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Maurice Spector

Rosa Luxemburg

The Anniversary of Her Assassination
by the German Social Democrats

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 4 (Whole No. 100), 23 January 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

The differences between Centrists and Left crystallized another stage in the ensuing debates on the significance of imperialism. The Right wing openly demanded “equal rights for our industries in the colonies” (Quessel at Chemnitz Congress 1912). To oppose colonialism was utopian, Luddites smashing machinery. Kautsky defined the Centrist position in the Neue Zeit (1912). Imperialism is the endeavor of an industrial capitalist nation to annex agrarian territory. As such it is only one form of capitalist expansion. From the “economic viewpoint” there were tendencies towards the formation of an all-embracing world trust, a super-imperialism that would eliminate competition and struggle. He urged rapprochement with the sections of the bourgeoisie who were in his opinion not interested in imperialism, to be achieved by the advocacy of the policy of disarmament and the United States of Europe under capitalism.

For Rosa Luxemburg, imperialism was not merely a policy preferred by a narrow clique, but the last phase of capitalism, pregnant with revolutionary consequences. The limitations of this article preclude the detailed discussion her views merit as set out in her vigorous Accumulation of Capital (1912). It must suffice here to state that she conceived the problem of imperialism to be a problem of the realization of surplus value and not of monopolist extra-profit under finance-capital, as Lenin sees it in his well-known brochure. She takes as her point of departure the criticism of the diagrams in Marx’s second volume of Capital. Dealing with the reproduction of social capital as a whole, she indicates the manner by which capitalism achieves a certain equilibrium between the two great sectors of economic activity (a) production of means of production (b) production of articles of consumption, and is enabled to absorb the ever-growing mass of commodities.

These diagrams, Rosa proceeds, are a theoretical fiction and misleading to boot. If capitalism could profitably realize its surplus value within its own framework, how account for the fact that production outstrips consumption, and explain the fact of the struggle for markets and colonies. There would be no objective impediments to capitalist accumulation nor any immanent necessity of the social revolution.

Marx’s analysis is based on the assumption of an all-inclusive capitalist world with but two classes, where in reality it functions in a non-capitalist environment. It is to this latter “third person” that capitalism must turn to market its surplus. Imperialism is the political expression of the process of capital-accumulation in its struggle for the vest of the still unoccupied non-capitalist territory and is thereby a new lease of life for capitalism and its grave-digger at the same time.

The theory of Rosa is open to serious objection, on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Undeniably, as a matter of historical fact, capitalist development does proceed by the systematic extension of its base. To extricate itself from its internal contradictions every national capitalism turns to the reserves of the world market. Lenin had occasion to advert to the problem of the external market in his polemics against the Narodniki (populists) and the legal “Marxists” The conditions that give rise to the foreign market are not the impossibility of realizing a profit, abstractly considered, but extended circulation of commodities and the tendency of capitalist production to the growth of the productive forces break down the old regional and state barriers. Production is anarchically carried on for au unknown market, resulting in the disproportional development of the various branches of industry and recurrent crises of over-production. The higher organic composition of capital, technical progress, leads to a fall in the rate of profits. The fusion of banking and industrial capital known as finance-capital, which arise under conditions of the concentration of production, seeks to counter-act this tendency by means of monopoly, in the home market by protective tariffs, abroad in the struggle for markets and colonies for the export of capital (raw materials, cheap labor, cheap land). War is not merely the armed conflict for the annexation of agrarian territory but the struggle of monopolist finance-capital for the repartition of the world market, in other words the contradiction between the productive forces matured for a socialized world economy and the nationally limited, capitalist methods of appropriation.

Rosa Luxemburg’s theory has certain points in common with Kautsky’s as Lenin’s has with that of Hilferding. She could explain the seizure of a backward agrarian region but how would she explain the lust for Lorraine or Belgium? She seeks to establish absolutely objective barriers to capitalist development by her conception of “third persons” but the fact is that the contradictions of capitalism lead to proletarian and colonial revolutions while the greater part of the world is still composed of “third persons”. Her theory does not throw into necessary relief either the national or colonial problem.

The clouds of the coming war were rolling up ominously. There is no lack; of documents of the pre-war socialist opposition to imperialism. The best known resolutions emanated from the Stuttgart (1907) and the Basle (1912) Congresses of the Second International. At Stuttgart, Rosa Luxemburg introduced the amendment on behalf of the Russian and Polish delegations. There was never a word breathed in these resolutions of “national defense” as a justification for socialist truce with the capitalist state in the event of war, which did not prevent the traitors later from covering up their enlistment on the side of God and Kaiser with quotations from Marx, Engels and Lassalle, referring to 1830, 1848. Officially the International pledged itself to utilize the war crisis which was characterized as a product of the imperialist struggle for markets, to the overthrow of the capitalist system. The outbreak of the war confirmed beyond a doubt that opportunism was the forerunner of social patriotism. The virus of adaptation to the legal and constitutional conditions of the bourgeois state had rotted the very foundation of the International. Rosa Luxemburg had entertained more than a premonition when she uttered the warning note at the party Congress of 1910, “we thunder against militarism in time of peace but when war really breaks out ...” The reference was to the seizure of Chinese territory by German imperialism. And later when she attacked the official leadership for its passivity in the Morocco crisis (1911). In the acid test of 1914, Kautsky hastened to lend additional “justification” to the socialist rogues with his inimitable thesis that the International was an instrument of peace, not war.

The Left wing stood by its guns. Together with Karl Liebknecht who had roused the chauvinist fury of the social democratic Reichstag faction by his refusal to vote the war credits, Rosa Luxemburg began the work of the underground and illegal organization that led to Spartacus and the split in the social democracy. When she was released from prison, together with Karl Liebknecht, she organized and participated in the never-to-be-forgotten heroic war demonstrations in Berlin in 1916, for which they were immediately imprisoned.

It was at that time that Rosa produced her brochure The Crisis in the German Social Democracy under the pseudonym Junius. Lenin in Switzerland greeted it cordially as by and large an excellent work of Marxism. But in the interests of the ideology of the future Third International which in his mind was already clearly projected, he submits certain of its views to keen though comradely criticism. He considers it a defect that social opportunism as a distinct current is not directly enough related to the current social patriotism as an explanation of the betrayal and collapse, thus leaving the problem of the split in the International dangerously open. He also takes exception to the thesis that in the era of unbridled imperialism no more national wars were possible. In this imperialist war it was true that Russian imperialism stood behind Serbian nationalism. But it was wrong to dogmatize. The wars of the French Revolution were national in their inception and became imperialist under Napoleon. The imperialist Seven Years War between France and England led to national wars later (imperialist war is of course possible on the basis of serfdom or primitive capitalism). If all wars are to be branded as reactionary it would afford an objective basis for pacifist and disarmament illusions and militate against the struggle of the workers and the colonial peoples. Finally he criticises Junius’ selection of the 1848 slogan that the best means of national defense was the united German Republic to be achieved by class struggle. This was in place as a watch-word of the bourgeois democratic-revolution against feudalism. But the slogan now must be the conversion of the imperialist war into civil war for the realization of socialism.

The response of Rosa Luxemburg to the October revolution could never be in doubt. She was no stranger to its problems. When the character of the future Russian revolution was debated at the London (1907) Congress of the Russian social democracy and Kautsky [1] defended the position of the Mensheviks, Rosa Luxemburg along with Lenin represented the viewpoint of the Bolsheviks. Her formula for the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia coincided with Trotsky’s the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. The Mensheviks attempted to build up a difference of conception between that formulation and Lenin’s. But the latter himself in 1909 wrote “the formula ‘proletariat supported by the peasantry’ remains entirely within the bounds of the very dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.” Of the November revolution Rosa wrote: “Whatever a party could muster in a historical moment of courage, energy, capacity of action has been completely accomplished by Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades. Their October insurrection was not only the actual salvation of the Russian revolution but also rescued the honor of international socialism.” In the posthumous work on the Russian revolution published by Paul Levi, she submits certain policies of the Bolsheviks to sober criticism. Her friends Warski and Clara Zetkin say that she had revised these views and had not intended the document, written in prison, for publication. That is very likely but in any case history has proved that her criticism was substantially incorrect. Thus she failed to distinguish between the strategic aspects of the agrarian problem and the problem of a collectivized rural economy. She took a position on the national problem that resembled Bucharin’s later: that self-determination under capitalism was unreal. Only socialism could realize the self-determination of peoples. Similarly her views on the red terror the monopoly of legality by the Communist party, the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. She would in all likelihood have been compelled to modify these views in the light of a more intimate study of the problems of the dictatorship. Some of her criticism of Lenin’s policies however which completely missed the mark might be applicable to the seamy sides of the policy of the Stalin epigones.

In 1918 came the revolt of the Kiel sailors and soldiers of Berlin. It opened the prison doors. The socialist traitors attempted to persuade Wilhelm to stay to the last. Failing to guide German capitalism into the channels, of a constitutional monarchy they yielded to the idea of bourgeois republic. Their hatred of Bolshevism outmeasured everything else. They particularly feared Spartacus which had constituted itself as a separate party with the slogan of All Power to the Soviets. Noske, surrounded by the Hohenzollern generals, unleashed the white terror. The Spartacists were shot down by the thousands in bloody civil war. Rosa and Karl were murdered in the most bestial fashion. Her body in a disfigured condition was dragged up months later from the Spree river.

German menshevism and the bourgeoisie has triumphed. Vae Victis! But the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht marches on in the millions of German workers who today are again confronted with the problem of power. The day of the reckoning with the social democracy approaches.

Note by ETOL

1. In the printed version “Lenin”.

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