Wednesday, January 01, 2014
From The Marxist Archives -In Honor Of The The Three Ls
For the Communism of Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht
In January we commemorate the “Three L’s”: Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, who died on 21 January 1924, and revolutionary Marxist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were assassinated on 15 January 1919 in Germany by the reactionary Freikorps. This was done as part of the suppression of the Spartakist uprising by the Social Democratic government of Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann and Gustav Noske. We reprint below an appreciation of Luxemburg excerpted from Max Shachtman’s “Under the Banner of Marxism,” which was written in response to the resignation of Ernest Erber and originally published in Volume IV, Number 1 of the internal bulletins of the Workers Party in 1949.
Shachtman joined the American Communist Party in the early 1920s. Along with James P. Cannon and Martin Abern, he was expelled in 1928 for fighting for the Bolshevik-Leninist line of Leon Trotsky against the Stalinist degeneration of the international Communist movement. For a decade he was, with Cannon, a leader of the American Trotskyist movement as well as a key leader in the International Left Opposition. However, following an intense faction fight in the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, Shachtman, along with Abern and James Burnham, broke from Trotskyism in 1940, refusing to defend the Soviet degenerated workers state in World War II. Shortly thereafter, he developed the position that the USSR was a new exploitative form of class society, “bureaucratic collectivism.” (For more on this fight, see Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism and Cannon’s The Struggle for a Proletarian Party.)
Following this split, Shachtman formed the Workers Party, which was a rightward-moving centrist party that existed from 1940 to 1949, when it changed its name to the Independent Socialist League. Under the intense pressure of U.S. imperialism’s anti-Soviet Cold War, Shachtman came to see Stalinism as a greater danger than “democratic” imperialism. He ended his days as an open supporter of U.S. imperialism and a member of the Democratic Party, backing the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the vicious, losing imperialist war against the Vietnamese social revolution.
Shachtman’s 1949 reply to Erber (who went on to become an urban planner in Northern New Jersey) represented the last time he tried to defend revolutionary Marxism against a classical Menshevik. In resigning from the Workers Party, Erber, using stock-in-trade social-democratic arguments to justify support for one’s “own” bourgeoisie, denounced the Bolshevik Revolution and counterposed Luxemburg to Lenin, portraying her as a defender of classless “democracy.” Many self-styled leftists continue to do likewise, distorting Luxemburg’s 1918 criticisms of the Bolsheviks, which she never published in her lifetime and which were based on the very partial information to which she had access while imprisoned for her revolutionary struggle against the First World War. Using previously untranslated articles from the German Communist journal Rote Fahne written by Luxemburg near the end of her life, Shachtman demonstrated her support to the Russian Revolution and how she and Lenin stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight for socialist revolution.
* * *
Contrast Erber and every word he writes with the critical appraisal of the Bolsheviks written in prison by Rosa Luxemburg, who is invoked against revolutionary socialism nowadays by every turncoat and backslider who wouldn’t reach up to her soles if he stood on tiptoes:
“That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies.”
You will never see that quoted from the turncoats who have drafted Luxemburg into the crusade against Bolshevism against her will. Nor will you see this quoted:
“The party of Lenin was the only one which grasped the mandate and duty of a truly revolutionary party and which, by the slogan—‘All power in the hands of the proletariat and peasantry’—insured the continued development of the revolution....
“Moreover, the Bolsheviks immediately set as the aim of this seizure of power a complete, far-reaching revolutionary program: not the safeguarding of bourgeois democracy, but a dictatorship of the proletariat for the purpose of realizing socialism. Thereby they won for themselves the imperishable historic distinction of having for the first time proclaimed the final aim of socialism as the direct program of practical politics.”
We can see now how much right Erber has to drag Rosa Luxemburg into court as a fellow-detractor of the Bolsheviks, how much right he has to mention her views in the same breath with his own. Fortunately, Luxemburg is not a defenseless corpse. She left a rich political testament to assure her name from being bandied about by soiled lips. Read this, directed right at the heart of Erber:
“The real situation in which the Russian Revolution found itself, narrowed down in a few months to the alternative: victory of the counterrevolution or dictatorship of the proletariat—Kaledin or Lenin. Such was the objective situation, just as it quickly presents itself in every revolution after the first intoxication is over, and as it presented itself in Russia as a result of the concrete, burning questions of peace and land, for which there was no solution within the framework of bourgeois revolution.”
Not much room here, not so much as a crevice, for Erber’s “alternative,” is there? Not much room here for his “capitalist economic relations.” This is a revolutionist writing—not an idol-worshipper of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but still a revolutionist, a tireless, defiant, unflinching champion of the proletariat in the class struggle.
“In this, the Russian Revolution has but confirmed the basic lesson of every great revolution, the law of its being, which decrees: either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy and resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it is quite soon thrown backward behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counterrevolution. To stand still, to mark time on one spot, to be contented with the first goal it happens to reach, is never possible in revolution. And he who tries to apply the home-made wisdom derived from parliamentary battles between frogs and mice to the field of revolutionary tactics only shows thereby that the very psychology and laws of existence of revolution are alien to him and that all historical experience is to him a book sealed with seven seals.”
Read it over again, especially that wonderfully priceless last sentence. And then tell us if it is not directed straight at Erber, word for word and line for line! It is much too exactly fitting to be quoted only once! “And he who tries to apply the home-made wisdom derived from parliamentary battles between frogs and mice to the field of revolutionary tactics only shows thereby that the very psychology and laws of existence of revolution are alien to him and that all historical experience is to him a book sealed with seven seals.” If ever Erber gets up enough of what he lacks to look into a mirror, there is a ready-made one for him. If anyone thinks he can improve on this stinging answer to Erber and his home-made wisdom, to his Grand Coalitions between frogs and mice, he is just wasting good time.
“Still, didn’t Rosa criticize the Bolsheviks for dispersing the Constituent Assembly?” No, she did not. She criticized them for not calling for elections to a new Constituent; she criticized them for the arguments they made to justify the dispersal. But in the first place, her criticism has next to nothing in common with that of the latter-day anti-Bolsheviks (or, for that matter, of the anti-Bolsheviks of the time). And in the second place, she was wrong, just as she was wrong in her criticism of the Bolshevik position on the “national question” and of the Bolshevik course in the “agrarian question.” And in the third place, what she wrote in prison, on the basis of “fragmentary information” (as the editor of the American edition of her prison notes admits), was not her last word on the question. Before her cruel death, she altered her position on the basis of her own experiences, on the basis of the living realities of the German revolution. Lenin’s State and Revolution was checked twice—first in the Russian Revolution and then in the German revolution! We will give the reader an idea of what she wrote before her death so that he may see why our present “champions” of Luxemburg never find time, space or inclination to quote her to the end.
The German workers, a year after the Bolshevik Revolution, overturned the Hohenzollern monarchy and, just as spontaneously as did the Russians before them, they formed their Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils (“Räte,” Soviets). The German Mensheviks—Scheidemann, Noske and Ebert—feared and hated the Councils just as much as did their Russian counterparts. They championed the National Assembly (German counterpart of the Russian Constituent) instead, calculating thereby to smash the Councils and the struggle for socialism. Haase and Kautsky, the centrists of the Independent Socialists, oscillated between the Councils and the Assembly. What position did Rosa Luxemburg take, what position did the Spartacus League and its organ, Die Rote Fahne, take? Here once more was the problem of workers’ democracy versus bourgeois democracy, the democratic republic of the Councils versus the bourgeois republic, dictatorship of the proletariat organized in the Councils versus the National Assembly—not in Russia but in Germany, not in 1917 but a year later, not while Rosa was in Breslau prison but after her release.
Here is Rosa Luxemburg in Die Rote Fahne of November 29, 1918, writing on the leaders of the Independents:
“Their actual mission as partner in the firm of Scheidemann-Ebert is: to mystify its clear and unambiguous character as defense guard of bourgeois class domination by means of a system of equivocation and cowardliness.
“This role of Haase and colleagues finds its most classical expression in their attitude toward the most important slogan of the day: toward the National Assembly.
“Only two standpoints are possible in this question, as in all others. Either you want the National Assembly as a means of swindling the proletariat out of its power, to paralyze its class energy, to dissolve its socialist goal into thin air. Or else you want to place all the power into the hands of the proletariat, to unfold the revolution that has begun into a tremendous class struggle for the socialist social order, and toward this end, to establish the political rule of the great mass of the toilers, the dictatorship of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. For or against socialism, against or for the National Assembly; there is no third way.”
On December 1st, Luxemburg spoke on the situation at a meeting of the Spartacus League in the hall of the Teachers’ Union. At the end of the meeting, a resolution was adopted setting forth her views and giving approval to them:
“The public people’s meeting held on December 1st in the Hall of the Teachers’ Union on Alexander Street declares its agreement with the exposition of Comrade Luxemburg. It considers the convocation of the National Assembly to be a means of strengthening the counterrevolution and to cheat the proletarian revolution of its socialist aims. It demands the transfer of all power to the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, whose first duty it is to drive out of the government the traitors to the working class and to socialism, Scheidemann-Ebert and colleagues, to arm the toiling people for the protection of the revolution, and to take the most energetic and thoroughgoing measures for the socialization of society.”
In her first editorial in Die Rote Fahne of November 18, she writes under the title, “The Beginning”:
“The Revolution has begun.... From the goal of the revolution follows clearly its path, from its task follows the method. All power into the hands of the masses, into the hands of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, protection of the work of the revolution from its lurking foes: this is the guiding line for all the measures of the revolutionary government….
“(But) What is the present revolutionary government (i.e., Scheidemann & Co.) doing?
“It calmly continues to leave the state as an administrative organism from top to bottom in the hands of yesterday’s guards of Hohenzollern absolutism and tomorrow’s tools of the counterrevolution.
“It is convoking the Constituent Assembly, and therewith it is creating a bourgeois counterweight against the Workers’ and Peasants’ representation, therewith switching the revolution on to the rails of the bourgeois revolution, conjuring away the socialist goals of the revolution.”
[Shachtman mistakenly attributed the following quote to the article, “The Beginning.” It is actually from “The National Assembly” in the 20 November 1918 issue of Die Rote Fahne—ed.]
“From the Deutsche Tageszeitung, the Vossische, and the Vorwärts to the Freiheit of the Independents, from Reventlow, Erzberger, Scheidemann to Haase and Kautsky, there sounds the unanimous call for the National Assembly and an equally unanimous outcry of fear of the idea: Power into the hands of the working class. The ‘people’ as a whole, the ‘nation’ as a whole, should be summoned to decide on the further fate of the revolution by majority decision.
“With the open and concealed agents of the ruling class, this slogan is natural. With keepers of the capitalist class barriers, we discuss neither in the National Assembly nor about the National Assembly....
“Without the conscious will and the conscious act of the majority of the proletariat—no socialism. To sharpen this consciousness, to steel this will, to organize this act, a class organ is necessary, the national parliament of the proletarians of town and country.
“The convocation of such a workers’ representation in place of the traditional National Assembly of the bourgeois revolutions is already, by itself, an act of the class struggle, a break with the historical past of bourgeois society, a powerful means of arousing the proletarian popular masses, a first open, blunt declaration of war against capitalism.
“No evasions, no ambiguities—the die must be cast. Parliamentary cretinism was yesterday a weakness, is today an equivocation, will tomorrow be a betrayal of socialism.”
It is a pity that there is not space in which to quote far more extensively from the highly remarkable articles she wrote in the last few weeks of her life, before she was murdered by those whose “parliamentary cretinism” became the direct betrayal of socialism—by those for whom Erber has now become a shameful apologist by “showing” that the defeat of the revolution in Germany was as much the responsibility of the masses as it was of the Scheidemanns and Noskes! The articles as a whole show the veritable strides that Luxemburg took away from her prison criticism and toward a policy which was in no important respect different from the one pursued by the Bolsheviks toward the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats, toward the Mensheviks and other “socialist opponents,” toward the Constituent Assembly and the Soviets. With these articles of hers in print, to mention her today as an enemy of the Bolsheviks, as a critic of their attitude toward bourgeois democracy and the Constituent is excusable only on the grounds of inexcusable ignorance.
The course of the German Revolution, life, the lessons of the struggle—these left us the heritage of a Rosa Luxemburg who was, in every essential, the inseparable comrade-in-arms of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. To claim that this firm solidarity did not exist, is simply an outrage to her memory. What is worse, it shows that nothing has been learned of the lessons of the Russian Revolution and nothing of the lessons of the German Revolution—the two great efforts of the proletariat to test in practice what is, in the long run, the question of life and death for us: the state and revolution. And on this question, with Lenin and with Luxemburg, the real Luxemburg—we remain under the banner of Marxism.