In favor of Rosa Luxemburg



Preface to the English edition of Rosa Luxemburgo's book Organizational issues of Russian social democracy.

“Sensitive souls will regret again”, wrote Rosa Luxemburg at the end of her conflict with the pseudo-Marxists of the Second International, “that Marxists argue among themselves and that recognized 'authorities' are fought. But Marxism is not a handful of individuals who entitle each other to 'expert judgment' and before whom the great mass of believers are expected to die in a state of blind trust. Marxism is a revolutionary view of the world, which must constantly strive for new ideas, which avoid nothing more than clinging to forms which have lost their validity and which best preserve their vital force in occasional clashes of self-criticism”.

These sentiments of Rosa Luxemburg, written in prison during the World War, deserve to be repeated today more loudly than ever. The clamor for unity which is now so supported and which, after the terrible defeats of the international proletariat, only serves to conceal the fact that, with the present workers' organisations, the formation of a genuine proletarian class front is impossible and must be answered by the revolutionary workers with merciless criticism. The old labor movement that survived excludes any real united front, which is only possible on the basis of real class struggle and not on organizations. The unity of the dead form is the death of the fighting spirit of the working class. The proper concern is, on the contrary, to break with organizations that have become fetters of class struggle, in order to make the working class fit for struggle. And what today must be dissolved are not only the wretched remnants of the crumbling organizations of the Second International and the trade union movement, but also the organizations of the “heirs” of the reform movement, the Third International and its various 'right' offshoots. and 'left'.

No sooner had the Russian Revolution put an end to the Second International's "expert" judgment in matters of class treason and the murder of workers than the new "authorities" of the new International were destroying the first beginnings of a genuine revolutionary movement, which found its new form organization in workers' councils. The 'official' labor movement has never been more despicable, more traitorous, more nauseating than it is today. The negligence on the part of the international proletariat to violently put an end to the old labor movement was paid for with the blood of its best fighters. The audacity of the "owners" of the "workers' organizations" experienced their betrayal of the working class during the World War, experienced the massacre of the revolutionary movement in Central Europe after the War, apparently also experienced the defeats suffered at the hands of fascism in Italy, Germany and Austria, only to make another attempt to continue the treacherous business and prolong its parasitic existence at the expense of the workers. Although the organizations of both Internationals are politically compromised, they still persist as traditions in the minds of the workers and poison the first attempts to form genuine instruments of struggle. They must be further destroyed as a tradition, and within the scope of that need is also the destruction of the legend of Lenin, so artificially constructed.

The history of the Leninist and pseudo-communist parties of the Third International is the history of uninterrupted internal crises. Its development really couldn't go any other way; for the entire ideological and tactical baggage of the Third International is a mixture of social-democratic traditions and the so-called 'experiences' of the Bolshevik Party – combined with the needs of Russian national policy (aimed at making Russia one of the great powers), which determine the line policy of that International. However, one of the elementary truths of the materialist dialectic is that the methods and means of struggle suited to a given period and place prove inept when transferred to another period and to other localities and relations. For this reason, the tactics of the Third International did not and do not meet the needs of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat; and even less in harmony with this struggle is Russian domestic policy.

The contamination of Marxism, from opportunistic considerations, at the hands of Lenin's International is no less extensive than that which it suffered from the Second International. None of them has any connection with revolutionary Marxism. The non-Marxist character of Lenin's thought, for example, can be glimpsed in the fact that, misinformed by the ideological backwardness of the Russian workers while at the same time accepting the mechanistic conceptions of Plekhanov and Kautsky, he arrived at the philosophical conclusion that the working class will never be able to develop a revolutionary class consciousness, but that this consciousness must be 'imposed' on the masses by the revolutionary party, which takes its ideas from the intellectuals. In your pamphlet, What to do?, this view is given the clearest possible expression, and the result is that without a party, and here again a strongly centralized and strictly disciplined party, a revolutionary movement is possible, no doubt, but in no case can it succeed. Its principle of organization and revolution is disarmingly simple; the objective situation creates revolutionary ferments, which it is the party's duty to exploit.

The Party is the most important factor in the overthrow process. The quality of the Party, the central committee, the leaders, the slogans, the appropriate turns at the right time - only on these ultimately depend the prosperity and misfortune of the revolutionary movement. Hence the training of professional revolutionaries and the demand for fanatical discipline in carrying out party decisions, without regard to the fact that in this way history again becomes the "work of great men". The role of spontaneity in historical development has been misunderstood and underestimated; it was important only in so far as it could be influenced by the Party. The workers' councils (soviets) that emerged spontaneously from the masses themselves were only as valuable as the Party was able to control them. The party itself was the beginning and the end of the revolution.

Such a position is idealistic, mechanistic, one-sided, and certainly not Marxist. For Marx, revolutionary consciousness exists not only as an ideology, but the proletariat as such, without considering ideological factors, is the realization of revolutionary consciousness. The Party, for Marx, is welcome and a matter of course, but not unconditionally necessary; plus the added consideration that revolutionary consciousness can also manifest itself in forms other than those of the party. Even without the existence of a party, without a central committee and without a Lenin, the revolution must finally come to the fore, since it receives its strongest support from the rising forces of production and not just of productive relations. Ideology corresponds to social relations, but the driving forces of revolution are deeper; they are identical with the proletariat, as the strongest force in production. Class consciousness, for Marx, is not merely the revolutionary ideology crystallized in the Party, but the truly practical class struggle, through the growth of which (and not the growth of the Party) the revolutionary movement is necessarily brought to success. For Marx, there is no separation between workers and the Party; the existence of the party is only an expression of the fact that only minorities can consciously do what the masses themselves are unconsciously compelled to do. Even without knowledge of dialectical laws, genuine motion remains dialectical. The minority is a part (though not the decisive part) of the revolutionary process; it does not produce the process, but is produced by it. For Lenin, however, this minority is identified with the revolution itself.

The Leninist conception contradicts all historical experience as well as all theoretical considerations, and yet it is generally accepted in the labor movement today. The reason for this, however, consists merely in the fact that its unsustainability was largely obscured by the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. The traditional enthusiasm for the Russian Revolution is still so strong that the innumerable defeats that the international proletariat suffered with the action of that same Party, undoubtedly shook the confidence deposited in Lenin's epigones, but not in his principles. Even those parties which take their stand outside the Bolshevik International, such as Trotsky's group or the American Workers' Party, hold firm to the principles of that International, without considering that, in doing so, they convert all their opposition into one which is purely tactical and , consequently, impossible.

Let anyone compare the programs of these opposition groups with those of the Bolsheviks. He will immediately see that these new organizations are simply seeking to restore what has already landed on the rubbish heap of history. All these formations are haunted by the ghost of Lenin, who brought to its logical conclusion what had developed in the Second International; that is, the complete surrender of the masses of workers to the particular needs of the professional bureaucracy in organizations. “Back to Lenin”, as people are so fond of shouting these days, means repeating the building of workers' organizations which, by necessity of their very structure, must become obstacles to the revolutionary movement.

In current debates on questions of organization of the proletarian revolution, it is significant that they are conducted at a level far below that of 1916 – in fact, as will be clear from Rosa Luxemburg's work presented here, far below the level of 1904. Let's just compare, for example, the political conclusions drawn by Karl Liebknecht from the betrayal of the Second International with those of the neo-Bolshevik movements of 1934, and it is immediately clear that the latter have forgotten everything and learned nothing.

“The interest of the professional bureaucracy within the labor movement,” writes Karl Liebknecht (estate, written in 1916 in prison), “aims at nothing more than to avoid any serious discussion, any decisive conflict. It is directed towards official relations, towards the continuity of a working-class movement that proceeds at an even pace, which is well tolerated and even favored by the ruling classes. The movement must never jeopardize the 'organizations' and positions of bureaucrats. For them, organization is an end in itself, not a means to a revolutionary end. The struggle of organizations with each other, i.e., of the source of existence of professional leaders, with the aim of gaining members, is the only end for which they can fight - struggles within local limits, to which they reluctantly consent in the face of insistence. of the masses. They are not revolutionaries, but at best reformists; they are completely 'above the battle' – a paradoxically parasitic element attached to the capitalist social order”.

“This is the fatal circle in which these organizations move – the big centralized businesses, with employees who live on a fixed salary and, considering the previous class level, a very good salary. In this professional bureaucracy, they not only produce an element absolutely hostile to the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, but they convert this element into their fully empowered leaders, who easily become tyrants. Meanwhile, the mental and moral independence, will, initiative and personal action of the masses are suppressed or completely eliminated. Salaried parliamentarians also belong to this professional bureaucracy”.

“There is only one remedy for this evil: the removal of the salaried bureaucracy or its elimination from the formation of all resolutions and the limitation of its functions to technical assistance. To this may be added: no re-election of any official after a certain term, a measure which would at the same time serve to increase the number of proletarians familiar with technical and organizational matters; possibility to withdraw the mandate at any time; restriction of the competence of the authorities; decentralization; vote of all members on important issues. In the election of officers, decisive weight must be given to the fact that they have stood the test of decisive, militant, revolutionary action, revolutionary fighting spirit, unreserved self-sacrifice, even staking their whole existence for the cause. The training of the masses and of each individual to mental and moral independence, to skepticism of authority, to resolute self-initiative, readiness and capacity for free action, form the only sure foundation for the development of a working-class movement at height of its historical mandate, as well as the most essential prerequisite for the eradication of bureaucratic dangers”.

That was in 1916. Shortly afterwards, Liebknecht and Luxemburg, and with them all true revolutionaries, saw with distaste that, with the consolidation of the ruling party in Russia, with the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the Bolshevik leaders, the content real life of the 1917 revolution was again dissipated. With the elimination of the German revolutionary movement, with the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, everything that had already been gained by revolutionary criticism was lost again in false enthusiasm for Russian false socialism. Now we have to start over from the beginning.

The collapse of the Third International was required for the first time in order to bring about a real decision in the theoretical struggle that took place between Lenin and Luxemburg thirty years ago. History decided in favor of Rosa Luxemburg. In putting his criticisms of Lenin's opportunist principles before the proletariat again today, we are conscious of the fact that his argument can be considerably extended, that his point of view was not final, that his position was still influenced (and therefore necessarily) by Social Democracy. . But, regardless of the extent to which criticisms of it can no longer be considered to be of more than historical interest, what it had to say against the Leninist form of organization is more objective today than when it was written. The need to destroy Lenin's legend, as a prerequisite for a complete reorientation of the labor movement, restores a contemporary value to Rosa Luxemburg's work. This pamphlet will be followed by others in which the question will be raised at the moment when Rosa Luxemburg was forced to abandon it, when her life was ended by the capitalist gunmen of the Social Democracy.

* Paul Mattick (1904-1981) was a trade unionist and Marxist political activist. Author, among other books, of marx and keynes. Boston, Porter Sargent Publisher, 1969.

Translation: Inaê Diana Ashokasundari Shravya with revision of Priscila Olin Silva e Jose Santana da Silva.

Originally published in International Council Correspondence, volume 1, no. 5, February 1935, p. 1-5.


Rosa Luxemburg. "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy". In: Selected Texts, Vol 1 (1899-1914), P. 151-176. São Paulo, Unesp, 2011.


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