Wednesday, January 30, 2019

On The 100th Anniversary Of Newly-Fledged German Communist Leader Rosa Luxemburg And Karl Liebknecht-Oh, What Might Have Been- HONOR THE THREE L’S-LENIN, LUXEMBURG, LIEBKNECHT-Honor The Historic Leader Of The Bolshevik Revolution-Vladimir Lenin

HONOR THE THREE L’S-LENIN, LUXEMBURG, LIEBKNECHT-Honor The Historic Leader Of The Bolshevik Revolution-Vladimir Lenin  

On The 100th Anniversary Of Newly-Fledged German Communist Leader Rosa Luxemburg And Karl Liebknecht-Oh, What Might Have Been-

By Frank Jackman

History in the conditional, what might have happened if this or that thing, event, person had swerved this much or that, is always a tricky proposition. Tricky as reflected in this piece’s commemorative headline. Rosa Luxemburg the acknowledged theoretical wizard of the German Social-Democratic Party, the numero uno party of the Second, Socialist International, which was the logical organization to initiate the socialist revolution before World War II and Karl Liebknecht, the hellfire and brimstone propagandist and public speaker of that same party were assassinated in separate locale on the orders of the then ruling self-same Social-Democratic Party. The chasm between the Social-Democratic leaders trying to save Germany for “Western Civilization” in the wake of the “uncivilized” socialist revolution in Russia in 1917 had grown that wide that it was as if they were on two different planets, and maybe they were.

(By the way I am almost embarrassed to mention the term “socialist revolution” these days when people, especially young people, would be clueless as to what I was talking about or would think that this concept was so hopelessly old-fashioned that it would meet the same blank stares. Let me assure you that back in the day, yes, that back in the day, many a youth had that very term on the tips of their tongues. Could palpably feel it in the air. Hell, just ask your parents, or grandparents.)

Okay here is the conditional and maybe think about it before you dismiss the idea out of hand if only because the whole scheme is very much in the conditional. Rosa and Karl, among others made almost every mistake in the book before and during the Spartacist uprising in some of the main German cities in late 1918 after the German defeat in the war. Their biggest mistake before the uprising was sticking with the Social Democrats, as a left wing, when that party had turned at best reformist and eminently not a vehicle for the socialist revolution, or even a half-assed democratic “revolution” which is what they got with the overthrow of the Kaiser. They broke too late, and subsequently too late from a slightly more left-wing Independent Socialist Party which had split from the S-D when that party became the leading war party in Germany for all intents and purposes and the working class was raising its collective head and asking why.  

The big mistake during the uprising was not taking enough protective cover, not keeping the leadership safe, keeping out of sight like Lenin had in Finland when things were dicey in 1917 Russia and fell easy prey to the Freikorps assassins. Here is the conditional, and as always it can be expanded to some nth degree if you let things get out of hand. What if, as in Russia, Rosa and Karl had broken from that rotten (for socialism) S-D organization and had a more firmly entrenched cadre with some experience in independent existence. What if the Spartacists had protected their acknowledged leaders better. There might have been a different trajectory for the aborted and failed German left-wing revolutionary opportunities over the next several years, there certainly would have been better leadership and perhaps, just perhaps the Nazi onslaught might have been stillborn, might have left Munich 1923 as their “heroic” and last moment.   

Instead we have a still sad 100th anniversary of the assassination of two great international socialist fighters who headed to the danger not away always worthy of a nod and me left having to face those blank stares who are looking for way forward but might as well be on a different planet-from me.  

Every January leftists honor three revolutionaries who died in that month, V.I. Lenin of Russia in 1924, Karl Liebknecht of Germany and Rosa Luxemburg of Poland in 1919 murdered after leading the defeated Spartacist uprising in Berlin. I made my political points about the heroic Karl Liebknecht and his parliamentary fight against the German war budget in World War I in this space earlier (see review in April 2006 archives). I made some special points here last year about the life of Rosa Luxemburg (see review in January 2006 archives). This year it is appropriate, at a time when the young needs to find a few good heroes, to highlight the early struggles of Vladimir Lenin, the third L, to define himself politically. Probably the best way to do that is to look at Lenin’s experiences through the prism of his fellow revolutionary, early political opponent and eventual co-leader of the Bolshevik Revolution Leon Trotsky.

A Look At The Young Lenin By A Fellow Revolutionary

The Young Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Doubleday and Co., New York, 1972

The now slightly receding figure of the 20th century Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin founder and leader of the Bolshevik Party and guiding light of the October 1917 Russian Revolution and the first attempt at creating a socialist society has been the subject to many biographies. Some of those efforts undertaken during the time of the former Soviet government dismantled in 1991-92, especially under the Stalin regime, bordered on or were merely the hagiographic. Others, reflecting the ups and downs of the post- World War II Cold War, painted an obscene diabolical picture, excluding Lenin’s horns, and in some cases not even attempting to exclude those. In virtually all cases these effort centered on Lenin’s life from the period of the rise of the Bolshevik Social Democratic faction in 1903 until his early death in 1924. In short, the early formative period of his life in the backwaters of provincial Russia rate a gloss over. Lenin’s fellow revolutionary Leon Trotsky, although some ten years younger than him, tries to trace that early stage of his life in order to draw certain lessons. It is in that context that Trotsky’s work contains some important insights about the development of revolutionary figures and their beginnings.

Although Trotsky’s little work, originally intended to be part of a full biography of Lenin, never served its purpose of educating the youth during his lifetime and the story of it discovery is rather interesting one should note that this is neither a scholarly work in the traditional sense nor is it completely free from certain fawning over Lenin by Trotsky. Part of this was determined by the vicissitudes of the furious Trotsky-Stalin fights for the soul of the Russian Revolution as Trotsky tried to uncover the layers of misinformation about Lenin’s early life. Part of it resulted from Trotsky’s status of junior partner to Lenin and also to his late coming over to Bolshevism. And part of it is, frankly, to indirectly contrast Lenin’s and his own road to Marxism. That said, this partial biography stands up very well as an analysis of the times that the young Lenin lived in, the events that affected his development and the idiosyncrasies of his own personality that drove him toward revolutionary conclusions. In short, Trotsky’s work is a case study in the proposition that revolutionaries are made not born.

To a greater extent than would be true today in a celebrity-conscious world many parts of Lenin’s early life are just not verifiable. Partially that is due to the nature of record keeping in the Russia of the 19th century. Partially it is because of the necessity to rely on not always reliable police records. Another part is that the average youth, and here Lenin was in some ways no exception, really have a limited noteworthy record to present for public inspection. That despite the best efforts of Soviet hagiography to make it otherwise. Nevertheless Trotsky does an admirable job of detailing the high and low lights of agrarian Russian society and the vagaries of the land question in the second half of the 19thcentury. One should note that Trotsky grew up on a Ukrainian farm and therefore is no stranger to many of the same kind of problems that Lenin had to work through concerning the solution to the agrarian crisis, the peasant question. Most notably, is that the fight for the Russian revolution that everyone knew was coming could only be worked out through the fight for influence over the small industrial working class and socialism.

I would note that for the modern young reader that two things Trotsky analyzes are relevant. The first is the relationship between Lenin and his older brother Alexander who, when he became politicized, joined a remnant of the populist People’s Will terrorist organization and attempted to assassinate the Tsar. For his efforts he and his co-conspirators were hanged. I have always been intrigued by the effect that this event had on Lenin’s development. On the one hand, as a budding young intellectual, would Lenin have attempted to avenge his brother’s fate with his same revolutionary intellectual political program? Or would Lenin go another way to intersect the coming revolutionary either through its agrarian component or the budding Marxist Social Democratic element? We know the answer but Trotsky provides a nicely reasoned analysis of the various influences that were at work in the young Lenin. That alone is worth the price of admission here.

The other point I have already alluded to above. Revolutionaries are made not born, although particular life circumstances may create certain more favorable conditions. Soviet historians in their voluntarist hay day tried to make of Lenin a superhuman phenomenon- a fully formed Marxist intellectual from his early youth. Trotsky once again distills the essence of Lenin’s struggle to make sense of the world, the Russian world in the first instance, as he tries to find a way out the Russian political impasse. Trotsky’s work only goes up to 1892-93, the Samara period, the period before Lenin took off for Petersburg and greener pastures. He left Samara a fully committed Marxist but it would be many years, with many polemics and by using many political techniques before he himself became a Bolshevik, as we know it. And that, young friends, is a cautionary tale that can be taken into the 21st century. Read on.

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