January 23 2008
Rosa Luxemburg was a revolutionary, anti-militarist "Russian-Pole" who gave her life for communism. She hailed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 before the state murdered her. As an example of a female theorist, ideologist and organizer, Rosa Luxemburg has an impact that is still positive. Anyone who doubts that wimmin can write Marxist theory and ideology articles need only go check what she did. Once we are beyond the stage where we question wimmin's abilities, we can see that the impact of Luxemburg's work today is mostly negative. As the Western communist movement has ebbed and ebbed, the reasons people have for supporting Rosa Luxemburg's work have become poorer and poorer.
The location of struggle
Over decades of time, one would suspect that Western communists would notice that the world diverged further and further from what Rosa Luxemburg was hoping was true. Sadly, because of the continuous ebbing of the imperialist country communist movement, that is not the case, and the discussion of her theoretical and ideological work is mummified to non-existent.
Politically, Luxemburg opposed Lenin's drive for the rights of nations to self-determination.
"But in this case, 'the right of nations to self-determination' becomes a theory of the ruling races and betrays clearly its origin in the ideologies of bourgeois liberalism together with its 'European' cretinism. In the approach of socialists, such a right must, by the nature of things, have a universal character. The awareness of this necessity is enough to indicate that the hope of realizing this 'right' on the basis of the existing setup is a utopia."(1)Whereas people such as U.$. President Woodrow Wilson would think about such concepts, Lenin actually put the concept into practice in the old Russian empire. Today we have the book of Pan- Africanist Padmore to prove how cutting edge the party surrounding Lenin was at the time. Revolutionaries from the colonies did come to see Lenin and his Comintern and did make revolutions in Vietnam, Korea, China and Ghana for example.
In a Google search of Luxemburg's work at marxists.org, there are 22 documents with the word "colonies." However, there is no mention of super-profit or super-exploitation (under various spellings). Nor is there any use of the phrase "labor aristocracy," "worker aristocracy" or "aristocracy of labor." The world according to Luxemburg is amazingly flat and mechanical as expressed in her analysis of the national question.
These are telling omissions regarding the global class structure, because Luxemburg was born the same year as Lenin and she discussed his work in back-and-forth polemics. Luxemburg thus omitted what Lenin, Zinoviev and Sultan-Galiev were saying, totally. Part of the reason is that she died in early 1919. Given her views of the national question, incorporating the super-profit question would have been difficult.
For Luxemburg there was no economic issue in how Western working classes related to the colonized. She proclaimed vainly a hope for German workers to rise up and free colonies. It did not happen. What did happen is that Luxemburg denounced the "right of self- determination," because such anti-colonial revolution would be "bourgeois." So it was that Luxemburgists and Trotskyists made no contribution to the anti-colonial struggle of the 20th century.
Like many colonial authorities for decades after her, Luxemburg ridiculed oppressed nations for fighting among themselves once freed.
"Brazil gained her freedom from Portugal after a hard struggle in 1825. In that same year a war broke out between Brazil and Argentina (which had just been liberated from under the scepter of Spain) over the province of Banda Oriental. Both of these new 'nation'-states wanted to scoop up this province, which finally won independence itself as the Republic of Uruguay, but thanks only to the armed intervention of European states which had colonial interests in South America. France and other European countries issued an ultimatum to Argentina, which obstinately refused to recognize the independence of Uruguay and Paraguay. As a consequence, in 1845 another war broke out with the participation of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. In 1850, again a war was unleashed between Brazil and Argentina, in which Brazil, with the help of Paraguay and Uruguay, first defeated Argentina and then actually conquered Uruguay. In 1864, she formally forced this 'independent' Uruguay to submission by armed action. Paraguay rose up against this action and declared war on Brazil, which was joined by Argentina and Uruguay. This war, lasting from 1865 to 1870, finally assured Brazil, where there ruled not so much 'the will of the people' as the will and interests of the coffee plantation owners, the position of a dominant Great Power in South America."(2)The difference between communist ridicule and colonialist ridicule is that communists still support self-determination, even if it is true that oppressed nations often then make silly use of that freedom.
To put her work in context today, Luxemburg would be like an Amerikan Black saying that Africa should not bother with the right to self- determination, because it is just bourgeois. Her line that all nationalism is bourgeois and equally inclined to war-mongering is not as strategically astute as Lenin's observation that imperialism and imperialist militarism hinge on finance capital being the key to imperialism. It was Mao's Three Worlds strategy that smoothed out the problems that Luxemburg was referring to when new Third World nation- states come to blows. Mao's Three World's strategy was loyal to Lenin's theory of imperialism by prioritizing finance capital as the enemy within capitalism. This was correct, because finance capital is the most decadent potential leading section of capitalism and where it ruled, the home base population was most bourgeoisified.
The underlying problem for Luxemburg was that in translating class needs into politics, she neglected that some nationalism's would be composed mostly of the exploited, while others would be composed of the exploiter defending a decadent system.
Liberty and democracy
The real reason that Rosa Luxemburg is still thrust under our noses today is not that the bourgeoisie wants First World people to give their lives fighting imperialist war. The real reason is that she is as far left one can go still speaking of "liberty" and "democracy" in ways that could not displease George W. Bush. The Wikipedia as of today correctly notes that she gained notoriety among "democratic socialists."
Today, Noam Chomsky is the borderline between the Global Left and Global Right. In her time and place, Luxemburg was a similar borderline--progressive in her inter-imperialist war handling, regressive in her outlook on the world as a whole. Chomsky is the reverse, with a better grip on subjects abroad than at home. Both could be called libertarian socialists.
Rosa Luxemburg regarded herself as part of an "extremist" generation along with Lenin. She opposed those who said the Girondins were the good guys of the French Revolution, which the Jacobins ruined. Likewise, she also noted that tactics could not always depend on the majority, only build toward one, even in a socialist revolution. In this regard she was similar to Lenin, and that plus her staunch but rare anti-militarism during World War I are reasons we have to take her seriously.
On the question of World War I, we start to see a difference with Lenin. Like most intellectuals in the world, Luxemburg found the war depressing and one report says she considered suicide.(3) Lenin on the other hand thought that this was a fine chance for rulers to make a mess.
The real reason for this difference in outlook is Luxemburg's essentially conservative outlook wishing to conserve Western culture and only extend it with majority worker rule. Lenin on the other hand, saw nothing but decadence in the West, and did not become as despondent as Luxemburg. Luxemburg thought:
"It is war as such, no matter how it ends militarily, that signifies the greatest defeat for Europe's proletariat. It is only the overcoming of war and the speediest possible enforcement of peace by the international militancy of the proletariat that can bring victory to the workers' cause."(4)True, the war was a defeat for the proletariat and on this Leninists agree. Then, she adds:
"The imperialist bestiality raging in Europe's fields has one effect about which the 'civilized world' is not horrified and for which it has no breaking heart: that is the mass destruction of the European proletariat. Never before on this scale has a war exterminated whole strata of the population; not for a century have all the great and ancient cultural nations of Europe been attacked."(5)So here we see Luxemburg tear apart her own illusions about how culture must have built up to prevent such a calamity. Nonetheless, unlike Lenin, Zinoviev, W.E.B. DuBois, Stalin and Sultan-Galiev, Luxemburg was not able to go the whole hog in dispensing with the achievements of Western culture in her analysis. Today, we have as an example of Luxemburgism the Trotskyist "Spartacist League" that upholds Luxemburg and continues to fight to conserve "gains" of the "advanced" Western so- called workers. Luxemburg's writings would refer to Third World peoples as "cannibals" of a generation earlier and Trotskyists would refer to "miserable humyn ant-hills," but it is the handling of World War I barbarism which separates the Leninists from the imperialist country chauvinists. Our chauvinists calling themselves communist never fully recovered from having to admit how "advanced" workers were killing each other by the millions in World War I, at the drop of a hat by their political leaders.
MIM has noted before that the West argues for "freedom," because it rightly fears that the world's majority is coming to repress it. In the U.S. Civil War, the question was "states' rights." So the freedom of the states was the high-flying banner and the slavery question on the backburner. In pornography, it is "freedom of speech" as Catharine MacKinnon points out that justifies oppression. (We only disagree with her on the location of that oppression and the vehicle to end it.)
Luxemburg voiced her fears this way:
"While they [Lenin and his followers--ed.] showed a quite cool contempt for the Constituent Assembly, universal suffrage, freedom of press and assemblage, in short, for the whole apparatus of basic democratic liberties of the people which, taken all together, constituted the 'right to self-determination' inside Russia, they treated the right of self-determination of peoples as a jewel of democratic policy for the sake of which all practical considerations of real criticism had to be stilled."(6)Anyone reviewing the rest of the 20th century after Luxemburg should realize that the anti-colonial movement was a great achievement, while no where, in not a single country can we speak of libertarian socialism--Luxemburgism or Chomskyism. The reason for this is that these ideologies were not in the interests of the exploited, or the exploited would have put those ideas on the map somewhere in 80 years of chances in 200 countries.
Though having no reality behind it, no social vehicle of the exploited, the above quote from Luxemburg does nicely encapsulate certain Western prejudices. That is the real reason for Luxemburg's use against the communist movement today. After the above quote she goes on to speak for retaining colonies:
"Instead of defending tooth and nail the integrity of the Russian Empire as an area of revolution and opposing to all forms of separatism the solidarity and inseparability of the proletarians in all lands within the sphere of the Russian Revolution as the highest command of politics, the Bolsheviks, by their hollow nationalistic phraseology concerning the 'right of self-determination to the point of separation,' have accomplished quite the contrary and supplied the bourgeoisie in all border states with the finest, the most desirable pretext, the very banner of the counter-revolutionary efforts."(7)While there is no doubting that Luxemburg pointed to a real friction and that the views above would be those of settler pseudo-communist parties of Russians today in the ex-Soviet republics, the tide of history showed that Lenin was right. The example he set for decolonization globally proved to be very important. The right to self-determination hurt the imperialists more than the Soviet Union. What should depress people is not the passing of decadent culture but the fact that no one in the left-wing of parasitism noticed the basic facts of what happened after Luxemburg. Her analysis is avoided, but her statements of values are taken out of context to lead people to social-democracy.
Of course Luxemburg goes on to accuse Trotsky and Lenin of "the elimination of democracy." She admits that it was the middle classes fouling up Soviet railroad, post and telegraph operations, but then says:
"But when it comes to a suffrage law which provides for the general disenfranchisement of broad sections of society, whom it places politically outside the framework of society and, at the same time, is not in a position to make any place for them even economically within that framework, when it involves a deprivation of rights not as a concrete measure for a concrete purpose but as a general rule of long-standing effect, then it is not a necessity of dictatorship but a makeshift, incapable of being carried out in life."(8)As in Lenin's day, MIM is receiving charges of Blanquism opposing the "mass line" and disenfranchising broad sections of enemy, which are but a thin layer globally but a majority in the imperialist countries. People even calling themselves "Maoist" take up the attack against MIM in words reminiscent of Rosa Luxemburg whenever they speak for the rights of the middle classes.
The treatment of the coming joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations as "too harsh" is farcical given not just history but current reality, where the united $tates leads the world in imprisonment. Not even in Stalin's last years has any other country managed to come up with so much "harshness" since World War II.
Whitey's problems are so deep that Amerikan whites and Russian whites would be the most imprisoned peoples in the world if we excluded oppressed nationalities inside U.$. and other imperialist country borders. Whitey clamors for "patriotism" in a kind of sado-masochism, a sickness of imperialism in which love of country means imprisoning yourself the most. We do agree that whitey's own solutions would be fascism or more monarchist sickness. That does not make other countries' dictatorships as sick as the U.$. one. The other countries have a vehicle of change that could do better. The communist plan is going to involve huge repression but toward an end eliminating repression. In contrast, U.$. imprisonment has increased steadily as has its parasitic expenditures repressing other countries.
The vanguard party
Today, some people disemboweling Lenin's work see it as saying that no matter what, the vanguard party keeps people jazzed on the idea of a mountain of exploited workers about to rise up any minute. That is a fatal dumbing down of Lenin.
Bertram Wolfe put the difference between Luxemburg and Lenin this way:
"Rosa Luxemburg was offended in her whole being by Lenin's worship of centralism, his implicit contempt for the working class, its own creative impulses and purposes, and his distrust of all spontaneous developments and of spontaneity itself." (9)MIM would not dispute that Lenin's book "What Is To Be Done?" is difficult for readers to understand, so it is easier to start discussions the way Wolfe did. On the other hand, if people want a gauge of how high Lenin set the bar, if "What Is To Be Done?" makes no sense for a reader, that is a pretty clear sign Lenin did not expect that reader to be vanguard material. The problem with other parties calling themselves "Leninist" is that they bow to spontaneity in releasing information ultra-democratically and dumbing Lenin down, when what needs to be done is set the bar and see who can cross it.
MIM would say Luxemburg was wrong in her day, because workers were uneducated and unable to get very far on their own. Today, Luxemburg's party idea is still wrong in the imperialist countries, because now that they are educated, these ex-workers are petty-bourgeois. The vanguard party in the past had to guide workers against being swindled by politicians of the days of Luxemburg and Lenin--to bring a politics to the workers that would match and surpass that of the politicians. Today, it is not political swindling that is the problem. Rather we need a vanguard party to defeat spontaneity, because it would be political pressure from the labor aristocracy, an enemy class, not an exploited class.
The defining feature of the vanguard party in the imperialist countries is scientific judgment ability, the ability to draw the line between exploiter and exploited. One area of swindling that still occurs is by the labor aristocracy of the imperialist countries exporting phony communism to the Third World, where there are still many uneducated people.
Rosa Luxemburg was among those who thought at the time that the communist movement would be centered in the imperialist countries and radiate outwards-- "a single party for the entire empire."(10) Today we have would-be Cominterns trying to do the same thing in order that the CIA or labor bureaucrats can swindle Third World workers.
Rosa Luxemburg earned props from reformists called social-democrats today for blasting Lenin on party organization. (At the time, Luxemburg and Lenin were both revolutionaries and called themselves "social-democrats." That has changed and revolutionaries now tend to be called "communists.")Her accusation against Lenin was that he was a "Blanquist," a famous charge that warmed the hearts of everyone to Luxemburg's right. The charge meant that Lenin was a bourgeois revolutionary using conspiratorial methods. She wanted open methods with freedom of the press and assembly in the socialist revolution.
Yet the assumption behind Luxemburg's criticism was already becoming wrong in her day. Today, the assumption behind the attack on Blanquism is completely wrong for the imperialist countries. Already in Lenin's day, the bourgeois component of the imperialist country population was substantial, if not in Russia. Today, that bourgeois component is so factually overwhelming that little is left of applicability of Luxemburg's work. In a sea of bourgeois enemies, it is conspiratorial proletarian work or surrender to bourgeois ideology, no middle ground.
There has been no inter-imperialist war on imperialism's own soil since 1945. That makes Rosa Luxemburg's strong points less relevant and her weak points more relevant. Luxemburg herself carefully warned readers on the conditions that her analysis referred to-- "in a country where absolute monarchy is still dominant."(11)
Even more fatal to the Luxemburgist line in the imperialist countries is:
"The fact is that the Social Democracy is not joined to the organization of the proletariat. It is itself the proletariat. And because of this, Social Democratic centralism is essentially different from Blanquist centralism."(12)So if we follow Luxemburg's own assumptions it goes to follow that if there is no proletariat in a given place, there can be no Luxemburgist line appropriate for that place to oppose Lenin. So once again, Blanquism is quite appropriate in a sea of enemies. Even Luxemburg's talk of "indispensable conditions for the realization of Social- Democratic centralism" could be construed to back the MIM line. We have to know the general conditions before we can formulate a line and corresponding strategy.
Even her concluding taunt of Lenin is fine with MIM if read the right way:
"Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee."(13)The errors of the revolutionaries in Nepal are indeed fruitful compared with MIM's cleverness. There being no revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries along the lines that Luxemburg experienced and sought to improve, she would not be able to object to MIM's preferring a clever Central Committee over a non-existent revolutionary movement inside one country. To make Luxemburg's quote really apply we would have to compare a MIM Central Committee with a revolutionary movement in another country.
Except for a very brief moment in the great French Vacillation of 1968, since World War II, the proletariat has failed to open up political space in the imperialist countries, and so talk of Luxemburgism in application is dogmatic to the point of being quixotic. One must notice when conditions change or be guilty of dogmatism. Luxemburg experienced real mass revolutionary movements created in part by the re-proletarianization of a pulverizing world war. Imperialist country Luxemburgists today are just social-democrats valuing "liberty" and "democracy" like Bush does, as buzzwords justifying bombing Third World countries.
By the way, the term "Great Power" has had some trouble in translation with Chinese comrades. We are still seeing it to this day in Beijing Review translations into English.
3. Bertram D. Wolfe intro. The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? (Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1961), pp. 9-10.
6. Rosa Luxemburg, "The Russian Revolution" in The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? (Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1961), p. 48.
7. Ibid., p. 53.
8. Ibid., p. 66.
9. Ibid., p. 14.
10. Ibid., "Leninism or Marxism?" p. 86.
11. Ibid., p. 81.
12. Ibid., p. 89.
13. Ibid., p. 108, the concluding sentence of "Leninism or Marxism?"