January marks the anniversaries of the deaths of three giants of revolutionary socialism — Liebknecht, Luxemburg, and Lenin.
Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were theorists and organisers of the German working-class revolution of 1918–9. They were executed by the German state, aided by the reformist labour leaders, in January 1919. The articles printed here — Liebknecht’s “In spite of all!” and Luxemburg’s “Order is established in Berlin” — were their last. The “Spartacus” they refer to is the Spartacus League, the Marxist group around Liebknecht, Luxemburg, and Clara Zetkin which founded the German Communist Party.
Lenin, along with Leon Trotsky, was the main architect of the Russian workers’ revolution of 1917, which saw the working class overthrow a Tsarist autocracy and establish a workers’ government. He died in January 1924 after a long illness.
Lenin: “Letter to American workers”
The “Letter” is dated August 20, 1918, when America was siding with an Anglo-Japanese military operation against the newly established Soviet government.
The history of modern civilised America opened with one of those great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars of which there have been so few among the large number of wars of conquest that were caused, like the present imperialist war, by squabbles among kings, landowners, and capitalists over the division of seized lands and stolen profits.
It was a war of the American people against English robbers who subjected America and held it in colonial slavery, as these “civilised” blood-suckers are now subjecting and hold in colonial slavery hundreds of millions of people in India, Egypt, and in all corners of the world.
Since that time about 150 years have passed. Bourgeois civilization has borne all its luxuriant fruits. By the high level of development of the productive forces of organised human labour, by utilising machines and all the wonders of modern technic, America has taken the first place among free and cultured nations.
But at the same time America has become one of the foremost countries as regards the depth of the abyss which divides a handful of brazen billionaires who are wallowing in dirt and in luxury on the one hand, and millions of toilers who are always on the verge of starvation. [...]
But four years of the imperialist slaughter of peoples have not passed in vain. Obvious and irrefutable facts have exposed to the end the duping of peoples by the scoundrels of both the English and the German groups of brigands. The four years of war have shown in their results the general law of capitalism as applied to war between murderers for the division of spoils: that he who was richest and mightiest profited and robbed the most; that he who was weakest was robbed, decimated, crushed, and strangled to the utmost.
In the number of “colonial slaves” the English imperialist cut-throats have always been most powerful. English capitalists did not lose a foot of their “own” territory (acquired through centuries of robbery), but have managed to appropriate all the German colonies in Africa, have grabbed Mesopotamia and Palestine, have stifled Greece and have begun to plunder Russia.
German imperialist cut-throats were stronger in regard to the organisation and discipline of “their” armies, but weaker in colonies. They have lost all their colonies, but have robbed half of Europe and throttled most of the small countries and weaker peoples. What a great war of “liberation” on both sides! How well they have “defended the fatherland” — these bandits of both groups, the Anglo-French and the German capitalists together with their lackeys, the social-chauvinists, i.e., socialists who went over to the side of “their own” bourgeoisie!
The American billionaires were richest of all and geographically the most secure. They have profited most of all. They have made all, even the richest countries, their vassals. They have plundered hundreds of billions of dollars [...]
And every dollar is stained with blood — of that sea of blood which was shed by the ten million killed and twenty million maimed in the great, noble, liberating, and holy war which was to decide whether the English or the German cut-throats will get more of the spoils, whether the English or the German executioners will be the first to smother the weak peoples the world over.
I also recall the words of one of the most beloved leaders of the American proletariat, Eugene Debs.
He wrote in the Appeal to Reason, I believe toward the end of 1915, in the article, “In Whose War I Will Fight” (I quoted that article in the beginning of 1916 at a public meeting of workers in Berne, Switzerland) that he, Debs, would rather be shot than vote for loans for the present criminal and reactionary imperialist war; that he, Debs, knows of only one holy and, from the standpoint of the proletariat, legal war, namely: the war against the capitalists, the war for the liberation of mankind from wage slavery! [...]
The international imperialist bourgeoisie has killed off ten million men and maimed twenty million in its war, the war to decide whether the English or German robbers are to rule the world.
If our war, the war of oppressed and exploited against oppressors and exploiters, results in half a million or a million victims in all countries, the bourgeoisie will say that the sacrifice of the former is justified while the latter is criminal. [...]
The truth is that there can be no successful revolution without crushing the resistance of the exploiters. It was our duty to crush the resistance of exploiters when we, the workers and toiling peasants, seized power. We are proud that we have been doing it and are continuing to do it.
We only regret that we are not doing it in a sufficiently firm and determined manner. We know that the fierce resistance of the bourgeoisie to the socialist revolution is inevitable in all countries and that it will grow with the growth of the revolution. The proletariat will crush this resistance; it will definitely mature to victory and power of in the course of struggles against the resisting bourgeoisie.
We know that help from you, comrade American workers, will probably not come soon, for the development of the revolution proceeds with different tempo and in different forms in different countries (and it cannot be otherwise).
We know that the European proletarian revolution also may not blaze forth during the next few weeks, no matter how rapidly it has been ripening lately. We stake our chances on the inevitability of the international revolution, but this in no way means that we are so foolish as to stake our chances on the inevitability of the revolution within a stated short period.
We have seen in our country two great revolutions, in 1905 and in 1917, and we know that revolutions are made neither to order nor by agreement. We know the circumstances brought to the fore our Russian detachment of the socialist proletariat, not by virtue of our merits, but due to the particular backwardness of Russia, and that before the outburst of the international revolution there may be several defeats of separate revolutions.
Despite this, we are firmly convinced that we are invincible, because mankind will not break down under the imperialist slaughter, but will overcome it.
And the first country which demolished the galley chains of imperialist war was our country. We made the greatest of sacrifices in the struggle for the demolition ot this chain, but we broke it.
We are beyond imperialist dependence, we raised before the whole world the banner of struggle for the complete overthrow of imperialism.
Karl Liebknecht: “In spite of all!”
Liebknecht wrote this article for the paper Rote Fahne (Red Flag) on the day before his murder.
General storm against Spartacus! “Down with the Spartacists!” The shouts resound through the side-streets. “Seize them, shoot them, trample them underfoot, tear them to pieces!” Atrocities which put those of the German troops in Belgium into the shade are committed everywhere. [...]
“Spartacus smashed!” Yes, the revolutionary workers of Berlin have been defeated, hundreds of their best have been thrown into prison.
Yes, they are defeated, for they were abandoned by the sailors, by the soldiers, by the security guards, by the people’s guard, whose help they firmly expected.
Their strength was wasted by the indecision and weakness of their leaders and the immense counter-revolutionary back-wash of the propertied classes overwhelmed and drowned them. [...]
But there are defeats which are victories and victories which are defeats. The vanquished of the bloody January week have fought gloriously.
They have fought for a great cause, for the noblest aims of suffering humanity, for the mental and material salvation of the tortured masses. [...]
The proletariat still lacks revolutionary tradition and experiences, and only by tentative actions and youthful errors, by painful defeats and failures, can it gain the practical training which guarantees its future success. [...]
The defeated of today have already learned, they have recovered from the insanity of relying upon leaders who have proved weak and incapable, they have recovered from a belief in the Independent Social-Democratic Party which has abandoned them despicably. Relying only on themselves, they will fight their own future battles in the future, and win their future victories.
And the truth that the liberation of the working class can only be the work of the working class, has received a new and deeper significance through the bitter experience of this week. [...]
Spartacus smashed? Not so fast! We have not fled, we are not defeated, and if they fetter us, we are there, and we remain there. And victory will be ours.
For Spartacus means fire and spirit; means soul and heart; means will and action of the proletarian revolution; means all the suffering and longing for happiness, all the determination of the class-conscious proletariat to struggle. For Spartacus means socialism and world revolution. [...]
Whether we still live when the end is attained, our programme will live. It will rule the world of a liberated humanity. In spite of everything!
Rosa Luxemburg: “Order is established in Berlin”
Luxemburg wrote this article the day before her murder. It was published in Rote Fahne on the day she died.
“Order is established in Warsaw,” reported Minister Sebastiani in 1831 to the Paris Chamber, when, after the terrible storming of the suburb of Praga, and the taking of Warsaw, the soldier gangs of Paskievitsch commenced their hangman’s work amongst the rebels.
“Order is established in Berlin!” triumphantly announces [President Friedrich] Ebert, announces [Defence Minister Gustav] Noske, announce the officers of the “victorious troops” to whom the Berlin petty bourgeois mob waved their handkerchiefs and hurrahed!
The glory and honour of the German arms are saved before the world! The deplorably defeated of Flanders and the Argonne have re-established their reputation by their glorious victory, over the three hundred Spartacists in the Vorwärts building [Vorwärts was the newspaper of the Social Democratic Party]. The days of the first glorious invasion of Belgium by German troops, the days of General von Emmich, the conquerer of Luttich, pale into insignificance before the deeds of [Colonel] Reinhard and his comrades in the streets of Berlin.
The massacre of the delegates sent out to negotiate the surrender of the Vorwärts building, the delegates who were beaten unrecognisable with rifle butts by the soldiers of the government so that the identification of the bodies was impossible; the prisoners who were put up against a wall and murdered in such a manner that skulls were smashed and brains scattered — who would remember, in the face of such glorious deeds and the shameful defeats before the French, the English and the Americans? “Spartacus” is the enemy and Berlin is the place where our officers know how to fight; and Noske, the “worker”, is the general who knows how to succeed where Ludendorff has failed.
Who does not remember at this time the victory madness of the “law and order” gang in Paris, the Bacchanal of the bourgeoisie over the bodies of the fighters of the Commune, the same bourgeoisie who had just previously miserably capitulated before the Prussians, surrendered their capital city to the external enemy and themselves fled like the cowards they were. But against the half-starved and badly armed proletariat of Paris, against their defenceless wives and children — how did the manly courage of the sons of the bourgeoisie, of the “golden youth,” of the officers, recover itself! How did the bravery of the sons of Mars, which had so drooped before the eternal enemy, recover itself in bestial atrocities on the unarmed, on the prisoners, on the dead!
“Order is established in Warsaw!” “Order is established in Paris!” “Order is established in Berlin!” So run the reports of the defenders of order every half-century from the one center of the world historical fight to the other. And the joyous “victors” do not understand that an “order” which requires periodical and bloody massacres for its maintenance inevitably approaches its historical fate — collapse. [...]
Confronted with the fact, the insolent provocation of the Ebert-Scheidemanns, the revolutionary working class was forced to take up arms.
The honour of the revolution demanded the immediate repulse of the attack with all energy, otherwise the counter-revolution would have been encouraged to further attacks and the revolutionary ranks of the proletariat, and the moral credit of the German revolution in the International, shaken.
The immediate opposition came spontaneously and with such natural energy from Berlin masses that from the first the moral victory lay with the “street”.
It is an axiom of the revolution never to remain in inactivity after the first successful step. The best manifestation of power is a heavy blow. This elementary rule of struggle dominates especially every step of the revolution. It is natural and is proof of the healthy instincts, and of the fresh power of the Berlin proletariat, that it did not content itself with the reinstatement of Eichhorn but that it spontaneously occupied the most powerful posts of the counter revolution — the bourgeois press buildings, the buildings of the semi-official news service and the Vorwärts building.
All these measures resulted from the instinctive knowledge of the workers that the counter-revolution would not remain inactive under its defeat, but would force a general trial of strength.
Here we stand before one of the great historical laws of the revolution, against which all the pedantic cleverness of the little revolutionists of the Independent Social-Democratic Party, who in each fight merely search for pretexts to retreat, are wrecked. Immediately the basic problem of the revolution is defined, and in this revolution it is the overthrow of the Ebert-Scheidemann government as the first hindrance for the victory of socialism.
It confronts us again and again in all its actuality in every single episode of the fight, may the revolution be ever so unready for its solution, may the situation be ever so unripe. “Down with the Ebert-Scheidemanns”‚ this slogan confronts us in every revolutionary crisis as the only exhaustive formula in all partial conflicts, and through its own inner objective logic, whether one will or not, forces every episode of the fight to its utmost point.
From this contradiction between the sharpening of the task and the lack of the preliminary conditions for its solution in the opening phases of the revolutionary development, results that the partial struggles of the revolution formally end with defeats. The revolution is the only form of war — it is its special axiom — in which the final victory can only be prepared by a number of defeats. [...]
What does the whole history of modern revolution and of socialists show? The first outbreaks of the class struggle in Europe — the revolt of the Lyons silk weavers ended in a heavy defeat; the Chartist movement in England, in a defeat; the revolt of the Paris proletariat in June, 1848, with a crushing defeat; the Paris Commune of 1871 ended with a terrible defeat; the whole path of socialism, so far as revolutionary fights are concerned, is paved with defeats.
And yet this same history leads inevitably, step by step, to the final end! Where would we be today without these “defeats” from which we have drawn our historical experience, knowledge, power idealism? Today, when we are near the final struggle of the proletarian class wars, we base ourselves on these defeats, with none of which we can dispense, each one is a part of our strength and understanding. [...]
However, under one condition: it is a question under what circumstances the defeats have been suffered, whether they resulted from the pressure of the advancing masses against the limits of the immature historical preliminary conditions or whether the defeats of the revolutionary actions were, caused through half-heartedness, indecision or internal weakness.
Classic examples for both cases are on the one hand the French February Revolution, and on the other the German March Revolution. The heroic action of the Paris proletariat in 1848 has become a living source of class energy for the whole international proletariat. The poverty of the German March Revolution has dragged upon the whole modern revolution like a manacle...
How does the defeat of “Spartacus week” appear in the light of the above historic problem? Did it result from the pressure of the advancing masses against the limits of the immature situation, or did it arise from the weaknesses and half-heartedness of the action?
Both! The double character of this fight, the contradiction between the powerful, determined, offensive attitude of the Berlin masses and the indecision, hesitation and half-heartedness of the Berlin leaders are the special characteristics of this episode.
The leaders have failed. But leaders can and must be newly created out of the masses and by the masses. The masses are the deciding factor, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution is based. The masses were on the heights, they have forged this “defeat” as a link in the chain of those defeats that are the pride and the strength of international socialism. And therefore the future victory will spring from this “defeat”.
“Order is established in Berlin!” You fools! Your “order” is built on sand! Tomorrow the revolution will arise again majestic and to your terror announce with a voice of thunder: “I was, I am, I am to be!”
* Adapted from Labor Action (newspaper of the dissident American Trotskyist group, the Workers Party) of 25 January 1943.
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