Leviné’s Last Speech

Leviné’s Last Speech

copied from http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/History/Levine.html

This is the speech delivered by German Communist leader Eugen Leviné at his trial in June 1919, following the defeat of the Bavarian Council Republic, which has gone down in history as the Munich Soviet. Leviné had opposed the declaration of the Council Republic but like Rosa Luxemburg before him he saw it as a matter of revolutionary honour to fight alongside the most militant section of the working class, even when he believed the struggle was doomed to defeat. “An honourable death and experience for the future is all we can salvage from the present situation”, he told fellow KPD members. “We Communists are all dead men on leave”, were his famous words to the court. Leviné was found guilty and executed by firing squad.

I FIND it rather difficult to state my case. Even before my first interrogation I pointed out that the whole of these proceedings – the entire trial was really only the outcome of a political and not of a legal situation. The indictment of high treason is based only on the fact that the Soviet Republic was defeated. When it succeeds, it ceases to be high treason. Much the same was said in the leading article of the Münchener Neueste Nachrichten, which stated that “only unsuccessful high treason is high treason. If it succeeds, it ceases to be high treason. High treason is thus a political, not a legal issue.”

I look upon this Court as the representatives of that class I have always regarded as my political adversaries. Perhaps I could account for my actions before Communists; but how could I defend myself before my adversaries for actions which they must regard as directed against their very existence?

I found myself in a similar situation in Russia; I refused to plead and was acquitted for lack of evidence. I shall not pursue the same tactics now; I propose to explain my motives.

I am not defending myself because I expect a more lenient sentence from you. Had I wished this I rather ought to be silent. My Counsel, who are closer to you both politically and as individuals could conduct my defence far more effectively. I am addressing the Court now for the same reasons which made me defend myself so resolutely throughout the whole proceedings. Both in the Press and among the public the most monstrous rumours have been spread about the Soviet Republic, about me personally, about the entire course of events, and I do not wish to let the rumours go by unopposed. The Munich workers have known me only for a short time and some of them may be gnawed by doubts as to whether I am really worthy of the confidence they have placed in me. As I am no longer free, I must use this trial to set everything out clearly.

My second reason is that I am a member of the Communist Party, and this is the most hated and most maligned party in Germany. I regard it therefore as my duty to proclaim in public the motives by which the members of the German Communist Party work, wish to work, strive to work. I owe it to the workers on the Executive Committee and to over twelve hundred members of the Factory Councils with whom I have grown close through our day to day collaboration, even if they ultimately repudiated me. I owe it to them, too, to clear their names.

I am defending myself, then, not to obtain a more lenient sentence, but so as not to miss an opportunity of establishing the facts.

The main difference between myself and the Prosecution is that we regard all political and social phenomena, in Germany as well as in the rest of the world, from totally opposite angles. The Prosecuting Counsel overestimates the power and capacity of leaders to act and to influence events. He assumes that the dice of world history would fall differently according to whether they are cast by honest or dishonest leaders. But the leaders themselves emerge from the masses, even if from a different milieu. They become leaders not because they are superior to the masses but only because they are capable of formulating what tile masses themselves intuitively desire but cannot express for lack of formal education. You will therefore find in your bourgeois circles .I great many people superior to me in erudition, but at a workers’ meeting, I, Gentlemen, would carry the day – and not because of my personal superiority, but only because I would be expressing what the masses felt and wanted.

It was the tragedy of the Munich masses that they still had too little political experience. They were well aware that to achieve victory the entire proletariat must act as a body; but they believed that this body could have various programmes and that it was quite sufficient for the Social-Democrats, the Independent Socialists and the Communists to conclude a formal agreement.

This was actually one of the reasons for the defeat of the Munich Soviet Republic. When the proletariat is united in its will and purpose, it is invincible, but not when unity is established in a merely formal organisational way.

This point of view makes my appraisal of all the issues with which I shall deal later quite different from that of the Prosecution. I do not wish to mitigate my sentence; I do not wish to shift the legal responsibility onto the Executive Council. I answer unreservedly for my actions. I was partly the initiator and I first formulated the ideas which the workers only felt instinctively; but I can say that I would never have taken part in a revolution which was thrust upon the workers by the leaders in the way the Prosecution has described.

When I went as a young student to Russia, I already realised that the activity of a political agitator consists only in formulating the historical will of the masses, not in forcing his own will upon them against their will. This principle governed my actions. I appealed to the masses. When they agreed with me, they responded. When they did not, I had unfortunately to play the part I did play and to reap the legal consequences of what others in their folly had sown. I say all this not to explain my personal attitude, but because it expresses the fundamental views of the Communist Party. This party is generally regarded as a group of people who set out to impose minority terror and dictatorship over the proletariat. Yet every line of the party programme testifies that the proletariat alone is destined to achieve its emancipation.

Our whole attitude to the much-debated question of terror and the use of force follows on from this viewpoint that not only a major part of the task but the entire task is assigned to the masses. I have already had the opportunity to expound my attitude to the dictatorship of the proletariat: that it is only an intermediate stage between the dictatorship of capital and the establishment of complete democracy with only one class of working people. The Communist Party is convinced that this programme could very well be realised without violence if the dwindling minority of property owners would not close their minds to historical necessity. The armed struggle of which we are so vehemently accused only begins when this dwindling minority nevertheless proceeds to defend the privileges of its caste and class by force of arms.

“The Proletarian Revolution has no need of terror for its aims; it detests and abhors murder. It has no need of these means of struggle, for it fights not individuals but institutions.” How then does the struggle arise? Why, having gained power, do we build a Red Army? Because history teaches us that every privileged class has hitherto defended itself by force when its privileges have been endangered. And because we know this; because we do not live in cloud-cuckoo-land; because we cannot believe that conditions in Bavaria are different – that the Bavarian bourgeoisie and the capitalists would allow themselves to be expropriated without a struggle – we were compelled to arm the workers to defend ourselves against the onslaught of the dispossessed capitalists.

This is how it has been in the past and this is how we shall naturally always act in the future, whenever we succeed in attaining power. We did not call on the workers to take up arms out of pleasure in bloodshed. On the contrary, we would be only too happy if the hitherto privileged classes would refrain from embarking upon a hopeless struggle – for one day the struggle will be hopeless. I should like to draw your attention to the fact that the victory of the proletariat in November also passed without bloodshed. In Berlin, for example, the first shots were fired at six o’clock in the evening from the Royal Stables when a group of officers opened fire on defenceless pedestrians out of annoyance at the course of events.

In my view we armed the proletariat to deter the bourgeoisie from an armed counter-attack. The President of the Court or the Public Prosecutor earlier quoted part of an article from the Bulletin of the Executive Council, expressing the apprehension that any gun not surrendered by the bourgeoisie would be used against the proletariat.

While I was initially extremely pessimistic about the situation and did not believe that Bavaria was any different and that the Bavarian Government would not dare to allow the Prussians to march on Munich, I gradually came to hope that we might possibly succeed in holding out until Soviet Republics had been proclaimed in other parts of Germany and that the Hoffmann Government would refrain from attacking us.

We all regard the events of the early days of May not as a proletarian offensive but as an unmotivated bloodbath into which the White Guards plunged the Munich working class.

During the whole time I was in Munich I had the great joy of working hand in hand with my Communist friends. There was always complete unanimity between us and I therefore felt that I was not a stranger but could identify myself with these Communist workers, and through them with the entire Munich working class. I was therefore entitled, at least for that period, to speak in their name.

A second point which also follows from my whole outlook is the recall and dismissal at any time of each and every functionary. The cornerstone of a Soviet Republic is the factory council. The workers are not organised regionally, but in the factories, where they are together every day, where they can get to know each other in the course of their daily work, and where elections of the functionaries are held on totally different principles. There the workers know whether their representative is a mere babbler or a man who can stand his ground.

That is why we accepted this form of organisation as natural and normal – all the more so since the new state was to include only working people. Every representative would hold office only as long as his electors wished. It was therefore not an empty gesture when I repeatedly offered to return my mandate to the Factory Councils. Hence I can say that I and my friends – I may call them my friends – of the Action Committee, all thirty-five of us who resigned on 27th April, were prepared to do so at any time. Not one of us clung to his mandate. And I can assure you that the life we led had no great attraction for any of us, nor for the workers among us, weary after their daily work.

All of us remained in office only out of a sense of duty and regarded it as a heavy burden. I repudiate any suggestion that any single one of us craved for or was drunk with power. Not a single one of us wrested power by force. We received it from the workers of Munich. In the course of two weeks they compelled us three times to keep our mandates. I therefore also reject the allegations that only a triumvirate – Levien, Leviné and Axelrod – or an alien clique, determined the policy. None of these three was a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal or the Committee for Combating the Counter-Revolution.

I should also like personally to reject a reproach which, it is true, was raised from outside the Court but was partly also levelled at me by the Prosecution – namely, that we are aliens. I know very well that I am of Russian origin. I am a Jew, I am not Bavarian. How then could I presume to accept a post which, according to my Counsel corresponded to that of Prime Minister? To understand this you must project yourself into the minds of the working class.

Our ideal is a future German Soviet Republic which one day will be merged into an International Soviet Republic. As long, however, as that was not achieved, Soviet Republics could and can only be affected in separate places, and we were of course convinced that everyone who felt fit for a given post must accept it if no one else was available.

I accepted the post because my previous activity had also given me insight into economic relationships and because I felt justified and indeed morally bound to accept it as no one else was there. And as long as I held the post I had a duty to perform towards the German as well as the International proletariat, and the Communist Revolution.

The Prosecution accuses me of having instigated the ten days’ general strike. It is true that it was I who moved the resolution calling for a general strike. It was obvious that to safeguard a proletarian dictatorship the entire proletariat should stand by, and stand by armed.

We had no police, and it was essential to prevent looting and so forth. The Prosecution has asked how I could possibly justify keeping people away from their work for ten days at a time when work was so urgently needed. The German Government kept millions of proletarians away from work, not for ten, but for many hundreds of days. The German Government aspired after Bagdad and Longwy. We wanted Communism. The means, however, which you do not condemn in their case, you should also not condemn in ours just because we pursue other aims.

The Prosecution claims that the workers only struck under the threat of machine-guns. In reality the motion calling for the strike was unanimously adopted by the representatives of all the factories, including the clerical staff; the officials’ organisations, the post office workers – all were in favour of the strike.

Where then is the terror? Where the violation by a minority? Why does the Prosecution accept the legends which discredit the workers of Munich? Why will it not admit that they acted in accordance with their own mass-resolutions?

Some time later, on the Tuesday after Easter, it was proposed to call off the strike in view of its economic effects. I made a counter-proposal. Sunday and Monday were Easter holidays. If the workers returned to work on Tuesday, it would have created the impression that the strike had fizzled out. I suggested a more dignified conclusion, more consistent with the will of the working class – namely, to strike on Tuesday, to close all theatres, to stop all trams running so that it was quite clear that it entirely depended on the individual, free decisions of the workers whether they worked or not. This resolution was again accepted unanimously.

The Prosecution will know how it was carried out. The workers, with hundreds of post office employees, men and women, in their pale-blue uniforms in the vanguard, marched to the Wittelsbach Palace to express their solidarity with those who have been portrayed in this Court as terrorists and the enslavers of the Munich proletariat.

In the opening stage of the Soviet Republic we had to prevent the propaganda of the bourgeois Press. We were not in a position to introduce mere censorship and were therefore compelled, it is true, to close down the newspapers.

You say that is terror. Yes, it is terror. The same terror practised by the Hoffmann Government in suppressing the Rote Fahne. The same terror which affords me no other opportunity of justifying myself before my Party comrades than to appeal to the President of this Court to let me state my case.

The Prosecution accuses me of having insisted on harsh sentences and at the same time holds me responsible for the looting in the Soviet Republic. I cannot quite understand it. Either I ought not to have instructed the Tribunal to apply severe measures, as was testified by the witness Kämpfer, in which case I cannot be reproached for the looting; or else I should have been allowed to instruct the Tribunal in its duties in the manner I considered necessary in the interests of our work and our task, and then I cannot be reproached for having done so. While condemning me for even considering the introduction of capital punishment, the Prosecution is demanding in the same breath the death penalty for me – for me who neither looted nor murdered.

The Prosecution has spoken of the internal peace which I have endangered. I did not endanger it, because internal peace does not exist. As long as the word “socialism” merely heads the notepaper of the various governments there can be no internal peace; and as long as there are shareholders who could double their fortunes in the five years of war without doing a stroke of work, the workers will try to claim their share of that increased wealth and the shareholders will not allow it. And the more the economic conditions deteriorate in the aftermath of the war, when the prisoners of war return to find no work, no homes, no clothes and the little there is cannot be justly distributed because there is no Communist Republic, the internal struggle will continue. And if it assumes forms of which I and my friends do not approve, the struggle will go on as an inevitable phenomenon against which there is no appeal.

Take a look round! In this very Court are officials who earn monthly only I50 to I80 marks under the present cost of living. Take a look at the homes of the so-called “Spartacist nests”, and you will understand that we have not endangered the internal peace; we have only revealed that internal peace does not exist. And so long as it does not exist this struggle will go on. And if it assumes military forms and carries in its wake all the ghastly misery and distress that actually prevailed in Munich during the first days of May, it is not we who are to blame but those who deny the working class the right to decide its own destiny.

The Prosecution has claimed that I am morally guilty of shooting the hostages. I emphatically repudiate this charge. The guilty are those who in August 1914 were the first to take hostages, though they were never brought to justice or sentenced to death. If anyone else is to blame it is the men who sneaked off to Bamberg and from there sent misguided proletarians together with Officers’ Units and Negroes to fight against Munich.

[Uproar and indignation among the judges. The President intervenes and tries to stop Leviné from proceeding.]

Mr President, I know very well what I may bring on myself by this statement. But I must say that I have been provoked by the Prosecuting Counsel as never before in my whole political career. To justify his demand for the death sentence the Prosecution charged me with dishonourable motives, and based this charge above all on an accusation of cowardice – one of the gravest accusations that can be levelled against a man who has been engaged for sixteen years in the revolutionary struggle.

I am prepared to let that pass and will only say that if the Prosecution reprimands me for not having joined the Red Army after I withdrew from the government and had no more duties to fulfill, I must refer to the statement already made by my Counsel – namely, that I am guided by the code of honour prevailing among my own friends.

On the last evening we held a meeting, attended by workers, members of the Red Army and others, at which it was unanimously decided that members of the Red Army were to remain at their posts, while former members of the government were to “disappear”.

I disappeared. I disappeared, I “sneaked away” in agreement with my Communist friends. But not to save my skin.

Gentlemen, you were very indignant about one of my remarks. I shall not speak about the manner in which I made that remark, but in substance it is nevertheless true. I have read myself in the news papers that among the troops which marched on Munich there were Negroes. Moreover the Hoffmann Government had not shrunk from certain other measures. Everyone must admit that the blockade of Munich, the closing of the railways and the stoppage of food supplies as practised in this “free state”, were nothing more than a repetition of the English blockade which was regarded as morally so objectionable.

As to the charge of cowardice, I cannot prevent the Prosecuting Counsel from making such accusations. But I may perhaps invite him, who demands the death penalty, to be present at the execution. He may then also admit that it is a misconception to assume that only those who fight in the front lines of the Red Army risk their lives. You know the poem which appeared in Vorwaerts after the Berlin January Days:

A hundred proletarian corpses all in a row;

Karl, Rosa and Company, none on show!

None on show!

Three days later Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered, and the “Company”, my friends Werner Müller and Wolfgang Fernbach were also killed. Not one of them was a member of the Red Army.

Gentlemen, I have twice been accused by representatives of the Bavarian Government of cowardice. The first time by Schneppenhorst for not approving of the establishment of a Soviet Republic; the second time by the present Prosecution for fighting not by force of arms but in my own way, according to my own judgement, and for my absence from the battlefield as agreed with the Communist Party.

I am coming to a close. During the last six months I have no longer been able to live with my family. Occasionally my wife could not even visit me. I could not see my three-year-old boy because the police have kept a vigilant watch on us.

Such was my life and it is not compatible with lust for power or with cowardice. When Toller, who tried to persuade me to proclaim the Soviet Republic, in his turn accused me of cowardice, I said to him: “What do you want? The Social Democrats start, then run away and betray us; the Independents fall for the bait, join us, and later let us down, and we Communists are stood up against the wall.”

We Communists are all dead men on leave. Of this I am fully aware. I do not know if you will extend my leave or whether I shall have to join Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. In any case I await your verdict with composure and inner serenity. For I know that, whatever your verdict, events cannot be stopped. The Prosecuting Counsel believes that the leaders incited the masses. But just as leaders could not prevent the mistakes of the masses under the pseudo-Soviet Republic, so the disappearance of one or other of the leaders will under no circumstances hold up the movement.

And yet I know, sooner or later other judges will sit in this Hall and then those will be punished for high treason who have transgressed against the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Pronounce your verdict if you deem it proper. I have only striven to foil your attempt to stain my political activity, the name of the Soviet Republic with which I feel myself so closely bound up, and the good name of the workers of Munich. They – and I together with them – we have all of us tried to the best of our knowledge and conscience to do our duty towards the International, the Communist World Revolution.

Appendix: Leviné’s Death Sentence

Eugene Leviné has been condemned to death for the crime of high treason.

Grounds: From April 4th to 5th the Revolutionary Central Council met in order to overthrow the legal constitution and to proclaim a Soviet Republic despite Leviné’s opposition. The Hoffmann Ministry transferred its seat to Bamberg, while explicitly reserving its rights. The Diet was not dissolved. The proclamation of the Soviet Government was not founded as a State power. It was merely an act of insubordination against the existing constitutional government.

On the night of April I3th to I4th a part of the Munich garrison sought to help the legal government to re-establish its power.

On this date began Leviné’s positive activity aimed at changing by force the Bavarian constitution. He brought about the proclamation of the second Soviet-Republic and the dictatorship of the proletariat. On his initiative an Executive Council and a Committee of Action were set up under his presidency. He ordered the immediate proclamation of a general strike to mobilise the masses for his purposes. The proletariat was armed, a Red Army organised to fight against the government forces. Leviné repeatedly called for the most resolute resistance. A Judicial Commission was appointed to combat the counter-revolution, that is to persecute and suppress the supporters of the lawful government.

The Revolutionary Tribunal, which was taken over from the first Soviet Republic, was to serve the same ends. Numerous actions were carried out by the Red Army to extend the Communist rule by force of arms beyond the borders of Munich. All these measures were designed to transform the entire legal and economical structure into a Communist or Socialist State.

Leviné explicitly accepted full responsibility for all this.

Such conduct warrants a charge of high treason.

Leviné was an alien intruder in Bavaria and he was not in the least concerned with the nature of its constitution.

A man of great intellectual powers, he was fully aware of the implications of his actions. It stands beyond doubt that a man who meddles in such a way with the destiny of a people is guided by dishonourable convictions. For this reason the defendant is denied mitigating circumstances. The Court regards moreover severest punishment as an imperative command of justice.

In accordance with Article 3 of Martial Law the Court therefore pronounces the death sentence.

Order Prevails in Berlin

Order Prevails in Berlin

by Rosa Luxemburg

First printed in Rote Fahne 14 January, 1919. Copied from

[The following editorial is the last known piece of writing by Rosa Luxemburg. It was written just after the Spartacus uprising was crushed by the German government and in the hours prior to the arrest and murder of her and Karl Liebknecht by the Friekorps. – A.L.]

“Order prevails in Warsaw!” declared Minister Sebastiani to the Paris Chamber of Deputies in 1831, when after having stormed the suburb of Praga, Paskevich’s marauding troops invaded the Polish capital to begin their butchery of the rebels.

“Order prevails in Berlin!” So proclaims the bourgeois press triumphantly, so proclaim Ebert and Noske, and the officers of the “victorious troops,” who are being cheered by the petty-bourgeois mob in Berlin waving handkerchiefs and shouting “Hurrah!” The glory and honor of German arms have been vindicated before world history. Those who were routed in Flanders and the Argonne have restored their reputation with a brilliant victory – over three hundred “Spartacists” in the Vorwärts building. The days when glorious German troops first crossed into Belgium, and the days of General von Emmich, the conqueror of Liege, pale before the exploits of Reinhardt and Co. in the streets of Berlin. The government’s rampaging troops massacred the mediators who had tried to negotiate the surrender of the Vorwärts building, using their rifle butts to beat them beyond recognition. Prisoners who were lined up against the wall and butchered so violently that skull and brain tissue splattered everywhere. In the sight of glorious deeds such as those, who would remember the ignominious defeat at the hands of the French, British, and Americans? Now “Spartacus” is the enemy, Berlin is the place where our officers can savor triumph, and Noske, “the worker,” is the general who can lead victories where Ludendorff failed.

Who is not reminded of that drunken celebration by the “law and order” mob in Paris, that Bacchanal of the bourgeoisie celebrated over the corpses of the Communards? That same bourgeoisie who had just shamefully capitulated to the Prussians and abandoned the capital to the invading enemy, taking to their heels like abject cowards. Oh, how the manly courage of those darling sons of the bourgeoisie, of the “golden youth,” and of the officer corps flared back to life against the poorly armed, starving Parisian proletariat and their defenseless women and children. How these courageous sons of Mars, who had buckled before the foreign enemy, raged with bestial cruelty against defenseless people, prisoners, and the fallen.

“Order prevails in Warsaw!” “Order prevails in Paris!” “Order prevails in Berlin!” Every half-century that is what the bulletins from the guardians of “order” proclaim from one center of the world-historic struggle to the next. And the jubilant “victors” fail to notice that any “order” that needs to be regularly maintained through bloody slaughter heads inexorably toward its historic destiny; its own demise.

What was this recent “Spartacus week” in Berlin? What has it brought? What does it teach us? While we are still in the midst of battle, while the counterrevolution is still howling about their victory, revolutionary proletarians must take stock of what happened and measure the events and their results against the great yardstick of history. The revolution has no time to lose, it continues to rush headlong over still-open graves, past “victories” and “defeats,” toward its great goal. The first duty of fighters for international socialism is to consciously follow the revolution’s principles and its path.

Was the ultimate victory of the revolutionary proletariat to be expected in this conflict? Could we have expected the overthrow Ebert-Scheidemann and the establishment of a socialist dictatorship? Certainly not, if we carefully consider all the variables that weigh upon the question. The weak link in the revolutionary cause is the political immaturity of the masses of soldiers, who still allow their officers to misuse them, against the people, for counterrevolutionary ends. This alone shows that no lasting revolutionary victory was possible at this juncture. On the other hand, the immaturity of the military is itself a symptom of the general immaturity of the German revolution.

The countryside, from which a large percentage of rank-and-file soldiers come, has hardly been touched by the revolution. So far, Berlin has remained virtually isolated from the rest of the country. The revolutionary centers in the provinces – the Rhineland, the northern coast, Brunswick, Saxony, Württemburg – have been heart and soul behind the Berlin workers, it is true. But for the time being they still do not march forward in lockstep with one another, there is still no unity of action, which would make the forward thrust and fighting will of the Berlin working class incomparably more effective. Furthermore, there is – and this is only the deeper cause of the political immaturity of the revolution – the economic struggle, the actual volcanic font that feeds the revolution, is only in its initial stage. And that is the underlying reason why the revolutionary class struggle, is in its infancy.

From all this that flows the fact a decisive, lasting victory could not be counted upon at this moment. Does that mean that the past week’s struggle was an “error”? The answer is yes if we were talking about a premeditated “raid” or “putsch.” But what triggered this week of combat? As in all previous cases, such as December 6 and December 24, it was a brutal provocation by the government. Like the bloodbath against defenseless demonstrators in Chausseestrasse, like the butchery of the sailors, this time the assault on the Berlin police headquarters was the cause of all the events that followed. The revolution does not develop evenly of its own volition, in a clear field of battle, according to a cunning plan devised by clever “strategists.”

The revolution’s enemies can also take the initiative, and indeed as a rule they exercise it more frequently than does the revolution. Faced with the brazen provocation by Ebert-Scheidemann, the revolutionary workers were forced to take up arms. Indeed, the honor of the revolution depended upon repelling the attack immediately, with full force in order to prevent the counter-revolution from being encouraged to press forward, and lest the revolutionary ranks of the proletariat and the moral credit of the German revolution in the International be shaken.

The immediate and spontaneous outpouring of resistance from the Berlin masses flowed with such energy and determination that in the first round the moral victory was won by the “streets.”

Now, it is one of the fundamental, inner laws of revolution that it never stands still, it never becomes passive or docile at any stage, once the first step has been taken. The best defense is a strong blow. This is the elementary rule of any fight but it is especially true at each and every stage of the revolution. It is a demonstration of the healthy instinct and fresh inner strength of the Berlin proletariat that it was not appeased by the reinstatement of Eichorn (which it had demanded), rather the proletariat spontaneously occupied the command posts of the counter-revolution: the bourgeois press, the semi-official press agency, the Vorwärts office. All these measures were a result of the masses’ instinctive realization that, for its part, the counter-revolution would not accept defeat but would carry on with a general demonstration of its strength.

Here again we stand before one of the great historical laws of the revolution against which are smashed to pieces all the sophistry and arrogance of the petty USPD variety “revolutionaries” who look for any pretext to retreat from struggle. As soon as the fundamental problem of the revolution has been clearly posed – and in this revolution it is the overthrow of the Ebert-Scheidemann government, the primary obstacle to the victory of socialism – then this basic problem will rise again and again in its entirety. With the inevitability of a natural law, every individual chapter in the struggle will unveil this problem to its full extent regardless of how unprepared the revolution is ready to solve it or how unripe the situation may be. “Down with Ebert-Scheidemann!” – this slogan springs forth inevitably in each revolutionary crisis as the only formula summing up all partial struggles. Thus automatically, by its own internal, objective logic, bringing each episode in the struggle to a boil, whether one wants it to or not.

Because of the contradiction in the early stages of the revolutionary process between the task being sharply posed and the absence of any preconditions to resolve it, individual battles of the revolution end in formal defeat. But revolution is the only form of “war” – and this is another peculiar law of history – in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of “defeats.”

What does the entire history of socialism and of all modern revolutions show us? The first spark of class struggle in Europe, the revolt of the silk weavers in Lyon in 1831, ended with a heavy defeat; the Chartist movement in Britain ended in defeat; the uprising of the Parisian proletariat in the June days of 1848 ended with a crushing defeat; and the Paris commune ended with a terrible defeat. The whole road of socialism – so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned – is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory! Where would we be today without those “defeats,” from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism? Today, as we advance into the final battle of the proletarian class war, we stand on the foundation of those very defeats; and we can do without any of them, because each one contributes to our strength and understanding.

The revolutionary struggle is the very antithesis of the parliamentary struggle. In Germany, for four decades we had nothing but parliamentary “victories.” We practically walked from victory to victory. And when faced with the great historical test of August 4, 1914, the result was the devastating political and moral defeat, an outrageous debacle and rot without parallel. To date, revolutions have given us nothing but defeats. Yet these unavoidable defeats pile up guarantee upon guarantee of the future final victory.

There is but one condition. The question of why each defeat occurred must be answered. Did it occur because the forward-storming combative energy of the masses collided with the barrier of unripe historical conditions, or was it that indecision, vacillation, and internal frailty crippled the revolutionary impulse itself?

Classic examples of both cases are the February revolution in France on the one hand and the March revolution in Germany on the other. The courage of the Parisian proletariat in the year 1848 has become a fountain of energy for the class struggle of the entire international proletariat. The deplorable events of the German March revolution of the same year have weighed down the whole development of modern Germany like a ball and chain. In the particular history of official German Social Democracy, they have reverberated right up into the most recent developments in the German revolution and on into the dramatic crisis we have just experienced.

How does the defeat of “Spartacus week” appear in the light of the above historical question? Was it a case of raging, uncontrollable revolutionary energy colliding with an insufficiently ripe situation, or was it a case of weak and indecisive action?

Both! The crisis had a dual nature. The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”

“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing:

I was, I am, I shall be!

The Third International

The Third International

by Alexandra Kollontai †

[First printed in The American Socialist, Oct. 23, 1915. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1915/1023-kollontai-thirdint.pdf ]

Note:— Alexandra Kollontai has just arrived in this country from war-torn Europe and is now touring the nation under the direction of the German Federation of the national Socialist Party. In this article she gives some of her ideas on the reorganization of the international forces of Socialism.

When in the distant future some historian shall picture the bloody year of horror, and describe the shattering crisis in the labor movement and the division and dissolution of the Socialist International, he will be compelled to declare: “In the depths, in spite of all the wavering of faith and pessimism, in spite of the despair and ruling distrust of one another, there arose during this time the fresh and vital germ of a new international of labor, that international that has fulfilled the great work of releasing the proletariat from the yoke of capitalism.”

The Third International is no utopia, no “baseless vision” of incorrigible optimism. The elements from which it has to be built are already in our midst and have been called into life by the existing crisis. The new international of labor is made up of such men as Karl Liebknecht, the members of the Russian Duma languishing in Siberia, of the ever-growing “left” of the German and Russian Social Democratic Parties that have remained true to the principles of the class struggle and Socialism.

The New Elements.

The Third International of labor includes the brave Italian comrades who have protested to the last against the murder of the people. In the new international are the few French Socialist and unions and the numerous English party members of the International Labour Party and the British Socialist Party, who have fought for the fundamental principles of the working class, who have raised their protest against the war and who will have nothing to do with “civil peace.” The new, coming International is composed of those workers who have met the compulsory “civil peace” with strikes and uprisings.

But the real, the firm basis of the new International must be formed of the Socialist youth. Youth, the bearer of the future — youth, that cares so little for the past and expects everything from the coming life and the future. Youth, whose heart is not contaminated with the petty bourgeois mentality and whose mind can not be misled by the ideology of a bygone age. The fresh, brave, revolutionary, sacrificing youth of labor, that presses forward, ever forward.

All Children of Age.

It is no accident that in all the decisive historical moments, it was just the “great” and the “old” men who sacrificed the ideals of the future to the past, to ancient, outgrown principles. A person may be ever so great as a thinker and fighter, he still is and must remain only the child of his age. And every age has its own ideology and its own progressive tasks. When our “great men,” leaders, laid the cornerstones of the Second International, the principle of the “defense of the fatherland” was a progressive and democratic principle, closely bound up with the struggle of the third estate to establish the modern capitalist state. “Defense of the fatherland” belongs to the time of the defense of  democracy against the last attacks of feudalism, when to stand for the national state was to create the indispensable foundation for the class movement of the proletariat.

It is to be wondered at that it is just the “old comrades,” the “great men” whose services to the movement remain invaluable that look upon the “defense of the fatherland” as the highest duty of the proletariat, and that appear to overlook the fact that the maintenance of the class solidarity of the proletariat of the world has now supplanted this old duty? The anarchist Kropotkin and the Marxist Plekhanov, the orthodox Kautsky and the wavering Vandervelde, Adler, and Vaillant, all can join hands, all are agreed upon the fatal, false, and absolute principle: first “fatherland,” then the party…

Hope Is In Youth.

It lies in the hands of the youth of labor to put an end to this false idea and to attack with fresh courage the new tasks of the labor movement.

It is the youth of labor that must weld together the shattered links of the International. But while the new International corresponds to the new conditions of life and conducts an effective and vital battle against the enemy, this new and third International must have three cornerstones as its foundation. The first cornerstone must be the organic organized unity of the labor International. No purely formal, no purely external alliance of national parties can constitute the center of the world proletariat. Its task must be to replace jingoism and narrow patriotism with the feeling of international solidarity and supplant allegiance to the fatherland with allegiance to class. What have laborers to defend in a capitalistic state? Their outlawry? Their exploitation? Their fetters? The watchword of the new International must be: No war of defense in the conflict of capitalistic states but an aggressive war of conquest of the working class against the entire capitalist world.

Revolutionary Tactics.

The second cornerstone must be the revolutionary tactics and methods of fighting of the organized proletariat. We stand on the eve of tremendous, unavoidable, revolutionary struggles. The capitalist method of production has reached its zenith; private property and national boundaries stand in the road of its further development. Conditions are ripe to call into life the last decisive battle. The second great task of the new International must be to equip this proletariat of all nations for this decisive struggle.

There remains the third cornerstone: the decisive and relentless battle to the bitter end against war between nations and peoples and against the domination of militarism. War between nations and peoples robs the proletariat of its strongest and only irresistible weapon — class solidarity. War weakens the class feeling and brings with it “civil peace,” the highest aspiration of the capitalist world. Therefore it is the first duty of the youth of labor to use every energy to meet every threat of war between nations with the only effective reply — to call the “red terror” into life.

It is the power of youth to take up all these splendid tasks. The building of the new International depends upon them. Make way for the Socialist youth, the bearers of the future! In all reverence we bare our heads to the veterans of the movement, but it is only through the anti-reform, anti-military, revolution-minded and internationally organized youth of labor that a new, strong, creative International of labor can be erected.

†- Alexandra Kollontai was in America for about 5 months, lecturing steadily throughout the course of her stay. She returned to

Edited with a footnote by Tim Davenport.

Civilised Europeans and Savage Asians

Civilised Europeans and Savage Asians

by V.I. Lenin

[First printed in Pravda No. 87, April 14, 1913. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/apr/14.htm ]

The well-known English Social-Democrat, Rothstein, relates in the German labour press an instructive and typical incident that occurred in British India. This incident reveals better than all arguments why the revolution is growing apace in that country with its more than 300 million inhabitants.

Arnold, a British journalist, who brings out a newspaper in Rangoon, a large town (with over 200,000 inhabitants) in one of the Indian provinces, published an article en titled: “A Mockery of British Justice”. It exposed a local British judge named Andrew. For publishing this article Arnold was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, but he appealed and, having connections in London, was able to get the case before the highest court in Britain. The Government of India hastily “reduced” the sentence to four months and Arnold was released.

What was all the fuss about?

A British colonel named McCormick had a mistress whose servant was a little eleven-year-old Indian girl, named Aina. This gallant representative of a civilised nation had enticed Aina to his room, raped her and locked her up in his house.

It so happened that Aina’s father was dying and he sent for his daughter. It was then that the village where he lived learned the whole story. The population seethed with indignation. The police were compelled to order McCormick’s arrest.

But Judge Andrew released him on bail, and later acquitted him, following a disgraceful travesty of justice. The gallant colonel declared, as gentlemen of noble extraction   usually do under such circumstances, that Aina was a prostitute, in proof of which he brought five witnesses. Eight witnesses, however, brought by Aina’s mother were not even examined by Judge Andrew.

When the journalist Arnold was tried for libel, the President of the Court, Sir (“His Worship”) Charles Fox, refused to allow him to call witnesses in his defence.

It must be clear to everyone that thousands and millions of such cases occur in India. Only absolutely exceptional circumstances enabled the “libeller” Arnold (the son of an influential London journalist) to get out of prison and secure publicity for the case.

Do not forget that the British Liberals put their “best” people at the head of the Indian administration. Not long ago the Viceroy of India, the chief of the McCormicks, Andrews and Foxes, was John Morley, the well-known radical author, a “luminary of European learning”, a “most honourable man” in the eyes of all European and Russian liberals.

The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth

The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth

First Letter[3]

by V.I. Lenin

[First printed in Student, No. 2-3., September 1903, Copied from http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1903/sep/30b.htm ]

The editorial statement of the newspaper Student,[4] which, if we are not mistaken, was first published in No. 4 (28) of Osvobozhdeniye,[5] and which was also received by Iskra, is indicative in our opinion of a considerable advance in the editors’ views since the appearance of the first issue of Student. Mr. Struve was not mistaken when he hastened to express his disagreement with the views set forth in the statement: those views do indeed differ radically from the trend of opportunism so consistently and zealously maintained by the bourgeois-liberal organ. By recognising that “revolutionary sentiment alone cannot bring about ideological unity among the students”, that “this requires a socialist ideal based upon one or another socialist world outlook” and, moreover, “a definite and integral” outlook, the editors of Student have broken in principle with ideological indifference and theoretical opportunism, and have put the question of the way to revolutionise the students on a proper footing.

True, from the current standpoint of vulgar “revolutionism”, the achievement of ideological unity among the students does not require an integral world outlook, but rather precludes it, involving a “tolerant” attitude towards the various kinds of revolutionary ideas and abstention from positive commitment to some one definite set of ideas; in short, in the opinion of these political wiseacres, ideological unity presupposes a certain lack of ideological principles (more or less skilfully disguised, of course, by hackneyed formulas about breadth of views, the importance of unity at all costs and immediately, and so on and so forth). A rather plausible and, at first glance, convincing argument always produced in support of this line of reasoning is to point to the generally known and incontrovertible fact that among the students there are, and are bound to be, groups differing greatly in their political and social views, and to declare that the demand for an integral and definite world outlook would therefore inevitably repel some of these groups and, consequently, hinder unity, produce dissension instead of concerted action, and hence weaken the power of the common political onslaught, and so on and so forth, without end.

Let us examine this plausible argument. Let us take, for example, the division of students into groups given in No. I of Student. In this first issue the editors did not yet advance the demand for a definite and integral world outlook, and it would therefore be difficult to suspect them of a leaning towards Social-Democratic “narrowness”. The editorial in the first issue of Student distinguishes four major groups among the present-day students: 1) the indifferent crowd—”persons completely indifferent to the student movement”; 2) the “academics”—those who favour student movements of an exclusively academic type; 3) “opponents of student movements in general—nationalists, anti-Semites, etc.”; and 4) the d politically minded”—those who believe in fighting for the overthrow of tsarist despotism. “This group, in turn, consists of two antithetical elements—those belonging to the purely bourgeois political opposition with a revolutionary tendency, and those who belong to the newly emerged [only newly emerged?— N. Lenin] socialistically minded revolutionary intellectual proletariat.” Seeing that the latter subgroup is divided in its turn, as we all know, into Socialist-Revolutionary students and Social-Democratic students, we find that there are among the present-day students six political groups: reactionaries, indifferents, academics, liberals, Socialist- Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats.

The question arises: is this perhaps an accidental grouping, a temporary alignment of views? That question has only to be raised for anyone at all acquainted with the matter to answer it in the negative. And, indeed, there could not be any other grouping among our students, because   they are the most responsive section of the intelligentsia, and the intelligentsia are so called just because they most consciously, most resolutely and most accurately reflect and express the development of class interests and political groupings in society as a whole. The students would not be what they are if their political grouping did not correspond to the political grouping of society as a whole— “correspond” not in the sense of the student groups and the social groups being absolutely proportionate in strength and numbers, but in the sense of the necessary and inevitable existence among the students of the same groups as in sccie y. And Russian society as a whole, with its (relatively) embryonic development of class antagonisms, its political virginity, and the crushed and downtrodden condition of the vast, overwhelming majority of the population under the rule of police despotism, is characterised by precisely these six groups, namely: reactionaries, indifferents, uplifters, liberals, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Social- Democrats. For “academics” I have here substituted “up lifters”, i.e., believers in law-abiding progress without a political struggle, progress under the autocracy. Such uplifters are to be found in all sections of Russian society, and everywhere, like the student “academics”, they confine themselves to the narrow range of professional interests, the improvement of their particular branches of the national economy or of state and local administration; everywhere they fearfully shun “politics”, making no distinction (as the academics make none) between the “politically minded” of different trends, and implying by the term politics everything that concerns … the form of government. The uplifters have always constituted, and still constitute, the broad foundation of our liberalism: in “peaceful” times (i.e., translated into “Russian”, in times of political reaction) the concepts uplifter and liberal become practically synonymous; and even in times of war, times of rising public feeling, times of mounting onslaught on the autocracy, the distinction between them often remains vague. The Russian liberal, even when he comes out in a free foreign publication with a direct and open protest against the autocracy, never ceases to feel that he is an uplifter first and foremost, and every now and again he will start talking like a slave, or,   if you prefer, like a law-abiding, loyal and dutiful subject— vide Osvobozhdeniye.

The absence of a definite and clearly discernible border line between uplifters and liberals is a general characteristic of the whole political grouping in Russian society. We might be told that the, above division into six groups is incorrect because it does not correspond to the class division of Russian society. But such an objection would be unfounded. The class division is, of course, the ultimate basis of the political grouping; in the final analysis, of course, it always determines that grouping. But this ultimate basis becomes revealed only in the process of historical development and as the consciousness of the participants in and makers of that process grows. This “final analysis” is arrived at only by political struggle, sometimes a long, stubborn struggle lasting years and decades, at times breaking out stormily in the form of political crises, at others dying down and, as it were, coming temporarily to a standstill. Not for nothing is it that in Germany, for example, where the political struggle assumes particularly acute forms and where the progressive class—the proletariat—is particularly class- conscious, there still exist such parties (and powerful par ties at that) as the Centre, whose denominational banner serves to conceal its heterogeneous (but on the whole decidedly anti-proletarian) class nature. The less reason is there to be surprised that the class origin of the present-day political groups in Russia is strongly overshadowed by the politically disfranchised condition of the people as a whole, by the domination over them of a remarkably well organised, ideologically united and traditionally exclusive bureaucracy. What is surprising, rather, is that Russia’s development along European capitalist lines should already, despite her Asiatic political system, have made so strong a mark on the political grouping of society.

In our country too, the industrial proletariat, the progressive class of every capitalist country, has already entered on the path of a mass, organised movement led by Social-Democracy, under the banner of a programme which has long since become the programme of the class-conscious proletariat of the whole world. The category of people who are indifferent to politics is of course incomparably   larger in Russia than in any European country, but even in Russia one can no longer speak of the primitive and primeval virginity of this category: the indifference of the non- class-conscious workers—and partly of the peasants too—is giving place more and more often to outbursts of political unrest and active protest, which clearly demonstrate that this indifference has nothing in common with the indifference of the well-fed bourgeois and petty bourgeois. This latter class, which is particularly numerous in Russia owing to her still relatively small degree of capitalist development, is already unquestionably beginning, on the one hand, to produce some conscious and consistent reactionaries; but on the other hand, and immeasurably more often, it is still little to be distinguished from the mass of ignorant and downtrodden “toiling folk” and draws its ideologues from among the large group of raznochintsy[6] intellectuals, with their absolutely unsettled world outlook and unconscious jumble of democratic and primitive-socialist ideas. It is just this ideology that is characteristic of the old Russian intelligentsia, both of the Right wing of its liberal-Narodnik section and of the most Leftward wing: the “Socialist Revolutionaries”.

I said the “old” Russian intelligentsia. For a new intelligentsia, whose liberalism has almost entirely sloughed off primitive Narodism and vague socialism (not without the help of Russian Marxism, of course), is already making its appearance in our country. The formation of a real bourgeois-liberal intelligentsia is proceeding in Russia with giant strides, especially owing to the participation in this process of people so nimble and responsive to every opportunist vogue as Messrs. Struve, Berdyaev, Bulgakov & Go. As regards, lastly, those liberal and reactionary elements of Russian society who do not belong to the intelligentsia, their connection with the class interests of one or another group of our bourgeoisie or landowners is clear enough to anyone at all acquainted, say, with the activities of our Zemstvos,[7] Dumas, stock-exchange committees, fair committees, etc.

And so, we have arrived at the indubitable conclusion that the political grouping of our students is not accidental, but is bound to be such as we have depicted above, in concurrence with the first issue of Student. Having established that fact, we can easily cope with the controversial question of what, actually, should be understood by “achieving ideological unity among the students”, “revolutionising” the students, and so on. It even seems very strange at first glance that so simple a question should have proved controversial. If the political grouping of the students corresponds to the political grouping of society, does it not follow of itself that “achieving ideological unity” among the students can mean only one of two things: either winning over the largest possible number of students to a quite definite set of social and political ideas, or establishing the closest possible bond between the students of a definite political group and the members of that group outside the student body. Is it not self-evident that one can speak of revolutionising the students only having in mind a perfectly definite content and character of this revolutionising process? To the Social-Democrat, for example, it means, firstly, spreading Social-Democratic ideas among the students and combating ideas which, though called “Socialist-Revolutionary”, have nothing in common with revolutionary socialism; and, secondly, endeavouring to broaden every democratic student movement, the academic kind included, and make it more conscious and determined.

How so clear and simple a question was confused and rendered controversial is a very interesting and very characteristic story. A controversy arose between Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (Nos. 13 and 17) and Iskra (Nos. 31 and 35) over the “Open Letter” of the Kiev Joint Council of United Fraternities and Student Organisations (printed in Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, No. 13, and in Student, No. 1). The Kiev Joint Council characterised as “narrow” the decision of the Second All-Russian Student Congress of 1902 that student organisations should maintain relations with the committees of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party; and the quite obvious fact that a certain section of the students in certain localities sympathise with the “Socialist Revolutionary Party” was nicely covered up by the very   “impartial” and very unsound argument that “the students as such cannot associate themselves in their entirety with either the Socialist-Revolutionary Party or the Social- Democratic Party”. Iskra pointed to the unsoundness of this argument, but Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, of course, flew to arms in its defence, calling the Iskra-ists “fanatics for divisions and splits” and accusing them of “tactlessness” and lack of political maturity.

After what has been said above, the absurdity of such an argument is only too apparent. The question at issue is the particular political role the students should play. And, don’t you see, you must first shut your eyes to the fact that the students are not cut off from the rest of society and therefore always and inevitably reflect the political grouping of society as a whole, and then, with eyes thus shut, proceed to chatter about the students as such, or the students in general. The conclusion arrived at is … the harmfulness of divisions and splits resulting from association with a particular political party. It is clear as daylight that in order to carry this curious argument to its conclusion, the arguer had to leap from the political plane to the occupational or educational plane. And it is just such a flying leap that Revolutsionnaya Rossiya makes in the article “The Students and Revolution” (No. 17), talking, firstly, about general student interests and the general student struggle and, secondly, about the educational aims of the students, the task of training themselves for future social activity and developing into conscious political fighters. Both these points are very just—but they have nothing to do with the case and only confuse the issue. The question under discussion is political activity, which by its very nature is connected inseparably with the struggle of parties and inevitably involves the choice of one definite party. How, then, can one evade this choice on the grounds that all political activity requires very serious scientific training, the “development” of firm convictions, or that no political work can be confined to circles of politically minded people of a particular trend, but must be directed to ever broader sections of the population, must link up with the occupational interests of every section, must unite the occupational movement with the political movement and raise the former to the level of the   latter?? Why, the very fact that people have to resort to such devices in order to defend their position shows how sadly they themselves are wanting both in definite scientific convictions and in a firm political line! From whatever side you approach the matter, you find fresh confirmation of the old truth which the Social-Democrats have long propounded in condemning the efforts of the Socialist- Revolutionaries to balance themselves—as regards both scientific theory and practical politics—between Marxism, West-European “critical” opportunism and Russian petty- bourgeois Narodism.[1]

Indeed, imagine a state of things where political relations are at all developed and see how our “controversial question” looks in practice. Suppose there is a clerical party, a liberal party and a Social-Democratic party. In certain localities they function among certain sections of the students, let us say, and, perhaps, of the working class. They try to win over as many as possible of the influential representatives of both. Is it conceivable that they would object to these representatives choosing one definite party on the grounds that there are certain general educational and occupational interests common to all the students and to the entire working class? That would be like disputing the fact that parties must contend on the grounds that the art of printing is useful to all parties without distinction. There is no party in the civilised countries that does not realise the tremendous value of the widest and most firmly established educational and trade unions; but each seeks to have its own influence predominate in them. Who does not know that talk about this or that institution being non-partisan is generally nothing but the humbug of the ruling classes, who want to gloss over the fact that existing institutions are already imbued, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, with a very definite political spirit? Yet what our Socialist-Revolutionaries do is, in effect, to sing dithyrambs to “non-partisanship”. Take, for example, the following moving tirade in   Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (No. 17): “What short-sighted tactics it is when a revolutionary organisation is determined to regard every other independent, non-subordinate organisation as a competitor that must be destroyed and into whose ranks division, disunity, and disorganisation must at all costs be introduced!” This was said in reference to the 1896 appeal of the Moscow Social-Democratic organisation, which reproached the students for having in recent years with drawn into the narrow confines of their university interests, and which Revolutsionnaya Rossiya admonished, saying that the existence of student organisations never prevented those who had “crystallised as revolutionaries” from devoting their energies to the workers’ cause.

Just see how much confusion there is here. Competition is possible (and inevitable) only between a political organisation and another political organisation, a political tendency and another political tendency. There can be no competition between a mutual aid society and a revolutionary circle; and when Revolutsionnaya Rossiya ascribes to the latter the determination to destroy the former, it is talking sheer nonsense. But if in this same mutual aid society there develops a certain political tendency—not to aid revolutionaries, for instance, or to exclude illegal books from the library—then every honest “politically minded” person is in duty bound to compete with it and combat it outright. If there are people who confine the circles to narrow university interests (and there undoubtedly are such people, and in 1896 there were far more!), then a struggle between them and the advocates of broadening, not narrowing, the interests is similarly imperative and obligatory. And, mind you, in the open letter of the Kiev Council, which evoked the controversy between Revolutsionnaya Rossiya and Iskra, the question was of a choice not between student organisations and revolutionary organisations, but between revolutionary organisations of different trends. Consequently, it is people already “crystallised as revolutionaries” that have begun to choose, while our “Socialist-Revolutionaries   are dragging them back, on the pretext that competition between a revolutionary organisation and a purely student organisation is short-sighted…. That is really too senseless, gentlemen!

The revolutionary section of the students begin to choose between two revolutionary parties, and are treated to this lecture: “It was not by imposing a definite [indefiniteness is preferable, of course… I party label [a label to some, a banner to others I, it was not by violating the intellectual conscience of their fellow-students [the entire bourgeois press of all countries always attributes the growth of Social- Democracy to ringleaders and trouble-makers violating the conscience of their peaceable fellows…] that this influence was achieved”, i.e., the influence of the socialist section of the students over the rest. Assuredly, every honest-minded student will know what to think of this charge against the socialists of “imposing” labels and “violating consciences And these spineless, flabby and unprincipled utterances are made in Russia, where ideas of party organisation, of party consistency and honour, of the party banner are still so immeasurably weak!

Our “Socialist-Revolutionaries” hold up as an example to the revolutionary students the earlier student congresses, which proclaimed their “solidarity with the general political movement, leaving quite aside the factional dissensions in the revolutionary camp”. What is this “general political” movement? The socialist movement plus the liberal movement. Leaving that distinction aside means siding with the movement immediately nearest, that is, the liberal movement. And it is the “Socialist-Revolutionaries   who urge doing that! People who call themselves a separate party urge dissociation from party struggle! Does not this show that that party cannot convey its political wares under its own colours and is obliged to resort to contraband? Is it not clear that that party lacks any definite programmatic basis of its o vn? That we shall soon see.


The errors in the Socialist-Revolutionaries’ arguments about the students and revolution cannot be attributed merely to. the lack of logic that we have tried to demonstrate above. In a certain sense it is the other way round: the illogicality of their arguments follows from their basic error. As a “party” they from the first adopted so inherently contradictory, so slippery a stand that people who   were quite honest and quite capable of political thinking could not maintain it without constantly wobbling and falling. It should always be remembered that the Social- Democrats do not ascribe the harm done by the “Socialist Revolutionaries” to the socialist cause to various mistakes on the part of individual writers or leaders. On the contrary, they regard all these mistakes as the inevitable consequence of a false programme and political position. In a matter like the student question this falsity is particularly apparent and the contradiction between a bourgeois-democratic view point and a tinselled covering of revolutionary socialism becomes manifest. Indeed, examine the train of thought in Revolutsionnaya Rossiya’s programmatic article “The Students and Revolution”. The author’s main emphasis is on the “unselfishness and purity of aims”, the “force of idealistic motives” of the “youth”. It is here that he seeks the explanation of their “innovatory” political strivings, and not in the actual conditions of social life in Russia, which, on the one hand, produce an irreconcilable antagonism between the autocracy and very broad and very heterogeneous sections of the population and, on the other, render (soon we shall have to be saying: rendered) extremely difficult any manifestation of political discontent except through the universities.

The author then turns his guns on the attempts of the Social-Democrats to react consciously to the existence of different political groups among the students, to bring about closer unity of like political groups and to separate the politically unlike. It is not that he criticises as incorrect any of these attempts in particular—it would be absurd to maintain that all of them were always wholly successful. No, he is a stranger to the very idea that differing class interests are bound to be reflected in the political grouping too, that the students cannot be an exception to society as a whole, however unselfish, pure, idealistic, etc., they may be, and that the task of the socialist is not to gloss over this difference but, on the contrary, to explain it as widely as possible and to embody it in a political organisation. The author views things from the idealist standpoint of a bourgeois democrat, not the materialist standpoint of a Social-Democrat.

He is therefore not ashamed to issue and reiterate the appeal to the revolutionary students to adhere to the “general political movement”. The main thing for him is precisely the general political, i.e., the general democratic, movement, which must be united. This unity must not be impaired by the “purely revolutionary circles”, which must align themselves “parallel to the general student organisation”. From the standpoint of the interests of this broad and united democratic movement, it would be criminal, of course, to “impose” party labels and to violate the intellectual conscience of your fellows. This was just the view of the bourgeois democrats in 1848, when attempts to point to the conflicting class interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat evoked “general” condemnation of the “fanatics for divisions and splits”. And this too is the view of the latest variety of bourgeois democrats—the opportunists and revisionists, who yearn for a great united democratic party proceeding peaceably by way of reforms, the way of class collaboration. They have always been, and must necessarily be, opponents of “factional” dissensions and supporters of the “general political” movement.

As you see, the arguments of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, which from the standpoint of a socialist are illogical and contradictory to the point of absurdity, become quite understandable and consistent when viewed from the standpoint of the bourgeois democrat. That is because the Socialist-Revolutionary Party is, actually, nothing but a subdivision of the bourgeois democrats, a subdivision which in its composition is primarily intellectual, in its stand point is primarily petty-bourgeois, and in its theoretical ideas eclectically combines latter-day opportunism with old-time Narodism.

The best refutation of the bourgeois democrat’s phrases about unity is the course of political development and of the political struggle itself. And in Russia the growth of the actual movement has already led to this kind of refutation. I am referring to the emergence of the “academics” as a separate group among the students. As long as there was no real struggle, the academics did not stand out from the “general student” mass, and the “unity” of the whole “thinking section” of the students appeared inviolable. But as   soon as it came to action, the divergence of unlike elements became inevitable.[2]

The progress of the political movement and of the direct onslaught on the autocracy was immediately marked by greater definiteness of political grouping—despite all the empty talk about uniting anybody and everybody. That the separation of the academics and the politically minded is a big step forward, hardly anyone, surely, will doubt. But does this separation mean that the Social-Democratic students will “break” with the academics? Revolutsionnaya Rossiya thinks that it does (see No. 17, p. 3).

But it thinks so only because of the confusion of ideas which we have brought out above. A complete demarcation of political trends in no wise signifies a “break-up” of the occupational and educational unions. A Social-Democrat who sets out to work among the students will unfailingly endeavour to penetrate, either himself or through his agents, into the largest possible number of the broadest possible “purely student” and educational circles;he will try to broaden the outlook of those who demand only academic freedom, and to propagate precisely the Social-Democratic programme among those who are still looking for a programme.

To sum up. A certain section of the students want to acquire a definite and integral socialist World outlook. The ultimate aim of this preparatory work can only be—for students who want to take practical part in the revolutionary movement—the conscious and irrevocable choice of one of the two trends that have now taken shape among the revolutionaries. Whoever protests against such a choice on the plea of effecting ideological unity among the students, of revolutionising them in general, and so forth, is obscuring socialist consciousness and is in actual fact preaching absence of ideological principles. ’[he political grouping of the students cannot but reflect the political grouping of society as a whole, and it is the duty of every socialist to strive for the most conscious and consistent demarcation of politically unlike groups. The Socialist- Revolutionary Party’s appeal to the students to “proclaim their solidarity with the general political movement and leave quite aside the factional dissensions in the revolutionary camp” is, essentially, an appeal to go back, from the socialist to the bourgeois-democratic standpoint. This is not surprising, for the “Socialist-Revolutionary Party” is only a subdivision of the bourgeois democrats in Russia. When the Social-Democratic student breaks with the revolutionaries and politically minded people of all other trends, this by no means implies the break-up of the general student and educational organisations. On the contrary, only on the basis of a perfectly definite programme can and should one work among the widest student circles to broaden their academic outlook and to propagate scientific socialism, i.e., Marxism.

P. S. In subsequent letters I should like to discuss with the readers of Student the importance of Marxism in moulding an integral world outlook, the differences between the principles and tactics of the Social-Democratic Party and the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, the problems of student organisation, and the relation of the students to the working class generally.


[1] It need hardly be said that the thesis that the programme and tactics of the Socialist-Revolutionaries are inconsistent and inherently contradictory requires special detailed elucidation. We hope to go into this in detail in a subsequent letter. —Lenin

[2] If certain reports are to be credited, a further divergence of the unlike elements among the students is becoming increasingly marked, namely, dissociation, of the socialists from political revolutionaries who refuse to hear of socialism. It is said that this latter trend is very pronounced among the students exiled to Siberia. We shall see if these reports are confirmed. —Lenin

[3] No subsequent letters appeared. The article was reprinted as a mimeographed pamphlet under the title “To the Students. The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth (Social-Democracy and the In telligentsia)”; and Department of Police documents for 1904-05 show that copies of the pamphlet were discovered during arrests and house-searches in Ekaterinoslav, Nizhni-Novgorod, Kazan, Odessa, Arzamas, and the Smolensk and Minsk gubernias.

[4] Student —a revolutionary student newspaper. Three issues appeared: No. I in April and No. 2-3 in September 1903.

[5] Osvobozhdeniye (Emancipation)—a fortnightly journal of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, published abroad in 1902-05 under the editership of P. B. Struve. The followers of Osvobozhdeniye later made up the core of the Constitutional-Democratic (Cadet) Party, the principal bourgeois party in Russia.

[6] The rasnochinisy (i.e., “men of different estates”) were the Russian commoner-intellectuals, drawn from the small townsfolk, the clergy, the merchant classes, the peasantry, as distinct from those drawn from the nobility.

[7] Zemstvos—the so-called local self-government bodies, dominated by the nobility, set up in the central gubernias of tsarist Russia in   1864. Their competence was confined to purely local economic and welfare matters (hospital and road building, statistics, insurance, etc.), and they functioned under the control of the provincial governors and the Ministry of the Interior, who could invalidate any decisions the government found undesirable.

Stagnation and Progress of Marxism

Stagnation and Progress of Marxism

Rosa Luxemburg, 1903

[Source: Karl Marx: Man, Thinker and Revolutionist, edited by D. Ryazanov.. Originally posted online at http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1903/misc/stagnation.htm ]  

In his shallow but at time interesting causerie entitled Die soziale Bewegung in Frankreich und Belgien (The Socialist Movement in France and Belgium), Karl Grün remarks, aptly enough, that Fourier’s and Saint-Simon’s theories had very different effects upon their respective adherents. Saint-Simon was the spiritual ancestor of a whole generation of brilliant investigators and writers in various field of intellectual activity; but Fourier’s followers were, with few exceptions, persons who blindly parroted their master’s words, and were incapable of making any advance upon his teaching. Grün’s explanation of this difference is that Fourier presented the world with a finished system, elaborated in all its details; whereas Saint-Simon merely tossed his disciples a loose bundle of great thoughts. Although it seems to me that Grün pays too little attention to the inner, the essential, difference between the theories of these two classical authorities in the domain of utopian socialism, I feel that on the whole is observation is sound. Beyond question, a system of ideas which is merely sketched in broad outline proves far more stimulating than a finished and symmetrical structure which leaves nothing to be added and offers no scope for the independent effort of an active mind.

Does this account for the stagnation in Marxism doctrine which has been noticeable for a good many years? The actual fact is that – apart for one or two independent contributions which mark a theoretician advance – since the publication of the last volume of Capital and of the last of Engels’s writings there have appeared nothing more than a few excellent popularizations and expositions of Marxist theory. The substance of that theory remains just where the two founders of scientific socialism left it.

Is this because the Marxist system has imposed too rigid a framework upon the independent activities of the mind? It is undeniable that Marx has had a somewhat restrictive influence upon the free development of theory in the case of many of his pupils. Both Marx and Engels found it necessary to disclaim responsibility for the utterances of many who chose to call themselves Marxists! The scrupulous endeavor to keep “within the bounds of Marxism” may at times have been just as disastrous to the integrity of the thought process as has been the other extreme – the complete repudiation of the Marxist outlook, and the determination to manifest “independence of thought” at all hazards.

Still, it is only where economic matters are concerned that we are entitled to speak of a more or less completely elaborated body of doctrines bequeathed us by Marx. The most valuable of all his teachings, the materialist-dialectical conception of history, presents itself to us as nothing more than a method of investigation, as a few inspired leading thoughts, which offer us glimpses into the entirely new world, which open us to endless perspectives of independent activity, which wing our spirit for bold flights into unexplored regions.

Nevertheless, even in this domain, with few exceptions the Marxist heritage lies shallow. The splendid new weapon rusts unused; and the theory of historical materialism remains as unelaborated and sketchy as was when first formulated by its creators.

It cannot be said, then, that the rigidity and completeness of the Marxist edifice are the explanation of the failure of Marx’s successors to go on with the building.

We are often told that our movement lacks the persons of talent who might be capable of further elaborating Marx’s theories. Such a lack is, indeed, of long standing; but the lack itself demands an explanation, and cannot be put forward to answer the primary question. We must remember that each epoch forms its own human material; that if in any period there is a genuine need for theoretical exponents, the period will create the forces requisite for the satisfaction of that need.

But is there a genuine need, an effective demand, for the further development of Marxist theory?

In an article upon the controversy between the Marxist and the Jevonsian Schools in England, Bernard Shaw, the talented exponent of Fabian semi-socialism, derides Hyndman for having said that the first volume of Capital had given him a complete understanding of Marx, and that there were no gaps in Marxist theory – although Friedrich Engels, in the preface of the second volume of Capital, subsequently declared that the first volume with its theory of value, had left unsolved a fundamental economic problem, whose solution would not be furnished until the third volume was published. Shaw certainly succeeded here in making Hyndman’s position seem a trifle ridiculous, though Hyndman might well derive consolation from the fact that practically the whole socialist world was in the same boat!

The third volume of Capital, with its solution of the problem of the rate of profit (the basic problem of Marxist economics), did not appear till 1894. But in Germany, as in all other lands, agitation had been carried on with the aid of the unfinished material contained in the first volume; the Marxist doctrine had been popularized and had found acceptance upon the basis of this first volume alone; the success of the incomplete Marxist theory had been phenomenal; and no one had been aware that there was any gap in the teaching.

Furthermore, when the third volume finally saw the light, whilst to begin with it attracted some attention in the restricted circles of the experts, and aroused here a certain amount of comment – as far as the socialist movement as a whole was concerned, the new volume made practically no impression in the wide regions where the ideas expounded in the original book had become dominant. The theoretical conclusion of volume 3 have not hitherto evoked any attempt at popularization, nor have they secured wide diffusion. On the contrary, even among the social democrats we sometimes hear, nowadays, reechoes of the “disappointment” with the third volume of Capital which is so frequently voiced by bourgeois economists – and thus the social democrats merely show how fully they had accepted the “incomplete” exposition of the theory of value presented in the first volume.

How can we account for so remarkable a phenomenon?

Shaw, who (to quote his own expression) is fond of “sniggering” at others, may have good reasons here, for making fun of the whole socialist movement, insofar as it is grounded upon Marx! But if he were to do this, he would be “sniggering” at a very serious manifestation of our social life. The strange fate of the second and third volumes of Capital is conclusive evidence as to the general destiny of theoretical research in our movement.

From the scientific standpoint, the third volume of Capital must, no doubt, be primarily regarded as the completion of Marx’s critic of capitalism. Without this third volume, we cannot understand, either the actually dominant law of the rate of profit; or the splitting up of surplus value into profit, interest, and rent; or the working of the law of value within the field of competition. But, and this is the main point, all these problems, however important from the outlook of the pure theory, are comparatively unimportant from the practical outlook of the class war. As far as the class war is concerned, the fundamental theoretical problem is the origin of surplus value, that is, the scientific explanation of exploitation; together with the elucidation of the tendencies toward the socialization of the process of production, that is, the scientific explanation of the objective groundwork of the socialist revolution.

Both these problems are solved in the first volume of Capital, which deduces the “expropriation of the expropriators” as the inevitable and ultimate result of the production of surplus value and of the progressive concentration of capital. Therewith, as far as theory is concerned, the essential need of the labor movement is satisfied. The workers, being actively engaged in the class war, have no direct interest in the question how surplus value is distributed among the respective groups of exploiters; or in the question how, in the course of this distribution, competition brings about rearrangements of production.

That is why, for socialists in general, the third volume of Capital remain an unread book.

But, in our movement, what applies to Marx’s economic doctrines applies to theoretical research in general. It is pure illusion to suppose that the working class, in its upward striving, can of its own accord become immeasurably creative in the theoretical domain. True that, as Engels said, the working class alone has today preserved an understanding of and interest in theory. The workers’ craving for knowledge is one of the most noteworthy cultural manifestation of our day. Morally, too, the working-class struggle denotes the cultural renovation of society. But active participation of the workers in the march of science is subject to fulfillment of very definite social conditions.

In every class society, intellectual culture (science and art) is created by the ruling class; and the aim of this culture is in part to ensure the direct satisfaction of the needs of the social process, and in part to satisfy the mental needs of the members of the governing class.

In the history of earlier class struggles, aspiring classes (like the Third Estate in recent days) could anticipate political dominion by establishing an intellectual dominance, inasmuch as, while they were still subjugated classes, they could set up a new science and a new art against obsolete culture of the decadent period.

The proletariat is in a very different position. As a nonpossessing class, it cannot in the course of its struggle upwards spontaneously create a mental culture of its own while it remains in the framework of bourgeois society. Within that society, and so long as its economic foundations persist, there can be no other culture than a bourgeois culture. Although certain “socialist” professors may acclaim the wearing of neckties, the use of visiting cards, and the riding of bicycles by proletarians as notable instances of participation in cultural progress, the working class as such remains outside contemporary culture. Notwithstanding the fact that the workers create with their own hands the whole social substratum of this culture, they are only admitted to its enjoyment insofar as such admission is requisite to the satisfactory performance of their functions in the economic and social process of capitalist society.

The working class will not be in a position to create a science and an art of its own until it has been fully emancipated from its present class position.

The utmost it can do today is to safeguard bourgeois culture from the vandalism of the bourgeois reaction, and create the social conditions requisite for a free cultural development. Even along these lines, the workers, within the extant form of society, can only advance insofar as they can create for themselves the intellectual weapons needed in their struggle for liberation.

But this reservation imposes upon the working class (that is to say, upon the workers’ intellectual leaders) very narrow limits in the field of intellectual activities. The domain of their creative energy is confined to one specific department of science, namely social science. For, inasmuch as “thanks to the peculiar connection of the idea of the Fourth Estate with our historical epoch”, enlightenment concerning the laws of social development has become essential to the workers in the class struggle, this connection has borne good fruit in social science, and the monument of the proletarian culture of our days is – Marxist doctrine.

But Marx’s creation, which as a scientific achievement is a titanic whole, transcends the plain demands of the proletarian class struggle for whose purposes it was created. Both in his detailed and comprehensive analysis of capitalist economy, and in his method of historical research with its immeasurable field of application, Marx has offered much more than was directly essential for the practical conduct of the class war.

Only in proportion as our movement progresses, and demands the solution of new practical problems do we dip once more into the treasury of Marx’s thought, in order to extract therefrom and to utilize new fragments of his doctrine. But since our movement, like all the campaigns of practical life, inclines to go on working in old ruts of thought, and to cling to principles after they have ceased to be valid, the theoretical utilization of the Marxist system proceed very slowly.

If, then, today we detect a stagnation in our movement as far as these theoretical matters are concerned, this is not because the Marxist theory upon which we are nourished is incapable of development or has become out-of-date. On the contrary, it is because we have not yet learned how to make an adequate use of the most important mental weapons which we had taken out of the Marxist arsenal on account of our urgent need for them in the early stages of our struggle. It is not true that, as far as practical struggle is concerned, Marx is out-of-date, that we had superseded Marx. On the contrary, Marx, in his scientific creation, has outstripped us as a party of practical fighters. It is not true that Marx no longer suffices for our needs. On the contrary, our needs are not yet adequate for the utilization of Marx’s ideas.

Thus do the social conditions of proletarian existence in contemporary society, conditions first elucidated by Marxist theory, take vengeance by the fate they impose upon Marxist theory itself. Though that theory is an incomparable instrument of intellectual culture, it remains unused because, while t is inapplicable to bourgeois class culture, it greatly transcends the needs of the working class in the matter of weapons for the daily struggle. Not until the working class has been liberated from its present conditions of existence will the Marxist method of research be socialized in conjunction with the other means of production, so that it can be fully utilized for the benefit of humanity at large, and so that it can be developed to the full measure of its functional capacity.

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