Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Capital Sentence. (1923)

From the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the period of the late European carnage, when the world’s youth was engaged in making the world safe for hypocrisy, the manufacture of death-dealing instruments proceeded apace at the Government Arsenal at Woolwich. Mechanics were drafted from all parts of the country to this arsenal in order to provide the “Tommies” the means wherewith to disembowel the “Fritzes.” Sufficient accommodation not being available in the district, the Government perforce had to erect shelters—one could not truthfully term them houses—in which the munition workers and their families could live.

When the capitalists deemed it advisable to call a halt to the slaughter, the demand for armaments became less urgent, and the Arsenal workers, like Othello, found their occupation gone. For various reasons, chief among these perhaps was the shortage of working class dwellings, the munition makers were unable to return to the districts in which they formerly resided. In many cases these workers were unable to pay the rent demanded (for it must not be supposed that a munificent Government had allowed them to live in these houses rent free), and arrears accrued in amounts ranging from £15 to £70. Then did the Government, through H.M. Office of Works, apply to the Woolwich County Court for possession of the “houses." Before the Court, the tenants were represented by a solicitor. The Star (4/10/22) states:—
  Mr. I. H. Macdonald, defending, said that many of these men had been induced to come to Woolwich to work for the Government, and now, being out of work, were unable to leave owing to the housing difficulty. Lewisham Guardians. . . . unlike other boards, had not given relief in cash to pay the rent.
However, these facts did not influence the Court, and so, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not, ejectment orders were granted to the landlords, suspended as long as the current rent was paid, and a certain amount of the arrears paid off. But the action did not end before the worthy Judge, Sir T. Grainger, had unburdened himself of a masterly example of capitalist jurisprudence. Listen to the band :—
  When one defendant said he was not responsible for being out of work. Judge Sir Thomas Grainger said, “I cannot hear you on that. Until Labour can regard Capital as its greatest benefactor there will always be unemployment.—Star, 4/10/22.
Until Labour can regard"—kind regards, Sir Thomas!

The halo of “impartiality” with which the capitalist scribes so dearly love to adorn the court judges, has many times been the subject of comment in these columns, and although this incident serves to show just how much, or how little, favour the worker may expect in the Courts, we may leave this point aside, and, for the sake of the credulous, once more focus the searchlight of Socialist analysis on the cause of unemployment, and see just how long unemployment need last.

The principle cause of unemployment is the fact that, by virtue of their monopoly of the instruments for producing the necessities of life, the capitalists are able to rob the workers of the wealth they (the workers) produce—the capitalists returning, on the average, just sufficient of that wealth to enable the workers to keep physically fit to go on producing, and to reproduce their species. The difference between the total amount produced by the workers and that portion returned to them still leaves a vast surplus of commodities unconsumed. It should be borne in mind that this difference increases as machinery develops and the productivity of labour increases. Now, in spite of all the riots of luxury indulged in by the capitalists, the Royal weddings, and what not, a surfeit of goods still remains. The workers obviously cannot buy back these goods, however much they may be in need of them. Thus the markets of the world become overstocked. As, under the present system, goods are only produced for profit, when the capitalist is not sure of a market for the goods, production is slackened, and the unemployed army increases. And this unemployed army will last just as long as the present system of producing for profit lasts. All talk therefore of capital being a “benefactor” is so much moonshine, intended to mislead the unthinking. “Malefactor” is the right word, and while we find judges ready to mouth such platitudes as quoted above, we can realise how earnest was Bumble’s dictum : “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass—an idiot.”

Bestir yourselves then workers! Study Socialism, and make yourselves proof against the dope issued by the masters daily from pulpit, Press, and platform. Having done that, make yourselves judges of the motives of the master class, and organise in the Socialist Party in order to pronounce the capital sentence on the present system, with its unemployment and the attendant evils — poverty, misery, and disease.
H. W. M

Where does the Labour Party stand? (1923)

Editorial from the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the recent election battle the Labour Party, true to the only principle it possesses, fought for votes. The voters, except for an almost negligible minority, are opposed to attack on the present system of society. To get their votes the Labour Party had therefore to offer them something statesmanlike and inoffensive, differing just enough from the programmes of the opposing political parties to gain the sympathy of the discontented. It stood, therefore, as a bulwark against both “reaction and revolution”; but it was going to rap the knuckles of the profiteer with a capital levy. It didn’t explain how the cancelling of State debts to capitalists with money taken from capitalists, would alter the position of the workers as a slave class, and in case of misunderstanding it hastened to point out that Bonar Law had recently been strong in his approval. It advocated nationalisation, a measure definitely inimical to working-class interests, and hid behind the Daily Mail, which during the war, supported this proposal as a means of allaying discontent.

The “No More War” Labour Party was so far successful as to return 146 members to the House, the majority of whom supported the late war.

The election over, a rapid change took place in the attitude of the Daily Herald, the Labour Party’s mouthpiece. The Labour Party exists on money obtained through Trade Union affiliation, and self-preservation and the need to demonstrate the usefulness of money spent on political activities, required that the Labour Party should make at least a pretence of forcing the Government to be more generous to the unemployed and to try to lessen unemployment. They had to make a brave show, and they did.

The Herald made much of the Labour Members’ belligerent attitude at the opening of the House, when by a skilful combining of some revolutionary jargon with the politicians’ ordinary verbal window-dressing, they succeeded in creating the desired impression. Thousands of emotional “rebels,” with short memories and no knowledge of Socialism, felt delightful thrills and settled down blissfully happy to await the coming of the millennium, introduced gracefully but firmly, and above all constitutionally, by J. R. Clynes and Ramsay MacDonald.

To point to the Labour Party’s black record and to remind the over-trustful that the Labour Party was part of the Coalition Government up to 1918, and shared responsibility for all the acts of that Government, is to these people merely partisan bias. “Give Labour a chance,” they say, as if nearly a generation of persistent betrayal were not enough. But why wait?

Are the problems which face the workers capable of solution within the capitalist system, or are they not? If they are, then Socialism is not only an idle dream, but to waste time and energy on propagating Socialism is criminal folly. If they are not, then those who divert working-class energies to a futile attempt to save the present system are of necessity enemies of the workers and must be irreconcilably opposed by the Socialist. There is no need to await events to put this to the test. The workers are slaves to the capitalist class because the latter own the means of producing wealth. The workers will either replace Capitalism by Socialism, or they will retain Capitalism. If they perpetuate Capitalism they will perpetuate their slavery to the capitalist class. The form may change; the slaves may become well-fed and well-clothed; they may be given access to the literary and artistic crumbs from their master’s table; they may become contented, but they will still be slaves.

Wage slavery is inherent in the capitalist organisation of society. The presence of a number, even of a majority of Labour Members in the House of Commons will not alter the fact. When the workers understand and want Socialism, they will have it; not before. Many Labour Members really do imagine, although elected on a non-Socialist programme, that they can take action in Parliament to further Socialism; but they are no less dangerous because it is with sincerity that they propagate their delusion.

What is of chief moment, is that the majority of the Labour Members, from ignorance or with intent, are prepared to support the continued existence of the capitalist system.

As Philip Snowden says :
  “The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle; it does not accept the teaching of Marx . . .” (Manchester Guardian Reconstruction Supplement. 26th Oct., 1922.)
As Mrs. Snowden says, the object of the British Labour Party is to demonstrate that it is “a practical alternative Government,” led by a man (Ramsay MacDonald), who “will uphold a constitutional Government as rigorously as any Conservative,” and who can be imagined “seconding the suspension of a Labour Member from the Clyde with a dignity and a reverence for the House of Commons, which even Mr. Asquith could not surpass ” (Observer, November 25th, 1922).

The Labour Party’s main argument is that an honest and efficient Government, sympathetic to the aspirations of the workers, can remove unemployment or reduce it to a negligible quantity, abolish war, and in general can solve the many problems of the day without revolutionising society; without abolishing Capitalism.

Ramsay MacDonald, Leader of the Labour Party, said in the House of Commons :—
  “We of the Labour Party are not interested in ameliorative measure prepared by the late Government. We are interested in the blunders of the late Government, which created the conditions from which unemployment sprang.” (Daily Herald, 24th Nov., 1922.)
E. D. Morel, speaking the next day, on foreign policy, is reported by the Herald as follows :—
  “The present situation, said Mr. Morel, was the outcome of the errors and faults committed at Versailles, and the situation could not be remedied until those faults were remedied.” 
and again,
  "The group system [of alliances] was responsible for the war.” (25th November.)
If unemployment, which as a product of modern industrialism has been intermittently acute for 100 years, really is due to the “blunders of the late Government”; if war is caused by a particular foreign policy, and not by the inevitable clashing of capitalist interests, then Socialism is unnecessary. But an elementary study of the working of modern industry is sufficient to show that war and unemployment are natural products of the capitalist system of production.
   “There were misery, want and unemployment under capitalism before the exchanges went to pieces or the indemnity was imposed; and there will be misery, want and unemployment as long as capitalism lasts; but, at any rate, the people who run capitalism might make the best of their own iniquitous system, and not combine with the wickedness of the system the lunacy of making the worst of it.” (Daily Herald, 19th Dec., 1921.)
The choice for the workers is, therefore, not between “the group system and the League of Nations,” it is not between a Tory administration and a Labour administration of the capitalist system; their choice is between Capitalism and Socialism. The Labour Party by past actions and present declarations stands for Capitalism, with modifications perhaps, but for Capitalism nevertheless. If it succeeds in helping the capitalists to "make the best of their own iniquitous system,” they will no doubt be appropriately grateful.

But is there any need, and can the workers afford, to wait another five years for an answer to our question?

Sex. (1923)

From the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "The economic structure of society, is the real basis on which the juridical and political superstructure is raised, and to which definite social forms of thought correspond; that the mode of production determines the character of the social, political, and intellectual life generally." K. Marx, Capital, p. 54.
How many times have our opponents warned us that the establishment of Socialism would involve the destruction of family life, which, we are informed, forms the very basis of “our” civilisation and “our” humanity.

The inference being, that despite the refining (sic) influences of war, poverty, unemployment, and other vicissitudes of working-class life, sex relations are still governed by only the purest and most lofty of motives: In sober truth this aspect of their lives forms one of the saddest features in the irksome sameness of the toilers drab existence.

Even the Press treads warily when writing upon such a subject, and reformers employ cunning caution lest orthodox respectability and conventional morality be outraged, and exposed for the sordid and mercenary institution, Capitalism forces it to become: Poets, artists, and singers have exercised their talents to the glorification of that highly developed human emotion, sex love; but does it require a profound wisdom to discern that, to millions to-day, the major portion of whose life is spent in the life sapping process of wealth production for the enjoyment of others, such emotions cannot find an environment wherein the most beautiful expression of such feelings can fructify: Fundamentally, the objective of such relations, must always be the reproduction of the human species, which implies the production of food, clothing, and shelter. Just as there have been varying methods of producing these things, so have there been changing sex relations in the human family.
  "We have, then, three main forms of the family corresponding in general to the three main stages of human development, for savagery, group marriage, for barbarism the pairing family, for civilisation, monogamy, supplemented by adultery and prostitution." "Origin of the Family." F, Engels, (p. 90.)
From the available information collected by travellers, missionaries, sociologists, and aided by the Socialist method of studying social development, as summarised at the beginning of this article, it becomes clear that woman’s economic subjection commences with the early accumulation of property. The further development of property caused the transference of recognised descent from the maternal to the paternal side. This enforced fidelity upon the married female, though still allowing for irregular forms of cohabitation for the male. Concubinage or the sexual submission of female slaves to their owners, was recognised under chattel slavery. With modifications the “rights” of the ruling- class over their economic inferiors, persists through Feudalism, and to this day, under the hypocritical guise of freedom and the monetary purchase of the daughters and sisters of the working-class. The workers in general accept the morality imposed upon them by the possessors of their means of livelihood, the capitalist class. “The ruling ideas of any particular age have ever been only the ideas of its ruling class" (Communist Manifesto). That the property basis of sex relations should give rise to a double standard of morality has ever confused our would-be moral reformers, to whom, these relations appear as man-made laws, or sex antagonism.

But to-day, larger numbers of women than ever before must seek the labour market in order to dispose of their bodily activities, their only possession, to the class who own all the resources of nature, the master class. Add to this the economic inability of large numbers of men to marry, and is it to be wondered at that in the large cities thousands of women and girls, unable to secure the ordinary occupational opportunity to live, drift to that degrading cesspool of Capitalism, “The Streets.” Even marriage, when the primary motive of the woman is the apparent security it confers upon her, inevitably leads to discord and unhappiness. Working-class life and “security” are incompatible: Too often, alas! it means that marriage transforms a bright and cheerful girl into a haggard domestic drudge, worn out with worry and anxiety long before the idle dolls and playthings of our masters lose their bloom and freshness of youth; try as they may, the efforts of our reformers must fail, they can seek to “rescue the fallen,” or extol the blessings of “virtue," combined with work in some capitalist sweat den, but while the same conditions remain which breed the criminals, the paupers, the millionaires, and those who must traffic their sex to live, in short Capitalism, their efforts cannot avail. The vicious conditions of life, whether unemployment, overwork, or the perversion of the most exquisite physical functions, have their origin deep in a system of life which we claim has outlived its usefulness. Our analysis of present-day society proclaims the workers the only useful class; when workers reach that consciousness, they will understand that their emancipation involves the emancipation of humanity irrespective of race or sex. Then women, like men, will become units in a classless society; wherein the useful necessary tasks of that day, will be undertaken by all capable, with the object of securing the best physical and mental development possible. Socialism will assure a leisured and bountiful life to all, because, even with our present powers of production, unfettered by the restrictions of trade and profit, and used with the object of satisfying all our needs, with the minimum of effort, wealth could be produced to almost any quantity we might demand. As yet, we have but scratched nature’s skin; under Socialism the basis of our social order will cease to be a private property one, giving way to common ownership and democratic control by the whole people : Individual egotism can then be pursued through the communal welfare of all, as against the present wasteful competitive cut-throat methods of life. Under such conditions the strongest sex attraction yet known, mutual affection, will have opportunity of free and unhampered expressing, bringing forth a race of intelligent and beautiful men and women.
Mac

What is Capital? (1923)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,

I should be obliged with your opinion on the following: —Is it illogical to say “that under Socialism we cannot or will not have capital ”?

My affirmation of the above proposition brought me into conflict with a person who says: “Yes; you will have capital under Socialism.” His point was that, scientifically speaking, the form of ownership of any given thing cannot affect its name which means or implies certain qualities not altering with ownership, i.e., the qualities of gunpowder, of a rifle, of an engine, etc., are not determined by ownership, but by function.

Thus you have now quantities of wealth reserved for the purpose of further wealth production (capital); of a necessity you would have this repeated under Socialism; consequently you would have capital.
Yours, etc.,
F. G. R.

Reply:
The above letter was mislaid, and consequently there has been some delay in dealing with it.

Capital is not merely “wealth reserved for the purpose of further wealth production.’’ It is wealth used for the purpose of profit.

To be strictly accurate, capital is a function of money; it is money which begets money; money invested for the purpose of bringing back a larger amount of money than that which was originally advanced.

The starting point of all capitalist operations is the investing of money. A glance at the prospectus of any company will make this evident. A long period of time, and complicated processes, may intervene between the original investing of the money and its final return, plus an increment; nevertheless the increment was the object of the investment.

The increment, or extra money, is the form taken by unpaid labour — surplus value. The cause of the production of this increment is the fact that the worker produces more in a given time than he receives for working during that time; in other words, he produces a surplus of value above the value of his means of subsistence. This surplus goes to the capitalist, as the worker receives on the average only a sum equal to his cost of subsistence.

Production of articles for sale with a view to profit is the basis upon which capitalism is built. Before this can become the rule, two essentials are requisite. First, wealth must be privately owned; and second, there must be a stock of free labourers on the market—free to be bought along with the other articles necessary for the production of wealth. The free labourer is a product of modern times. He is free in the sense that neither family nor territorial ties interfere with the sale of his labour power. He is also free in the sense that he may starve (providing he does not make himself a public nuisance !) if he does not find a buyer for his labour power.

In past stages of social development, capital has appeared here and there, but only as the odd, the unusual element in production. Originally it appeared as lending money in the hands of usurers. It only became the social rule when a new type of worker appeared, who was bound by no feudal or other ties, and was free to sell his energy to whoever wished to buy. Capital is therefore bound up with wage slavery.

To sum the matter up: the existence of capital as the general condition of a society presupposes the existence of a class producing surplus value and a class appropriating it; a robbed and a robber class; a class producing wealth which it does not own, and a class owning wealth which it does not produce.
With the introduction of Socialism, the private ownership of wealth will cease to prevail; wealth will be produced for use and not for profit. Consequently wealth wilt not function as capital. The conditions for the existence of capital having disappeared, capital will do likewise.

There is a well-known case of a fellow named Othello who, owing to certain circumstances found his occupation gone. Pity the poor capitalist—he will emulate Othello!
Gilmac.

Vote Swapping. (1923)

From the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

How the Labour Party will emancipate the workers.
  “At yesterday’s meeting of Inverness Trades and Labour Council, a telegram was read from Arthur Henderson, stating that in the absence of a Labour candidate, Labour’s interests are to defeat the Government.
  “The Council, therefore, resolved to recommend trade unionists, who numbered about 4,000, to vote for the Independent Liberal candidate.” (Daily Herald, March 4th, 1922.)
  “Widnes Liberals have decided to support the candidature of Mr. Arthur Henderson, the Labour Leader.” (Star, November 1st, 1922.)

Rosa Luxemburg, political democracy and mass action (2019)

SPGB Pamphlet
From the January 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered a hundred years ago this month, had been a socialist member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) until it supported the German government in the First World War, sharing its basic positions. She advocated that the working class should win control of political power with a view to replacing capitalism with a society based on the common ownership of the means of production by the whole of society, with production directly for use. She held that the exercise of political power to bring this change should take place within the framework of political democracy, and that even under capitalism political democracy was the best framework for the development of the working class and socialist movements; in fact, a consistent theme of her political views was that the ‘proletariat’ (the working class) had to take up the torch for democracy abandoned by the once-progressive ‘bourgeoisie’.

Reforms
She also accepted that, in addition to the ‘maximum’ programme of socialism, a socialist party should also have, as did the SPD and parties in other countries modelled on it, a programme of social and political reforms to be achieved under capitalism. In her famous pamphlet Reform or Revolution (1898) her opposition was not to reforms as such nor to campaigning for them, but to reformism as the doctrine that capitalism could be gradually transformed into socialism by a series of social reform measures enacted by parliament. This was the view of the ‘Revisionists’ within the SPD and was the target of her pamphlet.

Elsewhere she explained the official SPD (and her) attitude towards parliamentary action:
  ‘The parliamentary struggle, however, the counterpart of the trade-union struggle, is equally with it, a fight conducted exclusively on the basis of the bourgeois social order. It is by its very nature, political reform work, as that of the trade-unions is economic reform work. It represents political work for the present, as trade-unions represent economic work for the present.’ (The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions, chapter VIII).
This is the correct meaning of the word ‘parliamentarism’. It does not mean participating in elections and going into parliament but using parliament to get reforms under capitalism.

The Revisionists lost the vote but they won the war as the SPD came to concentrate more and more on parliamentary activity, prioritising increases in its representation in national and regional parliaments and pursuing social reforms, in some places through deals with the Liberal or Catholic parties. Luxemburg could see where this was leading. And where in fact it did eventually lead: to the SPD becoming a democratic social reform party, relegating its maximum programme of socialism to a distant future or to conference rhetoric. Naturally, she was opposed to this.

Her alternative was the ‘mass strike’, basically extra-parliamentary action, initially still to get reforms, what the anarchists call ‘direct action’. Her argument was that reforms obtained in this way would not lead to encouraging mere ‘parliamentarism’ but would prepare the working class for the mass action that the establishment of socialism would have to involve.

Knowing Marx’s insistence on the need for the working class to win control of political power so as to be in a position to change the basis of society from class to common ownership, she was at pains to distinguish her position from that of the anarchists. This was obvious enough anyway since the actual ‘mass strikes’ that she supported were aimed at obtaining or extending political democracy.

Mass strikes to get the vote
This was how she analysed the uprising in Russia in 1905 in her pamphlet The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions (1906). She knew perfectly well that a socialist revolution was out of the question in Russia and that what was on the agenda was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ to establish a democratic republic with a parliament within which the working class could press for social reforms. As she wrote:
  ‘. . . the mass strike in Russia has been realised not as a means of evading the political struggle of the working-class, and especially of parliamentarism, not as a means of jumping suddenly into the social revolution by means of a theatrical coup, but as a means, firstly, of creating for the proletariat the conditions of the daily political struggle and especially of parliamentarism’ (chapter 1).
The events in Russia confirmed a view that she had already come to a few years earlier in relation to the campaign in Belgium for universal suffrage, as not just votes for everybody but equal votes for everybody, i.e., with no mechanism to make the votes of rich property-owners count more than those of workers.

Votes for every man had been obtained in Belgium as a result of a general strike in 1893 but with the rich having more than one vote. An attempt to make this more democratic in 1902 by abolishing plural votes had failed despite another general strike. Luxemburg argued that this failure was due to the leaders of the Belgian Workers Party concentrating on doing a deal with the Liberals in the Belgian parliament and calling off the strike to facilitate this. She argued that if the strike had been maintained the aim could have been achieved (see: LINK).

Precisely the same issue came up in Germany itself in 1909 in relation to the electoral system in Prussia. Prussia, the dominant state within the German empire and where its capital Berlin was situated, had a three-class electoral system which gave more weight to the votes of the rich. The SPD launched a campaign for all votes to count equally. Luxemburg fully supported this campaign but argued that mass strikes would be the best way to secure this.

Her position was a bit incoherent because she argued, on the one hand, that mass strikes could not be planned in advance and launched by a decree from on high but had to break out spontaneously from below, while, on the other, she was criticising the SPD leadership for not calling for one. Her position seems to have been that the SPD should accept and encourage the general idea of a mass strike as a weapon to obtain reforms and support such strikes when they broke out.

No Leninist
This position of support for ‘spontaneous’ mass action meant that her views were the exact opposite of Lenin’s. If she thought that the SDP bureaucracy should not seek to call strikes this would apply even more to Lenin’s much more centralised vanguard party. She had in fact criticised in 1904 Lenin’s views in his What is To Be Done? when they became known outside Russia:
  ‘If we assume the viewpoint claimed as his own by Lenin and we fear the influence of intellectuals in the proletarian movement, we can conceive of no greater danger to the Russian party than Lenin’s plan of organization. Nothing will more surely enslave a young labour movement to an intellectual elite hungry for power than this bureaucratic straightjacket, which will immobilize the movement and turn it into an automaton manipulated by a Central Committee’ (Her italics. See: LINK).
Her reaction to the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in November 1917 was to support the overthrow of the pro-war provisional government and the new government’s appeals for world revolution – but she was severely critical of some of the policies the Bolsheviks adopted, including the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (she said they should have called fresh elections to it) and minority dictatorship:
  ‘Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins (the postponement of the Soviet Congress from three-month periods to six-month periods!). Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc. (Lenin’s speech on discipline and corruption.)’ (See LINK).
Spartacus League
As it happened, in both Russia and Germany autocratic rule was overthrown as a result of unplanned mass action. By then, following the slaughter of the First World War, Luxemburg had become convinced that socialism itself – the ‘maximum’ programme – was on the agenda and that the alternative was ‘socialism or barbarism.’ She was now a member of the Spartacus League, a party formed by anti-war ex-members of the SPD. Introducing its new programme, which she had drafted, to the party’s conference on 31 December 1918, she identified what had gone wrong with the SPD as the division of its programme into maximum and minimum parts and its concentration on parliamentary activity to achieve the latter:
  ‘Until the collapse of August 4, 1914, German Social Democracy took its stand upon the Erfurt Programme, by which the so-called immediate minimal aims were placed in the forefront, while socialism was no more than a distant guiding star, the ultimate goal. (….) Our programme is deliberately opposed to the standpoint of the Erfurt Programme; it is deliberately opposed to the separation of the immediate, so-called minimal demands formulated for the political and economic struggle from the socialist goal regarded as a maximal programme. In this deliberate opposition [to the Erfurt Programme] we liquidate the results of seventy years’ evolution and above all, the immediate results of the World War, in that we say: For us there is no minimal and no maximal programme; socialism is one and the same thing: this is the minimum we have to realize today’ (LINK).
The programme itself is a 1918 version of the Communist Manifesto of 1848. It reads very well and proclaimed:
  ‘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’ (LINK).
The programme went into more detail about the form that the ‘mass action’ Luxemburg had always favoured (previously for political reform) would take, at least in the conditions in Germany at the time, when the aim was to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism: workers and soldiers councils which would challenge the capitalist state politically and employers economically. She personally, as in her speech, didn’t rule out contesting elections to the National Assembly and using it for ‘revolutionary purposes’ or as ‘a new school of education for the working class’, a position rejected by a majority of the League’s members. In any event, this wasn’t central to the revolution she believed was imminent.

Unfortunately, just as Marx and Engels had misjudged the situation in 1848 in expecting an ‘immediately following proletarian revolution’, so Luxemburg and the Spartacus League misjudged the situation in 1918. Only a relatively small number of workers supported the League’s programme, and their uprising in January 1919 was crushed. Luxemburg had considered it premature but had loyally gone along with the majority decision. It cost her her life.

We can only speculate as to what position she would have taken later had she not been murdered in 1919 but it is unlikely that she would have abandoned her life-long commitment to democracy or her view that socialism had to be established by the conscious mass action of workers themselves ‘from below’ rather than by the action ‘from above’ of a parliamentary or vanguardist party.
Adam Buick