The National Assembly
First Published: Die Rote Fahne, November 20th, 1918. Source: Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, edited and introduced by Robert Looker, pp.262-5. Translated: (from the German) W.D. Graf. Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins with special thanks to Robert Looker for help with permissions. Copyright: Random House, 1972, ISBN/ISSN: 0224005960. Printed with the permission of Random House. Luxemburg Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004.
All the way from the Deutsche Tageszeitung, Die Vossische and Vorwärts to the independent Freiheit, from Reventlow, Erzberger and Scheidemann to Haase and Kautsky, comes a unanimous call for a national assembly. And at the same time there is a unanimous cry of fear at the idea of the power being in the hands of the working class.
All the ‘people’, the whole ‘nation’, are to be called upon to decide by majority resolution the further fate of the revolution.
This slogan is a matter of course to the open and insidious agents of the ruling classes. We shall discuss neither in the national assembly nor about the national assembly with the warders of the capitalists’ safes.
But even independent leaders are joining the ranks of the warders of capital in this decisive question.
In this way, as Hilferding states in Freiheit, they want to spare themselves the revolution, the use of force, the civil war with all its horrors. Petit-bourgeois illusions! They imagine that the mightiest revolution since the beginning of mankind will develop in such a form that the various social classes will come together, engage in a pleasant, calm and ‘dignified’ discussion with each other, and will afterwards hold a vote, perhaps even one with a famous ‘division’. When the capitalist class sees that it is in the minority, it, as a well-disciplined parliamentary party, will declare with a sigh, Theres nothing we can do! We see that we are outvoted. All right, we shall submit and hand over all our lands, factories, mines, all our fire-proof safes and our handsome profits to the workers …
Indeed, the species embodied by Lamartine, Garnier Pages, Ledru Rollin, namely the species of petit-bourgeois illusionists and babblers of 1848, has not died out; it has reappeared – without the lustre and talent and allure of newness – in a boring-pedantic-scholarly German edition written by Kautsky, Hilferding and Haase.
These profound Marxists have forgotten the abc of socialism.
They have forgotten that the bourgeoisie is not a parliamentary party, but a ruling class in possession of all the means of economic and social power.
These gentlemen Junkers and capitalists will remain quiet only so long as the revolutionary government is content to whitewash over capitalist wage relationships. They will be good only so long as the revolution is good, that is, long as the vital nerve, the artery of bourgeois class pile – capitalistic private property, wage relationships, profit – are left undisturbed.
If profit is called to account, if private property is to be done away with, then this is going too far.
Today’s idyll in which wolves and sheep, tigers and lambs, graze peacefully side by side, as in Noah’s Ark, will until the minute that real socialism begins to be put auto practice.
The moment the great National Assembly decides to realize socialism fully and completely, to extirpate the rule of capitalism root and branch, at that moment the struggle begins. Once the bourgeoisie is touched in the heart – and its heart beats from within a fire-proof safe – it will fight a life-and-death battle for its rule and will develop thousands of open and covert methods of resistance against the socialist measures.
All this is inevitable. All this must be fought through, warded off, beaten down – with or without the National Assembly. The ‘civil war’ which some have anxiously tried to banish from the revolution cannot be dispelled. For civil war is only another name for class struggle, and the notion of implementing socialism without a class struggle, by means of a majority parliamentary decision, is a ridiculous petit-bourgeois illusion.
What is gained, then, with this cowardly detour called the National Assembly? The bourgeoisie’s position is strengthened; the proletariat is weakened and confused by empty illusions; time and energy are dissipated and lost in ‘discussions’ between the wolf and the lamb; in a word, one plays into the hands of all those elements whose intent is to defraud the proletarian revolution of its socialist goals and to emasculate it into a bourgeois democratic revolution.
But the question of the National Assembly is not a question of opportunity, not a question of the greater ‘convenience’. It is a question of principle, a question of the socialists’ knowledge of themselves and of the limitations of the revolution.
The first decisive step in the great French Revolution was taken in July 1789, when the three separate Estates combined in a joint National Assembly. This decision left its stamp upon the whole future course of events; it was the symbol of the victory of a new bourgeois social order over the medieval-feudal society of Estates.
In the same way, the symbol of the new socialist social order borne by the present proletarian revolution, the symbol of the class character of its true task, and of the class character of the political organ which is meant to execute this task, is: the workers’ council, based on representation of the urban and rural proletariat.
The National Assembly is an outmoded legacy of bourgeois revolutions, an empty shell, a requisite from the time of petit-bourgeois illusions of a ‘united people’ and of the ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ of the bourgeois State.
To resort to the National Assembly today is consciously or unconsciously to turn the revolution back to the historical stage of bourgeois revolutions; anyone advocating it is a secret agent of the bourgeoisie or an unconscious spokesman of petit-bourgeois ideology.
The struggle for the National Assembly is carried on under the war-cry of ‘democracy or dictatorship’. Even socialist leaders obediently adopt these slogans of counter-revolutionary demagogues without noticing that this alternative is a demagogic falsification.
Today it is not a question of democracy or dictatorship. The question that history has placed on the agenda is: bourgeois democracy or socialist democracy? For the dictatorship of the proletariat is democracy in a socialist sense. It is not a matter of bombs, coups d’etat, riots or ‘anarchy’, as the agents of capitalist profit dishonestly make out; rather it is the use of all the means of political power to realize socialism, to expropriate the capitalist class – in the interests and through the will of the revolutionary majority of the proletariat, that is, in the spirit of socialist democracy.
Without the conscious will and action of the majority of the proletariat, there can be no socialism. In order to intensify this consciousness, to steel this will, to organize this action, a class organ is necessary: a national council of the urban and rural proletarians.
The convocation of such a representative body of labour in place of the traditional National Assembly of the bourgeois revolutions is in itself an act of the class struggle, a break with the historical past of bourgeois society, a powerful method of arousing the proletarian masses, a first open and abrupt declaration of war against capitalism.
No evasions, no ambiguities – the die must be cast. Yesterday parliamentary cretinism was a weakness; today it is an ambiguity; tomorrow it will be a betrayal of socialism.”