Rosa Luxemburg on the lack of democracy in Soviet Russia (1918)


In late 1918 the German socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg wrote about the lack of democracy in Soviet Russia under the Bolsheviks:


“Socialist democracy is not something which begins only in the promised land after the foundations of socialist economy are created; it does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people… Socialist democracy begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party. It is the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class – that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses. It must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity. It must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people.

Doubtless the Bolsheviks would have proceeded in this very way if not for the frightful compulsion of the world war, the German occupation and all the abnormal difficulties connected therewith, things which were inevitably bound to distort any socialist policy, whatever its best intentions and finest principles.

A crude proof of this is provided by the use of terror by the Soviet government, especially in the most recent period just before the collapse of German imperialism, and just after the attempt on the life of the German ambassador. The [excuse] that revolutions are not pink teas is in itself pretty inadequate. Everything that happens in Russia is comprehensible and represents an inevitable chain of causes and effects, the starting point of which are the failure of the German proletariat and the occupation of Russia by German imperialism.

“It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy. By their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international socialism, they have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions…

The Bolsheviks have shown that they are capable of everything that a genuine revolutionary party can contribute within the limits of historical possibilities. They are not supposed to perform miracles. For a model and faultless proletarian revolution in an isolated land, exhausted by world war, strangled by imperialism, betrayed by the international proletariat, would be a miracle.”