Rosa Luxemburg

The Acheron in Motion

(November 1918)

First Published: Die Rote Fahne, November 27th, 1918.
Source: Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, edited and introduced by Robert Looker, pp.271-4.
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.

The charming little plan for a dignified, peaceable, ‘constitutional’ German revolution which preserves ‘law and order’, and which regards as its primary and most urgent task the protection of capitalist private property – this little plan is going to pot: Acheron has been set in motion! While up there in the governing circles an amicable arrangement with the bourgeoisie is being maintained by all means, the mass of the proletariat down below is rising and shaking a threatening fist: the strikes have begun! There are strikes in Upper Silesia, in the Daimler Works, etc., but this is only a beginning. The movement cannot but surge forward with ever-increasing power and intensity.

How could it be otherwise? A revolution has taken place. Workers, proletariat – in uniform or in overalls – made it. Socialists, representatives of the workers, are sitting in the government.

And what has changed in the wages and living conditions of the mass of workers? Nothing at all, or virtually nothing at all! Scarcely had a few miserable concessions been made here and there when the bosses attempted to juggle even that little bit away from the proletariat.

The masses are consoled with the prospect of the future golden fruits which are supposed to fall into their laps from the National Assembly. By means of long debates, talk and resolutions of parliamentary majorities we are supposed to slide softly and ‘calmly’ into the promised land of socialism.

The healthy class instinct of the proletariat rebels against the schema of parliamentary cretinism. ‘The liberation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself,’ says the Communist Manifesto. And the ‘working class’ is not a few hundred elected representatives who control society’s destiny with speeches and rebuttals. Even less is it the two or three dozen leaders who occupy government offices. The working class – that is the broad mass itself. Only with its active co-operation in overthrowing capital can the socialization of the economy be prepared.

Instead of waiting for the bounty promised by the government, or for the resolutions of the ‘great’ National Assembly, the mass is instinctively taking to the one real means that leads to socialism: the struggle against capitalism. Until now the government has devoted all its energies to castrating the revolution and, crying out against any threat to ‘law and order’, to establishing harmony among the classes.

The mass of the proletariat is calmly toppling the house of cards of revolutionary class harmony and waving the feared banner of the class struggle.

The nascent strike movement is evidence that the political revolution has burst into the social foundation of society. The revolution is recalling its own original purpose; it is thrusting aside the stage props of personnel changes and decrees which have not changed the social relation between capital and labour in the least, and it is itself coming on to the stage of events.

The bourgeoisie may well feel that this has touched its Achilles heel, that here the joke of the government’s harmlessness has gone too far, and that the terrible face-to-face fight between two mortal enemies is beginning in earnest. Hence the bourgeoisie’s pallid fear of and hoarse rage at the strikes. Hence the feverish efforts by their lackeys among the trade-union leaders at catching the approaching hurricane in the nets of their petty old bureaucratic-official methods thereby crippling and enchaining the mass.

Vain efforts! The petty fetters of trade-union diplomacy in the service of capitalist rule proved their worth admirably in the period of political stagnation that preceded the world war. In the period of revolution they will fail miserably. Every bourgeois revolution in modern times has been accompanied by a turbulent strike movement – in France at the end of the eighteenth century and in the July and February Revolutions, and in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy. Every great social upheaval naturally produces violent class struggles in a society founded upon exploitation and oppression. So long as bourgeois class society persists in the equilibrium of its everyday parliamentary routine, the proletarian will patiently walk the treadmill of the wage system, and his strikes will then have only the character of weak correctives to a system of wage-slavery which is generally considered to be unshakable.

The moment the equilibrium of the classes is dislocated by the storm of revolution, the strikes change suddenly from gently lapping surf into tidal waves; the very depths begin to move; the slave does not start up in anger merely because the pressure of his chains is too painful; he rebels against the chain itself.

So it has been in all hitherto bourgeois revolutions. As these revolutions which led to the entrenchment of bourgeois class society subsided, the proletarian slave-rebellion usually collapsed and the worker returned, head bowed to his treadmill.

In the present revolution, the strikes which have just broken out are not ‘trade-union’ battles for baubles, for a few trimmings on the wage system. They are the natural answer of the masses to the mighty convulsion that capitalism underwent on the collapse of German imperialism and in the brief political revolution of the workers and soldiers. They are the beginning of a full-scale war between capital and labour in Germany; they herald the onset of the mighty class struggle, the outcome of which can be nothing less than the destruction of the capitalist wage system and the creation of the socialist economy. They are releasing the living social force of the present revolution: the revolutionary class energy of the proletarian masses. They are inaugurating the period of direct activity of the broadest masses, an activity for which the socialization decrees of and measures taken by any representative body or the government can only provide the accompaniment.

This nascent strike movement involves at the same time the most hard-hitting criticism by the masses of the chimera of their so-called ‘leaders’ concerning the ‘National Assembly’. These ‘leaders’ already have the ‘majority’ – the striking workers in the factories and mines! The dolts! Why don’t they invite the bosses to a small ‘debate’ so that they can outvote them with an ‘overwhelming majority’ and can realize their demands easily and ‘according to order’? For the time being it is, after all,formally a question of genuine trifles, of purely superficial features of the wage system!

Let Herr Ebert or Haase try to approach the striking coal-miners of Upper Silesia with this trifling plan – they are sure to receive an answer. Yet that which is shattered by baubles and soap bubbles is supposed to hold fast, though the whole social structure collapse!

By its mere appearance on the scene of the social class struggle, the proletarian mass has passed over all the previous shortcomings, indecision and cowardice of the revolution and gone over to the matters at hand. The Acheron is in motion, and the dwarfs who carry on their little game at the head of the revolution will either tumble head over heels or finally learn to understand the colossal importance of the world historical drama in which they are cast.

Last updated on: 18.12.2008