Leaders and the led (Rosa Luxemburg, 1903)


(Source: International Review, New York, September-October 1936.)

Taken from an article that appeared in the Neue Zeit, year XII (1903-1904), Nº 2) under the title “Deceived Hopes” [*].

Goethes odious majority, composed of several vigorous spellbinders, a few scoundrels ready to adapt themselves to any cause or program, a number of weak souls ever ready to be assimilated, and the great mass trotting behind without having the least idea of what it wants – the characterization that the bourgeois pen-pushers would like to fasten to the socialist mass – is no more or less than the classic formula for “majorities” of the parties of the bourgeoisie.

In all the class struggles of the past, waged in the interest of minorities and in which, as Marx said, development was brought about in opposition to the great mass of the people, an essential condition of action was the ignorance of the mass concerning the real aim, the material content and the limits of the movement. This difference between the leaders and the led was the specific historical basis underlying the directing role assumed by the educated bourgeoisie. a natural complement to the role played by the bourgeois leaders was the part of followers left to the mass.

But already in 1845 Marx noted that with the increasing depth of historic action grows the volume of the mass engaged in this action. The class struggle waged by the proletariat is the deepest of all historic actions that have taken place up to now. It takes in all the lower sections of the people. For the first time since the beginning of class society, it corresponds to the interests of the people itself.

That is why the understanding by the mass of its tasks and instruments is an indispensable condition for socialist revolutionary action – just as formerly the ignorance of the mass was an indispensable condition for the revolutionary action of the ruling classes.

As a result, the difference between leaders and the majority trotting along behind is abolished (in the socialist movement). The relation between the mass and the leaders is destroyed. The only function left to the supposed guides of the social-democracy is that of explaining to the mass the historic mission of the latter. The authority and influence of such leaders grows in proportion to the work of education of this kind accomplished by them. Their prestige and influence increases only in the measure that they, the so-called leaders, destroy the condition that was formerly the basis for every function of leaders: the blindness of the mass. Their influence grows in the measure that they strip themselves of their role as leaders, in the measure that they make the mass self-directing and they themselves become no more than the executive organs of the self-conscious action of the mass.

Undoubtedly, the transformation of the mass into a sure conscious, lucid self-leader – the fusion of science and the working class dreamt of by Lassalle – can only be a dialectic process, as the working class movement absorbs uninterruptedly new proletarian elements as well as fugitives from other sections of society.

Nevertheless such is and such will be the dominant tendency of the socialist movement: the abolition of the relation of leaders and led in the bourgeois sense of the word, the abolition of the relation that is the historic basis of all class domination.


[*]Unfortunately the whole article has not yet been translated into English, but it has been into French and can be found here.

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Une Réponse to “Leaders and the led (Rosa Luxemburg, 1903)”

  1. entdinglichung Says:

    the original text in German can be found here … the translation looks a bit dodgy


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