Walter Held

Once Again Lenin and Luxemburg

(June 1940)

Walter Held, Once Again Lenin and Luxemburg, Fourth International, June 1940, pp.47-52. (review)
Transcribed by Tex Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A Word About the Biographer

PAUL FROELICH,” states the publisher’s blurb, “is a disciple of Rosa Luxemburg and one of her comrades-in-arms. For fifteen years he took his stand at the front which she directed ... He knows her work as no one else does. There is no one better qualified to write her biography.” [1]

The “disciples and comrades-in-arms” of Rosa Luxemburg’s great Russian contemporary and co-fighter, Lenin, provide the theme for one of the most lamentable chapters in the history of mankind. The question naturally arises: can the verdict be much different for the epigones of the great Polish internationalist, who devoted her life to the German labor movement?

We do not refer here to such erstwhile comrades-in-arms of Rosa’s as the Piecks and the Eberleins, who, in the service of the sinister Kremlin misanthrope play a role which no expression in the language of mankind is capable of adequately characterizing. The same verdict also applies to such former comrades-in-arms of Rosa’s in the days of the Spartakusbund as her “qualified biographer” Paul Froelich and others of his intellectual ilk such as Jacob Walcher, Heinrich Brandler, August Thalheimer, etc.

“Her name and that of Karl Liebknecht have been abused as a banner under which to transport contraband,” we read in Froelich’s book.

Precisely! This fate Rosa shares with many other great revolutionaries and advanced thinkers in history. The contraband with which Rosa’s epigones at the head of the German S.A.P. (Socialist Labor Party), Jacob Walcher and Paul Froelich, have set sail is reducible to a few formulas which, moreover, camouflage their smuggling activities only in the most recent period: The acceptance and support of the criminal Stalinist People’s Front policy; the defense of the Negrin government and its undercover Stalinist agents, the Spanish Noskes and Eberts, against revolutionary criticism; and finally, that swamp of inverted social patriotism – the hope for a victory of British-French imperialism over German imperialism. There can be no doubt as to the verdict Rosa Luxemburg herself would have pronounced upon this “qualified biographer, disciple and comrade-in-arms” and his colleagues.


Is There a Decisive Contrast Between Lenin and Luxemburg?

Froelich’s present political position constitutes, at the same time, an insurmountable barrier for him when he seeks to evaluate questions connected with Rosa Luxemburg’s personal role. This is true above all in regard to that question which is implicit, so to speak, in any historical examination of Rosa Luxemburg’s personal role – why did Rosa and the German Left Wing led by her fail to build a party equal to that of the Russian Bolsheviks, a party which could have led the German revolution to victory?

Paul Froelich is in no way capable of illuminating this question but only of obscuring it completely. What other purpose save that of confusing the issue is served when Froelich at this late date, more than two decades after the victory of the Russian and the defeat of the German (and the international) revolution, trifles with the differences between Lenin and Luxemburg over the role and the building of the revolutionary party? Or when he seeks to steer an eclectic middle course between their views? Or when he pictures matters as if Lenin himself revised and recognized as “exaggerated” such views on this question as he developed in his writings What to Do? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward?

Froelich, for instance, speaks of Lenin’s “old ultra-centralist conceptions,” and of the “symptomatic role” of the Leninist organizational concepts and then ends up with the following utterly Philistine contention:

“All of Lenin’s political views before 1917 display unmistakable (!) Blanquist hangovers and a much too accentuated voluntarism which he naturally quickly discarded once he confronted concrete situations.”

What is unmistakable in all this is the pince-nez through which the Menshevik Philistine views Lenin. Lenin’s victory as a practical politician cannot be denied even by the Menshevik empiricist – it is not possible to blot out the October insurrection from the annals of history – but he returns to his Menshevik prejudices the moment he touches the October insurrection in its anticipatory theoretical form. The apparent contradictions are resolved by him in a typically Philistine fashion: Lenin was victorious not because of his theoretical conceptions hut despite them; while Rosa on the other hand, despite her obviously correct conceptions suffered a grave defeat. Everything is stood on its head!

Lenin was far from considering the theoretical views of Bolshevism as outlived or exaggerated. [2] On the contrary, in his pamphlet, Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder – which appeared three years after the October revolution – Lenin saw precisely in these “theoretical over-accentuations” one of the chief causes for the victory of the Bolsheviks.

In the second chapter of this pamphlet Lenin explains: “The experience of the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia has clearly shown to those who are unable to think or who have not had occasion to ponder over this question, that absolute centralization and the strictest discipline of the proletariat are one of the basic conditions for victory over the bourgeoisie. This has often been discussed. But far from enough thought has been given to the question as to what it means and under what conditions it is possible ... Only the history of Bolshevism during the whole period of its existence can satisfactorily explain why it was able to build up and maintain under most difficult conditions the iron discipline necessary for the victory of the proletariat.”

He then once again formulates in plain and unmistakable terms the relationship between the leadership, the party, and the masses: “The political strategy and tactics carried out by the political leadership of the party and realized through the activity of the party as a whole must be correctly based, that is, based on Marxist theory.”

But the activity of the party does not, of course, take place in a vacuum: “The broadest masses must be convinced by their own experience that the political strategy and tactics of the party are correct.”

Such a conception is, to be sure, far removed from the Luxemburgist view that the conscious initiative of the party leadership in the formation of tactics plays only a subordinate role. But it has nothing whatever in common with Blanquism or voluntarism. Lenin explains the practical policy of the Bolsheviks between February and October 1917:

“The Bolsheviks began their victorious struggle against the parliamentary, in reality bourgeois republic and against the Mensheviks very cautiously and, contrary to the views now often met with in Europe and America, the preparations for it were by no means a simple matter. The Bolsheviks did not call for the overthrow of the government at the beginning of the period indicated, but explained that it was impossible to overthrow it until the composition and the mood of the Soviets had been changed. We did not proclaim a boycott of the bourgeois parliament, of the Constituent Assembly but declared officially that a bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly is better than one without a Constituent Assembly, but that a Workers’ and Peasants’ republic, a Soviet republic, is better than any bourgeois-democratic-parliamentary republic. Without such careful, thorough, elaborate and prolonged preparation we could not have obtained victory in November 1917 nor have maintained this victory.”

Lenin directed his pamphlet in the first place toward the movement in Germany. He consciously counterposed the “cautious” policy of the Bolsheviks to the neck-breaking policy of the Spartakusbund and the young Communist party. Unfortunately, Lenin’s book fell upon arid soil. The “Little Triumvirate” in the leadership of the Comintern (Zinoviev, Radek, Bukharin) drove the German party into the adventure of the “March Action” and the German leadership – with the exception of Paul Levi and Clara Zetkin – was blind enough to permit itself to be pushed into this putschist adventure.

The theoretical justification of this genuinely “Blanquist” and “voluntarist” action was undertaken by none other than the sage Marxist, Paul Froelich. And by way of compensation, Lenin’s pamphlet was submitted subsequently to purely social democratic interpretation at the hands of these self-same “theoreticians of the offensive” (Thalheimer-Froelich). All the more imperative is it to understand Lenin’s real meaning today.


Luxemburg’s “Theory of Spontaneity”

Paul Froelich is of course quite right in denying the existence of a Luxemburg theory of spontaneity in the sense in which such a theory is ascribed to her by the epigones of Lenin. She did not count upon the automatic collapse of capitalism. She did not in any way deny the role of consciousness in history nor the need for the party. All this is incontrovertible and can be proved by scores of quotations from her writings as well as by her whole life, which was devoted to the education of the proletariat and the development of its revolutionary action. But she did confine the task of the party to agitation and propaganda. The rest she left to the masses. As against the Leninist formulation of the task – organize the revolution – she stands much closer to the position of the Menshevik slogan (the slogan of the revolutionary Mensheviks of 1905, not that of the government Mensheviks of 1917) – unleash the revolution.

Lenin sees the task as that of creating the party, which subordinates itself to the historic process. Rosa views the historic process itself as creating the organization and even its tactics. Froelich reminds us that Lenin often used to jest about the Luxemburg idea of process creating the organization. But once again the error, it would appear, was on Lenin’s side. “He was led to discover himself that organization forms in their transformations are subordinate to the process of development of the movement as a whole.”

As if it were Lenin who wished to create the party in a vacuum! As if it were Lenin who denied the reciprocal influences between the party and the historic process! All he did was to pose this relationship in a way diametrically opposite to that of Rosa Luxemburg. The organization and the tactics are created not by the process but by those people who achieve an understanding of the process by means of Marxist theory and who subordinate themselves to the process through the elaboration of a plan based upon their understanding. Permit me to illustrate this thought with an example from natural science.

The power latent in a waterfall may be transformed into electricity. But not every person without more ado is capable of accomplishing this feat. Scientific education and training are indispensable. On the other hand, the scientifically trained engineers are naturally constrained to draft their plans according to the given natural conditions. What can be said, however, of a man, who, because of this, jeers at engineering science and praises instead the “elementary force of water which produces electricity”? We should be entirely justified in laughing him out of court. Nor is it otherwise with the social process. It was for this and no other reason that Lenin used to jest about the conception of “organization as process” which was counterposed to his conception.


The Spartacus Uprising

Since Froelich, in evaluating the political views as a whole of the two great workers’ leaders “before 1917,” tends to charge Lenin with the errors rather than Luxemburg, I was somewhat curious as to his evaluation of Rosa’s political mistake of January 1919, so catastrophic for the German movement.

His explanation is both startling and fantastic: “The truth is, there was no Spartacus uprising.”

When the attorneys for the defense, for instance at the Ledebour trial, adopted such a viewpoint and placed the juridical responsibility for the January 1919 events in Berlin on the enemy, that was naturally quite justified and even objectively correct. However, for a historian and politician, who wants to learn something from events, such an answer is completely inadequate.

It is of course true “that the January struggles were prepared by the leadership of the counter-revolution with circumspection and determination and were provoked by them with great cunning.” But in so doing, the counter-revolution was only performing its function for which to be sure it can be blamed by a jurist but not by a historian without running the risk of appearing ridiculous.

The question is: Why was Spartacus so completely taken in by the provocation?

For this is precisely what actually happened. In other words, the Spartacus uprising did indeed take place; not even Froelich can deny this. It appears to be his view even today that Spartacus was correct in acting as it did. Thus we read in Froelich’s book:

“Rosa Luxemburg and with her, the leadership of the Communist party, could not agree to the demand made by Radek: Themselves to call upon the fighting workers to retreat, to discontinue the struggle. She could not agree, all the more so since the Communist party in January 1919 was not nearly so firm, nor its cadres so consolidated as were those of the Bolshevik party when the latter in a similar situation in July 1917 succeeded in guiding a dangerous retreat to a favorable conclusion. The German Communist party could not assume the leadership alone either for offensive or for retreat.”

A masterly philosophy! Since the Communist party was not yet a Communist party, therefore it could not act like a Communist party! And yet, as old Hegel remarked, it is impossible to become something without being something. Only by acting on the basis of its understanding, regardless of its temporary numerical strength, can the party enforce discipline in its own ranks and eventually be regarded as authoritative by the masses. Not to mention the fact that the superiority of the Bolshevik party established here by Froelich himself should at least have led him to consider whether or not this superiority was made possible precisely by the entire Leninist conception “before 1917” with its “unmistakable Blanquist and voluntarist features.”

The Bolsheviks too were subjected, between February and October, to provocation by the government as well as to revolutionary impatience and the impetuous will to action of a small, advanced section of the masses. Moreover, the situation of January 1919 in Berlin, from the standpoint of the general maturity of the revolution, is comparable to the April days of 1917 in St. Petersburg rather than to the July days. But what did the Bolsheviks do when in the mass demonstrations toward the end of April in connection with the Milyukov crisis the slogan was raised of “Down with the Provisional Government!” and when isolated groups of ultra-left Bolsheviks (among whom provocateurs also plied their profession) declared themselves prepared to overthrow the government? The Bolshevik Central Committee submitted to the Soviets’ veto of the demonstrations and declared in a resolution that the slogan “Down with the Provisional Government!” was incorrect, because “without a solid (that is, conscious and organized) majority of the people on the side of the revolutionary proletariat such a slogan is either an empty phrase or leads to attempts of an adventuristic character.” [3]

By avoiding the pitfall of provocation and by holding in check the revolutionary impatience of the minority – that is, keeping it within political channels, the Bolsheviks succeeded in achieving their conception, namely, controlling and leading the entire mass movement. In this way the Bolsheviks, at the end of the eighth month of the revolution, were able to deliver a living child into this world. Spartacus, on the other hand, in accordance with its conception, disclaimed the task of controlling and leading the mass movement; fell victim to the revolutionary dilettantism of the left U.S.P.D. leaders of the Ledebour type; and, consequently, delivered into this world, at the end of the second month of the revolution, only an abortion.

Froelich and his fraternity naturally have at hand plausible explanations for all sorts of abortions and defeats: “That the first period of the revolution did nevertheless terminate with a heavy and in the long run decisive defeat, is due not so much to the many mistakes committed by the revolutionary front as to the fact that these mistakes sprang from an unprecedentedly difficult situation.”

Of course! Of course! If both the organization and the tactics are created by the process, then it is only just and fair to attribute all the mistakes to the situation rather than to the human minds which conceived them. One is enabled to prattle endlessly without ever feeling the need for action. In this way the lessons of every defeat escape examination. What would you say of an obstetrician who, after twenty years of practice filled with nothing but abortions, declared smugly of them that they resulted from unprecedentedly difficult processes of birth; and then proceeded with stoic calm to continue the work of destruction without so much as an attempt to perfect his knowledge of obstetrics? In point of fact, this is precisely the historic function of politicians of Froelich’s ilk. So long as the revolution lives, they do everything within their empirical electicism to lay it low; then, at its grave, they explain the death “Marxistically” and “objectively.”

Conditions have thus reached such a state that we can say with certainty today: The coming revolution will take place under circumstances that will make the objective resistance to all previous revolutions appear, in comparison, like child’s play. This makes it all the more imperative for us to ground ourselves in the science of revolution and to prevent these quacks from carrying on their pernicious practice!

To round out the picture, we must also mention that towards the end of his book Froelich raises in his own mind the following doubt: Wasn’t there after all a decisive difference between Lenin and Luxemburg? He finds that Rosa’s politics in the January Days were not free from inner contradictions, and he poses this question: Did she lack the necessary physical strength for the execution of this task, exhausted as she was by her prolonged imprisonment? Or “did this great leader who, as a theoretician and strategist of the class struggle moved with such unswerving inner firmness, fail to reach that ultimate perfection of the leader of an army who, disregarding all shifting moods, knows just how to decide realistically when the critical moment is reached and how to push through such a decision – that perfection in the leader of the revolutionary army which became flesh and blood in the person of Lenin? The question cannot be solved...”

The very manner of posing the question reveals once gain the soul of a Philistine. After he has disposed of the ideological opposition between the two great revolutionists by means of rationalization, the problem reappears for him again on the plane of personalities and their characteristics, a level on which it “cannot be solved” and on which even an eventual solution – without the ideological differences having been cleared up previously – could not possibly bring us one inch towards a real understanding.


Luxemburg’s Theory of the Accumulation of Capital

After having been compelled by Froelich’s method of presentation to engage in a polemic not only against her biographer but against Rosa Luxemburg herself, we cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of defending her main theoretical work against the superficial interpretation of the man who “knows her work as no one else does.”

In connection with his rather primitive presentation of Luxemburg’s theory of accumulation, Froelich makes the following truly astounding statements (especially astounding since they emanate from the administrator of her literary estate):

“After Rosa’s death Bukharin published a critique of her theory of accumulation. As has already been mentioned, he actually succeeded in uncovering several weaknesses in Luxemburg’s argumentation. In various sections of her book Rosa put forward the obviously false contention that the accumulation of capital is the hoarding of money-capital; that this is what the capitalists are concerned about. In reality the formation of money-capital is only an intermediary feature of the process of accumulation. The end-phase of every period of accumulation is reached with the investment of capital in production itself in the form of new means of production and of wages for the increased labor power. Perhaps it is this error in her thinking – so hard to understand in Rosa’s case – which led her to overestimate the intermediary role of money in the realization of surplus value and furthermore, to regard as impossible the direct exchange of accumulating values between the producers of means of production and means of consumption(!).”

It is hard to understand why Froelich is not better acquainted with Rosa’s works and why, instead of defending Rosa here against the demagogic distortion of her argumentation by Bukharin, he fell victim to the presentation of his party friend, Fritz Sternberg.

Nowhere does Rosa postulate the formation of money-capital as the ultimate aim of production (she is, indeed, preoccupied with the problem of accumulation, that is, of reproduction on a progressively increasing scale!). Nor does it occur to her to seek a solution in the source of the money used as the medium in the process of exchange between the producers of the production goods industry and the producers of the consumption goods industry. To be sure, in accord with Marx she is of the opinion that surplus value must shed its natural form and take on the pure exchange form before it can once again be shaped into productive capital. Most surprising is Froelich’s attempt to solve the difficulty (or part of the difficulty) by means of “direct exchange” between the producers of the production goods industry and the producers of the consumption goods industry. Especially surprising is this in view of his reference on the very same page to the “laconic” reply Rosa made to Otto Bauer who in his day operated like Froelich:

“It is impossible to obtain copper mine stocks with a carload of unsaleable candles, or to establish a machine factory with a warehouse full of unmarketable galoshes.”

However, let us hear what Rosa Luxemburg herself has to say, in order to show how far she was from confusing the accumulation of capital with the hoarding of money-capital or of even contending that “this is what the capitalists are concerned about.” Just the contrary. She states expressly:

“The transformation of surplus value into the money form is the essential economic prerequisite of capitalist accumulation, even though it is not an essential element of actual reproduction. Between production and reproduction, two metamorphoses therefore occur of the surplus pro-duct: the shedding of the use form and the assumption of the natural form corresponding to the purposes of accumulation.” (my emphasis – W.H.)

Far from designating the pursuit of money-capital as the ultimate goal of capitalist activity, Rosa specifically quotes the view of Marx that such hoarding of money-capital “is only simple accumulation of wealth, which is not an element of actual reproduction.” And still more precisely: “The accumulation of wealth is not production at all and therefore not even an increment of production to begin with.”

Again, Rosa formulates the problem as follows: “For purposes of accumulation, part of the surplus value is not consumed by the capitalist, but is transformed into capital for the purpose of progressively expanding production. The question then arises: Whence come the buyers of this surplus product which the capitalists themselves do not consume and which the workers are even less able to consume, since their own consumption is covered completely by a given variable capital? Whence the demand for accumulated surplus value, or, as Marx puts it: Where does the money come from to pay for the accumulated surplus value?” [4]

But instead of seeking the solution where her biographer (following Bukharin) has her seek it, namely, in the supplementary creation of money, she regards Marx’s manner of posing the question as oblique and continues along the following trend of thought:

“In relation to money as a medium of circulation we must here, in observing the process of reproduction as a whole, assume that capitalist society always has at its disposal the amount of money required for its process of circulation or else is able to create substitutes for it. What must be explained, however, are the great social acts of exchange called forth by real economic needs. That capitalist surplus value, before it can be accumulated, must pass through the money form cannot be left out of consideration. For, as Marx himself says on another occasion: Money on the one side gives birth to progressively expanding reproduction, on the other side its possibility exists without money, since money in itself is not an element of actual reproduction.” [5]

If Bukharin, who was well acquainted with all these quotations, accused Rosa of transforming a “normal capitalist” into a medieval money-changer and usurer, into Pushkin’s “greedy knight,” and in the best case, a “money capitalist,” then this does not at all “follow altogether logically from Rosa Luxemburg’s arguments” [6], but rather from hair-raising and demagogic distortion.

Rosa does not at all dispute that the capitalists are “fanatics in their zeal for expanding production.” She merely asks what it is that enables the capitalists to realize their fanaticism. And here almost all of Rosa Luxemburg’s critics, Bukharin included, commit the absurdity of drawing the conclusion from the Marxist schema of progressively expanding reproduction at the end of the second volume of Capital, that accumulation of capital for capitalism as a whole in society, along with a continual rise in the consumption of the workers as well as the capitalists, is possible without limitation within a system of pure capitalism. In this manner, the whole historic necessity of socialism disappears and Bukharin tops off this absurdity by assuming hypothetically the possibility of a statified capitalism “in which there are no crises.” [7]

Today reality shows us, however, that it is precisely a capitalism with the greatest amount of statification (Germany, Italy, Japan) which is most sharply subordinate to the dynamics of the process and, consequently, dependent upon permanent expansion, upon permanent “extension of its living space”, in order to escape the permanent crisis.


Is Rosa’s Theory of Accumulation the Basis of Her Inadequate Conception of the Party?

I have gone into the question of the theory of accumulation also because a Dutch comrade, Peters, in his article entitled The Spontaneity of Rosa Luxemburg and the Conscious Goal of Lenin [8] tries to deduce Rosa Luxemburg’s inadequate conception of the tasks of the party from her theory of accumulation. His proof rests on the contention that Rosa Luxemburg expected an “automatic” and “mechanical” end of capitalism.

As against this, suffice it to point out that even in the preface to her book she expresses the hope that her work will be a contribution “of some significance for the practical struggle against imperialism,” just as in her Antikritik she designates it as the task of the social consciousness embodied in the socialist proletariat “to intervene as an active factor in the blind interplay of forces. [9]

When Comrade Peters believes that he can refute Rosa’s theory of accumulation by quoting Lenin’s phrase to the effect that there are no absolutely hopeless situations and that the capitalists can always find a way out, I am afraid that he is over-simplifying matters. Lenin’s dictum applies to politics, where the capitalists – as long as the proletariat does not prevent them – can always find a way out. It does not apply to economics – to the laws of which the capitalists as well as the workers are subordinate. With Marx we conceive of the economic development of society as a natural historic process whose product, socially, the individual always remains, no matter how much he may raise himself above it subjectively. To conclude from a phrase of Lenin’s which in its context is absolutely correct, that the capitalist personifying society, as such “will always find a way out,” in order to realize reproduction on a progressively expanding scale, is patently absurd.

When Comrade Peters maintains that “history has already furnished proof which cannot be obscured by anyone (!) that the collapse of capitalism does not take place in the economic sense, that is, the impossibility of retaining the capitalist process of circulation and therefore the impossibility of realizing surplus value,” we cannot go along with him. On the contrary, current history has presented us with an example of a tremendous collapse of the capitalist process of circulation (of the world market and of world trade). In the course of the 1929-1933 crisis world trade dropped to 25 per cent of its volume at the conjunctural peak and has not since then recovered appreciably. The unlimited possibility of realizing surplus value does not seem to be doing so well either: While the total value of world trade in 1929 amounted to 66 billion dollars, between 1932 and 1934 it fell to 23 billion, that is, almost one-third of its former value. Accumulation, progressively expanding reproduction, became impossible for world capitalism as a whole several decades ago. That is precisely why we speak of the “stage of decline and decay” of capitalism. The first World War was itself an expression of this decay, and the present World War likewise, except to a far greater degree. It is precisely because of the impossibility of realizing unlimited accumulated surplus value and the impossibility for world capitalism in society as a whole to place it in the process of production that the struggle among the capitalists takes on the form of a permanent world war which – if revolution does not intervene – must lead to the decline of our whole civilization (including, naturally, modern capitalism as well).

Comrade Peters complains that in my article, The German Left Wing and Bolshevism [10], I did not, “despite my correct conclusions,” plumb the “true wellspring” of the differences between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, precisely because 1 failed to deduce her inadequate conception of the tasks of the party from her theory of accumulation. Just how inconsequential that is may be gleaned from an example in this very same issue of Enige Weg. In connection with the sixtieth birthday of Comrade Trotsky, Enige Weg publishes a lengthy biographical article and develops quite correctly the point of view that Trotsky in his conception of the building of the party before 1917 – which was similar to that of Rosa Luxemburg – was incorrect, but that his theory of the permanent revolution, on the other hand, which he defended against Lenin, was brilliantly confirmed by events themselves. What would Comrade Peters say of a presentation deducing the differences between Lenin and Trotsky before 1917 from the “source” and the “true well-spring” of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution?

On the contrary, Trotsky was set apart from Menshevism precisely by his theory and through it he came to Bolshevism. In like manner we may say that it was precisely her deep insight into the essence of the capitalist process of accumulation and her premonition of the coming catastrophes which separated Rosa Luxemburg from the reformist majority of the German social democracy and its illusions. Comrade Peters is also on the wrong track in contending that the recognition of Rosa’s “theory of collapse” leads to the “opportunist swamp.” Just the contrary is true. It was precisely her opponents on this question, the “orthodox” defenders of the Marxist schemas of reproduction, who drew therefrom the conclusion of the unlimited possibility of accumulation – Tougan-Baranovsky, Bulgakov, Otto Bauer, Hilferding, Kautsky, Bukharin – and they, without exception, landed in the camp of opportunism and reformism.


Rosa Luxemburg and the Fourth International

To conclude: We must oppose every attempt to slur over the opposition between Lenin and Luxemburg; every attempt to find a compromise between their views, to reduce everything to conciliatory “historically objective” formulas. We accept without reservation Lenin’s “ultra-centralist, “ “bureaucratic,” “Blanquist,” and “voluntarist” conceptions. But on the other hand, we must not exaggerate our criticism of Luxemburg to the point where we “throw out the child along with the bathwater,” to the point where we deny her progressive sides. To do that would be giving direct aid to the epigones of Luxemburg who base themselves exclusively upon her weak sides and distort these into a caricature. Rosa Luxemburg, too, has left a theoretical heritage which the Fourth International must take into custody.




1. Rosa Luxemburg: Gedanke und Tat. By Paul Froelch. Editions Nouvelles Internationales. Paris 1939.

2. The contention that Lenin revised his own views is usually based on the preface which he wrote for a collection of his essays, Twelve Years, in 1907. This preface states: “The basic mistake of all those who today polemecize against What to Do consists in this, that they tear it completely out of a context which belongs to a distinct social milieu, a specific and long since outstripped period in the development of our party ... Whoever speaks today of the fact that Iskra (in 1901 and 1902) exaggerated the idea of the organization of professional revolutionists. can just as easily blame the Japanese now, after the Russo-Japanese war, for exaggerating the strength of Russian military power, for making exaggerated efforts in the struggle against this power. The Japanese were naturally duty-bound to mobilize against a possible maximum of Russian power, in order to achieve victory. Unfortunately, many judge from the outside, without seeing that the idea of the organization of professional revolutionists has achieved a complete victory already, today. however, this victory would have been impossible if at that time this idea had not been pushed Into the foreground, if it had not been preached to people who stood like obstacles in its way, precisely in ‘exaggerated’ form ...”

One must first forget completely how to read in order to be able to derive from these lines a revision of the views of Iskra in 1901 and 1902. According to Lenin it was not Iskra that erred in “exaggerating” the Idea of the organization of professional revolutionists, but those who in 1907 spoke of Iskra’s exaggerations, that is, at a time when the Iskra idea had already achieved a complete victory, a victory which would have been impossible without these “exaggerations.” If it was nonsense to speak of Iskra’s exaggerations in 1907, because Iskra’s views had already been victorious – unfortunately only in relation to Russia – then it is much greater nonsense to speak of such exaggerations today (1939) when this idea has not yet triumphed and when the future of the entire movement depends upon the realization of this idea on a world scale.

3. Leon Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. I, p.354-55.

4. Rosa Luxemburg: Die Akkumulation des Kapitals, p.115.

5. op. cit., p.127.

6. N. Bukharin: Der Imperialismus und die Akkumulation des Kapitals, p.21.

7. Bukharin: Op. Cit., p.81.

8. De Enige Weg, No. 16.

9. Rosa Luxemburg: Gesammelte Werke, Vol.VI., p.479.

10. New International, February 1939.


Last updated on 6.8.2004