Luxembourg and the October Revolution

Ali Ruckert, President of the Communist Party of Luxembourg (KPL)

The existence of real socialism forced the capital in Luxembourg to agree with concessions

When the Great Socialist October Revolution shook the world in 1917, Luxembourg stood quiet for a certain while, because the country was illegally occupied by the German Empire since 1914. A strike of 10,000 steel workers against hunger and misery, which started on 31. May 1917, was brought to an end with military means by the occupation forces. German infantry and hussars invaded the steel works, the leaders of the striking workers (“Rädelsführer”) were arrested, many workers were punished or even fired, and the trade union press was banned for three months.

But there was growing unrest among the people, and the “Volksstimme” (Peoples voice), the newspaper of the “Miners and Steelworkers Union” (Berg- und Hüttenarbeiter-Verband), founded in 1916, printed already at the beginning of 1918 more and more articles signed by “A Bolshewik”, which criticised the political, economic and social situation in Luxembourg. The articles also called to follow the example of the Russian Revolutionaries and to “organize and unite the workers and the peasants against big capitalism which is oppressing the people”.

The beginning of the Revolution in Germany in November 1918 was the signal for the start of a revolutionary movement in Luxembourg, which lasted for two months, until the new French occupation forces stopped it by military means. But the most important result of that movement was the introduction of the Eight-hour working day, which was proclaimed by the government on 14. December 1918, because it was afraid that the demands of the “Workers’ and peasants’ council” about the nationalization of the railways, the banks, the steelworks and the mines would find reaction among the people. The Eight-hour working day had been already introduced before by the trade unions in mines, steelworks and railway repair stations – against the resistance of their proprietors. Another important result of the 1918 revolutionary movement was the introduction of the general right to vote, valid for men and women from 21 years on.

But all those concessions could not prevent the growing of the number of militants of the Socialist Party of Luxembourg who sympathized with the Revolution in Russia and were seeking for radical changes of the ownership structure in Luxembourg, too. In summer 1919 a “Propaganda committee for joining the 3rd International” was founded, which on the occasion of the second anniversary of the October Revolution distributed leaflets calling for protest meetings against the military intervention of capitalist countries against Soviet Russia. The appeal was signed by “A group of Luxembourg workers and socialists”.

At that time the defence of Soviet Russia was still the case of all socialists. But already in 1921 the development of separation began, when the defeat of the revolutionary movement in Western Europe was evident, capitalism was consolidated and it became more and more clear that Soviet Russia for the time being would remain the only country to built socialism.

Socialists with Marxist orientation founded on 2. January 1921 the Communist Party of Luxembourg (KPL), after the majority of delegates to the Socialist Party’s congress voted against joining the 3rd International. They insisted on their demand of the abolishment of capitalism and the construction of a Republic of Councils in their own country, and they came to the conviction that the defence of the first Country which had started the construction of socialism must be the first duty of each and every Revolutionary. On the other hand, the remaining socialists gave up their anti-capitalist programme, subordinated themselves to capitalism and furthermore joined any anti-Soviet campaign.

With the aim to create a counter balance – even if it was a modest one – to the anti-communist distortion that was propagated day by day in the bourgeois and in the social-democratic press, the KPL decided in October 1932 to create the association “Luxembourg friends of the Soviet Union” (Luxemburger Freunde der Sowjet-Union). Its main task was to attract workers and intellectuals, who were not members of KPL, to the cause of the Soviet Union, to combat anti-Soviet prejudices and thus also to reduce prejudices against KPL. The association informed about political, economic, social, cultural and scientific developments and about the life in the Soviet Union and explained what a positive effect the construction of socialism had for the working and social conditions of the working people.

The communists permanently criticised the existing capitalist society with its crisis-laden social developments, leading to cutting of wages and to dismissals of thousands of workers. At the same time the KPL made all efforts to publish in its weekly newspaper information about the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union, about the rapid development of the economy in the USSR, which was closely connected with improvements of the social situation, enshrined in the socialist legislation. All this was presented by KPL as an alternative to the existing situation in Luxembourg.

It is beyond doubt that the successful development of the Soviet Union, and in particular the social achievements of the Soviet people had great influence on the attitude of parts of the Luxembourg working class. It is also beyond doubt that the capitalist ruling class was forced to take this into account and felt impelled to several social concessions, since the capitalists wanted to keep the workers “out of mischief”, to avoid that the workers would understand the social achievements in the Soviet Union as desirable examples and that the communists would become stronger.

But this was valid for the positive as well as for the negative developments. Mainly in the 30ies, a big number of violations of the socialist laws occurred in the Soviet Union. Even taking into account that the information in the bourgeois press as well as in the social-democratic propaganda about those Problems was excessively exaggerated, then just the fact of their existence inflicted a great damage on the ideals of the October Revolution and on the cause of the entire communist movement for many decades, as well as on the image of the Soviet Union and on the activities of the Communist Party of Luxembourg.

The Soviet Union gained a strong recognition throughout the people of Luxembourg and in particular on its working class due to its decisive contribution to the struggle against fascist Germany and to the liberation of the peoples of Europe from fascism. When the Soviet Army defeated the German fascist troops at Stalingrad, big parts of the Luxembourg population drew new hope from this victory, and the organized resistance movement, which had been weakened due to the fascist terror, was able to reinforce its activities. Many Luxembourg people had a hostile stance against the German occupants, and when the German occupation forces organized a referendum on the question of an annexation of Luxembourg into the German “Reich”, a vast majority of the population had voted with No.

After the victory over fascism and the liberation of our country the KPL was able to gain a considerable influence. This was mainly due to the great prestige that the Soviet Union had in this time up to the ranks of the bourgeois class, and, at the same time, thanks to the role of many militants of the Communist Party in the resistance in Luxembourg, in France and in Belgium against fascist occupation. The KPL had been the only political party in Luxembourg which had refused to dissolve, when the German fascists occupied our country. It continued its activities under the conditions of illegality and paid a high blood price during the struggle against the fascist occupants.

Within a few weeks after the liberation, when many of the cadres of the party had not yet returned from fascist prisons and concentration camps, the number of militants of KPL increased tenfold – from about 400 in the year 1940 to more than 4,000 in April 1945. It became very difficult for the party to adapt its organisational structures to this new development. The party did not have the cadres nor the financial means, not even the necessary freedom of movement in our country occupied by the US Army, so it was impossible to start a propaganda work in favour of radical democratic changes.

At the first parliamentary elections on 21. October 1945 the Party gained five of 51 seats in the National Assembly. In its strongholds in the south of the country the KPL received 20.7 percent of the votes, and in the first post-war government the communist Charles Marx became Minister of health care, social issues and sports. On the other hand, the influence of KPL remained limited to parts of the working class.

In the years after the victory over fascism the contradiction between capitalism and socialism came to the fore again.

With the aim to reduce the influence of the Communist Party and to avoid that bigger parts of the Luxembourg working class would follow the demands for nationalization of the means of production and for anti-capitalist reforms, the ruling class made several concessions in the field of the social situation: the social safeguarding in the field of health care and pensions was considerably improved, the regular revaluation of wages to the development of prices was enshrined in the legislation and family income supplements became harmonized. At the same time the leaders of the social-democratic trade unions from the times before the Second World War, who had been famous for their anti-communist positions, were reactivated and encouraged to prevent the construction of a united trade union with strong communist influence. For this purpose even financial means from trade unions of the USA had been generated, which came from the channels of the CIA.

With the help of the Marshall Plan of the USA, which was adopted in the Luxembourg Parliament by the deputies of all political parties except the communists, and in the course of the Cold War, which was provoked by the USA, it became possible to limit the influence of the Soviet Union again. At the same time, the Communist Party of Luxembourg, which stood firm in defending socialism and the USSR without any reservation, was weakened and its influence among the working class became reduced.

This tendency was changed again, when the USSR – after overcoming the war destructions – began a development with giant leaps and presented more and more new achievements in the field of economy and sciences. In the period between 1958 and 1970, the time of economic boom, the KPL was able to enlarge its influence in particular among steelworkers and to increase its presence in the national parliament. All the time the Luxembourg communists continued to propagate the social achievements in the fields of the education system, of health care, in the day care for children, in the labour legislation in the Soviet Union and in the other socialist countries, in particular in the German Democratic Republic.

It was for a good reason that the KPL always expressed solidarity with the socialist countries. But at the same time the party failed to deal with objectively existing contradictions between declared aims and the reality in different socialist countries and ask for the reasons for insufficient development of forces of production, for bureaucratic tendencies as well as concerning existing deficits in the democratic control of enterprises and the socialist state by the working class. These questions still have to be matter of deep going analyses.

The reason for this behavior was mainly the apprehension that open criticism would serve the class enemy and damage our common cause. But this position finally had a negative impact on the discussions inside the party and on the information policy of the communist press, so that the newspaper very often published articles showing idealized pictures, which were not in accordance with the real situation in the country of the October Revolution and in the other socialist countries, which had begun a socialist way of development under very complicated political and economic conditions.

Furthermore the ideological offensive of the capital as well as the social concessions, the capital was forced to make during the period of the international conflict of the different social systems, contributed to the fact that the force of attraction of socialism was reduced inside the working class in Luxembourg. The social achievements, hard-won by Luxembourg workers, were misused to make mechanical comparison with the development of living standards of the working class in the socialist countries. Additionally the social-democrats managed to present those achievements in Luxembourg as if they were just the result of the activities of the social-democratic party.

It was due to big sociological changes in the population, but also due to weaknesses in the organisational, political and ideological work of the KPL, and on the other hand due to decreasing material and ideological attractiveness of socialism that the Communist Party of Luxembourg lost political influence and was forced into defensive positions. One of the many examples was the long lasting campaign connected to the so-called “dissidents” in the Soviet Union which was successfully used by the ideologists of capital against the communists. Unfortunately most of the working people followed this campaign – instead of questioning the capitalist exploitation and the limitation of bourgeois democracy in their own country.

In addition to this, the Luxembourg communists did not succeed to repel the attacks against the socialist countries because of pretended violations of human rights and to denounce instead the permanent violation of human rights in the capitalist countries. Under the influence of the Luxembourg Socialist Workers Party (LSAP) and of the trade unions also the thesis of “social partnership” between workers and entrepreneurs had a very harmful effect inside the working class.

It is, of course, impossible to quantify all the effects of the existence of real socialism for the successes and the defeats of the working class in Western Europe and in Luxembourg as well as it would be without any scientific basis if we would try use theories of revisionist conspiracy when we want to explain the very complex reasons which had led to the defeat of real socialism in the Soviet Union and to the victory of counter-revolution. What we need is a profound and deep-going investigation with the aim to disclose the reasons why the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries – and in particular the communist parties of these countries – in the 70ies and 80ies have not been in the position to transfer the theory of the scientific communism into practice. We need to find out why it was not possible to realize the knowledge about the scientific-technical revolution in the socialist production, why the production forces have not been developed on a significantly higher level than in the capitalist countries and why the socialism was not made attractive enough, so that the working class inside and outside the socialist countries finally did not defend it.

But the developments after the disappearance of the socialist world system show clearly that just the existence of a competing system had the effect that capitalism was forced to respect and take note of the demands of the working class and to make at least temporary political and social compromises. This was necessary because the ruling capitalist class wanted to avoid that growing parts of the working class would question the existing situation of exploitation and strive for revolutionary changes.

The dramatic defeat of socialism was at the same time a defeat for the working class in Luxembourg, because from this moment on there was no competing system any more which just by its existence imposed pressure on capitalism. Thus the capital began to cancel step by step all the compromises from the 40 years before, to put under question all the social advancements which had been achieved as a result of the struggle of the working class. More and more legislative changes became introduced by the bourgeois state, which were decreed or decided by the European Union, the Luxembourg government or the bourgeois majority in the national parliament, laws which had the task to do away the previous social achievement and to change the situation in favour of the ruling forces.

The 40 working hours week today is existing only theoretically, the payment of overtime work was drastically reduced, there is a systematic reduction of indefinite working contracts, part-tome employment and labour leasing – under precarious conditions – were introduced by law. The automatic adaptation of wages and salaries to the rate of inflation, which had been one of the most important achievement of the Luxembourg working class after World War II, became seriously manipulated and limited. In a growing number of enterprises the salaries for beginners have been reduced. The legal requirements for disabled persons have been downgraded. The own funding of patients for medical treatments and for medicines have been widely increased, while the capitalist state is reducing its funding for health care spending.

At the same time, as we can also see in other EU countries, public services in the area of energy, post and transport become liberalised and public enterprises have been partially privatised. This has a serious negative impact on the working conditions, the working places and also for the quality of the services.

The capitalist financial and economic crisis aggravates the tendency of bottom-up redistribution which began two decades before. The working people, who are since the beginning of this crisis more and more affected by unemployment and short-time work, become once again victims of the capitalist crises. In Luxembourg, the conservative Christian-Social Peoples’ Party (CSV) and the social-democratic Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party (LSAP), which have formed a government coalition six years ago, is increasing taxes and cutting social expenditure for the sake of keeping the state indebtedness within limits. But the deficit is a result of the previous redistributions in favour of the big financial and industrial capital, when the state took over the debts of the banks. And in the same time military expenditure in Luxembourg is higher than in the worst times of the Cold War.

Resistance against social cutback developed very slowly during the latest years. The trade unions in Luxembourg, which are under strong social-democratic and anti-communist influence and considered themselves in 1990 to be on the side of the winners of the system conflict, do believe in the theory of “social partnership” and keep on the thesis of the “Luxembourg Model”. They did not yet realize that after the disappearance of the system conflict, the organised working class movement was seriously weakened, that the financial possibilities of the state has been reduced and thus the basis for the previous success of the “Luxembourg Model” is at a large extend destroyed.

On the other hand, the offensive of the capital and of the bourgeois state against the social achievements of the working people will force the trade unions to reconsider their political line of activities and to confront more clearly than heretofore the capital. Otherwise they would risk that all the achievements in labour law and in social services would be abolished as a result of the class struggle from above, practiced by the capital and by the political accomplice of the capital in the government. The situation becomes even more complicated, since the trade unions regard the social achievements a result of their own might and do not consider international factors like the existence of the socialist countries.

It will be the task of the communists in this context to keep in mind the general interests of the working class and to make clear that it is urgently necessary to defend in a common and united manner the interests of the working people. Furthermore we have to propagate with revolutionary patience the perception that the capitalist society, in which the profit is the ultimate benchmark, is the real problem.

If we want to solve the present day problems in a way that at the same time the solution of the problems of the working class and all working people can be found, it will not be sufficient to demand a “more just” redistribution of the produced added value, as it is practiced by social-democratic or by new “leftwing” parties. In this case we have to raise the question about the system, and to strive for a radical change in the correlation of ownership of the most important means of production as well as for the nationalisation of big enterprises and banks.

This lesson from the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, written in 1848 and put into practice for the first time by the Great Socialist October Revolution in 1917, is valid also today. It is confirmed by the detailed analysis of the social situation in Luxembourg.