First Published: Spartacus, No.5, May 1917.
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 (marxists.org) 2004.
The outbreak of the Russian Revolution has broken the stalemate in the historical situation created by the continuation of the world war and the simultaneous failure of the proletarian class struggle. For three years Europe has been like a musty room, almost suffocating those living in it. Now all at once a window has been flung open, a fresh, invigorating gust of air is blowing in, and everyone in the room is breathing deeply and freely of it. In particular the ‘German liberators’ are anxiously watching the theatre of the Russian Revolution. The grudging respect of the German and Austro-Hungarian governments for the ‘cadgers and conspirators’ and the nervous tension with which our ruling classes receive every utterance by Cheidze and by the workers’ and soldiers’ soviet concerning the question of war and peace are now a tangible confirmation of the fact which only yesterday met the uncomprehending opposition of the socialists from the A.G. This was the fact that the way out of the blind alley of the world war led not through diplomatic ‘agreements’ and Wilsonian messages, but solely and exclusively through the revolutionary action of the proletariat. The victors at Tannenberg and Warsaw now tremblingly await their own ‘liberation’ from the choking noose of war by the Russian proletariat, by the ‘mob in the street’!
Of course even with the greatest heroism the proletariat of one single country cannot loosen this noose. The Russian Revolution is growing of its own accord into an international problem. For the peace efforts of the Russian workers bring them into acute conflict not only with their own bourgeoisie, but also with the English, French and Italian bourgeoisie. The rumblings of the bourgeois press in all the Entente countries – The Times, Matin, Corriere della Sera, etc. – show that the capitalists of the West, these stout-hearted champions of ‘democracy’ and of the rights of the ‘small nations’, are watching, with gnashing teeth and hourly mounting rage, the advances made by the proletarian revolution that has checked the glorious era of the undivided rule of imperialism in Europe. The capitalists of the Entente now provide the strongest support for the Russian bourgeoisie against whom the Russian proletariat is revolting in its struggle for peace. In every way – diplomatically, financially, commercially – the Entente capitalists can exert the greatest pressure on Russia, and are surely doing so already. A liberal revolution? A provisional government of the bourgeoisie? How nice! These would be immediately recognized officially and welcomed as a guarantee of Russia’s military fitness, as an obedient instrument of international imperialism. But not one step further! If the Russian Revolution were to show its proletarian essence, if it were to turn logically against war and imperialism, then its cherished allies would bare their teeth and attempt to curb it by all possible means. Thus the socialist proletariat of England, France and Italy has now a bounden duty to raise the banner of revolt against war. Only through vigorous mass action in their own countries, against their own ruling classes, can they avoid openly betraying the Russian revolutionary proletariat, and prevent it bleeding to death in its unequal struggle against not only the Russian bourgeoisie, but also the Western bourgeoisie. The Entente powers’ intervention in the internal affairs of the Russian Revolution, which has already taken place, demands of the workers of these countries, as a matter of honour, that they cover the Russian Revolution by attacking the flank of their own ruling classes in order to compel them to make peace.
And now the German bourgeoisie! Torn between smiling sourly and weeping bitterly, they are watching the actions and growing power of the Russian proletariat. Lulled into habitually regarding its own working masses as merely military and political cannon fodder, the German bourgeoisie might well like to utilize the Russian proletariat to get itself out of the war as soon as possible. The hard-pressed German imperialism, which at this very moment is in extremely difficult straits both in the West and in Asia Minor, and at its wits’ end at home because of food problems, would like to extricate itself from the affair as quickly as possible and with some semblance of decorum in order to repair and arm itself calmly for further wars. Because of its proletarian-socialist tendency to peace, the Russian Revolution is intended to serve this purpose. Thus both German imperialism and the Entente powers are speculating on how they can profit by the revolution, only from opposite sides. The Western powers want to harness the wagon of imperialism to the bourgeois-liberal tendency of the revolution in order to carry on the war until the defeat of the German competitor. German imperialism would like to avail itself of the proletarian tendency of the revolution in order to extricate itself from the imminent threat of military defeat. Well, why not, gentlemen? German Social Democracy has served so excellently in masking your uncontrolled genocide as an ‘act of liberation’ against Russian Tsarism. Why shouldn’t Russian Social Democracy help free the stranded ‘liberators’ from the thorny situation of a war gone awry? The German workers helped wage war when it suited imperialism; the Russian workers are expected to make peace for the same reason.
However, Cheidze is not such an easy man to deal with as Scheidemann. Despite a hasty ‘announcement’ by the Norddeutsche Allgemeine and hurriedly dispatching Scheidemann to Stockholm for ‘negotiations’, they can expect at best a kick in the pants from the Russian socialists of all shades. And as for a hastily managed ‘put-up job’, a separate peace with Russia, concluded at the eleventh hour, which the German ‘liberators’ would so like to see, and which they are hard pressed to make, the matter definitely cannot be arranged. If the Russian proletariat is to see the victory of its peaceful tendency, it must acquire an increasingly decisive overall position in the country, so that its class action grows to colossal proportions in scope, ardour, profundity and radicalism, and so that Social Democracy can either sweep along or cast aside all the still undecided classes who have been duped by bourgeois nationalism. With barely concealed horror, the German ‘liberation’ find themselves face to face with this clearly visible and inevitable, but so formidable, aspect of the peace tendency in Russia. They fear – and with good reason – that the Russian Moor, unlike his German counterpart, having done his work, will not want to ‘go’, and they fear the sparks which could fly from the neighbouring fire on to the East Prussian barns. They readily understand that only the deployment of the most extreme revolutionary energy in a comprehensive class struggle for political power in Russia is capable of effectively carrying through the struggle for peace. But at the same time they long for the good old days of Tsarism, for the ‘centuries-old faithful friendship with their Eastern neighbour’, Romanov absolutism. Tua res agitur! Your interests are at stake! This warning by a Prussian minister against the Russian Revolution endures in the soul of the German ruling classes, and the heroes of the KÃ¶nigsberg Trial are all ‘as magnificent as the day they were born’. It would be expecting too much of the East Prussian police and military State to think it would allow a republic – and a republic freshly constructed and controlled by the revolutionary-socialist proletariat – to exist on its flank. And this East Prussian police spirit is compelled to acknowledge its secret aversion in the open market-place. The German ‘liberators’ today must publicly raise their right hands and swear that they have no intention of throttling the revolution and restoring dear pug-nosed Nicholas on the Tsarist throne! It was the Russian Revolution that forced the German ‘liberators’ to give themselves this resounding slap before the whole world. With this the Russian Revolution suddenly wiped from the slate of history the whole infamous lie which German Social Democracy and the official mythology of German militarism had lived on for three years. This is how the storm of revolution acts to cleanse, to eradicate lies, to sterilize; this is how it suddenly sweeps away with ruthless broom all the dung-heaps of official hypocrisy that have been accumulating since the outbreak of the world war and the silencing of the class struggle in Europe. The Russian Revolution tore away the mask of ‘democracy’ from the face of the Entente bourgeoisie, and from German militarism it tore away the mask of the would-be liberator from Tsarist despotism.
Nevertheless the question of peace is not quite as simple for the Russian proletariat as it would suit the purposes of Hindenburg and Bethmann to believe. The victory of the revolution, as well as its further tasks, requires more secure backing for the future. The outbreak of the revolution and the commanding position assumed by the proletariat has immediately transformed the imperialist war in Russia into that which the mendacious clap-trap of the ruling classes would have us believe it is in every country: a war of national defence. The beautiful dreams of Constantinople and the ‘national-democratic’ plans for reapportionment, which were to make the world so happy, were thrust back down the throats of Milyukov and his associates by the masses of workers and soldiers, and the slogan of national defence was put into practice. However, the Russian proletariat can end the war and make peace with a clear conscience only when their work – the achievement of the revolution and its continued unhampered progress – has been secured! They, the Russian proletariat, are today the only ones who really have to defend the cause of freedom, progress and democracy. And these things must today be preserved not only against the chicanery, the pressure and the war mania of the Entente bourgeoisie, but tomorrow above all – against the ‘fists’ of the German ‘liberators’. A semi-absolutist police and military state is not a good neighbour for a young republic shaken by internal struggles, and an imperialist soldiery schooled in blind obedience is not a good neighbour for a revolutionary proletariat which is making ready for the most intrepid class struggles of unforeseeable significance and duration.
Already the German occupation of an unfortunate ‘Independent Poland’ is a heavy blow against the Russian Revolution. The operational basis of the revolution is indeed limited when a country which was always one of the most explosive centres of the revolutionary movement, and which in 1905 marched at the head of the Russian Revolution, is completely eliminated and transformed socially into a graveyard, politically into a German barracks. Where then is the guarantee that tomorrow, when peace has been concluded, once German militarism has pried itself loose from the burden of war and resharpened its claws, it will not strike at the Russian proletariat’s flank in order to prevent the German semi-absolutist regime from being shaken?
The strangled ‘assurances’ of yesterday’s heroes of the Königsberg Trial – these are not enough to put our minds at rest. We still remember only too well the example of the Paris Commune. After all, the cat cannot leave the mouse alone. The world war has unleashed such an orgy of reaction in Germany, has revealed such a degree of militaristic omnipotence, has so stripped away the facade of greatness of the German working class as such, and has shown the foundations of so-called ‘political freedom’ in Germany to be so empty and flawed, that the prospects from this point of view have become a tragic and serious problem. The ‘danger of German militarism’ to imperialist England or France is of course humbug, war mythology, the cry of Germany’s rivals. The danger of German militarism to revolutionary, republican Russia, by contrast, is a very real fact. The Russian proletariat would be very careless politicians if they failed to ask themselves whether the German cannon-fodder that allows imperialism to lead it to the slaughterhouse on every battlefield today would not tomorrow obey the command to fight against the Russian Revolution. Of course Scheidemann, Heilmann and Lensche will already have a ‘Marxist’ theory to hand for it, and Legien and Schlicke will prepare a treaty for this slave-trade, all faithful to the patriotic tradition of the German princes who sold their native subjects as cannon-fodder abroad.
There is only one serious guarantee against these natural concerns for the future of the Russian Revolution: the awakening of the German proletariat, the attainment of a position of power by the German ‘workers and soldiers’ in their own country, a revolutionary struggle for peace by the German people. To make peace with Bethmann and Hindenburg would be a hideously difficult and hazardous enterprise with a dubious outcome. With the German ‘workers and soldiers’, peace would be concluded immediately and would rest upon solid foundations.
Thus the question of peace is in reality bound up with the unimpeded, radical development of the Russian Revolution. But the latter is in turn bound up with the parallel revolutionary struggles for peace on the part of the French, English, Italian and, especially, the German proletariat.
Will the international proletariat shift the responsibility for coming to terms with the European bourgeoisie on to the Russian workers’ shoulders, will it surrender this struggle to the imperialist mania of the English, French and Italian bourgeoisie? At the moment this is how the question of peace should really be formulated.
The conflict between the international bourgeoisie and the Russian proletariat thus reveals the dilemma of the last phase of the global situation: either world war to the verge of universal ruin or proletarian revolution – imperialism or socialism.
And here again we are confronted by our old betrayed slogans of revolution and socialism, words which we repeated a thousand times in our propaganda and which we failed to put into practice when, on the outbreak of war, the time came to give substance to them. They again presented themselves to every thinking socialist as the futile genocide dragged on. They presented themselves once more in an obviously negative form as a result of the wretched fiasco of the attempts of bourgeois pacifism at achieving a diplomatic agreement. Today we again see them in a positive light; they have become the substance of the work, the destiny and the future of the Russian Revolution. Despite betrayal, despite the universal failure of the working masses, despite the disintegration of the Socialist International, the great historical law is making headway – like a mountain stream which has been diverted from its course and has plunged into the depths, it now reappears, sparkling and gurgling, in an unexpected place.
Old mole. History, you have done your work well! At this moment the slogan, the warning cry, such as can be raised only in the great period of global change, again resounds through the International and the German proletariat. That slogan is: Imperialism or Socialism! War or Revolution! There is no third way!
 The Arbeitergemeinschaft, as the centrist opposition which formed the USPD was then known.
 In the original the author refers to the S.P.D. leader as Scheidemännchen, implying that he is an incomplete or little man, or a mannekin.
 The trial in 1904 of a number of German Social Democrats charged with assisting in the smuggling of revolutionary literature into Russia.
Last updated on: 16.12.2008