In this excerpt from her speech on the “Spartacus Programme” of 1918, the Polish-German Marxist leader Rosa Luxemburg argued for socialism and revolution as the only alternative to capitalism and barbarity of war. Luxemburg was murdered alongside her comrade Karl Liebknecht by right wing troops under the direction of a Social-Democratic government in January 1919.
The class rule of the bourgeoisie is the real criminal responsible for the World War, in Germany, as in France, in Russia as in England, in Europe as in America.
The capitalists of all nations are the real instigators of the mass murder. International capital is the insatiable god Baal, into whose bloody maw millions upon millions of steaming human sacrifices are thrown.
The World War confronts society with the choice: either continuation of capitalism, new wars, and imminent decline into chaos and anarchy, or abolition of capitalist exploitation.
With the conclusion of world war, the class rule of the bourgeoisie has forfeited its right to existence. It is no longer capable of leading society out of the terrible economic collapse which the imperialist orgy has left in its wake.
Out of all this bloody confusion, this yawning abyss, there is no help, no escape, no rescue other than socialism!
Only the revolution of the world proletariat can bring order into this chaos can bring work and bread for all, can end the reciprocal slaughter of the peoples, can restore peace, freedom, true culture to this martyred humanity.
Down with the wage system! That is the slogan of the hour.
Instead of wage labour and class rule there must be collective labour. The means of production must cease to be the monopoly of a single class; they must become the common property of all.
No more exploiters and exploited!
Planned production and distribution of the product in the common interest.
Abolition not only of the contemporary mode of production, mere exploitation and robbery, but equally of contemporary commerce, mere fraud.
In place of the employers and their wage slaves, free working comrades! Labour as nobody's torture, because everybody's duty!
A human and honourable life for all who do their social duty. Hunger no longer the curse of labour, but the scourge of idleness!
Only in such a society are national hatred and servitude uprooted. Only when such a society has become a reality will the earth no more be stained by murder. Only then can it be said: this war was the last.
In this hour, socialism is the only salvation for humanity. The words of the Communist Manifesto flare above the crumbling bastions of capitalism society:
Socialism or barbarism!
The establishment of the socialist order of society is the mightiest task which has ever fallen to a class and to a revolution in the history of the world. This task requires a complete transformation of the state and a complete overthrow of the economic and social foundations of society.
This transformation and overthrow cannot be decreed by any bureau, committee or parliament. It can be begun and carried out only by the masses of people themselves.
In all previous revolutions a small minority of people led the revolutionary struggle gave it aim and direction, and used the mass only as an instrument to carry its interests, the interests of the minority, through to victory. The socialist revolution is the first which is in the interests of the great majority and can be brought to victory only by the great majority of the working people themselves.
The mass of the proletariat must do more than stake out clearly the aims and direction of the revolution. It must also personally, by its own activity, bring socialism step by step into life.
The essence of socialist society consists in the fact that the great labouring mass ceases to be a dominated mass, but rather, makes the entire political and economic life its own life and gives that life a conscious, free, and autonomous direction.
From the uppermost summit of the state down to the tiniest parish, the proletarian mass must therefore replace the inherited organs of bourgeois class rule — the assemblies, parliaments and city councils — with its own class slogans — with workers’ and soldiers’ councils.
It must occupy all the posts, supervise all functions, measure all official needs by the standard of its own class interests and the tasks of socialism. Only through constant, vital, reciprocal contact between the masses of the people and their organs, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils can the activity of the people fill the state with a socialist spirit.
The economic overturn, likewise, it can be accomplished only if the process is carried out by proletarian mass action. The naked decrees of socialisation by the highest revolutionary authorities are by themselves empty phrases.
Only the working class, through its own activity, can make the word flesh. The workers can achieve control over production, and ultimately a real power by means of tenacious struggle with capital, hand-to-hand, in every factory, with direct mass pressure, with strikes and with the creation of its own permanent representative organs.
They have to develop industriousness without the capitalist whip, the highest productivity without slavedrivers, discipline without the yoke, order without authority.
The highest idealism in the interest of the collectivity, the strictest self-discipline, the truest public spirit of the masses are the moral foundations of socialist society, just as stupidity, egotism and corruption are the moral foundations of capitalist society.
All these socialist civic virtues together with the knowledge and skills necessary to direct socialist enterprises, can be won by the mass of workers only through their own activity, their own experience.
The socialisation of society can be achieved only through tenacious tireless struggle by the working mass along its entire front, on all points where labour and capital, people and bourgeois class rule, can see the whites of one another’s eyes. The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.
During the bourgeois revolutions, bloodshed, terror, and political murder were an indispensable weapon in the hand of the rising classes.
The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its aims; it hates and despises killing. It does not need these weapons because it does not combat individuals but institutions, because it does not enter the arena with naive illusions whose disappointment it would seek to revenge.
It is not the desperate attempt of a minority to mould the world forcibly according to its ideal, but the action of the great massive millions of the people, destined to fulfil a historic mission and to transform historical necessity into reality.
But the proletarian revolution is at the same time the death knell for all servitude and oppression. That is why all capitalists, Junkers [landlords], petty bourgeois, officers, all opportunists and parasites of exploitation and class rule rise up to a man to wage mortal combat against the proletarian revolution.
It is sheer insanity to believe that capitalists would good-humouredly obey the socialist verdict of a parliament or of a national assembly, that they would calmly renounce property, profit, the right to exploit.
All ruling classes fought to the end, with tenacious energy, to preserve their privileges. The Roman patricians and the medieval feudal barons alike, the English cavaliers and the American slave dealers, the Wallachian boyars and the Lyonnais silk manufacturers — they all shed streams of blood, they all marched over corpses, murder and arson, instigated civil war and treason, in order to defend their privileges and their power.
The imperialist capitalist class, as last offspring of the caste of exploiters, outdoes all its predecessors in brutality, in open cynicism, and treachery. It defends its holiest of holies, its profit and its privilege of exploitation, with tooth and nail, with the methods of cold evil which it demonstrated to the world in the entire history of colonial politics and in the recent World War.
It will mobilise heaven and hell against the proletariat. It will mobilise the peasants against the cities, the backward strata of the working class against the socialist vanguard; it will use officers to instigate atrocities; it will try to paralyse every socialist measure with a thousand methods of passive resistance. It will turn the country into a smoking heap of rubble rather than voluntary give up wage slavery.
All this resistance must be broken step by step, with an iron fist and ruthless energy. The violence of the bourgeois counter-revolution must be confronted with the revolutionary violence of the proletariat.
Against the attacks, insinuations and rumours of the bourgeoisie must stand the inflexible clarity of purpose, vigilance, and ever-ready activity of the proletarian mass.
Against the threatened dangers of the counter-revolution, the arming of the people and disarming of the ruling classes.
Against the parliamentary obstructionist manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, the active organisation of the mass of workers and soldiers.
Against the omnipresence, the thousand means of power of bourgeois society, the concentrated, compact, and fully developed power of the working class.
The fight for socialism is the mightiest civil war in world history, and the proletarian revolution must procure the necessary tools for this civil war; it must learn to use them — to struggle and to win.
Such arming of the solid mass of labouring people with all political power for the tasks of the revolution — that is the dictatorship of the proletariat and therefore the true democracy'
Not where the wage slave sits next to the capitalist, the rural proletariat next to the Junker in fraudulent equality to engage in parliamentary debate over questions of life and death, but where the million-headed proletarian mass seizes the entire power of the state in its calloused fist, like the god Thor his hammer, using it to smash the head of the ruling classes — that alone is democracy, that alone is not a betrayal of the people.