On The 100th Anniversary Of Newly-Fledged German Communist Leader Rosa Luxemburg And Karl Liebknecht-Oh, What Might Have Been-
By Frank Jackman
History in the conditional, what might have happened if this or that thing, event, person had swerved this much or that, is always a tricky proposition. Tricky as reflected in this piece’s commemorative headline. Rosa Luxemburg the acknowledged theoretical wizard of the German Social-Democratic Party, the numero uno party of the Second, Socialist International, which was the logical organization to initiate the socialist revolution before World War II and Karl Liebknecht, the hellfire and brimstone propagandist and public speaker of that same party were assassinated in separate locale on the orders of the then ruling self-same Social-Democratic Party. The chasm between the Social-Democratic leaders trying to save Germany for “Western Civilization” in the wake of the “uncivilized” socialist revolution in Russia in 1917 had grown that wide that it was as if they were on two different planets, and maybe they were.
(By the way I am almost embarrassed to mention the term “socialist revolution” these days when people, especially young people, would be clueless as to what I was talking about or would think that this concept was so hopelessly old-fashioned that it would meet the same blank stares. Let me assure you that back in the day, yes, that back in the day, many a youth had that very term on the tips of their tongues. Could palpably feel it in the air. Hell, just ask your parents, or grandparents.)
Okay here is the conditional and maybe think about it before you dismiss the idea out of hand if only because the whole scheme is very much in the conditional. Rosa and Karl, among others made almost every mistake in the book before and during the Spartacist uprising in some of the main German cities in late 1918 after the German defeat in the war. Their biggest mistake before the uprising was sticking with the Social Democrats, as a left wing, when that party had turned at best reformist and eminently not a vehicle for the socialist revolution, or even a half-assed democratic “revolution” which is what they got with the overthrow of the Kaiser. They broke too late, and subsequently too late from a slightly more left-wing Independent Socialist Party which had split from the S-D when that party became the leading war party in Germany for all intents and purposes and the working class was raising its collective head and asking why.
The big mistake during the uprising was not taking enough protective cover, not keeping the leadership safe, keeping out of sight like Lenin had in Finland when things were dicey in 1917 Russia and fell easy prey to the Freikorps assassins. Here is the conditional, and as always it can be expanded to some nth degree if you let things get out of hand. What if, as in Russia, Rosa and Karl had broken from that rotten (for socialism) S-D organization and had a more firmly entrenched cadre with some experience in independent existence. What if the Spartacists had protected their acknowledged leaders better. There might have been a different trajectory for the aborted and failed German left-wing revolutionary opportunities over the next several years, there certainly would have been better leadership and perhaps, just perhaps the Nazi onslaught might have been stillborn, might have left Munich 1923 as their “heroic” and last moment.
Instead we have a still sad 100th anniversary of the assassination of two great international socialist fighters who headed to the danger not away always worthy of a nod and me left having to face those blank stares who are looking for way forward but might as well be on a different planet-from me.
One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.
There is no question that back in my youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American For Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view. As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but not in my area.
The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.
Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose:
"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."
This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
The Main Enemy Is At Home!
(Leaflet, May 1915)
Source: Karl Liebknecht, Ausgewählte Reden und Aufsätze (Selected Speeches and Essays), Berlin 1952, pp. 296-301.
Transcription: Einde O’Callaghan for Marxists' Internet Archive
Translation and Markup: John Wagner for Marxists' Internet Archive
Online Version: Karl Liebknecht Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2002
What has been expected every day for the past ten months, since the Austrian invasion of Serbia, has come to pass: There is war with Italy.
The masses in the warring countries have begun to free themselves from the official webs of lies. The German people as well have gained insight about the causes and objectives of the world war, about who is directly responsible for its outbreak. The mad delusions about the "holy aims" of the war have given way more and more, the enthusiasm for the war has dwindled, the will for a rapid peace has grown powerfully all over – even in the Army!
This was a difficult problem for the German and Austrian imperialists, who were seeking in vain for salvation. Now it seems they have found it. Italy's intervention in the war should offer them a welcome opportunity to stir up new frenzies of national hatred, to smother the will for peace, and to blur the traces of their own guilt. They are betting on the forgetfulness of the German people, betting on their forbearance which has been tested all too often.
If this plan succeeds, the results of ten months of bloody experience will be made worthless, and the international proletariat will once again be disarmed and completely discarded as an independent political factor.
This plan must be wrecked – provided that the part of the German proletariat which has remained true to international socialism remains mindful and worthy of its historical mission in this monstrous time.
The enemies of the people are counting on the forgetfulness of the masses – we counter this with the solution:
Learn everything, don't forget anything!
Don't forget anything!
We have seen how when war broke out, the masses were captured for the capitalist aims of the war with enticing melodies from the ruling classes. We have seen how the shiny bubbles of demagogy burst, how the foolish dreams of August vanished, how, instead of happiness, suffering and misery came over the people; how the tears of war widows and war orphans swelled to great currents; how the maintenance of the three-class disgrace, the unrepentant canonization of the Quadrinity – semi-absolutism, junker rule, militarism, and police despotism – became bitter truth.
Through this experience we have been warned – learn everything, don't forget anything!
Offensive are the tirades with which Italian imperialism glosses over its pillaging; offensive is that roman tragicomedy in which the now-common grimace of the Burgfrieden ("civil truce") is present. More offensive still is that in all of this we can recognize, as if reflected in a mirror, the German and Austrian methods of July and August 1914.
The Italian instigators of war deserve every denunciation. But they are nothing but copies of the German and Austrian instigators, the ones who are chiefly responsible for the outbreak of war. Birds of a feather!
Whom can the German people thank for this new affliction?
From whom can they demand explanation for the new piles of bodies which will tower up?
It is still the case: The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia from July 23, 1914 was the spark that ignited the world, even if the fire was very late in spreading to Italy.
It is still the case: This ultimatum was the signal for the redistribution of the world, and by necessity called on all capitalist pillager-states to participate in the plan.
It is still the case: This ultimatum contained in it the question of the dominance over the Balkans, Asia Minor, and all of the Mediterranean, and therefore contained all the antagonisms between Austria-Germany and Italy in one stroke.
If the German and Austrian imperialists now try to hide themselves behind the scenery of Italian pillaging and the backdrop of Italian disloyalty; when they don on the toga of moral indignation and aggrieved innocence, while in Rome they have found nothing but their equals, then they deserve the cruelest scorn.
The rule "Don't forget anything" applies to how the German people were just manipulated in the Italian question by the very honorable German patriots.
The Triple Alliance treaty wth Italy has always been a farce – you were all deceived about that!
The experts have always known that in the case of war Italy would be a certain opponent of Austria and Germany – you were led to believe it would be a certain confederate!
A good part of Germany's fate in world politics was decided in the Triple Alliance treaty, which was signed and renewed without your consultation – till the present day not one letter of this treaty has been shared with you.
The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, with which a small clique took all of humanity by surprise, broke the treaty between Austria and Italy – you were told nothing of this.
This ultimatum was given with the express condemnation of Italy – that was kept secret from you.
On May 4 of this year Italy dissolved the alliance with Austria – until May 18 this crucial fact was withheld from the German and Austrian people, yes, in spite of the truth it was directly denied by the officials – a parallel to the intentional duping of the German people and the German Reichstag about Germany's ultimatum to Belgium from August 2, 1914.
You were given no influence on Germany and Austria's negotiations with Italy, on which Italy's intervention depended. You were treated as sheep in this vital question, while the war party, the secret diplomacy, a handful of people in Berlin and Vienna rolled the dice about the fate of Germany.
The torpedoing of the Lusitania not only consolidated the power of the English, French, and Russian war parties, it invited a grave conflict with the United States, and set all neutral countries against Germany with passionate indignation; it also facilitated the disastrous work of the Italian war party right in the critical moment – the German people had to be quiet about this as well; the iron fist of the state of siege was held around their throats.
Already in March of this year peace negotiations could have been initiated – the offer was made by England – but the greed for profit of the German imperialists led this to be rejected. Promising peace endeavors were thwarted by German parties interested in colonial conquest on a grand scale and in the annexation of Belgium and French Lorraine, by capitalists of the big German shipping companies, and by the agitators of the German heavy industry.
This was also kept secret from the German people, once again you were not consulted about it.
We ask – whom can the German people thank for the continuation of the horrid war and for the intervention of Italy? Who else but the irresponsible people at home who are responsible.
Learn everything, don't forget anything!
For thinking people, Italy's imitation of Germany's actions from summer of last year cannot be a spur for new war frenzies, just an impetus to scare away the phantom hopes of a new dawn of political and social justice, just a new light for the illumination of the political responsibilities and the exposure of the public danger presented by the Austrian and German pursuers of war, just a new indictment of them.
But the rule "Learn and don't forget" applies most of all to the heroic struggle against the war that our Italian comrades have fought and still fight. Struggles in the press, in meetings, in street demonstrations, struggles with revolutionary energy and boldness, defying with heart and soul the rabid crash of nationalist waves which were whipped up by the authorities. Our most enthusiastic congratulations for their struggle. Let their spirit be our example! Provide that it should be the example of the International!
Had it been since those August days, the world would be better off. The international proletariat would be better off.
But the resolute will to fight cannot come too late!
The absurd slogan "stick it out" has hit rock bottom; it leads only deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of genocide. International proletarian class struggle against international imperialist genocide is the socialist commandment of the hour.
The main enemy of every people is in their own country!
The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists.
We think as one with the German people – we have nothing in common with the German Tirpitzes and Falkenhayns, with the German government of political oppression and social enslavement. Nothing for them, everything for the German people. Everything for the international proletariat, for the sake of the German proletariat and downtrodden humanity.
The enemies of the working class are counting on the forgetfulness of the masses – provide that that be a grave miscalculation. They are betting on the forbearance of the masses – but we raise the vehement cry:
How long should the gamblers of imperialism abuse the patience of the people? Enough and more than enough slaughter! Down with the war instigators here and abroad!
An end to genocide!
Proletarians of all countries, follow the heroic example of your Italian brothers! Ally yourselves to the international class struggle against the conspiracies of secret diplomacy, against imperialism, against war, for peace with in the socialist spirit.
The main enemy is at home!