Rosa Luxemburg

On the Fallen Women of Liberalism


First Published:
Source: New International, July 1942, pp.184-186.
Translated: (from the German) E. Lund
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins
Copyleft: Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The Reichstag elections of 1912 were viewed by the German liberal bourgeoisie as an important test of strength against the Kaiser and his landowner-militarist support. Though not able to control the executive branch of the government, the Reichstag had authority to legislate on questions of such first-rate importance to the bourgeoisie as the budget, taxes and tariffs. With the help of the Social Democracy, the bourgeois Liberals hoped to establish their control over the financial affairs of the Reich.

The leaders of the Social Democratic Party were only too willing to cooperate in such a “People’s Front” against reaction. They entered into electoral agreements whereby they pledged mutual support wherever either of them was confronted by a reactionary candidate in the run-offs.

Rosa Luxemburg subjected this attempt to blur class lines into a revealing analysis. In the following article she sums up the lessons of the “People’s Front” bloc.

For almost two years now, the life of the Social Democracy has been tuned for the Reichstag elections. That great event is now passed and we can make a survey of the general situation. Has an entirely new situation been created by the elections, which promises new political prospects and perhaps even demands a change in the tactics hitherto pursued by the party? One would almost believe this from a reading of the Liberal sheets. A triumphant jubilation and intoxicated joy runs through the Liberal press: the Black and Blue bloc [Bloc of right wing parties, representing the monarchists. militarists, church hierarchy, etc.] has been defeated, an oppositional majority of the Left has been created against the junker-Clerical reaction in the Reichstag, and all this – a result of the presentation of a firm front of the liberal bourgeoisie against the Right! The mutual electoral support of the Liberals and the Social Democrats, so they put it, has brought about this sudden fundamental change in the political situation.

Germany’s political heavens would really resound with the music of the liberal violins if only the alliance of the workers’ party and the bourgeoisie in the Reichstag would ever become a lasting one. These melodies may not sound bad, particularly to the ears of that handful of peculiar enthusiasts in our own ranks who have for some time hoped for a decisive change in the German political scene as a result of a “great bloc from Basserman [Leader of right wing bourgeois Liberals.] to Bebel,” and have prophesied the happy resurrection of a liberalism now generally believed to be dead. The present resurrection, proclaimed with self-intoxication, is also, alas, nothing but a big humbug. This happy belief, which even impressed many a social democrat with its braggadocio, could only arise in the first intoxication of victory.

“Facts and figures, facts and figures!” as Mr. Bounderby in Dickens’ Hard Times would put it. What does the legend of the manly virtues of liberalism look like in the light of figures and facts? In the general election the right wing of liberalism won only four seats while the left wing won none. With this, the situation of 1903 returned to normal again and the first established fact is this: liberalism, as an independent party standing on its own strength, no longer exists. The proud champion with whom Social-Democracy is to ride into battle arm in arm can continue to live only by the grace of either the Social-Democracy or of the reactionaries. Then came the run-off elections and now the real heroic deeds of liberalism began. Only in Bavaria and in the Reich provinces do the liberal voters generally follow the slogan, “the front against the Right” in the first two run-off elections. What, however, was their position throughout the rest of the country? In the first run-off election, the Peoples Party delivered sixteen districts to the reactionaries. The National Liberals did the same in two districts. In the second run-off, the Peoples Party handed over two districts to the anti-Semites. With the exception of Cologne and Heilbronn, the liberal voters divided in such a way that a small part voted for the Social-Democracy and the greater number went over to reaction and stabbed the Social-Democracy in the back. The fact that we still won such a large number of seats in the second run-off election was possible because we still had reserves to bring to the polls and particularly because we already had taken such a lead in the first elections as to prevent the liberal traitors from causing us a worse disaster. And exactly the same, yes, worse, occurred in the third run-off; in every district where we won, the “progressives,” just like the National Liberals, went over in their majorities to the camp of reaction. For example, of the 11,000 Progressive votes in Potsdam-Osthavelland, 1,200 went to the Social-Democracy and 6,200 to the Reichs Party! Our victory would also have been impossible on this election day had not the general election given us such a strong preponderance. Only a very few districts did the liberal votes which we received counter-balance that given to the reactionaries.

The difference in the results of the last two run-off elections in comparison to the first is not due to the liberals taking, after many a stumble, to the difficult path of virtue and decisively marching forward. It explains itself as being due to a much simpler circumstance. The clever strategy of the government sent those districts in which the Social-Democracy was weakest to the firing line first, while on the last two election days the Social-Democracy stood in the lead as the strongest party from the outset. The legend of the great rescuing electoral help of the Liberals for Social-Democracy can therefore only be peddled by the Progressives, who have every reason in the world to bamboozle everybody, themselves included. Not thanks to the help of the Liberals, but despite their betrayals did we win so many seats. It was with our own strength that we won where the Progressives and National Liberals opposed us and it as generally due to our own strength where we won over reaction. Our own 4,250,000 voters, the Social-Democratic masses, carried our banners victoriously from the first attack to the last run-off against the opposition of the reactionaries and the treachery of the liberals.

It is well understood that it may be in the interests of the Liberal politicians to conceal these facts. Were the Social-Democracy, however, to support the Liberal legend it would be guilty of the gravest error of a political strategist – the underestimation of your own strength. The Social-Democracy has gained its greatest victory with its own strength, a strength created by the proletarian class struggle, more self-reliant than ever, and in opposition to all the bourgeois parties. And it would be an injustice to the enthusiastic masses of proletarians who streamed to us in the millions, were we to belittle this victory, their victory, by giving it an insane interpretation in the sense that the liberals do. It is true that on our part we apparently momentarily blurred the clear lines of the main struggle and helped to pull up the legend of a brotherhood in arms with the liberals and of their heroic deeds. This resulted in the first place, from a too active solicitation of Liberal support on the part of our central organ, then, during the whole run-off campaign, in which our leading bodies advanced in unison with the Liberals, a little too vociferously the slogan “against the Black and Blue bloc.”

Now, however, a cool examination of the facts shows that we fought and conquered, from beginning to end, with our own strength and that the help from the Liberals was, on the whole, an illusion. It reveals itself in the end to have been an entirely negative virtue in that every last Liberal vote was not cast for the reaction and against us. Granted that a victory would have been impossible in some of the closely fought districts if the Liberals would have gone over to reaction in their entirety. But is that a merit to be marked to their credit and made the basis of a reliable alliance when one examines the relationship of forces from party to party? The loose, undisciplined troop of Liberal voters, the majority of whom will go over to reaction every time, are no army with which reaction can be defeated. “Out of pap I cannot bake a sword,” sings Siegfried. And as the Liberals, the Progressives included, despite the official election slogans of their parties, rendered throughout in their majorities, reinforcements to reaction, the latter, in turn, gave them powerful support. Regardless of what fables the bards of the newest heroic epic of liberalism may originate, the fact remains: The Conservatives and anti-Semites helped the Progressives to victory over us in a dozen districts and the National Liberals in another dozen. In still other districts their assistance was defeated by the overwhelming power of the Social-Democracy.

Thus has liberalism completely confirmed its inherent wretchedness and its homogeneity with reaction in this election as before. And so about the only real result of the glorious alliance of Liberalism and Social-Democracy that remains is by all means the undoubted fact that the masses of Social-Democratic voters saved for the Reichstag some dozen deputies of the Liberal brand who would otherwise have been swept away in the flood.

And it would be a wonder if all of this had turned out differently. Parliamentary checker-board moves and election strategy cannot alter historical facts, banish class interests, or bridge class contradictions. The development of Germany on the basis of monopoly capitalism which has progressed in recent years with great force and at a dizzying pace, and the imperialist epoch of world politics, which has recently been ushered in with a beating of drums, cannot be gotten rid of through parliamentary tricks. Its iron logic leads to an ever deeper division of bourgeois society, and its iron step stamps out mercilessly the remains of what calls itself bourgeois progress and bourgeois Liberalism. A resurrection of Liberalism in Germany for common action with the Social-Democracy against reaction – entirely excluded now in the era of growing capitalism can, therefore, only be the dream of a fool or a piece of outright fakery. These wooden nickels can only be passed off as genuine coins by those who are interested in confusing the class consciousness of the proletariat.

Liberal organs of the type of the Berliner Tageblatt and politicians like Herr Hausmann may perform joyous somersaults on the ruins of the Black and Blue bloc and triumphantly hoist the flag of the “United Left” – that Left which is to encompass in its majority the same National Liberal Party which the Berliner Tageblatt only yesterday, in an enlightened moment, called “a fallen woman.” The Social-Democracy cannot build its hopes and plans of battle on the “fallen women” of bourgeois Liberalism. On the contrary, it must say to itself with sober understanding: The parties of the Black and Blue bloc are defeated, but the politics of the Black and Blue Bloc continue to rule. The next military bill will show that the Social-Democracy is still the only foe of reaction, as before. Who, however, is for militarism and imperialism is also for the indirect taxes and tariffs that are as much a part of it as B follows A. The unanimous majority of the bourgeois parties on the military and colonial question will, at most, be shaken on the tariff and tax questions by a family quarrel over the larger and smaller fig-leaf of the inheritance tax that is supposed to hide the plunder of the toiling masses. The questions of militarism and imperialism are at the central axis of political life today. In them, and not in the question of a responsible ministry, lies the key to the political situation. And from this viewpoint, the result of the great electoral battle for us is the understanding that the political situation remains the same, it has only ripened. We cannot expect a decline of capitalism, but, rather, a mighty upswing, and with it, a growing sharpening of the class contradictions. And flowing from this, we have as the situation in the Reichstag, not the opposition of the “Right” to the “Left,” but, now as before, the old opposition of the bourgeois parties as a whole to the Social-Democracy. To bring this to the consciousness of the masses as sharply as possible, in opposition to the Liberal falsifiers of history, that is the first pressing task of our party.

A new and important factor and, in this sense, a new situation, has, to be sure, been created by the last election, This is the unexampled increase in the Social-Democracy as a result of the sharp class developments and as a bearer of the revolutionary class struggle. Such an increase of strength lays duties upon our party. Not to utilize the great increase in the number of our supporters to gain new conquests for the class-conscious proletariat, to further advance the cause of socialism, would make us unworthy of the victory.

Rosa Luxemburg

Last updated on: 3.12.2008