Rosa Luxemburg — Two Addresses to the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party

Here, we publish the first two speeches to the 1907 Fifth (London) Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party that Rosa Luxemburg made on May 16th and May 25th respectively. Her third and final speech remains untranslated from the original German.

The fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was held in London from May 13 to June 1, 1907 (May 1–20 by the old Russian calendar). Luxemburg played a major role at the conference, where she sought to concretize the lessons of the 1905 Russian Revolution, especially the actuality of the mass strike, to emerging international developments. She attended as a delegate from both the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) and the Central Committee of the SPD. Her speeches evaluate the various political tendencies in Russia in light of both the experience of the revolution and Marx’s theory of revolution, as well as presenting her analysis with respect to contemporarily controversial topics, such as the peasantry.

Joseph Stalin, noting the general mood of the 1907 Congress as a delegate, wrote the following:

“Of exceptional interest were the speeches of Comrade Rosa Luxemburg, who conveyed greetings to the congress on behalf of the German Social-Democrats and expounded the views of our German comrades on our disagreements. (Here we link together the two speeches R. L. delivered at different times.) Expressing her complete agreement with the Bolsheviks on the questions of the role of the proletariat as the leader of the revolution, the role of the liberal bourgeoisie as an anti-revolutionary force, etc., etc. Rosa Luxemburg criticised the Menshevik leaders Plekhanov and Axelrod, called them opportunists, and put their position on a par with that of the Jaurèsists in France. I know, said Luxemburg, that the Bolsheviks, too, have certain faults and fads, that they are somewhat too rigid, but I fully understand and excuse them: one cannot help being rigid in face of the diffuse and jellylike mass of Menshevik opportunism. The same excessive rigidity was observed among the Guesdists in France, whose leader, Comrade Guesde, stated in a well-known election poster: “Don’t let a single bourgeois dare to vote for me, for in Parliament I will defend only the interests of the proletarians against all the bourgeois.” In spite of this, in spite of this sharpness, we German Social-Democrats always took the side of the Guesdists in their struggle against the traitors to Marxism, against the Jaurèsists. The same must be said about the Bolsheviks, whom we German Social-Democrats will support in their struggle against the Menshevik opportunists…

That approximately is what Comrade R. Luxemburg said.

Still more interesting was the famous letter the Central Committee of the German Social-Democratic Party sent to the congress, and which Rosa Luxemburg read. It is interesting because, by advising the Party to fight liberalism, and recognising the special role played by the Russian proletariat as the leader of the Russian revolution, by the same token it recognised all the main propositions of Bolshevism.

Thus, it became clear that the German Social-Democratic Party, the most tried and tested and the most Revolutionary party in Europe, openly and clearly supported the Bolsheviks, as true Marxists, in their struggle against the traitors to Marxism, against the Mensheviks. […]

It is interesting to note that Comrade Rosa Luxemburg, the representative of German Social-Democracy, entirely agreed with the Bolsheviks. “We German Social-Democrats,” she said, “cannot understand the comical dismay of the Menshevik comrades who are groping for the masses when the masses themselves are looking for the Party and are irresistibly pressing towards it.”” [1]

It is interesting to remark that as is the case today, Rosa Luxemburg and her name were widely evoked in support of one’s claims even as far back as this Congress. For example, we can likewise read Trotsky, who was not a Bolshevik at the time, noting — similarly to Stalin, who claimed that Luxemburg was pretty much in line with Bolshevism save for a few, rather technical exceptions — that:

“I am pleased to say that the point of view presented here by comrade Luxemburg on behalf of the Polish delegation is very close to the one that I have defended and continue to defend. Any possible differences between us are more a matter of individual nuances than of political direction. Our thinking moves on one and the same track of materialistic analysis.” [2]

Such seems to be the eternal and unfortunate fate of Rosa Luxemburg: a crude usage of her authority for one’s own opinions and beliefs.

Speech I, May 16th

Comrades! The Central Committee of the German Social-Democratic Party, having known about my intention to participate in your Congress, decided to take advantage of this opportunity and delegated me to bring you fraternal greetings and wishes for the greatest success. The multimillions of class-conscious German proletariat have followed with lively sympathy and the closest attentiveness the revolutionary struggle of their Russian brothers, and have already demonstrated in deed that they are ready to draw for themselves fruitful lessons from the rich treasures of the experiences of the Russian Social-Democracy. At the very beginning of i905, when the first thunderstorm of the revolution erupted in Petersburg with the emergence of the proletariat on g January, a revival stirred in the ranks of the German Social-Democracy. From it flowed heated debates on the question of tactics, and the Resolution on the general strike at the Jena Congress [The Jena Congress of the SPD took place from September 17 to 23, 1905, and passed a resolution presented by Luxemburg entitled, “On the Political Mass Strike and the Social-Democracy”] was the first important result which our Party drew from the struggle of the Russian proletariat. It is true that thus far this decision has had no practical application, and it will hardly become a reality in the near future. Nevertheless, its principal significance is beyond doubt.

Up until 1905 a very negative attitude to the general strike prevailed in the ranks of the German Social-Democratic Party; it was thought to be a purely anarchistic, which meant reactionary slogan, a harmful utopia. But as soon as the German proletariat saw in the general strike of the Russian proletariat a new form of struggle, not in opposition to the political struggle, but as a weapon in that struggle, not as a miraculous remedy to achieve a sudden leap to a socialist order, but rather as a weapon of class struggle for the winning of the most elementary freedoms from the modern class state, it hastened fundamentally to change its attitude to the general strike, acknowledging its possible application in Germany under certain conditions.

Comrades! I consider it necessary to turn your attention to the fact-to the great honor of the German proletariat-that it did change its attitude to the general strike, not at all influenced by the marks of any formal successes of this method of struggle, which impressed even bourgeois politicians. The Resolution at the Jena Congress was passed more than a month before the first, and, at the time, only great victory of the revolution, before the memorable October Days that wrested from absolutism the first constitutional concessions in the form of the October 17th Manifesto [The manifesto issued by Tsar Nicholas II in October 1905, providing for a limited constitutional monarchy]. Still, Russia suffered only defeat, and already the German proletariat, with true class instinct, felt that in these outward defeats lies hidden a never-before-seen proletarian strength, a genuine ground for future victories. The fact remains that the German proletariat, before the Russian proletariat achieved any formal victories, hurried to pay tribute to this experience. They incorporated this new tactical slogan into earlier forms of their struggles, aimed not at parliamentary action, but at involvement of the broadest proletarian masses.

Further events in Russia-the October and November days and especially the high point the revolutionary storm reached in Russia, the December crisis in Moscow [“The December crisis in Moscow” refers to the arrest of the members of the St. Petersburg Soviet in December 1905. This was followed by a massive workers’ insurrection in Moscow, which was bloodily suppressed] — were reflected in Germany in a great awakening of spirit in Social-Democratic ranks. In December and January-after the massive demonstrations in Austria for general electoral rights-there began in Germany a new spirited debate on the question of whether it wasn’t time to apply some form of a general strike in connection with the electoral struggle in Prussia, in Saxony, and in Hamburg. The question was decided negatively: the idea of artificially creating a mass movement was rejected. However, on January 17, 1906, it was tested for the first time with a brilliantly executed half-day general work stoppage in Hamburg. This further enhanced the daring and consciousness-of-power of the working masses in the major center of the German Social-Democracy.

At first glance, last year, 1906, appears one of defeat for the Russian Revolution. In Germany, too, it ended with an apparent defeat of the German Social-Democracy. You are acquainted with the fact that in the first democratic general elections in January (January 25), the German Social-Democracy lost nearly half of their delegates. But this electoral defeat comes at the very time when it is in closest connection to the Russian Revolution. For those who understand the interdependence of the position of the Party in the last election, there was no doubt that the Russian Revolution was for it the most important point, the determining factor in the results of the electoral campaign. There is no doubt that the stamp of the events in Russia, and the fear with which this filled the bourgeois classes in Germany, was one of the factors that united and rallied all layers of bourgeois society and the bourgeois parties, with the exception of the Center, under one reactionary slogan: Down with the class representatives of the class-conscious German proletariat, down with Social-Democracy! Never before was Lassalle’s formulation that the bourgeoisie was “one reactionary mass” realized in so palpable a manner as in this election. But for that reason the result of the election compelled the German proletariat to turn, with redoubled attention, to the revolutionary struggle of their Russian brothers.

If one could, in a few words, sum up the political and historical results of the last elections to the Reichstag, then it would be necessary to say that, after January 25 and February 5, 1907, Germany showed itself to be the only modern country in which not a trace of bourgeois liberalism and bourgeois democracy remained in the strict sense of the word. Bourgeois liberalism and democracy definitively and irrevocably took their stand on the side of reaction in the struggle against the revolutionary proletariat. It is, precisely, the treason of liberalism, above all, which delivered us directly into the hands of Junker reaction in the last elections. And, although presently the liberals in the Reichstag increased their representation, they nevertheless are nothing but the liberal cover-up for the pathetic toadies of reaction.

A question arose in our ranks in relation to this situation which, to an ever-greater degree, concerns you, our Russian comrades. To the extent to which I am aware, one of the circumstances which is playing a fundamental role in the determination of tactics of the Russian comrades is the view that the proletariat in Russia faces a very special task wrought with great inner contradiction: to create, at one and the same time, the first political conditions of the bourgeois order and yet to carry on the class struggle against the bourgeoisie. This struggle appears fundamentally different from that of the proletariat in Germany and all of West Europe.

Comrades! I think that such a conception is a purely formalistic expression of the question. We, too, to a certain degree, are finding ourselves in just such a difficult position. To us in Germany this became graphically clear in the last elections-the proletariat is the only true fighter and defender even of bourgeois democratic rights in a bourgeois state.

Even were we not to speak of the fact that there is no universal suffrage in the majority of the electoral districts in Germany, it is still a fact that we suffer from many leftovers of medieval feudalism; even the few freedoms we do enjoy, like general electoral rights for election to the Reichstag, the right to strike, to form trade unions, freedom of assembly-these are not seriously guaranteed and are subject to constant attack from the side of reaction. And in all these instances bourgeois liberalism has definitely proven to be a treacherous ally. Under all these circumstances, the class-conscious proletariat is the only durable bulwark for democratic development in Germany.

The question that surfaced in connection with the last electoral defeat was the relationship to bourgeois liberalism. Voices-true, not many-were heard bewailing the premature death of liberalism. In connection with this also came advice from France to take into consideration in one’s tactics the weak position of bourgeois liberalism, in order to spare its remains so that we could use it as an ally in the struggle against reaction and for the defense of the general foundation of democratic development.

Comrades! I can testify to the fact that these voices that lamented the political development of Germany were sharply rejected by the class-conscious German proletariat. I can gladly testify to the fact that in this case there were no differences in the Party between the various factions, and the whole Party with a single voice declared: “We may be saddened by the electoral results of this historic development, but we will not take a single step backward toward liberalism, nor by a single iota retreat from our principled political tactics.” The conscious German proletariat drew very different conclusions from these last elections to the Reichstag: if bourgeois liberalism and bourgeois democracy are proving themselves so brittle and shaky that with each energetic gesture of the class struggle of the proletariat, they are willing to sink into the abyss of reaction, then they get what they deserve!

Under the impact of the elections of January 25, it has become clear to ever broader layers of the German proletariat that, in view of the disintegration of liberalism, it is necessary for the proletariat to free itself of all illusions and hopes of any help from liberalism in the struggle against reaction, and at the present time more than at any other time, to count only on itself in the struggle for its class interests as well as in the struggle against reactionary attacks upon the democratic development. In the light of these electoral defeats, a greater clarity than even before was achieved regarding class antagonisms. The internal development of Germany has reached a point of maturity that the most optimistic could not have dreamed before. Marx’s analysis of the development of bourgeois society had, once again, reached its highest and most brilliant confirmation. But along with this it is clear to all that this development, this sharpening of class contradictions, not just sooner or later, but inevitably, would lead to the period of the stormiest political struggle also in Germany. And, in connection with this, questions of different forms and phases of the class struggle are followed by us with very special interest.

For that reason, the German workers presently fix their gaze with redoubled attention on the struggle of their Russian brothers as the more advanced fighters, the vanguard of the international working class. From my experience in the electoral campaign, I can testify that in all electoral meetings-and I had the opportunity to appear in meetings of two to three thousand people-the workers resounded in a single voice: “Tell us about the Russian Revolution!” And in this is reflected not only their sympathy flowing from instinctive class solidarity with their struggling brothers. It also reflects their recognition that the interests of the Russian Revolution are indeed their cause as well. What the German proletariat expects most from the Russian is the deepening and enrichment of proletarian tactics, the application of the principles of class struggle under new historic conditions. Indeed, that Social-Democracy tactic which is being applied in the present time by the proletarian class in Germany and to which we owe our victories is primarily adapted to parliamentary struggles, a struggle within the framework of bourgeois parliamentarism.

The Russian Social-Democracy is the first to whom has fallen the difficult but honorable task of applying the principles of Marx’s teaching not in a period of quiet parliamentary course in the life of the state, but in a stormy revolutionary period. The only experience that scientific socialism had previously in practical politics during a revolutionary period was the activity of Marx himself in the 1848 revolution. The course itself of the 1848 revolution, however, cannot be a model for the present revolution in Russia. From it we can only learn how not to act in a revolution. Here was the schema of this revolution: the proletariat fights with its usual heroism but is unable to utilize its victories; the bourgeoisie drives the proletariat back in order to usurp the fruits of its struggle; finally, absolutism pushes the bourgeoisie aside in order to crush the proletariat as well as defeat the revolution.

The class independence of the proletariat was still in a most embryonic state. It is true that it already had the Communist Manifesto-that great charter of class struggle. It is true that Karl Marx participated in the revolution as a practical fighter. But precisely as a result of the particular historic conditions, he had to express, not socialist politics, but that of the extreme left position of bourgeois democracy. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung [A daily newspaper edited by Marx from June 1848 until May 19, 1849, hereafter abbreviated as NRZ] was not so much an organ of class struggle as the organ of the extreme left wing of the bourgeois revolutionary camp. True, there was not in Germany the kind of democracy for which the NRZ could have become an ideological spokesman. But this is precisely the politics that Marx had to carry out with indefatigable consistency during the first year of the revolution. Doubtless, his politics consisted in this, that Marx had to support with all means the struggle of the bourgeois democracy against absolutism.

But in what did the support consist? In this, that from the first to the last he mercilessly, relentlessly, lashed out against the halfway measures, inconsistency, weakness, cowardice of bourgeois politics. Without the slightest vacillation he supported and defended every action of the proletarian masses — not only the eruption which was the first fleeting sign of victoryMarch 18-but also the memorable storming of the Berlin Armory on June 14, which then and later the bourgeoisie obstinately claimed was a trap reaction laid for the proletariat, and the September and October uprisings in Vienna — these last attempts of the proletariat to save the revolution from perishing from the wobbliness and treachery of the bourgeoisie.

Marx supported the national struggles of 1848, holding that they were allies of the revolution. The politics of Marx consisted in this, that he pushed the bourgeoisie every moment to the limits of the revolutionary situation. Yes, Marx supported the bourgeoisie in the struggle against absolutism, but he supported it with whips and kicks. Marx considered it an inexcusable mistake that the proletariat allowed, after its first short-lived victory of March 18, the formation of a responsible bourgeois ministry of Camphausen-Hansemann [Ludolf Camphausen (1803–90) headed the liberal ministry appointed by King Frederick William IV of Prussia after the revolutionary upsurge of March 1848 (resigning in June of the same year); David Justus Hansemann (1790–1864) was a cabinet minister in Camphausen’s government]. But once the bourgeoisie got power, Marx demanded from the very first moment that it should actualize the revolutionary dictatorship. He categorically demanded, in the NRZ, that the transitional period after each revolution demanded the most energetic dictatorship. Marx very clearly understood the total impotence of the German “Duma,” the Frankfurt National Assembly [The liberal-dominated Frankfurt National Assembly was convened on May 18, 1848. Its aim was to help unify Germany and draw up a national constitution. However, it failed to make headway in these areas and ended by supporting monarchist forces]. But he saw this, not as a mitigating circumstance, but the contrary. He showed that the only way out of the impotent situation was through winning actual power in open battle against the old power, and in this, depending on the revolutionary national masses.

But, comrades, how did the politics of Marx end? The following year Marx had to abandon this position of extreme bourgeois democracy-a position completely isolated and hopeless-and go over to pure class-struggle politics. In the autumn of 1849, Marx with his co-thinkers left the bourgeois democratic union and decided to establish an independent organization of the proletariat. They also wished to participate in a projected all-German workers’ congress, an idea which emerged from the ranks of the proletariat of East Prussia. But when Marx wanted to change the course of his politics, the revolution was living out its last days and before he succeeded in carrying out the new, pure proletarian tactics, the NRZ became the first victim of triumphant reaction.

Clearly comrades, you in Russia at the present time have to begin, not where Marx began, but where Marx ended in 1849, with a clearly expressed, independent proletarian class policy. Presently the Russian proletariat finds itself, not in the position of the embryonic state that characterized the German proletariat in 1848, but representing a cohesive and conscious political proletarian force. The Russian workers need not feel themselves isolated, but rather part of the all-world international army of the proletariat. They cannot forget that the present revolutionary struggle is not an isolated skirmish, but one of the greatest battles in the entire course of the international class struggle.

It is clear that in Germany, sooner or later, in accordance with the maturing class relations, the proletarian struggle will inescapably flow out into mass collisions with the ruling classes, and the German proletariat will need to utilize the experience, not of the 1848 bourgeois revolution, but of the Russian proletariat in the current revolution. Therefore, comrades, you are carrying responsibility to the whole international proletariat. And the Russian proletariat will attain its height in this task only if, in the range of the tactics in its own struggles, it shows the decisiveness, the clear consciousness of its goal, and that it has learned the results of the international development in its entirety, has achieved the degree of maturity that the whole capitalistic society has reached.

The Russian proletariat, in its actions, must show that between i848 and i907, in the more than half-century of capitalist development, and from the point of this development taken as a whole, we are not at the beginning but at the end of this development. It must show that the Russian Revolution is not just the last act in a series of bourgeois revolutions of the nineteenth century, but rather the forerunner of a new series of future proletarian revolutions in which the conscious proletariat and its vanguard, the Social-Democracy, are destined for the historic role of leader. The German worker expects from you not only victory over absolutism, not only a new foothold for the liberation movement in Europe, but also the widening and deepening of the perspectives of the proletarian tactic: he wishes to learn from you how to step into this period of open revolutionary struggle.

However, in order to carry out this role, it is necessary for the Russian Social-Democracy to learn one important condition. This condition is the unity of the Party, not just a formal, purely mechanical unity, but an inner cohesion, an inner strength which genuinely will result from clear, correct tactics corresponding to this inner unity of the class struggle of the proletariat. The extent to which the German Social-Democracy counts on the unity of the Russian Party you can see from the letter which the Central Committee of the German Social-Democracy has authorized me to deliver to you. At the start of my talk I delivered the fraternal greetings which the Central Committee sent to all the representatives of the Social-Democracy. The rest of this letter reads:

“The German Social-Democracy has fervently followed the struggle of the Russian brothers against absolutism and against plutocracy striving to share power with it. The victory which you have achieved in the elections to the Duma, despite the rigged electoral system, has delighted us. It showed that, no matter what the obstacles, the spontaneous triumphant force of socialism is irresistible. As the bourgeoisie tries everywhere, so the Russian bourgeoisie is attempting to conclude peace with its rulers. It wants to stop the victorious forward march of the Russian proletariat. It tries also in Russia to steal the fruit of the proletariat’s unyielding struggle. Therefore the role of leader in the liberation movement falls to the Russian Social-Democracy. The necessary condition for carrying out this emancipation struggle is unity and cohesion of the Russian Social-Democratic Party. What we expect to hear from the representatives of our Russian brothers is that the deliberations and decisions of their Congress have fulfilled our expectations and wishes for the realization of the unity and cohesion of the Russian Social-Democracy. In this spirit we are sending our fraternal greetings to your Congress.”

Speech II, May 25th

I and the representatives of the Polish delegation are interested in the present question not from the viewpoint of internecine fractional struggle but from that of the principles of international proletarian tactics. The position of the right wing of our Party with regard to the bourgeois parties is a perfectly consistent construction based upon a certain view of the historical role of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in our revolution. Underlying this view is a certain scheme that is precisely and clearly formulated by one of the deeply respected veterans and most profound theoreticians of Russian Social Democracy. In his ‘Letters on Tactics and Tactlessness’, Comrade Plekhanov says:

“The creators of the Communist Manifesto wrote 58 years ago: ‘The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. … The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production and their organisation together with all social relations.”

And, further, concerning the political mission of the bourgeoisie:

“The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle first with the aristocracy, and later with those strata of its own class whose interests contradict the development of large-scale industry. … In each of these cases the bourgeoisie is compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for its help, and thus to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie therefore supplies the proletariat with its own political education, in other words, it furnishes it with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie itself.”

In the opinion of one wing of our Party, it is this view of the bourgeoisie that must determine the entire tactics of the Russian proletariat in the current revolution. The bourgeoisie is a revolutionary class that is attracting the popular masses into the struggle against the old order; the bourgeoisie is the natural vanguard and tutor of the proletariat. In present-day Russia, therefore, only malicious reactionaries or hopeless Don Quixotes could ‘hinder the bourgeoisie’ in achieving political power, meaning that attacks on Russian liberalism must be put aside until the Cadets are in power, that we must not put a spoke in the wheel of the bourgeois revolution, that any tactic of the proletariat that might weaken or frighten the liberals is supremely tactless, and that every attempt to isolate the proletariat from the liberal bourgeoisie renders a direct service to reaction. This is certainly a complete and coherent set of views, but it also urgently requires examination with regard both to historical facts and to the fundamentals of proletarian tactics.

“58 years ago Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto…” Unfortunately, I am not familiar with all the works of our respected theoretician and creator of Russian Marxism, but I am not aware of a single one of his writings in which he fails to impress upon Russian Social Democrats the fact that only metaphysicians speak in terms of the formula that ‘Yay is yay; nay is nay; whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’; [Plekhanov used this aphorism in his criticism of Ryazanov as a ‘metaphysician’] the dialectical thinking that characterises historical materialism requires that one assess phenomena not in a frozen state but in their movement. A reference to the way Marx and Engels characterised the role of the bourgeoisie fifty-eight years ago, when applied to present-day reality, is a startling example of metaphysical thinking and amounts to converting the living, historical views of the creators of the Manifesto into frozen dogma. One has merely to look at the features and relations of political parties, especially at the condition of liberalism in Germany, France, Italy and England — in the whole of Western Europe — in order to understand that the bourgeoisie has long ago ceased to play the political-revolutionary role that it once did. Today, its universal turn to reaction and a policy of tariff protection, its worship of militarism and its bargain everywhere with agrarian conservatives, all show that the fifty-eight years that have passed since the Communist Manifesto have had important consequences. And doesn’t the brief history of our own Russian liberalism likewise show just how inapplicable is a scheme taken from the words of the Manifesto?

Let us recall what Russian liberalism was just five years ago. At that time, it was doubtful whether there even existed in Russia this ‘tutor of the proletariat’ that must not be ‘hindered in achieving power’. Up to 1900, Russian liberalism endured and passively suffered every oppression by absolutism and every manifestation of despotism. It was only after the Russian proletariat, educated through long years of effort by Social Democracy and shaken by the Japanese war, entered the public arena through the grandiose strikes in the south of Russia and through mass demonstrations, that Russian liberalism also decided to take its first timid step. Thus began the notorious saga of zemstvo congresses, professorial petitions and lawyers’ banquets. Intoxicated by its own eloquence and by a freedom it had not expected, Russian liberalism was ready to believe in its own strength. But how did this saga end? We all remember that remarkable moment when, in November–December 1904, the ‘liberal spring’ suddenly came to a halt and absolutism, having recovered, at once and unceremoniously shut liberalism’s mouth by simply ordering it to be silent. We all saw how liberalism, with a single kick and a crack of the whip by absolutism, instantly tumbled from the heights of its imaginary might into the abyss of desperate impotence. Liberalism had precisely no response whatever to a blow from a Cossack’s whip; it shrivelled up, kept silent, and saw with its own eyes its total insignificance. And the liberation movement in Russia then hesitated for several weeks until the 9 January brought the St. Petersburg proletariat into the street and demonstrated just who is called upon in the present revolution to be the vanguard and ‘tutor’. In place of the corpse of bourgeois liberalism there appeared a living force (Applause).

Russian liberalism raised its head for a second time when the pressure of the popular masses compelled absolutism to create the first Duma. Once again, the liberals thought they were in the saddle, and once again they believed that they were the chieftains of the emancipation movement, that lawyers’ speeches could accomplish something, and that they were a real force. Then came the dispersal of the Duma, and, for a second time, liberalism flew headlong into the abyss of impotence and insignificance. The sole response that they were capable of mounting on their own to the attack by reaction was the notorious Vyborg proclamation [when the tsar dissolved the first Duma in July 1906, the Cadets responded with a futile call for passive resistance and civil disobedience in which citizens were to withhold taxes and refuse to serve in the army], that classic document of ‘passive resistance’, the same passive resistance that Marx wrote about in 1848 in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung when he said it amounted to the opposition of a calf to the butcher who wants to slaughter it [The reference is to Marx, who wrote: ‘Passive resistance must have active resistance as its basis. Otherwise it will resemble the vain struggle of a calf against its slaughterer.’] (Applause).

At this point, liberalism completely abandoned any illusion of its own strength and its leading role in the present revolution. To be precise, in the first Duma it overcame the illusion that it could bring down the walls of the absolutist Jericho with the trumpets of eloquent speech-making by lawyers and parliamentarians; and, when the Duma was dispersed, it overcame the illusion that the proletariat is summoned merely to play the role of frightening absolutism, that it could be kept off stage by the liberals until needed and then called out by the wave of a kerchief in order to frighten absolutism and strengthen the liberals’ own position. The liberals had to be convinced that the Russian proletariat is not a mannequin in their hands, that it has no wish to be cannon fodder, to be on hand always to serve the bourgeoisie, that it is, on the contrary, a force that follows its own line in this revolution and that in its actions it obeys laws and a logic of its own in a way that is independent of the liberal movement.

Since then, the liberals have moved decisively in reverse, and now we are witnessing their shameful retreat in the second Duma, in the Duma of Golovin [Fyodor Golovin (1867–1937) was Chairman of the Second Duma from February to June 1907] and Struve, the Duma that is voting for a budget and conscription, for the bayonets with which the Duma will tomorrow be dispersed. That is how this bourgeoisie looks, this bourgeoisie that we are urged to regard as a revolutionary class, that we must not ‘hinder’ from achieving power, and that is called upon to ‘educate’ the proletariat! It turns out that a rigid scheme is completely inapplicable to present-day Russia. It turns out that revolutionary liberalism, which is supposed to be struggling for power, to which we are to adapt the policy of the proletariat, and for whose benefit we are readily to curtail the demands of the proletariat — this revolutionary Russian liberalism does not exist in reality, only in the imagination. It is an invention and a phantom (Applause). And this policy, which is erected on the basis of a lifeless scheme and imagined relations, and which takes no account of the special tasks of the proletariat in this revolution, calls itself ‘revolutionary realism’.

Let us look at how this realism fits with proletarian tactics in general. In terms of its battle tactics, the Russian proletariat is being urged to avoid prematurely undermining the forces of liberalism and isolating itself. But if this is what is called a ‘tactless’ tactic, then I am afraid that the whole activity and the entire history of German Social Democracy must be seen as one of continuous tactlessness. From the time of Lassalle’s agitation against the ‘progressives’ [[The reference is to the Deutsche Fortschrittspartei, which emerged in 1861 to promote a liberal parliament and unification of Germany under Prussian leadership] right up to the present moment, the entire growth of Social Democracy has occurred at the expense of the growth and strength of liberalism, and every step forward by the German proletariat has undermined the foundations on which liberalism stands. Exactly the same phenomenon accompanies the class movement of the proletariat in all countries. The Paris Commune, which so thoroughly isolated the French proletariat and fatally frightened the liberal bourgeoisie of all countries, must be a case of tactlessness. No less tactless would be the action of the French proletariat during the famous June days [Luxemburg is referring to 22–6 June, 1848, in Paris. See Marx 1850], when it finally ‘isolated’ itself as a class from bourgeois society. In that case, the open action of the proletariat in the great French Revolution was even more tactless: in the midst of the first revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat’s extreme behaviour frightened the bourgeoisie and drove it into the arms of reaction, thereby preparing the epoch of the Directorate and the liquidation of the great revolution itself. And finally, we would surely have to consider the greatest tactlessness to be the historical birth of the proletariat, when it first appeared in the light of day as an independent class (Applause), for that was what initiated both its ‘isolated position’ in relation to the bourgeoisie and also the gradual decline of bourgeois liberalism.

But doesn’t the very history of revolutionary development here in Russia demonstrate how it is essentially inconceivable for the proletariat to avoid those kinds of ‘tactlessness’ with which people frighten us lest we become unwilling accomplices in the cause of reaction? The very first action of the Russian proletariat, which formally inaugurated the epoch of our revolution — I mean 9 January 1905 — at once clearly isolated proletarian from liberal tactics and detached the revolutionary struggle in the streets from the liberal campaign of banquets and zemstvo congresses, which stalled in a blind alley. Every ensuing step, every demand of the proletariat in the present revolution, is continuing to isolate it. The strike movement isolates it from the industrial bourgeoisie; the demand for an eight-hour working day isolates it from the petty bourgeoisie; the demand for a republic and a constituent assembly isolates it from all shades of liberalism; and finally, the ultimate goal — socialism — isolates it from the whole world. This means that there are no boundary lines here and none can be drawn. If the proletariat were guided by fear of undermining or isolating itself from liberalism, it would have to renounce completely every aspect of its own struggle, its own proletarian policy, its entire history in the West and, above all, the whole of the current revolution in Russia.

The point is that what are seen as special conditions and tasks during a special stage in the history of the proletariat — its position with regard to liberalism in the conditions of struggle against the old autocratic power — are in reality the same conditions that accompany the historical development of the proletariat from beginning to end. They are fundamental conditions of proletarian struggle resulting from the simple fact that the proletariat appears on the historical scene together with the bourgeoisie, grows at its expense, and, gradually emancipating itself from the bourgeoisie in the same process, moves toward final victory over it. Least of all is it possible for the proletariat to alter this tactic at the present time in Russia. In previous revolutions, class antagonisms appeared only in the course of actual revolutionary clashes. The current Russian revolution is the first to start with the fully matured and conscious class contradictions of capitalist society, and the tactics of the Russian proletariat cannot artificially conceal this fact.

Directly linked with these fundamental views concerning the relation to bourgeois liberalism is the view of conditions and forms of class struggle in general and the importance of parliamentarism in particular. Another of the respected veterans of Russian Social Democracy presented this aspect of the question in a speech to the Stockholm congress of the Party that was, in a sense, classical [referring to a report from P.B. Axelrod to the IV (unity) Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party dealing with approaches to the State Duma]. The red thread running throughout this speech was the following: let us at least achieve a proper bourgeois system, with some kind of a constitution, a parliament, elections and so on, and then we will be able to wage the class struggle as it ought to be done; then we will take our stand on firm ground in terms of the Social-Democratic tactics that have emerged from long years of experience in the German Party. But, so long as there is no parliament, even the most elementary conditions for class struggle do not exist. And this same respected theoretician of Russian Marxism then painstakingly searched through present-day Russian reality for even the slightest ‘hint’ [The word used here is ‘zatsepka’, which literally means ‘peg’, ‘hook’, ‘catch’, or ‘snag’ — something to which the class struggle might be ‘attached’. In the context of Luxemburg’s speech, the best translation is probably ‘hint’] of class struggle — ‘hints’ were a favourite expression in this speech — perceiving them even in the most caricatured hints of parliamentarism and a constitution. This must surely bring to mind the words of Schiller [it appears that Luxemburg was referring not to Schiller but to Goethe’s Faust, Part I, Scene IV]:

Ein Mensch, der räsonniert,

Ist wie ein Thier auf dürrer Heide,

Im Kreis herumgeführt –

Und ringsumher liegt schöne, grüne Weide.

[A man who ruminates [literally: ‘argues’],

Is like a beast in an arid heath

That is being led around in circles –

While all-around there are beautiful green pastures.]

It seems to these philosophisers that no arena exists for the class struggle and that Social Democracy, in the meantime, has neither initiative nor strength and is unable to comprehend the opportunities and broad perspectives provided by history.

At the height of a genuine revolution in Russia, there is no possibility of waging the class struggle, only insignificant ‘hints’. All of the proletariat’s political demands, ‘and even a republic’ — the speaker notes — are not, strictly speaking, expressions of class struggle, for there is nothing in them that is specifically proletarian. Indeed, in that case — if we look again for evidence in the international workers’ movement — we in Germany have not been waging our own class struggle right up to the present time because, as everyone knows, the entire day-to-day political struggle of German Social Democracy is focused on demands of the so-called minimum programme, which comprises almost exclusively democratic slogans such as universal suffrage, unrestricted freedom for unions and so forth. And we are defending these demands against the entire bourgeoisie. But even the most formally proletarian demands, such as labour legislation, are not at all specifically socialist because they only formulate the demands of a progressive capitalist society. Therefore, an analysis that does not recognise the character of class struggle in the political slogans of the proletariat in our present revolution is not so much a model of Marxist thinking as a spiritual condition that is commonly characterised by saying: he has reached his wit’s end.

Actually, one would have to be stubbornly prejudiced in favour of an exclusively parliamentary form of political struggle in order not to see the grandiose scale of class struggle in Russia at the present moment. One would have to be groping and stumbling, searching for feeble ‘hints’ of class struggle, in order not to understand that all the political slogans of the current revolution, precisely because the bourgeoisie has repudiated or is repudiating them, are thereby manifestations of the class struggle of the proletariat. Least of all should Russian Social Democracy underestimate these circumstances itself. It is enough for it to look at itself and its own most recent history in order to understand what colossal educational significance attaches to the class struggle at the present moment, even prior to any parliamentarism.

It is enough just to recall what Russian Social Democracy was before 1905, before 9 January, compared with what it is today. The half year of the revolutionary and strike movement that followed January 1905 transformed it from a tiny group of revolutionaries, from a weak sect, into an enormous mass party, and the misfortune for Social Democracy lies not in the difficulty of finding ‘hints’ of class struggle but, on the contrary, in the difficulty of seizing and making use of the immense field of activity that has been opened up for it by the gigantic class struggle of the revolution. To look for salvation in the midst of this struggle — like a drowning man grasping at straws — in even the slightest hints of parliamentarism, regarded as the sole guarantee of class struggle, which will only come at some future time, after the liberals’ victory, means an inability to understand that revolution is the creative period when society breaks apart into classes. All in all, the scheme into which they want to fit the class struggle of the Russian proletariat is a crude one that has never occurred in Western Europe; it is nothing but a crude copy of the immense diversity of reality.

The truth is that real Marxism is as far from this one-sided exaggeration of parliamentarism as it is from a mechanical view of revolution and overestimation of the so-called armed uprising. This is where I and my Polish comrades disagree with the views of our Bolshevik comrades. At the very outset of the revolution, even when this question was not yet generally topical among Russian comrades, we in Poland had to take into consideration attempts to give the revolutionary tactics of our proletariat the character of conspiratorial speculation and crude revolutionary adventurism. From the very beginning we declared — and it seems to me that we succeeded in fundamentally reinforcing our views in the ranks of the conscious Polish proletariat — that we consider any plan to arm the broad popular masses through underground means to be a purely utopian undertaking, and we think the same of any plan to prepare and organise, in some premeditated way, a so-called armed uprising. We declared from the very beginning that the task of Social Democracy is not a technical one, but rather one involving political preparation of the mass struggle against absolutism. Of course, we think it necessary to clarify for the broad masses of the proletariat that their direct confrontation with the armed forces of reaction, a general popular uprising, is the sole outcome of the revolutionary struggle that can guarantee victory as the inevitable finale of its gradual development, although it is not within the capacity of Social Democracy to prescribe and prepare this outcome by technical means. (Applause. Plekhanov: ‘Absolutely true!’)

The comrades to my left are declaring that this is ‘absolutely true’! I’m afraid, however, that they will not agree with me in the following conclusions. To be precise, I think that if Social Democracy should avoid any mechanical view of the revolution, any view suggesting that it ‘makes’ the revolution with bayonets and ‘specifies’ the outcome, then it must also redouble its effort and its determination to point out to the proletariat the broad political line of its tactics, which can be explained only when Social Democracy clarifi es for the proletariat in advance the final outcome of this line: to strive to win political power in order to realise the tasks of the present revolution. And this is once again linked directly with a view of the mutual role of the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle.

I see, however, that the time allotted for my report is passing, and I must break off in the middle of my exposition of views concerning the question of our relation to the bourgeois parties. For that reason, I will add just a few general remarks pro domo sua [for my own part] that clarify in general terms our position regarding the whole body of questions being debated at this congress.

The comrades who defend the views that I have just been analysing are fond of frequently referring to the claim that they represent true Marxism within Russian Social Democracy, that they enunciate all of these positions and recommend this tactic to the Russian proletariat in the name of Marxism and in a Marxist spirit. From its very first appearance, Polish Social Democracy has taken its stand on Marxist teachings, and in both its programme and its tactics it considers itself to be following the founders of scientific socialism and especially German Social Democracy. For this reason, there is no doubt that references to Marxism are extremely important for us. But when we see Marxist teaching applied in these ways, when we see this kind of shakiness and vacillation in tactics, when we see this melancholy grieving over constitutional-parliamentary conditions and the victory of liberalism, this desperate search for ‘hints’ of the class struggle in the midst of the grandiose sweep of a revolution, this casting about from one side to the other in search of artificial ways to become ‘immersed in the masses’, such as workers’ congresses, [In response to Lenin’s emphasis on a party of professional revolutionaries, Axelrod advocated a broad campaign to form a Workers’ League through local organisations that would send elected delegates to a Workers’ Congress] this search for artificial slogans to ‘unleash the revolution’ at a moment when it is appears temporarily to be receding, together with an inability to take advantage and be decisive when it is once again in full swing — when we see all of this, then we are compelled to exclaim: What a forlorn mess you comrades have made of Marxist teaching, a teaching that is, indeed, distinguished by its flexibility, but also by its deadly, sparkling blade of Damascus steel!

You have turned this teaching, which represents the mighty beat of the proletariat’s eagle wings, into the bothersome cackle of a hen that is searching for pearls of grain in the rubbish heap of bourgeois parliamentarism! Marxism, you see, has within it two essential elements: the element of analysis and criticism, and the element of active will on the part of the working class, as the revolutionary factor. But he who personifies analysis and criticism alone represents not Marxism, only a miserable self-corrupting parody of this teaching.

You comrades of the right wing complain at length about narrowness, intolerance, and a certain mechanistic disposition in the views of our comrades, the so-called Bolsheviks. (Cries: ‘Among the Mensheviks’.) On that matter we agree with you completely (Applause).

It is possible that Polish comrades, who are accustomed to thinking more or less in ways adopted by the West-European movement, find this particular steadfastness even more startling than you do. But do you know, comrades, where all these disagreeable features come from? These features are very familiar to someone acquainted with internal party relations in other countries: they represent the typical spiritual character of that trend within socialism that has to defend the very principle of the proletariat’s independent class policy against an opposing trend that is also very strong (Applause).

Rigidity is the form taken by Social-Democratic tactics on the one side, when the other side represents the formlessness of jelly that creeps in every direction under the pressure of events (Applause from the Bolsheviks and parts of the Centre).

We in Germany can allow ourselves the luxury of being suaviter in modo, fortiter in re — gentle and tolerant in form, but firm and unflinching in essential tactics. We can do this because the very principle of the proletariat’s independent and revolutionary class policy is with us so firm and unshakeable, and is supported by such an enormous majority of the party, that the presence and even the activity of a group of opportunists in our ranks represents no danger to us; on the contrary, freedom of discussion and diversity of opinion are necessary in view of how enormous the movement is. Unless I am mistaken, it was precisely certain chieftains of Russian Marxism who could not forgive us in the past for not being rigid enough because, for instance, we are not throwing Bernstein out of our party ranks [An article by Plekhanov 1898 appeared in issues 253, 254 and 255 of the periodical Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung (Saxon Workers’ Gazette), in which Plekhanov demanded the expulsion of Eduard Bernstein from the German Social-Democratic Party for his revisionist views].

But if we turn our gaze from Germany to the party in France, there we find completely different relations. At least that was the case just a few years ago. Wasn’t the Guesdist party [Jules Guesde (1845–1922) opposed any participation by socialists in bourgeois governments] distinguished in its day by its remarkably unique and rigid character? What was the cost, for instance, of our friend Guesde’s declaration — which his opponents tried so much to use for their own ends — that in essence it makes no particular difference to the working class whether the republican president Loubet [Émile François Loubet (1838–1929) was president of the French republic from 1889–1906] is head of state or Emperor Wilhelm II? Didn’t the appearance of our French friends have certain typical attributes of sectarian straightforwardness and intolerance, which were naturally acquired during long years of defending the class independence of the French proletariat against diffuse and ‘wide-open’ socialism of all varieties? Yet, despite this, we did not waver even for a moment at the time — and Comrade Plekhanov was with us then — nor did we doubt that the Guesdists had essential truth on their side and that every effort must be made to support them against their opponents.

Today we view the one-sidedness and narrowness of the left wing of Russian Social Democracy in exactly the same way, as a natural result of the history of the Russian Party during recent years, and we are convinced that these attributes cannot be eliminated by any artificial means but will moderate of their own accord only after the principle of the proletariat’s class independence and revolutionary policy becomes well established and finally wins out in the ranks of Russian Social Democracy. For this reason, we are quite consciously endeavouring to guarantee the victory of this policy — not in its specific Bolshevik form, but rather in the form in which it is understood and implemented by Polish Social Democracy, the form that is most in line with the spirit of German Social Democracy and of true Marxism (Applause).

[Concluding remarks]

I must respond first of all to certain misunderstandings resulting from the accidental circumstance that lack of time compelled me to interrupt my report almost in the middle when discussing basic views concerning the relation of the proletariat to the bourgeois parties. Particularly beneficial to my critics was the fact that I did not get to elucidate in more detail the relation of the proletariat to petty-bourgeois tendencies and especially to the peasantry. So many bold conclusions were drawn from this fact. I spoke only of the relation of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, and this, according to Comrade Martov [Julius Martov (1873–1923) was one of the most prominent leaders of the Mensheviks], meant simply identifying the role of the proletariat and all other classes, apart from the bourgeoisie, in the present revolution; in other words, it implied the same ‘left bloc’, effacing the distinctiveness of the proletariat and subordinating it to the influence of the petty bourgeoisie — the same ‘left bloc’ that the Bolshevik comrades are defending.

In the opinion of the rapporteur from the Bund [The Bund, or General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia, was one of the largest socialist organisations up to 1905. Its claim to speak on behalf of Jewish workers led to a split with Lenin in 1903. The Bund rejoined the Social-Democratic party in 1906 and in most subsequent disputes sided with the Mensheviks], the fact that I dealt exclusively with the policy of the proletariat in relation to the bourgeoisie clearly showed exactly the opposite to be the case: that is, that I completely denied any role on the part of the peasantry and the ‘left bloc’, thereby placing myself in direct opposition to the position of the Bolshevik comrades. Finally, another speaker from the Bund was even more merciless in his conclusions, declaring that to speak of the proletariat as the sole revolutionary class reeks directly of anarchism. As you see, the conclusions are rather divergent and concur only in one respect, and that is that they must all be equally fatal for me.

Strictly speaking, I have to be rather surprised by my critics’ agitation over the fact that I dealt primarily with the mutual relation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the present revolution. After all, there is no doubt that precisely this relation, and precisely the determination, above all else, of the proletariat’s position in relation to its social antipode, the bourgeoisie, is the essence of the question and the main axis of proletarian policy around which its relations to other classes and groups are already crystallising, including the petty bourgeoisie, the peasantry, and others. And, when we come to the conclusion that the bourgeoisie in our revolution is not playing and cannot play the role of leader of the emancipation movement, and that by the very nature of its policy it is counter-revolutionary; when we correspondingly declare that the proletariat must regard itself not merely as a subordinate detachment of bourgeois liberalism but rather as the revolutionary movement’s vanguard, determining its policy independently of other classes and pursuing it exclusively out of its own class tasks and interests; when we say that the proletariat is not the bourgeoisie’s groom but is called upon to follow an independent policy — when we say all of this, it would seem also to imply clearly that the conscious proletariat must make use of any popular revolutionary movement and subordinate it to its own leadership and its own class policy. No one can doubt, especially with regard to the revolutionary peasantry, that we have not forgotten its existence and by no means ignore the question of the proletariat’s relation to it. The directives to the SocialDemocratic Duma group, proposed to this congress a few days ago by the Polish comrades, including me, addressed this question perfectly clearly and precisely.

Here, I will take the opportunity to say just a few words that touch upon this question more closely. The relation of our party’s right wing to the question of the peasantry is being determined, as in the case of the bourgeoisie, by a certain ready-made and pre-given scheme to which real relations are being subordinated. ‘For us Marxists,’ says Comrade Plekhanov, ‘the labouring peasantry, as it exists in the current commodity-capitalist circumstances, represents nothing more than one of a variety of types of small, independent commodity producers, and we justifiably include small and independent commodity producers among the petty bourgeoisie.’ From this it follows that the peasant, as a petty bourgeois, is one of society’s reactionary elements, and anyone who considers him to be a revolutionary is idealising him and subordinating the proletariat’s policy to the influence of the petty bourgeoisie.

This kind of argumentation is once again a classical example of notorious metaphysical thinking, according to the formula that ‘Yay is yay; nay is nay; whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’. The peasantry is a reactionary class, and anything more cometh of evil. The bourgeoisie is a revolutionary class, and anything more cometh of evil. The characterisation of the peasantry in bourgeois society, given in the quotation just cited, is true insofar as we are speaking of so-called normal and peaceful periods of that society’s existence. But, even within these limits, it tends to be very narrow and one-sided. In Germany, increasingly numerous strata, not only of the agricultural proletariat but also of the small peasantry, are siding with Social Democracy and thereby demonstrating that talk of the peasantry being a single, compact and homogeneous class of the reactionary petty bourgeoisie involves a certain degree of dry and lifeless schematics. And in this still undifferentiated mass of the Russian peasantry, which the current revolution has put in motion, there are important strata that are not just our temporary political allies but also our natural future comrades. To disavow subordinating them even now to our leadership and our influence would be precisely an act of sectarianism that is unforgivable on the part of the revolution’s leading detachment.

But, above all, it is certainly a sin against the historical dialectic to carry over mechanically a scheme of the peasantry, as a petty-bourgeois reactionary class, to the role of that same peasantry in a revolutionary period. The role of the peasantry, and the proletariat’s relation to it, is determined in exactly the same way as the role of the bourgeoisie — not by the subjective wishes and efforts of these classes but by their objective position. Despite all its spoken declarations and published liberal programmes, the Russian bourgeoisie is an objectively reactionary class because its interests in the current social and historical circumstances demand the fastest possible liquidation of the revolutionary movement through a rotten compromise with absolutism. As for the peasantry, despite all the confusion and contradictoriness of its demands, and despite all the fog and ambiguity of its efforts, in the current revolution it is an objectively revolutionary factor because, by placing on the revolution’s order of the day, in the most acute manner, the question of revolutionary land change, it thereby poses a question that cannot be solved within the limits of bourgeois society and points beyond that society by its very nature.

It is highly possible that once the wave of revolution recedes, and once the land question eventually reaches one solution or another in the form of bourgeois private property, major strata of the Russian peasantry will become a clearly reactionary and petty-bourgeois party like the Bavarian Bauernbund [Peasants’ League]. But, while the revolution continues, and until the land question is regulated, the peasantry is not merely a submerged political reef for absolutism but also a social sphinx for the entire Russian bourgeoisie, and, for that reason, it represents an independent revolutionary ferment and, through its interaction with the urban proletarian movement, it imparts to the revolution the expansive sweep characteristic of a spontaneous popular movement. This is also the source of the socialist-utopian colouring of the peasant movement in Russia, which is by no means the consequence of artificial cultivation and demagogy on the part of the Social-Revolutionaries, but rather has accompanied all major peasant uprisings in bourgeois society. It is enough to recall the peasant wars in Germany and the name of Thomas Münzer [Thomas Münzer (1490–1525) was a leader of the German Anabaptist movement during the Reformation and an advocate of utopian communism who was executed for his beliefs].

But precisely because they are utopian and incapable of fulfilment by their nature, peasant movements are completely unable to play any independent role and are subordinated in every historical context to the leadership of other classes that are more energetic and more clearly defined. In France, the revolutionary bourgeoisie in the cities enthusiastically supported the peasant uprising, the so-called jacquerie. If leadership of the peasant wars in medieval Germany fell into the hands of reactionary malcontents of the petty gentry rather than those of the foremost bourgeoisie, this was because the German bourgeoisie, due to Germany’s historical backwardness, achieved the first phase of its class emancipation only in the still distorted ideological form of religious reformation and, because of its weakness, was frightened by the peasant wars rather than welcoming them and thus rushed into the embrace of reaction, just as Russian liberalism is now frightened by the proletarian and peasant movement and is rushing into the embrace of reaction. It is clear that political leadership of the chaotic peasant movement in Russia today, and the exercise of influence over it, are the natural historical responsibility of the conscious proletariat.

And if it were to refuse this role out of concern for the purity of its socialist programme, then it would find itself once more at the level of a doctrinaire sect rather than rising to the height of being the natural historical leader, in the spirit of scientific socialism, of all the masses who are the deprived victims of the bourgeois system. Let us recall Marx when he said that the proletariat is summoned to fight on behalf of all those who are deprived.

But let us return to the question of relations to the bourgeoisie. Of course, I will not stop to give a serious reply to the complaints and criticisms coming from the members of the Bund. As it turns out, the entire wisdom of the Bund can be reduced to one extraordinarily simple position: begin with no firm and definite principles and adopt the best aspects of every available position. With this petty political wisdom, the comrades from the Bund want to determine relations with all the fractions within our party and with all the different classes in the Russian revolution. In terms of internal party relations, this position properly leads not to the role of an independent political centre but to a policy that counts in advance on the existence of two different fractions. Carried over to the wide ocean of the Russian revolution, it leads to completely deplorable results. This policy, defended by the Bund’s representatives, leads to the well-known classical slogan of the German opportunists, to a policy of ‘von Fall zu Fall’, from case to case or, if you will, from collapse to collapse (Applause). [The editors of the transcripts of the Congress report that at this point Rosa Luxemburg compared the members of the Bund to petty ‘shopkeepers’, provoking an uproar that nearly disrupted the proceedings. The Bund demanded that Luxemburg retract her words, but with the support of Polish comrades she refused. Following lengthy discussions, it was decided to excise from the record this section of Luxemburg’s speech.] This clearly displayed physiognomy of the Bund is important and interesting not so much in terms of revealing its own character as in the fact that by its alliance with and support of the Mensheviks at this congress the Bund underscores the political tendency of the Menshevik comrades.

Comrade Plekhanov reproached me for representing some kind of evanescent Marxism that reigns over the clouds [a delegate to the Congress asked Rosa Luxemburg what stool she was sitting on. Plekhanov remarked: ‘What a naïve question! Comrade Rosa Luxemburg sits on no stool. She is like one of Raphael’s Madonnas, floating on clouds … of comfortable dreams’]. Comrade Plekhanov is polite even when he has no intention to be, and in this case he has paid me a genuine compliment. In order to orient oneself to the flow of events, a Marxist must survey relations not by crawling among daily and hourly conjunctures, but from a certain theoretical height, and the tower from which the course of the Russian revolution must be surveyed is the international development of bourgeois class society and its level of maturity. Comrade Plekhanov and his friends bitterly rebuked me on the grounds that I am describing such alluring and brilliant prospects for the present revolution as to imply that limitless victories await the Russian proletariat. This is completely untrue.

My critics in this case are attributing a view to me that is completely foreign to my own, namely, that the proletariat can and should expand its battle tactics as widely and decisively as possible but only on condition that victories are guaranteed to it in advance. I believe, on the contrary, that it is a poor leader and a pitiful army that goes into battle only when it knows in advance that victory is in its pocket. To the contrary, I not only have no intention of promising the Russian proletariat a series of certain victories, but am more of the belief that if the working class, true to its historical duty, steadily expands its battle tactics and makes them all the more determined in line with the continuously developing contradictions and expanding perspectives of the revolution, then it might find itself in situations that are extremely complex and rife with difficulties. What is more, I even think that if the Russian working class rises completely to its task, that is, if through its actions it carries revolutionary developments to the most extreme limit permitted by the objective development of social relations, then what will almost inevitably await it at this limit will be a major temporary defeat.

But I think that the Russian proletariat must have the courage and determination to confront everything that historical development has prepared for it, that it must, if necessary, and even at the price of losses, play in this revolution the role of vanguard in relation to the world army of the proletariat, revealing new contradictions, new tasks and new ways of class struggle — the same role that the French proletariat played in the nineteenth century. I believe that in its tactics the Russian proletariat must be led overall not by calculations of defeat or victory but exclusively by its own class and historical tasks, remembering that defeats of the proletariat, resulting from the revolutionary scope of its class struggle, are only local and temporary manifestations of its worldwide movement forward, taken as a whole, and that these defeats are the inevitable historical steps leading to the final victory of socialism (Applause). [3]

Footnotes

[1] Joseph Stalin — The London Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Notes of a Delegate), 1907

[2] Speech by Leon Trotsky, cited in Протоколы и стенографические отчеты съездов и конференции Коммунистической Партия Советково Союз: Пятый Лондонский съезд РСДРП Апрель-Май 1907 года: протоколы.

[3] The translation of the first speech comes from Witnesses to Permanent Revolution: The Documentary Record (edited by Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido), whereas the second speech is taken from The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson), which in turn simply reproduced an older translation by Raya Dunayevskaya.

--

--

The Acheron In Motion is run by a passionate Communist from a post-Soviet state, publishing about revolutionary history and the fundamental theses of Marxism.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Acheron In Motion

The Acheron In Motion

The Acheron In Motion is run by a passionate Communist from a post-Soviet state, publishing about revolutionary history and the fundamental theses of Marxism.