- Category: Party and Class
- Published on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
- Written by Roobin
Another in a series of articles this blog will be carrying as the IS Network embarks on a wide-ranging discussion and debate about the IS tradition and the way forward for the left. Each piece reflects the views of the author, not a collective position taken by the IS Network.
Guest post by Roobin
The first, most obvious thing to say is thank you to Tim for kicking this off. The process of recuperation from the SWP debacle starts with people sharing their thoughts, if necessary in depth and at length. The blog and the forum needs more of this.
Rosa Luxemburg does matter, but not for the reasons Tim gives. I find the question of what kind of organisation revolutionaries need to be fantastically dry. The recent debates have been no different. Loyalist arguments returned again and again to buzzwords and ideas centralism, discipline, submit to the authority, accept the vote, etc. A party must justify its existence. Why should I join? How are you different from the rest? If you have to define a party by its internal regime it’s a sure sign that party is merely self-perpetuating. Put simply, what kind of organisation do revolutionaries need? What’s the best shape for a peg?
The interesting thing about Luxemburg and what relates her thought to our predicament is how she asked the right questions but did not find satisfactory answers. Luxemburg’s political life was defined by the Second International, which operated from 1889 to 1914. The last third of the 19th century was a period of stability and frustration. After practically a century of turmoil, somewhere between the end of the American Civil War and the foundation of the German Empire, all that was molten turned to stone.
A number of popular ideologies foundered in the new age, Chartism, Blanquism, Jacobinism1 and so on, but Marxism survived. It survived because its bearers, particularly those in Germany, adapted their outlook. They faced not only a stabilised capitalism and a strengthened state but also an extended franchise, as the empire tried to incorporate rather than exclude the working class.
The strength of the enemy was a given. JP Nettl’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg describes time and again how the SPD’s leaders created a vacuum around the party as a way of preserving its revolutionary mission. It rejected the capitalist society every year, voting down the annual budget in the Reichstag2.
We know this changed from a strategy of adaptation to a strategy of self-preservation. The SPD was part of the capitalist structure, even if a negative part, a state within the state.
We face a similar problem today. Every movement against this or that aspect of capitalism seems to be of no avail. Both the institutions and processes of capitalism seem impervious to outside influence. The SPD leadership sought to build by decreasing the friction with official society. Rosa Luxemburg’s outlook and strategy was the opposite. She argued the apparently smooth process of capital accumulation was still based on exploitation and violence, and would therefore undermine the current stability. She also promoted immediate ways of breaking through the stalemate (though perhaps we might see this as a contradiction).
Luxemburg sought to build through, friction, polemic and conflict, and that is what’s key. It is consistent throughout her thoughts.
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