Introduction to the Korean edition of Rosa Luxemburg’s The Crisis in German Social Democracy (the “Junius Pamphlet”)

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The ICC has contributed to the first Korean edition of Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet, written 100 years ago in response to the carnage of the First World War. We are publishing the introduction written for the new edition here. In its 100 year ‘commemorations’ of the war, the ruling class and its propaganda machine offers us so many forms of apology for the massacre; revolutionaries on the other hand can take pride in celebrating the moral and intellectual courage of those internationalists who stood against the war and for the proletarian revolution.

The Junius Pamphlet was written as a first major theoretical-political analysis of the First World War which had inaugurated a world historic change. A machine of destruction was set in motion, massacring human beings on a scale never seen before. For example in the north of France and in Flanders (Belgium) within a few weeks hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed through the use of new weapons such as mustard gas. Some 20 million dead were counted by the end of the war. And immediately after the war an epidemic which later became known as “the Spanish flu” provoked the death of another 20 million exhausted and often undernourished people.

On 4 August 1914, the parliamentary group of the German Social Democratic Party voted in support of war credits. For the first time, the leadership of a proletarian party, and in this case one of the oldest and most influential parties of the Second International, betrayed the most crucial principle of internationalism: workers have no fatherland. A group of the few remaining internationalists in Germany came together in the apartment of Rosa Luxemburg and began to organise the defence of internationalism against the traitors. A year later a first international meeting of internationalists was organised in the Swiss village of Zimmerwald[1]. In response to the unleashing of the war and the betrayal of the leadership of Social Democracy revolutionaries started to put forward an analysis of the roots of the war and its consequences. Rosa Luxemburg’s pamphlet The Crisis of Social Democracy and the Theses on the Tasks of International Social Democracy which she drafted were part of these international efforts to understand the new situation for humanity and to draw out the perspectives for the work of revolutionaries. She wrote her text only a few months after the beginning of the war in April 1915, producing it in prison under the nom de guerre “Junius”. Due to the conditions of war the text could not be published immediately; only in January 1916 could it be published outside of Germany. In view of this new world historic situation her slogan was first of all: understand in depth what happened, why the war could begin and above all learn from our own mistakes. It was necessary to make a ruthless and fearless self-critique.

Searching for the roots

In several chapters of her pamphlet she analysed the historic development of capitalism. She showed how and why capitalism in its world-wide expansion had to constantly conquer new markets and how those countries which “arrived (too) late” had no other choice but to snatch away conquests from “those who had arrived first” by means of violence, i.e. war. These chapters on the ascent of imperialism illustrate the role of war in the capitalist system. She unmasked the imperialist ambitions of all states and recognised that this development was not triggered off by a single country alone. “(…) Imperialism is not the creation of any one or of any group of states. It is the product of a particular stage of ripeness in the world development of capital, an innately international condition, an indivisible whole” (Chapter 7).

The analysis she had put forward in the 1890s, arguing that Poland could no longer become an independent state and revolutionaries could no longer support the demand for national self-determination, was confirmed by the events of the world war. Rosa Luxemburg was amongst the first in the revolutionary camp to reject any support of national wars of defence. “Every socialist policy that depends upon this determining historic milieu, that is willing to fix its policies in the world whirlpool from the point of view of a single nation, is built upon a foundation of sand.” (Chapter 7)

The few months of war helped Rosa Luxemburg to grasp the new characteristics of this war, which would lead to the economic ruin of most of the participating countries.

After having analysed the new historical conditions, this qualitatively new phase rooted in the laws and contradictions of capitalism itself, she underlined the subjective conditions for the unleashing of war. Her conclusion: without the betrayal of the leadership of Social Democracy, the oldest and strongest workers’ party, and without the proclamation of social peace (i.e. the prohibition of strikes) in the factories, a pact which the trade unions signed with the capitalists, in short without the mobilisation of the working class for war through Social Democracy and the trade unions, the war could never have been begun.

Consequences for the working class and humanity

While Social Democracy in Germany called for support for the fatherland, Luxemburg insisted on the crucial role of the working class for the ending of the war. And she warned against the pacifist hope that capitalism might eliminate its own drive to war and destruction. She recognised the danger that if capitalism continued to exist the very survival of humanity would be at risk. Humanity was faced with the alternative between socialism and barbarism.

Consequences for revolutionaries

Faced with the betrayal by the SPD leadership, the determined internationalists in Germany around Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring and others did not want to let the SPD leadership bring the whole party under its control, because the party leadership did not have the majority of the party behind it. The group round Luxemburg stood for the regroupment of all internationalist forces in the party and the preparation of a new International on a new basis. Luxemburg drafted the “Theses on the tasks of International Social Democracy” which were published as an annexe to the Junius Pamphlet and adopted with a few changes by the newly founded Spartacusbund as the guidelines of the group.

The significance of the Junius pamphlet

As well as offering a historical-theoretical framework for understanding the qualitatively new step taken by capitalism, Luxemburg’s pamphlet offered a political framework for the activities of revolutionaries. Its main ideas (the historical development of imperialism, the perspectives of capitalist society in its decadent phase, socialism or barbarism, the question of internationalism in the workers’ movement and the task of revolutionaries) and its method (go to the roots and clarify the principles of each question, a ruthless self-critique, the long-term view for the task of revolutionaries) are all points of reference valid not only for the period of the First World War but to this day.

The theoretical-historical foundations of the Junius Pamphlet can be found in another text, which Rosa Luxemburg wrote before World War One (The Accumulation of Capital). In this text she outlined the driving forces of capitalism, its basic contradictions and why the accumulation of capital from a certain phase on inevitably leads to war and destruction.

In the same way as the publication of The Accumulation of Capital had already provoked considerable controversy in the workers’ movement, the publication of the Junius Pamphlet also gave rise to passionate debate amongst internationalists. In particular, Luxemburg's conclusion that with the development of capitalism imperialism had become the cancer of all countries, whether big or small, and that thus the call for ‘national self-determination’ was no longer on the agenda, caused a big controversy. In the midst of the war a thorough-going debate started amongst internationalists, in which Lenin was one of the strongest critics of Luxemburg.

However, it is important to underline that this debate took place within the framework of a common internationalist standpoint, a shared perspective of proletarian revolution. The discussion about the deeper roots of the development of imperialism, of the betrayal of internationalism and the perspectives of the struggle, never prevented them from pulling in the same direction - fighting for the overthrow of the capitalist system, under the most adverse conditions of repression and exile.

The revolutionary spirit of Rosa Luxemburg during the war

In the face of this historic disaster for humanity, this betrayal by the former workers’ party, Rosa Luxemburg gave an example of the revolutionary spirit, of an unwavering, determination and a capacity to carry out theoretical-political analysis with a long-term view.

The unfolding of this unheard of level of barbarism and the betrayal of the party was a true shock for revolutionaries and led to a feeling of depression amongst some of them. Many revolutionaries in Germany were thrown into jail or driven into exile. Rosa Luxemburg herself was detained in jail for most of the war. Altogether she spent 3 years 4 months in jail during the 4 years 4 months of war. After having been thrown into prison in order to break her determination and to silence her, the reaction of Luxemburg was to fight back with the weapon of theory. She wrote the Anticritique, a reply to criticisms of her book The Accumulation of Capital. During her activities as a teacher at the German Social Democratic party school she had given courses on political economy. Now, in prison she wrote her Introduction to Political Economy using the initial material she had used as a party teacher. And she also dealt with questions of literature and culture. She wrote a foreword to the book of the Russian author Korolenko History of my Contemporary and translated his book into German. And it was from prison that she also wrote her first analysis of the Russian revolution, On the Russian Revolution, developing some first important points for a critique of the errors made by the revolution in Russia.

Of course Luxemburg suffered from being locked-up in jail, but this could never break her will or undermine her morale. It is highly inspiring to read her notes and correspondence during her time in prison. The large variety of issues that she dealt with in prison and the series of letters on art and literature give testimony to an untameable, creative spirit. “Often I do nothing else but read and write from 6 in the morning until 9 in the evening[2].

Faced with the moral bankruptcy of capitalism and the perspective of socialism or barbarism she not only flung herself into the most determined struggle, but she also maintained her courageous spirit even after the terrible loss of people who were very close to her. She preserved her strength through her theoretical efforts, her capacity to follow other passions (such as for drawing and for botany) and through a large network of support from outside. She received food from outside of the prison (because of the bad health of her stomach, which required a special diet). Her writings were repeatedly smuggled out of prison (sometimes with the connivance of the prison guards). While in prison she corresponded with a lot of comrades, gave them advice and supported them as best as she could from behind prison walls. No prison cell could be thick enough to silence her and to prevent her from offering her support to individual people, to her comrades and to the working class as a whole. Thus her voice could be ‘heard’ outside of the prison – politically and as a human being. The day she was released from prison some 1000 workers (many of them women) waited at the prison gate for her and accompanied her home.

Her time in prison was in continuity with her whole life.

Brief summary of Rosa Luxemburg’s life 

Rosa Luxemburg was born in Zamość (Poland) in March 1871 as the fifth and last child of a Jewish family. 1871 was the year of the Paris Commune and the time of the struggle within the First International against the conspiracies of Bakunin. As a 17 year old young woman the repression in Poland forced her to emigrate to Switzerland, where she studied several subjects (amongst others botany, mathematics, economics, history, and law). In 1897 she presented her doctorial thesis on “The industrial development of Poland”. Already during the 1890s, together with other comrades from Poland, she put into question the old doctrines of the Second International. She had the intellectual capacity to detect a new development in capitalism and she had the courage to conclude, against the resistance of the Second International, that Polish self-determination was no longer on the agenda. This position was at odds with the dominant position of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, and in particular with Lenin

In 1898 she moved to Germany, where she joined the ranks of the SPD. Within the SPD a current had emerged, whose main representative was Bernstein, which defended the idea that capitalism had become more or less crisis free, that the transition to socialism would be possible by peaceful means. In fact Bernstein was ready to abandon the goal of the movement. Rosa Luxemburg wrote her reply, “Reform or revolution” (1899). Already during that period she was in the vanguard of the struggle against opportunism

In 1903 in her text “Stagnation and Progress of Marxism” she deplored a stagnation in the Marxist movement since the death of Marx and Engels and insisted on the need of renewed theoretical efforts, stressing that Marxism itself needed to be further elaborated.

This is why she wrote “Marxism is a revolutionary view of the world, which must constantly strive for new insights, which despises nothing so much as the fossilization of forms which are considered to be valid once and for all, and which through the intellectual weapon of self-critique and in the thunderstorms of history can best preserve its living force.” (1916)

Following the war between Japan and Russia in 1904 the first big wave of mass strikes erupted in Russia. Rosa Luxemburg was one of the first to discover the new dynamic of the class struggle in the 20th century, where the workers’ initiative becomes the distinguishing feature, and where the class struggle cannot be ‘planned’ by the apparatus of the trade unions or a party. Although she did not yet understand the role of the workers’ councils, in her book The Mass Strike, Party and Trade Unions, she insisted on this mass activity. This new dynamic of the class struggle was fiercely combated by the trade unions and growing layers within Social Democracy. In close cooperation with the trade union apparatus the Social Democratic leadership issued a ban on debates about the mass strike within the party. In 1906 Rosa Luxemburg had to go to jail for 2 months, convicted of “incitement to class hatred”, after her book on the mass strike was published. The former leading figure of Social Democracy, Karl Kautsky, who was known as the orthodox “Pope” of Marxism, increasingly took a position against Rosa’s radical course. During these years there was an intensification of smear campaigns and calumnies against Rosa Luxemburg as a “Jew”, “foreigner”, and “spinster”, creating trouble in the “peaceful”, “harmony-loving” Social Democracy.

At the 1907 Stuttgart congress of the Second International which was organised in response to the growing danger of war, Luxemburg, Lenin and Martov fought for a common orientation of “hastening the abolition of capitalist class rule” if the war broke out. In 1912 in her book The Accumulation of Capital she had the courage to point to the limits and contradictions in Marx’s works. Her book offers a basis for understanding the role of extra-capitalist markets and the specific function of militarism. Written barely two years before the unleashing of World War One the book offers an indispensable insight into the basic contradictions of capitalism.

As mentioned above, immediately after the betrayal of the SPD leadership in August 1914 Luxemburg became a leading figure in the struggle against war. The Junius Pamphlet was thus in direct continuity with her struggle since the early 1890s for understanding the new conditions, for offering an explanation of the political, social and economic conditions for the run up to World War One and the challenge facing the proletariat..

In 1917, still in prison, she offered a first analysis of the importance of the revolution which had just started in Russia. It was clear to her that in Russia the question of revolution could only be posed; it could not be solved in Russia itself. When Luxemburg was released from prison in November 1918 the ruling class feared her more than ever. Social Democracy above all made her the target of their campaigns against the working class. In December 1918, at the Berlin Workers’ Council she and Karl Liebknecht, the most famous of the leaders of the working class in Germany, were not allowed to participate, under the pretext that they were not workers. At the founding Congress of the German Communist Party, the KPD, at the end of December 1918, in a speech on the programme, she highlighted the historic dimension of the proletarian revolution and insisted that the revolution cannot resort to terror, but must mobilise to the full the energy and consciousness of the working class as a whole. She was one of the very few who spoke up against any immediatist illusion of a quick and easy victory against a very cunning enemy. Finally, the smear campaign and calumnies against her reached a peak in the first days of January 1919. After the crushing of the so-called Spartacus-rising in the second week of January 1919, when thousands of workers were massacred, Rosa Luxemburg was also assassinated. The ruling class finally managed to wipe out one of the most courageous and clear-sighted revolutionaries of the time.

The Junius Pamphlet remains one of her greatest works, an indispensable tool for understanding the growing barbarism of capitalism throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and for developing the perspective for its revolutionary overthrow by the exploited class.





Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: 



The Junius Pamphlet