Rosa Luxemburg

Either Or

(April 1916)

First Published: April, 1916: Banned in Germany.
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.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Revelation, III 15:16

Comrades! You are all aware of the division that exists in the bosom of the intra-party opposition. Many of you who are not in agreement with the present state of the official party or with its policy of operating through official channels will at first be extremely distressed at this division. ‘Quarrelling again already!’ many will cry indignantly. Is it not then necessary that at least all those who are making a front against the parliamentary majority stand together firmly and act in unison? Does it not weaken the opposition and add grist to the mill of the majority’s policy when those who are pursuing the same ends – i.e. to bring the party back to the path of a proletarian class policy based on principle – quibble and quarrel with each other?’

Certainly, Comrades! If it were only a question of personal disputes, of trifling matters, of some kind of minor disputatiousness, of an oversight or of so-called ‘speaking out of turn’ on the part of a few individuals, then every serious person must call it an outrage, indeed a crime, if such petty matters were to cause a split in the opposition.

But this is not so, Comrades! What has caused this division is fundamental questions of policy, the whole conception of the ways and means that are supposed to lead us from out of the party’s present desperate situation into more worthy circumstances.

Let us consider what is at stake! On August 4th, 1914, official German Social Democracy, and with it the Inter-national, collapsed miserably. Everything that, during the preceding fifty years, we had preached to the people, that we had declared to be our sacred principles, that we had proclaimed countless times in speeches, in brochures, in newspapers, in leaflets – all at once all that proved to be empty clap-trap. Suddenly, as though by evil magic, the party of the proletarian international class struggle has become a national liberal party. Our organizational strength, of which we were so proud, has proved to be completely impotent, and where we were once respected and feared mortal enemies of bourgeois society, we have now become the irresolute and justly despised tools of our mortal enemy, the imperialist bourgeoisie. In other countries, socialism has fallen more or less deeply and the proud old cry, ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite! ‘ has been transformed on the battlefields into the command, ‘Proletarians of all countries, cut each other’s throats!’

Never in world history has a political party gone so miserably bankrupt, never has an exalted ideal been so disgracefully betrayed and dragged through the mud!

Thousands and thousands of proletarians could cry bloody tears of shame and anger because all that was so dear and holy to them has now become the object of the whole world’s ridicule and scorn. Thousands upon thousands are burning with the desire to wipe out the stains, to remove the disgrace of the party, so that they can again call themselves Social Democrats with their heads held high and without shame.

But each comrade must keep one thing in mind: such a sharp reverse can be overcome only by a determined, clear and ruthless policy, Half measures, vacillation, timid see-saw policies can never help us. Now each of us must say to himself: either-or. Either we are national liberal sheep in the coat of the socialist lion, in which case we avoid any playing at opposition; or we are fighters of the proletarian International in the full meaning of the term, in which case we must set ourselves to the work of opposition, in which case the banner of the class struggle and inter-nationalism must be unfurled openly and at all costs. Party Comrades, look at the so-called opposition until now as represented by Ledebour, Haase, and their friends. Having obediently tolerated the granting of war credits in the Reichstag on four consecutive occasions, thus sharing in the guilt for the betrayal of socialism, they finally plucked up the courage to vote against these credits in the plenary session of December 21st, 1915. At last! the workers said to themselves. Finally a public renunciation of the policy of nationalistic humbug. At last at least twenty men in parliament who cherish socialism! Their delusion, however, was short-lived, and only those who regard events quite superficially, without investigating matters more thoroughly, could express unqualified joy at this ‘act of courage’. Accompanying their refusal of the credits, Geyer and his comrades in the Reichstag offered an explanation which destroyed all the good they had done with their negative vote. Why did they vote against the credits this time? According to their explanation because, ‘Our frontiers are secure.’ What these worthy people hoped to accomplish with these words, to whom they were addressing them, is their own affair. To the outsider who is not initiated into that grand diplomacy of the backrooms, which might have suggested an answer, the issue is simple: the twenty voted against the credits ostensibly because the German frontiers were secure. That is to say, not because we oppose militarism and the war in principle, not because this war is an imperialist crime against all peoples, but because Hindenburg, Mackensen and Kluck have already wiped out enough Russians, Frenchmen and Belgians and have gained a firm footing in their countries – this is why a German Social Democrat can indulge in the luxury of voting against war expenditures! In doing this, however, Geyer and his comrades are basically in line with the majority policy. This means that they support the brazen humbug which makes this war out to have been a defensive war from the outset, aimed at protecting our frontiers, What distinguishes Geyer and comrades from the majority, then, is not that they hold a different view, based on principle, of the whole position towards the war, but merely that they assess the military situation differently. According to Scheidemann, David and Heine, the German frontiers are not yet secure; according to Haase, Ledebour and Geyer, they are already secure. However, every intelligent man must admit that, if one goes into the precise assessment of the military situation, the standpoint of the Scheidemann-David-Heine group is more consistent than that of Ledebour and Haase. For who would guarantee that the fortunes of war shall continue to smile upon German militarism? Which intelligent general would want to swear today that the worm cannot turn, that, for example, the Russians could not march into East Prussia again? And if this were to happen, what then? Then the Ledebour-Geyer-Haase group, in consequence of its own explanation, must once again vote for war credits in the Reichstag! These are not tactics based on principle, but a policy of speculation tailored to the momentary situation in the theatre of war, the famous case-by-case policy, the old opportunistic see-saw upon which the party performed magnificently on August 4th, 1914.

Yet there is another, serious side to the matter. If today the German Social Democrats, according to the Ledebour-Haase explanation, may vote against war credits because the German frontiers are secure, what is the situation of the French, Belgian, Russian and Serbian comrades in whose countries the enemy is standing? The simplest worker can readily understand that the principle contained in their explanation presents the comrades in the other countries with the most wonderful pretext for justifying their nationalistic policies. Indeed, some French comrades have already taken it over from the nationalist majority as the best reinforcement of their own attitude. So once again we find that the International is divided, and the socialists of the various countries are following not a common policy against the war and the ruling classes, but are fighting against each other, just as the high command of imperialism has ordered. Here, then, we are returning precisely to the basis of the majority policy that has destroyed us and the International.

And now we ask, Comrades, if one regards events seriously and critically, was the vote cast by Ledebour, Haase and comrades on December 21st a step forward? Was it the act of deliverance which we were all awaiting with anguished hearts, for which the masses were languishing? No and no again! That vote, given that explanation, was a step forward and a step backward; it was another sweet delusion that things would turn out for the better, but the disillusionment behind it was inevitably all the more bitter.

And disillusionment followed hard on the heels of the deception. It is obvious that the vote against war credits, even if it were not botched completely by the pathetic explanation, did not exhaust all the opposition’s policies. It could have been merely the first step on a new road, a first perceptible signal which would have to be followed all along the line by a vigorous and consistent action in the spirit of the class struggle. What have we witnessed instead? Ledebour, Haase and comrades have since then rested on the laurels of their refusal of credits – they are leading an unreal existence.

Let us take just a few examples. In the great ‘Baralong Affair’, the Social-Democratic parliamentary party, as a result of Noske’s speech and his howls for bloody retaliatory measures against the English, has piled such unprecedented humiliation upon itself that even respectable bourgeois liberals – if such a human species still existed on German soil – would have to be embarrassed at its actions. After August 4th, after all that followed upon it, it seemed that our party had been dragged down as far as it could go. But the social imperialists, so ready to ‘change their views’, continue to present us with new surprises. Their political and moral corruption, it seems, cannot be measured against conventional standards at all. When in the ‘Baralong Affair’ they stirred up the people’s bestial warring instincts, they outdid even the conservatives and put them to shame. And following this unprecedented event, what did a man of the opposition, Comrade Ledebour, do? Instead of charging into the fray and denouncing Noske, instead of refuting any association with Noske and his peers, Ledebour himself chimed in with this howl, accepted in principle the retaliatory policy of Noske and comrades, and was only able to bring himself to appeal for moderation in the application of this beastly principle.

According to the stenographic report, Ledebour’s incredible words of January 15th read as follows: ‘Gentlemen, my judgement of the Baralong Case, of the outrage committed by English sailors against brave German soldiers on the high seas, is at one with that of all the preceding speakers. I shall not attempt to add to their statements in any way.’

And those ‘preceding speakers’ were: Noske of the social imperialists, Spahn of the Centre Party, Fischbeck of the radicals, Knutenoertel of the conservatives! Ledebour’s judgement of the affair was ‘at one’ with theirs.

This again lends support in principle to the majority policy of the socialist turncoats and is another lapse into a united inter-party truce with the bourgeois parties – and this three weeks after the banner of the class struggle had ostensibly been raised.

Let us take another example. In the system of so-called ‘questions in the House’, the Reichstag deputies have been handed an invaluable weapon which enables them to offer constant resistance to the government and the bourgeois majority in this lamentable assembly of yes-men and obedient Mamelukes of the military dictatorship, to harass the imperialist phalanx, to arouse constantly the masses of the people. In the hands of twenty resolute representatives of the people, the system of questions in the House could become a real rhino-whip with which to flay unmercifully the backs of the imperialist rabble. Instead of this, what do we see? It does not even occur to Ledehour, Haase and comrades to avail themselves of this important method of struggle. Not once have they attempted to apply it. They are happy to leave it to Karl Liebknecht to parry and thrust alone in all directions against the yelping dog pack surrounding him; for their own part, however, they are apparently afraid of sticking their necks out, for they simply do not dare to kick against the pricks and to get out from under the thumb of the parliamentary party majority.

And this is not all! When the imperialist Reichstag majority, including the majority of the Social-Democratic parliamentary party, made a move to destroy the weapon of the system of questions in the House by subjecting it to the arbitrary censorship of the Reichstag President, Ledebour, Haase and comrades did not lift a finger. These alleged leaders of the opposition supported a violent blow against a democratic right of the people’s representatives, against an important method of arousing the masses. They had a hand in this new betrayal by the parliamentary party majority.

And what was the situation on January 17th, when the Reichstag debated military questions, when an excellent opportunity arose of criticizing mercilessly all the doings of the dictatorship of the sabre and the bestialities of the war, of elucidating the overall situation and of bringing up all the main problems of the global crisis? Again Ledebour, Haase and comrades failed completely. A bare four weeks after their ostensible declaration of battle and transfer of allegiance on December 21st, there followed a miserable fiasco. A petty and circumloquacious discussion of inessential trifles – which had been common in the bleak everyday practice of the parliamentary tread-mill in peace-time – was all that these leaders of the opposition could bring themselves to do on the military question.

This, Comrades, is the so-called opposition as understood by Ledebour, Haase and their friends. Not a trace of consistency, of energy, of pluck, of keenness of principle; nothing but indecision, weakness and illusion. But we have truly had enough of indecision, weakness and illusion, and we know what effects they have had on us.

No one would call into question the good will of a Ledebour, a Haase, an Adolf Hoffmann. The road to Hell, however, is paved with good intentions. What we need now is the strength, consistency and keenness with which our enemies, the ruling classes, are muzzling us and forcing us under the bloody yoke of imperialism. Real men, undaunted and rugged fighters, are what we need, not see-saw politicians, not weaklings, not timid stock-takers.

And that the so-called opposition does not meet these requirements is best demonstrated by the leaflet that Comrades Ledebour and Adolf Hoffmann have just published.

This leaflet criticizes harshly and disparagingly the guiding principles which a number of comrades from various places in Germany have accepted as the central principle of their view and of their tasks at the present historical moment. We shall quote them in their entirety at the conclusion of this article so that every comrade can judge them for himself. These guiding principles are nothing less than an open, honest and candid formulation of the facts and events that the world war created in the labour movement, and they are, moreover, the consistent and resolute application of our old party principles to the present situation and to the tasks facing us all if we finally decide to put international socialism into practice.

And now Ledebour and Hoffmann are using their peremptory veto to stifle this very tendency! It is impertinent, they say, to make the Socialist International the governing centre of the whole labour movement; it is impertinent to restrict the national centres’ powers of free decision vis-à-vis the war; it is impertinent and impracticable to place the International above the officials of German Social Democracy and of other socialist parties. The International should remain only a loose federative association of national labour parties completely free in their tactics both in war and in peace, just as it was before the outbreak of the world war.

Comrades! Here is the virtual nodal point of the whole situation; it includes the vital question of the labour movement. Our party failed on August 4th, in the same way that the socialist parties of other countries failed, just because the International turned out to be an empty phrase, because the resolutions of the International congresses proved to be empty, powerless words. If we wish to do away with this disgraceful condition, if we wish to prevent a future repetition of the bankruptcy of August 4th, 1914, then there is only one road and one salvation for us: to change international solidarity from a beautiful-sounding phrase into a real, deadly serious and sacred maxim, to fashion the Socialist International from a lifeless dummy into an actual power, and to enlarge it into an impregnable dam against which the heavy waves of capitalist imperialism will break from now on. If we wish to work our way up out of the abyss of humiliation into which we have fallen, then we must teach every German and French and other class-conscious proletarian to believe that:

The fraternization of the workers of the world is for me the highest and most sacred thing on earth; it is my guiding star, my ideal, my fatherland. I would rather forfeit my life than be unfaithful to this ideal!

And now Comrades Ledebour and Hoffmann would hear nothing of all this. After the war they would simply restore the old wretchedness. Then as now, each national party will have a free hand to treat the resolutions of the International as abominably as they please; again every few years we will witness splendid congresses, beautiful speeches, flaming enthusiasm, resounding manifestos and bold resolutions, but when the time comes to act, the International will again be completely impotent. Like a ghost in the night confronted with bloody reality, it will fade away before the mendacious phrase, ‘defence of the fatherland’! Ledebour and comrades have thus learnt nothing from this terrible war! Comrades, there is no worse indictment of a politician, of a fighter, than that he does not know how to learn from the hard school of history. No one who has to make decisions amidst the urgency and tumult of the historical world struggle is immune from error. But not to understand the mistakes made, not to be able to learn from them, to emerge again and again unenlightened from all humiliations – this is bordering on the criminal. Comrades, if not even this ocean of blood through which we are wading, if not even this terrible collapse of the International is able to lead us to a better understanding and on to a firm path, then we can truly let them bury us. Then let us have an end to the phrases about internationalism, to the same old lie, to the deception of the masses who will justly rebuff us if, when this war is over, we, as the old, incorrigible phrase-mongers, propagate the idea of the fraternization of peoples without ever desiring to put it into practice.

Here again, Comrades, it is a question of either-or! Either we nakedly and shamelessly betray the International as Heine, David, Scheidemann, et al. have done; or we take the International in deadly seriousness and attempt to extend it into a firm stronghold, a bulwark, of the international socialist proletariat and of world peace. Today there is no longer room for any middle way, for vacillation and indecision.

And for this reason it would be impossible for real oppositional elements to act jointly with people who share the standpoint of Comrades Ledebour and Hoffmann.

Comrades! Do not let yourselves be taken in by the old catch-phrase that in unity there is strength. Now even Scheidemann and Ebert of the Party Executive are trying to peddle that one. Yes indeed there is strength in unity, but in a unity of firm, inner conviction, not of an external, mechanistic coupling of elements which are inwardly gravitating away from each other. Strength lies not in numbers, but in the spirit, in the clarity, in the energy that inspires us. How strong we fancied ourselves to be, how we boasted of our four million supporters before the war, and how our strength, like a house of cards, collapsed at the first test. Here too it is important to learn from our disappointed hopes and not to lapse into the old mistakes! If we wish to make an energetic front against the dominant course charted by the party officials, against the parliamentary party majority, then a clear, consistent and energetic policy is necessary. We must look neither to the left nor the right, but rally under a visible banner such as the guiding principles which Ledebour and comrades have just rejected. Away with all indecision and vacillation! Keep the goal firmly in sight and take up the class struggle ruthlessly all along the line in the spirit of the International! This is our task. This is the terrain upon which we will rally together. All who seriously and honestly desire a resurrection of socialism will come with us, if not today, then tomorrow.

Rally everywhere, Comrades, behind the guiding principles that point out our road onward, and use all your strength to transform your thoughts into deeds! Throughout this country, in all countries, the mass of the proletariat, bled white and enslaved, is waiting for a resolute proletarian policy which alone can bring it deliverance from the Hell of existing conditions. Our task, our duty, is to hasten the hour of this deliverance by exerting ourselves to the utmost in ruthlessly carrying on the class struggle!

Therefore, long live the class struggle! Long live the International!

A large number of comrades from all parts of Germany have adopted the following guiding principles which represent an application of the Erfurt Programme to the contemporary problems of international socialism.

  1. The world war has decimated the results of forty years’ work of European socialism by: devaluing the significance of the revolutionary working class as a factor of political power, destroying the prestige of socialism, breaking up the proletarian International, leading its sections into a fratricidal war against each other and chaining the desires and hopes of the masses in the most important capitalist countries to the course of imperialism.
  2. By consenting to war credits and the proclaimed Burgfriede [domestic truce], the official leaders of the socialist parties in Germany, France and England (with the exception of the Independent Labour Party) have bolstered imperialism’s power, leave induced the masses to bear patiently the misery and horrors of the war and have thus contributed to the unbridled release of imperialistic frenzies, to the prolongation of the slaughter and to the increase in the number of its victims. They therefore share in the responsibility for the war and its consequences.
  3. These tactics employed by the official socialist party leaders of the belligerent countries, above all of Germany, until then the leading country in the International, signify a betrayal of the most elementary principles of international socialism, of the vital interests of the working class, of all the peoples’ democratic interests. Because of them, socialist policies in those countries in which the party leaders remained faithful to their duties, namely, Russia, Serbia, Italy and – with one exception – Bulgaria, are also condemned to impotence.
  4. When the official Social-Democratic parties of the leading countries abandoned the class struggle during the war and deferred it until after the war, they granted the ruling classes in all countries a respite which enabled them to strengthen immensely their economic, political and moral positions at the expense of the proletariat.
  5. The world war serves neither the needs of national defence nor any of the economic or political interests of the masses. It is solely the result of imperialist rivalries between the capitalist classes of various countries for world domination and for a monopoly to impoverish and oppress the territories not yet ruled by capitalism. In this era of unfettered imperialism, there can no longer be national wars. National interests serve only as a method of deceiving the working masses in order to make them useful to their mortal enemy, imperialism.
  6. For no oppressed nation can freedom and independence blossom forth from the politics of the imperialist states and from the imperialist war. The small nations, whose ruling classes are appendages and accessories of their class comrades in the large nations, are only pawns in the imperialist game played by the great powers. They too, like the working masses, are being misused as tools during the war, and will be sacrificed to capitalist interests after the war.
  7. Under these circumstances, every defeat and every victory in the present world war signifies a defeat for socialism and democracy. However the war may end – unless by the revolutionary intervention of the inter-national proletariat – militarism, international divisions and global economic rivalries will be strengthened. The war is increasing capitalist exploitation and political re-action within each country, weakening the control of public opinion and debasing parliament into an increasingly obedient instrument of militarism. In this way the present world war is simultaneously developing all the pre-conditions for new wars.
  8. World peace cannot be secured by such utopian or basically reactionary plans as international courts of arbitration composed of capitalist diplomats, diplomatic agreements concerning ‘disarmament’, ‘freedom of the seas’, ‘repeal of the laws of piracy’, ‘European federations’, ‘middle-European customs unions’, ‘national buffer states’, and the like. Imperialism, militarism and wars will not be abolished or damned so long as the rule of the capitalist classes continues uncontested. The only method of successfully resisting them, the only guarantee of world peace, is the international proletariat’s capacity for political action and its revolutionary will to throw its power behind the struggle.
  9. Imperialism, as the final phase and highest stage of development of the political world domination of capitalism, is the common mortal enemy of the proletariat of all countries. But imperialism shares with the earlier phases of capitalism the fate of strengthening the power of its mortal enemy in proportion as it continues to develop. Imperialism hastens the concentration of capital, the attrition of the middle classes, the growth of the proletariat; it arouses the growing resistance of the masses and thus leads to the intensification of class conflicts. In war, as in peace, the front line of the proletarian class struggle must be concentrated against imperialism. For the international proletariat the struggle against imperialism is at the same time the struggle for political power in the State, the decisive conflict between socialism and capitalism. The ultimate goal of socialism will be realized by the international proletariat only if the latter, summoning up all its strength and readiness for sacrifice, forms a front against imperialism all along the line and raises the demand of ‘war on war!’ to the guiding principle of its practical policies.
  10. For this purpose, the main task of socialism today is aimed at combining the proletariat of all countries into a living revolutionary power, forging it into the decisive factor of political life – for which it is historically qualified – by means of a strong international organization holding uniform tactics and having a capacity for political action both in war and in peace.
  11. The Second International was destroyed by the war. Its inadequacy was proved by its inability to construct a real dam against the process of fragmentation into national groups in the war or to execute joint tactics and actions by the proletariat in all countries.
  12. In view of the betrayal by the official representatives of the belligerent countries’ socialist parties of the aims and interests of the working class, in view of their rejection of the proletarian International in favour of the policies of bourgeois imperialism, it is a vital necessity for socialism to create a new workers’ International to take over the leadership and unification of the revolutionary class struggle against imperialism in all countries.

The new International, if it is to fulfil its historical task, must rest upon the following basic principles:

  1. The class struggle within each bourgeois state against the ruling classes, and the international solidarity of the proletariat of all countries shall be two inseparable maxims of the working class in its universal historical struggle for liberation. There can be no socialism outside the international solidarity of the proletariat and there can be no socialism without the class struggle. The socialist proletariat cannot renounce the class struggle and international solidarity, either in war or in peace, without committing suicide.
  2. The class action of the proletariat of all countries, both in war and in peace, must be aimed at the main goal of combatting imperialism and preventing wars. The parliamentary action, the trade-union action and all activities of the labour movement must be subordinate to the end of setting the proletariat of each country as strongly as possible against the national bourgeoisie, of emphasizing at every step the conflict between the two, and at the sane time of bringing into the foreground and affirming the international solidarity of the proletariat of all countries.
  3. The class organization of the proletariat shall be centred around the International. In peace-time the inter-national shall decide on the tactics to be employed by the national sections on questions of militarism, colonial policy, trade policy, May Day celebrations and on the tactics to be adhered to in war-time.
  4. The duty to execute the resolutions of the International shall take precedence over all other organizational duties. National sections that contravene its resolutions shall forfeit their membership in the International.
  5. In the struggles against imperialism and war, the decisive power can be employed only by the compact masses of the proletariat of all countries. The tactics of the national sections shall thus be directed primarily the broad masses’ capacity for political action and resolute initiative, securing the international co-ordination of mass actions, and building the political and trade-union organizations in such a way that their mediation at all times guarantees the speedy and energetic co-operation of all sections and that the will of the International is translated into actions by the broadest working masses.
  6. The immediate task of socialism shall be the intellectual liberation of the proletariat from the guardianship of the bourgeoisie as manifest in the influence of nationalistic ideology. The national sections must gear their agitation in parliament and in the press towards the denunciation of the second-hand phraseology of nationalism as an instrument of bourgeois rule. The only defence of all true national freedom is today the revolutionary class struggle against imperialism. The fatherland of the proletariat, the defence of which must take precedence over all else, is the socialist International.

Last updated on: 18.12.2008