Rosa Luxemburg. the ideological mother of Luxemburgism.

Luxemburgism is a variant of Marxist revolutionary theory based on the writings of Rosa Luxemburg. According to M. K. Dziewanowski, the term was originally coined by Bolshevik leaders denouncing the deviations of Luxemburg's followers from traditional Leninism, but it has since been adopted by her followers themselves.

Luxemburgism is a Marxist tendency within Libertarian Marxism which, while supporting the Russian Revolution, as Luxemburg did, agrees with her criticisms of the politics of the Bolsheviks.

Luxemburgist theory

Democratic revolutionary socialism

The chief tenets of Luxemburgism are a commitment to democracy and the necessity of the revolution taking place as soon as possible. In this regard, it is similar to Council Communism, but differs in that, for example, Luxemburgists do not reject elections by principle. It resembles anarchism in its insistence that only relying on the people themselves as opposed to their leaders can avoid an authoritarian society, but differs in that it sees the importance of a revolutionary party, and mainly the centrality of the working class in the revolutionary struggle. It resembles Trotskyism in its opposition to the totalitarianism of Stalinist government while simultaneously avoiding the reformist politics of Social Democracy, and believing in a vanguard party but differs from Trotskyism in arguing that Lenin and Trotsky also made undemocratic errors as well as different views on national self-determination.

Luxemburg's idea of democracy, which Stanley Aronowitz calls "generalized democracy in an unarticulated form", represents Luxemburgism's greatest break with "mainstream communism", since it effectively diminishes the role of the Communist Party, but is in fact very similar to the views of Karl Marx ("The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves"). According to Aronowitz, the vagueness of Luxembourgian democracy is one reason for its initial difficulty in gaining widespread support. However, since the fall of the Soviet Union, Luxemburgism has been seen by some socialist thinkers as a way to avoid the totalitarianism of Stalinism. Early on, Luxemburg attacked undemocratic tendencies present in the Russian Revolution:

Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously  at bottom, then, a clique affair  a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins (the postponement of the Soviet Congress from three-month periods to six-month periods!) Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc. (Lenin’s speech on discipline and corruption.)"[1]

The strategic contribution of Luxemburgism is principally based on her insistence on socialist democracy:

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party  however numerous they may be  is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of "justice" but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when "freedom" becomes a special privilege.(...)But socialist democracy is not something which begins only in the promised land after the foundations of socialist economy are created; it does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people who, in the interim, have loyally supported a handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism."[2]

Opposition to imperialist war and capitalism

While being critical of the politics of the Bolsheviks, Rosa Luxemburg saw the behaviour of the Social Democratic Second International as a complete betrayal of socialism. As she saw it, at the outset of the First World War the Social Democratic Parties around the world betrayed the world's working class by supporting their own individual bourgeoisies in the war. This included her own Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the majority of whose delegates in the Reichstag voted for war credits.

Rosa Luxemburg opposed the sending of the working class youth of each country to what she viewed as slaughter in a war over which of the national bourgeoisies would control world resources and markets. She broke from the Second International, viewing it as nothing more than an opportunist party that was doing administrative work for the capitalists. Rosa Luxemburg, with Karl Liebknecht, organized a strong movement in Germany with these views, but was imprisoned and, after her release, killed for her work during the failed German Revolution of 1919 - a revolution which the German Social Democratic Party violently opposed.

Criticism of Leninism

See also: Anti-Leninism

In "The Russian Revolution", written in a German jail during World War I, Luxemburg critiqued Bolsheviks' absolutist political practice and opportunist policies—i.e., their suppression of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, their support for the partition of the old feudal estates to the peasant communes. She derived this critique from Marx's original concept of the "revolution in permanence." Marx outlines this strategy in his March 1850 "Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League." As opposed to the Bolsheviks' neo-Blanquist interpretation of permanent revolution, Marx argued that the role of the working class revolutionary party was not to create a one-party state, nor to give away land—even in semi-feudal countries like Germany in 1850, or Russia in 1917, where the working class was in the minority.

Rather, Marx argued that the role of the working class was, within structures of radical democracy, to organize, arm and defend themselves in workers' councils and militias, to campaign for their own socialist political program, to expand workers' rights, and to seize and farm collectively the feudal estates. Because the Bolsheviks failed to fulfil this Marxian program, Luxemburg argued, the Revolution bureaucratized, the cities starved, and the peasant soldiers in the Army were demoralized and deserted in order to get back home for the land grab. Thus the Germans easily invaded and took Ukraine. They justified this, during the Brest-Litovsk treaty negotiations, in the very same terms of "national self-determination" (for the Ukrainian bourgeoisie) that the Bolsheviks had promoted as an aid to socialist revolution, and that Luxemburg critiqued, years earlier, in her "The National Question," and in this document.

Luxemburg criticized Lenin's ideas on how to organize a revolutionary party as likely to lead to a loss of internal democracy and the domination of the party by a few leaders. Ironically, in her most famous attack on Lenin's views, the 1904 Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy, or, Leninism or Marxism?,[3] a response to Lenin's 1903 What Is To Be Done?, Luxemburg was more worried that the authoritarianism she saw in Leninism would lead to sectarianism and irrelevancy than that it would lead to a dictatorship after a successful revolution - although she also warned of the latter danger. Luxemburg died before Stalin's assumption of power, and never had a chance to come up with a complete theory of Stalinism, but her criticisms of the Bolsheviks have been taken up by many writers in their arguments about the origins of Stalinism, including many who are otherwise far from Luxemburgism.

Rosa Luxemburg also criticized Lenin's views on the right of the oppressed nations of the former Czarist Empire to self-determination. She saw this as a ready-made formula for imperialist intervention in those countries on behalf of bourgeois forces hostile to socialism. Proponents of Lenin's position on the nationalities argue that it was in fact what brought many members of the different nationalities of the former Czarist Empire together in supporting the Bolshevik-led revolution.

Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation

The Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation was the central feature of Rosa Luxemburg's political philosophy, wherein "spontaneity" is a grass roots, even anarchistic, approach to organising a party-oriented class struggle. Spontaneity and organisation, she argued, are not separable or separate activities, but different moments of one political process; one does not exist without the other. These beliefs arose from her view that there is an elementary, spontaneous class struggle from which class struggle evolves to a higher level:

"The working classes in every country only learn to fight in the course of their struggles ... Social democracy ... is only the advance guard of the proletariat, a small piece of the total working masses; blood from their blood, and flesh from their flesh. Social democracy seeks and finds the ways, and particular slogans, of the workers' struggle only in the course of the development of this struggle, and gains directions for the way forward through this struggle alone."[4]

Organisation mediates spontaneity; organisation must mediate spontaneity. It would be wrong to accuse Rosa Luxemburg of holding "spontaneism" as an abstraction. She developed the Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation under the influence of mass strikes in Europe, especially the Russian Revolution of 1905. Unlike the social democratic orthodoxy of the Second International, she did not regard organisation as product of scientific-theoretic insight to historical imperatives, but as product of the working classes' struggles:

"Social democracy is simply the embodiment of the modern proletariat's class struggle, a struggle which is driven by a consciousness of its own historic consequences. The masses are in reality their own leaders, dialectically creating their own development process. The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands. And as the entire social democracy movement is only the conscious advance guard of the proletarian class movement, which in the words of the Communist Manifesto represent in every single moment of the struggle the permanent interests of liberation and the partial group interests of the workforce vis à vis the interests of the movement as whole, so within the social democracy its leaders are the more powerful, the more influential, the more clearly and consciously they make themselves merely the mouthpiece of the will and striving of the enlightened masses, merely the agents of the objective laws of the class movement."[5]


"The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight... That's exactly what is laudable about it, that's exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers' movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation."[6]

Present-day Luxemburgism

Portrait of the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg.

As of 2014 very few active Luxemburgist revolutionary movements exist. Two small international networks claim to be Luxemburgists : Communist Democracy (Luxemburgist), founded in 2005, and the International Luxemburgist Network, founded in 2008.

Feminists and Trotskyists, as well as leftists in Germany, show especial interest in Luxemburg's ideas. Distinguished modern Marxist thinkers such as Ernest Mandel, who has even been characterised as "Luxemburgist", have seen Luxemburgism as a corrective to revolutionary theory.[7] In 2002 ten thousand people marched in Berlin for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and another 90,000 people laid carnations on their graves.[8]

Many socialists, whether they regard themselves as Luxemburgist or not, see Rosa Luxemburg as a martyr for revolutionary socialism. For Luxemburgists, her stalwart dedication to democracy and vigorous repudiation of capitalism exemplifies the socialist concept of democracy that they view as the essential element of socialism rather than as a contradiction of it. Many socialist currents today, particularly Trotskyists and left communists, consider Rosa Luxemburg to have had an important influence on their theory and politics. However, while respecting Luxemburg, these organizations do not consider themselves "Luxemburgist".

See also


  1. The Russian Revolution,
  2. The Russian Revolution,
  3. Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy
  4. In a Revolutionary Hour: What Next?, Collected Works 1.2, p.554
  5. The Political Leader of the German Working Classes, Collected Works 2, p.280
  6. The Politics of Mass Strikes and Unions, Collected Works 2, p.465
  7. The Actuality of Ernest Mandel by Gilbert Achcar
  8. Workers World Jan. 31, 2002: Berlin events honor left-wing leaders

External links

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