‘The Will to Revolution’ (1915) by Karl Liebknecht from Voices of Revolt No. 4. International Publishers, New York. 1927.

‘The Will to Revolution’ (1915) by Karl Liebknecht from Voices of Revolt No. 4. International Publishers, New York. 1927.

“REVOLUTIONS cannot be made”-this, statement, which we find applied to the entire social revolution, is both true and untrue. “Revolutions” are “made,” like all the rest of the social evolution. But they cannot be stamped out of the ground; they grow out of an organized unfolding of knowledge, feeling, and will, an unfolding which does not descend from Heaven, any more than it arises-on the other hand -with the scientific inevitability of a mechanically superhuman or vegetative automatic phenomenon. Revolution arises in accordance with the laws of human and social psychology, with a-more or less conscious-human activity, i.e., precisely by. Reason of a given individual and social psychology, and by general social conditions. In other words, the “make” is a social “make”: a mass process, a process within the masses and by the masses; a process achieving itself in the acts of the individuals composing the masses, or representing the masses at the moment. The sentence I have quoted is often misunderstood and abused as a pretext for political inactivity. This does not apply in equal measure to all countries, but it applies particularly to Germany, with its Social-Democratic organization, which serves so excellently for the normal evolution of peaceful times, and is such a stumbling-block in exceptional periods of action. It is quite different in the Latin nations, which are characterized not by the slogan of quietism, but by that of activism.

Speaking in Berlin during the Revolution. December 7, 1918.

And let there be no suppression, no elimination of the individual act. A timid fear of the danger of free initiative, of hasty national actions and “aberrations” has no cause for existence in a world historic event based on a broad foundation of social forces and aspirations. A great social movement can select and put through the social forces available for its purposes only as the result of a complicated dialectic process which remains operative in it for a long time, particularly in periods of catastrophic convulsions. At certain stages of evolution, it will be necessary to put down individualistic flashes in the pan; it was with this in view that the above sentence was coined and repeatedly preached, and this condition is the only stage in the evolution of the labor movement to which it is applicable. But in a profounder sense, the abomination of individual actions as anarchistic or anarcho-Socialistic, is justified when they are individualistic not only as to appearances, but in their general social significance and effect. Individual acts capable of enhancing or even releasing mass action are not only desirable in the critical eye of the Marxian doctrine of society, but are even demanded by this doctrine.

Mass actions, in the sense of a simultaneous formulation and execution of a decision to act, in all the individuals composing the masses holding the decisive historical position, are an improbability. The first impulse is always given by the individual, or by several individuals; his, or their, initiative is the signal for the others, and their action will drag in that of the others. It is the spark that kindles, even though the true conflagration requires all the masses to be enveloped in the flame.

It is not true that at every historical moment the utmost possible, the utmost measure of utility to the generality proceeds with “the necessity of natural law.” Such a statement would display a false understanding of the complicated organic structure of the entire social evolution in all its gamut of possibilities. Cause and effect, the necessity of natural law, no doubt dominate the events of social life, but this conception of cause and effect, this conception of necessity, includes also very variable, individual powers and actions, capable of being influenced in many directions, as a factor of high importance.

The previous training of the proletariat to subordination of the individual to the general, to the decisions of the whole body, which have been taken with great care, necessarily requires to be supplemented by a free and bold initiative of the individual at the proper moment; by a training to action on one’s own responsibility; by a training for fitness at moments when the decisions of the masses are not yet capable of being made, or when there is confusion, to take the proper and necessary step on one’s own responsibility-as a sound of alarm for the immediate intervention of the masses, or in the sense of their profounder interests, which may as yet be misunderstood. The working class has had occasion to learn, by reason of a year of bitter experiences, that there are moments at which organizations are not operative, and cannot be operative, in which all the traditional modes for the formal conception and execution of the mass will are inapplicable; it has. learned these things too well to forget them, I hope.

-From an article published in Nos. I and 2 “Jugend lnternationale,” in 1915.

Berlin, 1911.
Speeches of Karl Liebknecht. Voices of Revolt No. 4. International Publishers, New York. 1927.

Contents: Biographical Sketch by Willi Munzenberg, The Class Character of the School in the Capitalist State (March 16, 1916), The Necessity of Proletarian Young People’s Organizations (1904), The Work Among Young People (1911), The Proletarian Youth Movement and Anti-Militarism (October 10, 1917), Anti-Militarism (August 26, 1906), The Necessity of Specific Anti-Militarist Agitation (1906), Militarism as a Weapon Against the Internal Foe (June 20, 1913), Militarism and Anti-Militarism (1907), Class Justice (February 6, 1911), Against the Reformists (1907), Against Bauer and Scheidemann For the General Strike (1907), The Duty to the Russian Revolution (1906), Against the Imperialist War (December 2, 1914), Imperialism and War (January, 1915), The Necessity of Revolutionary Class Struggle (March 2, 1915), Proletarian Revolution and Proletarian Dictatorship (November 23, 1918), The Will to Revolution (1915), Explanatory Notes. 93 pages.

The fourth in the Voices of Revolt series begun by the Communist Party’s International Publishers under the direction of Alexander Trachtenberg in 1927.

PDF of original book: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/cpusa/voices-of-revolt/04-Karl-Liebknecht-VOR-ocr.pdf

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