Polish-born German Revolutionary, Marxist Theorist, Philosopher, Economist, Agitator and Socialist
"A true social revolution requires a spiritual transformation of the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule and that it is only by extirpating the habits of obedience and servility to the last roots that the working class can acquire the understanding of a new form of self-discipline. [paraphrase by Noam Chomsky]"
"Being human means throwing your whole life on the scales of destiny when need be, all the while rejoicing in every sunny day and every beautiful cloud."
"Bourgeois class domination is undoubtedly an historical necessity, but, so too, the rising of the working class against it. Capital is an historical necessity, but, so too, its grave digger, the socialist proletariat."
"Europe, it is true, is a geographical and, within certain limits, an historical cultural conception. But the idea of Europe as an economic unit contradicts capitalist development in two ways. First of all there exist within Europe among the capitalist States – and will so long as these exist – the most violent struggles of competition and antagonisms, and secondly the European States can no longer get along economically without the non-European countries. ... At the present stage of development of the world market and of world economy, the conception of Europe as an isolated economic unit is a sterile concoction of the brain… And if the idea of a European union in the economic sense has long been outstripped, this is no less the case in the political sense… Only were one suddenly to lose sight of all these happenings and manoeuvres, and to transfer oneself back to the blissful times of the European concert of powers, could one say, for instance, that for forty years we have had uninterrupted peace. This conception, which considers only events on the European continent, does not notice that the very reason why we have had no war in Europe for decades is the fact that international antagonisms have grown infinitely beyond the narrow confines of the European continent, and that European problems and interests are now fought out on the world seas and in the by-corners of Europe."
"Freedom for supporters of the government only, for members of one party only -- no matter how big its membership may be -- is no freedom at all. Freedom is always freedom for the man who thinks differently."
"The fate of democracy is bound up, we have seen, with the fate of the labor movement. But does the development of democracy render superfluous or impossible a proletarian revolution, that is, the conquest of political power by the workers?"
"Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party - though they are quite numerous - is no freedom at all."
"Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken."
"Life is singing also in the sand crunching under the slow and heavy steps of the guards, when we know how to listen to it."
"Marxism is a revolutionary worldview that must always struggle for new revelations. Marxism must abhor nothing so much as the possibility that it becomes congealed in its current form. It is at its best when butting heads in self-criticism, and in historical thunder and lightning, it retains its strength."
"Militarism in both its forms — as war and as armed peace — is a legitimate child, a logical result of capitalism, which can only be overcome with the destruction of capitalism, and that hence whoever honestly desires world peace and liberation from the tremendous burden of armaments must also desire Socialism. Only in this way can real Social Democratic enlightenment and recruiting be carried on in connection with the armaments debate."
"Only through the conscious action of the working masses in city and country can it be brought to life, only through the people's highest intellectual maturity and inexhaustible idealism can it be brought safely through all storms and find its way to port."
"Plausible as the idea of the United States of Europe as a peace arrangement may seem to some at first glance, it has on closer examination not the least thing in common with the method of thought and the standpoint of social democracy . . . At the present stage of development of the world market and of world economy, the conception of Europe as an isolated economic unit is a sterile concoction of the brain. Europe no more forms a special unit within world economy than does Asia or America."
"Social democracy seeks and finds the ways, and particular slogans, of the workers' struggle only in the course of the development of this struggle, and gains directions for the way forward through this struggle alone."
"Social democracy... is only the advance guard of the proletariat, a small piece of the total working masses; blood from their blood, and flesh from their flesh."
"The friends of peace in bourgeois circles believe that world peace and disarmament can be realized within the frame-work of the present social order, whereas we, who base ourselves on the materialistic conception of history and on scientific socialism, are convinced that militarism can only be abolished from the world with the destruction of the capitalist class state."
"The high stage of world-industrial development in capitalistic production finds expression in the extraordinary technical development and destructiveness of the instruments of war."
"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 will be!"
"The masses are in reality their own leaders, dialectically creating their own development process."
"The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built."
"The modern proletarian class doesn’t carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers’ struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight… That’s exactly what is laudable about it, that’s exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers’ movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation."
"The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands."
"The Russo-Japanese War now gives to all an awareness that even war and peace in Europe – its destiny – isn’t decided between the four walls of the European concert, but outside it, in the gigantic maelstrom of world and colonial politics. And it’s in this that the real meaning of the current war resides for social-democracy, even if we set aside its immediate effect: the collapse of Russian absolutism. This war brings the gaze of the international proletariat back to the great political and economic connectedness of the world, and violently dissipates in our ranks the particularism, the pettiness of ideas that form in any period of political calm. The war completely rends all the veils which the bourgeois world – this world of economic, political and social fetishism – constantly wraps us in. The war destroys the appearance which leads us to believe in peaceful social evolution; in the omnipotence and the untouchability of bourgeois legality; in national exclusivism; in the stability of political conditions; in the conscious direction of politics by these statesmen or parties; in the significance capable of shaking up the world of the squabbles in bourgeois parliaments; in parliamentarism as the so-called center of social existence. War unleashes – at the same time as the reactionary forces of the capitalist world – the generating forces of social revolution which ferment in its depths."
"The times when the centre of gravity of political development and the crystallising agent of capitalist contradictions lay on the European continent, are long gone by. To-day Europe is only a link in the tangled chain of international connections and contradictions."
"The Utopianism of the standpoint which expects an era of peace and retrenchment of militarism in the present social order is plainly revealed in the fact that it is having recourse to project making. For it is typical of Utopian strivings that, in order to demonstrate their practicability, they hatch practical recipes with the greatest possible details. To this also belongs the project of the United States of Europe as a basis for the limitation of international militarism."
"Tomorrow the revolution will 'rise up again, clashing its weapons,' and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!"
"What do you want with these special Jewish pains? I feel as close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putamayo and the blacks of Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play ball… I have no special corner in my heart for the ghetto: I am at home in the entire world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears."
"What is our task in the question of peace? It does not consist merely in vigorously demonstrating at all times the love of peace of the Social Democrats; but first and foremost our task is to make clear to the masses of people the nature of militarism and sharply and clearly to bring out the differences in principle between the standpoint of the Social Democrats and that of the bourgeois peace enthusiasts."
"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. Such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shootings of hostages, etc."
"A general strike that has in advance been bound to the fetters of legality is like an artillery demonstration that starts with the shot being thrown into the water in front of the enemy?s very eyes? Such a restrained threat ? will not even frighten a child, let alone a ruling class that is struggling desperately to keep its political power."
"A world must be overturned, but every tear that flows is an accusation; and every man rushing to do something important who treads even on a worm through pure carelessness is committing a crime."
"All the above great and partial mass strikes and general strikes were not demonstration strikes but fighting strikes, and as such they originated, for the most part, spontaneously, in every case from specific local accidental causes, without plan or design, and grew with elemental power into great movements, and then they did not begin an ?orderly retreat,? but turned now into economic struggles, now into street fighting, and now collapsed of themselves."
"All this immediately influences the action of the strike in a thousand invisible and scarcely controllable ways. But strike action itself does not cease for a single moment. It merely alters its forms, its dimensions, its effect. It is the living pulse-beat of the revolution and at the same time its most powerful driving wheel. In a word, the mass strike, as shown to us in the Russian Revolution, is not a crafty method discovered by subtle reasoning for the purpose of making the proletarian struggle more effective, but the method of motion of the proletarian mass, the phenomenal form of the proletarian struggle in the revolution."
"Berlin has made the most unfavorable impression on me: cold, tasteless, massive ? a real barracks; and the dear Prussians with their arrogance, as though every one of them had swallowed the cane with which one had once been beaten?"
"An artificially arranged demonstration of the urban proletariat, taking place once, a mere mass strike action arising out of discipline, and directed by the conductor?s baton of a party executive, could therefore leave the broad masses of the people cold and indifferent. But a powerful and reckless fighting action of the industrial proletariat, born of a revolutionary situation, must surely react upon the deeper-lying layers, and ultimately draw all those into a stormy general economic struggle who, in normal times, stand aside from the daily trade-union fight."
"Between the political and economic struggle in the Russian Revolution there is a very close internal connection; their unity becomes an actual fact in the period of mass strikes."
"For us there is no minimal and no maximal program; socialism is one and the same thing: this is the minimum we have to realize today."
"Here, the economic struggle was not really a decay, a dissipation of action, but merely change of front, a sudden and natural alteration of the first general engagement with absolutism, in a general reckoning with capital, which in keeping with its character assumed the form of individual, scattered wage struggles. Political class action was not broken in January by the decay of the general strike into economic strikes, but the reverse, after the possible content of political action in the given situation and at the given stage of the revolution was exhausted, it broke, or rather changed, into economic action.?"
"During the night two delegates of the railwaymen were arrested. The strikers immediately demanded their release, and as this was not conceded, they decided not to allow trains leave the town. At the station all the strikers with their wives and families sat down on the railway track-a sea of human beings. They were threatened with rifles salvoes. The workers bared their breast and cried, Shoot! A salvo was fired into the defenseless seated crowd, and 30 to 40 corpses, among them women and children, remained on the ground. On this becoming known the whole town of Kiev went to strike on the same day. The corpses of the murdered workers were raised on high by the crowd and carried round in mass demonstration."
"But the movement on the whole does not proceed from the economic to the political struggle, nor even the reverse. Every great political mass action, after it has attained its political highest point, breaks up into a mass of economic strikes. And that applies not only to each of the great mass strikes, but also to the revolution as a whole. With the spreading, clarifying and involution of the political struggle, the economic struggle not only does not recede, but extends, organizes and becomes involved in equal measure. Between the two there is the most complete reciprocal action?..In a word: the economic struggle is the transmitter from one political center to another; the political struggle is the periodic fertilization of the soil for the economic struggle. Cause and effect here continually change places; and thus the economic and the political factor in the period of the mass strike, now widely removed, completely separated or even mutually exclusive, as the theoretical plan would have them, merely form the two interlacing sides of the proletarian class struggle in Russia. And their unity is precisely the mass strike. If the sophisticated theory proposes to make a clever logical dissection of the mass strike for the purpose of getting at the ?purely political mass strike,? it will by this dissection, as with any other, not perceive the phenomenon in its living essence, but will kill it altogether."
"Capitalist development becomes a string of political and social disasters, and under these conditions, punctuated by periodical [sic] economic catastrophes or crises, accumulation can go on no longer. But even before this natural economic impasse of capital?s own creating [i.e. the complete commodification of every aspect of nature and human life?IS] is properly reached it becomes a necessity for the international working class to revolt against the rule of capital."
"Couple the mass strike chiefly with the fate of universal suffrage, from which it follows that they can believe in two things ? first, that the mass strike is of a purely defensive character, and second, that the mass strike is even subordinate to parliamentarism, that is, has been turned into a mere appendage of parliamentarism."