Rosa Luxemburg

On the Spartacus Programme

(December 1918)

Delivered: December 31, 1918 at the Founding Conference of the Communist Party of Germany held in Berlin-
First Published: (in English) by the Young Socialists in November 1966.
Other Version: A version of this translation was published in New International, Vol.9 Nos.1-3, January-March 1943.
Source: Printed by K.A.D. Carolis for Sydney Wanasinghe, 388, Galle Road, Colombo 6 at the Tisara Press, Dutugemunu Street, Dehiwala.
Translated: (from the German) by Eden and Cedar Paul.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Baggins.
Copyleft: Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2003.
Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.


“The tension which developed at the Congress between the sober wisdom of the leaders and the revolutionary impatience of the younger elements was lessened immediately as Rosa Luxemburg addressed the Congress on the Party programme. The delegates had anxiously observed what a great effort of will was necessary before her exhausted body could triumph over the effects of long imprisonment, ceaseless excitement, nervous tension, and serious illness, but no sooner had she begun to speak than inspiration worked wonders and she was suddenly her old self again. All her physical weakness fell away from her, all her energy returned, and, for the last time, her passionate temperament and brilliant oratory held her audience spellbound: convincing, grip ping, stirring, and inspiring. It was an unforgettable experience for all who were present.” [16 days laters Rosa Luxemburg would be executed.]

Paul Frolich, participant at the Congress

Comrades: Our task today is to discuss and adopt a programme. In undertaking this task we are not actuated solely by the consideration that yesterday we founded a new party and that a new party must formulate a programme. Great historical movements have been the determining causes of today’s deliberations. The time has arrived when the entire socialist programme of the proletariat has to be established upon a new foundation. We are faced with a position similar to that which was faced by Marx and Engels when they wrote the Communist Manifesto seventy years ago. As you all know, the Communist Manifesto dealt with socialism, with the realization of the aims of socialism, as the immediate task of the proletarian revolution. This was the idea represented by Marx and Engels in the revolution of 1848; it was thus, likewise, that they conceived the basis for proletarian action in the international field. In common with all the leading spirits in the working class movement, both Marx and Engels then believed that the immediate introduction of socialism was at hand. All that was necessary was to bring about a political revolution, to seize the political power of the state, and socialism would then immediately pass from the realm of thought to the realm of flesh and blood. Subsequently, as you are aware, Marx and Engels undertook a thoroughgoing revision of this outlook. In the joint preface to the re-issue of the Communist Manifesto in the year 1872, we find the following passage:

“No special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section Two. That passage would, in many respects, be differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of modern industry during the last twenty-five years and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in it some details that have become antiquated. One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz: that the ‘working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes’.”

What is the actual wording of the passage thus declared to be out of date? It runs as follows:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy: to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie; to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

“Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.

“The measures will, of course, be different in different countries.

“Nevertheless, in the most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable:

“1. Abolition of property in land and application of all land rents to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3, Abolition of the right of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transportation in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state: the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally, in accordance with a concerted plan.
8. Equal obligation upon all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Coordination of agriculture with manufacturing industries: gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population throughout the rural areas.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc., etc.”

With a few trifling variations, these, as you know, are the tasks that confront us today. It is by such measures that we shall have to realize socialism. Between the day when the above programme was formulated, and the present hour, there have intervened seventy years of capitalist development, and the historical evolutionary process has brought us back to the standpoint which Marx and Engels had in 1872 abandoned as erroneous. At that time there were excellent reasons for believing that their earlier views had been wrong. The further evolution of capital has, however, resulted in this, that what was error in 1872 has become truth today, so that it is our immediate objective to fulfil what Marx and Engels thought they would have to fulfill in the year 1848. But between that point of development, that beginning in the year 1848, and our own views and our immediate task, there lies the whole evolution, not only of capitalism, but in addition that of the socialist labour movement. Above all, there have intervened the aforesaid developments in Germany as the leading land of the modern proletariat.

This working class evolution has taken a peculiar form. When, after the disillusionments of 1848, Marx and Engels had given up the idea that the proletariat could immediately realize socialism, there came into existence in all countries socialist parties inspired with very different aims. The immediate objective of these parties was declared to be detail work, the petty daily struggle in the political and industrial fields. Thus, by degrees, would proletarian armies be formed, and these armies would be ready to realize socialism when capitalist development had matured. The socialist programme was thereby established upon an utterly different foundation, and in Germany the change took a peculiarly typical form. Down to the collapse of August 4, 1914, the German Social Democracy took its stand upon the Erfurt programme, and by this programme the so-called immediate minimal aims were placed in the foreground, whilst socialism was no more than a distant guiding star. Far more important, however, than what is written in a programme is the way in which that programme is interpreted in action. From this point of view, great importance must be attached to one of the historical documents of the German labour movement: the Preface written by Fredrick Engels for the 1895 re-issue of Marx’s Class Struggles in France.[1*] It is not merely upon historical grounds that I now reopen this question. The matter is one of extreme actuality. It has become our urgent duty today to replace our programme upon the foundation laid by Marx and Engels in 1848. In view of the changes effected since then by the historical process of development, it is incumbent upon us to undertake a deliberate revision of the views that guided the German Social Democracy down to the collapse of August 4th. Upon such a revision we are officially engaged today.

How did Engels envisage the question in that celebrated Preface to the Class Struggles in France, composed by him in 1895, twelve years after the death of Marx? First of all, looking back upon the year 1848, he showed that the belief that the socialist revolution was imminent had become obsolete. He continued as follows:

“History has shown that we were all mistaken in holding such a belief. It has shown that the state of economic evolution upon the Continent was then far from being ripe for the abolition of capitalist production. This has been proved by the economic revolution which since 1848 has taken place all over the continent. Large-scale industry has been established in France, Austria-Hungary, Poland and, of late, Russia. Germany has become a manufacturing country of first rank. All these changes have taken place upon a capitalist foundation, a foundation which in the year 1848 still had to undergo an enormous extension.”

After summing up the changes which had occured in the intervening period, Engels turned to consider the immediate tasks of the German Social-Democratic Party.

“As Marx had predicted (he wrote), the war of 1870-71 and the fall of the Commune shifted the centre of gravity of the European labour movement from France to Germany. Many years had naturally to elapse before France could recover from the blood-letting of May, 1871. In Germany, on the other hand, manufacturing industry was developing by leaps and bounds, in the forcing-house atmosphere produced by, the influx of the French billions [Indemity for the war]. Even more rapid and more enduring was the growth of Social Democracy. Thanks to the agreement in virtue of which the German workers have been able to avail themselves of the universal (male) suffrage introduced in 1866, the astounding growth of the party [after the anti-socialist laws were repealed] has been demonstrated to all the world by the testimony of figures whose significance no one can deny.”

Thereupon followed the famous enumeration, showing the growth of the party vote in election after election until the figures swelled to millions. From this progress Erigels drew the following conclusion:

“The successful employment of the parliamentary vote entailed the acceptance of an entirely new tactic by the proletariat and this new method has undergone rapid development. It has been realized that the political institutions in which the dominion of the bourgeoisie is incorporated offer a fulcrum whereby the proletariat can work for the over-throw of these very political institutions. The Social Democrats have participated in the elections to the various Diets, to Municipal Councils, and to Industrial Courts. Wherever the proletariat could secure an effective voice the occupation of these electoral strongholds by the bourgeoisie has been contested. Consequently, the bourgeoisie and the government have become much more alarmed at the constitutional than at the unconstitutional activities of the workers, dreading the results of elections far more than they dread the results of rebellion.”

Engels appends a detailed criticism of the illusion that under modern capitalist conditions the proletariat can possibly expect to effect anything for the revolution by street fighting. It seems to me, however, that today we are in the midst of a revolution, a revolution characterized by street fighting and all that it entails, that it is time to shake ourselves free of the views which have guided the official policy of the German Social Democracy down to our own day, of the views which share responsibility for what happened on August 4, 1914. (Hear! Hear!)

I do not mean to imply that, on account of these utterances, Engels must share personal responsibility for the whole course of socialist evolution in Germany. I merely draw your attention to one of the classical pieces of evidence of the opinions prevailing in the German Social Democracy – opinions which proved fatal to the movement. In this Preface Engels demonstrated, as an expert in military science, that it was a pure illusion to believe that the workers could, in the existing state of military technique and of industry, and in view of the characteristics of the great towns of today, successfully bring about a revolution by street fighting. Two important conclusions were drawn from this reasoning. In the first place, the parliamentary struggle was counterposed to direct revolutionary action by the proletariat, and the former was indicated as the only practical way of carrying on the class struggle. Parliamentarism, and nothing but parliamentarism, was the logical sequel of this criticism.

Secondly, the whole military machine, the most powerful organization in the class state, the entire body of proletarians in military uniform, was declared on a priori grounds to be absolutely inaccessible to socialist influence. When Engels’ Preface declares that, owing to the modern development of gigantic armies, it is positively insane to suppose that proletarians can ever stand up against soldiers armed with machine guns and equipped with all the other latest technical devices, the assertion is obviously based upon the assumption that anyone who becomes a soldier becomes thereby once and for all one of the props of the ruling class.

It would be absolutely incomprehensible, in the light of contemporary experience, that so noted a leader as Engels could have committed such a blunder did we not know the circumstances in which this historical document was composed. For the credit of our two great masters, and especially for the credit of Engels, who died twelve years later than Marx, and was always a faithful champion of his great collaborator’s theories and reputation, I must remind you of the well-known fact that the Preface in question was written by Engels under strong pressure on the part of the parliamentary group. At that date in Germany, during the early [18]’nineties after the Anti-Socialist law had been annulled, there was a strong movement toward the left, the movement of those who wished to save the party from becoming completely absorbed in the parliamentary struggle. Bebel and his associates wished for convincing arguments, backed up by Engels great authority; they wished for an utterance which would help them to keep a tight hand upon the revolutionary elements.

It was characteristic of party conditions at the time that the socialist parliamentarians should have the decisive word alike in theory and in practice. They assured Engels, who lived abroad and naturally accepted the assurance at its face value, that it was absolutely essential to safeguard the German labour movement from a lapse into anarchism, and in this way they constrained him to write in the tone they wished. Thenceforward the tactics expounded by Engels in 1895 guided the German Social Democrats in everything they did and in everything they left undone, down to the appropriate finish of August 4, 1914. The Preface was the formal proclamation of the nothing-but-parliamentarism tactic. Engels died the same year and had, therefore, no opportunity for studying the practical consequences of his theory. Those who know the works of Marx and Engels, those who are familiarly acquainted with the genuinely revolutionary spirit that inspired all their teachings and all their writings, will feel positively certain that Engels would have been one of the first to protest against the debauch of parliamentarism, against the frittering away of the energies of the labour movement, which was characteristic of Germany during the decades before the war.

The 4th of August did not come like thunder out of a clear sky; what happened on the 4th of August was not a chance turn of affairs, but was the logical outcome of all that the German Socialists had been doing day after day for many years. (Hear! Hear!) Engels and Marx, had it been possible for them to live on into our own times, would, I am convinced, have protested with the utmost energy, and would have used all the forces at their disposal to keep the party from hurling itself into the abyss. But after Engels death in 1895, in the theoretical field the leadership of the party passed into the hands of Kautsky. The upshot of this change was that at every annual congress the energetic protests of the left wing against a purely parliamentarist policy, its urgent warnings against the sterility and the danger of such a policy, were stigmatized as anarchism, anarchizing socialism, or at least anti-Marxism. What passed officially for Marxism became a cloak for all possible kinds of opportunism, for persistent shirking of the revolutionary class struggle, for every conceivable half-measure. Thus the German Social Democracy, and the labour movement, the trade union movement as well, were condemned to pine away within the framework of capitalist society. No longer did German socialists and trade unionists make any serious attempt to overthrow capitalist institutions or put the capitalist machine out of gear.

But we have now reached the point, comrades, when we are able to say that we have rejoined Marx, that we are once more advancing under his flag. If today we declare that the immediate task of the proletariat is to make socialism a living reality and to destroy capitalism root and branch, in saying this we take our stand upon the ground occupied by Marx and Engels in 1848; we adopt a position from which in principle they never moved. It has at length become plain what true Marxism is, and what substitute Marxism has been. (Applause) I mean the substitute Marxism which has so long been the official Marxism of the Social Democracy. You see what Marxism of this sort leads to, the Marxism of those who are the henchmen of Ebert, David and the rest of them. These are the official representatives of the doctrine which has been trumpeted for decades as Marxism undefiled. But in reality Marxism could not lead in this direction, could not lead Marxists to engage in counter-revolutionary activities side by side with such as Scheidemann. Genuine Marxism turns its weapons against those also who seek to falsify it. Burrowing like a mole beneath the foundations of capitalist society, it has worked so well that the larger half of the German proletariat is marching today under our banner, the storm-riding standard of revolution. Even in the opposite camp, even where the counter-revolution still seems to rule, we have adherents and future comrades-in-arms.

Let me repeat, then, that the course of historical evolution has led us back to the point at which Marx and Engels stood in 1848 when they first hoisted the flag of international socialism. We stand where they stood, but with the advantage that seventy additional years of capitalist development lies behind us. Seventy years ago, to those who reviewed the errors and illusions of 1848, it seemed as if the proletariat had still an interminable distance to traverse before it could hope to realise socialism. I need hardly say that no serious thinker has ever been inclined to fix upon a definite date for the collapse of capitalism; but after the failures of 1848, the day for that collapse seemed to lie in the distant future. Such a belief, too, can be read in every line of the Preface which Engels wrote in 1895. We are now in a position to cast up the account, and we are able to see that the time has really been short in comparison with that occupied by the sequence of class struggles throughout history. The progress of large-scale capitalist development during seventy years has brought us so far that today we can seriously set about destroying capitalism once for all. Nay, more; not merely are we today in a position to perform this task, not merely is its performance a duty toward the proletariat, but our solution offers the only means of saving human society from destruction. (Loud applause)

What has the war left of bourgeois society beyond a gigantic rubbish heap? Formally, of course, all the means of production and most of the instruments of power, practically all the decisive instruments of power, are still in the hands of the dominant classes. We are under no illusions here. But what our rulers will be able to achieve with the powers they possess, over and above frantic attempts to re-establish their system of spoliation through blood and slaughter, will be nothing more than chaos. Matters have reached such a pitch that today mankind is faced with two alternatives: it may perish amid chaos; or it may find salvation in socialism. As the outcome of the Great War it is impossible for the capitalist classes to find any issue from their difficulties while they maintain class rule. We now realize the absolute truth of the statement formulated for the first time by Marx and Engels as the scientific basis of socialism in the great charter of our movement, in the Communist Manifesto. Socialism will become an historical necessity. Socialism is inevitable, not merely because the proletarians are no longer willing to live under the conditions imposed by the capitalist class, but, further, because if the proletariat fails to fulfill its duties as a class, if it fails to realize socialism, we shall crash down together to a common doom. (Prolonged applause.)

Here you have the general foundation of the programme we are officially adopting today, draft of which you have all read in the pamphlet, What does Spartacus Want?[1] Our programme is deliberately opposed to the leading principle of the Erfurt programme; it is deliberately opposed to the separation of the immediate and so-called minimal demands formulated for the political and economic struggle, from the socialist goal regarded as a maximal programme. It is in deliberate opposition to the Erfurt programme that we liquidate the results of seventy years evolution, that we liquidate, above all, the primary results of the war, saying we know nothing of minimal and maximal programmes; we know, only, one thing, socialism; this is the minimum we are going to secure. (Hear! Hear!)

I do not propose to discuss the details of our programme. This would take too long, and you will form your own opinions upon matters of detail. The task that devolves upon me is merely to sketch the broad lines wherein our programme is distinguished from what has hitherto been the official programme of the German Social Democracy. I regard it, however, as of the utmost importance that we should come to an understanding in our estimate of the concrete circumstances of the hour, of the tactics we have to adopt, of the practical measures which must be undertaken, in view of the probable lines of further development. We have to judge the political situation from the outlook I have just characterized, from the outlook of those who aim at the immediate realization of socialism, of those who are determined to subordinate everything else to that end.

Our Congress, the Congress of what I may proudly call the only revolutionary socialist party of the German proletariat, happens to coincide in point of time with the crisis in the development of the German revolution. “Happens to coincide,” I say; but in truth the coincidence is no chance matter. We may assert that after the occurrences of the last few days the curtain has gone down upon the first act of the German revolution. We are now in the opening of the second act, and it is our common duty to undertake self-examination and slf-criticism. We shall be guided more wisely in the future, and we shall gain additional impetus for further advances, if we study all that we have done and all that we have left undone. Let us, then carefully scrutinize the events of the first act in the revolution.

The movement began on November 9. The revolution of November 9 was characterized by inadequacy and weakness. This need not surprise us. The revolution followed four years of war, four years during which, schooled by the Social Democracy and the trade unions, the German proletariat had behaved with intolerable ignominy and had repudiated its socialist obligations to an extent unparalleled in any other land. We Marxists, whose guiding principle is a recognition of historical evolution, could hardly expect that in the Germany which had known the terrible spectacle of August 4, and which during more than four years had reaped the harvest sown on that day, there should suddenly occur on November 9, 1918, a glorious revolution, inspired with definite class-Consciousness, and directed toward a clearly conceived aim. What happened on November 9 was to very small extent the victory of a new principle; it was little more than a collapse of the extant system of imperialism. (Hear! Hear!)

The moment had come for the collapse of imperialism, a colossus with feet of clay, crumbling from within. The sequel of this collapse was a more or less chaotic movement, one practically devoid of reasoned plan. The only source of union, the only persistent and saving principle, was the watchword “Form Workers and Soldiers Councils.” Such was the slogan of this revolution, whereby, in spite of the inadequacy and weakness of the opening phases, it immediately established its claim to be numbered among proletarian socialist revolutions. To those who participated in the revolution of November 9, and who nonetheless shower calumnies upon the Russian Bolsheviks, we should never cease to reply with the question: “Where did you learn the alphabet of your revolution? Was it not from the Russians that you learned to ask for workers and soldiers councils?” (Applause)

These pygmies who today make it one of their chief tasks, as heads of what they falsely term a socialist government, to join with the imperialists of Britain in a murderous attack upon the Bolsheviks, were then taking their seats as deputies upon the workers and soldiers councils, thereby formally admitting that the Russian revolution created the first watchwords for the world revolution. A study of the existing situation enables us to predict with certainty that in whatever country, after Germany, the proletarian revolution may next break out, the first step will be the formation of workers and soldiers councils. (Murmurs of assent)

Herein is to be found the tie that unites our movement internationally. This is the motto which distinguishes our revolution utterly from all earlier revolutions, bourgeois revolutions. On November 9, the first cry of the revolution, as instinctive as the cry of a new-born child, was for workers and soldiers councils. This was our common rallying cry, and it is through the councils alone that we can hope to realize socialism. But it is characteristic of the contradictory aspects of our revolution, characteristic of the contradictions which attend every revolution, that at the very time when this great, stirring, and instinctive cry was being uttered, the revolution was so inadequate, so feeble, so devoid of initiative, so lacking in clearness as to its own aims, that on November 10 our revolutionists allowed to slip from their grasp nearly half the instruments of power they had seized on November 9. We learn from this, on the one hand, that our revolution is subject to the prepotent law of historical determinism, a law which guarantees that, despite all difficulties and complications notwithstanding all our own errors, we shall nevertheless advance step by step toward our goal. On the other hand, we have to recognize, comparing this splendid battle-cry with the paucity of the results practically achieved, we have to recognize that these were no more than the first childish and faltering footsteps of the revolution, which has many arduous tasks to perform and a long road to travel before the promise of the first watchwards can be fully realized.

The weeks that have elapsed between November 9 and the present day have been weeks filled with multiform illusions. The primary illusion of the workers and soldiers who made the revolution was their belief in the possiblity of unity under the banner of what passes by the name of socialism. What could be more characteristic of the internal weakness of the revolution of November 9 than the fact that at the very outset the leadership passed in no small part into the hands of the persons who a few hours before the revolution broke out had regarded it as their chief duty to issue warnings against revolution (Hear! Hear!) – to attempt to make revolution impossible – into the hands of such as Ebert, Scheidemann and Haase. One of the leading ideas of the revolution of November 9 was that of uniting the various socialist trends. The union was to be effected by acclamation. This was an illusion which had to be bloodily avenged, and the events of the last few days have brought a bitter awakening from our dreams; but the self-deception was universal, affecting the Ebert and Scheidemann groups and affecting the bourgeoisie no less than ourselves.

Another illusion was that affecting the bourgeoisie during this opening act of the revolution. They believed that by means of the Ebert-Haase combination, by means of the so-called socialist government, they would really be able to bridle the proletarian masses and to strangle the socialist revolution. Yet another illusion was that from which the members of the Ebert-Scheidemann government suffered when they believed that with the aid of the soldiers returned from the front they would be able to hold down the workers and to curb all manifestations of the socialist class struggle. Such were.the multifarious illusions which explain recent occurrences. One and all, they have now been dissipated. It has been plainly proved that the union between Haase and Ebert-Scheidemann under the banner of “socialism” serves merely as a fig-leaf for the decent veiling of a counter-revolutionary policy. We ourselves, as always happens, in revolutions, have been cured by our self-deceptions. There is a definite revolutionary procedure whereby the popular mind can be freed from illusion, but, unfortunately, the cure involves that the people must be bloodeddn revolutionary Germany, events have followed the course characteristic of all revolutions. The bloodshed in Chausseestrasse on December 6, the massacre of December 24, brought the truth home to the broad masses of the people. [See the history of the Spartacus rising] Through these occurrences they came to realize that what passes by the name of a socialist government is a government representing the counter-revolution. They came to realize that anyone who continues to tolerate such a state of affairs is working against the proletariat and against socialism. (Applause)

Vanished, likewise, are the illusions cherished by Messrs. Ebert, Scheidemann & Co., that with the aid of soldiers from the front they will be able forever to keep the workers in subjection. What has been the effect of the experiences of December 6 and 24? There has been obvious of late a profound disillusionment among the soldiery. The men begin to look with a critical eye upon those who have used them as cannon-fodder against the socialist proletariat. Herein we see once more the working of the law that the socialist revolution undergoes a determined objective development, a law in accordance with which the battalions of the labour movement gradually learn through bitter experience to recognize the true path of revolution. Fresh bodies of soldiers have been brought to Berlin, new detachments of cannon-fodder, additional forces for the subjection of socialist proletarians – with the result that, from barrack after barrack, there comes a demand for the pamphlets and leaflets of the Spartacus group.

This marks the close of the first act. The hopes of Ebert and Scheidemann that they would be able to rule the proletariat with aid of reactionary elements among the soldiery have already to a large extent been frustrated. What they have to expect within the very near future is an increasing development of definite revolutionary trends within the barracks. Thereby the army of the fighting proletariat will be augmented, and correspondingly the forces of the counterrevolutionists will dwindle. In consequence of these changes, yet another illusion will have to go, the illusion that animates the bourgeoisie, the dominant class. If you read the newspapers of the last few days, the newspapers issued since the incidents of December 24, you cannot fail to perceive plain manifestations of disillusionment conjoined with indignation, both due to the fact that the henchmen of the bourgeoisie, those who sit in the seats of the mighty, have proved inefficient. (Hear! Hear!)

It had been expected of Ebert and Scheidemann that they would prove themselves strong men, successful lion tamers. But what have they achieved? They have suppressed a couple of trifling disturbances, and as a sequel the hydra of revolution has raised its head more, resolu tely than ever. Thus disillusionment is mutual, nay universal The workers have completely lost the illusion which, had, led them to, believe that a union between Haase and Ebert-Scheidemann would amount to a socialist government. Ebert and Scheidemann have lost the illusion which had led them to imagine that with the aid of proletarians in military uniform they could permanently keep down proletarians in civilian dress. The members of the middle class have lost the illusion that, through the instrumentality of Ebert, Scheidemann and Haase, they can humbug the entire socialist revolution of Germany as to the ends it desires. All these things have a merely. negative force, and there remains from them nothing but the rags and tatters of destroyed illusions. But it is in truth a great gain for the proletariat that naught beyond these rags and tatters remains from the first phase of. the revolution, for there is nothing so destructive as illusion, whereas nothing can be of greater use to the revolution than naked truth.

I may appropriately recall the words of one of out classical writers, a man who was no proletarian revolutionary,. but a revolutionary spirit nurtured in the middle class. I refer to Lessing, and quote a passage which has always aroused my sympathetic interest:

“I do not know whether it be a duty to sacrifice happiness and life to truth ... But this much I know, that it is our duty, if we desire to teach truth, to teach it wholly or not at all, to teach it clearly and bluntly, unenigmatically, unreservedly, inspired with full confidence in its powers ... The cruder an error, the shorter and more direct is the path leading to truth. But a highly refined error is likely to keep us permanently estranged from truth, and will do so all the more readily in proportion as we find it difficult to realize that it is an error ... One who thinks of conveying to mankind truths masked and rouged, may be truth’s pimp, but has never been truth’s lover.”

Comrades, Messrs. Haase, Dittmann, etc., have wished to bring us the revolution, to introduce socialism, covered with a mask smeared with rouge; they have thus shown themselves to be the pimps of the counter-revolution. Today these concealments have been discarded, and what was offered is disclosed in the brutal and sturdy lineaments of Messrs. Ebert and Scheidemann. Today the dullest among us can make no mistake. What is offered is the counter-revolution in all its repulsive nudity.

The first act is over. What are the subsequent possibilities? There is, of course, no question of prophecy. We can only hope to deduce the logical consequences of what has already happened, and thus to draw conclusions as to the probabilities of the future, in order that we may adapt our tactics to these probabilities. Whither does. the road seem to lead? Some indications are given by the latest utterances of the Ebert-Scheidemann government, utterances free from ambiguity. What is likely to be done by this so-called socialist government now that, as I have shown, all illusions have been dispelled? Day by day the government loses increasingly the support of the broad masses of the proletariat. In addition to the petty bourgeoisie there stand behind it no more than poor remnants from among the workers, and as regards these last it is extremely dubious whether they will long continue to lend any aid to Ebert and Scheidemann.

More and more, too, the government is losing the support of the army, for the soldiers have entered upon the path of self-examination and self-criticism. The effects of this process may seem slow at first, but it will lead irresistibly to their acquiring a throughgoing socialist mentality. As for the bourgeoisie, Ebert and Scheidemann have lost credit in this quarter too, for they-have not shown themselves strong enough. What can they do? They, will soon make air end of the comedy of socialist policy. When you read these gentlemen’s new programme you will see that they are steaming under forced draught into the second phase, that. of the declared counter-revolution, or, as I may even say, the restoration of the pre-existent, pre-revolutionary conditions.

What is the programme of the new government? It proposes the election of a President, who is to have a position intermediate between that of the King of England and that of the President of the United States. (Hear! Hear!) He is to be, as it were, King Ebert. In the second place they propose to re-establish the federal council. You may read today the independently formulated demands of the South German governments, demands which emphasize the federal character of the German realm. The re-establishment of the good old federal council, in conjuction, naturally, with that of its appendage, the German Reichstag, is now a question of a few weeks only. Comrades, Ebert and Scheidemann are moving in this way toward the simple restoration of the conditions that obtained prior to November 9. But therewith they have entered upon a steep declivity and are likely erelong to find themselves lying with broken limbs at the bottom of the abyss. For by the 9th of November the re-establishment of the condition that had existed prior to the 9th of November had already become out of date, and today Germany is miles from such a possibility.

In order to secure support from, the only class whose class interests the government really represents, in order to secure support from the bourgeoisie – a support which has in fact been withdrawn owing to recent occurrences – Ebert and Scheidemann will be compelled to pursue an increasingly counter-revolutionary policy. The demands of the South German states, as published today in the Berlin newspapers, give frank expression to the wish to secure “enhanced safety” for the German realm. In plain language, this means that they desire the declaration of a state of siege against “anarchist, disorderly and Bolshevist” elements, that is to say, against socialists. By the pressure of circumstanc; Ebert and ScheidCmann will be constrained to the expedient. of dictatorship, with or without the declaration of a state of siege. Thus, as an outcome of the previous course of developnrent, by the mere logic of events and through the operation of the forces which control Ebert and Scheidemann, there will ensue during the second act of the revolution a much more pronounced opposition of tendencies and a greatly accentuated class struggle. (Hear! Hear!) This, intensification of conflict will arise, not merely because the political influences I have already enumerated, dispelling all illusion, will lead to a declared hand-to-hand fight between the revolution and the counter-revolution; but in addition. because the flames of a new fire are spreading upward from the depths, the flames of the economic struggle.

It was typical of the first period of the revolution down to December 24 that the revolution remained exclusively political. Hence the infantile character, the inadequacy, the half-heartedness,the aimlessness, of this revolution. Such was the first stage of a revolutionary transformation whose main objective lies in the economic field, whose main purpose it is to secure a fundamental change in economic conditions. Its steps were as uncertain as those of a child groping its way without knowing whither it is going; for at this stage, I repeat, the revolution had a purely political stamp. But within the last two or three weeks a number of strikes have broken out quite spontaneously. Now, I regard it as the very essence of this revolution that strikes will become more and more extensive, until they constitute at last the focus of the revolution. (Applause) Thus we shall have an economic revolution, and therewith a socialist revolution. The struggle for socialism has to be fought out by the masses, by the masses alone, breast to breast against capitalism; it has to be fought out by those in every occupation, by every proletarian against his employer. Thus only can it be a socialist revolution.

The thoughtless had a very different picture of the course of affairs. They imagined it would merely be necessary to overthrow the old government, to set up a socialist government at the head of affairs, and then to inaugurate socialism by decree. Another illusion? Socialism will not be and cannot be inaugurated by decrees; it cannot be established by any government, however admirably socialistic. Socialism must be created by the masses, must be made by every proletarian. Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there must the chains be broken. That only is socialism, and thus only can socialism be brought into being.

What is the external form of struggle for socialism? The strike, and that is why the economic phase of development has come to the front in the second act of the revolution. This is something on which we may pride ourselves, for no one will dispute with us the honour. We of the Spartacus Group, we of the Communist Party of Germany, are the only ones in all Germany who are on the side of the striking and fighting workers. (Hear! Hear!) You have read and witnessed again and again the attitude of the Independent Socialists towards strikes. There was no difference between the outlook of Vorwärts and the outlook of Freiheit. Both journals sang the same tune: Be diligent, socialism means hard work. Such was their utterance while capitalism was still in control! Socialism cannot be established thus wise, but only by carrying on an unremitting struggle against capitalism. Yet we see the claims of the capitalists defended, not only by the most outrageous profit-snatchers, but also by the Independent Socialists and by their organ, Freiheit; we find that our Communist Party stands alone in supporting the workers against the exactions of capital. This suffices to show that all are today persistent and unsparing enemies of the strike, except only those who have taken their stand with us upon the platform of revolutionary communism.

The conclusion to be drawn is not only that during the second act of the revolution strikes will become increasingly prevalent; but, further, that strikes will become the central feature and the decisive factors of the revolution, thrusting purely political questions into the background. The inevitable consequence of this will be that the struggle in the economic field will be enormously intensified. The revolution will therewith assume aspects that will be no joke to the bourgeoisie. The members of the capitalist class are quite agreeable to mystifications in the political domain, where masquerades are still possible, where such creatures as Ebert and Scheidemann can pose off as, socialists; but they are horror-stricken directly profits are touched.

To the Ebert-Scheidemann government, therefore, the capitalists will present these alternatives. Either, they will say, you must put an end to strikes, you must stop this strike movement which threatens to destroy us; or else, we have no more use for you. I believe, indeed, that the government has already damned itself pretty thoroughly by its political measures. Ebert and Scheidemann are distressed to find that the bourgeoisie no longer reposes confidence in them. The capitalists will think twice before they decide to cloak in ermine the rough upstart, Ebert. If matters go so far that a monarch is needed, they will say: “It does not suffice a king to have blood upon his hand; he must also have blue blood in his veins.” (Hear! Hear!) Should matters reach this pass, they will say: “If we needs must have a king, we will not have a parvenu who does not know bow to comport himself in kingly fashion.” (Laughter)

Thus Ebert and Scheidemann are coming to the point when a counter-revolutionary movement will display itself. They will be unable to. quench the fires of the economic class struggle, and at the same time with their best endeavours they will fail to satisfy the bourgeoisie. There will be a desperate attempt at counter-revolution, perhaps an unqualified militarist dictatorship under Hindenburg, or perhaps the counter-revolution will manifest itself in some other form; but in any case, our heroes will take to the woods. (Laughter)

It is impossible to speak positively as to details. But we are not concerned with matters of detail, with the question precisely what will happen, or precisely when it will, happen. Enough that we know the broad lines of coming developments. Enough that we know that, to the first act of the revolution, to the phase in which the political struggle has been the leading figure, there will succeed a phase predominantly characterized by an intensification of the economic struggle, and that sooner or later the government of Ebert and Scheidemaun will take its place among the shades.

It is far from easy to say what will happen to the National Assembly during the second act of the revolution. Perchance, should the Assembly come into existence, it may prove a new school of education for the working class. But it seems just as likely that the National Assembly will never come into existence. Let me say parenthetically, to help you to understand the grounds upon which we were defending our position yesterday, that our only objection was to limiting our tactics to a single alternative. I will not reopen the whole discussion, but will merely say a word or two lest any of you should falsely imagine that I am blowing hot and cold with the same breath. Our position today is precisely that of yesterday. We do not propose to base our tactics in relation to the National Assembly upon what is a possibility but not a certainty. We refuse to stake everything upon the belief that the National Assembly will never come into existence. We wish to be prepared for all possibilities, including the possibility of utilizing the National Assembly for revolutionary purposes should the assembly ever come into being. Whether it comes into being or not is a matter of indifference, for whatever happens the success of the revolution is assured.

What fragments will then remain of the Ebert-Scheidemann government or of any other alleged Social-Democratic government which may happen to be in charge when the revolution takes place? I have said that the masses of the workers are already alienated from them and. that the soldiers are no longer to be counted upon as counter-revolutionary cannon-fodder. What on earth will the poor pygmies be able to do? How can they hope to save the situation? They will still have one last chance. Those of you who have read today’s newspapers will have seen where the ultimate reserves are, will have learned whom it is that the German counter-revolution proposes to lead against us should the worst come to the worst. You will all have read how the German troops in Riga are already marching shoulder to shoulder with the English against the Russian Bolsheviks.

Comrades, I have documents in my hands which throw an interesting light upon what is now going on in Riga. The whole thing comes from the headquarters staff of the Eighth Army, which is collaborating with Herr August Winnig, the German Social-Democrat and trade union leader. We have always been. told that the unfortunate Ebert and Scheidemann are victims of the Allies; But for weeks past, since the very beginning of our revolution, it has been the policy of Vorwärts to suggest that the suppression of the Russian Revolution is the earnest desire of the Allies. We have here documentary evidence how all this was arranged to the detriment of the Russian proletariat and of the German revolution. In a telegram dated December 26th, Lieutenant-Colonel Burkner, chief of general staff of the Eighth Army, conveys information concerning the negotiations which led to this agreement at Riga. The telegram runs as follows:

“On December 23 there was a conversation between the German plenipotentiary Winnig and the British plenipotentiary Mosanquet, formerly consul-general at Riga. The interview took place on board HMS Princess Margaret and the commanding officer of the German troops was invited to be present. I was appointed to represent the army command. The purpose of the conversation was to assist in the carrying out of the armistice conditions. The conversation took the following course:

“From the English side: The British ships at Riga will supervise the carrying out of the armistice conditions. Upon these conditions are based the following demands:

“(1) The Germans are to maintain a sufficient force in this region to hold the Bolsheviks in check and to prevent them from extending the area now occupied ...

“(3) A statement of the present disposition of the troops fighting the Bolsheviks, including both the German and, the Lettish soldiers, shall be sent to the British staff officer, so that the information may be available for the senior naval officer. All future dispositions of the troops carrying on the fight against the Bolsheviks must in like manner, be communicated through the same officer.

“(4) A sufficient fighting force must be kept under arms at the following points; in order to prevent their being seized by the Bolsheviks, and in order to prevent the Bolsheviks from passing beyond a line connecting the places named: Walk, Wolmar, Wenden, Friedrichstadt, Pensk, Mitau.

“(5) The railway from Riga to Libau must be safe-guarded against Bolshevik attack, and all British supplies and communications passing along this line shall receive preferential treatment!”

A number of additional demands follows.

Let us now turn to the answer of Herr Winnig, German plenipotentiary and trade union leader:

“Though it is unusual that a desire should be expressed to compel a government to retain occupation of a foreign state, in this case it would be our own wish to do so, since the question is one of protecting German blood.” (The Baltic Barons!) “Moreover, we regard it as a moral duty to assist the country which we have liberated from its former state of dependence. Our endeavours would, however, be likely to be frustrated, in the first place, by the condition of the troops, for our soldiers in this region are mostly men of considerable age and comparatively unfit for. service and, owing to the armistice, keen on returning home and possessed of little will to fight; in the second place, owing to the attitude of the Baltic governments, by which the Germans are regarded as oppressors. But we will endeavour to provide volunteer troops, consisting of men with a fighting spirit, and indeed this has already in part been done.”

Here we see the counter-revolution at work. You will have read not long ago of the formation of the Iron Division expressly intended to fight the Bolsheviks in the Baltic provinces. At that time there was some doubt as to the attitude of the Ebert-Scheidemann government. You will now realize that the initiative in the creation of such a force actually came from the government ...

One word more concerning Winnig. It is no chance matter that a trade union leader should perform such political services. We can say, without hesitation, that the German trade union leaders and the German Social-Democrats are the most infamous scoundrels the world has ever known. (Vociferous applause) Do you know where these fellows, Winnig, Ebert and Scheidemann ought by right to be? By the German penal code, which they tell us is still in force, and which continues to be the basis of their own legal system, they ought to be in jail! (Vociferous applause) For by the German penal code it is an offense punishable by imprisonment to enlist German soldiers for foreign service. Today there stand at the head of the “socialist” government of Germany men who are not merely the Judases of the socialist government and traitors to the proletarian revolution, but who are jailbirds, unfit to mix with decent society. (Loud applause)

To resume the thread of my discourse, it is clear that all these machinations, the formation of Iron Divisions and, above all, the before-mentioned agreement with British imperialists, must be regarded as the ultimate reserves, to be called up in case of need in order to throttle the German socialist movement. Moreover, the cardinal question, the question oftheprospects of peace, is intimately associated. with the affair. What can such negotiations lead to but a fresh lightingup of the war? While these rascals are playing a comedy in Germany, trying to make us believe that they are working overtime in order to arrange conditions of peace, and declaring that we Spartacists are the disturbers of the peace whose doings are making the Allies uneasy and retarding the peace settlement, they are themselves kindling the war afresh, a war in the East to which a war on German soil will soon succeed.

Once more we meet with a situation the sequel of which cannot fail to be a period of fierce contention. It develops upon us to defend, not socialism alone, not revolution alone, but likewise the interests of world peace. Herein we find a justification for the tactics which we of the Spartacus Group have consistently and at every opportunity pursued throughout the four years of the war. Peace means the world-wide revolution of the proletariat. In one way only can peace be established and peace be safeguarded – by the victory of the socialist proletariat! (Prolonged applause)

What general tactical considerations must we deduce from this? How can we best deal with the situation with which we are likely to be confronted in the immediate future? Your first conclusion will doubtless be a hope that the fall of the Ebert-Scheidemann government is at hand, and that its place will be taken by a declared socialist proletarian revolutionary government. For my part, I would ask you to direct your attention, not to the apex, but to the base. We must not again fall into the illusion of the first phase of the revolution, that of November 9; we must not think that when we wish to bring about a socialist revolution it will surfice to overthrow the capitalist government and to set up another in its place. There is only one way of achieving the victory of the proletarian revolution.

We must begin by undermining the Ebert-Scheidemann government, by destroying its foundations through a revolutionary mass struggle on the part of the proletariat. Moreover, let me remind you of some of the inadequacies of the German revolution, inadequacies which have not been overcome with the close of the first act of the revolution. We are far from having reached a point when the overthrow of the government can ensure the victory of socialism. I have endeavoured to show you that the revolution of November 9 was, before all, a political revolution; whereas the revolution which is to fulfill our aims, must, in addition, and mainly, be an economic revolution. But further, the revolutionary movement was confined to the towns, and even up to the present date the rural districts remain practically untouched. Socialism would prove illusory if it were to leave our present agricultural system unchanged. From the broad outlook of socialist economics, manufacturing industry cannot be remodelled unless it be quickened through a socialist transformation. of agriculture. The leading idea of the economic transformation that will realize socialism is an abolition of the contrast and the division between town and country. This separation, this conflict, this contradiction, is a purely capitalist phenomenon, and it must disappear as soon as we place ourselves upon the socialist standpoint.

If socialist reconstruction is to be undertaken in real ernest, we must direct attention just as much to the open country as to the industrial centres, and yet as regards the former we have not even taken the first steps. This is essential not merely because we cannot bring about socialism without socializing, agriculture’; but also because, while we may think we have reckoned to the last reserves of the counter-revolution against us and our endeavours, there remains another important reserve which has not yet been taken into account: I refer to the peasantry. Precisely because the peasants are still untouched by socialism, they constitute an additional reserve for the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. The first thing our enemies will do when the flames of the socialist strikes begin to scorch their heels will be to mobilize the peasants, who are fanatical devotees of private property. There is only one way of making headway against this threatening counter-revolutionary power. We must carry the class struggle into the country districts; we must mobilize the landless proletariat and the poorer peasants against the richer peasants. (Loud applause)

From this consideration we must deduce what we have to do to, insure the success of the revolution. First and foremost, we have to extend in all directions the system of workers councils,. What we have taken over from November 9 are mere weak beginning, and we, have not wholly taken over even these. During the first phase of the revolution we actually lost extensive forces that were acquired at the very outset. You are aware that the counter-revolution has been engaged in the systematic destruction of the system of workers and soldiers councils. In Hesse, these councils have been definitely abolished by the counter-revolutionary government; elsewhere, power has been wrenched from their hands. Not merely, then, have we to develop the system of workers and soldiers councils, but we have to induce the agricultural labourers and the poorer peasants to adopt this system. We have to seize power, and the problem of the seizure of power assumes this aspect; what, throughout Germany, can each workers and soldiers council achieve? (Bravo!) There lies the source of power. We must mine the bourgeois state and we must do so by putting an end everywhere to the cleavage in public powers, to the cleavage between legislative and executive powers. These powers must be united in the hands of the workers and soldiers councils.

Comrades, we have here as extensive field to till. We must build from below upward, until the workers and soldiers councils gather so much strength that the overthrow of the Ebert-Scheidemann or any similar government will be merely the final act in the drama; For us the conquest of power will not be effected at one blow. It will be a progressive act, for we shall progressively occupy all the positions. of the capitalist state, defending tooth and nail each one that we seize. Moreover, in my view and in that of my most intimate associates in the party, the economic struggle, likewise, will be carried on by the workers councils. The settlement of economic affairs; and the continued expansion of the area. Of this settlement, must b in the ’hands of the workers councils. The councils must have all power in the state. To these ends must we direct our activities in the immediate future, and it is obvious that, if we pursue this line, there cannot fail to be an enormous and immediate intensification of the struggle. For step by step, by hand to hand fighting, in every province, in every town, in every village, in every commune, all the powers of the state have to be transferred bit by bit from the bourgeoisie to the workers and soldiers councils.

But before these steps can be taken, the members of our own party and the proletarians in general, must be schooled and disciplined. Even where workers and soldiers councils already exist, these councils are as yet far from understanding the purposes, for which they exist. (Hear! Hear!) We must make the masses realize that the workers and soldiers council has to be the central feature of the machinery of state, that it must concentrate all power within itself, and must utilize all powers for the one great purpose of bringing about the socialist revolution. Those workers who are already organized to form workers and soldiers councils are still very far from having adopted such an outlook, and only isolated proletarian minorities are as yet clear as to the tasks that devolve upon them. But there is no reason to complain of this, for it is a normal state of affairs. The masses must learn how to use power, by using power. There is no other way. We have, happily, advanced since the days when it was proposed to “educate” the proletariat socialistically. Marxists of Kautsky’s school are, it would seem, still living in those vanished days. To, educate the proletarian masses socialistically meant to deliver lectures to them, to circulate leaflets and pamphlets among them. But it is not by such means that the proletarians will be schooled. The workers, today, will learn in the school of action. (Hear! Hear!)

Our Scripture reads: In the beginning was the deed. Action for us means that the workers and soldiers councils must realize their mission and must learn how to become the sole public authorities throughout the realm. Thus only can we mine the ground so effectively as to make everything ready for the revolution which will crown our work. Quite deliberately, and with a clear sense of the significance of our words, did some of us say to you yesterday, did I in particular say to you: “Do not imagine that you are going to have an easy time in the future!” Some of the comrades have falsely imagined me to assume that we can boycott the National Assembly and then simply fold our arms. It is impossible, in the time that remains, to discuss this matter fully, but let me say that I never dreamed of anything of the kind. My meaning was that history is not going to make our revolution an easy matter like the bourgeois revolutions. In those revolutions it sufficed to overthrow that official power at the centre and to replace a dozen or so of persons in authority. But we have to work from beneath. Therein is displayed the mass character of our revolution, one which aims at transforming the whole structure of society. It is thus characteristic of the modern proletarian revolution, that we must effect the conquest of political power, not from above, but from beneath.

The 9th of November was an attempt, a weakly half-hearted, half-conscious and chaotic attempt, to overthrow the existing public authority and to put an end to ownership rule. What is now incumbent upon us is that we should deliberately concentrate all the forces of the proletariat for an attack upon the very foundations of capitalist society. There, at the root, where the individual employer confronts his wage slaves; at the root where all the executive organs of ownership rule confront the object of this rule, confront the masses; there 2 step by step, we must seize the means of power from the rulers, must take them into our own hands Working by such methods, it may seem that the process will be a rather more tedious one than we had imagined in our first enthusiasm. It is well, 1 think, that we should be perfectly clear as to all the difficulties and complications in the way of revolution. For I hope that, as in my own case, so in yours also, the augmenting tasks we have to undertake will neither abate zeal nor paralyze energy. Far from it, the greater the task, the more fervently will you gather up your forces. Nor must we forget that the revolution is able to do its work with extraordinary speed. I shall make no attempt to foretell how much time will be required. Who among us cares about the time, so long only as our lives suffice to bring it to pass? Enough for us to know clearly the work we have to do; and to the best of my ability I have endeavoured to sketch, in broad outline, the work that lies before us. (Tumultuous applause)


[1] The draft programme of the Communist Party of Germany was adopted at the Berlin Congress in December 1919. The revolutionary minority group in the German Democracy led by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Franz Mehring, first called themselves the Group of the International. The decision was taken on New Year’s Day 1916 at Liebknecht’s house in Berlin. They had issued Die Internationale in April 1915 and the paper had been promptly banned. From September 20, 1916 letters signed in the name of Spartacus (a Thracian gladiator who led a slave revolt against Rome 73-71 BC) began to appear illegally. They were mainly the work of Luxemburg. The group then became known as the Spartacusbund. Till December 1918, the group formally adhered to the Independent Socialist Party as its left wing, but had its own organization and leadership. At the Berlin Congress, on December 31, 1918, the Spartacusbund changed its name to the Communist Party of Germany.

[1*] Rosa Luxemburg was unaware that Engels’ preface had bee censored so extensively by the SPD Executive that it falsified his views. A tactical argument about the use of barricades was transformed into an argument against military struggle in the revolution. Engels protested vehemently against this bowdlerisation of his arguments but died before he could resolve the issue. The falsification of his views only came to light due to the researches of David Riazanov during the 1920s.

Last updated on: 17.12.2008