Rosa Luxemburg, "The War and the Workers"-- The Junius Pamphlet
[The voting of war credits in August 1914 was a shattering moment
in the life of individual socialists and of the socialist movement in
Europe. Those who had worked for and wholly believed in the ability
of organized labor to stand against war now saw the major social democratic
parties of Germany, France, and England rush to the defense of their
fatherlands. Worker solidarity had proved an impotent myth.
(1871-1919) had for years warned against the stultifying effects of
the overly bureaucratized German Social Democratic Party and the anti-revolutionary
tendencies of the trade unions that played such a large role in the
party's policy decisions. The abdication of 1914 had proved her right
but had also dashed the revolutionary yearnings of a lifetime.
she was able to construct new hope from the revolutionary opportunities
presented by the war, Luxemburg could not shake the knowledge that,
whatever the outcome, the European working class would pay the greatest
price in blood and suffering. Thrice handicapped--a woman, a Pole, and
a Jew--Luxemburg was the most eloquent voice of the left wing of German
Social Democracy, the defender of Marxist purity against all comers,
and a constant advocate of radical action.
She spent much of the war
in jail, where she wrote and then smuggled out the pamphlet excerpted
below. Published under the name "Junius," perhaps a reference
to Lucius Junius Brutus, a legendary republican hero of ancient Rome,
the pamphlet became the guiding statement for the International Group,
which became the Spartacus League and ultimately the Communist Party
of Germany (January 1, 1919). Luxemburg was instrumental in these developments
and, along with Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), led the Spartacists until
their murder by right-wing vigilantes on January 15, 1919. Source: Günter
Radczun (ed.), "Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Junius-Broschüre),"
in Rosa Luxemburg, Politische Schriften (Leipzig, 1970), pp.
229-43, 357-72. Translated by Richard S. Levy.]
The scene has changed fundamentally. The six weeks' march to Paris
has grown into a world drama. Mass
slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day
and the end is no closer. Bourgeois statecraft is held fast in its own
vise. The spirits summoned up can no longer be exorcised.
Gone is the euphoria. Gone the patriotic noise in the streets, the
chase after the gold-colored automobile, one false telegram after another,
the wells poisoned by cholera, the Russian students heaving bombs over
every railway bridge in Berlin, the French airplanes over Nuremberg,
the spy hunting public running amok in the streets, the swaying crowds
in the coffee shops with ear-deafening patriotic songs surging ever
higher, whole city neighborhoods transformed into mobs ready to denounce,
to mistreat women, to shout hurrah and to induce delirium in themselves
by means of wild rumors. Gone, too, is the atmosphere of ritual murder,
the Kishinev air where the crossing guard is the only remaining representative
of human dignity. 
The spectacle is over. German scholars, those "stumbling lemurs,"
have been whistled off the stage long ago. The trains full of reservists
are no longer accompanied by virgins fainting from pure jubilation.
They no longer greet the people from the windows of the train with joyous
smiles. Carrying their packs, they quietly trot along the streets where
the public goes about its daily business with aggrieved visages.
In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different chorus--the
hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the battlefield. Ten thousand
tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of
bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute --c.o.d, immediate delivery!
Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge pouches, marriage bureaus for widows
of the fallen, leather belts, jobbers for war orders--serious offers
only! The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is
moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian
Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It's a question
of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch
thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up.
Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages
become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches,
horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred
words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds. Every sovereign
"by the grace of God" is called a rogue and lying scoundrel
by his cousin on the other side. Every diplomat is a cunning rascal
to his colleagues in the other party. Every government sees every other
as dooming its own people and worthy only of universal contempt. There
are food riots in Venice, in Lisbon, Moscow, Singapore. There is plague
in Russia, and misery and despair everywhere.
Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth--there stands
bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and
moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and
the rule of law--but the ravening beast, the witches' sabbath of anarchy,
a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true,
its naked form.
In the midst of this witches' sabbath a catastrophe of world-historical
proportions has happened: International Social Democracy has capitulated.
To deceive ourselves about it, to cover it up, would be the most foolish,
the most fatal thing the proletariat could do. Marx says: "...the
democrat (that is, the petty bourgeois revolutionary) [comes] out of
the most shameful defeats as unmarked as he naively went into them;
he comes away with the newly gained conviction that he must be victorious,
not that he or his party ought to give up the old principles, but that
conditions ought to accommodate him."  The
modern proletariat comes out of historical tests differently. Its tasks
and its errors are both gigantic: no prescription, no schema valid for
every case, no infallible leader to show it the path to follow. Historical
experience is its only school mistress. Its thorny way to self-emancipation
is paved not only with immeasurable suffering but also with countless
errors. The aim of its journey--its emancipation depends on this--is
whether the proletariat can learn from its own errors. Self-criticism,
remorseless, cruel, and going to the core of things is the life's breath
and light of the proletarian movement. The fall of the socialist proletariat
in the present world war is unprecedented. It is a misfortune for humanity.
But socialism will be lost only if the international proletariat fails
to measure the depth of this fall, if it refuses to learn from it.
The last forty-five year period in the development of the modern labor
movement now stands in doubt. What we are experiencing in this critique
is a closing of accounts for what will soon be half a century of work
at our posts. The grave of the Paris Commune ended the first phase of
the European labor movement as well as the First International.  Since
then there began a new phase. In place of spontaneous revolutions, risings,
and barricades, after which the proletariat each time fell back into
passivity, there began the systematic daily struggle, the exploitation
of bourgeois parliamentarianism, mass organizations, the marriage of
the economic with the political struggle, and that of socialist ideals
with stubborn defense of immediate daily interests. For the first time
the polestar of strict scientific teachings lit the way for the proletariat
and for its emancipation. Instead of sects, schools, utopias, and isolated
experiments in various countries, there arose a uniform, international
theoretical basis which bound countries together like the strands of
a rope. Marxist knowledge gave the working class of the entire world
a compass by which it can make sense of the welter of daily events and
by which it can always plot the right course to take to the fixed and
She who bore, championed, and protected this new method was German
Social Democracy. The [Franco-Prussian] War and the defeat of the Paris
Commune had shifted the center of gravity for the European workers'
movement to Germany. As France was the classic site of the first phase
of proletarian class struggle and Paris the beating, bleeding heart
of the European laboring classes of those times, so the German workers
became the vanguard of the second phase. By means of countless sacrifices
and tireless attention to detail, they have built the strongest organization,
the one most worthy of emulation; they created the biggest press, called
the most effective means of education and enlightenment into being,
gathered the most powerful masses of voters and attained the greatest
number of parliamentary mandates. German Social Democracy was considered
the purest embodiment of Marxist socialism. She had and laid claim to
a special place in the Second International--its instructress and leader.
In his famous 1895 foreword to Marx's The Class Struggles in France,
1848-1850, Friedrich Engels wrote:
No matter what happens in other countries, German Social Democracy
has a special position and therefore a special task, at least for the
time being. The two million voters it sends to the ballot box, and the
young men and women who, although non-voters, stand behind them, constitute
the most numerous and compact mass, the "decisive force" of
the proletarian army.
German Social Democracy, as the Vienna Arbeiterzeitung wrote
on August 5, 1914, was "the jewel of class-conscious proletarian
organizations." In her footsteps trod the increasingly enthusiastic
Social Democrats of France, Italy, and Belgium, the labor movements
of Holland, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the United States. The Slavic
countries, the Russians, the Social Democrats of the Balkans looked
upon [German Social Democracy] with limitless, nearly uncritical, admiration.
In the Second International the German "decisive force" played
the determining role. At the [international] congresses, in the meetings
of the international socialist bureaus, all awaited the opinion of the
Germans. Especially in the questions of the struggle against militarism
and war, German Social Democracy always took the lead. "For us
Germans that is unacceptable" regularly sufficed to decide the
orientation of the Second International, which blindly bestowed its
confidence upon the admired leadership of the mighty German Social Democracy:
the pride of every socialist and the terror of the ruling classes everywhere.
And what did we in Germany experience when the great historical test
came? The most precipitous fall, the most violent collapse. Nowhere
has the organization of the proletariat been yoked so completely to
the service of imperialism. Nowhere is the state of siege borne so docilely.
is the press so hobbled, public opinion so stifled, the economic and
political class struggle of the working class so totally surrendered
as in Germany.
But German Social Democracy was not merely the strongest vanguard troop,
it was the thinking head of the International. For this reason, we must
begin the analysis, the self-examination process, with its fall. It
has the duty to begin the salvation of international socialism, that
means unsparing criticism of itself. None of the other parties, none
of the other classes of bourgeois society, may look clearly and openly
into the mirror of their own errors, their own weaknesses, for the mirror
reflects their historical limitations and the historical doom that awaits
them. The working class can boldly look truth straight in the face,
even the bitterest self-renunciation, for its weaknesses are only confusion.
The strict law of history gives back its power, stands guarantee for
its final victory.
Unsparing self-criticism is not merely an essential for its existence
but the working class' supreme duty. On our ship we have the most valuable
treasures of mankind, and the proletariat is their ordained guardian!
And while bourgeois society, shamed and dishonored by the bloody orgy,
rushes headlong toward its doom, the international proletariat must
and will gather up the golden treasure that, in a moment of weakness
and confusion in the chaos of the world war, it has allowed to sink
to the ground.
One thing is certain. The world war is a turning point. It is foolish
and mad to imagine that we need only survive the war, like a rabbit
waiting out the storm under a bush, in order to fall happily back into
the old routine once it is over. The world war has altered the conditions
of our struggle and, most of all, it has changed us. Not that the basic
law of capitalist development, the life-and-death war between capital
and labor, will experience any amelioration. But now, in the midst of
the war, the masks are falling and the old familiar visages smirk at
us. The tempo of development has received a mighty jolt from the eruption
of the volcano of imperialism. The violence of the conflicts in the
bosom of society, the enormousness of the tasks that tower up before
the socialist proletariat--these make everything that has transpired
in the history of the workers' movement seem a pleasant idyll.
Historically, this war was ordained to thrust forward the cause of
the proletariat....It was ordained to drive the German proletariat to
the pinnacle of the nation and thereby begin to organize the international
and universal conflict between capital and labor for political power
within the state.
And did we envision a different role for the working class in the world
war? Let us recall how we, only a short while ago, were accustomed to
describe the future:
Then comes the catastrophe. Then the great mobilization will
take place in Europe; 16-18 million men, the flower of the various nations,
armed with the best tools of death, will enter the field as enemies.
But, I am convinced, that behind the great mobilization there stands
the great havoc. It will not come through our agency, but rather
yours. You are driving things to the limit. You are leading us to catastrophe.
You will reap what you have sown. The Götterdämmerung of the bourgeois
world approaches. Believe it! It is approaching! [All italics are
Thus spoke our leader, [August] Bebel, during the Reichstag debate
on the Morocco Crisis. 
Imperialism or Socialism?, the official party pamphlet distributed
in hundreds of thousands of copies a few years ago, closes with these
Thus the struggle against imperialism develops ever more into the decisive
struggle between capital and labor. War crises, rising prices, capitalism
vs. peace, welfare for all, socialism! Thus is the question stated.
History is moving toward great decisions. The proletariat must
work unceasingly at its world-historical task, strengthen its organization,
the clarity of its understanding. Then come what may, be it that [proletarian]
power spares mankind the terrible cruelty of a world war, or be it
that the capitalist world sinks into history in the same way as it was
born, in blood and violence. [In either case] the historical hour
will find the working class prepared--and preparation is everything.
[All italics are Luxemburg's.]
The official Handbook for Social-Democratic Voters (1911), for
the last Reichstag election, says on p. 42 concerning the expected world
Do our rulers and ruling classes expect the peoples to permit this
awful thing? Will not a cry of horror, of scorn, of outrage not
seize the peoples and cause them to put an end to this murder? Will
they not ask: For whom? what's it all for? Are we mentally disturbed
to be treated this way, to allow ourselves to be so treated? He who
is calmly convinced of the probability of a great European war can come
to no other conclusion than the following: The next European war will
be such a desperate gamble as the world has never seen. In all probability
it will be the last war.
With speeches and words such as these, our current Reichstag deputies
acquired their 110 mandates.
In the summer of 1911, when the Panther made its lunge to Agadir
the noisy agitation of the German imperialists put war in the immediate
offing, an international meeting in London accepted the following resolution
(August 4, 1911):
The delegates of the German, Spanish, English, Dutch, and French workers'
organizations declare themselves to be ready to oppose any declaration
of war with all the means at their disposal. Every represented nation
undertakes the obligation, according to the resolutions of national
and international congresses, to act against all criminal machinations
of the ruling classes.
When, in November 1912, the congress of the International met in the
minster at Basel and when the long procession of worker representatives
entered the cathedral, everyone present felt a presentiment of the greatness
of the coming destiny and a heroic resolve.
The cool, skeptical Victor Adler spoke:
Comrades, the most important thing is that we are here at the common
source of our strength, that we can draw from this strength so that
each can do in his own country what he can, according to the forms and
means that we have, to oppose the crime of war with all the power we
possess. And if it can be stopped, if it is really stopped, then
we must see to it that it becomes a cornerstone for the end [of
bourgeois society]. This is the moving spirit for the whole International.
And if murder and arson and pestilence are unleashed throughout civilized
Europe--we can only think of this with horror, outrage and indignation
churning in our breasts. And we ask ourselves: are we men, are the
proletarians of today still sheep that they can be led dumbly to
And [Jean] Jaures concluded the reading of the International Bureau's
manifesto against the war with these words:
The International represents all the moral force of the world! And
if the tragic hour strikes and we must give ourselves up to it, the
consciousness of this will support and strengthen us. We do not merely
say "no" but from the depth of our hearts we declare ourselves
ready to sacrifice everything.
It was reminiscent of the Oath of Ruetli.  The
world directed its gaze to the church at Basel where the bell sounded
solemnly for the future great battle between the army of labor and the
power of capital....
Even a week before the outbreak of war, on July 26, 1914, German party
We are not marionettes. We combat with all our energy a system
that makes men into will-less tools of blind circumstance, this capitalism
that seeks to transform a Europe thirsting for peace into a steaming
slaughterhouse. If destruction has its way, if the united will to peace
of the German, the international proletariat, which will make itself
known in powerful demonstrations in the coming days, if the world war
cannot be fended off, then at least this should be the last war,
it should become the Götterdämmerung of capitalism. (Frankfurter
Then on July 30, 1914, the central organ of German Social Democracy
The socialist proletariat rejects any responsibility for the events
being brought about by a blinded, a maddened ruling class. Let it be
known that a new life shall bloom from the ruins. All responsibility
falls to the wielders of power today! It is "to be or not to
be!" "World-history is the world-court!"
And then came the unheard of, the unprecedented, the 4th of August
Did it have to come? An event of this scope is certainly no game of
chance. It must have deep and wide-reaching objective causes. These
causes can, however, also lie in the errors of the leader of the proletariat,
the Social Democrats, in the waning of our fighting spirit, our courage,
and loyalty to our convictions. Scientific socialism has taught us to
comprehend the objective laws of historical development. Men do not
make history according to their own free will. But they make history
nonetheless. Proletarian action is dependent upon the degree of maturity
in social development. However, social development is not independent
of the proletariat but is equally its driving force and cause, its effect
and consequence. [Proletarian] action participates in history. And while
we can as little skip a stage of historical development as escape our
shadow, we can certainly accelerate or retard history.
Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set
itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will,
into play in the social actions of mankind. For this reason, Friedrich
Engels designated the final victory of the socialist proletariat a leap
of humanity from the animal world into the realm of freedom. This "leap"
is also an iron law of history bound to the thousands of seeds of a
prior torment-filled and all-too-slow development. But this can never
be realized until the development of complex material conditions strikes
the incendiary spark of conscious will in the great masses. The victory
of socialism will not descend from heaven. It can only be won by a long
chain of violent tests of strength between the old and the new powers.
The international proletariat under the leadership of the Social Democrats
will thereby learn to try to take its history into its own hands; instead
of remaining a will-less football, it will take the tiller of social
life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history.
Friedrich Engels once said: "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads,
either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism." What
does "regression into barbarism" mean to our lofty European
civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these
words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness.
A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois
society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism.
The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization.
At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war,
but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward
its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich
Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism
and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation,
desolation, degeneration--a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism,
that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat
against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world
history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of
the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity
depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw
its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism
has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale
toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery
and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat
can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey
to the ruling classes.
Dearly bought is the modern working class' understanding of its historical
vocation. Its emancipation as a class is sown with fearful sacrifices,
a veritable path to Golgotha. The June days, the sacrifice of the Commune,
the martyrs of the Russian Revolution--a dance of bloody shadows without
number.  All
fell on the field of honor. They are, as Marx wrote about the heroes
of the Commune, eternally "enshrined in the great heart of the
working class." Now, millions of proletarians of all tongues fall
upon the field of dishonor, of fratricide, lacerating themselves while
the song of the slave is on their lips. This, too, we are not spared.
We are like the Jews that Moses led through the desert. But we are not
lost, and we will be victorious if we have not unlearned how to learn.
And if the present leaders of the proletariat, the Social Democrats,
do not understand how to learn, then they will go under "to make
room for people capable of dealing with a new world."
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;  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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;  [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
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
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  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!
END OF TEXT
FOR FURTHER READING
James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914 (2nd rev. ed,
J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg. Abridged ed. (London, 1967)
W. L. Guttsman, The German Social Democratic Party, 1875-1933
 Six weeks was the time allotted for victory on the Western Front
by the Schlieffen Plan. The general staff was forced to scrap the plan
in October 1914, as the war of movement swiftly evolved into grinding
trench warfare. Jump back to
 For three days in April 1903, Kishinev, the provincial capital
of Bessarabia in the Russian Empire, was the scene of an anti-Jewish
riot. According to an official report, more than fifty Jews were killed
and over five hundred injured; hundreds of homes and shops were plundered
and vandalized. Local authorities supported antisemitic organizations
and deliberately maximized the carnage by holding back on the use of
force to reestablish order. Luxemburg here uses the reference to the
Kishinev pogrom and to "ritual murder"--the medieval belief
that Jews used the blood of Christians, usually children, for ritual
purposes--as the nadir of civilization. Jump back to
 Quoting Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
(1852). Jump back to
 At the close of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, besieged Paris
revolted against the regular French government (sitting in Bordeaux).
For ten weeks representatives of the working class, organized as the
Commune, ruled "the capital of Europe" with an efficiency
and fairness that surprised and disturbed the propertied classes all
over Europe. Recouping its forces, the elected French government retook
Paris in street-by-street fighting marked by wanton atrocities and destruction
of property on both sides. The First International, founded by Karl
Marx in 1864, was falsely accused of fomenting the Commune. Its true
purpose was to unite working class parties in pursuit of the revolutionary
goals first outlined in the Communist Manifesto (1848). But doctrinal
divisions and factionalism paralyzed the organization which met for
the last time in Philadelphia in 1874. Jump back to
 The successor to the First International, the Second took form
in 1889 and recruited most of the Social Democratic parties of Europe
from its central offices in Brussels. World War I destroyed the viability
of the organization, although it continued to function as the voice
of moderate socialists as opposed to the more radical communist parties
arrayed in Lenin's Third International or Comintern (1919-43). Jump back to
 With mobilization at the outbreak of the war, the role of the civilian
sector in Germany shrank continually. The country was divided into defense
sectors and commanding generals within these took over all the functions
of government; they could suspend civil rights, arrest individuals under
the guise of protective custody, and exercize considerable powers of
censorship. Thus they were able to stifle dissent and particularly to
restrict news of the military failures. Jump back to
 August Bebel (1840-1913), a rarity in the leadership of the European
socialist movement, an authentic worker, singlehandedly organized the
Marxist branch of the German labor movement in the 1860s and then guided
it until his death. The Second Morocco Crisis of 1911 aroused fears
of imminent European war. The crisis resolution entailed Germany's recognition
of a French protectorate in exchange for a large, relatively worthless
strip of French Equatorial Africa. While Britain strongly supported
its French ally, Germany had had to back down when its own allies showed
clear unwillingness to go to war on behalf of overseas interests. Nationalists
at home regarded the outcome as a humiliation, further proof that the
kaiser's government was incapable of directing the drive for world power.
Leftists saw the crisis as ominous proof of the intentions of militarists
and imperialists. Jump back to
 Sending the German gunboat, Panther, to Agadir, a port in Morocco,
was the kaiser's way of announcing his intention of protecting German
interests. The symbolic attempt to preempt French designs on erecting
a protectorate over Morocco was seen as a provocation and helped the
conflict in interest escalate into a full-blown crisis. Jump
back to text.
 According to legend, Wilhelm Tell and representatives of three
Swiss cantons met at Ruetli in 1307 to pledge resistance against Austrian
tyranny, the traditional foundation of Swiss freedom. Jump
back to text.
 In June 1848, four months after the revolutionary overthrow of
the Orleanist monarchy in France, the conservative bourgeoisie regained
control of Paris amid street-fighting and great bloodshed. The defeat
of the Parisian communards in June 1871 by regular French forces was
accompanied by mass executions and later deportations. The Russian revolution
referred to by Luxemburg took place in 1905. Briefly, working class
soviets (councils) controlled St. Petersburg and Moscow, but tsarist
forces were able to quell the revolutionaries and reestablish a somewhat
modified autocracy. Jump back
 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.
 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. Jump back
 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.
back to text.