Activist and Marxist thinker Rosa Luxemburg surmised, in her day, that the inability of the Left, specifically the trade unions to step up and truly defend the rights of workers originated in their fear of "organized bayonets" rather than their professed love of the people.
If "organized bayonets" determined the political polices of Germany's trade unions toward the workers it classified as an "unorganized" lot of weak proletariat, if in 1905, the "strength of Prussian-German militarism" forced the trade union leaders to privilege their "cash box" and rather than challenge the state's depiction of revolutionaries as "romantics," "a handful of conscienceless "demagogues and agitators'" peddling "inflammatory "propaganda,'" then the trade unions betrayed the workers because conceded the power of the people to the almighty authority of a "policeman-like materialist" state ("Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Union," The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, 2004).
The Empire's agenda is to destroy to survive, to cover up its imperfections in reams of discourse on the need to defend the State from the dangerous nature of the enemy. For the Empire knows full well the potential strength of its citizens, the workers. It has experienced, Luxemburg writes, the "occasional real power of the organized proletariat as well as the material might" of its own bayonet." In the "policeman-like theory of the capitalist," she continues, organized workers are powerful. This is all the more reason to wage war first in campaigns to weaken the potential of workers to organize and effective mass strikes as the Bolsheviks once to topple the regime of a Tsar.
Where do the trade unions stand if not along side the militarism of the Empire? The Empire knows the power of the people and the trade unions underestimate that power. Even recognized workers are only significant as they represent membership dues. For the trade unions, (as well as the so-called leaders, and liberal humanitarians) the object, the weapons of mass destruction--the bayonets, then, the guns, tasers, tear gas, the drones, the bombs now--have power. The trade unions remind the people of how it cannot defeat the powerful. Give way to the almighty authority of militarism. Pay dues! Let us plan acceptable protest to assure the safety of all that glitters in the Empire--along with the trade union "cash box"!
Of course, when the war began, what was left for the trade unions but to support the Empire's "foreign" war as it had supported its "domestic" war.
Something must be done, but what? The trade unions do not recognize these mothers as workers. And if not the trade unions, who will "lead" the way?
The Empire's fear of mass instigation from Germany's Left, superficially from the trade unions, was unfounded. You cannot ""propagate'" a mass strike no more than you can "propagate the ""revolution.'" You cannot impose the "idea" of mass strike from above through trade unions "organizing" choreographed protests, which are no more than a series of tactics without substance. Mass strikes, Luxemburg explains, require the workers to "be enlightened" of the history of revolutions, strategies, and tactics, of the "international significance" of revolutions, of "wider political perspectives of class struggle," of the "role and the tasks of the masses in the coming struggles."
Only in this form will the discussion on the mass strike lead to the widening of the intellectual horizons of the proletariat, to the sharpening of their way of thinking, and to the steeling of their energy.
Otherwise, Luxemburg continues, there is a danger of "practical politicians" co-opting the struggle of the workers in order to "subordinate" it to "parliamentarianism"--(the democratic Party). Above all, these staged mass strikes are artificial, external to the struggle's "definite political situation."
The revolution cannot be provoked by revolutionaries, trade unionists, or "practical politicians." Luxemburg writes--
If"the Russian revolution teaches us anything, it teaches above all that the mass strike is not artificially "made,' not "decided' at random, not "propagated,' but that it is an historical phenomenon which, at any given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability.
From that revolution we also learn, Luxemburg continues that with every "great political mass, action," action breaks up into a "mass of economic strikes." As the political struggle spreads, clarifies, and involves, the economic struggle does not recede, Luxemburg argues, but "extends, organizes and becomes involved in equal measure" so that between the political and economic struggles, "there is the most complete reciprocal action."
Thus, the revolution is "something other than bloodshed," but in the policeman-like materialist world, we can expect the "police interpretations" to speak of "street disturbances and rioting," that is, "disorder," when, in fact, the masses are effecting "a thoroughgoing internal reversal of social class relations." In a police materialist world, violence is order! Trade unions and so-called leaders accept this notion of order!
Only in the period of revolution, when the social foundations and the walls of class society are shaken and subjected to a constant process of disarrangement, any political class action of the proletariat can arouse from their passive condition in a few hours whole sections of working class who have hitherto remained unaffected, and this is immediately and naturally expressed in a stormy economic struggle"
The revolution thus first creates the social conditions in which this sudden change of the economic struggle into the political and of the political struggle into the economic is possible, a change which finds its expression in the mass strike.
It is therefore futile, Luxemburg observes to scrabble over "the technical side" or the "mechanism" of the mass strike. It will come, but preparation in the form of education of the masses is necessary.