Workers Vanguard No. 884

19 January 2007


Honor Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg!

(Quote of the Week)

In the tradition of the early Communist International, this month we commemorate the “Three L’s”: Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, who died in January 1924, and German revolutionary Marxists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were assassinated in January 1919 by the reactionary Freikorps as part of the Social Democratic government’s suppression of the Spartakist uprising. The following passage is from Luxemburg’s The Crisis in the German Social Democracy, which was written in April 1915 under the pseudonym Junius while she was imprisoned for her revolutionary opposition to interimperialist World War I. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were at that time leaders of the revolutionary wing of the German Social Democracy, whose chauvinist leaders supported German imperialism in the war. The two went on to found the Spartakusbund and, in late 1918, the German Communist Party.

Socialism is the first popular movement in the world that has set itself a goal and has established in the social life of man a conscious thought, a definite plan, the free will of mankind. For this reason Friedrich Engels calls the final victory of the socialist proletariat a stride by humankind from the animal kingdom into the kingdom of liberty. This step, too, is bound by unalterable historical laws to the thousands of rungs of the ladder of the past with its tortuous sluggish growth. But it will never be accomplished, if the burning spark of the conscious will of the masses does not spring from the material conditions that have been built up by past development. Socialism will not fall as manna from heaven. It can only be won by a long chain of powerful struggles, in which the proletariat, under the leadership of the social democracy, will learn to take hold of the rudder of society to become instead of the powerless victim of history, its conscious guide.

Friedrich Engels once said: “Capitalist society faces a dilemma, either an advance to socialism or a reversion to barbarism.” What does a “reversion to barbarism” mean at the present stage of European civilization? We have read and repeated these words thoughtlessly without a conception of their terrible import. At this moment one glance about us will show us what a reversion to barbarism in capitalist society means. This world war means a reversion to barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the destruction of culture, sporadically during a modern war, and forever, if the period of world wars that has just begun is allowed to take its damnable course to the last ultimate consequence. Thus we stand today, as Friedrich Engels prophesied more than a generation ago, before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism, that is, the conscious struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism, against its methods, against war. This is the dilemma of world history, its inevitable choice, whose scales are trembling in the balance awaiting the decision of the proletariat. Upon it depends the future of culture and humanity. In this war imperialism has been victorious. Its brutal sword of murder has dashed the scales, with overbearing brutality, down into the abyss of shame and misery. If the proletariat learns from this war and in this war to exert itself, to cast off its serfdom to the ruling classes, to become the lord of its own destiny, the shame and misery will not have been in vain.

—Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis in the German Social Democracy (1916), reprinted in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (Pathfinder Press, 1970)