Rosa Luxemburg

The Party School

Speech to the Nuremberg Congress of the German Social Democratic Party

(September 1908)

Spoken: September 14, 1908.
Source: German: Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, II (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1951), pp. 311–14; English: Selected Political Writings Rosa Luxemburg, 1971, edited by Dick Howard.
Translated: (from the German) John Heckman.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins.
Proofread: Einde OᰱCallaghan (May 2016).
Copyright: Monthly Review Press © 1971. Printed with the permission of Monthly Review. Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004.

If I take the floor, it is not to protest against the criticisms of the Party School, but on the contrary, to complain about the lark of a serious objective critique. The Party School is a new and very important institution, which must be seriously criticized and evaluated from all points of view. I myself must admit that, at the beginning, I greeted the foundation of the Party School with great distrust, on the one hand out of congenital conservatism [Amusement], on the other hand because in the quiet of my heart I said to myself that a party such as the Social Democratic Party should direct its agitation primarily toward a direct effect on the masses. For the most part, my work at the Party School has dispelled this doubt, Through continuous contact with the Party students in the school itself, I have come to value the new institute, and I can say with complete conviction: I have the feeling that we have created something new whose effect we cannot yet fully evaluate, but we have created something valuable which will be useful and bring victories to the Party.

Yet there are still many things which can be criticized, and it would be astonishing if this were not the case. If I reject the demand for a change in the process of selection of students – for as teachers we have had the experience that the results have been excellent up to now and I could not wish for a better elite corps – I do have some criticisms of the curriculum. The primary element of the curriculum must be the history of international socialism. [“Quite right!”] Even the visiting teachers from the Education Committee should emphasize this question more, instead of limiting themselves to topics in political economy. The history of socialism is much easier to present in abbreviated form without suffering from such a presentation than is political economy. For us, as a fighting party, the history of socialism is the school of life. We always derive new stimulation from it. [“Quite right!”]

In addition, the school suffers from the fact that the relation of the Party organizations to their students is not correct; it must be transformed from the ground up. At present, it some-times happens that Party organizations send students to the school like scapegoats into the wilderness, without worrying what may become of them [“Quite right!”], without allowing them sufficiently extensive responsibilities. But on the other hand, there is also the danger that when Party students have a post, Party comrades make far too many demands on them. [“Quite right!”] Comrades will say: “You went to the Party School, now show us hour by hour and on every occasion what you learned!” Party students will not be able to fulfill such hopes. From beginning to end, we have tried hard to make it clear to them that they possess no finished knowledge, that they still must learn more, that they must study and learn for the rest of their lives. Thus, even if Party students must later have the opportunity to use what they have learned, on the other hand we must also take this latter fact into account.

So there are enough serious points of view from which to criticize the question of the Party School from all sides. But criticism such as that of Eisner is not appropriate. Eisner has such a great respect for scientific knowledge that it scares me. I am afraid that in relation to scientific knowledge in general and to scientific socialism in particular, the same thing will happen to Eisner as happened to poor old Klopstock, of whom Lessing wrote the eternal words:

Who would not praise a Klopstock?
But would anyone read him? No.
We would rather be less high-minded
And more frequently read.

[Amusement] A further proof of the frivolity of Eisner’s criticism is the example of A Child’s Guide to Marx, transported here for us in the form of Comrade Maurenbrecher, which he holds up to us as a shining counterpart to the Party School. [Amusement] In Nuremberg, Maurenbrecher is supposed to transmit a general education to the proletariat all by himself. He has set down his profession of faith in what Eisner thinks is an excellent article in the Fränkische Tagespost, where it is said: “We’re too preoccupied with theory! Do the masses have to know the theory of value? [“Hear, hear!”] Do the masses have to know what the materialistic theory of history is? I’ll take the dare and say: No! The teacher has to know that – to keep it safely in his pocket.” [Eisner: “No, that isn’t there, you stuck it in.”] Of course I stuck it in. “But for the education of the masses all that has no direct value, and can even be harmful.” I didn’t stick that in, Maurenbrecher did say that. [“Hear, hear!”] And further, he says: “It hasn’t often been noted, but theory frequently has the actual effect of killing the power to come to conclusions and to take action.” The materialist concept of history, which is responsible for forty years of magnificent development of the class struggle in Germany and the world; the theory of Marx and Engels, which lit the path of the Russian proletariat in its great deeds at the beginning of the century, in the Russian Revolution of 1905], is supposed to kill the power to come to conclusions and to take action! [“Hear, hear!”] But Eisner, Maurenbrecher, and others judge everything by their own experience. They think that the materialist concept of history, as they understand it, has on them the effect of crippling their ability to act and they therefore think that theory should not be taught at the Party School, but hard facts, the hard facts of life. They haven’t the faintest idea that the proletariat knows the hard facts from its everyday life, the proletariat knows the “hard facts” better than Eisner. [Enthusiastic agreement] What the masses lack is general enlightenment, the theory which gives us the possibility of systematizing the hard facts and forging them into a deadly weapon to use against our opponents. [Enthusiastic agreement] If anything has convinced me of the necessity of the Party School, of spreading an understanding of socialist theory in our ranks, it is Eisner’s criticisms. [Enthusiastic applause]

Last updated on: 30 May 2016