Saturday, February 5, 2011

Two notes by Rosa Luxemburg on Revolution that are relevant to the Revolts of 2011

"During the revolution it is extremely difficult for any directing organ of the proletarian movement to foresee and to calculate which occasions and factors can lead to explosions and which cannot. Here also initiative and direction do not consist in issuing commands according to one’s inclinations, but in the most adroit adaptability to the given situation, and the closest possible contact with the mood of the masses. The element of spontaneity, as we have seen, plays a great part in all Russian mass strikes without exception, be it as a driving force or as a restraining influence. This does not occur in Russia, however, because social democracy is still young or weak, but because in every individual act of the struggle so very many important economic, political and social, general and local, material and psychical, factors react upon one another in such a way that no single act can be arranged and resolved as if it were a mathematical problem. The revolution, even when the proletariat, with the social democrats at their head, appear in the leading role, is not a manoeuvre of the proletariat in the open field, but a fight in the midst of the incessant crashing, displacing and crumbling of the social foundation."
The final paragraph "Organizational Questions...." Dick Howard's translation reads better, but I guess this one from the Marxist Archive will have to do. Too many of the Marxist Archive translations give everyone, including Luxemburg, a "Bolshevik" tone and style. Howard's translation are much preferred. Her friend and biographer, Paul Frolich included many substantial passages in his Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work which is translated by Johanna Hoorweg.
"In Lenin’s overanxious desire to establish the guardianship of an omniscient and omnipotent Central Committee in order to protect so promising and vigorous a labor movement against any misstep, we recognize the symptoms of the same subjectivism that has already played more than one trick on socialist thinking in Russia.
It is amusing to note the strange somersaults that the respectable human “ego” has had to perform in recent Russian history. Knocked to the ground, almost reduced to dust, by Russian absolutism, the “ego” takes revenge by turning to revolutionary activity. In the shape of a committee of conspirators, in the name of a nonexistent Will of the People, it seats itself on a kind of throne and proclaims it is all-powerful. [The reference is to the conspiratorial circle which attacked tsarism from 1879 to 1883 by means of terrorist acts and finally assassinated Alexander II. – Ed.] But the “object” proves to be the stronger. The knout is triumphant, for tsarist might seems to be the “legitimate” expression of history. In time we see appear on the scene an even more “legitimate” child of history – the Russian labor movement. For the first time, bases for the formation of a real “people’s will” are laid in Russian soil. But here is the “ego” of the Russian revolutionary again! Pirouetting on its head, it once more proclaims itself to be the all-powerful director of history – this time with the title of His Excellency the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party of Russia. The nimble acrobat fails to perceive that the only “subject” which merits today the role of director is the collective “ego” of the working class. The working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn the dialectic of history.
Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee."

[Howard: "Finally, we must frankly admit to ourselves that errors made by a truly revolutionary labor movement are historically infinitely more fruitful and more valuable than the infallibility of the best of all possible 'central committees.'" Rosa Luxemburg, Selected Political Writings, Monthly Review Press, 1971]
Spartacus Revolt