Rosa Luxemburg belongs to the proletarian revolution, not to the social democrats!

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Rosa Luxemburg belongs to the proletarian revolution, not to the social democrats!
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Rosa Luxemburg belongs to the proletarian revolution, not to the social democrats!. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

While I agree with the

While I agree with the article that Rosa was a revolutionary--in fact, in many ways she really was the first "left communist," I think that we also have to acknowledge that there was distance between her and Lenin and the Bolsheviks. We also have to be honest with ourselves that no matter how radical she was in the face of Social Democratic opportunism, she never was quite able to make a complete break with certain "democratic" and even liberal attachments herself, i.e. her defense of the Constituent Assembley, her insistence on the right to free speech, etc. None of this makes her a "pacifist," but I think her legacy is a little more complex than presented here.

What did Rosa think?

Interesting point jk  makes about Rosa that she was in many ways the first left communist. This made me start wondering what Rosa knew, and what she didn't know, that would justify her being credited with left communist insights. And how did she differ in what she grasped from Lenin and the Bolsheviks. 

I suppose one of the first indications that Rosa might be developing a new understanding of the proletariat and its associated consciousness is in The Mass Strike essay.  Here she describes the way consciousness is engendered en masse among workers struggling together in a common cause and spreading among them all in "fructifying  ripples" of eureka insights. Workers previously locked in bourgeois ideology, underpinned by non-thought, are suddenly able to break out into some new clarity of thinking through the solidarity of comradeship generated in the mass action itself,  and the consequent freeing up of open communication at a higher level of awareness than that emanating from the bourgeoisie.   This "higher level of awareness" allows the class and the individual worker to see themselves in a new light, with a new understanding of who we the workers really are and what our true place is in this capitalist society.  (Pannekoek  went even further and saw in the working class new ways of thinking that were an advance on  bourgeois patterns of thought, where everything was either "this or that," in a perpetual dualism, whereas the working class in a  communality of thought preferred to consider "this, that and something in addition.")

This became a problem for Rosa as she struggled against the formalities and restrictions of Social Democracy, and in particular against the tradition soaked  ideas of Kautsky, though she was reluctant  to break her ties to this way of thinking completely. Yet she realised that the working class had, or was developing, new and quite different ways of class organization and decision making procedures in which the Second  International showed little curiosity at all. What could she do at that historic time and in the midst of war? Were her emerging ideas right or wrong?  And, if they were right, what did it mean for the Social Democracy which happily and without question continued to portray  itself as the workers's party.  But was it really? What about the Workers' Councils which had appeared again in Russia in 1917. How did they relate to the fixed ideas of the Second International about Party and State?  

Lenin had ideas about Party and State too, had declared "All power to the Soviets" and taken political power in Russia in the name of the class. What did Rosa feel about this?  Did she wonder about the wisdom of a proletarian political party putting itself in charge of the bourgeois state? Wasn't  this exactly how the Social Democrats  assumed proletarian political power should be wielded? But how could a proletarian Party rule over a bourgeois state - even if it did lop off some of its bourgeois  excrescences as advised by both Engels and Lenin - and where would that leave the Workers's Councils which were surely the discovered form of proletarian rule? How did the Councils  relate to the Party? 

As a founding member of left communism - going along with jk's proposition - these may have been the kinds of thoughts that crowded Rosa's mind as the War ended, and workers' struggles emerged in Germany. She said that the question of how the working class establishes its rule could only be posed in Russia, not answered. But in reality she, as a fledgling left communist, had no answer for the German situation  either, where there wasn't even a working class party, and where Social Democracy held working class sway. But Rosa and her ideas were  quickly murdered in any case. 

Perhaps in Germany, where there was no real proletarian Party in 1918,  as in Russia, where there was, the question of how the working class seizes control of the state and rules over it, could only be posed not answered?

But this is an essential question for left communists to answer and Rosa was certainly among the first to be faced by it. 

interesting thread thanks. jk

interesting thread thanks. jk can you post some references for her liberalism ?

i don't really have a problem with liberalism, i think; but still anti democratic

Practically Rawlsian

lem_ wrote:

interesting thread thanks. jk can you post some references for her liberalism ?

i don't really have a problem with liberalism, i think; but still anti democratic


I am mostly referring to her defense of "free speech rights" in her critique of the Russian Revolution--its practically Rawlsian. But more broadly, its pretty clear that she never really gave up on the model of the mass Social Democratic party as the basis for party legitimacy. It was those who saw themselves as the continuation of her legacy in the KPD that followed the trajectory of trying to turn it into a mass party (Levi, etc.) Did they grossly misinterpret her, or was there something in her legacy that they could point to in order to support their project, even if what the KPD became was not what Rosa would have wanted either? My point is that she was not without her inconsistencies and incoherences.......

ok my knowledge of history is

ok my knowledge of history is barely functional, so thanks.

i'll check out that pamphlet / essay.

She wasn't a liberal and

She wasn't a liberal and didn't really believe anymore, by the end of the war, in what Social Democracy stood for. (It had gone over to the other side anyway!) She kind of believed what Bolshevism appeared to stand for (whatever that was!) but wasn't totally convinced and the KPD ...well wasn't it a sort of replay a bit of the Mass Party dressed up in red?  

If only she could have lasted until the appearance of the KAPD and the emergence of an organised left communism, she might have found at last that which she was searching for.  A party, or fraction, that actually knew, understood and accepted that  the emancipation of the working class could only be achieved by the class alone,   through a fuller development and extension of class  consciousness; and that the job of the Party was neither to lead nor substitute itself for the class as something that knew best, merely to act as yeast in the dough and assist in International Organization. 

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters

Ok Im up for this then.  What did Luxemburg say that people are criticising?  Ive only come across the quote ive used in the title which  seems to me to be a pretty good commentary on how any given society operates.  However I wouldnt argue with the argument that human rights are a myth under capitalism so what is it that Luxemburg said that is being criticised?

not criticising Rosa

I'm not criticising Rosa at all link.  She was a child of her times as are we all, but a marvellous militant despite that. 

Trotsky - see WSWS of 20 August 2015

The WSWS website has an article of 20 August 2015 on Trotsky, which will probably interest anyone assessing history and current affairs, whether or not in agreement with points made in it.  Rosa Luxemburg is of course notable. In considering World War 2, please also remember Rosa (Roza) Robota and her also extremely brave fellow-prisoners, of whom there are several articles on the web, though with some variations as to some details.



it seems that rosa is the third greatest revolutionary

behind che and robspierre :-)


i left a sarcastic comment about lenin but have nothing to add.