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(en) France, UCL AL #315 = History, Polish, German, Jewish, Rosa Luxemburg ... (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Fri, 28 May 2021 08:33:23 +0300

Polish, German, Jewish, Rosa Luxemburg was above all an internationalist socialist. His opposition to Lenin and his tragic end, victim of the betrayal of the Social Democrats, made him a revolutionary icon. Without going into hagiography, it is possible to extract some strong ideas from the thought of this iconoclastic Marxist. ---- What do we know about Rosa Luxemburg? Born in Poland, then under the Tsarist influence, in 1871, her life was placed under the sign of internationalism: Jewish, of Russian nationality, she went into exile in Switzerland before taking German nationality. The conditions of his assassination in January 1919 in the violent repression of the German Revolution which struck the Spartacist leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in the lead, and his body thrown into a Berlin canal made him a revolutionary icon victim of conservative repression and of the betrayal of the Social Democrats.

If we add to this a critique of the Leninist conception of the party, it would not take much for comrade Rosa to be inducted into a hypothetical libertarian pantheon. Daniel Guérin saw in her "one of the hyphens between anarchism and authentic Marxism" . Beyond the legend and the recoveries, its positions on the national question, on the role of the party, on authoritarianism or revolutionary spontaneity still resonate today with our struggles.

An uncompromising internationalist
At the end of the XIX th century, the century of nations and nationalism, the national question, although it is not central to the work of Marx divides the socialists and Marxists. Karl Kautsky even sees it as "a decisive stage in human history, linked to the fate of the evolution of social classes"[1]. The emancipation of workers through national liberation struggles. In 1893, at the Congress of the International Socialist in Zurich, in a predominantly male assembly, Rosa Luxemburg, 22, perched on a chair, made a remarkable speech which went against the socialist doxa of the time. His thesis: the central question of the Polish proletariat is not the construction of a unified Poland (the latter is then divided between the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire) but rather the concrete struggles that unify the proletariat. This is a conviction that will never leave her.

Rosa Luxemburg at the meeting held on the occasion of the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, in 1907.
This national question is a theme that Rosa Luxemburg (like Josef Strasser or Anton Pannekoek) will not cease to take up for many years, in fact initially opposing the views of Marx and then of Lenin. She never ceased to warn her contemporaries - and the attitude of a majority of socialists when the Great War broke out could only prove her right - about the dangers of nationalism. This fierce opposition to the national idea will also see it oppose the Bund (the General Union of Jewish Workers of Lithuania, Poland and Russia, a socialist, secular and transnational Jewish political party)[2]and she will refuse, like the Leo Jogiches who co-founded SDKPil (the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania) with her, to adhere to it and even to support it.

Adept of spontaneous socialism
Rosa Luxemburg was driven by a firm conviction, reinforced by the analysis of the various uprisings and revolutions that swarmed throughout the XIX th century: it is in the struggles that builds socialist consciousness. This conviction will be definitively anchored during his clandestine return to Poland in 1905, to join his Russian and Polish comrades in revolt. She then observed the conditions for the outbreak of the first Russian revolution. She will draw from this experience an essential text, Mass strike, party and union[3]. She defends the thesis that the spontaneity of the masses is essential to the emergence of a revolutionary movement[4].

Rosa Luxemburg's spontaneous socialism is not spontaneism. It is not born out of nothing - and especially not of brilliant actions of a self-proclaimed avant-garde which would wake up the sleeping masses; it is built in struggles. His weapon? The mass strike. Concession or not to the anarchist movement? Some, like Daniel Guérin, see it as a way to side with the general strike, the slogan of the revolutionary anarchists, without openly using the formula, which would be crossing the Rubicon. This thesis is risky. On the other hand Rosa Luxemburg is already posing as an opponent of the line of the German SPD, which is then more on wait-and-see positions.

The masses against the avant-garde
The question of revolutionary spontaneity also undermines the positions defended by Kautski and Lenin on the central, and centralizing, role of the party. For Rosa Luxemburg, the leaders do not have to fear this spontaneity, on the contrary, they must accept it and use it. Spontaneity and creativity of the masses is the engine of revolutions.Rosa Luxemburg rejects the idea that socialism can be introduced by force, from above, by a vanguard of professional revolutionaries who are supposed to know best what is good for lower classes [5]. Socialist consciousness cannot be introduced "from outsideAs Kautsky and Lenin profess, it is built in the daily struggle for rights and above all in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalism. This is the crux of his political theory: "the transformation of the world according to a socialist perspective can only be brought to a successful conclusion by the autonomous and direct action of the great popular masses"[6].

The Russian Revolution of 1905 in fact only reinforced a conviction that had already been expressed. From 1904 Rosa Luxemburg criticized the conception of the party according to Lenin in terms which can only positively challenge the libertarians: "The ultra centralism defended by Lenin appears to us as imbued not with a positive and creative spirit, but with sterile mind of the night watchman. All his care tends to control the activity of the party and not to fertilize it; to narrow the movement rather than to develop it ; to curb it, not to unify it"[7]. The centralized leadership advocated by Lenin endangering the spontaneous activity of the masses and their creative spirit, essential elements for the success of revolutions.

The class against the party
For Rosa Luxemburg, human progress can only be imagined through the development of democracy, and not by bringing it into line. It is a theme that she will resume in 1918 in The Russian Revolution[8], a posthumous publication in which she provides critical support for the Bolshevik revolution. For her, "the fundamental error of Lenin-Trostki's theory is precisely that, like Kautsky, they oppose dictatorship to democracy. "Dictatorship or democracy" it is in these terms that the question arises for the Bolsheviks and for Kautsky". If Rosa Luxemburg obviously criticizes the position of Kautsky who sits on the side of democracy, understood bourgeois democracy, she also criticizes the position of Lenin and Trostky, "the dictatorship of a handful of people, that is to say a dictatorship on the bourgeois model" . These two positions being, according to her, "two opposite poles as far apart as the other from authentic socialist politics" . If Rosa Luxemburg does not reject the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, quite the contrary, she recalls that "this dictatorship must be the work of the class, and not of a small minority which rules in the name of the class" . For the Soviets ; against the party dictatorship.

The life and work of Rosa Luxemburg are still rich in lessons today for revolutionary libertarian or anti-authoritarian Marxist activists. His intransigence as much as his humanism remind us that there have always been fruitful ways (voices) for a non-chauvinist, non-state and truly emancipatory communism.

Rosa Luxemburg (right) with socialist, feminist and anti-fascist activist Clara Zetkin in 1910
David (UCL Grand Paris Sud)


[1] Jean-Numa Ducange, "Should we defend the nation? Marx, the Marxists and the National Question from the Origins to the Present Day", Actuel Marx , 2020/2, n ° 68.

[2] "The Bund (1897-1949): Jewish and universalist workers' party", Alternative libertaire , November 2018.

[3] Rosa Luxemburg, "Mass strike, party and union", Œuvres I , Paris, Maspero, 1969.

[4] Ottokar Luban, "The creative spontaneity of the masses according to Rosa Luxemburg", Agone , 2016/2, n ° 59.

[5] Isabel Loureiro, "A Democracy Through Revolutionary Experience. Lukács, reader of Rosa Luxemburg", Agone , 2016/2, n ° 59.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Rosa Luxemburg, "Organizational questions of Russian social democracy", online at marxists.org .

[8] Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution , Dawn Editions, 2013

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