Lair Of A Squirrel Red

The New Vanguard pt 1 by korakious
March 20, 2007, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Party, Theory

Rosa Luxemburg is a rather understudied theoretician. Unlike Lenin’s, Trotsky’s and Mao’s her name has not really served as the basis of the label of a distinct ideological current within revolutionary socialist thought. There’s no Marxism-Luxemburgism or Revolutionary Socialist Internationalist Party (Luxemburgist). Those that define themselves as Luxemburgists usually do so informally. In fact, her tradition has been claimed by everyone apart from the most dogmatic ortho-Stalinists (and Maoists). Anarchists have made a hero out of her because they view her as some sort of arch anti-Bolshevik communist (never mind that she supported the Bolsheviks all the way). Trotskyists have token respect for her, most likely because Trotsky wrote an article entitled Hands off Rosa Luxemburg! directed against Stalin.

Both approaches are, of course, mistaken. On the one hand, Luxemburg never rejected vanguard hegemony as anarchists seem to believe. She argued that the task of the revolutionary party was to instill revolutionary consciousness into the masses of workers, involving them in radical participatory political processes, thus increasing their practical experience (hours of which are worth years of theoretical education) and their understanding. On the other hand, most Trotskyists have never really understood the living core of her organizational theories – revolutionary democracy. They either find their wee sects organizations to be adequately democratic anyway, or reject her arguments as bourgeois deviations, often using the Marxist differentiation between form and content, appearance and essence, with spectacular ineptitude, to support their arguments.

You see, most “Trotskyists” are themselves unable to distinguish content from form, essence from appearance and necessity from contingency. This is why, in more than 60 years, they have failed miserably to come up with a more successful mode of political organization and action. I can already hear them protesting: “but things haven’t really changed” “capitalism is still capitalism” “the basic relations are the same”. Aye, capitalism has not changed much since the onset of the era of imperialism. It is still capitalism. Accumulation and proletarianization are still active processes. All true. But we do not fight capitalism at its base. Any revolutionary movement seeks to affect change at base level necessarily through political mediations. In plainer Marxist jargon, all of our political activity is necessarily superstructural. Now, it is undeniable that the superstructure of capitalism has undergone massive changes since the 1900s, when the organizational structures of most parties that identify with the Bolshevik tradition were elaborated. The status quo fights us on different terms and it is on different terms that we must organize our struggle. Sticking to a historically definite model that was developed with the aim of fighting against the combined forces of the Russian autocracy and the Russian bourgeoisie, can only be described as tactical anachronism that is condemned to failure (no, my ortho trot readers, your inability to make a breakthrough despite the prospects opened up by the collapse of stalinism is not solely due to false, trade union consciousness. Lenin was a passionate advocate of self criticism, remember?). You see, the essence of Leninism as an organizational principle does not consist in the particular structures that Lenin put forward, but rather, in the idea that the most politically conscious elements of the working class must group together into a single (not hundreds) political force with the aim of educating the working class to socialist ideas

Sectarianism, the disease that has plagued the revolutionary left -particularly Trotskyists- for years, is also, to some extent, a product of this inability to distinguish between necessity and contingency etc. The ideological justification of sect formation usually is most commonly grounded firstly in the split in the Russian Social Democracy and secondly in the decision of Trotskyists to set up the 4th International in opposition to the Stalinist Comintern. The underlying rationale of sectarians is that, if the revolutionaries of old were right to abandon obsolete, revisionist, opportunist, add-negative-adjective-here political formations in order to more efficiently pursue their political objectives, then it is right for them to do so as well. The result is well known to all of us: a huge number of wee sects are squabbling over theoretical matters while the combined forces of the bourgeoisie freely indulge into more imperialist plunder and domestic exploitation. Hal Draper, in The Myth of Lenin’s concept of the party criticised such petty in fighting arguing that Lenin had stressed the need for unity on principled grounds, that is, unity of all currents within a single socialist party provided that the democratic processes of the organization were properly functioning and respected by all. In practice, this means that when losing an argument, a group should not break away to form its own little inconsequential organization, but rather, stay in the party and argue its case. In a similar manner, Lenin also rejected the idea that the winning group should make concessions to the other, should it threaten to leave because it has lost a political argument. This isn’t any particularly complex Leninist concept. It is elementary respect for workers’ democracy.

So where does Luxemburg come into this? As I said earlier, the essence of Luxemburg’s organizational thought is the principle of revolutionary democracy. An organization operating along radically democratic lines, with the leadership being fully accountable to and controlled by the rank and file, with the right to organize internally and with the greatest possible extent of participation in policy formation on the part of the activist base, is, unlike what most of self-proclaimed Bolsheviks believe, in fact going to be more stable and unified in the long run, than a monolithic, top down formation who’s only semblance of democracy consists in electing the leadership and ratifying its decisions, every so often – a veritable clone of bourgeois democracy!

Whether we like it or not, different opinions do exist within parties. “Factions” form organically. It is far more productive and comradely to recognize such differences (in fact, we should welcome them; a basic postulate of dialectics is that progress is only created through contradictions) than to pass a ban on “factionalism” in order to impose a fictitious unity of thought within the party, something neither possible, nor desirable (unity in action and thought are two very different things). A group is far more likely to split and form its own wee sect if it is not allowed to voice its opinions, concerns and criticism.

Similarly, regarding efficiency, a radical democratic party structure, accompanied by a participatory political culture is the only way to fight for socialism that is productive in the long run. Not only does participation and interaction of rank and file members increase the depth and width of the pool of collective experience, but it also helps develop the political, theoretical and organizational skills of individual members, eradicating thus the need to rely on a small number of full time cadre that invariably perpetuates itself and stifles any initiative. In more abstract dialectical terms, the end is always determined by the means. Socialism is about working towards a positive transcendence of alienation, an end to both economical and political dispossession. You can’t pursue socialism through a vehicle that itself perpetuates the alienating characteristics of capitalism, as they pertain to power relations, just as you can’t make coffee by dropping a tea bag into hot water!

So, “What is to be done”? I believe that, to an extent, we in the SSP have made some progress towards creating a new vanguard on “Luxemburgist” lines, so to speak. Tomorrow, I will try to offer a short description of the internal workings of the SSP and how these relate to the issues discussed here. Now however, I’m off to bed.


10 Comments so far
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This is a very nice piece. I’d be lying if I said I spent much time with Rosa, but I shall pick her up when I get a chance. I certainly agree with what you say about a degree of unity as well. Many hold the incorrect assumption that democratic-centralism is simply “majority rules.”

I’m going to go over your points and look in to them in greater depth.


Comment by NK

The thing with democratic centralism is that people have made an unhistorical dogma out of it. They cannot grasp that it is a dialectical formula whose practical implementation manifests differently according to the conditions at hand. I will expand on this in part 2.

Comment by Korakious

Interstingly, during the 1950s the Cliifite current were often identified as Luxemburgist.

rather famously Cliff altered a line in his book about uxemburg, which in the originall edition said something like “today Luxemburg is a better guide than Lenin for socislists”, and ten years later this was changed to say Ilych was more importnat than Rosa.

Comment by AN

The story about this change is here, and it is quite an interesting discussion

Comment by AN

sorry the URL keeps getting truncated.

It is appendix two of Jim Higgins’s book “More Years of the Locust” .

Google it of you are intersted!

Comment by AN

I am aware that the SWP identified itself as Luxemburgist in the past. I can’t say I am very knowledgeable on swip history, but I am inclined to believe that bureaucratic interests won over political principles during their early development.

Comment by Korakious

There’s a Luxemburgist group, “Communist Democracy” :

Comment by forsocialism

The link is pretty interesting. Unfortunately, my French is pretty bad so I can’t really read through the rest of their website to see what kind of stuff they’ve been doing or to read their opinions on stuff like the Bolivarian revolution.

Comment by Korakious

Communist Democracy (Luxemburgist) have blogs in spanish too.
We have only two texts translated into english (in the web)

Comment by luxemburguista

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