Click here to go to the Home Page Rosa Luxemburg: The Case for a Mass Workers’ Strike - Represent Our Resistance - By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD - Editorial Board

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A working class hero is something to be.

- John Lennon, “A Working Class Hero”

The situation to state it briefly is this: The [SPD] Executive and the General Commission [of the Trade Unions] have already considered the mass strike, and after lengthy negotiations it was defeated by the resistance of the General Commission…The masses themselves ought to decide, but it is our duty to present the pros and cons, the general line of argument. I therefore am counting on you to give your support here [in this matter] and to run the articles without delay.

- Rosa Luxemburg, “Letter to Konrad Haenisch,” [Friedenau, before March 14, 1910], The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, 2011

When it came to class struggle, Rosa Luxemburg was uncompromising. She did not use her position within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) for social or material advancement. She was no opportunist seeking political inclusion in the German government as was the case with several key leaders of the SPD. Luxemburg was Luxemburg - no pantsuits or a seat on the right (or Left) hand side of State power.

Critical critiques examining the motives of contemporary socialists (Marxist) was for her part of being an engaged citizen (let alone activist) as opposed to a robot with the mentality of the Freikorp soldiers who followed orders, arrested and eventually shot her dead in January, 1919.

Before the “fateful question” of the First World War arose in which Luxemburg witnessed Germany socialism and international socialism undergoing a crisis of commitment to the principles of Marxism (“Letter to Karl Moor, [Sudende], October 12, 1914,” The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, 2011). [1] Luxemburg warned of the SPD’s turn away from the class struggle. The workers, suffering, are agitated and they want to see change by their own actions - en-mass.

Where is the SPD?

Where, echoes Rosa Luxemburg, is the SPD?

Rosa Luxemburg’s article titled, “Theory and Practice,” (The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, 2004), [2] is an honest and uncompromising critical response to SPD leader Karl Kautky’s rejection of Luxemburg’s article “What’s Next?” in which the activist and thinker calls on the party to open discussions on the possibility of including a demand for a republic in Germany and her call to support a mass strike.

Karl Kautsky [3] has made a notable blunder on the question of calling for a republic. That passage [in Luxemburg’s article ‘What Next?’] about a republic, which he did not want taken up, has nevertheless appeared as a separate article, titled ‘Zeit der Aussaat’ (Time for the Sowing of Seeds) in the Breslau and Dortmund papers, and perhaps a dozen others! And now K[ausky] reproaches me with the claim that I myself ‘had renounced’ it!... (“Letter to Konrad Haenisch, [Friedenau,] June 18, 1910, The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, 2011)

Kautsky’s resounding nein to any discussion of a republic or a mass strike was read in Neue Zeit’s June12-14, 1910 publication of his article, “A New Strategy.” Editor of the party’s press which included Vorworts as well as the Neue Zeit though he may be, Luxemburg surmised, the “veto” would not have been Kautsky’s alone but also represented the opinion of the “high command” (“Theory and Practice”). But it is Kautsky who delivers the message: “Enough, that what you want is an entirely new agitation which until now has always been rejected.” Luxemburg’s ideas, he states, were a departure from the SPD program.

I will not linger long on Luxemburg’s response to Kautsky’s rejection of a republic. Many claim we have such a thing here in the United States. But it is significant to mention that Kautsky thought her call to discuss the possibility of a republic - propaganda (“propaganda for a republic”) - far from anything Marx and Engels might have considered. “Even your point of departure is false. There is not one word in our program about a republic,” writes Kautsky.

This new agitation…is the sort we have no business discussing so openly. With your article you want to proclaim on your own hook, as a single individual, an entirely new agitation which the party has always rejected. We cannot and will not proceed in this manner. A single personality, however high she may stand, cannot pull off a fait accompli on her own hook which can have unforeseeable consequences for the party.

It is “no piece of heroism” on her part, Luxemburg explains. Both Marx and Engels supported the demand for a republic. So how is it possible Kausky mobilizes Marx and Engels against her, she asks, and claim she is presenting a “new agitation”?

Engels’ “Political Demands,” section II, specifically refers to the “one flaw” in the SPD’s list of demands: “What actually should have been said is not there.”

“If anything is certain,” Engels wrote, “it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic.” What Engels “unqualifiedly declares” to be essential, Luxemburg explains, “is discussion of the slogan of a republic in the party press.” If not now and sometime in the near future! But as Luxemburg notes, “the follow up practice was not done.”

“And now to the mass strike.”

Are you familiar with my pamphlet about the mass strike (1906)? It deals exactly [4] with all the questions that K.K. [Karl Kautsky] has brought up. It turns out that even our best people actually did not at all absorb the lessons of the Russian revolution [of 1905].

Well, it never occurred to Kautsky to censor Luxemburg’s article or to “‘forbid’ discussion of the mass strike.” (“Letter to Konrad Haenisch, [Friedenau,] June 18, 1910, The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, 2011)

Kautsky’s creation of a “whole new theory of the conditions for political mass strike in Russia and in Germany” (“Theory and Practice”) is sinister, Luxemburg surmises, because it is motivated by the desire to steady the boat and prepare the workers for the voting rights campaigns already underway in Germany!

Revolution aside, the voting rights campaigns and the elections are what the party feels is good for the people! …

What happened in the 1905 Russian Revolution cannot happen in Germany, Kautsky argues. Don’t look to “revolutionary examples,” as Luxemburg suggests. The “conditions for the mass strike” existed in “backward” Russia but, in Germany, “they do not” because, in Germany, “‘we have political freedom”! Workers are provided “various ‘safe’ forms for their protests and struggle, and hence they are totally preoccupied with organizations, meetings, the press, and elections of all sorts’” (“Theory and Practice”). In other words, the people have “safe,” as in ineffective, ways of “protesting” to the government!

As a means of struggle, the political mass strike could only be employed here in a single, final battle ‘to the death’ - and therefore only when the question, for the proletariat, was conquer or die.

“When a positive result can be expected,” Karl Kautsky and the SPD will consider the possibility of allowing the people to engage in a mass strike.

This is the position of Kautsky and the SPD, Luxemburg argues. Mass strikes for “backward” Russia but not for “the strongest” government: Germany!

Luxemburg challenges the absurdity of Kautksy’s logic:

How Social Democracy, on the other hand, should in all seriousness come to acknowledge a government to be ‘the strongest’ which ‘nothing but a military despotism embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture, obviously influenced by the bourgeoisie, shored up with a bureaucracy, and watched over by the police’ –I find that somewhat hard to grasp.


Kautsky’s Germany is not populated with happy workers benefiting from “the strongest” government Somehow, she writes, Kautsky has forgotten

the quite enormous slave herds of Prusso-German state employers, railroad workers and postal workers, as well as the farm workers, who unfortunately enjoy very limited measure of that contented preoccupation with “organizations, meetings, and options of all sorts” as long as the right to organize is legally or practically denied them.

Whole categories of workers, Luxemburg continues, “live politically as well as economically in genuine ‘Russian’ conditions…not to mention miners - will find it impossible, in the midst of a political convulsion, to maintain their slavish obedience or to refrain from presenting their special bill of reckoning in the form of giant mass strikes.”

But Kautsky further claims that “the strongest” government has experienced the “glory of almost a century of continuous victories over the strongest great powers in the world.” And - “a strike in Germany would result in failure.” German worker could “take up the strike as a means of struggle only when he has the prospect of attaining definite successes with it. If these successes fail to appear, the strike has failed its purpose.”

This is the gospel according to Karl Kautsky - not Karl Marx! Participate in the elections, not in strikes and street protests! And, of course, Kautsky is a self-declared Marxist at the time he writes, “A New Strategy.”

As any union agitator knows, writes Luxemburg, “definite successes” in the form of material gains “absolutely are not and cannot be the sole purpose, the sole determining aspect in economic struggles.” In other parts of Europe, strikes “without much ‘plan’” erupt because “a great exploited mass of proletarians [stand] opposed to the concentrated ruling power of capital or the capitalist state.” Strikers are not infrequent but frequent, she continues, and “mostly end without any ‘definite successes’ at all - but in spite, or rather just because of this are of greater significance as explosions of a deep inner contradiction which spills over into the realm of politics.”

These are periods of the “most beautiful confusion” - “spontaneous combustion of the masses,” union leadership, “economic struggle and political struggle, mass strikes and revolution.” But it seems “that ‘theory’ does not merely ‘stride forward’ more slowly than practice: alas, from time to time it also goes tumbling backwards.”

Organize voting rights campaigns! Prepare for the elections! We are the Left; we’ve got your back!

And we wonder why in the 21st Century it is possible for the capitalist state to amass its power to repress the voice of opposition and protests and to misrepresent the lived experiences of the workers even to themselves? Look to the Left, Luxemburg suggests! Look to those who present themselves as adherents of class struggle but who function for the capitalist rulers.

How can the workers here in the U.S. call for a General Strike for May 1st when we are “the strongest” government in thee world and we have a “Black” president?

While the Occupy Movement is supporting the May 1st call to stage a general strike, the Left press is silent.

Elections! Change again is on the way!

We should focus our attention, as Kautsky would argue, to supporting “the strongest government” and postpone expectations for “a mass strike until the year after the Reichstag elections.”

Luxemburg: This is “nothing-but-parlimentarism.” - politics for the capitalists - and the rise of a fascist state will not be far behind!

Rosa Luxemburg did not live to see the rise of the fascist state. She was murdered by the Freikorps in Janaury 1919. But she knew… Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.

[1] The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, editors, Georg Adler, Peter Hudis and Annelies Laschitza. Most of these letters in this collection are, for the first time, available in English.

[2]   The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, editors, Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson, 2004.

[3] (1854-1938), Social Democratic writer, influential theoretician of the Second International…Luxemburg broke with him [after] he moved closer to reformism (The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg).

[4]  Words in bold print are present here as they appear in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg and are established by the editors of that text.

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