Rosa Luxemburg

Marxist Theory and the Proletariat



Written: 1903.
First Published: Vorwärts (Berlin), No.64, 14 March 1903, Karl Marx.
Source: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Marx’s Death first appeared in English in the December 1941 issue of Fourth International, p.319. The extract starts with the 6th paragraph (excluding the quote at the start) and can be found Gesammelte Werke, pp.369-377, this extract being pp.370-372. The full article is in the German Rosa Luxemburg archive. As always, we far prefer to have the full version online instead of an abstract, so translators are wanted to translate the rest of this document!
Translated: [...]
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins.
Public Domain: Luxemburg Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free.

In his article on Feuerbach, Engels formulated the essence of philosophy as its attempt to answer the eternal quest of the relationship between thinking and being, the problem of human consciousness in an objective material world. If we transfer these concepts of being and thinking from the abstract world of nature and individual speculation, i.e., from spheres where philosophers by profession operate, into the sphere of social life, then the same thing can in a certain sense be said about socialism that Engels said about philosophy. From ancient times socialism has been the search, the groping for ways and means to harmonize being with thinking, that is to say, to harmonize historical forms of life with social consciousness.

Marx together with his friend Engels was destined to discover the solution to this problem over which men had racked their brains for centuries. Marx discovered that history of all previous societies was in the last analysis the history of the relations of production and distribution in these societies, and that the development of these relations under the rule of private property manifests itself in the sphere of political and social institutions in the form of the class struggle; and by this discovery Marx laid bare the most important motive force in history. At the same time an explanation was discovered for the necessary disharmony in all societies existing up to now between consciousness and existence, between the desires of mankind and the social reality, between intentions and results.

Thus, thanks to the ideas of Karl Marx, men learned the first time the secret of their own social progress. Over and above this, the discovery of the laws of capitalist development likewise pointed out the road along which society is moving – from the spontaneous and unconscious stages during which men made history in the same manner as bees construct their hives, to the conscious, creative and genuinely human historical stage, that stage when the will of society and social reality shall for the first time be harmoniously correlated with each other, when the actions of the social man will for the first time produce precisely the results he will desire.

In Engels’ words, this final “leap from the animal kingdom into the domain of human freedom” will be achieved for society as a whole only with the accomplishment of the socialist overturn; but this is already being accomplished within framework of the existing order through the social-democratic policies. With the Ariadne thread of Marx’s teachings in its hands, the workers’ party is today the only party which, from the historical point of view, is conscious of what it is doing; and by virtue of this is doing precisely that which it desires. This is the whole secret of the power of social-democracy (revolutionary Marxism was known by this name in Rosa’s time – Editor).

The bourgeois world has long been astonished by the extraordinary, insuperable and constant growth of the social-democracy. Now and then, isolated senile or infantile naive minds are to be found, who, being blinded by the extraordinary moral successes of our politics, advise the bourgeoisie to take us as an “example” and to drink deeply of the mysterious wisdom and idealism of the social-democracy. They are incapable of understanding that what is a source of life and vigor, a fountain of youth, for the developing working class is for the bourgeois parties – mortal poison.

And indeed what is it that gives us moral strength, courageously and laughingly to undergo and free ourselves from the cruellest repressions, such as the current twenty-year law against the socialists? Is it perhaps the stubbornness of paupers seeking petty improvements in their material conditions? The modern proletariat is not a shopkeeper, not a petty bourgeois ready to become a hero for the sake of miserable day-to-day comforts. The lack of idealism, the sober narrowness of the English trade unions demonstrates how little capable of creating a high moral upsurge among the proletariat is the mere calculation for petty material boons.

Is it perhaps the ascetic stoicism of a sect like that among the early Christians – a stoicism which flares all the more brightly the more it is persecuted? The modern proletariat, as the heir and foster-child of bourgeois society, is far too much a born materialist, far too much an individual of flesh and blood and healthy instincts to draw its strength and devotion to ideas, in accordance with the morale of slaves, from sufferings alone.

Or, finally, is it perhaps the “justice” of the cause for which we are fighting that makes us unconquerable? The cause of the Chartists and of the followers of Weitling, the cause of the utopian socialist doctrines was no less “just” than our cause. Nevertheless all these doctrines were shattered against the obstacles of modern society.

If, contrary to all the efforts of our enemies, the modern labor movement marches triumphantly forward, its head raised high, then it owes this first and foremost to its calm understanding of the lawfulness of objective historical development, its understanding that “capitalist society with the inevitability of a natural process creates its own negation, namely, the expropriation of the expropriators, the socialist overturn.” In this, its understanding, the labor movement sees a reliable guarantee of its final victory. And from this same source it draws not only its ability to surge forward but also its patience; not only strength for action, but also the courage to stand firm and to endure.

Last updated on: 30.11.2008