“During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.” (Lenin).
Of no revolutionary has this been more true than of Rosa Luxemburg. The heirs of her assassins – the social-democrats of every hue – would like to turn her into an icon of democracy against the dictatorial Bolsheviks. This, the first chapter of her work on the Russian Revolution, is a scathing rebuttal to such attempts to rewrite history: as she says in her conclusion, "All the revolutionary honor and capacity which western Social-Democracy lacked was represented by the Bolsheviks"
The ICC has contributed to the first Korean edition of Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet, written 100 years ago in response to the carnage of the First World War. We are publishing the introduction written for the new edition here. In its 100 year ‘commemorations’ of the war, the ruling class and its propaganda machine offers us so many forms of apology for the massacre; revolutionaries on the other hand can take pride in celebrating the moral and intellectual courage of those internationalists who stood against the war and for the proletarian revolution.
Today on blogs and forums, in bookshops and kiosks, throughout Europe and in the world, a new nauseous campaign has resurfaced in order to again distort the image of the militant Rosa Luxemburg. Thus, from television programmes, Rosa Luxemburg again appears under the sole traits of a “woman” and a “pacifist”. The very-well known and acclaimed paper, Le Monde, published an article in September 2013, written by a certain Jean-Marc Daniel, a professor of ESCP Europe, with the very evocative title: “Rosa Luxemburg, marxist-pacifist”. This association of the words “marxist” and “pacifist” is gob-smacking: for the ruling class the “real marxist” is one who abdicates from the class war, renounces the insurrection and the overthrow of capitalism.
Over and over, the 2nd International and its member parties had warned the workers of the coming war and threatened the ruling classes with their own overthrow should they dare launch Armageddon. And yet in August 1914, the International disintegrated, blown away like insubstantial dust, as one after the other its leaders and parliamentary deputies betrayed their most solemn promises, voted war credits and called the workers to the slaughter.
In 1914, the German Social-Democratic Party was the most powerful party of the Second International. With more than one million members, it was the largest single political party in Europe and the largest party in any European parliament. Socialists throughout the world, faced with the threat of war in the last days before that fateful 4th August, waited for the SPD to live up to its solemn commitments made at the International's congresses at Stuttgart and Basel, and oppose the war. Yet on 4th August, the SPD parliamentary fraction voted for the Imperial government's war credits, and the way to war was open.
How the German Party degenerated in the years leading up to 1914 to the point where it betrayed its most fundamental principles, and the struggle of the left in the party against this degeneration, is the subject of the article that follows.
Betrayed by its organisations, the unions and the socialist parties, the working class was unable to prevent the outbreak of the most terrible war in history. Today, the celebration of Armistice Day - the end of the war - is the occasion for patriotic celebration.
But what was it that really brought the war to an end? Only a few years after the disaster of 1914, the world working class launched the greatest ever attempt by the exploited masses to overthrow the domination of the exploiters and to build, on the ruins of war, a new society free of nations, and warfare. In doing so, the workers forced the ruling classes to put an end to the war.
100 years ago, humanity stood on the brink of the abyss, about to plunge into the most terrible bloodletting ever seen in history. For generations after the Great War, 1914-18 was synonymous with senseless murder, a ghastly waste of life in the horror of the trenches, for which the suffering populations rendered the governments and the ruling classes largely responsible. To commemorate the war, one hundred years on, is thus something of an embarassment for those same ruling classes, and so 2014 became a year, not of commemoration but of forgetting.
What the socialists of the 19th century called "the woman question" remains posed to this day: how to create a society where women no longer suffer from this particular oppression? And what should be the attitude of communist revolutionaries towards "women's struggles"?
As we saw in the last article in this series, the central target of the revisionist attack on the revolutionary core of marxism was the latter's theory of the inevitable decline of capitalism, resulting from the irresolvable contradictions built into its relations of production. Eduard Bernstein's brand of revisionism, which Rosa Luxemburg refuted so lucidly in Social Reform or Revolution, was to a large extent based on a series of empirical observations derived from the unprecedented period of expansion and prosperity the most powerful capitalist nations lived through in the last decades of the 19th century.
In the first part of this article looked at the controversy within the German trade union movement and the SPD
(Social Democratic Party) that led to the creation of the Free
Association of German Trade Unions (Freie Vereinigung Deutscher Gewerkschaften,
FVDG), the organization that would be the precursor of German revolutionary
In the first three parts of our series on the German Revolution of
1918-19 we showed how, after the collapse of the Socialist International faced
with World War I, the tide turned in favour of the proletariat, culminating in
the November Revolution of 1918, which, like the October Revolution in Russia
the previous year, was the high point of an uprising against the imperialist
war. Whereas October represented the first mighty blow of the working class against
the "Great War", it was the action of the German proletariat which finally
brought it to an end.
When World War I broke out, the socialists met on 4th August 1914 to engage the struggle for internationalism and against the war: there
were seven of them in Rosa Luxemburg's apartment. This reminiscence, which
reminds us that the ability to swim against the current is one of the most
important of revolutionary qualities, should not lead us to conclude that the
role of the proletarian party was peripheral to the events which shook the world
at that time...
It is 90 years since the proletarian revolution
reached its tragic culmination point with the struggles of 1918 and
1919 in Germany. After the heroic seizure of power by the Russian
proletariat in October
1917, the central battlefield of the world revolution shifted to
Germany. There, the decisive struggle was waged and lost. The world
has always wanted to sink these events into historical oblivion. To the
that it cannot deny that struggles took place, it pretends that they
at "peace" and "democracy" - at the blissful conditions presently
capitalist Germany. The goal of the series of articles we are beginning
here is to show
that the revolutionary movement in Germany brought the bourgeoisie in
the central country of European capitalism
close to the brink of the loss of its class rule. Despite its defeat,
revolution in Germany, like that in Russia, is an encouragement to us
today. It reminds us that it is not only
necessary but possible to topple the rule of world capitalism.
with all the conflicting arguments about the Russian revolution, it is
difficult to steer an even course between the predominant view - that the
revolution was a total disaster for humanity and inexorably led to the horrors
of Stalinism - and the less fashionable but equally uncritical portrayals of
Lenin and the Bolsheviks as superheroes who never made any errors...
In 1915, as the hideous
reality of the European war became ever more apparent, Rosa Luxemburg wrote
"The crisis of social democracy", a text better known as the "Junius pamphlet"
from the pseudonym under which Luxemburg published it. The pamphlet was written
in prison and was distributed illegally by the Internationale group which had
been formed immediately after the outbreak of the war...
Marxism is first and foremost a critical method, since it is the product of a class which can only emancipate itself through the ruthless criticism of all existing conditions. A revolutionary organisation that fails to criticise its errors, to learn from its mistakes, inevitably exposes itself to the conservative and reactionary influences of the dominant ideology. And this is all the more true at a time of revolution, which by its very nature has to break new ground, enter an unknown landscape with little more than a compass of general principles to find its way. As we shall see, one of the consequences of the Bolshevik party identifying itself with the Soviet state was that it increasingly lost this capacity to criticise itself and the general course of the revolution. But as long as it remained a proletarian party it continuously generated minorities who did continue to carry out this task.
From the beginning of the first series of these articles, we argued against the cliché that 'communism is a nice idea, but it could never work' by affirming, with Marx, that communism is not at all reducible to a 'nice idea', but is organically contained in the class struggle of the proletariat. Communism is not an abstract utopia dreamed up by a few well-intentioned visionaries; it is a movement given birth by the very conditions of present day society. And yet, that first series was very much a study of the 'ideas' of communists during the ascendant period of capitalism - an examination of how their conception of the future society and the way to achieve it developed during the course of the 19th century, before the communist revolution was on the immediate historical agenda.
At the end of the last article in this series, we looked at the principle danger posed to the social democratic parties operating at the zenith of capitalism’s historical development: the divorce between the fight for immediate reforms and the overall goal of communism. The growing success of these parties both in winning ever increasing numbers of workers to their cause, and in extracting concessions from the bourgeoisie through the parliamentary and trade union struggles, was accompanied, and indeed partly contributed to, the development of the ideologies of reformism...