Clara Zetkin

Rosa Luxemburg:
Her Fight Against the German Betrayers of International Socialism


Written: May 1919.
Published: Introduction to the Second Edition of the Junius Pamphlet, The Crisis of Social Democracy.
Source: The Class Struggle, Vol.III, No.4, November 1919.
Transcribed: for in June 2002.

Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet has its history and is itself a piece of history – thanks both to the circumstances under which it originated and to the life that emanates from it in a sparkling, glowing stream.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote the pamphlet in April, 1915. A few weeks before she had been forced to enter the “Royal Prussian Women’s Prison,” where she was to serve the year of imprisonment to which she had been sentenced by the Criminal Court of Frankfort a.M., for her courageous fight against militarism. In the fight, the sentence, and the sequel was gathered as in a nutshell what soon appeared, full grown, virile, unconcealed – Rosa Luxemburg’s clear recognition of the imminent imperialistic tempest and the need of the hour for the proletariat to hurl itself against the onslaught with all the desperate energy of its protest; the courage and spirit of self-sacrifice with which she led the fight against the dangerous enemy in the name of International Socialism; the acute capitalistic class instinct, not to say the wakeful capitalistic class consciousness with which the bourgeois world so ruthlessly applied its instruments of power to protect imperialism and to which the historical evolution of society, with the rise of imperialism, had assigned new tasks and a greater significance for the existence of capitalism; the dishonorable surrender of the German Social-Democracy, or more correctly of its leadership, to militarism and imperialism.

In truth, at that time great masses of proletarians burned with eagerness to go into the fight against militarism and imperialism. If their class consciousness did not yet clearly recognize the mortal enemy, their healthy class feeling sensed, anticipated that enemy. As though illuminated by a search light, militarism in its historic form had become visible on their horizon, glaringly exposed by Rosa Luxemburg’s condemnation and the reason for it – the conviction expressed by the courageous leader, that proletarians would not obey the command to raise the weapons of murder against their brothers of other nationalities. The rousing, fiery effect of the condemned words were intensified by the speech before the Frankfort Court, a classical document of political defense which in place of legal quibbling about “guilt,” penalty, and degree of punishment, set up the fight for the scientifically firmly established ideal of International Socialism. A wave of splendid, determined fighting spirit rose out of the proletarian masses. It should have been the obvious task of Social-Democratic leaders, if they had the least political insight, to take advantage of this fighting spirit, to intensify it, in order to give militarism and imperialism a fight on a large scale, to give them a staggering blow. The Executive of the Social-Democracy showed once again clearly that it was not convinced of the truth and worth of the great strong bulwark of that consistent Marxian standpoint which affords a free outlook over situations and their obvious development and thus determines the correct basis of judgment, of will, and of action.

In the present situation it gave itself the certificate of weakness that it fell short of everything that makes for political leadership. It avoided the obvious, the natural, the necessary thing – to gather together the protest that was arising everywhere with elemental force against the judgment of the Frankfort Criminal Court, into a tremendous mass action against militarism and imperialism. The Party Executive went even further with its “Backward, backward, Don Rodrigo” to the proud vow of the Social-Democracy. It tried to dam up the current that had begun without its effort. And all this in the atmosphere of burning indignation not only about the Luxemburg case but also about the triumph of the sabre in the scandalous trial against the little lieutenant, Forstner-Zabern; about the sanguinary judgment of the Erfurt court-martial, which, treading on all that is human, banished proletarians to the prisons for years on account of mere bagatelles; about the numerous cases of terrible abuse of the soldiers that were to he brought to light out of the darkness of the drill-yards and the company rooms through an approaching second trial of Rosa Luxemburg – if recollection does not receive, more than 30,000 mistreated men volunteered to act as witnesses.

But to be sure, by this time the Social-Democratic Party had already turned its misguided steps toward parliamentarism, it was fast becoming a bourgeois party, and its fear of mass action was already leading to its surrender to militarism and imperialism. It was the active and passive connivance of the Social-Democratic group of the Reichstag, and through them the connivance of the Social-Democracy as a whole, that made it possible in 1913 for the tremendous bluff of the “Jubilee gift for the Peace Emperor, Wilhelm II” to go across the political stage successfully, that enabled the Government to prepare unhindered the imperialistic war stroke of 1914, with the army bill – the most gigantic increase of the army which up to that time had ever been demanded and granted – and the defense contribution of billions – the first war credit for the intended marauding expedition across the Balkans to Bagdad and other “places in the sun.” The Party group in the Reichstag had made it easier for the bourgeois “opposition parties” to nod assent to the army bill, by having itself agreed to the separation of that bill from the general budget. It had given its blessing to the defense contribution and income tax bills as presumptive burdens upon the possessing classes. It had run after the delusive spectre of “modified finance” policies and had skipped the fight against the robust armored fellow called imperialism.

But the sins of commission and omission of the Party faction in the Reichstag had begun to determine the attitude of the entire Party, a few small, criticizing and dickering groups excepted. The Social-Democracy had not collected its forces for a stand against the brazen advance of imperialism greedy for power. Thus it created on the one hand the confident assurance of militarism and imperialism that there was no fear of opposition to their plans on the part of the proletarian masses, and on the other hand a paralyzing dullness in the masses themselves, even a slackening up in the face of danger. In short, the Social-Democracy allowed that atmosphere of war illusion to gather which in the summer of 1914 broke down all the political and moral opposition of the working classes against the crime of the war. Let us not forget that in the attitude of the Social-Democracy at that time, the policy of the “Marxist center” dominated, the policy which Karl Kautsky in our times praises up to the proletariat eagerly as the prerequisite for its victory. Let us not forget, moreover, that it was this high priest of “pure Marxism” who with his extremely un-Marxian tax theory built the ass’s bridge over which the Reichstag faction had proceeded to accepting the defense contribution and income tax measures. Under the given conditions the Social-Democratic Party Executive would have had to jump over its own shadow, if it desired to brace up and make use of the mass sentiment created by the Frankfort decision for a serious fight against militarism and imperialism. In the events which forced Rose Luxemburg into prison during the latter half of February, 1914, the disgraceful bankruptcy of the German Social-Democracy on August 4, 1914, had cast its shadow before, but there was forshadowed in them as well, the loyal, self-sacrificing fight of this inspired pioneer of Socialism against its internal decay.

Hardly had the acceptance of the war credit measure by the Social-Democratic faction in the Reichstag become known, than Rosa Luxemburg together with a few friends raised the flag of rebellion against this treason to the International, to Socialism. Two circumstances prevented this rebellion from at once becoming widely known. The fight was to begin with a protest against the vote in favor of the war credits by the Social-Democratic representatives, which would have to be so managed, however, that it would not be squashed by the tricks and wiles of the state of siege and the censorship. Besides this, and above all, it would certainly have been significant if the protest was from the start issued in the name of a goodly number of familiar Social-Democratic fighters. We therefore tried to put it into such a form that as many as possible of the leading comrades should declare their solidarity with its ideas who had uttered sharp, even absolutely destructive criticism on the policy of August 4th, in the Reichstag faction or within small groups. A consideration which cost much hard thinking, paper, letters, telegrams, and valuable time – and the result of which, despite all that, was nil. Of all the critics of the Social-Democratic majority who had expressed themselves in vigorous speech, only Karl Liebknecht dared, together with Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring and me to defy the idol of Party discipline upon whose altars were sacrificed character and convictions.

Rosa Luxemburg had nearly completed the first number of the magazine Internationale, when she was made to begin her prison sentence on the eve of a trip to Holland which we had intended to take together to prepare the way for the projected International Conference of Socialist Women and in general to bind more strongly the ties of international relations and to encourage the attempts to combine internationally the men and women comrades who were still true to their principles. Now, instead of speeding to the Dutch border with her, I had to visit Rosa in the Barnim Strasse prison. The unexpectedly sudden execution of the sentence had crashed like a thunderbolt into our immediate fighting plans. Nevertheless barely two months later the Junius Pamphlet was finished. Rosa Luxemburg did not allow her imprisonment to be a “breathing spell” for the enemy. They would not let her fight. With stubborn courage she replied to the power attacking her, “Very well, now I’ll fight all the more!” Her indomitable will converted the place of severest restraint to a site of spiritual liberty. Writing of a political nature was strictly forbidden her. Secretly, under the greatest difficulties, narrowly watched by spying eyes, outside of the permissible occupation with literary and scientific work, she wrote her grand, penetrating final reckoning with the Social-Democracy, using every minute of time, every spark of light for the purpose. Weariness, illness disappeared before the force of the inner voice. That voice helped her to bear the most disconcerting, the most tormenting part of it all – that innumerable times she was wrested out of her train of thought, that she was never sure that she might not be caught at her task and prevented from completing it. It was a relief from the most tyrannical spiritual pressure when at last she was able to put the last stroke to her manuscript and, crafty as Odysseus, to send the last pages out of prison walls by the hand of loyal friendship.

Outside the doors of the women’s prison lay the heavy atmosphere of the World War, reeking with destruction, commingled with the rotten odors of the unbridled passion of profit and usury of the respectable parasites and defenders of the bourgeois order; raged the “will to victory,” artificially inflamed and fanned to a white heat with all the means of perfidy, violence, despicability; waded the Social-Democracy month after month through the fratricidal sea of blood, repeating piously, like an obedient pupil, the sayings of the imperialistic bourgeoisie and its government, with merely a few clumsy variations, breaking every solemn oath of international solidarity, treading upon the ideals of Socialism; outside those prison walls, stood like a gray, oppressive nebular mass, the dullness and stupidity of the workers allowing themselves to be dragged by imperialism into death and ruin instead of resisting it with strength and consciousness of purpose. In the choking atmosphere of those days, the Junius Pamphlet came like the fresh, strong wind that hurries on before the purging storm.

And its significance was even greater than that by far. It was even a part of that same purging tempest of returning consciousness in which German Social-Democrats and German workers began to find the way back to the historical task of, the proletariat – to overcome imperialism and capitalism through the international class struggle and to realize Socialism. It gave a mighty impetus to the awakening of the proletarians out of the social-patriotic war delusion and harmony delusion of civic truce, the process of their rallying to the class struggle and the banner of International Socialism. Clearly, firmly, scientifically, and penetratingly it gave expression and direction to an emotion, a thought, and a will that stirred within the proletarian’ masses, at first fearfully and scatteringly, then more loudly, more imperatively, uniting ever larger groups.

Karl Kautsky, the official theoretician of the Social-Democracy, had changed from a leader into a misleader. In his supply-kit of “Marxian” formulas, he could find not a single one that would justify the miserable treachery of the Party majority. Ad usum Delphini he invented the famous two-soul theory for the Socialist International, which was “an instrument of peace and not of war,” and the principles of which therefore were, all according to the given situation, “Proletarians of all lands, unite” or on the other hand, “Proletarians of all lands, murder one another!” “Like a beast on the barren heath” he wandered vaguely back and forth between gay logical houses of cards and schoolmaster quibbling, in order to place himself with his authority protectingly before the policy of August 4th. His subsequent opposition was contradictory, uncertain as to principles, weak. Rosa Luxemburg, on the other hand in the Junius Pamphlet placed that policy on trial – consistently, mercilessly, annihilating it. She proved the bankruptcy of the German Social-Democracy, unparalleled in history, and her proofs were not formulas, but hard, stubborn facts. She knocked the bottom out of all the legends and slogans for the justification of Social-patriotism by revealing the causes and the impelling forces of the imperialistic war, baring its character and its aims.

The keynote of the Junius Pamphlet is contained in the following sentence of the last chapter: “The history which gave birth to the present war did not just begin in July, 1914, but dates back decades, where thread was tied to thread with the inevitability of a natural law, until the finely woven net of imperialistic world policy had entangled five continents – a tremendous historical complex of phenomena whose roots go deep down into Plutonic depths of economic creation and whose branches point toward the vaguely stirring new world.”

Imperialism, born of capitalistic development, confronts us as an international phenomenon in its radiations and influences, accomplishing with its brutal unscrupulousness of conscience, its gigantic, insatiable appetites, its tremendous means of power, very different wonders from “the construction of the Egyptian pyramids and Gothic cathedrals,” as expressed in the Communist Manifesto. It gives new and deepened content to the difference between Germany and France created by the war of 1870-71; it extinguishes old differences familiar to world-politics between the great powers of Europe and creates new fields of conflict between them; it is tearing the United States and Japan into its powerful current. Dripping with dirt and blood it traverses the earth, destroying ancient civilizations and converting entire despoiled nations into slaves of European capitalism. International imperialism is heaping up fagot upon fagot for the devastating world-conflagration – in Egypt, Syria, Morocco, South and Southeast Africa, in Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, and China, on the islands and the coasts of the Pacific Ocean, and on the Balkan peninsula. But it was German imperialism, late-born and madly aggressive, which, by way of the provoking ultimatum of Austria to Serbia in 1914, carried out the war stroke that lit the pyre of capitalistic civilization. It was driven on irresistibly by the gold-hunger of German finance – represented in particular by the German Bank, the most concentrated, best organized institution of capitalistic finance in the world – which longed to exploit Turkey and Asia Minor, and the lust of profit of the armament industries; it received its ruinous fool’s liberty from the barely curbed despotism of Wilhelm II and the voluntary weakness of the bourgeois opposition.

Rosa Luxemburg succeeded so well in portraying within the narrow limits of her Junius Pamphlet the imperialistic nature of the World War and its aims, because in her extensive scientific work on the Accumulation of Capital she had traced down in an exposition as thorough as it was brilliant, the last roots of imperialism, as well as its political branchings. But in divesting the World War of its ideological dress, exposing it in its nakedness as a business venture – the business venture, the deal for life and death – of international Capital, she also mercilessly, piece by piece, tears the ideological wrappings of the Social-Democratic policy of August 4th from its body. In the fresh morning atmosphere of scientific examination of the entire historical phenomenon and its associations, the hollow phrases of the “fight for civilization,” “against Czarism,” “for the defense of the Fatherland,” etc., crumble away. Convincingly Rosa Luxemburg proves that in the present imperialistic environment the conception of a modest, virtuous war of defense of the fatherland has forever flown. The Social-Democratic war policy reveals itself in all its primitive ugliness as outright bankruptcy, as the inner expression of a social-patriotic labor-party imbued with bourgeois ideals, a party that has sold the proud revolutionary birthright of the proletariat for even less than the mess of pottage demanded by Kautsky – for the empty words of a Kaiser, “I recognize no parties, I know only Germans,” for the “honor” of a place in the ranks of nationalistic delusion.

The Junius Pamphlet is introduced by observations on the duty and importance of Socialist self-criticism, observations that are among the most wonderful things that have ever emerged out of the depths of pure and strong socialistic feeling and thought. Here the sincerest, most glowing conviction demands the highest and severest standards for our actions as Socialists, directing our glance with prophetic force to the great resplendent perspectives of the future which Socialism opens to us. The approaching heroic hour of the new world-epoch must find a heroic race in the proletariat which during the up and down of victory and defeat of its revolutionary struggles shall train itself through unsparing self-criticism, for the triumph of Socialism. The conclusion of the Junius Pamphlet links on to the beginning, closing the ring. It views the World War as the pioneer of the World Revolution. Victory or defeat in the present gigantic struggle must be equally fateful for the conflicting imperialist groups, and incidentally for the proletariats of the different lands, leading inevitably to the collapse of the capitalistic order and capitalistic culture, to its world-trial before the judgment seat of the Revolution. Rosa Luxemburg wrote this in March and April of 1915 – long before the heroic Russian proletariat led by the determined Bolsheviki gave the storm signal for the social revolution, long before the slightest ruffling of the waters in Germany and in the Habsburg dual monarchy announced the approach of a revolutionary flood. What we have since experienced, what Rosa Luxemburg herself was still permitted to experience in part, is a splendid corroboration of the sharpness and correctness with which she had in her Junius Pamphlet seen the historical lines of development.

Perhaps on this very account some reader may regrettingly or fault-findingly inquire why the author did not show in perspective the possibility of a revolution in Russia, why she neglected to indicate the possible methods and means of fighting in the revolutionary period that was just dawning. It is true that in 1915, already out of the roaring chaos of the world struggle more and more clearly and visibly the giant form of the Revolution was emerging. But there was no indication of when and where it would begin its triumphal course. The Russian Revolution was to be the subject of a second Junius Pamphlet, some of whose outlines had already been hastily sketched by Rosa Luxemburg. The murderous hand of the German culture-bearing military has deprived us of the projected work, which would also have discussed and evaluated the fighting means and methods of the Russian Revolution – not in Kautsky fashion, certainly, according to a hard and fast scheme to which the actual development had to fit itself. No, Rosa Luxemburg’s view is that of a living, creative stream following out the historic development. “The historical moment each time demands the appropriate form of the people’s movement and itself creates new means, improvises hitherto unknown fighting instruments, enriching the arsenal of the people, unheedful of party rules.” The essential thing for the Revolution, then, is “not a conglomeration of ridiculous rules and prescriptions of a technical nature, but the political slogan, the clear consciousness of the political tasks and interests of the proletariat.” In accordance with this view, Rosa Luxemburg at one time investigated an already tried fighting instrument of the working class – the general strike, which she recognizes as first in historical importance and as “the classical form of the movement of the proletariat in the periods of a revolutionary ferment.’ Her pamphlet on this subject – a pioneer work in the proper estimation of this fighting instrument – has been given a new significance by present events; today it should find millions of readers and sympathizers, rally millions of active fighters, ready for revolutionary deeds.

The Junius Pamphlet is a particularly sparkling treasure of the heritage which Rosa Luxemburg has left the proletariat of Germany, of the world, for the theory and practice of its struggle for liberation, a treasure whose sparkle and glow are a painful reminder of how great and irreparable is the loss we have suffered. What is said of this treasure, here, compares with it as a dry table of classification of plants compares with a garden full of blossoming, resplendent, fragrant flowers. It is as though Rosa Luxemburg, in anticipation of her sudden end, had gathered together in the Junius Pamphlet all the forces of her genial nature for a great work – the scientific, penetrating, independently searching and pondering mind of the theoretician, the fearless, burning passion of the convinced, daring revolutionary fighter, the inner richness and the splendid wealth of expression of the ever struggling artist. All the good spirits which nature had lavished upon her stood by her side as she wrote this work. Wrote – merely wrote? No, experienced in the depths of her soul. In the precisely coined words that mark both her iconoclastic criticism of the Social-Democratic betrayal and her inspiring vision of the expiation and the resurrection of the proletariat in the Revolution; in the sentences that seem to rush on to their goal; in the extensive chains of thought welded together with iron firmness; in the brilliant sarcasms; in the plastic figures of speech and the simple, noble pathos – in all this one feels that it is suffused with the heartblood of Rosa Luxemburg, that in it speaks Rosa Luxemburg’s that behind it stands her whole being, every fibre of it. The Junius Pamphlet is the outlet of a great personality that has devoted itself wholly and singly to a great, to the greatest cause. So, out of this work, the same Rosa Luxemburg greets us from beyond the grave who today more than ever is leading the world proletariat, going before it and leading it upon its way of Golgotha toward the promised land of Socialism.

But within the circle of light that surrounds her form, there stands a second great personality, which it is necessary to draw out from the obscurity in which it has purposely remained with that modesty which is a sign of real worth and the complete merging of all personal characteristics in a great ideal. This personality is Leo Jogisches. More than twenty years he was united with Rosa Luxemburg in an incomparable community of ideals and fighting purpose which had been steeled by the most powerful of all forces – the glowing, all-consuming passion of the two unusual souls for the Revolution. Not many have known Leo Jogisches, and very few indeed have estimated him according to his great significance. He appeared usually only as the organizer, who translated Rosa Luxemburg’s political ideas into practice, as an organizer to he sure of the first order, as a genial organizer. However, this does not exhaust his accomplishments. Of a far-reaching, thorough general education, a rare master of scientific Socialism, a penetrating dialectic mind, Leo Jogisches was the incorruptible critical judge of Rosa Luxemburg and her work, her ever-waiting theoretic and practical conscience, at times too the one who saw further, the one who stimulated, just as Rosa on her part was the more penetrating and the one who created. He was one of those still very rare great masculine personalities who was capable of living side by side in true and joyous comradeship with a great feminine personality, without feeling in her growth and development a bond and a limitation upon his own ego; a gentle revolutionary in the noblest sense of the word, without any contradiction between belief and action. So, much of Leo’s best lies enshrined in the life-work of Rosa Luxemburg. His increasing, impetuous insistence and his creative criticism contributed their full share in causing the Junius Pamphlet to be created so soon and so masterfully, just as it is due to his iron will that it could be printed and distributed despite the extraordinary difficulties caused by the state of siege. The counter-revolutionists knew what they were doing when, a few weeks after the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, they had Leo Jogisches assassinated too – “in an alleged attempt at flight” in the same Moabite Prison from which it had been possible to abduct Rosa’s assassin, in an elegant private automobile in broad daylight.

The Junius Pamphlet was an individual revolutionary deed. It must give birth to revolutionary mass action. It is of the dynamite of the spirit which is blasting the bourgeois order. The socialistic society rising in its place is the only fitting monument for Leo Jogisches and Rosa Luxemburg. And this monument is being reared by the revolution for which they lived and died.


Last updated on 28.2.2004