Monday, May 26, 2008

Rosa Luxemburg's "Marxism or Leninism?"

Written in 1904, objecting to the centralization of power in the Bolshevik party. She makes the interesting claim that the idea of a central committee controlling a party is actually a bourgeois concept held over from previous Russian socialist and revolutionary organizations, and that what it really represents is the idea of well off Russians creating organizations for the liberation of the working class as opposed to organizations of the working class for the liberation of the working class. She points out how this form of extreme centralism would impede regular lower level initiatives of people to do creative work, like engaging in local struggles without the permission of a central committee or just generally doing interesting organizing and outreach. The idea of "The Party" is demoted in Luxemburg's analysis because without an ultra-centralized committee controlling it the space between party and non-party members is decreased, and if members of the organization aren't required to be 'professional revolutionaries' the appeal is broadened even more, ultimately meaning that working class people actually have a chance to become part of an organization that claims to be working towards their liberation. If there's not a highly centralized party to join that could give the person joining instant status and self importance then the appeal for folks who just want to dominate things for their own purposes is lessened. There's no royal road to becoming some sort of a big shot, even if the scope of being a big shot is only within the world of small Trotskyist parties.

I like the criticism but I don't think that Luxemburg goes far enough. She still believes in Marxism with a big 'M', as an ideology that's not just something useful but as the ideology that will liberate the whole world. She also believes in the very damaging idea contained in the Communist Manifesto that many of the strands of socialism in that era were destined for the dust heap of history because only Marxist Communism was progressive and represented the wave of the future. I mean, if you think that, that's fine, but Luxemburg goes so far as to label people who believe in these strains of thought 'opportunists' and suggest that they have no place in the German Social Democratic Party, the Russian one, or any others, and that these parties themselves are the wave of the future, with other parties being lesser and theoretically incorrect. Finally, she also supports the general idea of the centralization of political parties but she believes in a more democratic way of putting that centralization into action. No central committee deciding everything, yet she argues that having on party policy and platform that's endorsed throughout the lands where the party is active is the way to go, specifically arguing against federalism as an organizational principle. Sure, the party could do things on the local level and interpret the general party line without having to ask the permission of some unaccountable central committee, but in the end it would have to fall into lock step with what the party commands.

Back to the idea of bourgeois intellectuals, opportunists as they were labeled, fucking up movements. My thought on the matter is that when they lay claim to organizational leadership of socialist movements, like the Leninists, based on the fact that people like their writings, things tend to go down hill into cults of personality and into anti-democratic territory. Just writing well has nothing to do with being able to organize well, and I would argue that trying both of those functions together: writing, theorizing, and straight out organization, puts too much power in the hands of either one person or of a small group of people. Maybe the thing to do would be to have intellectuals like myself hand out flyers while also writing stuff like what's on this blog.

Incidentally, I don't think that Lenin was the only intellectual who did this and who sabotaged a movement. Marx himself in the capacity as one of the leaders of the First International Workingmen's Association, the First International, did a similar thing when he got himself elected to the head committee and proceeded to kick out the followers of Bakunin, Proudhon, and other people who he didn't like. Then he moved the Association, which was mainly based in Europe, to New York City, after which it soon dissolved. You can even say that this behavior on the part of Marx went back to the Communist Manifesto itself in that it's content was different from what the Communist Party that he was a part of actually believed. Marx became part of the group, which was started by a Christian socialist, proceeded to change the membership rules so that only 'proletarians' could be members, and then issued his own writings in the Manifesto while pretending that they were agree upon by the whole group.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The idea that Lenin "sabotaged a movement" seems strange to say the least.

Russia had a failed revolution in 1905, which Lenin and the Bolsheviks played an important (if not a leading) role. Summing up their lessons, they continued forward instead of retreating. When the majority of socialists (and even anarchists like Prince Kropotkin) supported their own ruling classes, the Bolsheviks were near unique in opposing imperialism.

This "sabotage" led socialism to being a global movement of the lower classes, and played a greater role than anything in the destruction of colonialism and white power on a world scale.

Further, Europe was littered with failed revolutions leading up to October. Germany had several, France more than we could count. To them, the revolutions of 1848 were as near as WW2 is to us.

It would seem that Lenin understood his time better than anyone, even in the face of "orthodox" opposition in his own party's central committee!

Lenin did not argue for a revolutionary priesthood, or for the middle and upper classes to lead workers and peasants. Anything but. You should look into his polemic The Renegade Kautsky to see how he was actually breaking with that idea, which was the provence of those then called Orthodox Marxists, and led by the German Social Democrats.

Your ideas are interesting and you're looking around, but don't be so quick to let anti-communists define what it is communists do and believe. Whether america has ML sects (or anachists, or whatever) is beside the point.

How do we make social revolution?

How do we not get caught up in spontaneous demands for aspectual amelioration, and instead work to "represent the interests of the whole in the particular"?

Marxism is about a scientific, dialectical approach to material, social reality and its transformation. Anything can be made into a dogma. Anything.

Put another way: anarchism is the valorizing of surrender and defeat in the form of ethicizing politics.

Good luck on your travels.