Rosa Luxemburg

Theory & Practice

Part 1

The first question which the interest of party circles demands in our present dispute is this: whether discussion of the mass strike was obstructed in the party press, namely in Vorwärts and the Neue Zeit. Comrade Kautsky denies this, asserting that it would “naturally never have occurred to him to wish to ‘forbid’ discussion of the mass strike.”[A] Comrade Kautsky wishes to misunderstand me. We are obviously not concerned with a veto of Comrade Kautsky’s – a single editor cannot “forbid” anything – but with a veto by the “high command” of his original acceptance of my article, which was obeyed by Comrade Kautsky in his sphere of influence the Neue Zeit.

As for the other question – propaganda for a republic – here Comrade Kautsky also denies that he obstructed me. “That would never have occurred to him. “ All that was involved was one passage about a republic in my mass strike article, “whose wording seemed inexpedient” to the editors of the Neue Zeit. I myself then had my article published in the Dortmund Arbeiter-Zeitung. “But in vain will one search this article for that passage about a republic.” Comrade Kautsky has “not noticed” that I had published this passage somewhere else. “The cowardly veiling of principles with which Comrade Luxemburg reproaches us, “ he concludes, “is therefore reduced to this: that we objected to one passage in her article, which she herself has voluntarily dropped since then. Such strategy is no piece of heroism, Octavia!”

In this representation of the facts, which places me in such a ridiculous light, Comrade Kautsky has fallen victim to singular errors. In reality it was not at all a question of “one passage” and the possible danger of its “wording”: it was a question of the content, of the slogan of a republic and the agitation for it – and Comrade Kautsky must excuse me, in the precarious position in which his presentation of the case has left me, if I call upon him as chief witness and rescuer in my greatest need. Comrade Kautsky wrote me this after he received my mass strike article:

Your article is very beautiful and very important, I am not in agreement with everything and reserve the right to polemize against it. Today I don’t have time to do so in writing. Enough, I gladly accept the article if you delete pages 29 to the end. Under no circumstances could I print this. Even your point of departure is false. There is not one word in our program about a republic. Not out of oversight, not because of editorial caprice, but on well-considered grounds. Likewise the Gotha Program said nothing of a republic, and Marx, as much as he condemned this program, acknowledged in his letter that it wouldn’t do to openly demand a republic (Neue Zeit, 1, p.573). Engels spoke on the same matter regarding the Erfurt Program (Neue Zeit, XX, 1, p.11) [B]

I don’t have time to set forth to you the grounds which Marx and Engels, Bebel and Liebknecht acknowledged to be sound. Enough, that what you want is an entirely new agitation which until now has always been rejected. This new agitation, however, is the sort we have no business discussing so openly. With your article you want to proclaim on your own hook, as a single individual, an entirely new agitation which the party has always rejected. We cannot and will not proceed in this manner. A single personality, however high she may stand, cannot pull off a fait accompli on her own hook which can have unforeseeable consequences for the party.

It goes on in the same vein for about another two pages.

The “entirely new agitation, “ which could have “unforeseeable consequences” for the party, had the following wording:

Universal, equal direct suffrage for all adults, without distinction of sex, is the immediate goal which ensures us the enthusiastic agreement of the broadest strata at the present moment. But this goal is not the only one which we must now preach. As long as we answer the infamous electoral reform bungling of the government and the bourgeois parties by proclaiming the slogan of a truly democratic electoral system, we still find ourselves – taking the political situation as a whole – on the defensive. In accord with the good old principle of every real battle tactic, that a powerful blow is the best defense, we must answer the ever more insolent provocations of the reigning reaction by turning the tables in our agitation and going over to a sharp attack all along the line. This can be done in the most visible, clear, and so to speak, lapidary form if our agitation clearly champions the following demand, which the first point our political program leads to: the demand for a republic.

Up till now the watchword republic has played a limited role in our agitation. There were good reasons for this: our party wished to save the German working class from those bourgeois, or rather petty bourgeois republican illusions which were (for example) so disastrous in the history of French socialism, and still are today. From the beginning, the proletarian struggle in Germany was consistently and resolutely directed not against this or that form and excrescence of class society in particular, but against class society as such; instead of splintering into anti-militarism, anti-monarchism, and other petty bourgeois “isms,” it constantly built itself as anti-capitalism, mortal enemy of the existing order in all its excrescences and forms, whether under the cloak of monarchy or republic. And through forty years’ radical labor of enlightenment, we have succeeded in making this conviction the enduring possession of the awakened German proletariat: that the best bourgeois republic is no less a class state and bulwark of capitalist exploitation than the present monarchy, and that only the abolition of the wage system and class rule in every form, and not the outward show of “popular sovereignty” in a bourgeois republic, can materially alter the condition of the proletariat.

Well then, it is just because the forty-year labor of Social Democracy has been such a fundamental prophylaxis against the dangers of republican petty bourgeois illusions in Germany that today we can calmly make a place in our agitation for the foremost principle of our political program, a place that is its due by right. By pushing forward the republican character of Social Democracy we win, above all, one more opportunity to illustrate in a palpable, popular fashion our principled opposition as a class party of the proletariat to the united camp of all bourgeois parties. For the frightening downfall of bourgeois liberalism in Germany is revealed most drastically in its Byzantine genuflection to the monarchy, in which liberal burgerdom runs only a nose behind conservative Junkerdom.

But this is not enough. The general state of Germany’s domestic and foreign politics in recent years points to the monarchy as the center, or at least the outward, visible head of the reigning reaction. The semi-absolute monarchy with its personal authority has formed for a quarter century, and with every year more so, the stronghold of militarism, the driving force of battleship diplomacy, the leading spirit of geopolitical adventure, just as it has been the shield of Junkerdom in Prussia and the bulwark of the ascendancy of Prussia’s political backwardness in the entire Reich: it is finally, so to speak, the personal sworn foe of the working class and Social Democracy.

In Germany, the slogan of a republic is thus infinitely more than the expression of a beautiful dream of democratic “peoples’ government,” or political doctrinairism floating in the clouds: it is a practical war cry against militarism, navalism, colonialism, geopolitics, Junker rule, the Prussianization of Germany; it is only a consequence and drastic summation of our daily battle against all individual manifestations of the reigning reaction. In particular, the most recent events point straight in the same direction: Junkerdom’s threats in the Reichstag of an absolutist coup d’etat and the Reich Chancellor’s insolent attacks on Reichstag voting rights in the Prussian Landtag, as well as the redemption of the “royal pledge” on the question of Prussian suffrage through the Bethmann reform bill.

With a clear conscience I can here set forth this “entirely new agitation,” as it has already appeared in print without causing the party the slightest injury in body and soul. Although I had agreed (with a sigh, to be sure, but with resignation) to delete the section on the republic, Comrade Kautsky finally returned the whole mass strike article to me. Without altering a word I published the interdicted pages “29 to the end,” furnished with an introduction and conclusion, as a self-sufficient article in the Breslau Volkswacht of March 25 under the title A Time for Sowing: whereupon it was reprinted by a string of party papers – to my recollection in Dortmund, Bremen, Halle, Elberfeld, Königsberg, and in Thuringian papers. That is certainly no piece of heroism on my part: it’s just my tough luck that Comrade Kautsky’s reading of the party press at that time was as desultory as his consideration of the party’s position regarding the slogan of a republic. If he had, let us say, more maturely considered the subject, he could not possibly have mobilized Marx and Engels against me on the question of a republic. Engels’ article to which Kautsky refers is the critique of the party leadership’s draft of the Erfurt Program of 1891. Here Engels says in Section II, Political Demands:

The draft’s political demands have one great flaw. What actually should have been said is not there. If all these ten demands were conceded we would indeed have diverse further means to carry the main political point, but in no way the main point itself.

Engels substantiates the urgent need to clarify this “main point” of Social Democracy’s political demands with an allusion to the “opportunism prevalent in a great part of the Social Democratic press.” Then he continues:

What then are these ticklish, but very essential points?

First. If anything is certain, it is this: that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the great French Revolution has already shown. It is surely unthinkable that our best people should, like Miquel, become ministers under a Kaiser. At present it seems that legally, it won’t do to set a demand for a republic directly in the program – although this was admissible even under Louis Philippe in France, just as it now is in Italy. But the fact that one cannot even draw up an openly republican party program in Germany proves how colossal the illusion is, that we can genially, peacefully install a republic there – and not only a republic, but communist society.

In any case, for the time being we can side-step the question of a republic. But in my opinion, what should and can be included is the demand for concentration of all political power in the hands of the people’s representatives. And for the present that would be sufficient, if one can go no further.

Second. The reconstitution of Germany ...

So, then, a unified republic ...

On all these subjects, not much can be said in the program. I call this to your attention chiefly to characterize both the situation in Germany, where it will not do say such things, and the self-delusion that would transform this situation into a communist society by legal means. And further, to remind the party executive that there are still more weighty political questions besides direct legislation by the people and the free administration of justice before we reach the end. With the universal instability any of these questions could catch fire overnight: and what then, if we have never discussed, never come to an understanding on them.

We see that Engels perceives “one great flaw” in the party program: that it does not include the demand for a republic, solely on the basis of categorical representations from Germany that, for political reasons, such things were out of the question. With visible discomfort and various misgivings, he decides to bite the sour apple and “in any case” to “sidestep” the demand for a republic. But what he unqualifiedly declares to be essential is discussion of the slogan of a republic in the party press:

You there can judge better than I can here, whether it is possible to further formulate the above-mentioned points as program demands. But it would be desirable that these questions be debated within the party before it is too late. [Neue Zeit XX, 1, pp.11-12.]

This “political testament” of Friedrich Engels was, let us say, peculiarly interpreted by Comrade Kautsky when he banned discussion of the necessity of agitation for a republic from the Neue Zeit as an “entirely new agitation” which allegedly “until now has always been rejected by the party.”

As for Marx, in his critique of the Gotha Program he went so far as to declare that if it were not possible to openly advance a republic as the program’s foremost political demand, then all the demands for democratic details should have been omitted as well. He wrote, regarding the Gotha Program:

Its political demands include nothing beyond the old, well-known democratic litany: universal suffrage, direct legislation, human rights, a people’s militia, etc. ...

But one thing has been forgotten. Since the German workers’ party expressly declares that it acts within “the present nation state,” and hence its own state, the Prusso-German Empire ..., it should not have forgotten the main point: that all these pretty little things rest on recognition of the so-called “popular sovereignty,” that they are therefore only appropriate to a democratic republic. Since you do not feel yourselves in the position – and wisely, for the circumstances demand caution[1] – to demand a democratic republic as the French workers’ programs did under Louis Philippe and Louis Napoleon, you should not have tried to hide behind the . . . dodge [the dots are substituted for a boisterous adjective of Marx’s – R.L.] of demanding things which only make sense in a democratic republic, from a state which is nothing but a military despotism embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture, obviously influenced by the bourgeoisie, shored up with a bureaucracy, and watched over by the police.

Even vulgar democracy which sees the millennium in the democratic republic and has no suspicion, that it is in just this last state form of bourgeois society that the class struggle will be fought out to the end – even it towers mountain-high over this sort of democratism within the limits of the police-permitted and the logically impermissible. [Neue Zeit IX, 1, p.573.]

Thus, Marx too spoke an entirely different language in puncto republic. Shortly before and after the Anti-Socialist law was in effect, Marx, like Engels, allowed – on the strength of assurances from Germany – that perhaps it wouldn’t do, to formally advance the demand for a republic in the program. But that today, a quarter century later, this demand in the agitation (and that is all we are concerned with here) should pass for something “entirely new” and unheard of – that is surely something which neither of them could have dreamed.

To be sure, Comrade Kautsky points out that he has already propagandized for a republic in the Neue Zeit, in a manner “totally different” from that in which I, in my harmless way, do so now. He must know more about it than I: in this case my memory seems to fail me. But is more conclusive proof required than the most recent events, that in this matter the essential thing, the follow-up in practice, was not done? The increase of the Prussian civil list[C] offered once again the most splendid opportunity imaginable, and at the same time laid the undeniable duty on the party to sound the slogan of a republic loud and clear, and to look to its propaganda. The insolent challenge of this government bill, following the ignominious end of the suffrage bill, should have been unconditionally answered by unfolding the political function of the monarchy and its personal authority in Prusso-Germany; by emphasizing its connection with militarism, navalism, and the social-political stasis; by recalling the famous “discourses” and “remarks”’ on the “rabble of the people” and the “compote dish”; by recalling the “penitentiary bill”;[D] by revealing the monarchy as the visible expression of the entire imperial German reaction.

The pathetic unanimity of all bourgeois parties in their Byzantine handling of the bill drastically shows once again, that in today’s Germany the slogan of a republic has become the shibboleth of class division, the watchword of class struggle. Of all this, nothing in the Neue Zeit or in Vorwärts. The increase of the civil list is not approached from the political side: it is treated chiefly as a fiscal question, as a question of the Hohenzollern family income, and this is dilated upon with more or less wit. But not one syllable in our two leading organs has championed the slogan of a republic.

Comrade Kautsky is a more qualified Marxian scholar than I: he should know better, what pointed adjective Marx would have applied to this “dodge” and this sort of republicanism “within the limits of the police-permitted and logically impermissible.”

Thus Comrade Kautsky is in error when he says I “bewail myself” of being “badly handled” by the editors of the Neue Zeit. I find only that Comrade Kautsky has handled himself badly.

Next: Part 2

[1] nota bene, Marx wrote this 35 years ago in the era of Tessendorf, under the advancing shadow of the oncoming Anti-Socialist LawR.L. [Editor’s note: Hermann Tessendorf was Berlin public prosecutor from 1873 to 1879 and became infamous as organizer of the legal persecution of socialists. The Exceptional Powers Law (Ausnahmegesetz), better known as the “Anti-Socialist Law,” was in force from 1878 to 1890; it placed extreme restrictions on association, speech, and the press.]

[A] K. Kautsky, A New Strategy, Neue Zeit XXVIII, 2 (10-24 June 1910): pp. 332-41, 364-74, 412-21. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Kautsky’s writings are from this article.

[B] Friedrich Engels, A Critique of the Draft Social Democratic Program of 1891.

[C] On June 9, 1910, a bill raising the crown donation was passed in the Prussian lower house: it granted the Prussian court an additional 3.5 million marks, placing at its disposal a total of 19.2 million marks per year of state funds.

[D] A government sponsored bill “for safeguarding industrial working conditions” was defeated in the Reichstag in 1899 with the aid of violent mass actions: it had been dubbed the “penitentiary bill” because it proposed the abolition of the rights to organize and strike.

Last updated on: 3.12.2008