Rosa Luxemburg

The Political Mass Strike


First Spoken: July 22, 1913 to the Fourth Berlin constituency.
First Published: Vorwärts, July 24, 1913.
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.

In Germany, the problem of the political mass strike was earlier discussed under the mighty pressure of the great Russian Revolution of 1905, a revolution in which the application of the mass strike brought both defeat and victory to the Russian proletariat. The resolution of the Jena Party Congress [September 1905] was the outcome of this discussion. This resolution declared the political mass strike to be a weapon of the proletariat also applicable in Germany. There followed a period when debate on this problem subsided. Then in 1910 there was a further spirited discussion of the political mass strike in connection with our action to secure the right to vote in Prussia. The mass actions were deliberately suspended and our attention was directed towards the Reichstag elections of 1912. The mass strike again vanished from discussion. Now we see that the issue is again being discussed in meetings and at regional and district conferences. Even the party congress will not be able to avoid adopting a serious position on the question. When it is seen that the mass strike arouses the active interest of party comrades, no one will be able to assume that the entire discussion has been raised by only a few supporters of the mass strike. It is rooted in the economic situation. Such discussions always originate when the party feels the need to impel the movement to take a significant step forward, and when the party comrades become aware that we cannot make any headway with the critics who would write off the whole discussion as a sham perpetrated by a few cranks.

How and when did this discussion start? In the Wilmersdorf meeting? That is an error, but one which can be forgiven those who read only Vorwärts. For it has admittedly made out that Comrade Frank instigated the discussion on the political mass strike in the Wilmersdorf meeting. Long before the mass strike was discussed in Berlin, party comrades in many other places were concerned with it. If it is certain that the elemental power of the masses has now, for the third time, placed the question of the political mass strike on the agenda, then we must welcome it and see in this a symptom of the fact that we cannot avoid any longer applying this most valuable method to the class struggle. This is why it is necessary to examine the mass-strike issue in all its aspects. The question is far from being settled. It must still be discussed at length so that the masses are familiarized with the way in which this new form of struggle is to be applied.

If we consider the present discussion, we see on the one hand ardent advocates of the mass strike who are in favour of the party conference, in consultation with the General Commission of the trade unions, empowering the Party Executive to prepare the way for the mass strike. Indeed, they also demand that we should begin to educate the workers for the mass strike. They further advise the preparation of the mass strike according to the Belgian model. These are the demands made by one group. Another group immediately expressed the strongest reservations against any ‘flirting with the idea of the mass strike’. They said that this is extremely dangerous to our party life, for we in Germany are far from ready to participate in a mass strike. The party would suffer a defeat, their argument continued, from which it would not recover for decades.

The advocates of an application of the mass strike as soon as possible belong to various political currents. Comrade Frank, who has come out for the mass strike, represents the school of political opportunism. In Baden, he advocates the formation of a grand coalition with the National Liberals. His policy is very simple. One pursues grandiose politics in parliament with all the methods of statesmanlike tactics, one comes to terms with the bourgeois parties, one fashions a great block of the entire Left. However, when this policy fails, as it is bound to do, to advance the cause of the proletariat one step further, ah! then workers come into the streets and start a mass strike. Frank’s proclamation is a perfect example of how not to arrange a mass strike.

The mass strike is not something that one can make whenever the parliamentary tricksters’ policy breaks down. A mass strike brought about under such circumstances is a lost cause from the outset. The political tricksters who believe that they can conjure up a mass strike and then terminate it with a wave of the hand are in error. This cannot be done. Mass strikes can only take place when the historical preconditions for them are at hand. They cannot be made on command. Mass strikes are not an artificial method that can be applied whenever the party has bungled its politics, in order to extricate us overnight from the morass. When the class conflicts have become so pronounced and the political situation so tense that parliamentary means are no longer sufficient to advance the cause of the proletariat, then the mass strike is urgently necessary, and then, although it may not bring unconditional victory, it is immensely useful to the cause of the proletariat. Only when the situation has become so extreme that there is no more hope for co-operation with the bourgeois parties, especially with the liberals, does the proletariat obtain the impetus necessary for the success of the mass strike. Accordingly, the mass strike is not reconcilable with a policy centred around parliamentarism.

The Belgian movement is a storehouse of information on the problem of the mass strike. After they had abolished the plural vote by means of the mass strike, our Belgian comrades centred their efforts on parliament. This meant that the mass strike was put on ice. All proletarian actions were suspended as part of an overall plan to combine with the bourgeois Left in order to achieve universal suffrage. But the election of 1912 brought about the complete collapse of liberalism, and what remained of it went over to the camp of reaction. Then a storm of indignation broke out. Immediately following the elections the question of the mass strike reappeared. But the leaders of Belgian Social Democracy, who had based their policy on co-operation with the liberals, endeavoured to placate the masses by promising to arrange for the mass strike later. Then began the systematic postponement of the mass strike. Instead of an elemental eruption, a new tactic was begun; preparations were made for a new mass strike to be held in one month. After preparations lasting nine months, the masses could no longer be restrained. The strike finally broke out and for ten days was carried on with admirable discipline. The result was this: the strike was discontinued upon the first illusory concession made, a concession which represented a gain of virtually nothing. The Belgian comrades did not feel that they had achieved a victory. We see then, that the mass strike, employed in conjunction with the policy of a grand coalition resulted in nothing but set-backs. In view of this, we will reject any possible recommendation that we form a grand coalition in the south while at the same time starting a mass strike in Prussia.

On the other hand, it is said that we would be acting prematurely were we to propagate the mass strike in Germany, for we are less ripe for it than the proletariat of other countries. We in Germany have the strongest organizations, the fullest coffers, the largest parliamentary party, and yet we, alone among the whole international proletariat, are not supposed to be ripe? It is said that, despite its strength, our organization is only a minority of the proletariat. According to this notion, we would be ripe only when the last man and the last woman had paid their dues to their constituency associations. This is one wondrous moment for which we need not wait. Whenever we instigate an important action, not only do we count upon those who are organized, but we also assume that they will sweep the unorganized masses along with them. What would be the state of the proletarian straggle if we counted only on the organized!

During the ten-day general strike in Belgium, at least two-thirds of the strikers were not organized. Of course one must not conclude from this that the organization was of no significance. The organization’s power lies in its understanding of how to draw the unorganized into the action at the right time. The exploitation of such situations is a method of bringing about a huge growth in the organizations of the party and trade unions. Recruitment to the strong organizations must be based on a large-scale and forward-looking policy; otherwise the organizations will quietly decay. The history of the party and the trade unions demonstrates that our organizations thrive only on the attack. For then the unorganized flock to our banner. The type of organization that calculates in advance and to the nearest penny the costs necessary for action is worthless; it cannot weather the storm. All this must be made clear, and the dividing line must not be drawn so nicely between the organized and the unorganized.

If it is demanded that the party executive, in conjunction with the General Commission, should prepare for the mass strike, then it must be said that mass strikes cannot be made. But it is necessary to recognize that in Germany we are approaching a situation in which mass strikes are inevitable. We have just witnessed another victory of imperialism in the passing of the enormous military bill. After many in our ranks had so hoped to co-operate with the liberals, we see that these same liberals are hand-maidens of imperialism. If regrettably our parliamentary party supported property taxes in the fiscal covering bill, then this was nothing more than an intent to combine with the progressives and National Liberals to eliminate the Blue-Black Block. But the liberals, in league with the Blue-Black Block, eliminated us and, behind the backs of the Social Democrats, bungled miserably the property tax. Our parliamentary party’s final covering bill evoked powerful reactions in the Social-Democratic press abroad and in our own meetings. We shall have lively debates on this subject at the party congress.

The triumph of imperialism in the military bill brought home once more the painful lesson that we can no longer rely on the liberals. For this reason it is necessary to open the masses’ eyes. It is a fact that our parliamentarians lived in the illusion that they could form a coalition with the liberals against the Blue-Black Block, and that this illusion resulted in a miserable fiasco. This victory for imperialism was a new step towards the heightening of the class conflicts. We live at a time in which no more advantages can be gained in parliament for the proletariat. This is why the masses themselves must enter the theatre of action. Developments have taken such a turn that the mass strike will not disappear from the agenda in Germany. It is not a matter of preparing the mass strike; instead, we must ensure that our policy expresses the utmost strength necessary in the present situation.

The latest phase of our party’s policy dates from our electoral victory of 1912. We had set our greatest hopes upon it. An article by Kautsky, printed in Vorwärts, mentioned that a new liberalism was emerging. That was a disastrous illusion, but explicable on the basis of the slogan of moderation issued for the run-off ballots.

Moderation is an unacceptable policy. As a result of moderation we had vague hopes of a new liberalism and then the exuberant anticipation attached to the possibility of a Social Democrat being chosen President of the Reichstag. All these hopes have been dashed, and they show that our policy and tactics are outmoded. We have now witnessed the tumult of the Jubilee celebrations and the visit of the Bloody Tsar to the Berlin Court. This opportunity should have been used to instigate some kind of republican action. Do we have four million Social Democrats only so that we can crawl into a mousehole when the Bloody Tsar comes for a visit? How many supporters we could have won if we had organized a demonstration!

If we want to prove ourselves worthy of the great coming events then we must not begin at the wrong end by attempting to make technical preparations for the mass strike. When the situation is ripe, the tactic of the mass strike will present itself. Let us not rack our brains about supporting it at the right time. What is necessary is that you watch the party press to ensure that it is your instrument and expresses your opinion and your mood. You must also see to it that our parliamentarians feel a mass pressing them from behind, so that they do not chart such a disastrous course as in the case of the military bill. Shape the organization so that you need not wait until the command is given from above, but so that you have the reins of command in your own hands. You must not lose yourselves in technical details such as the reorganization of the dues-paying social evenings and of the delegate system. This is all very important, but your attention must be directed above all to the general guiding principles of our policy in parliament and throughout the country. Policy must not be formulated in such a way that the masses are always confronted with faits accomplis. Above all you must see to it that the press is a sharply honed weapon that cuts away the darkness from the people’s minds. The masses must make themselves heard in order to propel the party ship forward. Then we will be able to face the future confidently. History will do its work. See that you too do your work.

Last updated on: 4.12.2008