests and demands of the millions standing behind us the focus of political life.

Our first urgent task, then, is to continue the struggle for the right to vote in Prussia. It will soon be two years since we deferred our great mass actions designed to conquer the democratic franchise in Prussia in order to concentrate all our strength on the Reichstag elections. Now the elections are past, victory is ours and this very victory obliges us to resume with redoubled force the mass actions aimed at taking the three-class parliament by storm. The Prussian three-class franchise must collapse like a rotten hulk before the Social-Democratic victory parade of universal suffrage throughout the Reich. It is now up to us to summon the power of the proletarian masses who will complete the work of dismantling this political class stronghold.

It is also imperative, however, that we take the offensive in the Reichstag against our main enemy – Imperialism. The first great controversy between our parliamentary party and German imperialism, fought on the basis of the Moroccan Affair, showed that our parliamentary tactics against this enemy do not yet possess the necessary finesse. Since the struggle against imperialism played such a prominent role in the elections and found such unqualified agreement among the masses of people throughout the Reich, we are obliged to oppose imperialism in the Reichstag with extreme thoroughness and unrelenting principle. We must now give battle on all fronts in the Reichstag to the nationalistic clap-trap that dogged our every step in the election campaign and that lurks in militarism, naval policy, colonialism, threats of war and personal rule. The best opportunity of doing this would be to ward off the impending new military and naval bills with a draft of a bill for the abolition of the standing army and for the implementation of the militia system. If we were to press our old programme demands in their full scope and in all their consequences, we would bring about a fundamental debate between us on the one hand and imperialism and all its manifestations on the other. This confrontation would lend a mighty echo in parliament to the consciousness and outlook of the millions who have just spoken with their ballots.

To protect the threatened right to vote for the Reichstag, we are called upon to mount a powerful attack. The best defence is offence. Social Democracy will attack effectively in the form of a proposal for the full democratization of the right to vote for the Reichstag. The party cannot content itself with joining up with the liberals to demand a redistribution of the constituencies, but must advance all its programmatic demands concerning the right to vote. This includes the demand for female suffrage and civic rights for all persons of age. Our young women and our young men under the age of twenty-five have contributed so much towards the illustrious victory of Social Democracy that they have proved their political maturity, have earned their political declaration of maturity.

Also the question of the masses’ daily bread, which was at the centre of the election campaign, must be the cause for a powerful attack. The 44 million Social-Democratic votes are the cry of a multitude: ‘Away with tariffs on foodstuffs, away with indirect taxes!’ Our parliamentary party must make this cry of the starving masses heard in the Reichstag. A speedy proposal for the repeal of all duties and taxes on foodstuffs is a compelling reminder of our parliamentary duty.

And finally, the great tasks await us in the area of social policy. The huge masses of supporters, as well as the masses of people who are three times as numerous, that are standing behind us now, expect positive work from us. Positive work not merely in the sense that permeates all our activities of enlightenment, but also in the narrower sense of an energetic struggle for reforms in social policy. As the strongest party in the German Reichstag we are clearly obliged to free ourselves from the defensive role which we have long had to play in order to resist the relentless and inflammatory attacks of the Reaction. The Reaction’s intrigues against the workers’ right to organize can most successfully be thwarted by a forcible Social-Democratic offensive. And here the demand of our party programme that represents the cornerstone of our whole modern social policy – the statutory eight-hour day – presents itself.

For years the Social-Democratic parliamentary party has not introduced a bill relating to this matter. Our last effort in this direction was to demand that the government submit a bill for the implementation of the ten-hour working day, to be reduced gradually to the eight-hour day. It is evident that Social Democracy’s present position of power requires much more energetic action; it must introduce its own bill for the implementation of the eight-hour day. Such a bill will enable us to speak most sincerely to the proletarian multitudes who have rejoined us after formerly supporting the Centre Party. This bill will also best enable us to promote our trade unions who played such a full part in our electoral victory and who are now entitled to reap the benefits of this victory. Furthermore, there could not be a more favourable economic situation than the present one to start a broad agitation for the eight-hour day in parliament and in the country. We are living in a period of marked industrial prosperity. The harnessing of large-scale production in the two leading branches of industry, coal and iron; the high import and export figures that Germany has attained in the past year; the increased capitalization of the banks and the great corporations; the great amounts of dividends – all these show that capital is again reaping a golden harvest. This favourable economic situation, together with the huge growth of Social Democracy’s power, must be transformed into energetic action for the eight-hour day. This action requires a parliamentary offensive; our parliamentary party must be the spokesman, the mouthpiece of a great mass agitation in the whole Reich.

This offensive must take place all along the line: in the struggle for the right to vote in Prussia, in the struggle against imperialism, in the struggle for cheap bread and in the positive work of social policy! Like our electoral victory, the resoluteness and keenness of our parliamentary and extra-parliamentary action must be exemplary. Let us not speculate on the grotesque possibilities of forming a coalition with the wretched liberal mandate-chasers. Instead, let us pursue the independent, bold and fundamental tactics of class struggle, for this is how we must demonstrate to the International how the proletariat can exploit parliamentary means to achieve the ultimate revolutionary goal of Social Democracy.

Last updated on: 3.12.2008