Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht

Printer-friendly version

100 years after the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by the Social Democratic government of Noske and Scheidemann, we are reproducing an article which appeared in no. 10 of L’Étincelle, organ of the Gauche Communiste de France, in the year 1946.

L’Étincelle first appeared in the midst of the imperialist butchery of the Second World War. It was an illegal paper, sold from hand to hand in the utmost clandestinity. At the risk of their lives, the militants of the GCF fought against a war which in the name of ‘ant-fascism’ and the ‘defence of the Socialist Fatherland’ was driving the workers to massacre each other in the interests of imperialist capital. They braved the ever-present danger of state repression, whether from the Vichy government or the Gestapo. But the greatest danger they faced came from a party which dared – and still dares – to call itself ‘Communist’, a party which broke all records in propagating the most shameless chauvinism. In the name of Lenin, of the workers’ revolution, this ‘Communist’ Party openly called for pogroms, for the physical liquidation of individuals who stood against the dupery of anti-fascism. It will always be remembered for its infamous slogan at the time of the ‘Liberation’: “a chacun son Boche” – each to his own Hun.

The Social Democrats who, in 1914, became the recruiting sergeants of the imperialist war, and, in 1919, the bloodhounds of the counter-revolution, were ably succeeded and even surpassed by the Stalinist CPs of the 30s and 40s. By invoking the revolutionary leaders who, in 1914-19, remained loyal to the internationalist principles of the working class, L’Étincelle was itself raising high the flag of proletarian internationalism against those who, in its own day, continued to trample it into the mud. And since in its every battle the proletariat is still forced to confront the descendants of these traitors, Social Democrat or Stalinist, the message in this article has lost none of its urgency for today.



Revolutionaries are commemorating the anniversary of the death of these three militants and leaders of the international proletariat at a particularly agonising moment, when the working class in all countries has been plunged into the blackest misery: when humanity has only just come out of six years of the most atrocious butchery; when all the capitalist states are feverishly preparing for a third world war; when the weak class reactions of the proletariat have been inexorably and preventively crushed by the monstrous military forces of capital, or have been derailed, deformed and diverted thanks to the so-called ‘workers’ parties’, which are in the service of capitalism. To evoke these three figures, their lives, their work, their struggle, is to evoke the history and experience of the international struggle of the proletariat in the first quarter of the 20th century. Never have human lives been less private, less personal, more entirely dedicated to the cause of the revolutionary emancipation of the oppressed class, than the lives of these three of the most noble figures in the workers’ movement.

The proletariat doesn’t need idols:
the work of the great revolutionaries is an encouragement to fight

More than any other class in history, the proletariat is rich in fine revolutionary figures, in devoted militants, in tireless fighters, in martyrs, in thinkers and in men of action. This is due to the fact that unlike other revolutionary classes in history, who only fought against the reactionary classes in order to set up their own domination, to subject society to their egoistic interest as a privileged class, the proletariat has no privileges to win. Its emancipation is the emancipation of all the oppressed and from all oppressors; its mission is the liberation of the whole of humanity from all social inequalities and injustices, from any exploitation of man by man, from all forms of economic, political and social servitude.

It’s through the revolutionary destruction of capitalist society and its state, through the construction of a classless, socialist society, that the proletariat will carry out its historic mission and open a new era of human history, the era of real freedom and the flowering of all mankind’s potential. In the period of capitalism’s decline, only the proletariat and its emancipatory struggle provides the historic soil for all that is progressive in the aspirations, ideals, and all other areas of human activity. It’s in this liberating struggle of the proletariat that history has placed the living source of all the highest moral qualities: abnegation, lack of self-interest, absolute devotion to a collective cause, courage. But without any fear of falling into idolatry, we can affirm that to this day, apart perhaps from the founders of scientific socialism, the proletariat has found no better representatives, no greater guides, no nobler figures to symbolise its ideals and its struggle, than those of Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht.

The proletariat has no gods or idols. Idolatry belongs to a backward, primitive state of mankind. It’s also an instrument for the conservation of reactionary classes and for the brutalisation of the masses. Nothing is more pernicious for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat than the attempt to graft fetishism and idolatry onto it.

In order to triumph, the proletariat needs an ever-expanding, ever -sharpening awareness of reality and of its goals. It can’t draw the strength to go forward and accomplish its revolutionary mission from any form of mysticism, no matter how noble, but only from a critical consciousness drawn from scientific study and from the living experience of past struggles. For revolutionaries, the commemoration of the deaths of Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht can never be a religious act. While it’s true that such leaders symbolise the ideals of the class, it would be more precise to say that they personify class consciousness at a given moment in history, that they are the most perfect crystallisation of the experience undergone through the struggle of the class,

In order to take its struggle forward, the proletariat has a continual need to study its own past, in order to assimilate its experience, to build on historical acquisitions, and thus to go beyond inevitable errors, to correct the mistakes it’s made, to strengthen its political positions by becoming aware of insufficiencies and gaps in its programme, and, finally, to resolve problems which have up to now remained unsettled.

For revolutionary Marxists, who abhor idolatry and religious dogmatism, to commemorate the “Three L’s” is to dig out of their work, their lives, their experience, the elements needed for the continuity of the struggle and the enrichment of the programme of the socialist revolution. This task is at the base of the existence and activity of the fractions of the International Communist Left.

Against the falsification of Stalinism:
Lenin’s real teachings

There is no more revolting example of the deformation, no more shameful case of the falsification, of the life of a revolutionary, than what the bourgeoisie has made of the work of Lenin. After hounding him, pursuing him with implacable hatred throughout his life, the world bourgeoisie has fabricated a false Lenin in order to dupe the proletariat.

It has used his corpse to render his teaching and his work inoffensive. The dead Lenin is used to kill the living Lenin.

Stalinism, the best agent of world capitalism, has used the name of this leader of the October revolution in order to carry out the capitalist counter-revolution in Russia. It has cited the name of Lenin while massacring all his companions in struggle. In order to drag the workers of Russia and the rest of the world into the imperialist struggle, it has concocted a Lenin who is a ‘Russian national hero’, a partisan of ‘national defence’.

The activity of Lenin, who was at all times a bitter enemy of Russian and world capitalism, and of all the renegades who have gone over to the service of capitalism, can’t be gone over in the space of a single article. His work found its highest expression in the following three points, which are situated at the beginning, the maturity and the end of his political life.

First of all, there was the notion of the party he put forward in 1902 in What Is To Be Done. Without a revolutionary political party, he insisted, the proletariat could neither make the revolution, nor become conscious of the necessity of the revolution. The party is the laboratory in which the ideological fermentation of the class takes place.

“Without revolutionary theory, no revolutionary movement.” Building and strengthening the party of the revolution was the cornerstone of his whole work. October 1917 was the historic confirmation of the correctness of his principle. It was thanks to the existence of a revolutionary party, Lenin’s Bolshevik party, that the Russian proletariat was able to emerge victorious in October.

After that, it was the defence of class positions against the imperialist war in 1914. Not only must the proletariat reject any national defence under a capitalist regime, but it also had to work, through its class struggles, for the defeat of its own bourgeoisie; this was the principle of revolutionary defeatism, which meant working for the fraternisation of the soldiers on both sides of the imperialist frontiers, for the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, for the socialist revolution.

Lenin denounced all the false socialists who had betrayed the proletariat and put themselves at the service of the bourgeoisie. He also violently denounced all those who, while paying lip-service to opposition to the war, hesitated to break with the traitors and renegades. He proclaimed the necessity for the formation of a new International and for new parties, in which the traitors and opportunists would have no place.

Finally, he demonstrated that the imperialist epoch was the last period of capitalism, the period of imperialist wars, and that only the proletariat could put an end to the war, through the revolution. This thesis of Lenin’s was confirmed by the outbreak of the revolution in Russia and then in Germany, which put an end to the First World War. It was again confirmed in a tragic manner when the defeat of the revolution and the physical and ideological crushing of the proletariat posed the conditions for the new world imperialist war of 1939-45. Lastly, Lenin demonstrated in 1917, in practice, that the transformation of society cannot come about through a peaceful process of reforms, but demands the violent destruction of the capitalist state from top to bottom and the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat against the capitalist class.

The victory of the October revolution, the construction of the Communist International, the party of the world revolution, the fundamental theses of the International, were the crowning point of Lenin’s work, the culminating point, the most advanced position attained by the proletariat in the whole preceding period.

The death of Lenin coincided with the reflux of the revolution and a series of defeats for the proletariat. In this period of reflux, the absence of Lenin, the inspired leader, weighed heavily on the revolutionary movement. Lenin’s rich work was not exempt from errors and gaps. It is up to the revolutionaries of today to correct and go beyond the historical errors of the proletariat. But Lenin, through his work and his action, made a gigantic and decisive step on the road to revolution, and in this sense will remain an immortal guide for the proletariat.

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht:
Magnificent figures of the world revolution

The work of Rosa Luxemburg is still profoundly ignored today, not only in the broad masses, but even among experienced militants.

Rosa’s contribution to marxist theory made her the most brilliant and profound continuator of Karl Marx.

Her analysis the evolution of the capitalist economy provides the only scientific explanation of the final, permanent crisis of capitalism. It is impossible to seriously approach the study of our epoch of imperialism, of the ineluctability of the economic crisis and of imperialist wars, without basing oneself on Rosa’s penetrating analysis. By giving a scientific solution to the problem of the enlarged reproduction and accumulation of capital, a problem that Marx left unsettled, Rosa pulled socialism out of an impasse and reaffirmed it as an objective necessity.

But Rosa Luxemburg was not only a great theoretician and an erudite economist, she was above all a revolutionary fighter.

The uncontested leader of the left in German social democracy, she denounced the opportunist slide of the Second International at an early stage. At the head of the left, with her companion in arms, Karl Liebknecht, she broke during the course of the 1914-18 war with the traitorous social democrats who had passed over to the service of the bourgeoisie and of Kaiser Wilhelm.

The years of prison for her activity against the war didn’t dampen her ardour. On her release from prison she organised the Spartakusbund and threw herself into the struggle for the socialist revolution in Germany. On a number of points, history has confirmed the correctness of Rosa’s position as against Lenin’s, and in particular on the national and colonial question where Rosa denounced the error of ‘the right of nations to self-determination’, which was essentially bourgeois and historically reactionary, serving only to divert the workers of the small oppressed countries from their real class terrain, and thus strengthening international capitalism.

The events in the Baltic states, the Turkish national revolution, like a whole series of ‘national revolutions’ and China in 1927, were to give a tragic confirmation of Rosa’s warnings.

The new parties which the proletariat has to build today will only represent a step forward if they take up and deepen Rosa’s fundamental thesis on the national question. Certain other critiques, and certain of Rosa’s warnings about the Russian revolution, concerning freedom and violence in the revolutionary process, must also serve as material, together with the later experience in Russia, for the establishment of a new programme for the class parties.

Rosa’s extremely rich work must be subjected to a particularly attentive study by today’s revolutionaries. It is necessary to break with the scandalous and inadmissible ignorance that exists about it. As an example we can cite the surprising fact that the platform of the new Internationalist Communist Party of Italy refers to Lenin’s book on imperialism, without even mentioning Rosa’s fundamental work on this question.


Karl Liebknecht was the other leader of the German revolution of 1919. He was the most remarkable figure of a revolutionary tribune.

A deputy in the Reichstag, he broke the discipline of the parliamentary group of the social democratic party, and from the high tribune of parliament, pronounced his indictment of imperialist war.

“The main enemy is at home,” Liebknecht insisted again and again, and he called the workers and soldiers to fraternisation and revolt. His own ardour galvanised revolutionary energies, and the 1918 revolution found him and Rosa Luxemburg at the head of the proletarian masses, at the most advanced point of the battle.

By assassinating Karl and Rosa, by mummifying Lenin, the bourgeoisie merely postpones its annihilation

In order to save capitalism from the threat of revolution, German social democracy unleashed the most bloody repression against the proletariat. But the massacre of tens of thousands of workers wasn’t enough. As long as Rosa and Liebknecht were alive, it couldn’t feel safe. So it hunted them down and had them assassinated by its police after taking them prisoner. Hitler invented nothing; Noske, the Socialist minister and bloodhound of the bourgeoisie, gave him his first lesson and opened the door to him, just as Stalin taught him how to turn millions of workers and peasants into political prisoners and how to slaughter revolutionaries en masse.


The murder of Rosa and Karl beheaded the German and world revolution for years. The absence of these leaders was a terrible handicap for the international workers’ movement and the Communist International.

Capitalism can murder the leaders of the revolution, it can momentarily celebrate it victory over the proletariat by throwing it into new imperialist wars. It cannot, however, overcome the contradictions of its system, which hurl it into the maws of generalised destruction.

Lenin, Karl and Rosa are dead, but their teaching lives on. They remain a symbol of the fight to the death against capitalism and war, through the only way out for humanity, the proletarian revolution.

It’s by following in their footsteps, by continuing their work, by drawing inspiration from their example and teachings, that the international proletariat will bring about the triumph of the cause for which they fell: the cause of the proletariat and of socialism.

L’Étincelle. (January/February 1946)


History of the Workers' Movement