Adolf Warski — Rosa Luxemburg’s Position On The Tactical Problems Of The Revolution

In this detailed booklet, the Polish Communist Adolf Warski (a close associate of Rosa Luxemburg herself) lays out and affirms the basic theses of her revolutionary and often misunderstood pamphlet, “The Russian Revolution.” Warski’s clarifications, dealing with almost every major topic included in the original work, serve to expose its misuse and crude appropriation by a plethora of anti-Bolshevik groups. The Acheron publishes this brilliant exposition of Luxemburg’s true stances to commemorate the 102nd anniversary of her brutal murder by the German Social-Democracy.

The Acheron In Motion
64 min readJan 12, 2021

“The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg is an event of world-historical significance not only because the best people and leaders of the truly proletarian communist international perished tragically, but also because it finally showed up the class character of the leading European State, of, it can be said without exaggeration, the leading State in the world.”

Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship Adopted by the First Comintern Congress, 4 March 1919, Protokoll, I, P. 115


There isn’t nearly as much confusion around other revolutionaries as there is about Rosa Luxemburg and her legacy. The Polish Jew who limped alongside the revolutionary Proletariat of the 20th century was “hunted out of the world” [1] by the Ebert-Scheidemann gang, allied with proto-Fascist and reactionary forces. The 47-year old Communist, who dedicated her whole life and energy to the realization of Socialism and the revolutionary theses of Marxism, was murdered with her closest comrade-in-arms, Karl Liebknecht, in the late hours of January 15th, 1919.

This week marks the passing of exactly 102 years since this tragedy engulfed the Labor movement. The precise circumstances of the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht were unknown, until Klaus Gietinger led an extensive investigation into the matter, culminating with his book “The Murder Of Rosa Luxemburg,” where he describes the events in detail:

“Runge watched through the glass of the revolving door as Liebknecht was led through the side exit. He ran around the Hotel Eden together with the chauffeur Güttinger, reaching the automobile just as Liebknecht sat down between the two disguised officers. Runge struck him with the butt of his rifle. Hit hard, Liebknecht instinctively ducked the second blow. As he did so, blood sprayed onto Stiege’s trousers. Liebknecht cried: ‘I’m bleeding!’ The automobile started up.

A man wearing a sailor’s cap and a pilot’s jacket, von Rzewuski, jumped onto the automobile, punched Liebknecht in the face with his fist, and jumped back off. The officers only thought to take Liebknecht to the first-aid station after he had been murdered and they returned from the Tiergarten.

Shortly after 22:00, Rosa Luxemburg and Wilhelm Pieck arrived at the hotel and were led through the lobby, mobbed by frenzied hotel guests and uniformed men –Luxemburg was insulted as a ‘whore’ — and brought to the first floor. Pieck was made to wait in a cramped nook between the rooms, under heavy guard, while Rosa Luxemburg was presented to Pabst in the Little Hall. At this time, Liebknecht was still next door in the Salon.

Pabst recalls their encounter: ‘Are you Frau Luxemburg? In response, she said: Please decide for yourself. Then I said, according to this picture it must be you. To this she countered: If you say so! I thus knew just as much as I had beforehand.’ Shortly thereafter — Liebknecht had just been ushered out of the Little Salon — she was most likely brought in through the side door to that room. In front of Pabst, whose office it was, she mended the hem of her skirt which had been damaged during the journey and read a bit of Goethe’s Faust.

Liebknecht was left at the first-aid station near the Berlin Zoo, as an unidentified dead body, at 23:15. The naval officers drove back to the hotel and delivered their report to Pabst in the Little Hall. Rosa Luxemburg was taken away at around 23:40. Retired First Lieutenant Vogel, who had been appointed to lead the transport, picked her up and led her through the lobby to the main entrance.

As he had with Liebknecht (and again unbeknownst to Pabst), Runge lay in wait, determined to earn Captain Petri’s promised reward. He had even refused the change of guard at 23:00. Vogel let Luxemburg walk ahead of him through the propped-open revolving doors. Runge struck her violently with the butt of his rifle. Knocked unconscious, she fell backwards, losing a shoe and her handbag. The soldier Kurt Becker took it as a trophy. One of the guarding officers, Albrecht Freiherr von Wechmar (later a military advisor on Dieter Ertel’s television film about the murder), stole out of the same bag a letter from Clara Zetkin, which he would sell to the historian Hermann Weber for several hundred marks in 1969.

Lying on the ground, Luxemburg received a second blow from Runge. Only then did Vogel feel obliged to ‘intervene’. She was dragged to the car, ‘hauled in’ and thrown onto the back seat as ‘blood streamed from her nose and mouth’.

Infantryman Max Weber sat down to her left, while to her right sat infantryman Willy Grantke. Infantryman Hermann Poppe stood on the left footboard. The driver, Hermann Janschkow, sat in front (the steering wheel was on the right side), and the front-seat passenger and co-driver was Richard Hall. Vogel also boarded the car. As the open-topped Priamus rolled down the driveway, von Rzewuski again leaped forward and punched the unconscious Luxemburg twice in the face, before jumping off. The automobile headed towards the Cornelius Bridge. At the level of Nürnberger Straße, roughly forty metres from the hotel entrance, a shot was fired at close range, which ‘entered on the left side before the ear and exited on the other side slightly lower down’, leading to a ‘separation of the base of the skull’ and a ‘severing of the lower jaw’.

Rosa Luxemburg was killed instantly. It was 23:45 on 15 January 1919.” [2]

Thus, from 21:30, when Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht entered Hotel Eden, their arrival creating “a pogrom-like mood among the hotel’s guests and the officers and men of the GKSD who were there,” to 23:45, when Luxemburg was “killed instantly” and had her body disposed of in the Landwehrkanal a few moments later — just in mere two and a half hours — the entire history of the Communist movement changed.

The gruesome news spread in a week. The report of the murders reached both Luxemburg’s closest friend, Clara Zetkin, and Moscow on January 17. On the same day it was announced by Y. M. Sverdlov to a joint session of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee. On January 18 Izvestia and Pravda published an appeal “To All Soviets in Germany and All Workers” signed by Sverdlov on behalf of the joint session. The Party’s Central Committee and the All-Russia Central Executive Committee called on all Party organisations and all Soviets to hold demonstrations and protest meetings.

Initially, the joyous bourgeoisie was able to spread false narratives about the deaths. Gietiger too remarks that “Grabowsky had excellent connections to the WTB, thanks to which he had been able to spread false news, rumours” which enabled the murderers to craft and construct the events of the 15th as they pleased. The newspaper reported that Luxemburg had been killed by an angry mob, which had begun by “striking Rosa Luxemburg,” after which she had been hurriedly placed in an automobile, and just moments after “a man emerged from the crowd, jumped onto the footboard and fired a shot at Frau Luxemburg from a pistol.” To justify the horrific way in which the body was disposed of by Vogel, which was even against Pabst’s orders, an absurd story was made up that “the car was then stopped in front of the canal by another crowd of people, who wrestled Frau Luxemburg’s body away from the escort.”

According to the same storyline, Liebknecht was interrogated in Hotel Eden, and before being transported to Moabit prison, an angry crowd had attacked him and the vehicle which was supposed to transport him. After the soldiers started the car, it malfunctioned near the Neuer See, causing the group to continue by foot. Here is where Liebknecht “tore free and ran, ignoring several warnings, and was shot dead by the military escort.”

The reality was, of course, much, much different. The Communists knew this. Lenin himself was in disbelief and thought the initial reports were propaganda by the Imperialist powers to demoralize the revolutionaries. But in a matter of days, they were forced to face grim facts.

On January 19 Moscow workers and Red Army units assembled in mourning on Sovetskaya Square. Lenin, Sverdlov, Lunacharsky and others addressed the demonstrators from the balcony of the Moscow Soviet building. Lenin told the crowd:

“Today the bourgeoisie and the social-traitors are jubilating in Berlin-they have succeeded in murdering Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Ebert and Scheidemann, who for four years led the workers to the slaughter for the sake of depredation, have now assumed the role of butchers of the proletarian leaders. The example of the German revolution proves that “democracy” is only a camouflage for bourgeois robbery and the most savage violence.

Death to the butchers!” [3]

Distressed Zetkin wrote a letter to Luxemburg’s secretary, Mathilde Jacob on the 18th, lamenting:

“Oh, my dear Mathilde, you must understand how I have been since then [the murders]. […] Am I still alive and can I still live after this most terrible thing? I want to cry, utter a scream that shakes the entire world, overturns it; […] I don’t understand that life can go on without Karl and Rosa, that the sun is shining outside. It seems to us that it has lost its sparkle and that time stands still, that it does not want to go beyond the terrible. Oh, Mathilde, Mathilde, what have we lost! […] For Rosa’s sake, for her, let’s try to live life without her. But whether it will be possible for us, whether it is not beyond our strength, that remains a mystery. And our own despair makes us think of the pain of other friends. […]

[My mission is] to work and fight in the spirit of the two among the masses and with the masses, to watch over it, to ensure that its spirit remains leading. This is Rosa’s will to me. This also means that Rosa’s work is collected and published. They are a precious, living legacy that belongs to the masses; together with the future development of the revolutionary movement, they will be the monument that Rosa deserves, more permanent than stone.” [4]

The entire world was shook by this unfortunate turn of events. The Spartacus Uprising had been crushed and so were their perceived leaders — perceived because Luxemburg and Liebknecht never claimed to be above the masses, nor did they directly participate in the January events. Both had fallen ill from stress, overworking, harsh winter and bad conditions and weren’t able to make many physical appearances. The Communist Party of Germany (the KPD) was founded on December 30th, 1918 and as co-founders both figures were actively involved in drawing up its program and speechifying during the founding congress. But in the next two weeks, they appeared less and less and communicated through newspapers and publications. The Uprising itself was spontaneous and neither planned nor endorsed by the KPD. The whole ordeal was chaotic and confused. Here is how the historian Sebastian Haffner put it:

“The KPD had neither foreseen nor desired the January rising, they had neither planned nor guided it. […] When, on January 8, Liebknecht after some days of absence turned up at the Party headquarters, he was showered with reproaches for having taken it upon himself to participate. ‘Karl, is that our programme?’ Rosa Luxemburg is said to have shouted out to him; or, according to another version: ‘Karl, what has happened to our programme?’ […]

When on the evening of January 15, 1919, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, beaten senseless with riflebutts, were taken by car from the Eden Hotel in Berlin to the Tiergarten to be murdered, the course of political events was at first pretty well unaffected. The Revolution’s last hour had already struck; Liebknecht had only played a very peripheral part in it, Rosa Luxemburg had not taken any active part at all. In any case, the Revolution was about to be brutally crushed. The murder of the two figures that symbolized it perhaps helped to give the signal for the massacre; in the overall course of events this crime seemed at the time to be no more than a garish episode.” [5]

But Luxemburg was very well aware that the Party couldn’t shield nor stop the already revolting masses. She had held for the last 15 or so years that “revolutions do not allow anyone to play the schoolmaster with them.” [6] The deed had been done. All the KPD could do was spectate and aid the revolutionaries in any way they could. It has to be noted, however, that the Spartacus Uprising was not a huge event contemporaneously. It is mostly famed for the way it culminated in. The uprising itself only occurred in a few blocks of Berlin and was characterized by newspaper office occupations, while the rest of the city was largely undisturbed.

Rosa Luxemburg’s last piece, “Order Prevails in Berlin,” complemented by Karl Liebknecht’s final work, “In Spite Of Everything!,” both written on January the 14th, a day before the murders (making them into a sort of unexpected testament) provide a striking analysis and report of the January events. Luxemburg concluded:

“How does the defeat of “Spartacus week” appear in the light of the above historical question? Was it a case of raging, uncontrollable revolutionary energy colliding with an insufficiently ripe situation, or was it a case of weak and indecisive action?

Both! The crisis had a dual nature. The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”

“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing:

I was, I am, I shall be!” [7]

While Liebknecht asserted:

“Steady! We have not fled, we are not beaten. And even if they throw us in shackles — we are there, and shall remain! And victory shall be ours.

Because Spartacus — that means: fire and spirit, it means: soul and heart, it means: the will and act of the proletarian revolution. And Spartacus — that means all the hardships and yearning for happiness, all the fighting resolve of the class-conscious proletariat. Because Spartacus — that means: Socialism and World Revolution.

The Road to Calvary of the German working class is not yet completed — but their Day of Redemption is near. The Day of Judgement for the Ebert–Scheidemann–Noske and for the capitalist rulers, who still to this day hide behind them. The tide of events mount into the heavens — we are accustomed to being catapulted down from the peak into the depths. But our ship continues on its straight course proudly sailing to its goal.

And whether we will still be alive when it is reached — our programme will live; it will rule the world of humanity redeemed. In spite of everything!

Under the roar of the approaching economic crash the still sleeping hordes of proletarians will awaken as if summoned by the trumpets of the Last Judgement, and the corpses of the murdered fighters will rise and demand a reckoning from the damned. Today, still the subterranean rumbling of the volcano — will erupt tomorrow and bury them all in glowing ash and lava flows.” [8]

Of course, the hopeful wills remained as deceased as their authors — the European revolution never came. Or more appropriately, they came, in spontaneous bursts and nonuniform patterns, ultimately failing and isolating the Soviet Union, dooming it too by proxy.

The rise of Stalin and the following events, which foresaw the forceful Bolshevization of European Communist parties, prompted many followers and enemies of Marxism to evoke Luxemburg’s name and status, mostly in critique of the Soviet Union. This crude misuse of revolutionary writing blurred the lines between the intended and the resulted so severely, that it is still yet to be untangled fully. For many, Luxemburg still remains a Libertarian Communist who opposed Bolshevism, heralded free speech and democracy, etc. Fortunately, all of the aforementioned is utterly false and I have written in detail about Luxemburg’s stances before. However, I believe another man gives an even better account of these distortions and in turn clarifies the matter through purely theoretical pieces.

This man is Adolf Warski, born Jerzy Warszawski in Warsaw on April 20, 1868. Warski was active in the communist movement from 1889. He became a member of the executive of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), a party founded and led by Luxemburg herself. Along with the Party leaders, Warski also participated in the 1905 Russian Revolution and from 1918 was a member of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP). This Party was soon being Bolshevized (more appropriately, Stalinized, as both Luxemburg and Warski had welcomed the enthusiasm for Bolshevism in the Party) like the other European Parties, along with the entire Communist International. As an outspoken opponent of this undertaking, Warski was unfairly arrested during the Great Purge, in early 1937, and executed in the same year. Once a revolutionary who Lenin had called “an experienced writer, a sensible Marxist and an excellent comrade” found himself charged with sabotage and Trotskyism.

However, he was able to write this magnificent piece in 1922, published by the Communist International itself. With Clara Zetkin’s book “Rosa Luxemburg’s Views On The Russian Revolution” written the very same year, this brochure presents a detailed refutation of the perversions that struck Luxemburg’s comradely critiques of the Bolsheviks after her death. The author places Luxemburg’s stances in historical context, draws heavily from her reports, articles and letters, and elaborates on most criticisms she presented in her famous pamphlet, “The Russian Revolution.” Centering around this work, Warski is able to describe well the actual positions and changes in Luxemburg’s revolutionary politics during and after her release from prison in November of 1918.

Of course, as with every other work written by a fallible human, this piece has its own faults we must underline. Warski seems to completely neglect the discourse on national self-determination, sweeping the sharp disagreements Luxemburg had with this Bolshevik policy under the rag, devoting only a miserly footnote to it. This may be understandable taking into account the prevailing political atmosphere at the time, as well as the general aim of Warski’s work: debunking some common myths about Luxemburg’s stances. As National Liberation was practically nowhere to be seen when the petit-bourgeois-Menshevik-et al. exploited her friendly critique, the author perhaps deemed appropriate to not spend much time on it. Being very misunderstood itself, Luxemburg’s theses on self-determination rarely came up when the anti-Bolsheviks were trying to besmirch Lenin and Co. nevertheless, which may explain this unintentional neglect.

Warski also seems to overstate the extent to which Luxemburg “succumbed” to Bolshevism. Certainly, the broad point made is that she was greatly sympathetic to them and supported their struggle. But the impression one may get from reading this brochure is that Luxemburg would’ve perhaps even called herself a Bolshevik and did so implicitly, as: “the views, which Rosa Luxemburg expressed in the discussed pamphlet were, from the November Revolution in Germany to her death, no longer her views.” [9] While it’s true, that many of her criticisms were highly contextual and obsolete soon after the German Revolution broke out, it would be unfair to assess that she completely abandoned all of her criticism and was perfectly in line with nascent Leninism. We shall connect this apparent conclusion to the author’s own bias and even speculative, wishful thinking. It is still important to keep in mind, that despite all of the respect and love that had set Luxemburg’s — who was spectating the ongoing events from her prison cell with insufficient information — passionate heart ablaze with the revolutionary flames of International Socialism, she had her disagreements that should not be erased or waved away.

The original German version of “Rosa Luxemburg’s Position on the Tactical Problems of the Revolution” spans 45 pages. Translating it would be much more difficult without Maria, TLS, Korn, Edrial, Moritz, Warren the Bard and Amadanny, all of whom assisted me with making this work available in English for wider audiences. The Acheron thanks them for every single minute spent on aiding me in this important task. The PDF version of the piece can be downloaded from here.

The Acheron

Rosa Luxemburg’s Position on the Tactical Problems of the Revolution

Written By Adolf Warski In 1922 And Published By The Official Organ Of The Executive Committee Of The Communist International

The Table Of Contents

  1. The Forged Will
  2. Terrorism
  3. Democracy
  4. The Constituent Assembly
  5. Freedom Of The Press
  6. The Bolshevik Slogan On The Agrarian Question Before The October Revolution
  7. The Onslaught of the Peasant Masses
  8. The Position Of The Communist International On The Agrarian Question
  9. The New Brest Peace
  10. Revolutionary Critique

“We have committed mistakes… many mistakes… bad mistakes.”

Lenin in his various speeches and articles from 1918 to recent times

“The Bolsheviks have certainly made a number of mistakes in their policies and are perhaps still making them — but where is the revolution in which no mistakes have been made! The notion of a revolutionary policy without mistakes, and moreover, in a totally unprecedented situation, is so absurd that it is worthy only of a German schoolmaster. […]

The blame of the Bolsheviks’ failures is borne in the final analysis by the international proletariat and above all by the unprecedented and persistent baseness of German Social Democracy. This party which in peace-time pretended to march at the head of the world proletariat, which presumed to advise and lead the whole world, which in its own country counted at least ten million supporters of both sexes — this is the party which has nailed socialism to the cross twenty-four hours a day for the four years at the bidding of the ruling class like venal mercenaries of the Middle Ages.”

Rosa Luxemburg, in the Spartakusbriefe [10] from September 1918, №11 [This piece is also known as The Russian Tragedy — ed.]

The Forged Testament

In 1918, I had great concerns about the October Revolution. Who didn’t? The Bolsheviks perhaps? Lenin, Trotsky and the whole refined group of revolutionary Marxists in Russia have in the fight against the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, etc., vehemently demanded the promised, but time after time postponed convening of the National Constituent Assembly, and once it was finally convened, they dispersed it with bayonets. Did they have no reservations against this, the same Bolsheviks, who for almost two decades fought for the slogan of the Constituent Assembly? They have always fiercely combated the petty-bourgeois “Social-Revolutionary” solution to the Agrarian Question, in the sense of breaking-up of the land and establishment of peasant-family economies; they always advocated for the solution to the Agrarian Question in the general Marxist sense — for the nationalisation of land and soil — and, having come to power, they proclaimed via decree the “Social-Revolutionary” solution. Have they done so without reservations, simply out of fancy? They demanded unrestricted democracy, absolute freedom of press etc. — and then did away with all democratic achievements. Was all of this done immediately, without any criticism?

One can think about the problems of the Russian Revolution as one likes; however, one thing is clear — in a revolution the truth fully holds: in the beginning there was the deed. In other words, it is the living flow of events, the raging current of the revolution, which from its depths, according to the degree of its development, according to the maturity of human society, brings with it both the solution to the historical problems and the means for its realization. In calm times, one can walk around with worn-out notions — in the tide of the revolution however, one gets swept away along with all doubts. Thus, it wasn’t the most important decrees of the Bolsheviks which gave the Russian Revolution meaning, shape and form — it was the revolution itself, which dictated the laws with ardent necessity. Therein lies the great value and meaning of the new experiences and insights that the October Revolution has brought us.

We in Poland did not feel the effects of the tremendous events, which forced the Marxists in Russia to abandon quite a few traditional notions and brought them new experiences. In this way, the Paris Commune too, which after all was an experience at a much smaller historical scale, induced Marx and Engels to see in it the form of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat which had finally been discovered, and at the same time, change their opinion regarding the handling of the state machinery and the form of democracy. We, the Poles, were shielded from the immediate, living influence of the rapidly developing, precipitous events by the armored fist of German occupation, which turned Poland into a desert and created an atmosphere reminiscent of graveyard silence, which threatened to spiritually suffocate us. Thus it wasn’t easy for us to overcome our reservations. How could it be any different for our comrades in Germany, who languished behind prison walls?

At the end of November or beginning of December 1918, a German soldier brought me a small note written in Polish by Rosa Luxemburg to Warsaw, in which she wrote to me as an answer to my message roughly the following:

“When our party (in Poland) is full of enthusiasm for Bolshevism and at the same time (in a secretly printed pamphlet) has come out against both the Bolsheviks’ Brest peace and their agitation with the slogan of ‘national self-determination’ then it is enthusiasm coupled with a critical spirit — what more could we desire! I too shared all your reservations and doubts, but on the most important questions have dropped them and in many cases have not gone as far as you. Terrorism certainly indicates weakness but it is aimed at internal enemies who build their hopes on the existence of capitalism outside Russia and receive support and encouragement from there. If a European revolution comes, then the Russian counter-revolutionaries will not only lose their support but — what is more important — their courage too. In other words the Bolshevik terror is, above all, an expression of the weakness of the European proletariat. Indeed the agrarian relationships [in Russia] which have been established are the most dangerous, the sorest point of the Russian revolution. But here too the truth holds good — that even the greatest revolution can only accomplish what development has ripened. This sore point too can only be healed through the European revolution. And this is coming! […]”

That’s what our great friend wrote to me back then. Or have I merely dreamt it?

Luise Kautsky wrote in her obituary for Rosa Luxemburg that after leaving the prison, where the Bolshevik terror had caused her many sleepless nights, she immediately and completely surrendered to Bolshevism. Did she accuse her dead friend of this terrible crime for nothing, or was it just a dream?

It may at least seem so when one reads the introduction to the pamphlet by Rosa Luxemburg, which Dr. Paul Levi published with the title: “The Russian Revolution — A critical appraisal.” This pamphlet, which the author began in the summer of 1918 in prison, but was unable to complete, contains a sharp criticism of the entire Bolshevik tactic after the October Revolution, i.e. it is directed against the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly, against the repeal of democracy, freedom of the press and assembly, against terrorism, and against their solution to the Agrarian Question. The publication of this unfinished pamphlet would surely be an interesting biographical contribution, which shows us how, between the four walls of a prison cell, the mind of the author struggled for the knowledge of the problems of the revolution. But Paul Levi does not present the pamphlet to his readers as a fragment of the author’s spiritual struggle, but as the ultimate ripe fruit of her thinking, as a kind of political testament by Rosa Luxemburg. In the “Mitteilungsblatt” [notice paper — ed.] of the KAG [11] from January 6, 1922 he even claims categorically: “No: Rosa Luxemburg did not change her views of the tactics of the Bolsheviks during her lifetime, neither did Leo Jogiches. Yes, I believe that Rosa Luxemburg’s Polish friends changed their view, which was in line with Rosa only long after her death.”

As far as the Polish friends are concerned, we have a historical document: When in December 1918, we moved towards the unification of the Polish Social-Democracy and the left of the PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (The Polish Socialist Party) — ed.] into the Communist Party, we first formulated a programmatic declaration, which we sent to Berlin to Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches for critical examination; neither found fault with a single word of this draft, and this programmatic declaration published in print, which drew directly from the Russian Revolution, was Communist, i.e. it was the opposite of the Constituent Assembly, democracy etc.

But if Paul Levi’s assertions were correct, it would have meant, to cite just two examples: From November 1918 until her death, Rosa Luxemburg was for the convening of the National Constituent Assembly and for freedom of press for the counter-revolutionaries together with the Dependent Social-Democrats [SPD]. Now, since Paul Levi lets himself be proclaimed as the “political heir of Rosa Luxemburg” and presuming “The Russian Revolution” was really the political testament of the author, then it follows from it that the publisher of this pamphlet was for the convening of the National Constituent aAssembly, etc., that the former chairman of the Communist Party of Germany [KPD — ed.] was preparing to take on Ebert’s role in the next German Revolution and to fight for a new Weimar, that is, he functioned as a disguised Scheidemann in the Communist Party. However, to the credit of Paul Levi, it must be said that his assertion is untrue. In the ranks of German Communism he was no closeted Scheidemann, he fought against Weimar, against freedom of the press for the Mensheviks. At the founding congress of the Communist Party of Germany, he spoke like a Bolshevik: “The path of the proletariat can only lead over the corpse of the National Constituent Assembly.” He proudly had a representative of the party say the following about the Berlin general strike in March 1919 (Caius pamphlet): “If the strike leadership is an expression of the revolutionary will of the masses, then it has to suppress the counter-revolutionary press, including the “Vorwärts” [12], which is struggling against the strike with knives; but not only to tolerate the revolutionary press, but support it with an increased supply of paper.” The suppression of the counter-revolutionary press was demanded, even though no bloody armed civil war, no dictatorship of the proletariat reigned yet.

This is how Levi spoke when he was still a Communist. It was only when he had ceased to be a communist that he discovered Rosa Luxemburg’s alleged political testament and promptly proclaimed himself her heir.

Let the facts speak for themselves.


Certainly, Rosa Luxemburg also came out later, after her release from prison, against terrorism by characterizing it as a specific instrument of the bourgeois revolution and finally saying:

“In the bourgeois revolutions, terror and the reign of terror were the means of destroying historical illusions or defending hopeless interests against the tide of history.”

But “[…] thanks to the theory of Scientific Socialism, the Socialist proletariat enters its revolution without any illusions. […] It enters the revolution not to chase after utopian fantasies against the course of history, but to achieve what is the imperative of the historical hour, supported by the iron laws of development: to turn socialism into a reality. As a mass, as a vast majority of workers, the Socialist proletariat is supposed to fulfill its mission. It is therefore unnecessary to destroy one’s own illusions through bloody acts of violence.”

[Die Rote Fahne, issue 9, November 24th, 1918 — ed.]

Here we still have the simple, traditional juxtaposition of terror and mass, how we upheld it together with our Russian comrades against the Russian and Polish terrorists, at the time of the struggle against Tsarism. Second, Rosa Luxemburg relies on the experience of the great bourgeois revolutions, just as in the pamphlet, in which she invokes the same experiences to prove the need for the Constituent Assembly. We shall see how she uses the said experiences in the “Rote Fahne” [13] to arrive at the opposite conclusion. Regardless of the question of the historical necessity and role of the terror in the early stages of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, it must be noted — something Rosa Luxemburg did not seem to have known at the time — that it was Lenin, who right after the October Revolution and even today strongly emphasized the impossibility of the immediate disappearance of Capitalism and the necessity of the utilization of state capitalism and so on under the rule of the Dictatorship in the first, transitional stage of this rule — at least until the start of the European revolution — and at the same championed the “Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and so on.” [14] This proves that the Russian terror did not chase after such illusions as a “purely socialist” economy in the isolated, petty-bourgeois country, that the “Extraordinary Commission” was supposed to help Soviet Russia survive for four terrible years despite the failure of the European revolution — Rosa Luxemburg could not have known that.

This fact, however, is the most brilliant historical justification for the “Commission,” even if it does not yet prove that in a non-isolated, say in a European revolution, terror will be necessary as a temporary weapon. That the Bolsheviks were not illusory, at least not in the sense, which Rosa Luxemburg and the general Marxist view portray illusion as creating terror (Lenin himself often fought in the own ranks against various illusions) — Rosa Luxemburg knew this too, as she often admiring and openly expressed the clear and bold view of the Bolsheviks in every situation, like in the present pamphlet.

But, whoever reads Rosa Luxemburg’s article cited by us in the “Rote Fahne” and her later articles, as well as reading attentively the relevant passages in the pamphlet “What does the Spartacus League Want?” and whoever has an understanding of the contemporary situation and the day-to-day of the German revolution at the time, will immediately realize that for Rosa Luxemburg it was not a question of writing on the terror in Russia. She was always an open-eyed fighter and it was not her style to point at the opponent with a finger in the clear, blue sky. Even more so, as she already criticized the tactic of the Bolsheviks openly on another point in the Spartakusbrief. It was entirely different enemies who their fight from then was aimed at.

The clear-sighted mind of Rosa Luxemburg had already foresaw at the time — November 1918! — the coming terror of Noske-Scheidemann, their preparation for the putsch-provocation for the bloody suppression of the revolution. In such situations it may have been appropriate for red-tinged petty bourgeois intellectuals to quarrel over the question of the future terror in the future Soviet-Germany and it was left to the Hilferdings [15] to scold the revolutionary terror in Russia, while at the same time lifting the Ebert-Scheidemann government in a saddle, and to observe the preparations for the bloody orgies of the Noske terror peacefully; to remain in the same government even after the 6th of December, despite the first flare-up of the counter-revolutionary terror of the Ebert-Scheidemann traitors!

But for Rosa Luxemburg the terror was already present! And the order of the day was not to play with terrorist thoughts in a Soviet Republic, but to fight with all your might against the approaching Scheidemann-Noske terror and to shake up the masses.

Thus Rosa Luxemburg writes in the same article:

“But there is someone else who needs terror, reign of terror, anarchy more urgently today: these are the bourgeois gentlemen, that are all parasites of the capitalist economy, who tremble for their property and their privileges, for profits and for their sovereignty […]

Brain and heart of the present-day agitation against the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat is capital and its struggle for survival, whose hand and tool is the Dependent Social-Democracy […]

The Dependent city commander of Berlin arms the security guards with sharp cartridges against the made-up attacks of the Spartacus people. The satellites of the Wels and comrades incite the most unclear elements among the soldiers against Liebknecht and his friends; threatening letters, warnings keep flying to us […]

But what does one think, what would the masses of revolutionary proletarians do, if the baiting reaches its goal, if, say, a hair would be harmed on the head of the one who they have carried out of prison on their own shoulders and recognized as the appointed leader? Who would then have the power to preach cold blood to these masses? […]”

But her ideas about the struggle after the proletarian conquest of power go much further. In her draft program (“What does the Spartacus League want?”) we read:

“The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its aims; it hates and despises killing.”

But now comes the resistance of the counter-revolution, and Rosa Luxemburg presents the most important weapon:

“All this resistance must be broken step by step, with an iron fist and ruthless energy. The violence of the bourgeois counter-revolution must be confronted with the revolutionary violence of the proletariat. Against the attacks, insinuations, and rumors of the bourgeoisie must stand the inflexible clarity of purpose, vigilance, and ever ready activity of the proletarian mass. Against the threatened dangers of the counter-revolution, the arming of the people and disarming of the ruling classes […] the concentrated, compact, and fully developed power of the working class. […]”

The masses — that is the decisive force in the struggle against the counter-revolution. But how can the masses, under an already existing Proletarian state power, fight off every attack, every intrigue, every plot at all times? If attacks, intrigues and plots for which the entire Imperialist surrounding tirelessly works occur almost daily — as was and is the case in isolated Russia, the masses obviously would not have to spend even an hour in the workshops, but be out in the streets and alleyways tailgating the enemy tirelessly, and the proletarian state would have at its disposal none other than the highly concentrated power and readiness of the whole armed workers. Of course, Rosa Luxemburg knew this very well and that is why she demands in the program:

“Arming of the entire adult male proletarian population as a workers’ militia.”

as well as:

“Creation of a Red Guard of proletarians as an active part of the militia for the constant protection of the Revolution against counter-revolutionary attacks and subversions.”

We see that the “readiness of the proletarian masses to act” stands in the first place. This is of utmost importance, this is the principle of revolutionary tactics. If before the seizure of power, during the class struggles, the entire working masses do nothing daily, other than leaving their workplaces in order to continually fight against the counter-revolution in the streets, then constant strikes and this widest mass struggle can bring the Capitalist order to its knees, making it nothing but useful for the revolution. However, because the proletarian state doesn’t need to nor can it lead the whole masses against every single counter-revolutionary conspiracy, intrigue, etc., instead of being the entire population, there is only an “active part” as the Red Guard. But this proposal has its own logical consequences. If the whole crowd doesn’t need to be active, but only a part of it, it becomes clear, that depending on the circumstances, the whole Red Guard may not be necessary to neutralize the intrigues of the Scheidemen: in some situations, this could also be done by a couple of Red Guards — the Cheka is enough. But because it is not a matter of principle, but a practical question depending on the circumstances, Rosa Luxemburg had no need to draw the conclusions. She put forth with great clarity and sharpness the necessary and the fundamental in the question of combating the counter-revolution. But the Bolsheviks didn’t say anything more upon coming to power either. They did nothing more than first leading the general masses and then the Red Guard into the battle. Only when on one side German Imperialism, supported by the German Social-Democrats and the Entente Imperialism with the Czechoslovaks on the other, threatened to stifle the Russian revolution, did the Bolsheviks took a step towards both the increased activity of the masses and terror.

Rosa Luxemburg used the common juxtaposition of the masses and terror, because the struggle of the masses was paramount to her, and she hadn’t learned about the experiences of the Russian revolution. This is proven by her pamphlet, in which she is of the firm conviction that the peasant masses, satisfied by the land distribution, no longer cared for the revolution and would desert it completely. We know that it was exactly the other way around, but Rosa Luxemburg could not have possibly known that at the time. This is proven by her alarming article in the Spartakusbriefe, written in September or October of 1918, in which she expresses her deep (but as we now know, completely unfounded) fear that the Bolsheviks, abandoned by the masses, might forge an alliance with German Imperialism. To avert this danger, she appealed to the German masses.

Certainly, thanks to the war on all fronts against the entire world and to the resulting economic disruption and the dispersal of the workers, the ties between the ruling Bolshevik party and the masses were loosened at the beginning of 1921. But it was the Bolsheviks themselves who rang the bells. Because for them, the struggle of the masses — and not only of the well-trained militaristic masses, but both the enlightened masses of the Red Army and the general working masses, which they strive to penetrate with class consciousness and vigilance over and over again — is a question of life and death. And in this regard, the Bolsheviks are doing what no revolutionary government has done before, which the Mensheviks did not dare to do until the October Revolution, despite democracy, the freedom of press, etc.: talking about the illusions and the mistakes they have committed as the ruling party, publicly, with the masses and for the masses. This action speaks volumes!

The experience that Rosa Luxemburg couldn’t witness made the traditional confrontation between the masses and terror in the Russian Revolution obsolete.


Tyranny and terror are naturally side effects of every war and civil war. What is terror? Formally it is use of violence, incarceration, execution. Politically it is: abolition of the most important democratic rights and guarantees of the public life. Thus, the question of terror as an individual phenomenon is related to the whole complex of questions of democracy with which it is inseparably linked in the civil war and in a certain period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. with the questions of the Constituency (parliamentarism), the general elections, freedom of the press and assembly, etc. And only in this context does Rosa Luxemburg critique the Bolshevik terror. Because she condemns the abolition of democratic guarantees, the Constituent Assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, she also condemns the terror.

But especially in all of these questions, that means in the most important questions of Communist tactics after the outbreak of the revolution, Rosa Luxemburg has fully changed her opinion. If she hadn’t done this, she would have stayed with the Independents [16], and in fact with the right wing of this party. For it is not the stance on terror that characterises Communist tactics. Terror was also exercised by the Scheidemann-Noske administration, the Horthy administration etc. It is precisely the questions raised above, that form the Scheidewasser [17] between the Communist and other parties.

After she stood against the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in her pamphlet, the author arrives at the conclusion:

“Soviets as a backbone as well as a Constituent Assembly and universal suffrage.”

That was the opinion of Rosa Luxemburg in the summer of 1918. That, however, was also the Bolsheviks’ opinion at the beginning of the same year! When they came to power, they calmly convened the Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal suffrage and brought it about, only to later discover the gaping antagonism in things, rescinding it by dissolving the Constituent Assembly.

Curious: Since the Russian February Revolution, the French imperialist press in particular has been shouting that the Soviets and parliament are an inconsistency, and from their standpoint they have demanded that this dichotomy be eliminated by abolishing the Soviets. The Bolsheviks however did not see the gap until January 1918, Rosa Luxemburg not until the outbreak of the German November Revolution. The Bolsheviks demanded the “All power” to the Soviets, and Rosa Luxemburg hailed this in her pamphlet as well as in her Spartakusbriefe. But the “all” power means both executive as well as legislative power. So what was left for the Constituent National Assembly, which was intended as a legislative body and could only be considered as such?

It is also strange that we, who have read Marx’s “Civil War” and the various remarks regarding the lessons of the Paris Commune by Marx and Engels — which provide very valuable clues for this question, forgot precisely this — both Trotsky in his work “History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk” and Rosa Luxemburg in her “critical appreciation” of the October Revolution — what our old masters wrote about the abolition of the separation between the legislative and the executive power after the proletariat seized power.

Soviets and the Constituent Assembly — thus was the thought of the Bolsheviks until January, of Rosa Luxemburg until November 1918, and what the Independents still stood for during the revolution. But this implies the maintaining of the usual separation of legislative and executive powers, thus the distinctive characteristics of the bourgeois state itself. If Marx and Engels, thanks to the experience with the Paris Commune, wrote in 1872 how “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes,” they not only meant the demolition of the bourgeois form of government, bust also called for a new, proletarian form of government, which the Paris Commune was supposed to create. Engels points out these new forms in his preface to Marx’s “Civil War” from the year 1891, in which he writes:

“This shattering of the former state power and its replacement by a new and really democratic state is described in detail in the third section of The Civil War.” And in this section we read:

“The Commune should not be a parliamentary but a working body, executive and legislative at the same time. […]

In a rough sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to further develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country village. […] The rural communities of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris. […]”

From the above, two things follow: First, the constitution of the Commune should not be a democracy in the common sense of the word. Instead of direct, there should be three step elections: community; district; capital. If the Bolsheviks had, instead of direct votes to the Constituent Assembly, introduced such elections on the basis of the constitution of the Commune, the social democrats would have decried them as enemies of democracy. For Marx and Engels, this was “a new, truly democratic state apparatus” despite this restriction of the right to vote.

Second, the Commune should be “executive and legislative at the same time,” so again no democracy in the democratic or petit-bourgeois sense or in the sense of the bourgeois state doctrine at all, but instead a democracy in which there was no place for “Soviets and the Constituent Assembly,” for separate executive and legislative branches.

And this Marx called “the finally revealed political form under which the economic liberation of the workers could take place” or how Engels put it in 1891:

“that was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

However, if we replace the Commune with Soviets and their indirect elections, removal of parliamentarianism, combination of the legislative and executive branches, then we have the council constitution, which — because of the experiences of the Russian Revolution and the first attempts of proletarian revolution in Germany etc. — is the “finally revealed political form” of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Constituent Assembly

But the Bolsheviks having discovered, only after the overcoming of the petty-bourgeois-Menshevik stage of the Revolution and after the seizure of power, the hidden contradiction in the formula “Soviets and the Constituent Assembly,” Rosa Luxemburg could, thanks to the Russian experience and in direct contrast to her own criticism, stand as sharply against the National Constituent Assembly at the very beginning of the German Revolution, as she stood for it in her pamphlet.

In the pamphlet she writes:

“According to Trotsky’s theory, every elected assembly reflects once and for all only the mental composition, political maturity and mood of its electorate just at the moment when the latter goes to the polling place. According to that, a democratic body is the reflection of the masses at the end of the electoral period, much as the heavens of Herschel always show us the heavenly bodies not as they are when we are looking at them but as they were at the moment they sent out their light-messages to the earth from the measureless distances of space. Any living mental connection between the representatives, once they have been elected, and the electorate, any permanent interaction between one and the other, is hereby denied.

Yet how all historical experience contradicts this! Experience demonstrates quite the contrary: namely, that the living fluid of the popular mood continuously flows around the living fluid of the popular mood continuously flows around the representative bodies, penetrates them, guides them. How else would it be possible to witness, as we do at times in every bourgeois parliament, the amusing capers of the “people’s representatives,” who are suddenly inspired by a new “spirit” and give forth quite unexpected sounds; or to find the most dried-out mummies at times comporting themselves like youngsters and the most diverse little Scheidemännchen [“Little Scheidemen,” a play on the name of Phillip Scheidemann — ed.] suddenly finding revolutionary tones in their breasts — whenever there is rumbling in factories and workshops on the street.

And is this ever-living influence of the mood and degree of political ripeness of the masses upon the elected bodies to be renounced in favor of a rigid scheme of party emblems and tickets in the very midst of revolution? Quite the contrary! It is precisely the revolution which creates by its glowing heat that delicate, vibrant, sensitive political atmosphere in which the waves of popular feeling, the pulse of popular life, work for a moment on the representative bodies in the most wonderful fashion. It is on this very fact, to be sure, that the well-known moving scenes depend which invariably present themselves in the first stages of every revolution, scenes in which old reactionaries or extreme moderates, who have issued out of a parliamentary election by limited suffrage under the old regime, suddenly become the heroic and stormy spokesmen of the uprising. The classic example is provided by the famous “Long Parliament” in England, which was elected and assembled 1642 and remained at its post for seven whole years and reflected in its internal life all alterations and displacements of popular feeling, of political ripeness, of class differentiation, of the progress of the revolution to its highest point, from the initial devout skirmishes with the Crown under a Speaker who remains on his knees, to the abolition of the House of Lords, the execution of Charles and the proclamation of the republic.

And was not the same wonderful transformation repeated in the French Estates-General, in the censorship-subjected parliament of Louis Phillipe, and even — and this last, most striking example was very close to Trotsky — even in the Fourth Russian Duma which, elected in the Year of Grace 1909 under the most rigid rule of the counter-revolution, suddenly felt the glowing heat of the impending overturn and became the point of departure for the revolution? [It was this Fourth Duma which, after popular demonstrations in February 1917, sent two emissaries to the Tsar to request his abdication. — ed.]

All this shows that “the cumbersome mechanism of democratic institutions” possesses a powerful corrective — namely, the living movement of the masses, their unending pressure. And the more democratic the institutions, the livelier and stronger the pulse-beat of the political life of the masses, the more direct and complete is their influence — despite rigid party banners, outgrown tickets (electoral lists), etc. To be sure, every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.”

We see how, back in the summer of 1918, in prison, Rosa Luxemburg still based her views on the experiences of the bourgeois revolutions. Just like the Bolsheviks in the year 1917, she saw the coming development with democratic lens and had not yet noticed the principal fundamental difference between the course and the internal necessities of the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions. But as she threw herself into the German Revolution, she recognized in the living, raging flow of events what she could not grasp from a distance and from Trotsky’s pamphlet alone. And so she wrote in November 1918:

“What is gained, then, with this cowardly detour called the National Assembly? The bourgeoisie’s position is strengthened; the proletariat is weakened and confused by empty illusions; time and energy are dissipated and lost in ‘discussions’ between the wolf and the lamb; in a word, one plays into the hands of all those elements whose intent is to defraud the proletarian revolution of its socialist goals and to emasculate it into a bourgeois-democratic revolution.

But the question of the National Assembly is not a question of opportunity, not a question of the greater ‘convenience’. It is a question of principle, a question of the socialists’ knowledge of themselves and of the limitations of the revolution.

The first decisive step in the great French Revolution was taken in July 1789, when the three separate Estates combined in a joint National Assembly. This decision left its stamp upon the whole future course of events; it was the symbol of the victory of a new bourgeois social order over the medieval-feudal society of Estates.

In the same way, the symbol of the new socialist social order borne by the present proletarian revolution, the symbol of the class character of its true task, and of the class character of the political organ which is meant to execute this task, is: the workers’ council, based on representation of the urban and rural proletariat.

The National Assembly is an outmoded legacy of bourgeois revolutions, an empty shell, a requisite from the time of petit-bourgeois illusions of a ‘united people’ and of the ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ of the bourgeois State.

To resort to the National Assembly today is consciously or unconsciously to turn the revolution back to the historical stage of bourgeois revolutions; anyone advocating it is a secret agent of the bourgeoisie or an unconscious spokesman of petit-bourgeois ideology.

The convocation of such a representative body of labour in place of the traditional National Assembly of the bourgeois revolutions is in itself an act of the class struggle, a break with the historical past of bourgeois society, a powerful method of arousing the proletarian masses, a first open and abrupt declaration of war against capitalism.”

[Die Rote Fahne, November 20th, 1918]

In contrast to her view in the pamphlet, she sees right at the beginning of the Revolution the real, counter-revolutionary meaning of the Constituent Assembly, and already in the third issue of the “Rote Fahne” she writes about the government:

“[…] they are convening the National Constituent Assembly, thereby creating a bourgeoise counterweight to the workers’ and soldiers’ representation, thus shifting the Revolution onto the tracks of a bourgeois revolution, conjuring away the socialist goals of the Revolution.”

We want to single out just a few more passages from the abundance:

“Two points of view alone are possible on this question (the National Assembly), as in all others — either one wants the National Assembly as a tool, to cheat the proletariat out of its power, to paralyze its class energy, to dissolve its socialist end goals in a blue haze, or one wants to lay the whole power in the hands of the proletariat, to develop the already begun revolution into the mighty class struggle for the socialist social order, and for this purpose establish the political rule of the great mass of workers, the dictatorship of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. For or against socialism, against or for the National Assembly: there is no third way.”

[Die Rote Fahne, November 29th, 1918]

Thus demands Rosa Luxemburg from the assembled Central council certain measures, one of them reading:

“It [the central council] must reject the National Assembly as an attempt on the life of the Revolution and the workers’ and soldiers’ councils.”

[Die Rote Fahne, December 15th, 1918]

The Freedom Of The Press

If every reader is not able to procure the “Rote Fahne” from November until the death of Rosa Luxemburg, to get to know her views on the Constituent Assembly in the proletarian revolution, it is enough to take her brilliant work “What does the Spartacus League want?” to hand, to immediately see, what her actual opinion was. If she however principally changed her views on this most important, foundational, tactical question, if she rejected the democratic guarantees of civil liberty, the Constituent Assembly and with it the universal direct suffrage, as unsuitable and harmful weapons for the proletarian revolution, then it could naturally be concluded that she also no longer recognised the other guarantees like freedom of press and assembly as valid, and she acted accordingly.

In the article on the mass demonstration in the Siegesallee, in which she praised the “rock solid, revolutionary conviction, this splendid demeanor, this energy that streamed from the masses,” Rosa Luxemburg noted: “the proletarians have through the lessons of the last weeks, the most recent developments grown enormously politically.” And namely, what was this “enormous political growth,” this “rock solid, revolutionary conviction”?

In the destruction of the freedom of the press of the opponents! She writes:

“The masses have followed the call of their leaders impetuously, they carried out the reinstatement of Eichhorn out of their own strength, they have out of their own initiative spontaneously occupied the “Vorwärts,” they seized the bourgeois editorial offices and the WTB [Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau — ed.].”

[Die Rote Fahne, January 1st, 1919]

And how did she mock the petit-bourgeois-democratic whining two days later because of the “assaults of the masses, their attacks on sacred private property, namely on the laboratories of intellectual well-poisoning, the bourgeois newspaper editorial offices”! Freedom of the press for the Mensheviks? She wrote:

“But what did we witness in these three days? Everything that has truly been conquered in terms of positions is: the re-occupation of the police headquarters, the occupation of the “Vorwärts,” the occupation of the WTB and the bourgeois editorial offices, that was all spontaneous work of the masses. What did the organs — the Revolutionary Stewards and the central committee of the USPD of Greater Berlin — which in those days stood or pretended to stand at the front of the masses, make of this? They neglected the most elementary rules of revolutionary action. As they are:

If the masses occupy the “Vorwärts”, then it is the duty of the Revolutionary Stewards and the central committee of the USPD of Greater Berlin, who indeed officially claim to represent the Berlin workers, to ensure immediate editorial guidance in the interests of the revolutionary workers of Berlin. Where have the editors gone? What are Däumig, Ledebour — journalists of reputation and profession, who now as the left of the USPD do not possess an organ — doing, why are they letting the masses down? Was it a more urgent matter to “advise,” instead of act?”

So: the occupation of the “Vorwärts”, the bourgeois editorial offices — these were “positions,” which were “conquered” by the revolution; It was the duty of the revolutionaries or those who claimed to represent the revolution to not hand the “Vorwärts” or other newspapers back to the Dependent Social Democrats [SPD — ed.], democrats or republicans, to reinstate the freedom of the press, the “free” conflict of opinions, but to occupy them with revolutionary journalists. Because this was not done, it was said: the revolutionary masses have been abandoned.

Yes, the first step that Rosa Luxemburg took in the days of the revolution after November 9th, was her work at the desk of the editorial office of the “Lokalanzeiger,” on the ruins of the freedom of the press!

And still the last essay which she wrote before her death (“Order Prevails In Berlin”), her last breath of life was in the cause of among other things the fight against the freedom of the press for the opponents of the revolution. She wrote:

“It is self evident and a sign of the healthy instinct of the fresh inner strength of the Berlin proletariat, that it did not calm itself at the reinstatement of Eichhorn to his office, that it spontaneously marched towards the occupation of different positions of power of the counter-revolution: the bourgeois press, the semi-official news bureaus, the “Vorwärts.” [18 — Adolf Warski’s Footnote]

That was Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary work from her first appearance after November 9th until her last breath.

Was this work possible while maintaining the views which she expressed in her pamphlet?

For an eclectic this too would perhaps be possible. The back and forth swinging independent Social Democrats were after all preparing, despite all the glaring contradictions, to cook up such an eclectic mush, to throw proletarian dictatorship and National Assembly in one pot, to “anchor” the the council constitution into the bourgeois constitution, to melt together the foundational idea of socialism with the foundational idea of capitalism in one crucible.

But what is so easy for others, is a matter of impossibility for a Rosa Luxemburg whose mind Franz Mehring described as the most ingenious among Marx’s students. Before she herself would actively intervene in the proletarian storm of revolution, she first had to pass in review all the great experiences and lessons of the bourgeois revolutions, which had until recently been our only mentors in these matters, once again analyse them in their lawful course, juxtapose it to the Russian Revolution, in order to measure and test the latter against the yardstick of the great bourgeois past. As always was her revolutionary way of thinking, she did so with the sharpest criticism until she came to the contradiction that gaped between recognition of the October Revolution and the condemnation of its most essential characteristics. But then she had to rip apart the once spun strings, with the old world and its great revolutionary traditions — which even disturbed the thought process of a Lenin for so long in the midsts of a storm of revolution — finally breaking and taking on the torn apart string from the opposite side and only that way spiritually entering the new world.

Like this we see Rosa Luxemburg busy with criticism again after the 9th of November. But this time the proletarian revolution is not measured by the standard of the bourgeois revolutions, but vice versa. And despite the great heat of the restless struggle, her revolutionary-dialectical mind comes to the fundamental result that the laws of the bourgeois revolutions cannot apply to the proletarian revolution, that their ways are different, just as their class content is different.

And what she condemns in her pamphlet, she will glorify after the 9th of November.

The Bolshevik Slogan On The Agrarian Question Before The October Revolution

The struggle of the peasants against the large estates was the most powerful lever of the Russian Revolution. At the same time, however, the Agrarian Question was the most complex and convoluted problem economically, and after its provisional resolution in the October Revolution, it continuously provided the largest difficulties to the development of Soviet rule.

90 percent of the land that was expropriated from the landowners was divided among the peasants for use. However, this meant the transformation of large farms into small, rural enterprises, therefore not leading directly to the beginning of the first steps which could bring about a future socialist economy. Because that would entail: the abolition of the antithesis and antagonism between town and country, the unification of the national economy, which would also necessitate the collectivization of the organization of agriculture. This, however, is resisted by the smallholders.

On this topic Rosa Luxemburg states the following in her pamphlet:

That the Soviet government in Russia has not carried through these mighty reforms — who can reproach them for that! It would be a sorry jest indeed to demand or expect of Lenin and his comrades that, in the brief period of their rule, in the center of the gripping whirlpool of domestic and foreign struggles, ringed about by countless foes and opponents — to expect that under such circumstances they should already have solved, or even tackled, one of the most difficult tasks, indeed, we can safely say, the most difficult task of the socialist transformation of society! Even in the West, under the most favorable conditions, once we have come to power, we too will break many a tooth on this hard nut before we are out of the worst of the thousands of complicated difficulties of this gigantic task!

A socialist government which has come to power must in any event do one thing: it must take measures which lead in the direction of that fundamental prerequisite for a later socialist reform of agriculture; it must at least avoid everything which may bar the way to those measures.

Now the slogan launched by the Bolsheviks, immediate seizure and distribution of the land by the peasants, necessarily tended in the opposite direction. Not only is it not a socialist measure; it even cuts off the way to such measures; it piles up insurmountable obstacles to the socialist transformation of agrarian agriculture.

The seizure of the landed estates by the peasants according to the short and precise slogan of Lenin and his friends — “Go and take the land for yourselves” — simply led to the sudden, chaotic conversion of large land ownership into peasant land ownership. What was created is not social property but a new form of private property, namely, the breaking up of large estates into medium and small estates, or relatively advanced large units of production into primitive small units which operate with technical means from the time of the Pharaohs.

Nor is that all! Through these measures and the chaotic and purely arbitrary manner of their execution, differentiation in landed property, far from being eliminated, was even further sharpened. […] The shift of power, however, took place to the disadvantage of the interests of the proletariat and of socialism. Formerly, there was only a small caste of noble and capitalist landed proprietors and a small minority of rich village bourgeoisie to oppose a socialist reform on the land. And their expropriation by a revolutionary mass movement of the people is mere child’s play. But now, after the “seizure,” as an opponent of any attempt at socialization of agrarian production, there is an enormous, newly developed and powerful mass of owning peasants who will defend their newly won property with tooth and nail against every attack. The question of the future socialization of agrarian economy — that is, any socialization of production in general in Russia…”

This is what Rosa Luxemburg said. Here, it must be emphasized: the last sentence about the emergence of a strong mass of propertied peasantry as a mass bearer of capitalism, against which the resistance of a small caste of landowners and a small minority of the rich village bourgeoisie was cakewalk — this thought, this determination was noted by Lenin in 1918, but especially since March of 1921, was repeatedly highlighted at the Third Congress of the Communist International very clearly.

How did this come about, alone? We noticed, at the beginning of our remarks, that the Bolsheviks were in favor of the nationalization of land. And on May 22, 1917, at the First All-Russian Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, Lenin said:

“From this it follows that in advocating the immediate transfer, without payment, of the landed estates to the local peasants we do not by any means advocate the seizure of those estates as private property, we do not by any means advocate the division of those estates. We believe the land should be taken by the local peasantry for one sowing in accordance with a decision adopted by the majority of local peasant deputies.

I and my Party comrades, in whose name I have the honour to speak, know of only two ways of protecting the interests of agricultural labourers and poor peasants, and we recommend these two ways to the Peasants’ Soviet for its attention.

The first way is to organise the agricultural labourers and poor peasants. […]

The second stop which our Party recommends is that every big economy, for example, every big landed estate, of which there are 30,000 in Russia, should be organised as soon as possible into a model farm for the common cultivation of the land jointly by agricultural labourers and scientifically trained agronomists, using the animals, implements, etc., of the landowner for that purpose. ’Without this common cultivation under the direction of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers the land will not go entirely to the working people. To be sure, joint cultivation is a difficult business and it would be madness of course for anybody to imagine that joint cultivation of the land can be decreed from above and imposed on people, because the centuries-old habit of farming on one’s own cannot suddenly disappear, and because money will be needed for it and adaptation to the new mode of life. If this advice, this view, on the common cultivation of the land with commonly owned animals and implements to be used to the best purpose jointly with agronomists — if this advice were the invention of individual political parties, the case would be a bad one, because changes are not made in the life of a people on the advice of a party, because tens of millions of people do not make a revolution on the advice of a party, and such a change would be much more of a revolution than the overthrow of the weak-minded Nicholas Romanov. I repeat, tens of millions of people will not make a revolution to order, but will do so when driven to it by dire need, when their position is an impossible one, when the joint pressure and determination of tens of millions of people break down the old barriers and are actually capable of creating a new way of life. When we advise such a measure, and advise caution in the handling of it, saying that it is becoming necessary, we are not drawing that conclusion from our programme, from our socialist doctrine alone, but because we, as socialists, have come to this conclusion by studying the life of the West-European nations. We know that there have been many revolutions over there and that they have established democratic republics; we know that in America in 1865 the slave-owners were defeated and hundreds of millions of dessiatines of land were distributed among the peasantry for nothing or next to nothing, and nevertheless capitalism dominates there more than anywhere else and oppresses the mass of the working people as badly as, if not worse than, in other countries. This is the socialist teaching, this is our study of other nations that firmly convinces us that without the common cultivation of the land by agricultural labourers using the best machinery and guided by scientifically trained agronomists there is no escape from the yoke of capitalism. But if we were to be guided only by the experience of the West-European countries it would be very bad for Russia, because the Russian people in the mass are only capable of taking a serious step along that new path when the direst need arises. And we say to you: the time has now come when that dire need for the entire Russian people is knocking at the door. The dire need I speak of is precisely this — we cannot continue farming in the old way. If we continue as before on our small isolated farms, albeit as free citizens on free soil, we are still faced with imminent ruin, for the debacle is drawing nearer day by day, hour by hour. Everyone is talking about it; it is a grim fact, due not to the malice of individuals but to the world war of conquest, to capitalism.”

In this generally understandable way, Lenin tried to include the assembled peasants into the socialist doctrine, to clarify to them the advantages and necessity of big enterprise. With this in mind, a resolution on the Agrarian Question was adopted at the April 1917 Bolshevik Party Conference, in which the last point was worded as follows:

“The Party of the proletariat must recommend to the rural and semi-proletarians that they demand the establishment of a large enterprise on every estate. This enterprise must be run on the joint account of the councils of the agricultural workers’ delegates, under the guidance of agronomists and by using the best technical means.”

This is what the Bolsheviks demanded two months before the October Revolution. But it turned out differently. Why?

The Onslaught of the Peasant Masses

In the cited sentences from Lenin’s speech to the peasants, the reader probably noticed that the speaker talks of the “joint cultivation” of the large estates as a “difficult business”; as the “centuries-old habit of farming on one’s own cannot suddenly disappear”. For Western European farm workers and peasants this sentence would likely appear ridiculous. Because the laborers, who are employed year after year in the large and medium-sized rural enterprises and become acquainted with the relatively consistent operation as well as organisation of business quite easily — in contrast to the large industrial firms — can easily continue to operate without the landowner, at least according to old custom, without technical innovations, but especially under the guidance of agronomists etc., as Lenin demands. However, in Great Russia proper, large landowners indeed existed, but comparatively very few large rural farms. The large landowners leased their land to the peasants, who worked their leased share according to the Russian-peasant style “with technical means from the time of the Pharaohs.” The large and medium-sized enterprises were thus a fairly unknown phenomenon to the majority of the Russian farm workers and semi-proletarians, and this explains the great difficulties Lenin anticipated. The working conditions in Russian agriculture — in contrast to the modern conditions in Russian industrial centers — have not yet assumed capitalistically developed shapes. This circumstance already partly explains why things turned out differently than the Bolsheviks wanted. Incidents occured in this direction that were stronger than the indomitable, iron will of Lenin and his well-trained party. The peasant masses had spoken themselves.

In his essay “From a Publicist’s Diary” Lenin criticizes the “classical Programme” that was published in the form of an essay in the News of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Peasant Deputies on August 19th 1917 — a programme that has been compiled based on 242 reports that have been presented by local delegates to the All-Russian Congress of the Peasant Deputies in the year 1917. [19]

Those “reports,” which can be equated to the “Cahiers de doléances” from the great French Revolution, contain very radical political demands of the peasantry, that come closest to the programme of the Bolsheviks, and Lenin describes as follows:

“According to the summary, the peasant land demands are primarily abolition of private ownership of all types of land, including the peasants’ lands, without compensation; transfer of lands on which high-standard scientific farming is practised to the state or the communes; confiscation of all livestock and implements on the confiscated lands (peasants with little land are excluded) and their transfer to the state or the communes; a ban on wage-labour; equalised distribution of land among the working people, with periodical redistributions, and so on. In the transition period, pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, the peasants demand the immediate enactment of laws prohibiting the purchase and sale of land, abolition of laws concerning separation from the commune, farmsteads, etc., laws protecting forests, fisheries, etc., abolishing long-term and revising short-term leases, and so on.”

It is clear at first glance that the above demands can only be realised against the capitalists, therefore also against the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, who joined the capitalists. It was a tremendous vast, unstoppable flood that could only lead to the October Revolution. And the same demands of the poor peasant mass, that Lenin criticized in August 1917, were incorporated into Lenin’s Decree on Land on October 26th (November 7th).

In his critique of the above demands, Lenin recalled:

“Let us recall what Engels said on the peasant question shortly before his death. He stressed that socialists have no intention whatsoever of expropriating the small peasants, and that the advantages of mechanised socialist agriculture will be made clear to them only by force of example…

The peasants want to keep their small farms, to set equal standards for all, and to make readjustments on an egalitarian basis from time to time. Fine. No sensible socialist will differ with the peasant poor over this. If the land is confiscated, that means the domination of the banks has been undermined, if the implements are confiscated, that means the domination of capital has been undermined — and in that case, provided the proletariat rules centrally, provided political power is taken over by the proletariat, the rest will come by itself, as a result of “force of example,” prompted by experience.”

And immediately after the seizure of power, the Bolsheviks proceeded to bring the “force of example” into effect. They established agricultural communes (by merging small peasant farms into large collective farms). According to information by V.P. Milyutin (“Socialism and Agriculture,” 1919), within a year and a half, about 6000 communes were established, covering an area of roughly one million dessiatins. [20] At the beginning the communes formed almost exclusively on former estates and of workers and landless peasants. But now communes on the peasant estates are beginning to form, and the poor peasants, and yes, even the middle peasants are joining them.

Additionally there were the rural Soviet farms, the large farms established immediately after the October Revolution that were most closely linked with the industry. In the year 1919 they encompassed 1.5 million dessiatins.

What alone can achieve the “force of example” without living and dead inventory, without machines, without fertilizer and seeds? How could the “force of example” spread, how could countless new Soviet farms develop with the nationwide disruption of the Soviet economy, if even new factories could not be built and the existing ones had to be shut down? With the progressing disintegration of the overall macroeconomy, the Soviet farms and communes had to wither and perish as well. But if the Soviet government is ready to lease large lands to foreign capitalists to let them build a modern agriculture on them, then that proves that there is much space left for the socialist example. Thus, the October decree concerning the agrarian question would be no insurmountable obstacle in the way to the establishment of a socialist agriculture in Russia, if the Russian Revolution wasn’t still isolated.

The Position Of The Communist International On The Agrarian Question

Now, however, Rosa Luxemburg’s criticism of the Bolshevik solution regarding the agrarian question, and in many other respects generally, becomes obsolete if one considers that she claims — out of obvious ignorance of the true situation, as was inevitable due to her isolation in prison — that the Bolsheviks are presenting every tactical move they make as exemplary for the International Proletariat. So she writes in the pamphlet:

“It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy. By their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international socialism, they have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions. The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics. When they get in their own light in this way, and hide their genuine, unquestionable historical service under the bushel of false steps forced on them by necessity, they render a poor service to international socialism for the sake of which they have fought and suffered; for they want to place in its storehouse as new discoveries all the distortions prescribed in Russia by necessity and compulsion — in the last analysis only by-products of the bankruptcy of international socialism in the present world war.”

Now we all know that it was precisely the Bolshevik leaders, and especially Lenin, who stressed countless times that the Western European workers would do many things differently, better, more thoroughly; specifically because, thanks to the higher development of economic life, they had more culture, more discipline, more knowledge, and a better sense of organization. And as far as the Agrarian Question is concerned, not only have they not made virtue out of necessity, but rather the opposite; they have submitted a resolution to the Third Congress of the Communist International, which was also adopted, and states the following, which is of interest to us:

“Due to the economic backwardness of this country, in Russia it was usually necessary to divide the lands among the peasants and proceed to their utilization by the peasants. Only in relatively rare, exceptional cases was it possible to use the land to set up a so-called Soviet economy, which the proletarian state runs for its own account.”

By contrast:

“For the advanced capitalist countries, the Communist International recognizes that it is right to, for the most part, maintain large-scale agricultural operations and to run them like the Soviet economy in Russia.

The preservation of large rural farms best protects the interests of the revolutionary stratum of the rural population: the landless farm workers, and the semi-proletarian stakeholders. […] Moreover, the nationalization of large-scale farms makes the urban population at least partially independent from the peasantry in the matter of supply.”

In one of his letters, Engels compares the unrestrained flow of great revolutions to the inexorable course of natural disasters. In the Spartakusbriefe, Rosa Luxemburg also speaks of the Russian Revolution as a volcanic eruption. The agrarian decree of the October Revolution was the expression of the violent eruption of the Russian peasant masses — an eruption that completely buried under its glaring lava both the imperialist front through the outrage of the peasant mass of soldiers, as well as the conditions of the Junkers through the seizure of land. It was precisely to Lenin’s historical merit that he recognized the insurmountable power of this mass thrust in time, that he did not oppose it, like the Mensheviks, thereby bringing about more chaos and anarchy and, as a result, the rapid fall of the revolution; rather, he absorbed this thrust, led it into legally organized channels and at the same time — at least theoretically — created the possibility of ending the petit-bourgeois economic anarchy in the countryside by building up the proletarian dictatorship, socialist industry, and rural Soviet economies. However, this complicated problem, like all of the much simpler socialist problems, is fundamentally unsolvable without the International Revolution.

The New Brest Peace

Roughly 50 years ago, Marx and Engels believed themselves to be able to tell the Russian revolutionaries: should the Social Revolution break out in Europe, the Russian pre-capitalist village composition could immediately transition into a Socialist economy. Since this was said, the capitalist development of Russia has decayed the half-communist village composition, brought forth big industrial centers with a revolutionary working class, but no or almost no modern agriculture with appropriate labor conditions in the countryside was created. The Social Revolution, however, came in Russia and failed to materialize in Europe.

And so the uninterrupted march to Golgotha of the Russian Revolution continues — from one painful stop to the next, from peace with the Junker saber of Germany to the newest peace with the hyenas of world capital, from Brest-Litovsk to Genoa — with hope for the World Revolution. Of course, the Brest peace [The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk — ed.], which Rosa Luxemburg criticized — deeply worried it could lead to the triumph of German Imperialism and the fall of the Bolshevik revolution — was a dangerous respite. Now, or rather since the beginning of 1921, we have a new edition of the Brest peace, a new “respite,” but back then it was the concessions to German imperialism, itself already harshly threatened by its enemies in the theatres of war. How much more dangerous are now the concessions to world capital forced upon Russia through the isolation of the Russian Revolution! The question that is now of importance is who will last longer: the capitalist world or the exhausted proletarian Soviet power, plundered by countless invasions and bleeding from a thousand wounds. And along with that, the world capital might no longer find in Russia a Koltschak, Denikin or Wrangel as its allies, but a broad mass of rural and petty bourgeois producers, that as a natural basis for capitalism can become much more dangerous for the proletarian revolution than all the Tsarist generals of the counter-revolution. Will the Soviet government succeed in building up the state socialist industry through concessions to the usurious world capital, and in maintaining the alliance of the worker with the farmer through the subsidization of agriculture — until the breakout of the European revolution? This question stands before the international proletariat and can only be answered by it.

Mensheviks of all kinds now scream like the familiar lions — because of the new policy of the Brest peace, because of the compromises with capital. We can answer them with the words of Rosa Luxemburg, that the weakness of Soviet power is the product of the Menshevik malice in all countries.

But we want to recommend to the workers on this occasion to take to heart what Rosa Luxemburg wrote at the end of this pamphlet:

“All of us are subject to the laws of history, and it is only internationally that the socialist order of society can be realized. The Bolsheviks have shown that they are capable of everything that a genuine revolutionary party can contribute within the limits of historical possibilities. They are not supposed to perform miracles. For a model and faultless proletarian revolution in an isolated land, exhausted by world war, strangled by imperialism, betrayed by the international proletariat, would be a miracle. What is in order is to distinguish the essential from the non-essential, the kernel from the accidental in the politics of the Bolsheviks. In the present period, when we face decisive final struggles in all the world, the most important problem of socialism was and is the burning question of our time. It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: ‘I have dared!’

This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy. In this sense theirs is the immortal historical service of having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the conquest of political power and the practical placing of the problem of the realization of socialism, and of having advanced mightily the settlement of the score between capital and labor in the entire world. In Russia, the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia. And in this sense, the future everywhere belongs to ‘Bolshevism.’”

Revolutionary Critique

We have seen: the views, which Rosa Luxemburg expressed in the discussed pamphlet were, from the November Revolution in Germany to her death, no longer her views.

Nevertheless, despite the errors and imperfection of the work, this screed is a revolutionary piece of writing. For Rosa Luxemburg’s critique distinguishes itself from every opportunist critique, in that it never harms the revolutionary cause or the revolutionary party; on the contrary, it only stimulates it — precisely because it is a revolutionary critique. If someone thinks the present pamphlet should’ve been concealed, as it could’ve harmed revolutionary Russia, and that only now was it appropriate for publication, as the Soviet power now allegedly stands strong in the world, they merely prove that they conceive of critique only as opportunistic, revolution- and party-damaging critique; for them, the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg, like the spirit of revolutionary Marxism in general, is a Book of Seven Seals. If a critique harms the revolution or the revolutionary party, well, then it just isn’t a revolutionary critique.

Rosa Luxemburg was, particularly in her way and method of critique, the spirit of Marx’s spirit, the blood of his blood. In this pamphlet too — despite all of its flaws! When Marx critiqued the revolutions of 1848 or the Paris Commune, then it was always a chastisement with an iron rut against all politics of half measure, of indecision, of idleness and a glorification of every revolutionary thought and every revolutionary deed.

Likewise with Rosa Luxemburg. Both in the Spartakusbriefe and in the pamphlet, her critique transforms at every turn into a devastating, contemptuous critique of Menshevism, into a glorification of the Russian Revolution and its leading Party, into a flaming screed to the International Proletariat.


[1] This expression was penned by the prominent playwright and poet, Bertold Brecht, for his 1929 poem “Epitaph 1919,” commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the Liebknecht-Luxemburg murders. The whole piece is as follows:

“And now red Rosa has disappeared,

Where she lies nobody knows.

To the poor the truth she taught,

The rich hunted and out of this world.

May she rest in peace!”

[2] Klaus Gietinger — The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg, pages 36–39

[3] Vladimir Lenin’s Speech at a Protest Rally Following the Murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, January 19, 1919, Published in Pravda №14

[4] Clara Zetkin’s Letter to Mathilde Jacob, 18 January, 1919.

[5] Sebastian Haffner — Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–1919

[6] Rosa Luxemburg — The Mass Strike, Chapter IV

[7] Rosa Luxemburg — Order Prevails in Berlin

[8] Karl Liebknecht — In Spite Of Everything!

[9] Adolf Warski — Rosa Luxemburg’s Position on the Tactical Problems of the Revolution

[10] “The Spartacus Letters” (Die Spartakusbriefe) was a newspaper founded and edited by Leo Jogiches, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and other Linksradikale, its first official issue appearing illegally in September of 1916 (although it had been circulating since 1914). Karl Liebknecht’s written explanation to the Speaker of the Reichstag on why he had rejected to vote for the war credits and become the only man who durst do such a thing, which the latter refused to have entered in the written record, was distributed illegally and became the forerunner of the Spartacus letters, which soon became the voice of the radical inter-Party opposition. According to J.P. Nettl, the famous Luxemburg biographer, the letters at first “were part of the information circulars distributed to sympathetic party functionaries through the good offices of the local party organization in Niederbarnim, an electoral district of Berlin controlled by the radicals” [J.P. Nettl, “Rosa Luxemburg.” p. 617]. Unfortunately, much of the letters, which have been collected into a book, have yet to appear in English. Some of the digitized, German issues can be found here.

[11] After being expelled from the Communist Party, Levi formed the Communist Working Collective (KAG) with supporters expelled from the KPD at its Jena congress in September 1921, which included 13 of the KPD’s Reichstag deputies (including Levi himself). The KAG was immediately declared by the Comintern a ‘hostile organisation’ as it demanded certain autonomy: material independence from the Comintern, joint control of literature, security from open and covert attacks, a policy of collaboration with all revolutionary German workers and the maintenance of the organisational unity of the trade unions [David Fernbach — In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Writings of Paul Levi, p. 23].

[12] Vorwärts (“Forward”) is a newspaper still published by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), founded in 1876 as the successor of Berliner Volksblatt. It was the central organ of the SPD, supporting the Mensheviks after the split and refusing Lenin any chance to publish his works. It was also opposed to the October Revolution as well as the German revolutions, proving its counter-revolutionary character in every step. Its offices were stormed during the Spartacus Uprising.

[13] The Red Flag (Die Rote Fahne) was a German newspaper originally founded in 1876 by Socialist Worker’s party leader Wilhelm Hasselmann. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg published it in 1918 as organ of the Spartacus League.

[14] This refers to the VChK, also known as Cheka. The official designation was “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage under the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR” but in 1918 its name was changed, becoming All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption. It was formed under the Council of People’s Commissars on December 20th, 1917, under the initiative of V. I. Lenin himself

[15] Rudolf Hilferding (10 August 1877–11 February 1941) was an Austrian-born Marxist economist and politician for the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) during the Weimar Republic. He authored the famous work on Finance Capital that Lenin cited in his Imperialism, who he calls an “ex-“Marxist”, and now a comrade-in-arms of Kautsky and one of the chief exponents of bourgeois, reformist policy.” Luxemburg characterized him as a “petit-bourgeois illusionist and babbler [and] boring-pedantic-scholarly” who lacked the “lustre and talent and allure of newness” of his predecessors. Hence “Hilferdings,” “Kautskys,” “Bernsteins,” “Scheidmanns,” etc., are all demeaning expressions that the revolutionaries used to describe the traitors and opportunists.

[16] The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or USPD for short) was a party established in 1917 as the result of a split of anti-war members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), being terminated in 1931 through merger with the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (SAPD). The organization officially took a “centrist” approach in most matters, including war and revolution. Both Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky were members of this party, as well as the radicals (Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Zetkin, etc) until they formed their own Communist Party of Germany, accusing the USPD of indecisiveness and opportunism. Hence the names Dependent Social-Democracy (SPD) and the Independent one (USPD).

[17] Aqua Fortis, also known as nitric acid, can be used to separate gold from silver and was therefore given the historical German name of “Scheidewasser,” literally “separating water.” Contextually, it means “the dividing line.”

[18] “Finally, Rosa Luxemburg has in her pamphlet sharply criticised the slogan of “self determination of nations,” how the Bolsheviks have thrown it into the capitalist world. However we do not want to go into this question any further here. First, because even the Communists in Poland have publicly complained about this slogan without having given up on the closest solidarity with the Bolsheviks. Many Russian comrades opposed this slogan as well, without ceasing to be Bolsheviks. Second, this was also the slogan of the Russian Mensheviks, at least in theory, yes, it stood and stands on the flag of bourgeois pacifists and Scheidemanns of all countries, although only as a means of deceiving the world. A slogan with which bourgeois, counter-revolutionary politics can also be pursued is not a tactical lever for the revolution. Self-determination of peoples can never become reality in a bourgeois, but only in a socialist world, but even then not as an expression of an abstract metaphysical right, but within the framework of international proletarian solidarity, which aims to build the socialist world economy.” — Footnote by Adolf Warski

[19] Izvestia of the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies was the official daily newspaper of that Soviet published in Petrograd from May 9 (22) to December 1917. It expressed the views of the Right wing of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. Its attitude to the October Revolution was hostile and was closed down for its counter-revolutionary propaganda. “[Izvestia] №88, of August 19, carries an exceedingly interesting article which should be regarded as basic material for every Party propaganda and agitation worker who has anything to do with the peasants and for every class-conscious worker who is going to the countryside or comes in contact with peasants. The article is entitled ‘Model Mandate Compiled on the Basis of 242 Mandates Submitted by Local Deputies to the First All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies Held in Petrograd, 1917.’” — V. I. Lenin, From a Publicist’s Diary (Peasants and Workers)

[20] Dessiatine was a Russian land measure equal to 2.702 English acres.



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