Rosa Luxemburg
The Junius Pamphlet

Chapter 8

In spite of the military dictatorship and censorship of the press, in spite of the abdication of the Social Democrats, in spite of the fratricidal war, the class struggle rises with elemental force from out of the Burgfrieden;[1] and the international solidarity of labor from out of the bloody mists of the battlefield. Not in the weak and artificial attempts to galvanize the old International, not in pledges renewed here and there to stand together again after the war. No! Now in and from the war the fact emerges with a wholly new power and energy that the proletarians of all lands have one and the same interests. The war itself dispels the illusion it has created.

Victory or defeat? Thus sounds the slogan of the ruling militarism in all the warring countries, and, like an echo, the Social Democratic leaders have taken it up. Supposedly, victory or defeat on the battlefield should be for the proletarians of Germany, France, England, or Russia exactly the same as for the ruling classes of these countries. As soon as the cannons thunder, every proletarian should be interested in the victory of his own country and, therefore, in the defeat of the other countries. Let us see what such a victory can bring to the proletariat.

According to official version, adopted uncritically by the Social Democratic leaders, German victory holds the prospect of unlimited economic growth, while defeat means economic ruin. This conception rests upon the pattern of the war of 1870. However, the flourishing capitalism following that war was not the consequence of the war but of the political unification, even though this came in the crippled form of Bismarck’s German Empire. Economic growth proceeded out of unification despite the war and the many reactionary obstacles that came in its wake. What the victorious war contributed to all this was the entrenchment of the military monarchy in Germany and the rule of the Prussian Junkers; the defeat of France helped liquidate the [Second] Empire and establish the [Third] Republic.

But today matters are quite different in the belligerent states. Today war does not function as a dynamic method of procuring for rising young capitalism the preconditions of its “national” development. War has this character only in the isolated and fragmentary case of Serbia. Reduced to its historically objective essence, today’s world war is entirely a competitive struggle amongst fully mature capitalisms for world domination, for the exploitation of the remaining zones of the world not yet capitalistic. That is why this war is totally different in character and effects. The high degree of economic development in the capitalist world is expressed in the extraordinarily advanced technology, that is, in the destructive power of the weaponry which approaches the same level in all the warring nations. The international organization of the murder industry is reflected now in the military balance, the scales of which always right themselves after partial decisions and momentary changes; a general decision is always and again pushed into the future. The indecisiveness of military results leads to ever new reserves from the population masses of warring and hitherto neutral nations being sent into fire. The war finds abundant material to feed imperialist appetites and contradictions, creates its own supplies of these, and spreads like wildfire. But the mightier the masses and the more numerous the nations dragged into the war on all sides, the more drawn out its existence will be.

Considered all together, and before any decision regarding military victory or defeat has been taken, the effect of the war will be unlike any phenomenon of earlier wars in the modern age: the economic ruin of all belligerents and to an increasing degree that of the formally neutral as well. Every additional month of the war affirms and extends this result and postpones the expected fruits of military success for decades. In the last analysis, neither victory nor defeat can change any of this. On the contrary, it makes a purely military decision extremely unlikely and leads one to conclude the greater probability that the war will end finally with the most general and mutual exhaustion.

In these circumstances a victorious Germany would win but a Pyrrhic victory, even should its imperialistic warmongers succeed in the total defeat of all its enemies through mass murder and thus realize its audacious dream. [Germany’s] trophies would be: a few beggared and depopulated territories to annex. Under its own roof would be a leering ruin. And once the stage scenery of war loan financing and the Potemkin villages[2] of war contracts and unshakable national prosperity are pushed aside it will be immediately seen [as the ruin it is]. It must be clear even to the most superficial observer that the most victorious state can not expect any reparations that would even come close to healing the wounds inflicted by this war. A replacement for this and a complement of “victory” would be the perhaps even greater economic ruin of the conquered side: France and England, the very countries most closely connected economically to Germany and upon whose welfare she is most dependent for her own recovery. After a “victorious” war the German people would have to pay back the war credits granted by the patriotic parliament, that is, in reality have to bear an immense burden of taxation while enduring a strengthened military reaction – the only lasting, tangible fruit of “victory.”

If we seek to imagine the worst results of a [military] defeat, then, aside from the imperialist annexations, they present feature for feature essentially the same consequences as would have issued from victory. The consequences of waging war are today so deeply embedded and far-reaching in nature that the military outcome has only minimal effects upon it.

Nevertheless, let us accept for the moment, that the victorious state would understand how to throw off the burden of great ruin from itself onto its defeated opponent and to hamstring its economic development with all sorts of obstacles. Can the trade union struggles of the German working class go forward after the war if the union action of the French, English, Belgian, and Italian workers is thwarted by economic regression? Until 1870 the workers’ movement operated independently in each country; sometimes key decisions were taken in individual cities. It was in Paris on whose cobblestones the battles of the proletariat were joined and decided. The labor movement of today, [because of] its more arduous daily economic struggle, bases its mass organization on cooperation [with worker movements] in all capitalist countries. If the principle is valid that the workers’ cause can flourish only on the basis of a healthy, powerfully pulsating economic life, then it is valid not only for Germany but also for France, England, Belgium, Russia, Italy. And if the workers’ movement stagnates in all the capitalist countries of Europe, if there exist low wages, weak unions, and slight resistance to exploitation, then it will be impossible for the trade union movement to thrive in Germany. From this standpoint and in the last analysis, it is exactly the same loss for the situation of the proletariat if German capitalism enriches itself at the cost of the French or the English at the cost of the German.

Let us turn, however, to the political results of the war. Here differentiation ought to be easier than in the economic area. Historically, the sympathies and partisanship of the socialists have been on the side fighting for historical progress and against reaction. Which side in the present war represents progress and which reaction? Clearly, this question cannot be answered on the basis of the superficial labels of the warring states, such as “democracy” or “absolutism.” Rather, [the question should be judged] on the actual objective tendencies they represent in world politics. Before we can judge what benefits a German victory would bring to the German proletariat, we must see what the effects [of such a victory] would have upon the overall shape of European political relationships.

The definitive victory of Germany would result in the immediate annexation of Belgium, as well as additional strips of territory in east and west, wherever feasible, and a part of the French colonies. The Habsburg monarchy would be preserved and enriched with new regions. Finally, Turkey, retaining a fictional “integrity,” would become a German protectorate which would mean the simultaneous transformation of the Middle East into de facto German provinces, whatever the form. The actual military and economic hegemony of Germany in Europe would logically follow these results.

These results of a decisive German military victory will come about, not because they correspond to the wishes of imperialist agitators in this war, but because they are the wholly inevitable consequences emanating from Germany’s position in the world and from the original conflicts with England, France, and Russia that have grown tremendously beyond their initial dimensions during the course of the war. It will suffice to put these results into context by understanding that under no circumstances will it be possible to maintain any sort of balance of power in the world.

The war means ruin for all the belligerents, although more so for the defeated. On the day after the concluding of peace, preparations for a new world war will be begun under the leadership of England in order to throw off the yoke of Prusso-German militarism burdening Europe and the Near East. A German victory would be only a prelude to a soon-to-follow second world war; and this would be the signal for a new, feverish arms race as well as the unleashing of the blackest reaction in all countries, but first and foremost in Germany itself.

On the other hand, an Anglo-French victory would most probably lead to the loss of at least some German colonies, as well as Alsace-Lorraine. Quite certain would be the bankruptcy of German imperialism on the world stage. But that also means the partition of Austria-Hungary and the total liquidation of Turkey. The fall of such arch-reactionary creatures as these two states is wholly in keeping with the demands of progressive development. [But] the fall of the Habsburg monarchy as well as Turkey, in the concrete situation of world politics, can have no other effect than to put their peoples in pawn to Russia, England, France, and Italy. Add to this grandiose redrawing of the world map power shifts in the Balkans and the Mediterranean and a further one in Asia. The liquidation of Persia and a new dismemberment of China will inevitably follow.

In the wake [of these changes] the English-Russian, as well as the English-Japanese, conflict will move into the foreground of world politics. And directly upon the liquidation of this world war, these [conflicts] may lead to a new world war, perhaps over Constantinople, and would certainly make it likely. Thus, from this side, too, [an Anglo-French] victory would lead to a new feverish armaments race among all the states – with defeated Germany obviously in the forefront. An era of unalloyed militarism and reaction would dominate all Europe with a new world war as its ultimate goal.

Thus proletarian policy is locked in a dilemma when trying to decide on which side it ought to intervene, which side represents progress and democracy in this war. In these circumstances, and from the perspective of international politics as a whole, victory or defeat, in political as well as economic terms, comes down to a hopeless choice between two kinds of beatings for the European working classes. Therefore, it is nothing but fatal madness when the French socialists imagine that the military defeat of Germany will strike a blow at the head of militarism and imperialism and thereby pave the way for peaceful democracy in the world. Imperialism and its servant, militarism, will calculate their profits from every victory and every defeat in this war – except in one case: if the international proletariat intervenes in a revolutionary way and puts an end to such calculations.

This war’s most important lesson for the policy of the proletariat is the unassailable fact that it cannot parrot the slogan Victory or Defeat, not in Germany or in France, not in England or in Russia. Only from the standpoint of imperialism does this slogan have any real content. For every Great Power it is identical to the question of gain or loss of political standing, of annexations, colonies, and military predominance. From the standpoint of class for the European proletariat as a whole the victory and defeat of any of the warring camps is equally disastrous.

It is war as such, no matter how it ends militarily, that signifies the greatest defeat for Europe’s proletariat. It is only the overcoming of war and the speediest possible enforcement of peace by the international militancy of the proletariat that can bring victory to the workers’ cause. And in reality this victory alone can simultaneously rescue Belgium as well as democracy in Europe.

The class-conscious proletariat cannot identify with any of the military camps in this war. Does it follow that proletarian policy ought to demand maintenance of the status quo, that we have no other action program beyond the wish that everything should be as it was before the war? But existing conditions have never been our ideal; they have never expressed the self-determination of peoples. Furthermore, the earlier conditions are no longer to be saved; they no longer exist, even if historic state borders continue to exist. Even before its results have been formally established, the war has already brought about immense confusion in power relationships, the reciprocal estimate of forces, of alliances, and conflicts. It has sharply revised the relations between states and of classes within society. So many old illusions and potencies have been destroyed, so many new forces and problems have been created that a return to the old Europe as it existed before August 4, 1914 is out of the question. [It is] as out of the question as a return to pre-revolutionary conditions even after a defeated revolution.

Proletarian policy knows no retreat; it can only struggle forward. It must always go beyond the existing and the newly created. In this sense alone, it is legitimate for the proletariat to confront both camps of imperialists in the world war with a policy of its own.

But this policy can not consist of social democratic parties holding international conferences where they individually or collectively compete to discover ingenious recipes with which bourgeois diplomats ought to make the peace and ensure the further peaceful development of democracy. All demands for complete or partial “disarmament,” for the dismantling of secret diplomacy, for the partition of all multinational great states into small national one, and so forth are part and parcel utopian as long as capitalist class domination holds the reins. [Capitalism] cannot, under its current imperialist course, dispense with present-day militarism, secret diplomacy, or the centralized multinational state. In fact, it would be more pertinent for the realization of these postulates to make just one simple “demand”: abolition of the capitalist class state.

It is not through utopian advice and schemes to tame, ameliorate, or reform imperialism within the framework of the bourgeois state that proletarian policy can reconquer its leading place. The actual problem that the world war has posed to the socialist parties, upon the solution of which the destiny of the workers’ movement depends, is this: the capacity of the proletarian masses for action in the battle against imperialism. The proletariat does not lack for postulates, prognoses, slogans; it lacks deeds, the capacity for effective resistance to imperialism at the decisive moment, to intervene against it during [not after] the war and to convert the old slogan “war against war” into practice. Here is the crux of the matter, the Gordian knot of proletarian politics and its long term future.

Imperialism and all its political brutality, the chain of incessant social catastrophes that it has let loose, is undoubtedly an historical necessity for the ruling classes of the contemporary capitalist world. Nothing would be more fatal for the proletariat than to delude itself into believing that it were possible after this war to rescue the idyllic and peaceful continuation of capitalism. However, the conclusion to be drawn by proletarian policy from the historical necessity of imperialism is that surrender to imperialism will mean living forever in its victorious shadow and eating from its leftovers.

The historical dialectic moves forward by contradiction, and establishes in the world the antithesis of every necessity. Bourgeois class domination is undoubtedly an historical necessity, but, so too, the rising of the working class against it. Capital is an historical necessity, but, so too, its grave digger, the socialist proletariat. Imperialist world domination is an historical necessity, but, so too, its destruction by the proletarian international. Step for step there are two historical necessities in conflict with one another. Ours, the necessity of socialism, has the greater stamina. Our necessity enters into its full rights the moment that the other - bourgeois class domination – ceases to be the bearer of historical progress, when it becomes an obstacle, a danger to the further development of society. The capitalist world order, as revealed by the world war, has today reached this point.

The expansionist imperialism of capitalism, the expression of its highest stage of development and its last phase of existence, produces the [following] economic tendencies: it transforms the entire world into the capitalist mode of production; all outmoded, pre-capitalist forms of production and society are swept away; it converts all the world’s riches and means of production into capital, the working masses of all zones into wage slaves. In Africa and Asia, from the northernmost shores to the tip of South America and the South Seas, the remnant of ancient primitive communist associations, feudal systems of domination, patriarchal peasant economies, traditional forms of craftsmanship are annihilated, crushed by capital; whole peoples are destroyed and ancient cultures flattened. All are supplanted by profit mongering in its most modern form.

This brutal victory parade of capital through the world, its way prepared by every means of violence, robbery, and infamy, has its light side. It creates the preconditions for its own final destruction. It put into place the capitalist system of world domination, the indispensable precondition for the socialist world revolution. This alone constitutes the cultural, progressive side of its reputed “great work of civilization” in the primitive lands. For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads, Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are “progress” and “civilization.” In themselves these works grafted onto primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress, for they are bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must experience simultaneously the full misery and horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic system and the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation. Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the stamp of progress in the historical sense only because they create the material preconditions for the abolition of capitalist domination and class society in general. And in this sense imperialism ultimately works for us.

The world war is a turning point. For the first time, the ravening beasts set loose upon all quarters of the globe by capitalist Europe have broken into Europe itself. A cry of horror went through the world when Belgium, that precious jewel of European civilization, and when the most august cultural monuments of northern France fell into shards under the impact of the blind forces of destruction. This same “civilized world” looked on passively as the same imperialism ordained the cruel destruction of ten thousand Herero tribesmen and filled the sands of the Kalahari with the mad shrieks and death rattles of men dying of thirst;[3] [the “civilized world” looked on] as forty thousand men on the Putumayo River [Columbia] were tortured to death within ten years by a band of European captains of industry, while the rest of the people were made into cripples; as in China where an age-old culture was put to the torch by European mercenaries, practiced in all forms of cruelty, annihilation, and anarchy; as Persia was strangled, powerless to resist the tightening noose of foreign domination; as in Tripoli where fire and sword bowed the Arabs beneath the yoke of capitalism, destroyed their culture and habitations. Only today has this “civilized world” become aware that the bite of the imperialist beast brings death, that its very breath is infamy. Only now has [the civilized world] recognized this, after the beast’s ripping talons have clawed its own mother’s lap, the bourgeois civilization of Europe itself. And even this knowledge is grappled with in the distorted form of bourgeois hypocrisy. Every people recognizes the infamy only in the national uniform of the enemy. “German barbarians!” – as though every people that marches out to do organized murder were not transformed instantly into a barbarian horde. “Cossack atrocities!” – as though war itself were not the atrocity of atrocities, as though the praising of human slaughter as heroism in a socialist youth paper were not the purest example of intellectual cossack-dom!

None the less, the imperialist bestiality raging in Europe’s fields has one effect about which the “civilized world” is not horrified and for which it has no breaking heart: that is the mass destruction of the European proletariat. Never before on this scale has a war exterminated whole strata of the population; not for a century have all the great and ancient cultural nations of Europe been attacked. Millions of human lives have been destroyed in the Vosges, the Ardennes, in Belgium, Poland, in the Carpathians, on the Save. Millions have been crippled. But of these millions, nine out of ten are working people from the city and the countryside.

It is our strength, our hope, that is mown down day after day like grass under the sickle. The best, most intelligent, most educated forces of international socialism, the bearers of the holiest traditions and the boldest heroes of the modern workers’ movement, the vanguard of the entire world proletariat, the workers of England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia – these are the ones now being hamstrung and led to the slaughter. These workers of the leading capitalist countries of Europe are exactly the ones who have the historical mission of carrying out the socialist transformation. Only from out of Europe, only from out of the oldest capitalist countries will the signal be given when the hour is ripe for the liberating social revolution. Only the English, French, Belgian, German, Russian, Italian workers together can lead the army of the exploited and enslaved of the five continents. When the time comes, only they can settle accounts with capitalism’s work of global destruction, with its centuries of crime committed against primitive peoples.

But to push ahead to the victory of socialism we need a strong, activist, educated proletariat, and masses whose power lies in intellectual culture as well as numbers. These masses are being decimated by the world war. The flower of our mature and youthful strength, hundreds of thousands of whom were socialistically schooled in England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia, the product of decades of educational and agitational training, and other hundreds of thousands who could be won for socialism tomorrow, fall and molder on the miserable battlefields. The fruits of decades of sacrifice and the efforts of generations are destroyed in a few weeks. The key troops of the international proletariat are torn up by the roots.

The blood-letting of the June days [1848] paralyzed the French workers’ movement for a decade and a half. Then the blood-letting of the Commune massacres again retarded it for more than a decade. What is now occurring is an unprecedented mass slaughter that is reducing the adult working population of all the leading civilized countries to women, old people, and cripples. This blood-letting threatens to bleed the European workers’ movement to death. Another such world war and the outlook for socialism will be buried beneath the rubble heaped up by imperialist barbarism. This is more [significant] than the ruthless destruction of Liege and the Rheims cathedral. This is an assault, not on the bourgeois culture of the past, but on the socialist culture of the future, a lethal blow against that force which carries the future of humanity within itself and which alone can bear the precious treasures of the past into a better society. Here capitalism lays bear its death’s head; here it betrays the fact that its historical rationale is used up; its continued domination is no longer reconcilable to the progress of humanity.

The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand scale; it is also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The soldiers of socialism, the proletarians of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for months been killing one another at the behest of capital. They are driving the cold steel of murder into each other’s hearts. Locked in the embrace of death, they tumble into a common grave.

Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles! Long live democracy! Long live the Tsar and Slav-dom! Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, coffee-substitute for immediate delivery!” ... Dividends are rising, and the proletarians are falling. And with every one there sinks into the grave a fighter of the future, a soldier of the revolution, mankind’s savior from the yoke of capitalism.

The madness will cease and the bloody demons of hell will vanish only when workers in Germany and France, England and Russia finally awake from their stupor, extend to each other a brotherly hand, and drown out the bestial chorus of imperialist war-mongers and the shrill cry of capitalist hyenas with labor’s old and mighty battle cry:

Proletarians of all lands, unite!

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[1] The Burgfrieden, literally the “peace of the castle” imposed upon all those seeking shelter in a fortified spot during the Middle Ages, signified the political truce agreed upon by the political parties represented in the Reichstag at the outbreak of the war. After voting the credits that made the war financially possible, members of the Reichstag suspended further elections for the duration of hostilities and declared a cessation of “politics.” Essentially, the civilian sector abdicated its responsibility to participate in policy making, leaving all major decisions in the hands of the Kaiser’s government and then in those of the general staff of the armed forces. This behavior contrasted sharply with that of the western democracies where, all through the war, it was “politics as usual.” Only toward the end of the war, did the Reichstag reconquer some of the lost ground of 1914.

[2] Count Gregory Alexandrovich Potemkin (1724-91) was said to have deceived Catherine the Great of Russia with cardboard facades of new villages he was supposed to have constructed.

[3] The Herero tribesmen rebelled against German control of their homeland in Southwest Africa, 1903–07. During the brutal wars of pacification, German troops forced men, women, and children into the Kalahari desert where many perished. The extraction of rubber from along the Putumayo River was accompanied by horrifying exploitation of native laborers.

Last updated on: 20.01.2023