Socialism or barbarism?

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Betrayed by the rightwing social-democrat Friedrich Ebert (whom Luxembourg had once tutored in economics) and at his behest, Rosa was captured by the Freikorps (a rightwing militia of decommissioned soldiers soured by the First World War defeat and manipulated by the German plutocracy) and promptly assassinated. Luxemburg’s last known words, written on the evening of her murder, were about her belief in the masses, and in the inevitability of revolution:

“The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this ‘defeat’ into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this ‘defeat’.
‘Order reigns in Berlin!’ You stupid henchmen! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already ‘raise itself with a rattle’ and announce with fanfare, to your terror:
I was, I am, I shall be!”
(Order reigns in Berlin, Collected Works 4, p. 536)

One of the most famous writings in the history of socialism is the Junius Pamphlet, written by German socialist Rosa Luxemburg in 1915 while she was in prison for opposing the first world war.

Obviously, many things have changed in the world and in the socialist movement in the 90 years since the beginning of that war. But some things have stayed the same. Take Luxemburg’s descriptions of capitalist profiteering on the war: “Business is flourishing upon the ruins” and “Profits are springing, like weeds, from the fields of the dead”. Who could think of a better description for the plunder of Iraq by the likes of Bechtel and Halliburton?

Take the fantastic lies peddled by the German government to its own people about the reasons for the war — that Germany had been invaded by Russian troops, that bombs had been dropped by “Frenchmen flying over Nuremberg”, that a French doctor had poisoned the wells at Montsigny with cholera, that there were “Russian students who hurl bombs from every bridge in Berlin”. Could these, and Luxemburg’s description of the whipping up of the populace into “spy-hunting” and chasing “suspicious-looking automobiles”, fail to demand comparison with the fables of Iraq’s weapons of mass deception and sponsorship of terrorists within our midst?

Take Luxemburg’s searing condemnation of the betrayal of the principles of international socialism by the official leaderships of the socialist parties in Germany, France, and Britain. Tony Blair may be unable to betray the principles of international socialism — you can’t betray principles that you’ve never subscribed to — but the leaders of the British Labour Party have outdone even their treacherous forbears of 1914 in enthusiastically joining Bush’s coalition of the killing.

Likewise, the repudiation of the class struggle by the likes of Henderson, Legien, and Lensch is outdone by the Tony Blairs of today in their taking up of the class struggle against the working people on behalf of the capitalists.

Take Luxemburg’s description of how, in imperial conquest, “an ancient civilisation was delivered into the hands of destruction and anarchy, with fire and slaughter … when Persia gasped in the noose of the foreign rule of force that closed inexorably about her throat”. Arab civilisation has bequeathed to us some of the finest products of human culture. For example, the theoretical grounds for the invention of the modern digital computer were devised by a ninth century Persian mathematician, Abu Jafar Mohammed ibn Musa al Khowarizm, and the word “algebra” derives from the Arabic word al jabr. Who could fail to feel the force of Luxemburg’s words on recalling the sacking in April 2003 of the National Museum of Iraq?

In the Junius Pamphlet, Luxemburg argues that the choice facing humanity is one of socialism or barbarism: “We stand today … before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism.”

In the early stages of the 21st century, the choice before us is even starker — without socialism, our children and our children’s children will find themselves in a vast cemetery, a brutal world where Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay serve as models for the treatment of human beings, where environmental catastrophe is inevitable, and where the finest products of human culture are sold off to the highest bidder.

Rosa Luxemburg and her fellow revolutionary Karl Leibknecht were brutally murdered in January 1919 by the reactionary troops of a right-wing social-democratic government.

The Socialist Alliance stands squarely in the tradition of Luxemburg, Leibknecht and the other socialists of 90 years ago who refused to betray their principles. We oppose unconditionally the war in Iraq and call unconditionally for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops. We subscribe to Luxemburg’s words at the end of the Junius Pamphlet: “This madness will not stop, and this bloody nightmare of hell will not cease until the workers of Germany, of France, of Russia and of England, will wake up out of their drunken sleep; will clasp each others hands in brotherhood and will drown the bestial chorus of war agitators and the hoarse cry of capitalist hyenas with the mighty cry of labour, `Workers of all countries, unite!’”

—Alex Miller
[The author is a member of the Socialist Alliance-Green Left Weekly [Australia] editorial board. The Junius Pamphlet is available at

5 comments on “Socialism or barbarism?
  1. Indeed the Julius Pamphlet should be required reading. I first read it at age 49, and regret the fact that I had toi stumble upon it instead of having been taught what it said and what it meant early in my life by someone in charge of ‘education” (school system) or information (the media). But given the stakes and who benefits from them I guess it couldnt be otherwise…Thanks Alex!

  2. Alex,

    Thank you for reminding us of Rosa Luxemburg’s contribution to the fight for human freedom.

    In Reform or Revolution, Luxemburg compares efforts to reform capitalism with the labor of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the Gods to push a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down again. Over the past 30 years, most of our hard-won reforms have been rolled back.

    Luxemburg insisted that the struggle for reforms, as
    the primary goal, cannot transform society. The fight for reforms must be waged as a means to revolution, where each reform is clearly linked with the ultimate goal of putting the working class in power. This distinction is vital.

    The road to reform never challenges the basic rules of capitalism. One lobbies politicians, wins influence in high places, and gets people out to vote. Ordinary people are reduced to cheerleaders for various celebrities. In contrast, the road to revolution uses reforms as stepping stones to build the confidence of working people to run society. On this road, ordinary people take center stage. The more they organize and struggle on their own behalf, the more they can win, not only for themselves, but also for humanity as a whole. This organizing work is our most urgent task.

    I must add my favorite Luxemburg quote,

    “Socialism will not and cannot be created by decrees; nor can it be established by any government,
    however socialist. Socialism must be created by the masses, by every worker. Where the chains of
    capitalism are forged, there they must be broken. Only that is socialism, and only thus can socialism
    be created”

    PS. I relied heavily on Luxemburg’s writings in my book, POWER and Powerlessness. The full text is available as an E-book at

  3. Luxemburg’s quote about Persia dos resonate with the current U.S. imperialist world war for ‘manifest destiny’, its destruction of Iraq and its crushing domination of many oppressed nations and peoples…
    but Iran is not an Arab country.

    But for analysis of imperialism as the last stage of capitalism and of the nature of socialism, Lenin is still the best!

  4. Possessed a strength of understanding.
    Drugs should only be approved for five-year.
    Replied her husband.
    Drugs should only be approved for five-year.
    Possessed a strength of understanding.

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