Rosa Luxemburg

On the Question of Budget Approval

Speech to the Nuremberg Congress of the German Social Democratic Party

(September 1908)

German original: Protokoll der Verhandlungen des Parteitags der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, abgehalten zu Nürnberg vom 13. bis 19. September 1908, Berlin 1908, pp. 363–365.
Source: Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Vol. II, pp. 259–263.
Mark-up: for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This speech was delivered by Rosa Luxemburg at the SPD’s Party Congress that took place in Nuremburg from 13 September to 19 September 1908. This congress took place in a context where the SPD parliamentarians in Baden had voted for their state budget, against the existing policy of SPD which was to always oppose state budgets. This controversy would later come to a head in 1910, when the Baden Parliamentarians once again voted for the state budget and would unite centrists and the Left in sharply criticising Baden.


For a series of years, we have had a lively dispute almost every Party Congress about the fundamental questions of our principles and our tactics. Already it’s the tenth anniversary of the memorable Party Congress in Stuttgart [1] where we had our first major debate with the so-called revisionist tendency. Since then we’ve had such debates on this or that occasion almost every year, and more than once were those, who saw in this tendency the greatest threat for the Party, accused of defeatism and pessimism. Now I believe, there is no party debate where it is expressed with such sharpness, clarity and bluntness, to where the party is headed, if this tendency is conceded to, as in this debate. (“Very true!”)

Here we have no more discussions about abstract theoretical questions, here it’s about an eminent practical question, a question about the political action of the party, a question whose significance is grasped by the widest masses. And what transpires of it? That we, if it progresses in this direction, which is now advocated in South Germany, will be posed with the choices: bourgeois reformist party or anarchism? What did the entire argumentation of Timm, Frank and Hildebrand [2] amount to? The guiding theme of their speeches, as well as the statements of their comrades-in-ideas David, Kolb, etc. amounted to this: Either we recognise that we can achieve important accomplishments of a positive nature on the basis of the current state, and then it is necessary to give up our fruitless fundamental hostility against the existing state, of which the unavoidable consequence is rejection of the budget of the class state, or we should openly declare: On the basis of the existing state, no substantial accomplishments are impossible. Then we should draw the conclusions: Out of the Parliaments! Then our struggle for achieving political rights would have absolutely no sense. That is what we were told yesterday.

That there can be a politics, that lies as far from bourgeois reform politics as from anarchist chimeras; that there can be a socialist class politics, which fights for positive accomplishments with all our vigour, yet likewise with just as much powerful force expresses the principal antagonism against the existing state at every turn, and indeed through the budget vote – on that account it appears the comrades in South Germany, at least in Parliaments, have lost their senses.

They have supplied the best argument only through their defence speeches, which may lead you astray, if you accept their point of view. So what did the defence of Timm amount to? It amounted to an unwitting yet all the more so effective glorification of the central party in Bayern. (“Very true!”) It amounted to an equally unwitting yet all the more effective plea for the progressive Minister of Baden’s government. (“Very true!” Shouts from the South Germans) I know, you have characterised the stance of your government wholly differently in your state parliament. But the contradiction between those words and your words here show exactly how you have got yourself into hot water with your over-clever diplomacy. (“Very good!”)

I will have to be mistaken, if your speeches from yesterday do not come into our hands once again, and indeed in the pamphlets of the Centre and in the circulars of the government. There it will be read as: Certainly these same people have pulled us down in Parliament in quite a different manner, naturally out of diplomacy, but to their own brothers and comrades they have affirmed most probably their earnest conviction. There they have praised everything that we have achieved. Instead of showing to the masses at every turn how pathetic, how minor what you have achieved is, you have logically forced yourself to (Shouts “Whose fault is that?”) – don’t interrupt me, you’ve had unrestricted speaking time (“Very good!”) – to portray these trifles as greatness, to make them out to us in overwrought ways as something quite important, as major accomplishments.

Frank said: Because the party press can be sold at the train stations, we are on the way to political emancipation. (Laughter) Because the budget of a civil servant’s family has been increased from 700 Marks to 1,000 Marks, an allowance that does not suffice by far to cover the financial losses that emerged from the Hunger Tariff [3], hence we can no longer express our distrust of the government. Well, party comrades, the politics of diplomacy and of statesmanlike cunningness is a school of modesty! (“Very good!”) How this modesty appears in the beginning is shown to us by the South German Parliamentarians, however how this modesty appears in the end is shown to us by the Non-Aligned Tendency [Blockfreisinn] in Germany. [4] (Lively agreement)

Frank has evoked the large shadow of Lassalle. Lassalle would have known better than us, what the masses in Germany feel and strive for. Yet, it was none other than Lassalle who coined the famous word about the damned frugality of the masses. He regarded it as his task as a socialist to nurture discontent among the masses, to set their demands so high that everything that you can achieve here would only seem like a mere trifle against them. We have taught the masses that the achievements that we can achieve in the existing state should not be measured against the misery of the old days, but rather what the masses are still withheld from, in a word, the final aim. We have nurtured the masses to look to this final aim, for which everything, not only the right to sell the party newspapers at train stations, but also everything else that we can achieve, is only a pathetic instalment.

You speak of the necessity to win over the indifferent masses. I assert, that is an outrageous and unmerited slander of the proletarian masses in Germany as well as a colossal underestimation of the appeal of our final socialist aim, if you claim that it was with primarily these tiny positive achievements, these pathetic social reforms, that we have purchased our following in the proletarian masses up until now. How did we win over the masses during the Anti-Socialist Law, when we could offer them nothing? How did we win them over in Prussia, where we’ve had no admittance into the Parliament up until now?

And consider this, how will we hold onto our following in the future and win new supporters, if, as is irrefutably apparent from the increasing accentuation of political contradictions in Germany, positive achievements in social reform become ever fewer and no longer possible? (“Very good!”) Up until now we have not obtained the trust of millions through tips and tiny concessions, but rather through our ruthless criticism of everything existing and through our social ideals for the future. (Lively agreement)

Where do you come to, if you wander from this path, if you believe that the masses can only be purchased through positive tips? This is shown by those bourgeois reform parties and the National Socials in the first place. You come to the end of the trust of the masses, you come to the end of the respect of political opponents. You win nothing, you lose everything.

Bourgeois reform politics: that was the guiding theme of all speeches from this side. And the other guiding theme was: You can vote however you want but we won’t comply. That means then that things are turned a little upside-down, when the Comrades Frank, Hildebrand and Timm and their comrades-in-ideas present themselves here as the wounded, the persecuted, whom people want to oppress.

Let’s remember in peace just how things were. The South German Parliamentarians voted for the Budget, against all of the expressed opinions of the large majority of the party, even though they were previously warned by their colleagues that there would be a scandal in the Party. They have withheld all information about their decisions from the highest party authorities. (Disagreement). They have tried to urge our South German Party comrades, our brothers, to not attend our collective party congress. (“Very true!”) And after all that they oppose a resolution here [5], which sets out in the most peaceful and objective way (Laughter) only the bare minimum of what is necessary in order to maintain the party’s position. Everything else is covered with the coat of Christian love, and yet they point the gun to our head and threaten us with disunity.

Party comrades, a unity which is bought by this, that a majority of a democratic party forgo their fundamental right to formulate their opinions and impose binding rules on all members, is an illusion. We should not accommodate such activities because unity within must be maintained. We have every reason for us to shout to this politically and organisationally ruinous tendency: So far and no further! (Lively applause)



1. The Party Congress of the SPD took place in Stuttgart from 3–8 October 1898

2. The South German opportunists Johannes Timm, Ludwig Frank and Karl Hildenbrand had attempted to justify the approval of the state budgets by the Social Democratic delegations in the Landtags of Baden and Bavaria on 12 and 13 August 1908 and in the Landtag of Württemberg on 27 July 1907.

3. On 14 December 1902 a new customs law and customs rate was decided in the Reichstag, by which the industrial and agricultural customs duties were substantially increased. The Social Democratic deputies in the Reichstag, who had struggled against the customs-profiteers using all parliamentary means and supported by a protest movement across all of Germany, were obstructed in their performance by repeated infractions of the Reichstag’s procedural rules. On 1 May 1906 the new customs rate came into force and brought about a worsening of living conditions for the majority of the population.

4. After the Reichstag elections in 1907, the Conservatives, National Liberals and the Left-Liberals consolidated themselves into the Bülow Block (Hottentottenblock). Supported by this block, it was possible for Bernhard von Bülow to pass a series of reactionary laws and measures in Reichstag.

5. A resolution was introduced by the Party Executive that affirmed the decisions of Party Congresses in Lübeck (1901) and Dresden (1903) against budget approval, that condemned the conduct of the South German opportunists and described their conduct as irreconcilable with the principles of class struggle. The resolution was accepted by 258 votes to 119 votes.

Last updated on: 19 August 2020