German Social Democracy 1872 – 1914: the fight against organisational opportunism, Part 2

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By the beginning of the 1890s, the attempts of the ruling class over many years to silence the Social Democratic Party with the help of repression through the Socialist Law had failed. Nevertheless, the rulers had succeeded in steering the activities of the SPD largely onto the parliamentary track, which meant severely neglecting other activities outside election propaganda, thus pushing theoretical efforts into the background. In other words, even if the bourgeoisie could not prevent the growth of the party, the ideological poison of democracy had spread, undermining genuine workers' solidarity and increasingly stifling the party’s fighting spirit. At the same time, a feeling had slowly developed among a considerable part of the party's functionaries, ranging from members of parliament to trade union leaders: don't run the risk of punishment by the bourgeois state, shy away from any confrontation with the ruling class, avoid a new anti-socialist law; in short, duck! 

This development was fostered by the fact that, after the Franco-German war, Germany entered a gigantic race to catch up in industrialisation with its other European rivals and the USA. Moreover, the rapid numerical growth of the working class in the cities, which first had to live and work under miserable hygienic and material conditions before their situation gradually improved, gave rise to the feeling that capitalism could still provide a livelihood for the workers.[1] Blinded by this rising phase of capitalism, with economic crises apparently overcome, certain circles in the SPD began to question its revolutionary programmatic foundations as early as the early 1890s. The rapid economic growth and the resulting reformist illusions provided the breeding ground for increasing opportunism. The manner in which this questioning of the programme and the principles of organisation was inextricably linked, initiating a complex, multi-layered and insidious degeneration process, cannot be described comprehensively in this article. Our aim here is to highlight some of the main features of this process at the organisational level.

Questioning and abandoning the programme

In the appeal of the Social Democratic Reichstag faction, which appeared shortly before the February elections of 1890, it was claimed that "today's society is growing into socialism". The SPD Reichstag member Grillenberger announced in February 1891 that the SPD was not striving for a violent overthrow of the existing order. Socialism would arise as a result of reforms and not as a result of revolution.[2] Bernstein put it like this: "This growing [of the party] into the state, as I have called it elsewhere, distinguishes the party from the sect. The party, however hostile it may be to the order of the state in which it operates, cannot avoid organically integrating itself into the life of that state, otherwise it would be politically sterile. This has been the course of development of German social democracy to date, as has been the course of development of the Socialist Party in all countries where it has achieved greater significance." (Eduard Bernstein, “Party Discipline”, Neue Zeit S. 1216). In the debate on the Erfurt Programme, Friedrich Engels decisively opposed the perspective that "today's society is growing into socialism”. But no matter how vehemently Engels denounced this early and open undermining of the programme, such ideas were nevertheless propagated even more offensively and clearly at the end of the 1890s. In 1898 the mouthpiece of reformism, Eduard Bernstein, published "Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie" ("The Prerequisites of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy"), in which he completely renounced the goal of the movement and subordinated everything to the movement itself.

After the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895, Rosa Luxemburg continued these criticisms and comprehensively exposed Bernstein's position and attitude in her pamphlet Sozialreform oder Revolution (Social Reform or Revolution). At the Party Congress of Social Democracy in Hanover in 1899, she said in a speech “on the replacement of capitalist society”: "It is a generally known fact that for over a decade we have had within our ranks a fairly strong tendency in sympathy with Bernstein’s notions, who want to present our current practice as being already socialism, and thus – unconsciously, of course – to transform the socialism for which we are fighting, the only socialism which is not an empty phrase or a figment of the imagination, into a mere revolutionary slogan. Bebel was correct in saying disparagingly that Bernstein’s notions are so confused, so full of implications, that they cannot be grasped in a clear outline without his being able to say that he has been misunderstood. Previously, Bernstein did not write that way. This lack of clarity, these contradictions, should not be attached to him personally, but to the tendency, to the content of his essays. If you follow Party history over the last ten years, and study the transcripts of the Party congresses, you will see that the Bernstein tendency has gradually gotten stronger, but has not yet completely matured. I hope it never will."[3]She emphasized that the party's sinking into the mire was not due to the "bad policies" of the party leadership, but to parliamentarism and the poison of democracy itself. In addition to Rosa Luxemburg as the "voice" of the younger generation, which most resolutely traced the deeper roots of revisionism, some older leaders of the SPD, such as August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, also took a stand against the revisionists.

Around the turn of the century, Bebel was determined to declare war on the revisionists. “The party should know what stage of corruption and betrayal of party interests things have reached.”[4] Social Democracy should continue to advance on the basis of the irreconcilable class struggle against the existing order: "As long as I can breathe and write and speak, things should not change. I want to remain the mortal enemy of this bourgeois society and of this state order”. (ibid). And in 1899, one year before his death, Wilhelm Liebknecht wrote: "I am for the unity of the party - for the national and international unity of the party. But it must be the unity of socialism and the socialists. Unity with opponents, with people who have other goals and other interests, is not a socialist unity.  (...) If we stand firmly on the basis of class struggle we are invincible; if we leave it, we are lost because we are no longer socialists. The strength and power of socialism consists in the fact that we conduct a class struggle, that the working class is exploited and oppressed by the capitalist class and that in capitalist society effective reforms that put an end to class rule and exploitation are impossible. We cannot haggle with our principles, we cannot compromise, we cannot make a deal or a treaty with the ruling system. We must break with the ruling system, fight it to the death. It must fall so that socialism can triumph....[5] But despite this great determination, most of the defenders of the programme lacked the effort to expose the deeper roots. Only Rosa Luxemburg and the few voices around her went into greater depth.

Democratic views undermine unity and discipline

In addition to the programmatic revision, these revisionists also began to undermine the party's organisational foundations. Bernstein, for example, openly pleaded for the toleration of breaches of discipline: "Because before we are party people, we are human beings. (...) Under certain circumstances it may be in the interests of the party and its healthy development not to obey it."[6] In contrast, Rosa Luxemburg stressed that the party could only function through "the unconditional subordination of the individual to the overall will of the organisation as the foundation of our existence as a party (...) And there is no exception, no absolution from the duty of discipline. For discipline either binds everyone in the party, or it is binding on no one."[7] She added: “The sense of social democratic discipline] (...) is the historical and indispensable tool for forging political action for the programme of the Party, in Party congress resolutions and international congress resolutions.”[8]

Discussion club or fighting party?

Heine claimed the right to "freedom of expression", "autonomy" and "free self-determination" in the party. Like Bernstein, Heine justified the constant breach of party discipline in order to avoid "cadaver obedience" to the Party leadership.[9] At the Party congress in Hanover in 1899, Heine demanded the "freedom of unrestricted" criticism, i.e. to say what comes to every member's mind, regardless of whether it agrees with the principles of the organisation or not. Rosa Luxemburg countered: "I said there is not a single party that grants freedom of criticism to such an extent as ours. But if you mean that the Party, in the name of freedom of criticism, should have no right to comment on certain opinions and criticisms of recent times and to declare by majority resolution: we are not on these positions, I must protest against it, because we are not a discussion club, but a political fighting party that must have certain basic views"[10] Kautsky added to this concession to democratic views when, from 1900, he took the view that there must be a "competition of different views" in the Party. In other words, instead of a majority position of the Party there should be co-existence of various positions.

“Mass Party” and the loosening of admission criteria

When the SAPD was founded in Gotha in 1875, the statutes still required members to actively support the party. Around the turn of the century, the opposition between the opportunist and revolutionary wings of social democracy on this question of the statutes became apparent. According to the opportunists the SPD must become a "people's party" that is "open to everyone," because the greatest number of votes is the ultimate goal. The party must therefore not behave like a “sect". The revisionists opposed any adherence to the earlier membership criteria.

One characteristic of the revisionists' demand was for admission criteria as weak as possible or no admission criteria at all. From their point of view, a mass party could and must accept more and more people without active cooperation and without deeper inner conviction. Against the attempt to define the membership criteria more strictly," [Auer] rejected the proposal made by delegates at the Party congress in Mainz as early as 1900 to strengthen the first paragraph of the statutes of the Social Democratic Party by requiring participation in Party work and membership of a Party organisation upon joining the Party. Such demands, Auer claimed, were likely to repel the best people who called themselves Social Democrats from the Party because of the danger of police persecution, etc. "[11] According to the revisionists, active cooperation was no longer necessary. In the case of a mass party that was only geared towards great election successes, one could simply declare one's agreement without actively participating. In reality, the parliamentary focus of the Party's activity led to passivity in the Party's "everyday life" and to the softening of its programme. In the statutes of the SPD, all passages about active cooperation were deleted at the Mainz Party Congress in 1900. No more was said about membership dues - until 1905 there was only talk of permanent "support" through donations.

In addition, the revisionists objected that there was a danger that lists of membership (the SPD had about 385,000 members in 1905) could fall into the hands of the police. For this reason, the statutes of Jena 1905 did not stipulate that every member should participate in "practical work". The danger that the police could proceed repressively against the Party was to some extent exaggerated in order not to oblige the members to participate in the activities.[12] This means that from the turn of the century the Party no longer demanded that members actively participate in Party work. Only a “verbal” commitment to the programme and financial support were required.[13] While in Germany at the turn of the century the question of active cooperation and its definition in the statutes took place against the background of the decline of the Party, this debate took place, as we will see below, in a different context at the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903.

Questioning the very essence of the party...

At the same time, the revisionists in the SPD also began to write articles for bourgeois newspapers. Also Party members put themselves forward for official administrative offices in the state- e.g. the SPD member Lindemann ran for the mayor's office in Stuttgart. During the election campaign, he did not present any of the Social Democratic demands.[14] Until then, the party had refused to allow SPD members to hold public, state-bearing offices. Now the revisionists also pleaded for the state budgets to be approved for budget items that corresponded to the interests of the workers (e.g. education, social insurance). Even though this was not yet advocated at the national level for the Reichstag, there were SPD deputies in some parts of Germany (such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) who supported the budgets of the bourgeois government.[15]

While some voices in the Party supported stronger organisational centralisation, others called for a "federation of associations". Vollmar even warned that a centralised form of organisation would copy the "organisation of the state bureaucracy”.

Behind the deputies’ claim to "autonomy" from the Party and for federalism, one could see in reality the abandonment of the SPD's programmatic positions as a workers' party.[16] All these small steps mentioned above on different levels were far more than a "failure of the leaders", as Rosa Luxemburg emphasised: rather they expressed the process of integration of the Party apparatus into the state. 

Until 1899, the SPD was always confronted with the danger of repression through bans and restrictions on the membership and functioning of the Party (until 1899 there could be no contact between the Party sections). Since 1899, this fetter had fallen due to the abolition of the “liaison commandment” (prohibition of any contact between parts of the Party). Because this process of integration of the Party apparatus into the state was most strongly pushed forward by the MPs, the parliamentary fraction once again advocated the control of the Party executive board by the Reichstag fraction, as it had done at the Haller and Erfurt Party Congress in 1890/1891.[17] Engels opposed such measures.

Waning of theoretical efforts

This revisionism was accompanied by a neglect of theoretical work. Luxemburg had already denounced theoretical weakening in her text "Stagnation and Progress in Marxism" (1903). Also Clara Zetkin had reported on September 11, 1899 in a letter to Karl Kautsky that "there is no lively interest in the discussion of fundamental questions among the masses of our party comrades".[18] How little value was placed on theory at the level of the "leading party functionaries" is shown by the selection criteria and the orientation for their work. The following elements were demanded: "Accurate expression, iron energy, tenacious perseverance in the implementation of decisions made..., and at the same time calm and level-headedness... "[19] The willingness and efforts for theoretical elaboration was not even mentioned. And Heine turned against the "emphasis on the theoretical" because it is a "fundamental error of our German social democracy". His focus was above all the "concern for the present". "The main thing is that we grow. This is class struggle. The other things will be catered for by the future.[20] The refusal to learn the lessons of the past and to focus only on the present was an essential feature of revisionism. This was accompanied by a deadening of the party gatherings themselves. Thus “lukewarmness and indolence” in the party was diagnosed and criticized.[21]

Resistance against the rise of revisionism

At the Party congresses around the turn of the century, the struggle of the forces that wanted to fight against the rise of revisionism increased. At the Dresden Party Congress of 1903, for example, the following resolution was presented: "The Party Congress condemns in the strongest terms revisionist efforts to change our tactics, which had been granted and crowned with victory and based on the class struggle, in the sense that instead of conquering political power by overcoming our opponents, a policy of concessions to the existing order of things takes place. The consequence of such a revisionist tactic would be that from a party that works towards the quickest possible transformation of the existing bourgeois into the socialist social order, i.e. revolutionary in the best sense of the word, a party would emerge that is content with reforming bourgeois society. Therefore, in contrast to the revisionist aspirations existing in the party, the Party Congress is convinced that class differences are not diminishing, but constantly intensifying, and it declares:
1) that the Party rejects the responsibility for the political and economic conditions based on the capitalist mode of production and that it therefore refuses any granting of means suitable to keep the ruling class in government;
2. that, according to the Kautsky resolution of the International Socialist Congress in Paris in 1900, social democracy cannot seek a share of the power to govern within bourgeois society.

In addition, the Congress condemns any attempt to cover up the ever-increasing class antagonisms that exist, in order to facilitate a leaning toward bourgeois parties."[22]

This resolution was tabled by Bebel, Kautsky and Singer and adopted by 288 votes to 11. Many revisionists who had no courage within the Party to vote against the majority voted hypocritically in favour, only later to defend their positions all the more resolutely. The Party Congresses of 1898-1903 show that parts of the Party had started to fight, i.e. the Party was not yet in decline without opposing forces. The Executive Committee, to which proposals and motions for the fight against the revisionists were submitted by the left wing of the party, increasingly tried to avoid the issue. In the summer of 1904, the leadership issued a special statement with the "urgent request to suspend all 'intra-party disputes in the name of unity'". At the Dresden Party Congress, as Paul Frölich reported in his biography of Rosa Luxemburg, on the one hand revisionism had been verbally rejected, but at the same time a fierce and perfidious attack against Franz Mehring was launched at the Party Congress. One can assume that this attack against Mehring was also incited by the revisionists as a kind of counter-offensive, since Mehring belonged to the camp around Rosa Luxemburg at that time.[23] Lenin denounced the "considerate" and "yielding" way in which the SPD dealt with the revisionists in his pamphlet One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. [24]

Does revisionism fade away or does it have to be fought energetically?

Even though this rejection of government participation and budget approval had initially defied the revisionists, the Executive Committee wanted the revisionists to continue working in the ranks of the Party, even though they clearly undermined and abandoned the programme. Many forces underestimated the danger of revisionism. This reflects the permanent pressure of bourgeois ideology to undermine theoretical gains. Many considered it merely a temporary and not life-threatening phenomenon that could be lived with in a "pluralistic, democratic debate" among "equal" voices. Victor Adler explained: "After all, it is no misfortune that we have two currents in the party; the main thing is only that the other (revisionist) remains pretty much in the minority. "[25] Kautsky believed from 1903 onwards that the danger of revisionism was averted, for example, by the resolution of the Dresden Party Congress quoted above. "Theoretical revisionism as a political factor has been buried" at the Dresden Party Congress, he believed.[26] After Kautsky had tolerated and behaved benevolently towards his former bosom friend Bernstein for years, he cherished hope for him, as his speech at the Lübeck Party Congress in 1901 showed: "Bernstein reminded us that he worked as editor of the Social Democrat for ten years. Yes, for ten years he worked for the paper, to our joy and for our benefit, and I wish nothing more eagerly that he returns to this tradition (...) May he renew the old traditions". [27] There were divergent views among the left on the way in which revisionism should be fought. Bebel conveyed to Kautsky the view that opportunism would die a “natural death”. "What crushes revisionism is the internal and external development of Germany, which destroys all its illusions”.[28]  This shows how much even Bebel was mistaken in analysing the character of revisionism. While on the one hand there were forces in the Party that proposed resolutions against revisionism, on the other hand some of the same forces slowed down or blocked a radicalisation of the struggle. "A motion supported by Kautsky, Luxemburg, Zetkin, among others, to put the question of the general strike on the agenda of the next Party Congress, was rejected by a very large majority”[29].

The chains of centrism

The struggle against revisionism was thus made extremely difficult by the emergence of a centrist current that conciliated toward revisionism.[30]

Karl Kautsky personified this trend. He took a stand against revisionism for a time after Rosa Luxemburg's arrival in Germany in 1898, but gradually sneaked away from this struggle. First of all, he had only reacted after Rosa Luxemburg had "whipped him forward", so to speak. He was reluctant to speak up against his old friend Bernstein, and then began to slowly sabotage the struggle against revisionism.

The comparison between the role of Kautsky, who was regarded as the great authority of marxism after Engels’ death, and Plekhanov, who played an essential role in the spreading of marxism and the workers' movement in Russia, is revealing. Plekhanov openly denounced ‘Mr Bernstein’, but Kautsky was reluctant to take a stand; he made theoretical statements, but looked down on "organisational questions" and he increasingly avoided confrontation with the revisionists. Even if his special personal relationship with Bernstein contributed to holding him back, he distinguished himself above all through his lack of willingness to fight. Instead, he advocated reconciliation with the revisionists and expressed the hope that Bernstein could be brought back on the right course. When Bernstein was attacked at the Party Congress in Hanover in 1899 and in subsequent Party Congresses, Kautsky argued that Bernstein should not be excluded from the Party, as this was only possible with members who were "dishonourable, insult the party or contravene Party decisions. Bernstein does neither one thing nor the other. His attitude is not one of decisive opposition, but of general fuzziness. One cannot force anyone to be consistent."[31] This attitude of whitewashing and downplaying the fact that Bernstein rejected the goal of overthrowing capitalism weakened the determination of the left and strengthened the danger of the revisionists. The devastating role of centrism was to have serious repercussions during the years before the war but also after 1914, as it caused an enormous weakening of revolutionary work in the form of the USPD founded in 1917. Kautsky and the centrists obstructed a larger gathering of left forces because they watered down the antagonisms.[32] With the revisionists and reformists, there was "normally no conflict of interests, no class antagonism, but merely a difference of opinion about the best way to achieve the common goal."[33] Lenin, who recognized Kautsky's character and real role only late, wrote in 1914: "Rosa Luxemburg was right when she wrote long ago that Kautsky had the 'servility of the theorist', the creepiness, more simply, the creepiness before the majority of the party, before opportunism.” [34]

The breach over the struggles in Russia in 1905

After the first wildcat strikes in Pennsylvania in 1900, Belgium in 1902, Holland in 1903, Hungary in 1904 and many other countries, the revolutionary struggles in Russia in 1905 for the first time produced a new form of struggle - the workers’ councils.[35]

Under the influence of these events, criticism grew stronger, especially in German Social Democracy and later also in the Netherlands, of the almost exclusive focus on parliamentary elections and the unionised struggle. "For a year now, the Reichstag elections have been the keynote and buzzword in all our actions. In this way, the masses are systematically fascinated by the constant repetitions of the election propaganda; they are involuntarily made to have exaggerated hopes, as if the election results meant a kind of new era in the political history of Germany, a turning point in the fate of the class struggle (...) Our party life as the expression of the overall interests of the proletarian class struggle has its manifold sides, which must not be neglected for any temporary tactical purpose. We have tasks that are of a permanent nature, that extend beyond the forthcoming Reichstag elections and must not be postponed under any circumstances"[36] This meant swimming against the stream in the Party, because the spectacular increase in members and votes for the SPD at first sight seemed to confirm the policy of "parliamentary tactics only". For the period between 1878 and 1906, the number of members can only be estimated. Before the Socialist Law it was about 35,000; after the end of the Socialist Law (1890) about 75,000; around the turn of the century about 100,000, after which it rose sharply, but only slowly during the economic crises of 1907-1909 and 1912/1913.[37]

Development of membership 1905-1914



growth in comparison to previous year (in %)




























In 1905 the Leipziger Volkszeitung criticised the Party for being too strongly oriented towards parliamentary struggle, saying there was a danger that social democracy would remain a "mere electoral mechanism".

"The more our organisations grow, comprising hundreds of thousands and millions, the more centralism inevitably grows. But the small amount of intellectual and political content, initiative and decision that the organisations develop in the everyday life of the Party is thus transferred entirely to the small circles at the top: to the executive committees of the associations, the district councils and the parliamentarians. What remains for the great majority of the members are the duties to pay dues, to distribute flyers, to vote and to campaign for the elections, to go knocking at the doors and collect newspaper subscriptions and so forth."[38]

While among the revisionists the feeling of the "invincibility" of the Party increased as a result of these quantitative successes, many workers also had the feeling that the Party was becoming more and more powerful thanks to its many seats in parliament. In reality life in the Party itself had on the one hand become increasingly shallow, while on the other there was an ever- closer fusion between the trade union apparatus, parliamentarians and the state apparatus. "Between social democracy and the bourgeois world, a spiritual osmosis was created through which toxins of bourgeois decomposition could freely penetrate the blood circulation of the proletarian party body.” [39] 

Denunciation of revisionism

"The revisionists constantly attack the programme, repeatedly violate the party's principles, but always avoiding a clear and unambiguous definition of their position. (...) [The revisionists] have been fooling around with all the basic principles of the social democratic world views. Some have thrown historical materialism overboard, others the theory of the law of value. The concept of class struggle - they said - needed to be complemented, Marx's theory of crisis, the theory of ground rent has in their eyes become questionable. (...) In German social democracy, we have become in part terribly indifferent to political matters, because the opportunity to develop political actions is so small. This circumstance benefits the revisionists. Despite all their defeats, they have defended their territory, because the organised workers were all too often indifferent to what happened in the editorial offices, in the parliaments, in the city councils. (...) This need for peace then led to the flourishing of revisionism in some Party organs, although the members of the Party section that has to decide on the organ is far removed from revisionism... In a sense, a party within the Party has emerged, a clique has developed. (...) There is a plan behind this. (...) Clique politics were pursued against the will of the overwhelming majority of the party. Ten years ago [1898] the political-theoretical struggle for the Party's principles was started at the Stuttgart Party Congress. In this struggle the revisionists suffered defeat after defeat. Now it is no longer necessary to defend the theoretical principles, but to decide in Nuremberg whether the Party may be raped by the clique. We need to put an unbreakable stop to the tricks of those who want to trample on the formal and moral law in the Party. "[40] Hermann Duncker also pointed out that a power apparatus had developed in the party which became more and more autonomous.  "But the masses are paralysed by the civil servants. Like a noose, the official and functionary body strangles the masses. It is the terrible dark side of the bureaucracy.[41]

The right wing united

As early as the early 1890s, the right had begun to build closer ties among themselves. Engels spoke of "special bonds", even of a kind of gang.[42] On 6 October 1903 Zetkin wrote to Bebel "The revisionists 'work' apparently according to a masterplan and according to an agreed scheme (...) We are facing a total conspiracy (...) Looking away with silence and trying to cover up and letting grass grow over it would amount to tarnishing the Party with the stigma of this deepest corruption. "[43] At the Dresden Party Congress in 1903, the revisionists held a special conference.[44] Contact between certain circles of the bourgeoisie and leading forces of the parliamentary fraction was also increasingly intensified. "Under the cover of ‘education’ and ‘general human culture’, social democratic parliamentarians met with bourgeois journalists on beautiful winter evenings to ‘recover from the hardships of the profession’ and the ‘political talking shop’."[45] 

Since the turn of the century, leading opportunists had rallied around Heine and Vollmar, among others, who met regularly for "beer evenings" or "Thursday evenings". The increasing number of meetings between representatives of the revisionists and certain capitalist circles had not escaped the attention of the revolutionary forces. Bebel wrote to Karl Liebknecht on 10.11.1908 that these beer evenings "brought together the entire revisionist clique”.[46] In addition to this rapprochement of the right in separate meetings of all kinds (amongst each other in the party or with certain circles of the bourgeoisie), a smear campaign in the SPD was also fanned against the forces fighting against degeneration. Every voice, whether from the ranks of the SPD itself or from abroad, which critically dealt with the revisionists and the Party leadership, was combatted with great determination and in a very perfidious manner.[47] We have documented this in detail in an earlier article. [48]

The SPD - stronghold of international revisionism

The revisionism that had emerged at that time had reached particularly strong proportions and a special significance in Germany due to the charisma and outstanding position of German Social Democracy, which had more than one million members. For a long time, Kautsky was almost regarded as the "Pope of Marxism," and Bernstein appeared internationally as the "mouthpiece” of revisionism. Revisionism was by no means limited to Germany, however: in France, for example, Millerand had joined the French government which contained Gaston, Marquis de Galliffet, the butcher of the Paris Communards in 1871. In Italy, the reformist movement around Turati and the revue La Critica Sociale represented the majority at the Imola Congress in 1902.

The 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party 1903 and the SPD

In other articles of our press, we have dealt in detail with the background and the course of the 2nd Party Congress of the RSDLP[49]

As already explained in more detail in this article, it was a time of approaching historical upheavals, the transition from the ascendant to the decadent phase of capitalism. One feature of this process was that the conditions for the existence or formation of a mass party were slowly disintegrating. While in a mass party there could be relatively passive members, a party in the decadent phase of capitalism demanded more active participation than ever before. It was no longer enough to be mainly an election campaigner; instead, the party was to become a numerically small but combative party, dependent on the active commitment of all its members. Even though Lenin could not yet feel this upheaval so clearly during the discussion of the statutes at the 2nd Party Congress in 1903, this change hovered above the party and in this respect the debate anticipated the debate on the new conditions for the party's role that arose barely 20 years later from 1919 onwards[50].

Democratism and hostility to centralisation in the SPD

When the opportunist Wolfgang Heine advocated a defence of local autonomy, Lenin pointed out the parallels in thinking between people like Heine and the Mensheviks. "Wolfgang Heine wrote in an article printed in April 1904 by Sozialistischen Monatshefte against the interference of the ‘appointed authorities’, i.e. the party executive, in the activities of the social democratic organizations. Heine played himself up as a pioneer of the ‘democratic principle’ and rebelled against the allegedly dangerous ‘tendency towards bureaucratisation and centralisation of the party’ (Wolfgang Heine, “Demokratische Randbemerkungen zum Fall Göhre”. In Sozialistische Monatshefte, 1904, No. 4, p. 281-291). Heine borrowed his most important conclusions from Martov's brochure Again in the Minority and his speech at the Second Party Congress in order to play the local party institutions off against the central ones and to warn the party against a ‘doctrinal policy’ in which ‘all important political decisions would be taken from one central office’. He opposed the notion of discipline in the first place. Heine opposed ‘the creation of an all-encompassing large organisation, as centralised as possible, a tactic, a theory.  These warnings against the degradation, ‘deadening’, ‘bureaucratisation’ of the free ideological struggle and the demand for ‘freedom of criticism’ as well as for ‘absolutely individual ideological creativeness’ were the concentrated expression of individualism ..."[51] Within the SPD, the effort to abandon centralisation and undermine the authority of Party Congresses expressed a clear revision and regression. The position adopted at the beginning of the 1890s at the Haller/Erfurt Congress that the sovereignty of the Congress should be implemented by the central bodies of the Congress and that these should be binding on all Party members and instances was rejected here. On the other hand, the insistence on the submission to Party decisions in the ranks of the RSDLP meant a clear step forward from the previously prevailing circle spirit. The revisionists in the SPD and the Mensheviks at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP blew the same horn

Reactions in Germany in 1903 to the conflict in the RSDLP: a dispute between people or about principles?

A few weeks after the 2nd Party Congress of the RSDLP, the SPD Party Congress took place, unhindered by any harassment from the police in Dresden.[52] In December 1903, the SPD press reported on this Party Congress for the first time. Half a year later Rosa Luxemburg's criticism of the Bolsheviks' position "Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" appeared[53]. When Lenin answered her a short time later, Kautsky as editor of the Neue Zeit refused to publish his article.[54] The "news of the Russian dispute" would be detrimental to the sympathies of the German Social Democrats for the Russian Social Democrats in both directions. "It is a ‘family dispute’ that has no ‘international significance’, Lenin has begun this ‘sinister dispute’."[55] Kautsky described the dispute between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks as a "personal dispute" as a result of "purely personal hostilities" between the leaders of both fractions. (Kautsky, Letter to Axelrod 14.2.1905). He further claimed "We do not yet know your Lenin, and we cannot believe him just like that "[56] As Lenin later stated, Vorwärts did not bring out a single article with an objective assessment of the Bolsheviks' activity, while in Neue Zeit Mensheviks and Trotsky wrote several disparaging articles.[57] From Kautsky's point of view, the question of party membership was "not a matter of principle". In the columns of the Menshevik Iskra he claimed that the "majority must not impose its will on the minority", but must agree with it on the basis of "the greatest possible mutual concessions". Thus, the position of the Erfurt Party Congress was rejected, according to which Party Congress resolutions were binding and thus minorities had to accept and implement majority resolutions. 

Party support in the SPD for the Mensheviks

Another reason why the SPD party leadership and the wing around Kautsky avoided taking position on the fight in the RSDLP was that the SPD was actually taking sides with the Mensheviks. "If”, Kautsky wrote, "I had to choose between Martov and Lenin, I would speak out in favour of Martov on the basis of all our experience in Germany”. [58] Kautsky intended to publish an article against the Bolsheviks in Iskra. Overall, there were hardly any voices from the SPD supporting the position of the Bolsheviks at that time.

The SPD afflicted by democratism and anti-centralisation tendencies

In addition, Kautsky's profound divergence with the Bolsheviks on organisational issues became apparent: he believed that the principle of autonomy, to which he attributed the successes of German social democracy in the years of the Socialist Law, should become the determining organisational principle of the RSDLP. As developed earlier, a certain autonomy of local Party units was inevitable at the time of the Socialist Law, but since the end of the Socialist Law and especially after the abolition of any restrictions on the functioning of the SPD at the turn of the century, there was no justification for these protective measures of local sections in the form of a certain autonomy from the Party as a whole. In reality, this was a localist, anti-centralisation view that was an expression of the prevailing federalist conceptions in the Second International.

These various aspects (an attempt to play down or conceal divergences, taking sides with the Mensheviks, presenting the question of principles as a dispute between persons, rejection of centralisation, rejection of the point of the statutes demanding active participation in the party) illustrate the regression of parts of the SPD at that time.

At the same time, the statutes of the other parties of the Second International were no clearer regarding membership and centralisation.[59]

The different "objective" conditions between Germany and Russia

While the majority in the SPD did not understand what was at stake at the RSDLP's 2nd Party Congress, and while parts of them had taken position openly for the Mensheviks, one could argue that this perception of the struggle in Russia was shaped by the different objective conditions and thus in a way distorted.

In fact, there were great differences between the situations of the two parties. In Germany, there were signs of a political decline of the party, as evidenced, among other things, by a degenerating Reichstag fraction. The feeble executive committee, which was "pushed" only by the initiative "from below", by the mass of party members, showed increasingly clear revisionist traits and a growing integration into the state. Therefore, in those years Rosa Luxemburg placed the emphasis on mass activity, "initiative from below", "spontaneity", vigilance, independent thinking of the base. She rightly showed a "mistrust" towards a powerful leadership which was increasingly acting in an autonomous manner. In Russia, on the other hand, there was no comparable "oppressive weight" of a central organ, but a struggle where the circle spirit had to be banished by the party spirit and the Congress resolutions had to be respected at all cost. 

While revolutionaries in Russia always struggled with much more drastic repression under the conditions of illegality under the Tsar, and while this illegality did not prevent the Party from making the question of membership and active cooperation a central issue at the 2nd Party Congress in 1903, the objection of the "veteran" SPD leader, Auer, that a commitment to active participation could lead to exposure to the state, was above all an opportunistic excuse, a concession to bourgeois democracy and its pernicious mechanisms.

Implementation of party congress resolutions by the central organ, or rule of the circle spirit?

In our article in IR118[60] we dealt in detail with the divergences between Lenin and Luxemburg and criticised the shortcomings of Rosa Luxemburg's approach. In her article "Organisational Question of Russian Social Democracy" she warned, among other things, against "ultra-centralism"; the party leadership should not be "endowed with such absolute powers" as "Lenin does".[61]In his reply to Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin stressed that he did not defend "ruthless centralism", but the elementary party discipline violated by the Mensheviks. He did not regard the Central Committee as the "real active core of the party", but only defended its statutory rights. He only demanded that the Central Committee represent the direction of the Party majority. Lenin wrote: "our controversy has principally been over whether the Central Committee and Central Organ should represent the trend of the majority of the Party Congress, or whether they should not.” [62]… "she prefers to declaim against mechanical subordination of the part to the whole, against slavish submission, blind obedience, and other such bogeys. I am very grateful to Comrade Luxemburg for explaining the profound idea that slavish submission is very harmful to the Party, but I should like to know: does the comrade consider it normal for supposed party central institutions to be dominated by the minority of the Party Congress? — can she imagine such a thing? — has she ever seen it in any party?

[The Comrade] prefers to grumble against the mechanical subjugation of a part to the whole, against cadaver obedience, against blind subordination and similar ghosts. I am very grateful to comrade Luxemburg for the presentation of the most witty idea that cadaver obedience is very harmful to the party, but I would like to know: does the comrade consider it normal, can she allow it, has she ever seen in any party that in the central authorities, which call themselves party authorities, the minority of the party congress can dominate?” Lenin also replied that "(...)  the time is past when a Party institution could be supplanted by a private circle". [63]

The construction of the organisation - a “spontaneous” mirror of the dynamics in the class or a conscious effort?

In view of the experience with the crushing and paralysing weight of the German party leadership, against which a mobilisation of "the base" was necessary, Luxemburg concluded that "the proletarian army recruits itself only in the struggle and only in the struggle does it become clear about the tasks of the struggle. (...) The great masses must act in their own way, be able to unfold their mass energy, their energy, they must act as masses, act, develop passion, courage and determination."[64] While Rosa Luxemburg was right in 1905 in her analysis of the significance of the mass strike movement and the inner driving force, the spontaneity, of the class, it must be emphasised that the initiative of the class alone is not enough. In order to carry out a revolution successfully, a revolutionary organisation is indispensable, but it does not come about by the spontaneity of the masses alone. It is the result of years, even decades, of tough struggle in which positions and principles must be worked out and defended. Even if Luxemburg agreed to this necessity, her emphasis, marked by experience, especially in Germany, was on the fact that the great mass of party members had to push the "leadership". "The masses must come to the fore in order to push the party's ship forward, then they can confidently look to the future.”[65] And she feared, in the light of German experience, that too strong a “centralist” leadership would only lead to the victory of opportunism. But the roots of opportunism lay not only in bourgeois parliamentarism, whose weight in Germany was much more overwhelming than in Russia. In other words, the dispute between Luxemburg and Lenin was about the question of how the organisation should be built and what the relationship between spontaneity and consciousness in the revolutionary movement was. The revolutionary organisation cannot simply be the "mirror" of the class itself, and its role must not depend on the degree and extent of spontaneity of the working class. The emphasis on the need for spontaneity in Rosa Luxemburg after the mass strike first appeared in 1905, and for the initiative and vigilance of the broad Party masses against a fickle or opportunistic leadership, in whose hands centralisation actually became a tool for strangling the activity of the Party base, was entirely correct, but it must not be placed on the same footing as building the party.[66] There is a danger here of blurring the distinction between class and party.

In a sense, the construction of the organisation must "precede" the action of the class, because revolutionary organisations must not wait until the class is “ready and mature enough" to build the organisation, because the maturation and ability of the class to radicalise also depends on the intervention of the revolutionaries themselves.

Perhaps here we can see deeper weaknesses in the view of Rosa Luxemburg, who, while carrying out a very combative and lucid exposure of the direction being followed by the revisionists of and the strangulation policy of the SPD leadership, neglected the component of active efforts to build the organisation. Even if this was only one aspect of the revolutionaries' weaknesses, as we will see below, there may have been signs of what the GCF diagnosed decades later:

"History was to masterfully confirm Lenin's position. Without going into the examination of other multiple factors of the Russian situation, we can affirm that, if in October 1917 the proletarian revolution triumphed, it is due above all to the realisation of this decisive condition, to the existence of this party that Lenin tirelessly forged for 20 years. On the other hand, 1918 in Germany was to bring the defeat of the revolution, one of the causes of which, and not the least, in spite of the magnificent and heroic combativeness of the masses, was the late formation of the party, hence its inexperience, its hesitation and its inability to lead the revolution to victory. This was the price and the experimental invalidation of Rosa Luxemburg's theory of the spontaneity of the revolutionary movement.”[67]

The leading apparatus feels threatened by the mass strike and the spontaneity of the working class.

Particularly after the 1905 mass strikes in Russia, the SPD and trade union leaders felt that the workers' own initiative, the unfolding of mass strikes, the drawing together of the forces of the working class into workers’ councils, etc., and the lessons and orientations to be drawn from them, especially from Rosa Luxemburg in "Mass Strike, Party and Trade Unions," and Pannekoek in "Tactical Differences in the Labour Movement," would become a threat to them. In their view, everything that came from Russia - mass strikes, workers’ councils, the Russian party - especially the Bolsheviks - was not only viewed with suspicion, but also rejected with great arrogance. 

A lack of Fraction work....

In the history of the revolutionary movement there had been setbacks, repression, dispersion, and also the actual dissolution of the Communist League and the First International. The revolutionary movement had also gained experience in the struggle against opportunism, anarchism and adventurism. But never before had a party degenerated, and therefore the revolutionary movement had no experience in the defence of the organisation against it.

How to fight degeneration?

First of all, it was a great challenge to recognise this danger of degeneration. Although Marx, Engels and Bebel had already exposed the first opportunist and revisionist signs in the 1880s, when revisionism took on a more solid form in the 1890s and was virtually elaborated into a programme by Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg was the first to put this development into a deeper theoretical-programmatic framework with her text "Social Reform or Revolution". During that period she most clearly exposed the incompatibility of the revisionist orientation and marxism. At the same time, there was a need to analyse the deeper causes and the challenge posed by the imminent upheaval in the development of capitalism itself, whose ascending phase was coming to an end, and where the first signs of decadence could be seen.

The respective upheavals, such as the gradual integration of the trade union apparatus into the state apparatus and the subjugation of the Party to the trade unions,[68] the emergence of the workers' councils in Russia in 1905 and the new phenomenon of the mass strike, and the identification of a large part of the Party apparatus with the parliamentarians at the head with the state, the blunting of the Party by democratism and the increasing erosion of the willingness to fight - all these slowly recognisable signs were part of a far-reaching and inter-connected transformation. But the revolutionary forces at the time did not succeed in putting these phenomena into a clear context.

The background was the increasing integration of the Party apparatus into the state, indeed the identification of the trade unions and the Party itself with the state. Although this process was most clearly embodied by the leaders, the parliamentary fraction and the trade union functionaries, it was not limited to a few people. That is why no quick, determined expulsion of the revisionists would have solved the problem, as it was the product of a general process of decay in which the conditions of the struggle in society as a whole changed. This could only to be felt as the germ of an idea at that time.

The other parties in the Second International were also not aware of the extent of the process of decline. Since most of the parties were blinded by the SPD's election successes, and the SPD was therefore almost glorified internationally as well, the awareness of this dynamic emerged only very late. In Russia you could find some of the biggest admirers of the SPD.[69]

Nevertheless, the most determined forces had declared an unyielding fight against this process of decline. The clashes at the Hanover Party Congress of 1899 to the Dresden Party Congress of 1903 reflect this determination.

Fraction work before the war

Germany was a main battlefield in the international struggle between revisionism and the defenders of marxism. While we have dealt here in more detail with the reaction in the SPD to developments in the RSDLP, one must actually take into account the situation in the other countries in order to gain a more comprehensive insight. For reasons of space, we have not done so here. However, even during these years of debate on the organisation question, it became clear that a major difference between the RSDLP and the SPD (and essentially the same was true of the other parties in Europe) existed already at that time. With the Bolsheviks and Lenin, a determined pole had crystallised in the RSDLP, one that defended respect for party decisions, whereas in the SPD there were mainly individual voices against opportunism, like that of Rosa Luxemburg or partly still that of Bebel, but they did not appear as a strong, unified force and did not become an effective counter-pole. The Bolsheviks and the left forces in Germany did not differ in their willingness to fight, their intransigence and their lack of compromise. But the left forces in the SPD lacked unity, cohesion and the capacity for joint action.

After revisionism clearly appeared in 1890 at the Haller and Erfurt Party Congress, and it was still resolutely exposed by the left forces and partly kept under control, some comrades of the left wing in the SPD still felt around 1900 that the revisionists had been sufficiently exposed at the Hanover Party Congress in 1899 and in Dresden in 1903. But while revisionism had been officially denounced in party resolutions and rejected by a majority, in reality it had penetrated ever deeper into the SPD through the back door, so to speak.

As mentioned above, the events of 1905, when on the one hand the mass strike of the workers in Russia announced the new conditions of class struggle in decadent capitalism, and on the other hand the aggravation of the danger of war, demonstrated by the war between Japan and Russia and later by mounting tensions between the European powers, were to make clear that increasingly rampant revisionism could only be pushed back by an opposition that had concentrated and fused its forces.[70]

Despite this development, however, neither within the SPD nor at the international level were sufficient steps taken to weld the internationalist and anti-revisionist forces together. At the same time, Lenin remained relatively unknown outside the scope of the Russian party. "This fractional work of Lenin was carried out only within the Russian party, without any attempt to take it to the international level. It is enough to read his speeches at the various congresses to be convinced that this work remained completely unknown outside the Russian sphere.”  [71]

Joint action against the threat of war but not in defence of the organisation

At the Congress of the Second International, held in Stuttgart in 1907, where it was accompanied by a 60,000 strong demonstration against the war, a resolution was adopted against the threat of war, which was jointly drafted by Lenin, Luxemburg and Martov and went beyond the original, hesitant one drafted by Bebel. This testified to the determination of the left, internationalist forces to work together to counter the threat of war across all national borders. But in the parties as a whole, resistance to the danger of war was not further intensified. The same was repeated later at the Congresses in Copenhagen in 1910 and Basel in 1912. In retrospect, one must say that the cooperation of the left forces took place almost exclusively at the Congresses and through these proclamations against the danger of war; in the struggle against revisionism and around the organisation question they remained largely fragmented.

While the growing danger of war demanded more than just joint action and resolutions at congresses and, the divergences on the organisation question prevented the left forces from moving closer together. This was all the more tragic since, as mentioned above, the right and the revisionists had long since moved closer together.

Paul Frölich reports in his autobiography that there were only contacts among each other in individual cities, but there were no cross-city efforts towards a common approach, a welding, let alone centralisation of the opposition within the SPD.[72] One of the lessons learned from the struggle for the organisation at the Hague Congress more than 30 years earlier had been that Bakunin's conspiracy could only be fended off by the decisive action of the General Council of the First International. A loose cooperation is not enough: a solid, well-organised front has to be built up. It’s true that there were approaches towards this at the 1910 Party Congress in Magdeburg or the 1911 Party Congress in Jena, when left-wing delegates came together for special consultations.[73] The left were also more strongly represented in some cities, especially in the editorial offices of the many newspapers and magazines of the SPD, but there were no steps towards a common press. In 1913, after they had been muzzled one after the other, Rosa Luxemburg and other left forces resigned from the Leipziger Volkszeitung, and from December 1913 published Sozialdemokratische Korrespondenz (Social Democratic Correspondence). "The three of us, and I particularly want to emphasise this, are of the opinion that the Party is going through an internal crisis, much, much more difficult than at the time when revisionism was emerging. The word may be hard, but it is my conviction that the Party threatens to fall into decay if it continues like this. In such a situation, there is only one salvation for a revolutionary party: the sharpest, most ruthless self-criticism imaginable. That's why I think the role of the Leipziger Volkszeitung, in accordance with its previous tradition, is that it has to pursue these tasks day after day now." [74]

Looking back, one can see that before the war no network of left forces had been established that could have represented a solid organisational counter-pole and bridge in the dramatic period after 1914, when the party leadership had betrayed internationalism. As a result, the left forces had not learned to cooperate as an independent fraction within the SPD and within the Second International as a whole. In short, while on the one hand the Bolsheviks within the RSDLP fought a relentless struggle against all kinds of opportunist and liquidationist forces, gaining years of important fighting experience for the organisation and also learning how to deal with divergences without the organisation breaking apart, the left forces within social democracy in Germany did not acquire a comparable fund of experience.

In the SPD, "working groups" were formed, but they could never represent the fighting pole that the Bolsheviks had achieved for years within the RSDLP. The left never went beyond some small steps here and there. 

From autumn 1910, "Karl-Marx-Klubs" were founded in some southern German cities, in which left forces came together. The right-wing forces mobilised immediately against their existence. In Stuttgart in 1910, the left succeeded in bringing the Social Democratic Association under their influence. Above all the writings and the appearance of the group around Rosa Luxemburg leaves no doubt that they fought fearlessly, but this resistance remained fragmented and its force of attraction as a counter-pole remained too weak. Certainly, the fact that the SPD had more than a million members favoured the inertia of the masses, who had never acquired this fighting spirit anyway. As a result of this insufficiently discernible counter-pole, there was not a clear demarcation from the centre and the revisionists. While the dogma of unity was still being put forward in the public sphere, the Party was in fact already being torn apart internally. But the internationalist, revolutionary counter-pole could not be distinguished clearly enough, either in the Party or in the class as a whole. In the course of the war, especially in 1917 and 1918, the result was that many workers could not see clearly enough the difference between the SPD, the USPD, and the Spartacists and other revolutionary left forces. In a degenerating organisation, the resistance to this degeneration also demands an independent organisation WITHIN the party, to weld together the most lucid elements and prepare the future. Because these efforts were lacking, in 1914, when it came to organising resistance in conditions of illegality, there were no adequate channels and networks of left forces to discuss, clarify and act. 

They were not prepared for illegality, although the danger of war and the consequent worsening of the conditions for the work of the revolutionaries had been recognised for years. The war also meant  that the fight against the traitors had to be put on a new level![75] The fixation on elections, on parliamentary work, i.e. the whole framework of bourgeois democracy, had led to a certain paralysis and neglect of the experience of revolutionaries from earlier struggles.[76] While the left wing had observed and denounced the increasing opportunist mire and the open rejection of principles, especially when it came to the question of war, the revolutionaries had not really consistently adjusted to this. 

As mentioned above, the left forces in the SPD at the end of the 1890s included leading figures such as Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Karl Kautsky. It quickly became clear, however, that Kautsky wanted to avoid the fight against revisionism, and that he could only be persuaded to take a stand against Bernstein after considerable pressure from Rosa Luxemburg. After 1903-1905 he behaved in a more and more openly centrist manner, while abroad he was regarded for a long time as a theoretical leader, even as the "Pope of Marxism". The demarcation from such "theoretically" renowned, but centrist forces is a difficult undertaking. And personalities known as leaders such as Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, who had always gained great prestige through their appearance in parliament, proved incapable of leading a determined opposition against the revisionists.[77] Rosa Luxemburg, who resisted the revisionists most fiercely and courageously, and whose programmatic views formed the clearest antithesis to them, was often given a very enthusiastic hearing at meetings despite the whole smear campaign against her [78], but the "best", "clearest" and most well-known leaders are not enough to establish an effective opposition. Organised, joint fraction work is needed. There must be a conscious effort to unite the various forces of resistance. Rosa Luxemburg never formed an independent left current around her. She and her group failed to gather the various forces in Germany around themselves. Was it because she herself perhaps underestimated the necessity of uniting the left forces?[79] Instead, a distance was kept and, in some cases, a certain distrust prevailed among various left forces. There were several factors that played a role. We will discuss some of them below.

The danger of tail-endism

Well into the first decade of the 20th century, the SPD enjoyed a huge international reputation within the Second International, especially in Russia. German Social Democracy was "at the forefront of all social democratic parties in terms of the organisation and unity of the movement, the wealth and content of Marxist literature. "[80] Among other things, because it was the strongest mass party in terms of numbers and the greatest electoral success, it was regarded as a model. Internationally, the impressive numbers of votes here also obscured the fact that the worm was already in the Party’s bud.[81] Most parts of the 2nd International had not seen or had underestimated the SPD's process of degeneration. Experience shows that the idealisation of a part of the workers' movement is always problematic, especially when it turns into a completely uncritical tail-ending. This was partly the case on the part of the Mensheviks towards the right-wing and centrist forces in the SPD, but as mentioned above, Lenin himself was for a long time full of praise for the SPD and for Kautsky in particular. [82]

The policy of the 2nd International towards the Russian Party

We have already referred in other articles to the particularities of the conditions and functioning of the Second International, and shown that a process of decline cannot be halted in one country on its own, but requires the international union of the left forces.

On the programmatic level, there was a very big heterogeneity among the left forces - on the one hand, in the Netherlands and in Germany criticism was voiced of “parliamentarism only" and of the rottenness of the trade unions. These were questions that the revolutionaries in Russia did not particularly focus on, since in Russia itself they were not so directly confronted with the overwhelming weight of parliamentarism and trade union work.

At the organisational level, there was no International Bureau in the International until 1900, and within the 2nd International, apart from the question of war, there was almost no joint cooperation among the left forces.

When, for example, Lenin was severely attacked by the Mensheviks and also by Trotsky after 1903, the divergences between Luxemburg and Lenin certainly prevented her from defending Lenin against the insults and calumnies of the Mensheviks, Trotskyists and Social Revolutionaries. And while the SPD was whipping up a campaign against Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin did not come to her aid. Perhaps he would have behaved differently if he had known the true extent of this campaign. In short, one must speak of a lack of solidarity and an insufficient sense of belonging together among the left in the 2nd International. For example, the "left" forces in the Netherlands acted either mostly only locally or without sufficient coordination with the left voices in the SPD and the 2nd International as a whole.[83] When the struggle at the 2nd Party Congress of the RSDLP in 1903 became known in the 2nd International, the SPD proposed in 1905 that an "attempt at unification" between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks should be undertaken with the help of an "arbitration tribunal”. The Mensheviks associated the proposal of an arbitration tribunal with the hope that the majority position of the Bolsheviks could be defeated. Lenin rejected this approach and insisted that these issues should be decided by a party conference itself and not by an international arbitration tribunal, since they were political tendencies "that are accepted or rejected by the party but cannot be justified or condemned by a party arbitration court".[84] Finally, the SPD proposal of an arbitration court was dropped. Even after it was renewed by the ISB in June 1905, the Bolsheviks again rejected it for the same reasons.

In the almost decade-long confrontations between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, the SPD repeatedly pushed for "reunification" of the two wings, even though their two directions were irreconcilably opposed. 

Even when the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was carried out at the 7th RSDLP Conference in Prague in January 1912, the SPD, and above all the forces around Rosa Luxemburg, were still pushing for the reunification of the two wings.[85] They were thus explicitly opposed to Lenin's position. In March 1912, Vorwärts also published an article in which the Bolsheviks were described as usurpers and dividers. The SPD refused to publish Lenin's answer. Lenin then wrote a pamphlet in German.[86]   

The divergences between the "Left wing" in Poland and the RSDLP on the national question - an aggravating factor

Since the end of the 1890s, a divergence had arisen in the 2nd International around the question of nationalities, which was of particular importance for the relationship between the revolutionaries from Poland and Lithuania and the RSDLP, especially the Bolsheviks. The group around Rosa Luxemburg had been the first to reject the possibility of Poland's national autonomy.[87] The following years were determined by the persistence of these divergences, especially between Lenin and Luxembourg.[88] Although these divergences never prevented the Bolsheviks and the wing around Rosa Luxemburg from defending internationalism, they nevertheless acted as an obstacle in the relationship between the two sides. At the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in 1903 this question was to be put on the agenda. Due to the debate about the statutes and the question of the circle spirit, however, this debate was not held at the 2nd Party Congress. 

The significance of this divergence for the relationship between the Bolsheviks and the wing around Luxemburg/Jogiches is difficult to assess - at any rate it contributed to the comrades in the SPD, who came from Poland, keeping their distance from the Bolsheviks.[89]

The weight of divergences in dealing with "questions of behaviour” and conflicts in the organisation

The relationship between the left forces from Poland and the Bolsheviks was also hampered by another factor: from 1904 Karl Radek was accused of misconduct in the Polish SDKPL; in the following years he was also accused of further minor misconduct. After the first investigation of the case - the theft of a coat from a comrade - he was expelled from the Polish party years after the crime. Since Radek now lived in Germany and was a member of the SPD, the SPD executive initiated proceedings to expel him from the SPD at the insistence of Luxemburg/Jogiches, among others; but comrades from Bremen resisted. Among them were Frölich, Knief, Pannekoek, i.e. members of the left-wing SPD wing in the Hanseatic city. They set up a commission of inquiry that "acquitted" Radek, in contrast to the SPD Party Conference. In 1913 the Russian party had also investigated Radek's case and "acquitted" him. Thus Radek was considered to be rehabilitated by the Russian party and the Bremen section (or parts of it), but excluded by the SPD leadership and the Central Committee of the Polish Party.[90] Because there was no joint action within the various parties of the Second International, and because no one knew how to proceed with contrary conclusions of investigative commissions on such issues, the relationship between Luxemburg's group, the Bremen Left, and the Bolsheviks, in particular, was made even more difficult.

 Transmission and fighting spirit...

As mentioned before, several gaps in the transmission of experience and fighting spirit had arisen in the development of social democracy:

- the lessons of the Hague Congress (1872) were not followed up;

- the generation of militants who had maintained the organisation at the time of the Socialist Law could not pass this fighting spirit on to the next generation, which was paralysed by the poison of parliamentarism and democracy;

- the lessons of the 1903 Bolshevik struggle were neither understood nor passed on.

Also as mentioned above, as revisionism and opportunism of all kinds gained more and more influence, the young forces around Rosa Luxemburg (who was only 30 years herself at the beginning of the confrontation with Bernstein in 1899) could rely on only a very few supporters. Mostly the old failed the test; the fighting spirit was already broken in many comrades

Despite its almost 40 years of existence, there were no significant basic texts on the organisational question in the SPD. Instead, it had allowed itself to be carried away and absorbed by the possibility of becoming a mass party. The experience in the struggle to defend the organisation was never synthesised and summed up in specific texts. Yet there was no shortage of texts on the history of the organisation, and as early as 1890 a proposal had been made to draw up a history of the Party.[91] But Mehring's book on the History of Social Democracy, published in 1897, or his biography of Marx, or Bebel's My Life offered remarkably few clear statements on the main lessons of the struggle for the organisation. In contrast, in his text "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" Lenin very early and quickly advocated the main lessons of the struggle in the Party. As mentioned above, apart from the criticisms of Rosa Luxemburg, this text remained almost without echo.

Paul Frölich, who had been politicised in the early 1900s and joined the party as a youth, wrote: "It almost seems to me as if there had been a gap between the active party workers who had begun to play a role during the time of the Socialist law and shortly after it was repealed and our generation. (...) We also felt that we were a new generation that looked down on the older generation with a certain cheeky pride."[92]

In 1904 at the Party Congress in Bremen a motion was proposed for the formation of proletarian youth organisations.[93] However, this was rejected due to a lack of support at the Conference. Comrades from Stuttgart called on the same Party Congress in Bremen to improve educational work in the Party and to found proletarian youth organisations.[94] But the problem could not be solved by such methods alone.

The importance of the organisation question as such was underestimated. For example, while the magazine Neue Zeit dealt with a large number of topics, it neglected dealing with fundamental organizational experiences, and in general there was a lack of sources for the organisation question.[95]

The founding of the Party school was intended to serve the education of the (leading) comrades.[96] Although many historical topics were on the agenda, the curriculum did not deal with the organisational struggles.

All in all, therefore, the organisational experiences from the period between the 1870s and 1914 were nowhere recorded in more written detail in the SPD, and the generation whose fighting spirit was still unbroken failed to pass on these experiences. [97]   


[1] Germany overtook Britain, reaching second behind the US.

[2] Die Geschichte der Zweiten Internationale, Verlag Progress, Moscow 1983, p. 277.

[3] Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974, Vol 1/1, p. 572, English translation

[4] Bebel in a letter to Kautsky, 9.9.1903, in Dieter Fricke, Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, 1869-1917, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1987 p. 249, IISG, NL Kautsky, D III 87.

[5] Letter by Wilhelm Liebknecht of 10 August 1899 to the Annual Congress of the French Workers' Party (Le Parti ouvrier francais) on A.E. Millerand's entry into the bourgeois government and the unity of the party, in  Dokumente und Materialien zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung,  Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974,  Volume IV, p. 31)

[6] Bernstein, "Party Discipline and Belief in Conviction", Socialist Monthly Bulletins, 1901, H.11, p.848 f see also Fricke, ibid p. 247.

[7] Rosa Luxemburg, “Gefährliche Neuerungen” (Dangerous Innovations), Leipziger Volkszeitung, 9.5.1911, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1972, vol. 2, p. 508.

[8] Rosa Luxemburg, “Parteidisziplin”, (Party Discipline), 4.12.1914, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1974, vol 4  p. 15

[9] Fricke, ibid., p. 247

[10] Party Congress of the SPD in Hanover 1899, Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1974, vol. 1/1, p. 574

[11] Proceedings on the Negotiations of the Party Congress of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, held at Mainz from 17 to 21 September 1900, Berlin, 1900, p. 135), from Die Geschichte der Zweiten Internationale, Verlag Progress, Moskau, 1983, p. 788.

[13] "A person who recognises the principles of the Party Programme and regularly contributes funds to the Party shall be regarded as a member" (Mainz, Statutes, 1900), i.e. members of the SPD did not necessarily have to be constantly involved in Party work and only had to recognise the principles (not the programme in its details): “1 Any person shall be considered belonging to the Party if they adhere to the principles of the Party Programme and support the Party continuously by means of funds”. In the statutes of 1909 (adopted at the Leipzig Party Congress), there was not a word about active participation in the activities: “1: Every person who professes to the principles of the party programme and is a member of the party organisation belongs to the party".

[14] “So far, we in the party have been of the opinion that all kinds of public elections serve us to win the masses for the social democracy and its programme, its views, its goals. Nothing of this kind in the election campaign for the Stuttgart mayor (...). In this case there was only campaigning around the person of the candidate. His advantages, his merits, his intentions, his programme (...) There was no talk of the overall programme of social democracy, of the political class aspirations of the proletariat (...) Such elections have not yet been seen in German social democracy. Until now, for us the thing, the party was everything, the person nothing. Here the party was nothing and the person everything". (Rosa Luxemburg, “Der Disziplinbruch als Methode”, 15.5.1911, Leipziger Volkszeitung, in Gesammelte Werke, Berlin Dietz Verlag, 1972, vol. 2, p. 512).

[15] As early as July 1910, the SPD state parliamentary group of Baden had approved the budget and thus defied the decision about the Nuremberg Party Congress of 1908, according to which the budgets of the governments were to be rejected in principle. The more radical forces wanted to oppose this breach of discipline at the Magdeburg Party Congress (1910), "by opposing the revisionist bloc with a radical bloc”. (Heinz Wohlgemuth, Die Entstehung der Kommunistischen Partei, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1978, p. 38). We do not have any documentation on their actions.  It is not known whether and how Pannekoek and Luxemburg, who were both present at the party conference, worked together.

[16] Bernstein spoke of "the party becoming [a part of the] state (...) [which in turn required new standards] for the extent and limits of its claims to sovereignty over the members", in other words the members would have to submit to a party integrated into the state. (Fricke, ibid, p. 288, Bernstein, “Party Discipline”, Monthly Socialist Issues, 1910, H 19/20, p. 1218).

[17] Bebel, Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, Dietz-Verlag, Berlin, 1978, vol. 2/2, p. 379-384.

[18]Fricke ibid, p. 246.

[19] “Guidelines for the Functionaries of the Social Democratic Party of the Agitation District, Upper Rhine Province", Cologne, October 1913, p. 5, in Fricke, ibid, p. 283. One can assume that people like Friedrich Ebert, leader and later head of government, met these criteria.

[20] Heine an Haenisch, 9.2.1915, Zsta Potsdam NL Haenisch, No. 134, BI.39 and 44, Fricke, ibid, p. 289.

[21]Fricke, ibid, p. 239. 

[22]"Resolution against revisionism", Dresdner Parteitag, Sept. 1903.

[23]Mehring, born in 1846 had only been won to  Social Democracy at a later phase. . In the 1870s he had even fought against the SAPD. After having become convinced of social democratic positions he had not published a sufficiently clear reckoning with his own political positions. See also Paul Frölich: Im radikalen Lager - Politische Autobiographie 1900 – 1921, Basis Druck, Berlin, 2013, S. 36

[24]Bebel publicly declared at congresses of his Party that he did not know anyone who was so susceptible to the influence of environment as Comrade Bernstein (not Mr. Bernstein, as Comrade Plekhanov was once so fond of calling him, but Comrade Bernstein): let us take him into our environment, let us make him a member of the Reichstag, let us combat revisionism, not by inappropriate harshness (à la Sobakevich-Parvus) towards the revisionist, but by ‘killing him with kindness’—as Comrade M. Beer, I recall, put it at a meeting of English Social-Democrats when defending German conciliatoriness, peaceableness, mildness, flexibility, and caution against the attack of the English Sobakevich—Hyndman. And in just the same way, Comrade Plekhanov wanted to ‘kill with kindness’ the little anarchism and the little opportunism of Comrades Axelrod and Martov” (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back“ (THE CRISIS IN OUR PARTY) : “P. Little Annoyances Should Not Stand in the Way of a Big Pleasure”:

[25]Victor Adler und Kurt Eisner, 6.9.1903, IML, ZPA, NL 60/59, Fricke, S. 251.

[26]Fricke, ibid, S. 251

[27] Kautsky, Rede auf dem Parteitag der SPD in Lübeck, September 1901, Dokumente und Materialien, Berlin, 1974, IV, S. 80

[28]Bebel 8.10.1912 in Fricke, ibid, S 294,


[30]Centrism is one variety of opportunism, one manifestation, one which tends to situate itself and oscillate between frank and open opportunism and revolutionary positions.

Lenin portrayed centrism as ‘inconsistent, irresolute, camouflaged, hesitant, hypocritical, mealy-mouthed opportunism, floating, indecision’”. For a deeper understanding see the article of the ICC:

[31]Kautsky to Bernstein, 2.2.1900, IISG, NL Kautsky, C 691, Fricke, ibid, p. 293.

[32]Kautsky, (Der Weg zur Macht – The Road to Power), Buchhandlung Vorwärts, Berlin, 1909

[33]Kautsky, Parliamentarism and Democracy, p. 17F, Fricke, ibid, p. 292.

[34] Lenin, Letter to Schlapnikow, 27.10.1914, Lenin, Letters, Progress Publishers, Moscow, volume 35, p. 142 f.

[35]Rosa Luxemburg, Die Theorie und Praxis, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974, Bd. 2, S. 404, Die Neue Zeit, 1909/1919, ibid, S. 564. See also,,,

[36] Rosa Luxemburg, "Zum kommenden Parteitag", Jena, 1911, 29.6.1911, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974, Bd 2, S. 555.

[37] Fricke, ibid, S. 308

[38] Rosa Luxemburg, "Taktische Fragen",1913, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1974, Bd 3, S., 253. While emphasising heavily the role of the grass roots mobilisation, she overestimated the level of vitality, alertness and efforts by the leadership.

[39] R. Luxemburg, “Geknickte Hoffnungen", 1903, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974 Bd. ½, S. 399ff.

[40] „Zehn Jahre Revisionismus", Julian Marchlewski (Karski), 1.9.1908 Leipziger Volkszeitung, 1.09.1908, in Dokumente und Materialien, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974, Bd. IV, S. 242.While Marchlewski considered that the revisionists had suffered defeat after defeat, in reality the revisionists had only only temporarily contained, in reality they gained more and more weight and become something like an autonomous force within the Party.

[41] Brief von Hermann Duncker an seine Frau, 14.09.1910 IML, ZPA, NL 45/125, in Fricke, ibid, S. 287.

[42] Engels an W. Liebknecht 24.11.1894, Marx-Engels-Werke 39, Dietz-Verlag, Berlin, 1967, S. 330, see also Fricke, idid, S. 288

[43]IISG 183/12-17, Fricke, S. 250.

[44] Wolfgang Heine, "Sonderkonferenz", Sozialistische Monatshefte, 1912, H. 18/20, S. 1 142 ff.; in Fricke, ibid, S. 289,

[45] R. Luxemburg, "Geknickte Hoffnungen", 1903. Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1972, Bd. ½, S. 399ff.

[46] Fricke, ibid, S. 289.

[47]Alexandra Kollontai wrote in her book Ich habe viele Leben gelebt: (I have lived many lives) (1912 Krieg):

In 1912 my book Across Europe of the Workers was published. In this book I pointed to the inclination of the Party apparatus of German Social Democracy towards opportunism and its increasing bureaucratisation. I sometimes scorned the military- like comportment, the blasé behaviour and the arrogance of leading people and I had contrasted the bureaucratic condescendence and conservatism of the party leadership with the healthy class instinct of the rank and file members. (…) The Party leadership was outraged”. (p. 157). Kollontai also reported that Karl Liebknecht wrote a review of her book. In response to this an anonymous writer wrote: “Why does the German police tolerate a Russian political migrant in Berlin? There is something wrong!” (Kollontai, p. 159).

[51]Lenin, "Ein Schritt vorwärts, zwei Schritte zurück", Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1962, Bd. 7, S. 403, 404) in Die Geschichte der Zweiten Internationale, Verlag Progress, Moksau, 1983, S. 789, see also Neue Zeit, Jahrgang 22, 1903-1904, Bd. 2, Nr. 28, S. 37.

[52] The Congress began in Brussels but due to police harassment it had to be moved to London.

[53] Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1974, ,  Bd. 1/2, S. 422, (see also Neue Zeit, 1903/1904, I, S. 484-492, II, S. 529-535,)

[54] Lenin "Ein Schritt vorwärts, zwei Schritte zurück. Antwort an R. Luxemburg“, 1904, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1962, Bd. 7, S. 480-491.  (German edition)

[55] In 1882 Kautsky founded Neue Zeit; he remained its editor until 1917. Reisberg, S. 62

[56] Geschichte der 2. Internationale, Verlag Progress, Moskau 1983, S. 790.

[57]When Germans [Social Democrats] write, they usually avoid the question of disagreement. When Russians write in the German social-democratic press organs, we see either a lining up of all the overseas groups with the liquidators to the rudest ranting against the ‘Leninists’ (as happened in the spring of 1912 in Vorwärts) or the writing of a Tyszkian, Trotsky or other member of a foreign circle deliberately obscuring the issue. For years, not a single document, not a single summary of resolutions, not a single analysis of ideas, not a single attempt to bring factual material together. We regret that the German party leaders (...) are not ashamed to listen to and repeat the fairy tales of their liquidationist sources" (Lenin, Ges. Werke, vol. 19, "A good resolution and a bad speech", Proletarskaja Prawda no. 6, 13 Dec. 1913).

[58]Geschichte der 2. Internationale, vol. 2, p. 791.

[59]The SP of France (Guesdists) confined itself to the statement that "the party consists of political groups whose members have membership cards and pay a monthly contribution to the central party organisation". The French Socialist Party (Jaurès), the Austrian SD and the Belgian Workers' Party did not define membership at all. The statutes of the parties of the Second International did not contain a word about the binding character of the decisions of the central organs for the local party organisations. Geschichte der 2. Internationale p. 699


[61] R. Luxemburg, “Organisationsfragen der Russischen Sozialdemokratie”, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974, "Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy,” vol. ½. S. 422, 424,

[62] Lenin, "Ein Schritt vorwärts, zwei Schritte zurück. Antwort an R. Luxemburg", Lenin, Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1962, vol. 7, 1904, English:

[63] Ebenda, ibid, p. 365.

[64] Rosa Luxemburg, Taktische Fragen, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, 1974, vol. 3, p. 253.

[66]"For 20 years, since the end of the Socialist Law, our organizational apparatus and our party tactics have basically been tailored to one main task: parliamentary elections and parliamentary struggle. That is where we did our utmost, and that is where we grew up. But the new era of imperialism presents us with more and more new challenges which cannot be solved with parliamentarism alone, with the old apparatus and the old routine. Our party must learn to set mass actions in motion in appropriate situations and to lead them.           (...) The proletariat cannot gather its forces and increase its power for the final victory other than by testing itself in struggle, in the midst of defeats and all the vicissitudes of struggle. A fought-out great struggle, whether it ends in victory or defeat, in a short period of class enlightenment and historical experience, performs more than thousands of propaganda writings and meetings”. (Rosa Luxemburg, Taktische Fragen, June 1913, Leipziger Volkszeitung, Gesammlte Werke, Dietz Verlag, 1974, vol. 3, p. 256). On the differences between Lenin and Luxemburg on the organisation question, see also

[67]Internationalisme, Gauche Communiste de France, n°4, 1946 P. 73.

[68]At the trade union congress in Cologne in 1905, the discussion about the mass strike was regarded as "reprehensible" and rejected. 

[69] Claudie Weill - Marxistes russes et social-démocratie allemande 1898-1904, Paris, 1977,

[70]The trajectory of the road to World War I was well traced by Rosa Luxemburg in her Junius pamphlet.

[71]  "La fraction dans les partis socialistes de la Seconde Internationale", Bilan Oct.-Nov. 1935, n° 24, p. 814.

[72]In his autobiography, Frölich also reported on opposition forces in various German cities, in which the younger generation often distinguished itself from often older, reformist and revisionist forces..

[73] Reisberg, Lenins Beziehungen zur deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1970, p. 125

[74] P. Frölich, Im radikalen Lager, BasisDruck, Berlin, 2013 , p. 54

[75] Slowly, the Party lost the habit of illegal work, although repressive measures were still taken against it in 1908. "In 1908 a law was passed in Germany on unions and assemblies which restricted their right to hold meetings in languages other than German, gave the police a free hand in suppressing social-democratic propaganda, and banned persons below the age of 18 from joining political unions and attending political meetings. Also Social Democrats were barred from certain jobs, such as railways“. (The International Working Class Movement, Progress Publishers Moscow, 1981, Vol 3, p. 317).

[76] One must add that although the wing around Rosa Luxemburg had developed under conditions of  illegality and exile, she herself had no experience with fractional work, since the break between the SDKP and PSP was relatively quick.

[77]  People like Bebel, a highly respected leader of the SPD, criticised revisionism, but did not really get to the roots. Or again, people like Mehring provided valuable texts, but didn't prove to be sufficiently determined fighters.

[78]There are many reports by her and of the press reporting thousands of enthusiastic participants in the meetings where she often spoke for more than an hour.

[79]"In this way Rosa Luxemburg had a free hand earlier on, but she never had the chance of gaining experience of the struggle of a fraction in defence of a party threatened with degeneration. This is why she really never managed to develop and understand the concept of a fraction. This was a weakness that would be paid for dearly during the heroic struggle of the Spartacists against the degeneration of the German SPD, and would to a large extent be responsible for the fatal delay in the constitution of the German Communist Party in 1918.” (The Fraction-Party relationship in the marxist tradition“ 3rd part – From Marx to Lenin 1848-1917, IR 64, p. 29).

[80] Lenin, “The Jena Party Congress of the SPD, September 1905”, Werke, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol. 9, p. 285, Reisberg, ibid, p. 60.

[81] In the 1912 Reichstag election the SPD emerged as the clear winner with 34.8% of the vote and 110 Reichstag seats.

[82] How great was the confidence in the trustworthiness of the SPD, or more precisely in certain forces of the SPD, is testified by the fact that after 1905 the RSDLP entrusted a large sum of money to be deposited with the SPD. This again blocked any rapprochement. See Dietrich Geyer, Kautsky's Russian Dossier,“ Deutsche Sozialdemokraten als Treuhänder des russischen Parteivermögen, 1910-1915“, Frankfurt/New York, 1981.

[83] Pannekoek, who had lived in Germany for years, did not push in the same direction as Rosa Luxemburg in organisational matters.

[84] Lenin, Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1962, vol. 7, p. 600,

[85] Reisberg, ibid.  p.130

[86] In this pamphlet, 600 copies of which were brought to Germany from France (“Zur gegenwärtigen Sachlage in der Sozialdemokratischen Arbeiterpartei Russlands” - Lenin, July 1912, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 18, p. 191-209), Lenin stressed that the Bolsheviks were the legal parliamentary fraction; there were all sorts of legal workers' associations, but the illegal party organisation was the basis.   By the way, Germany was a central "nodal point" for the transport of illegal literature to Russia, which was often smuggled from Switzerland and Great Britain via Germany to the comrades in Russia.

[87]See Rosa Luxemburg "The Industrial Development of Poland", Inaugural Dissertation on Poland – Die industrielle Entwicklung Polens, Inaugrual Dissertation, Gesammelte Werke, Dietz Verlag, Belin, 1974, vol. 1, p. 113

[88]Even during WW1, after the publication of the Junius pamphlet by Luxemburg and Lenin's polemics with her, the debate continued; and even after the outbreak of the revolution, Rosa Luxemburg's maintained her criticism of the Bolshevik attitude. 

[89] An additional factor which turned out to be an obstacle between the wing around Rosa Luxemburg and the Bolsheviks arose in 1913 at a time when the ISB and the SPD wanted to push for a reunification of the RSDLP.

[90] Karl-Ernst Moring, Die Sozialdemokratische Partei in Bremen, 1890-1914, Reformismus und Radikalismus in der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Bremens, Hannover, 1968, published by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung; Lenin, The Splits in the Polish Social Democracy" (Werke, Progress Publishers, Moscow, volume 18, p. 476 German version, January, 12, 1912), Lenin "Also unifiers", (November 15, 1913, Werke, volume 18, p. 493, German version) Lenin, "To the Secretariat of the ISB”, Werke, Progress Publishers, Moscow, volume 19, November 21, 1912, p. 266)

[91] Request by Social Democrats from Dresden for the elaboration of a history of the German labour movement. A comprehensive history of the German labour movement is to be written. Reason: "This interest will only be fully safeguarded if the required investigation does not amount to a glorification of our party, but looks at the bright and dark sides with the rigour and impartiality of scientific methods. We therefore demand a scientific work, which should be written in a beautiful, generally understandable language." (Dokumente und Materialien, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1987, Vol. III, p. 348, Party Congress Halle, 1890    (

[92]  Paul Frölich: Im radikalen Lager - Politische Autobiographie 1900 – 1921, Basis Druck, Berlin, 2013, p. 43

[93]The party executive is instructed to found socialist youth associations." (Dokumente und Materialien, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1974, vol IV, p. 120).

[94]"The party congress should decide that the party congress of 1905 must deal with the question of how to make it possible that with the increasing number of party supporters the education and training of the same keep pace, which is all the more necessary as the present conditions lead towards a [theoretical-political} flattening. It would have to be examined whether a solution to this question could be found in connection with the creation of youth organisations that should as broad as possible”. (Dokumente, ibid, IV, p. 120). This motion was also rejected, but adopted a year later in 1905.

[95] In the publications of the Bolsheviks, on the other hand, in the period between 1903 and 1912, one constantly finds articles on the question of organisation. 

[96]"The work of organisation absorbed all the energy - no time was left for study. For the inexorable demands of practical work must weaken the passion for knowledge. The small industries clamored for new powers, the more aggressive workmen demanded the full measure; and every young man who showed some eagerness and capacity was immediately set to work, and henceforth found no time for theoretical study. It happened further that the bourgeois parties ceased to fight with theories, principles and arguments. Abuse, personal attacks misrepresentation of facts took their place. Therefore in order to wage war with the bourgeois, theoretical knowledge was not necessary but rather polemic agility and knowledge of facts; least the need of fundamental knowledge was little felt in such a contest", Anton Pannekoek, “The Social Democratic Party School in Berlin”, 1907 Source: The International Socialist Review, New York, Vol. VIII, No. 6 (December 1907), pp. 820-824.

[97]For example, one can find a lot of material in Bebel‘s writings about the period of the Socialist Law and before, but after 1891 there are hardly any further explanations.


History of the workers' movement