Tony Cliff

Rosa Luxemburg

Party and class

Rosa Luxemburg has been accused of mechanical materialism, a conception of historical development in which objective economic forces are independent of human will. This accusation is totally unfounded. Hardly any of the great Marxists has laid greater stress on human activity as the determinant of human destiny. She wrote:

Men do not make history of their own free will, but they do make their own history. The proletariat is dependent in its action on the given degree of maturity in social development existing at the time, but social development does not proceed independently of and apart from the proletariat, and the proletariat is as much its cause and mainspring as it is its product and consequence. The action of the proletariat is a determining factor in history, and although we can no more jump over stages of historical development than a man can jump over his own shadow, still, we can accelerate or retard that development. The victory of the Socialist proletariat will be the result of iron historical laws, and it would depend upon a thousand steps in previous, laborious and all-too-slow development. However, it will never be fulfilled unless the material conditions brought together by the historical process are vitalised with the life-giving spark of conscious will power generated in the great masses of the people. [33]

Following the line of thought propounded by Marx and Engels, Rosa Luxemburg believed that consciousness of the aims of socialism on the part of the mass of workers is a necessary prerequisite for achieving socialism. The Communist Manifesto states:

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.

Again Engels wrote:

The time of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. [34]

Rosa Luxemburg wrote in similar vein, “Without the conscious will and the conscious action of the majority of the proletariat there can be no Socialism”. [35]

Again, the Programme of the Communist Party of Germany (Spartakus), drafted by Rosa, states:

(1) The Spartakus League is not a party that wishes to succeed to power either over the working class or by means of it. The Spartakus League is merely that part of the working class most convinced of its object; it is the part that directs the broad labour movement to its historical function at every step; at every single stage of the revolution it represents the final socialist aim and in all national questions the interests of the proletarian world revolution.

(2) The Spartakus League will never assume governmental authority except through the clear unambiguous will of the vast majority of the German working class; in no other way except through its conscious concurrence with the views, aims and fighting tactics of the Spartakus League.

The proletarian revolution can only achieve clarity and maturity going step by step along the hard path of suffering, bitter experience, through defeats and triumphs.

The victory of the Spartakus League is not at the beginning but at the end of the revolution; it is identical with the victory of the many-millioned mass of the socialist proletariat. [36]

While the working class as a class must be conscious of the aims of socialism and the methods of achieving it, it still needs a revolutionary party to lead it. In every factory, on every dock and on every building site, there are more advanced workers – that is, workers more experienced in the class struggle, more independent of the influence of the capitalist class – and less advanced workers. It is up to the former to organise into a revolutionary party, and try to influence and lead the latter. As Rosa Luxemburg said, “This mass movement of the proletariat needs the lead of an organised principled force”. [37]

The revolutionary party, while conscious of its leading role, must beware of slipping into a way of thinking that the party is the fount of all correct thoughts and deeds, while the working class remains an inert mass without initiative.

Of course through the theoretical analysis of the social conditions of struggle, Social Democracy has introduced the element of consciousness into the proletarian class struggle to an unprecedented degree; it gave the class struggle its clarity of aim; it created, for the first time, a permanent mass workers’ organisation, and thus built a firm backbone for the class struggle. However, it would be catastrophically wrong for us to assume that from now on all the historical initiative of the people has passed to the hands of the Social Democratic organisation alone, and that the unorganised mass of the proletariat has turned into a formless thing, into the deadweight of history. On the contrary, the popular masses continue to be the living matter of world history, even in the presence of Social Democracy; and only if there is blood circulation between the organised nucleus and the popular masses, only if one heartbeat vitalises the two, can Social Democracy prove that it is capable of great historical deeds. [38]

The party, in consequence, should not invent tactics out of thin air, but put it as its first duty to learn from the experience of the mass movement and then generalise from it. The great events of working-class history have shown the correctness of this emphasis beyond all measure of doubt. The workers of Paris in 1871 established a new form of state – a state without a standing army and bureaucracy, where all officials received the average worker’s salary and were subject to recall, before Marx began to generalise about the nature and structure of a workers’ state. Again the workers of Petrograd, in 1905, established a Soviet (workers’ council) independently of the Bolshevik Party, actually in opposition to the local Bolshevik leadership and in face of at least suspicion, if not animosity, on the part of Lenin himself. Therefore one cannot but agree with Rosa Luxemburg when she wrote in 1904:

The main characteristics of the tactics of struggle of Social Democracy are not “invented”, but are the result of a continuous series of great creative acts of the elementary class struggle. Here also the unconscious precedes the conscious, the logic of the objective historical process comes before the subjective logic of its bearer. [39]

It is not through didactic teaching by the party leaders that the workers learn. As Rosa Luxemburg countered to Kautsky and company:

They think that to educate the proletarian masses in a socialist spirit means the following: to lecture to them, distribute leaflets and pamphlets among them. But no! The Socialist proletarian school does not need all this. Activity itself educates the masses. [40]

Finally, Rosa Luxemburg comes to this conclusion: “Mistakes committed by a genuine revolutionary labour movement are much more fruitful and worthwhile historically than the infallibility of the very best Central Committee. [41]

Placing such emphasis (and quite rightly) on the creative power of the working class, Rosa Luxemburg nonetheless inclined to underestimate the retarding, damaging effect that a conservative organisation may have on the mass struggle. She believed that the upsurge of the masses would sweep aside such a leadership without the movement itself suffering serious damage. She wrote in 1906:

If, at any time and under any circumstances, Germany were to experience big political struggles, an era of tremendous economic struggles would at the same time open up. Events would not stop for a second in order to ask the union leaders whether they had given their blessing to the movement or not. If they stood aside from the movement or opposed it, the result of such behaviour would be only this: the union or Party leaders would be swept away by the wave of events, and the economic as well as the political struggles would be fought to a conclusion without them. [42]

And it was this theme that Rosa Luxemburg reiterated again and again.

To understand the roots of Rosa Luxemburg’s possible underestimation of the role of organisation and possible overestimation of the role of spontaneity, one must look at the situation in which she worked. First of all she had to fight the opportunist leadership of the German Social Democratic Party. This leadership emphasised the factor of organisation out of all proportion, and made little of the spontaneity of the masses. Even where they accepted the possibility of a mass strike, for instance, the reformist leadership reasoned as follows: the conditions in which the mass political strike will be launched and the appropriate time – as, for instance, when the union treasuries were full – would be determined by the party and trade union leadership alone, and the date fixed by them. It was their task also to determinate the aims of the strike, which, according to Bebel, Kautsky, Hilferding, Bernstein and others, were to achieve the franchise or defend parliament. Above all, this precept must remain inviolable: that nothing is done by the workers except by order of the party and its leadership. It was with this idea, of the mighty party leadership and the puny masses, that Rosa Luxemburg joined battle. But in doing so she may have bent the stick a little too far.

Another wing of the labour movement with which Rosa Luxemburg had to contend was the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). The PPS was a chauvinistic organisation, its avowed aim the national independence of Poland. But there was no mass social basis for its struggle: the landlords and bourgeoisie stood aside from the national struggle while the Polish working class (looking upon the Russian workers as their allies) had no desire to fight for a national state (see below, Rosa Luxemburg and the national question). Under these conditions the PPS adopted adventuristic activities such as the organisation of terrorist groups, and so on. Action was based not on the working class as a whole, but only on the party organisations. Here too the social process counted for little, the decision of the leadership for everything. Here too (in her long struggle against PPS voluntarism) Rosa Luxemburg stressed the factor of spontaneity.

A third trend in the labour movement with which Rosa battled was syndicalism, a mixture of anarchism (without its individualism and with a much-exaggerated emphasis on organisation) with the trade unions. The main base of this tendency was in France where it spread its roots in the soil of industrial backwardness and lack of concentration. It gained strength after the series of defeats suffered by the French labour movement in 1848 and 1871, and the betrayal of Millerand and the Jaurès party, which developed suspicion among the workers of all political activities and organisations. Syndicalism identified the general strike with social revolution, rather than looking upon it as only one important element of modern revolution. It believed that the general strike could be touched off by an order, and the overthrow of bourgeois rule would follow. It thus again emphasised and oversimplified the revolutionary factor; that is, that the voluntary and free will of the leaders, independent of the compulsion of a mass upsurge, could initiate decisive action. While renouncing this voluntarism, German reformists developed a similar trend. Where the French syndicalists painted a caricature of the mass strike and revolution, the German opportunists, in making a laughing stock of it, threw out the whole idea of mass strikes and revolutions. At the same time as Rosa battled against the German brand of voluntarism, she fought the French edition in its syndicalist form, showing it to be essentially a bureaucratic denial of workers’ initiative and self-mobilisation.

The main reason for Rosa Luxemburg’s overestimation of the factor of spontaneity and underestimation of the factor of organisation probably lies in the need, in the immediate struggle against reformism, for emphasis on spontaneity as the first step in all revolutions. From this one stage in the struggle of the working class, she generalised too widely to embrace the struggle as a whole.

Revolutions do indeed start as spontaneous acts without the leadership of a party. The French Revolution started with the storming of the Bastille. Nobody organised this. Was there a party at the head of the people in rebellion? No. Even the future leaders of the Jacobins, for instance Robespierre, did not yet oppose the monarchy, and were not yet organised into a party. The revolution of 14 July 1789 was a spontaneous act of the masses. The same was true of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and February 1917. The 1905 Revolution started through a bloody clash between the Tsar’s army and police on the one hand, and the mass of workers, men, women and children, on the other, led by the priest Gapon (who was actually an agent provocateur of the Tsar). Were the workers organised by a clear decisive leadership with a socialist policy of its own? Certainly not. Carrying icons, they came begging their beloved “little Father” – the Tsar – to help them against their exploiters. This was the first step in a great revolution. Twelve years later, in February 1917, the masses, this time more experienced, and among whom there were a greater number of socialists than in the previous revolution, again rose spontaneously. No historian has been able to point a finger at the organiser of the February Revolution, for it was simply not organised.

However, after being triggered off by a spontaneous uprising, revolutions move forward in a different manner. In France the transition from the semi-republican government of the Gironde to the revolutionary one, which completely annihilated feudal property relations, was not carried out by unorganised masses without any party leadership, but under the decisive leadership of the Jacobin party. Without such a party at the helm, this important step, which demanded an all-out fight against the Girondists, would have been impossible. The people of Paris could spontaneously, leaderlessly, rise up against the king after decades of oppression. But the majority of them were too conservative, too lacking in historical experience and knowledge, to distinguish, after only two or three years of revolution, between those who wanted to drive the revolution as far as it would go and those who aimed at some compromise. The historical situation required a struggle to the bitter end against the party of compromise, the allies of yesterday. The conscious leadership of this great undertaking was supplied by the Jacobin party, which fixed the date and organised the overthrow of the Gironde on 10 August 1792 down to the last detail. Similarly the October Revolution was not a spontaneous act but was organised in practically all its important particulars, including the date, by the Bolsheviks. During the zigzags of the revolution between February and October – the June demonstration, the July days and subsequent orderly retreat, the rebuff of the rightist Kornilov putsch – the workers and soldiers came more closely under the influence and guidance of the Bolshevik Party. And such a party was essential to raise the revolution from its initial stages to its final victory.

While accepting that perhaps Rosa Luxemburg underestimated the importance of such a party, one should not say too little of the really great historical merit of Rosa Luxemburg, who in the face of prevailing reformism emphasised the most important power that could break the conservative crust – that of workers’ spontaneity. Her enduring strength lay in her complete confidence in the workers’ historical initiative.

While pointing out some of the deficiencies in Rosa Luxemburg’s position regarding the link between spontaneity and leadership in the revolution, one should be wary of concluding that her critics in the revolutionary movement, above all Lenin, were at every point nearer a correct, balanced, Marxist analysis than she was.

Whereas Rosa Luxemburg had worked in an environment in which the main enemy of revolutionary socialism had been bureaucratic centralism, with the result that she had constantly stressed the elementary activity of the masses, Lenin had had to contend with the amorphousness of the labour movement in Russia, where the greatest danger lay in an underestimation of the element of organisation. Just as one cannot understand Rosa Luxemburg’s views outside the conditions of the countries and labour movements in which she worked, so it is difficult to understand Lenin’s position without due reference to the concrete historical conditions of the labour movement in Russia.

Lenin’s conceptions of the relation between spontaneity and organisation were put forward in two main works: What is to be Done? (1902) and One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward (1904). At the time they were written, the Russian labour movement could not be compared in strength with that of Western Europe, especially Germany. It was made up of isolated, small, more or less autonomous groups without any commonly-agreed policies, and only marginally under the influence of the leading Marxists abroad, Plekhanov, Lenin, Martov and Trotsky. In these groups, because of weakness and isolation, sights were set low. While the Russian workers were rising to a high level of militancy in mass strikes and demonstrations the socialist groups propounded no more than immediately realisable economic demands; this so-called “economist” tendency was predominant in the socialist groups. Lenin’s What is to be Done? was a merciless attack on “economism” or pure trade unionism. He argued that the spontaneity of the masses’ struggle – everywhere so obvious in Russia at the time – must be supplemented by the consciousness and organisation of a party. A national party with a central newspaper of its own must be created in order to unify the local groupings and infuse the labour movement with political consciousness. Socialist theory must be brought to the working class from the outside; this was the only way the labour movement could move directly to the struggle for socialism. The projected party would be made up largely of professional revolutionaries, working under an extremely centralised leadership. The political leadership of the party should be the editorial board of the central newspaper. This should have the power to organise or reorganise party branches inside the country, admit or expel members and appoint local committees. Criticising the Mensheviks, Lenin wrote in 1904:

The basic idea of comrade Martov ... is precisely false “democratism”, the idea of the construction of the Party from the bottom to the top. My idea, on the contrary, is “bureaucratic” in the sense that the Party should be constructed from above down to the bottom, from the Congress to the individual Party organisation. [43]

How often have Stalinists, and many so-called non-Stalinists, the many who came after Lenin, quoted What is to be Done? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward, as being applicable in toto, in all countries and movements, whatever the stage of development!

Lenin was far from these so-called Leninists. As early as 1903, at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party, he pointed out some exaggerations of the formulations in What is to be Done?: “The economists bent the stick to one side. In order to straighten it out again, it had to be bent towards the other side and that is what I did”. [44] Two years later, in a draft resolution written for the Third Congress, Lenin emphasised that his organisational views were not universally applicable: “Under free political conditions our party can and will be built up entirely upon the principle of electibility. Under absolutism this is unrealisable.” During the 1905 Revolution, with the tremendous increase in party membership, Lenin ceased to talk of professional revolutionaries. The party was no more to be an elite organisation:

At the Third Congress I expressed the wish that in the party committees there should be two intellectuals for every eight workers. How obsolete is this wish. Now it would be desirable that in the new party organisations, for every intellectual belonging to the Social Democracy, there should be a few hundred Social-Democratic workers.

Whereas in What is to be Done? Lenin wrote that the workers through their own efforts could only reach trade union consciousness, now he wrote, “The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social Democratic”. [45] “The special condition of the proletariat in capitalistic society leads to a striving of workers for socialism; a union of them with the Socialist Party bursts forth with spontaneous force in the very early stages of the movement.” Where, in 1902, Lenin wanted the party to be a tight, closely-knit, small group with very exclusive standards of membership, in 1905 he wrote that workers should be incorporated “into the ranks of the Party organisations by the hundreds of thousands”. Again in 1907, in a foreword to the collection Twelve Years, Lenin said:

The basic mistake of those who polemicise against What is to be Done? today is that they tear this work out of the context of a definite historical milieu, a definite, now already long past period of development of our Party ... What is to be Done? polemically corrected Economism, and it is false to consider the contents of the pamphlet outside of its connection with this task. [46]

Unwilling for What is to be Done? to be misused, Lenin did not relish its proposed translation in 1921 into non-Russian languages. He told Max Levien, “that is not desirable; the translation must at least be issued with good commentaries which would have to be written by a Russian comrade very well acquainted with the history of the Communist Party of Russia in order to avoid false application”. [47]

When the Communist International was discussing its statutes, Lenin argued against those that were being proposed because, he said, they were “too Russian” and overemphasised centralisation, even though these statutes did provide for freedom of criticism within the parties and for the control of the party leadership from below. Overcentralisation, Lenin argued, did not suit the conditions of Western Europe. (It is true that in Lenin’s own party at the time the organisation was highly centralised, even semi-military, but this form was forced upon it by the dire conditions of the civil war.)

Lenin’s views on organisation, his bending of the stick too far over to centralism, must be considered against the background of conditions in Russia.

In backward Tsarist Russia, where the working class was a small minority, the idea that the working class alone can liberate itself could easily be passed over. The more easily still, since Russia had quite a long tradition of minority organisations trying to substitute for elementary mass activity. In France it was the people who overthrew the monarchy and feudalism; in Russia, Decembrists and Narodnik terrorists took it upon themselves to do this. [48]

Marx’s statement about the democratic nature of the socialist movement, quoted previously, and Lenin’s, that revolutionary Social Democracy represents “the Jacobins indissolubly connected with the organisation of the proletariat”, are definitely contradictory. A conscious, organised minority at the head of an unorganised mass of the people suits the bourgeois revolution, which is, after all, a revolution in the interests of the minority. But the separation of conscious minority from unconscious majority, the separation of mental and manual labour, the existence of manager and foreman on the one hand and a mass of obedient labourers on the other, may be grafted on to “socialism” only by killing the very essence of socialism, which is the collective control of the workers over their destiny.

It is only by juxtaposing Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s conceptions that one can attempt to assess the historical limitations of each which were, inevitably, fashioned by the special environment in which each worked.

Emphatic as she was that the liberation of the working class can be carried out only by the working class itself, Rosa Luxemburg was impatient of all sectarian tendencies, which expressed themselves in breakaways from the mass movement and mass organisations.

Although for years at loggerheads with the majority leadership of the German Social Democratic Party, she continued to insist that it was the duty of revolutionary socialists to remain in this organisation. Even after the SPD rallied to the side of the imperialist war, after Karl Liebknecht’s expulsion from the SPD parliamentary group (12 January 1916), she and Liebknecht continued to adhere to the party on the grounds that breaking away would turn a revolutionary group into a sect. She held to this viewpoint not only when she was the leader of a tiny, insignificant revolutionary group. On the contrary, she persevered with this view when the Spartakus League gained influence and was becoming a recognisable force as the war dragged on.

As we have seen, on 2 December 1914 only one deputy, Liebknecht, voted against the war credits. In March 1915 a second, Otto Rühle, joined him. In June 1915 1,000 party office-bearers signed a manifesto opposing the class collaboration policies, and in December 1915 as many as 20 deputies voted against the war credits in the Reichstag. In March 1916 the SPD parliamentary group expelled the growing opposition from its midst, although it did not have the power to expel it from the party.

What happened in parliament was a reflection of what was taking place outside, in the factories, the streets, the party branches and the Socialist Youth organisation.

The anti-war journal Die Internationale, edited by Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring, distributed 5,000 of its one and only issue in one day (it was immediately suppressed by the police). [49] The Socialist Youth, at a secret conference at Easter 1916, declared itself overwhelmingly behind Spartakus. On May Day 1916 some 10,000 workers assembled on the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin in an anti-war demonstration. In other towns – Dresden, Jena, Hanau – anti-war demonstrations also took place. On 28 June 1916, the day on which Liebknecht was sentenced to two and a half years hard labour, 55,000 workers went on strike in Berlin munitions factories in solidarity with him. Demonstrations and strikes took place the same day in Stuttgart, Bremen, Braunschweig and other cities. Under the influence of the Russian Revolution, in April 1917 a huge wave of munitions strikes spread throughout the country: 300,000 workers were out in Berlin alone. Another wave of strikes of munitions workers in January/February 1918 engulfed as many as 1.5 million workers.

These strikes were largely political in nature. The Berlin strike of some half a million workers demanded immediate peace without annexations and reparations, and the right of self-determination of nations; it raised as its central slogan the revolutionary cry, “Peace, freedom, bread.” Six workers were killed during the strike, and many wounded. Thousands of strikers were conscripted into the army.

Against this background Rosa Luxemburg continued to argue for remaining in the SPD right up to April 1917, when the Centre, led by Kautsky, Bernstein and Haase, split from the Right and formed a new party – the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). The USPD was a purely parliamentary party which did not want to stir the workers up into mass strikes and demonstrations against the war, but aimed to put pressure on the governments of the belligerent countries to negotiate peace. The Spartakus League, formed in January 1916 as a faction inside the SPD, now attached itself loosely to the USPD, keeping its separate organisation and its right of independent action. Only after the outbreak of the German Revolution on 29 December 1918 did the League finally sever its connections with the USPD and establish an independent party – the Communist Party of Germany (Spartakus).

There had been constant pressure from the ranks of the revolutionaries to leave the SPD and later the USPD. But Rosa Luxemburg resisted this. There had been a precedent for breaking away in 1891, when quite a large group of revolutionaries split from the SPD, accusing it of reformism, and founded an Independent Socialist Party. This had enjoyed a very short life before completely disappearing.

On 6 January 1917 Rosa Luxemburg put the case against those revolutionaries who wished to split from the SPD:

However commendable and comprehensible the impatience and bitterness which leads so many of the best elements to leave the party today, a flight remains a flight. It is a betrayal of the masses, who, sold to the bourgeoisie, writhe and choke from the stranglehold of Scheidemann and Legien. One may withdraw from small sects when they do not suit one any longer in order to found new sects. It is nothing more than immature fantasy to want to liberate the mass of the proletariat from this heavy and terrible yoke of the bourgeoisie by a simple withdrawal, and thus set a brave example. The discarding of membership cards as an illusion of liberation is nothing but the illusion, stood on its head, that power is inherent in a membership card. Both are different poles of organisational cretinism, the constitutional sickness of old German Social Democracy. The collapse of German Social Democracy is an historical process of immense dimensions, a general struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie, and one should not run from this battlefield in order to breathe purer air behind a protective bush. This battle of giants should be fought to the end. The fight against the deadly stranglehold of official Social Democracy, and the official Free Trade Unions, which was imposed by the ruling class upon the neck of the misled and betrayed working class, should be fought with all force to the end. We should stand by the masses to the end, even in the most terrible struggle. The liquidation of this “heap of organised corruption”, which today calls itself Social Democracy, is not the private affair of the few, or of a few groups ... The decisive fate of the class struggle in Germany for decades is the fight against the authorities of Social Democracy and the trade unions, and therefore these words apply to each of us to the very end: “Here I stand, I can do nothing else”. [50]

Rosa Luxemburg’s opposition to leaving the mass workers’ party did not cover any concession to reformism. Thus at a conference of Spartakus on 7 January 1917 the following resolution inspired by her was passed: “The Opposition stays in the Party in order to thwart and fight the policy of the majority at every step, to defend the masses from an imperialist policy covered over with the mantle of Social Democracy, and to use the Party as a field of recruitment for the proletarian, anti-militarist class struggle”. [51]

Rosa Luxemburg’s reluctance to form an independent revolutionary party followed her slowness to react to changed circumstances. It was a central factor in the belatedness of building a revolutionary party in Germany. In this, however, she was not alone. Lenin was no quicker to break with Kautsky than Rosa. There is no ground to the Stalinist story according to which Lenin was opposed to the revolutionary Left’s adherence to the SPD and continuing association with Kautsky. [52] Actually Rosa Luxemburg made a clearer assessment of Kautsky and Co, and broke with them long before Lenin did. For some two decades Lenin looked upon Kautsky as the greatest living Marxist. A few instances: What is to be Done? quotes Kautsky as the main authority for its central theme, and praises the German Social Democratic Party as a model for the Russian movement. In December 1906 Lenin wrote, “The vanguard of the Russian working class knows Karl Kautsky for some time now as its writer”; he described Kautsky as “the leader of the German revolutionary Social Democrats”. [53] In August 1908 he cited Kautsky as his authority on questions of war and militarism. [54] In 1910, at the time of Rosa Luxemburg’s debate with Kautsky on the question of the path to power, Lenin sided with him against her. And as late as February 1914 Lenin invoked Kautsky as a Marxist authority in his dispute with Rosa Luxemburg on the national question. Only the outbreak of the war and the betrayal of internationalism by Kautsky shattered Lenin’s illusions in him. Then he admitted, “Rosa Luxemburg was right; she realised long ago that Kautsky was a time-serving theorist, serving the majority of the Party, in short, serving opportunism”. [55]

The form of organisation of the socialist workers’ movement everywhere and at every stage of development of the struggle for power has an important influence on the moulding of workers’ power itself. Hence a debate on the form of organisation of the revolutionary party has an importance that goes beyond the stage in which a certain accepted form of organisation is being applied. In no country did the debate on organisational problems assume as sharp a tone as in the Russian labour movement. Much of this was due to the vast distance between the final aim of the movement and the autocratic semi-feudal reality in which it arose, a reality that prevented a free organisation of workers.

Where Rosa Luxemburg’s position regarding the relation between spontaneity and organisation was a reflection of the immediate needs facing revolutionaries in a labour movement controlled by a conservative bureaucracy, Lenin’s original position – that of 1902-04 – was a reflection of the amorphousness of a vital, fighting revolutionary movement at the first stage of its development under a backward, semi-feudal and autocratic regime.

However, whatever the historical circumstances moulding Rosa’s thoughts regarding organisation, these thoughts showed a great weakness in the German Revolution of 1918-19.




33. R. Luxemburg, Ausgewählte, vol.I, p.269.

34. F. Engels, 1895 Introduction, K. Marx, The Class Struggle in France.

35. R. Luxemburg, Ausgewählte, vol.II, p.606.

36. Dokumente, vol.II, pp.704-705.

37. R. Luxemburg, Ausgewählte, vol.I, p.104.

38. Leipziger Volkszeitung, June 1913, pp.26-28.

39. Die Neue Zeit, 1904, p.491.

40. Rosa Luxemburg’s speech to the Foundation Congress of the German Communist Party.

41. Die Neue Zeit, 1904, p.535.

42. R. Luxemburg, Ausgewählte, vol.I, pp.235-236.

43. V.I. Lenin, Works (Russia), vol.VII, pp.365-366.

44. V.I. Lenin, Works, vol.VI, p.21.

45. V.I. Lenin, Works, vol.VIII, p.37, quoted in R. Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom (New York, 1958), p.182.

46. V.I. Lenin, Works, vol.XIII, p.85.

47. Actually this pamphlet was translated into many languages without the commentary Lenin considered necessary.

48. It was no accident that the Russian Social Revolutionaries, future enemies of Bolshevism, warmly approved Lenin’s conception of party organisation (I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, (London, 1954), p.94n).

49. Dokumente, vol.II, p.135.

50. Dokumente, vol.II, p.525.

51. Dokumente, vol.II, p.528.

52. See, for instance, J.V. Stalin, Some Questions Concerning the History of Bolshevism, Works, vol.XIII, pp.86-104; Dokumente, vol.II, especially the preface; F. Oelssner, Rosa Luxemburg (Berlin, 1956).

53. V.I. Lenin, Works, vol.XI, p.330.

54. V.I. Lenin, Works, vol.XI, pp.173-176.

55. V.I. Lenin, Letter to Shliapnikov, 27 October 1914.


Last updated on 20.1.2004