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Another View of Things: Rosa Luxemburg (1913)

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One result of the arms madness is the disgraceful downfall of the parliamentary system. In Germany, all civil opposition has disappeared from the parliamentary process. There is not a single bill that is not approved by the government’s loyal Mamluks. The government need only whistle and the parliamentarians dance about their feet like poodles. We work hard during Reichstag elections to send as many representatives as possible to the Reichstag, but if there is a single worker out there who believes casting ballots is all that’s necessary, I can only pity him. Just as quickly as we are sending Social Democrats to parliaments, these parliaments are devolving into the fig leafs of absolutism. When the China expedition was being fitted out, representatives visited mothers, and afterward these representatives of the bourgeoisie granted indemnity for the allocated funds with sycophantic zeal. In England, where the ceremony of parliamentary hocus-pocus is especially well developed, conditions are the same, according to one English paper. The triply holy parliamentary system is well on the way to closing up shop. Austria and other states are no different from Germany and England: the parliamentary system is sinking ever deeper into the morass. We Social Democrats wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans if we pinned our hopes on it. The focus of Social Democratic politics must be shifted to the masses. The parliament, though important, must remain just one platform from which to spread the socialist word and rouse the masses. In recent years we have had sufficient proof that the masses can act when necessary. We are often told that we don’t yet have enough members and the tills are not yet full enough to carry out large operations. Oh, you small-minded bean counters! I don’t underestimate the value of organization – indeed, we cannot value it highly enough – but it would be a grave mistake to assume that every single worker must be a registered party member before the grand march on capitalism can begin. Just recently, 400,000 men stood for ten days with their arms crossed to secure political rights in Belgium – never mind the fact that I did not consider the time ripe to lead them into battle. And the Belgian working class is not nearly as well organized as the German. The Russian Revolution also illustrates what the masses are capable of. In 1906 the Russian proletariat had neither unions nor political organizations, and just a few years later, strong proletarian organizations were forged in the furnaces of the Revolution.

We mustn’t underestimate our power, the elemental power of large masses, since the danger of underestimating our power is perhaps greater than that of overestimating it. We must say to the proletarian masses that if now, after a fifty-year history, we have millions in our ranks, it not only entitles us to feel pride, but also obliges us to act. The larger we grow, the greater our obligation to throw our full weight into the balance. We must educate the masses to let them know that if the capitalists carve up the world, we are the heirs to their dangerous escapades. We must act with the same courage, determination and ruthlessness as the bourgeois revolutionaries. We must follow the words of Danton, who said that in certain situations one needs just three things: boldness, and again boldness, and always boldness (wild applause).

Source: Rosa Luxemburg, “Die weltpolitische Lage” [“The State of World Politics”] (Speech on May 27, 1913 in Leipzig-Plagwitz). Leipziger Volkszeitung, No. 121, May 29, 1913.

Original German text also reprinted in Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke [Collected Works]. East Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1970, vol. 3, pp. 212-19.

Translation: Adam Blauhut

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