Our Common Cause: Socialism or barbarism?

November 17, 1993

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 editorial board. The Junius Pamphlet is available at < http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/index.htA HREF="mailto:m"><m>.]

From Green Left Weekly, August 11, 2004.
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