Luxemburg:The Mass Strike, the Political Party

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syndicalist
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May 16 2011 13:15
Luxemburg:The Mass Strike, the Political Party

So I was having a discussion with some ex-trostskyist trade union friends the other day, they kept refering to
Rosa Luxemburg's "The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions" as their sort of magna carta.
It has been many, many years since I read it, but I always recalled she was anti-anarchist, definately not a syndicalist and surely for a Party which plays a role. My recollection of her is that she was really for a less centralized party, for a more "democratic" marxism then Lenin. The latter I also vaguely remember from a pamphlet I read a gazillion years ago called, "Leninism or Marxism" (bit was originally publish under another name).

I'm wondering what others impressions/interpretation of "The Mass Strike..." is. While I'm interested in all opinions, I'd be most interested in the opinions of those comrades who are explicitedly anarcho-syndicalist. Of course, all those who are anarcho-marxist are invited to share their thoughts as well.

Thanks for your time.

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Joseph Kay
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May 16 2011 13:20

here's part of a draft of something i was writing on just this:

Quote:
Alongside Bordiga, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was another of the ‘left wing communists’ criticised in Lenin’s polemic.[4] Unlike Bordiga, Luxemburg had strong libertarian tendencies, stressing that “freedom is always the freedom of dissenters”, and her pamphlet ‘The Mass Strike’ remains highly influential amongst Marxists who have rejected Leninism, as well as many anarchists.[5] But the pamphlet’s principle flaw is a serious one: it suffers from spectacular dishonesty from its very first page. In light of the Russian Revolution of 1905, which was spearheaded by a self-organised strike wave, Luxemburg seeks to demonstrate how this is not the direct action and the revolutionary general strike advocated by anarchists, but rather a ‘mass strike’, that far from vindicating the anarchist preference for direct action over political action, is in fact “the historical liquidation of anarchism”.[6] In order to contrast her Marxist ‘mass strike’ with the anarchist general strike, Luxemburg does not quote a single anarchist. Rather she opens her pamphlet with an 1873 polemic by Friedrich Engels.

Needless to say, Engels presents a laughable caricature, which has nonetheless provided a persistent anti-general strike straw man for Leninists and – via Luxemburg – libertarians alike. According to Engels, the general strike would be declared “one fine morning”, all workers would simply stop working for “about 4 weeks” and that would be the revolution done. Engels of course then scoffed at this implausible scheme (that he’d just invented) when compared to the practical, hard-headed Marxist goal of a political revolution seizing state power. But rather than rely on such lazy caricatures, the honest thing to do would be to look at what actual proponents of the revolutionary general strike actually said. Not to do so is unforgivably dishonest. In Luxemburg’s day, the principle proponents of the revolutionary general strike were the French CGT. Two of their principle theoreticians, Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget wrote a fictionalised account setting out their vision of a revolutionary general strike, entitled ‘How we shall bring about the revolution’[7]. What did they have to say?

Well for starters, the general strike was not conceived as being called on an arbitrary day set for the revolution. Rather the role of the union was to seek to generalise spontaneous outbreaks of strike action: “The stoppage of work, which on the previous day had been spontaneous, and was due to the accident of personal initiative and impulse, now became regularised and generalised in a methodical way, that showed the influence of the union decisions”.[8] It relied upon the “phenomena of spontaneous inspiration and fruitful boldness”.[9] Contra Engels/Luxemburg, the idea was not to stay out on strike surviving on ‘a full war chest’, but rather to expropriate workplaces and begin production under workers’ control, driven precisely by the imperative for the strikers to continue to feed themselves, maintain necessary services etc.[10] Contra Engels/Luxemburg, the union was seen as being, at the outbreak of the revolutionary general strike “an active minority” which sought to get non-unionised workers involved in expropriation and distribution, and to transform itself from “an organisation for fighting” into “a social organism”.[11]

All of this sounds remarkably like Luxemburg’s mass strike, with one major difference. Whilst both are conceived of beginning as an outbreak of self-organised strikes, the syndicalist conception saw a role for workers, organised at the point of production to actively seek to generalise the strike movement. Luxemburg sees being done spontaneously without any prior organisation. If there is a difference between the revolutionary general strike and the mass strike, that would seem to be it.[12] If we can bring ourselves to overlook the constant inaccurate digs at anarchists, it is only right to acknowledge that Luxemburg’s ‘Mass Strike’ represents a significant libertarian break with both Leninism and social democracy (Luxemburg was a member of Kautsky’s SPD at the time). But does the idea of spontaneous strikes escalating into revolutionary events without the need for any revolutionary workplace organisation offer us anything today?

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Zanthorus
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May 16 2011 13:40
syndicalist wrote:
My recollection of her is that she was really for a less centralized party,

Urgh, no. This is a ridiculous myth spread by Anarchists looking to bolster the ranks of their political tradition. Here is what Luxemburg had to say on the subject of centralism in 'Organisational Questions of the Russian Social-Democracy' (The pamphlet was slanderously titled 'Leninism or Marxism' by Ann Arbour paperbacks. It was never called that in Luxemburg's lifetime:

Quote:
This [the incorporation of non-proletarian movements under the leadership of the workers' movement] is only possible if the Social Democracy already contains a strong, politically educated proletarian nucleus class conscious enough to be able, as up to now in Germany, to pull along in its tow the declassed and petty bourgeois elements that join the party. In that case, greater strictness in the application of the principle of centralization and more severe discipline, specifically formulated in party bylaws, may be an effective safeguard against the opportunist danger. That is how the revolutionary socialist movement in France defended itself against the Jauresist confusion. A modification of the constitution at the German Social Democracy in that direction would be a very timely measure.

She was against 'rigorous despotic centralism' in Russia because she thought that in specifically backwards Russian conditions, where the only revolution on the table was a bourgeois revolution, centralism would provide an opening for Robespierre type intellectuals to dominate the proletariat. The above passage however clearly shows that elsewhere Luxemburg was for a more consistent and thoroughgoing application of centralism.

Joseph Kay wrote:
Quote:
Alongside Bordiga, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was another of the ‘left wing communists’ criticised in Lenin’s polemic.

Luxemburg's battered corpse was floating in the Landwehr canal long before 'Left Communism' had formed itself as a half-way coherent tendency. I am fairly confident that Lenin's pamphlet written in 1920 was not addressed to the dead Luxemburg, who at the first congress of the KPD had defended the election of representatives of parliament against the German Left.

Quote:
Unlike Bordiga, Luxemburg had strong libertarian tendencies, stressing that “freedom is always the freedom of dissenters",

No, she had strong social-democratic tendencies derived from her time in the Second International and like the majority of SI Marxists was a firm believer in political freedom. I don't see any evidence of her having had 'libertarian tendencies'.

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Joseph Kay
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May 16 2011 13:45

cheers, i'll check those points. draft was written off the top of my head in the middle of the night so it's very much a rough draft!

syndicalist
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May 16 2011 13:46

Thanks Joseph. Can you list the references you refer to?

Yeah, I'm gonna have to look at "The Mass Strike" again. Cause these friends are clearly pro-organization, albiet marxian semi-partyist. And our discussion was not so much about spontinatity, but the need for a self-managed unionism. The conversation was actually "fun" and comradely (as always), but the cobwebs cluttering my mind on this particular point overwhelmed an informaed discussion on my part of what RL actually said.

syndicalist
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May 16 2011 13:58

OK, here's what appears in MIA:

Quote:
"This document represents Rosa Luxemburg’s contribution to the debate within the Russian Social Democratic movement on party organization and democratic centralism. Luxemburg joins Trotsky in warning of the dangers inherent in centralism and argues against the concentration of power in a Central Committee. From a Socialist Revolutionary perspective Luxemburg puts forward compelling arguments against Lenin’s conception of the revolutionary Party. For other contemporary contributions to the debate see Trotsky’s Our Political Tasks and Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Back .

Originally published as an article in 1904 under the title Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy in Iskra and Neue Zeit, later reprinted in pamphlet form titled Marxism vs. Leninism. Appeared in English in 1934 as Revolutionary Socialist Organization published by Integer and in 1935 as Leninism or Marxism? by the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, Glasgow. In 1961, the University of Michigan Press reprinted the Integer translation, which had entered the public domain, in The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? with an introduction by Bertram Wolfe. It also appears under the title Organizational Questions of Social Democracy as part of the 1970 Pathfinder Press compilation Rosa Luxemburg Speaks."
http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1904/questions-rsd/index.htm#intro

Anarcho
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May 16 2011 20:41

From An Anarchist FAQ (section H.3.5):

Quote:
A classic example of this appropriation of anarchist ideas into Marxism is provided by the general strike. In 1905, Russia had a near revolution in which the general strike played a key role. Unsurprisingly, as anarchists had been arguing for the general strike since the 1870s, we embraced these events as a striking confirmation of our long held ideas on revolutionary change. Marxists had a harder task as such ideas were alien to mainstream Social Democracy. Yet faced with the success and power of the general strike in practice, the more radical Marxists, like Rosa Luxemburg, had to incorporate it into their politics.

Yet they faced a problem. The general strike was indelibly linked with such hearsays as anarchism and syndicalism. Had not Engels himself proclaimed the nonsense of the general strike in his diatribe "The Bakuninists at work"? Had his words not been repeated ad infinitum against anarchists (and radical socialists) who questioned the wisdom of social democratic tactics, its reformism and bureaucratic inertia? The Marxist radicals knew that Engels would again be invoked by the bureaucrats and reformists in the Social Democratic movement to throw cold water over any attempt to adjust Marxist politics to the economic power of the masses as expressed in mass strikes. The Social Democratic hierarchy would simply dismiss them as "anarchists." This meant that Luxemburg was faced with the problem of proving Engels was right, even when he was wrong.

She did so in an ingenious way. Like Engels himself, she simply distorted what the anarchists thought about the general strike in order to make it acceptable to Social Democracy. Her argument was simple. Yes, Engels had been right to dismiss the "general strike" idea of the anarchists in the 1870s. But today, thirty years later, Social Democrats should support the general strike (or mass strike, as she called it) because the concepts were different. The anarchist "general strike" was utopian. The Marxist "mass strike" was practical.

To discover why, we need to see what Engels had argued in the 1870s. Engels, mocked the anarchists (or "Bakuninists") for thinking that "a general strike is the lever employed by which the social revolution is started." He accusing them of imagining that "[o]ne fine morning, all the workers in all the industries of a country, or even of the whole world, stop work, thus forcing the propertied classes either humbly to submit within four weeks at most, or to attack the workers, who would then have the right to defend themselves and use the opportunity to pull down the entire old society." He stated that at the September 1 1873 Geneva congress of the anarchist Alliance of Social Democracy, it was "universally admitted that to carry out the general strike strategy, there had to be a perfect organisation of the working class and a plentiful funds." He noted that that was "the rub" as no government would stand by and "allow the organisation or funds of the workers to reach such a level." Moreover, the revolution would happen long before "such an ideal organisation" was set up and if they had been "there would be no need to use the roundabout way of a general strike" to achieve it. [Collected Works, vol. 23, pp. 584-5]

Rosa Luxemburg repeated Engels arguments in her essay "The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions" in order to show how her support for the general strike was in no way contrary to Marxism. [Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, pp. 153-218] Her "mass strike" was different from the anarchist "general strike" as mocked by Engels as it was dynamic process and could not be seen as one act, one isolated action which overthrows the bourgeoisie. Rather, the mass strike to the product of the everyday class struggle within society, leads to a direct confrontation with the capitalist state and so it was inseparable from the revolution.

The only problem with all this is that the anarchists did not actually argue along the lines Engels and Luxemburg claimed. Most obviously, as we indicated in section H.2.8, Bakunin saw the general strike as a dynamic process which would not be set for a specific date and did not need all workers to be organised before hand. As such, Bakunin's ideas are totally at odds with Engels assertions on what anarchist ideas on the general strike were about (they, in fact, reflect what actually happened in 1905).

But what of the "Bakuninists"? Again, Engels account leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than the September 1873 Geneva congress being, as he claimed, of the (disbanded) Alliance of Social Democracy, it was in fact a meeting of the non-Marxist federations of the First International. Contra Engels, anarchists did not see the general strike as requiring all workers to be perfectly organised and then passively folding arms "one fine morning." The Belgian libertarians who proposed the idea at the congress saw it as a tactic which could mobilise workers for revolution, "a means of bringing a movement onto the street and leading the workers to the barricades." Moreover, leading anarchist James Guillaume explicitly rejected the idea that it had "to break out everywhere at an appointed day and hour" with a resounding "No!" In fact, he stressed that they did "not even need to bring up this question and suppose things could be like this. Such a supposition could lead to fatal mistakes. The revolution has to be contagious." [quoted by Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872-1886, p. 223 and p. 224]

Another account of this meeting notes that how the general strike was to start was "left unsaid", with Guillaume "recognis[ing] that it as impossible for the anarchists simply to set the hour for the general strike." Another anarchist did "not believe that the strike was a sufficient means to win the social revolution" but could "set the stage for the success of an armed insurrection." Only one delegate, regardless of Engels' claims, thought it "demanded the utmost organisation of the working class" and if that were the case "then the general strike would not be necessary." This was the delegate from the reformist British trade unions and he was "attack[ing]" the general strike as "an absurd and impractical proposition." [Phil H. Goodstein, The Theory of the General Strike, pp. 43-5]

Perhaps this is why Engels did not bother to quote a single anarchist when recounting their position on this matter? Needless to say, Leninists continue to parrot Engels assertions to this day. The facts are somewhat different. Clearly, the "anarchist" strategy of overthrowing the bourgeoisie with one big general strike set for a specific date exists only in Marxist heads, nowhere else. Once we remove the distortions promulgated by Engels and repeated by Luxemburg, we see that the 1905 revolution and "historical dialectics" did not, as Luxemburg claim, validate Engels and disprove anarchism. Quite the reverse as the general strikes in Russia followed the anarchist ideas of what a general strike would be like quite closely. Little wonder, then, that Kropotkin argued that the 1905 general strike "demonstrated" that the Latin workers who had been advocating the general strike "as a weapon which would irresistible in the hands of labour for imposing its will" had been "right." [Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, p. 288]

So, contra Luxemburg, "the fatherland of Bakunin" was not "the burial-place of [anarchism's] teachings." [Op. Cit., p. 157] As Nicholas Walter argued, while the numbers of actual anarchists was small, "the 1905 Revolution was objectively an anarchist revolution. The military mutinies, peasant uprisings and workers' strikes (culminating in a general strike), led to the establishment of soldiers' and workers' councils . . . and peasants' communes, and the beginning of agrarian and industrial expropriation - all along the lines suggested by anarchist writers since Bakunin." [The Anarchist Past and Other Essays, p. 122] The real question must be when will Marxists realise that quoting Engels does not make it true?

Moreover, without becoming an insurrection, as anarchists had stressed, the limits of the general strike were exposed in 1905. Unlike the some of the syndicalists in the 1890s and 1900s, this limitation was understood by the earliest anarchists. Consequently, they saw the general strike as the start of a revolution and not as the revolution itself. So, for all the Leninist accounts of the 1905 revolution claiming it for their ideology, the facts suggest that it was anarchism, not Marxism, which was vindicated by it. Luxemburg was wrong. The "land of Bakunin's birth" provided an unsurpassed example of how to make a revolution precisely because it applied (and confirmed) anarchist ideas on the general strike (and, it should be added, workers' councils). Marxists (who had previously quoted Engels to dismiss such things) found themselves repudiating aspect upon aspect of their dogma to remain relevant. Luxemburg, as Bookchin noted, "grossly misrepresented the anarchist emphasis on the general strike after the 1905 revolution in Russia in order to make it acceptable to Social Democracy." (He added that Lenin "was to engage in the same misrepresentation on the issue of popular control in State and Revolution"). [Towards an Ecological Society, p. 227fn]

Also, my review of How We Shall Bring About The Revolution may be of interest.

syndicalist
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May 18 2011 00:35

Thanks everyone for your replies thus far. I'm gonna go back and read "The Mass Strike" again.

Zanthorus wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
My recollection of her is that she was really for a less centralized party,

Urgh, no. This is a ridiculous myth spread by Anarchists looking to bolster the ranks of their political tradition. Here is what Luxemburg had to say on the subject of centralism in 'Organisational Questions of the Russian Social-Democracy' (The pamphlet was slanderously titled 'Leninism or Marxism' by Ann Arbour paperbacks. It was never called that in Luxemburg's lifetime:

Quote:
This [the incorporation of non-proletarian movements under the leadership of the workers' movement] is only possible if the Social Democracy already contains a strong, politically educated proletarian nucleus class conscious enough to be able, as up to now in Germany, to pull along in its tow the declassed and petty bourgeois elements that join the party. In that case, greater strictness in the application of the principle of centralization and more severe discipline, specifically formulated in party bylaws, may be an effective safeguard against the opportunist danger. That is how the revolutionary socialist movement in France defended itself against the Jauresist confusion. A modification of the constitution at the German Social Democracy in that direction would be a very timely measure.

She was against 'rigorous despotic centralism' in Russia because she thought that in specifically backwards Russian conditions, where the only revolution on the table was a bourgeois revolution, centralism would provide an opening for Robespierre type intellectuals to dominate the proletariat. The above passage however clearly shows that elsewhere Luxemburg was for a more consistent and thoroughgoing application of centralism.

Joseph Kay wrote:
Quote:
Alongside Bordiga, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was another of the ‘left wing communists’ criticised in Lenin’s polemic.

Luxemburg's battered corpse was floating in the Landwehr canal long before 'Left Communism' had formed itself as a half-way coherent tendency. I am fairly confident that Lenin's pamphlet written in 1920 was not addressed to the dead Luxemburg, who at the first congress of the KPD had defended the election of representatives of parliament against the German Left.

Quote:
Unlike Bordiga, Luxemburg had strong libertarian tendencies, stressing that “freedom is always the freedom of dissenters",

No, she had strong social-democratic tendencies derived from her time in the Second International and like the majority of SI Marxists was a firm believer in political freedom. I don't see any evidence of her having had 'libertarian tendencies'.

Actually, given the above, I have no clue why libertarian miliants get dreamy about what Luxemburg has to say. I mean, if spontaneity alone is the political attraction, well, isn't that a bit weak? Just asking.

So, Zanthorus, your quotations and (obviolusly anti-anarchist) commentary, has convinced me that Luxemborg embodied only the left wing of social democracy. Was for centralized forms of organization, including trade unions. Perhaps if she wasn;t murdered she may have fallen into line with the Third International and, perhaps, later on become a Trotskyist.

BTW, what, if any, was RL's relationship with Sylvia Pankhurst and "The Workers Dreadnaught"?

Well, it will make for an interesting re-read all these years later.

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Zanthorus
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May 18 2011 15:46
syndicalist wrote:
So, Zanthorus, your quotations and (obviolusly anti-anarchist) commentary, has convinced me that Luxemborg embodied only the left wing of social democracy.

Well she was a member of the SPD and only broke from it organisationally at quite a late juncture, so I'd say that was pretty evident. With regards to why Anarchists might mythologise her, perhaps it is because of the inadequacy of the various Marxist accounts which have been written. For example, Tony Cliff commits a similar mistake with regard to Lenin and Luxemburg on the party, and originally the Cliffite position was that the 'Leninist' party model was valid in Russia whereas in advanced western societies a more 'Luxemburgist' orientation holds. This of course was the exact opposite of Luxemburg's intentions. The International Bolshevik Tendency had a good piece calling him out on this in their pamphlet 'Lenin and the Vanguard Party' (Skip to 'Behind Luxemburg's Anti-Leninist Polemic').

Quote:
Perhaps if she wasn;t murdered she may have fallen into line with the Third International and, perhaps, later on become a Trotskyist/

We don't know what she would've done. It's possible that Luxemburg could've joined the KAPD, or perhaps her position at the head of the KPD would've given the KPD left the leadership instead of being ousted at the Heidelberg congress, or she would've remained a centrist but kept the KPD left in. She could also have played the same role as Paul Levi. It's difficult to tell. Her trajectory in the moments leading up to her death suggests a move to the left, but then again so did Lenin's in the run up to 1917.

syndicalist
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May 18 2011 16:09

Thanks Z. Last night, I was actually glancing at Tony Cliff's Luxemburg: http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1959/rosalux/index.htm

More later.

syndicalist
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May 19 2011 15:02
Zanthorus wrote:
The International Bolshevik Tendency had a good piece calling him out on this in their pamphlet 'Lenin and the Vanguard Party' (Skip to 'Behind Luxemburg's Anti-Leninist Polemic').

Actually, very poigent and surely a reason why there are inherent and flawed problems with centralization.

The IBT article states:

Quote:
Luxemburg’s pressure for greater centralization in the SPD was successful at the radical-dominated 1905 Jena Congress, which adopted a genuinely centralist organizational structure. For the first time the officers of the basic party unit were made responsible to the national executive. Later on, of course, the SPD’s famous centralized apparatus was used to suppress the revolutionary left led by Rosa Luxemburg.
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Entdinglichung
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May 19 2011 15:37
syndicalist wrote:
Zanthorus wrote:
The International Bolshevik Tendency had a good piece calling him out on this in their pamphlet 'Lenin and the Vanguard Party' (Skip to 'Behind Luxemburg's Anti-Leninist Polemic').

Actually, very poigent and surely a reason why there are inherent and flawed problems with centralization.

The IBT article states:

Quote:
Luxemburg’s pressure for greater centralization in the SPD was successful at the radical-dominated 1905 Jena Congress, which adopted a genuinely centralist organizational structure. For the first time the officers of the basic party unit were made responsible to the national executive. Later on, of course, the SPD’s famous centralized apparatus was used to suppress the revolutionary left led by Rosa Luxemburg.

one of the main reason, why most of the left inside the SPD was insisting on centralization and obedience to the party's central decisions was the constant practical violation of the these by revisionist state assembly members in the three ("more democratic") southern states of Bavaria, Wuerttemberg and Baden, where these rightwing social democrats voted in violation of the SPD's party line several times in favour of the state budget instead of rejecting it ... also one of the reasons, why the ~ 20 leftwing SPD MPs only started voting against the war loans in late 1914 (Liebknecht and Rühle) or 1915 (the later USPD), unity and discipline was considered by the SPD's left as something, which distinguished them from the revisionists

jacobian
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May 20 2011 12:06
syndicalist wrote:
So, Zanthorus, your quotations and (obviolusly anti-anarchist) commentary, has convinced me that Luxemborg embodied only the left wing of social democracy.

I'm not sure that characterisation as "only the left wing of social democracy" is very useful since "Social Democracy" is such a discredited term now for reasons that have very little to do with the tendency of which Luxemburg was a part. Social Democracy was a revolutionary mass movement that called for social revolution. Bakunin called his organisation the Alliance for Social Democracy. It definitely doesn't mean "the left wing of the British Labour Party".

It's true that in the SPD there was little theoretical reflection on the problematics of electoralism, including what to do with the question of legislation itself, and how these problems would be dealt with, but partially that's because getting a huge influence in the Reichstag was not considered so likely at first. It pretty much came upon them before they knew they needed a coherent theory. It was definitely the first, and probably the last time, that revolutionary socialists had so much general influence in the class while also pursuing an electoral strategy. It's not surprising that they were caught a bit unawares.

In addition, some of the polemics against anarchists might look overstated to us now, but we have to remember that some of the prominent anarchists were those who came out of the SPD like Johann Most (elected to the Reichstag), and nobody wants to dredge up his theoretical writings because they are so undeniably awful.

It's better to see these discussions as situated in their historical context rather than imagining that she's arguing against all strands of anarchism in all times.

That said, I think Anarcho's assertion that Luxemburg had to make theoretical contortions within ortho-Marxism to justify support of general strike ex-post-facto is correct.

Angelus Novus
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May 20 2011 14:04

My late-19th/early-20th Century historical figure of the European workers movement can beat up your late-19th/early-20th Century historical figure of the European workers movement.

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Entdinglichung
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May 20 2011 14:49
Angelus Novus wrote:
My late-19th/early-20th Century historical figure of the European workers movement can beat up your late-19th/early-20th Century historical figure of the European workers movement.

reminds of some (scholastical marxist) people I met ~ 15 years ago who were desparately searching for a quotation by Marx on an obscure topic because they wanted to beat/overrule one quotation by Engels:

marx > engels (= 0.75marx) > luxemburg (= 0.8engels) > dietzgen (= 0.95 luxemburg)

jacobian
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May 20 2011 15:42
syndicalist wrote:
Actually, very poigent and surely a reason why there are inherent and flawed problems with centralization.

Excepting that the centralisation was called for in the first place to counter-act a real problem with opportunism. If you are going to go down the electoral route you need elected representatives to be subject to the demands of the party. Would you suggest they should have been allowed act independently?

The degeneration of the SPD is as likely to have been caused by the increasing strength of the rural vote in 1912 and the conservatism that the smaller rural sections tended to enjoy due to the vastly larger numbers required of supporters in urban areas as compares rural and the increasing power of the union bureaucracies.

EDIT: Not to mention the lack of self-reflection about the electoral strategy.

rooieravotr
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May 21 2011 22:56

It may wel have been that

Quote:
the centralisation was called for in the first place to counter-act a real problem with opportunism.

as jacobian argues. The problem is that it works both ways. The left wing can demand discipline from a right wing, als long as the left is in the majority. But the right wing can demand the same thing if they are in the majority. And than you cannot credibly object, unless you want to look very inconsistent. Otherwise, you will end up like Lenin:

Quote:
of course, we demand the strictest discipline from the menshevik gentlemen when we are in a majority. But of course, we will not allow these gentlemen to lead us by the noose

(no energy to look up the exact quotation). That sounds like: you do as we tell you when we have more votes than you. We do as we see fit if you have more votes that we. That is a problem with ANY centralism: it can, and will be used against revolutionaries themselves.

About the so-called anti-centralism of Rosa Luxemburg: there is the funny story of the other party which she was involved in as well: The Polish-Lithuanian Socialist Workers party (if I remember the name correct). That was run on a VERY centralist basis. No objections there from Luxemburg. No wonder: her kind of ideas were in charge there, presumably nicely enforced by centralist means. But you cannot just have centralism only when it suits you, and oppose it when it does not.

syndicalist
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May 22 2011 16:12

Thank you comrades. Eventually I come back to this conversation. I'd like to read some of RL stuff a bit more in-depth before further commenting.

jacobian
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May 26 2011 11:58

I think it's worth noting that the centralisation problem comes up because the representatives in the Reichstag had been, while sitting their seats, essentially "pure opposition". They did not take part in the voting on budgets and dealing with legislation was considered very taboo. The electoral strategy did in fact in some ways make true the largely chimeric claim by Trotskyists of a party in which represenatives serve only to use parliament as a platform.

It was in this context that the Bavarian members of the Reichstag proceeded to vote on the state budget (and, indeed, hoped to take other even more conciliatory measures beside). The revolutionists demanded a subordination of this group to the majority. The reformists claimed a deeper connection to their constituencies and demanded a greater leeway in representing their regional interests - proposing federalism and states-rights as an antidote to the problems (lack of reformism) which would arise from a unitary democratic principle.

It seems to me, extremely strange to imagine a party in which any party delegated representative should be allowed a vastly disproportionate voice and one not subject to the party (constituencies had as little as 1/3 as many people per representative in rural areas in Germany) due to peculiarities of districting.

Sometimes I wonder what anarchists mean when they say "centralisation". It appears to me that unitary democratic institutions and totalitarian or authoritarian undemocratic, unrepresentative and unaccountable dictatorships are all thrown in the same basket as if they were identical - which leads to a great deal of confusion.

Clearly this confusion is not entirely the fault of anarchists, but a residue of Leninist attempts to actively conflate the two. However, we shouldn't allow their conflations to confuse our own thinking.

As rooieravotr pointed out, it does look inconsistent if you only support the majority while they go your direction. However, I think the problem of inconsistency is necessary one that can not be escaped with a simple principle.

Centralisation of unions can for instance go both ways. Socialists are likely going to support revolt in a reformist union towards greater class struggle, even with support for locals going against the national organisation to which they are supposedly subordinate.

In an actively class conscious time period with a an active and combative union, class collaborationists, or even worse - directly counter-revolutionary groups should be subordinate to the centralised majority - for instance - in the case of strikes or self defense militias. I think if Nazis show up in a local, they should be expelled regardless of the majority opinion in the local, and I think most anarchists would agree.

So then which one is it? Do we support centralisation or decentralisation? Personally, I think the question is rather useless in the abstract and anarchist should stop raising federalism and decentralisation as panacea.

syndicalist
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May 26 2011 23:33

Hummmm...not sure I would agree with how centralization is posed. There's nothing really democratic it. All flows from the center, quite a bit differently from anything libertarian socialism, let alone anarcho-syndicalism.

Now, I get the point about accountability to principle and agreed upon organizational policy.
I guess a question which comes to my mind would be: does the imposition of policy from "the center", resolve issues? Perhaps it imposes an immediate solution, but does not resolve or builds unity.

So, "the question is rather useless in the abstract and anarchist should stop raising federalism and decentralisation as panacea." Well, OK then, what is the proper anarchist view?

jacobian
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May 27 2011 08:42
syndicalist wrote:
Hummmm...not sure I would agree with how centralization is posed. There's nothing really democratic it. All flows from the center, quite a bit differently from anything libertarian socialism, let alone anarcho-syndicalism.

How is there nothing democratic about a unitary democratic organisation? At some scale any organisation will have a unitary democratic body. The question posed by federalism is what scale of locality is the unitary democratic body.

Saying "all flows from the center" is chosing a particular authoritarian model of centralism, not a necessary one. It's fine if you want to use the word "centralism" to mean that, but don't let it confuse you about different historical uses of the term which don't share your definition.

syndicalist wrote:
Now, I get the point about accountability to principle and agreed upon organizational policy.
I guess a question which comes to my mind would be: does the imposition of policy from "the center", resolve issues? Perhaps it imposes an immediate solution, but does not resolve or builds unity.

I would not want to be part of an organisation where people in authoritative positions were speaking on behalf of the organisation without democratic mandate to do so. The "center" should be the entire organisation, or a near enough proxy to it (recallable delegates etc.) - as far as realistic bounds of information flow and time permit.

If you have a speaker in public talks, you'd expect them not to be saying things about the dangers of immigrants or saying that the coming revolution will require members to believe in Buddhism. They must be subordinate to the baseline politics of the organisation when presenting a public face as it is a collective responsibility. Saying that a member should really only be beholden to their local in an anarchist organisation, for instance, would strike me as absurd. This is a centralisation of the politics of an organisation.

syndicalist wrote:
So, "the question is rather useless in the abstract and anarchist should stop raising federalism and decentralisation as panacea." Well, OK then, what is the proper anarchist view?

Unfortunately, reality does not permit us to reduce things to simple equations. Hence the proper view on centralisation is a practical and contextual problem that doesn't reduce to a fixed principle or slogan.

syndicalist
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May 27 2011 12:41

I get the part of demcoracy in a unitary organization. But I would in no way consider that "centralism".

Quote:
Saying "all flows from the center" is chosing a particular authoritarian model of centralism, not a necessary one. It's fine if you want to use the word "centralism" to mean that, but don't let it confuse you about different historical uses of the term which don't share your definition.

Comrade, I am of a generation where there really is only one kind of centralism.

Now, you can argue the historical context of the SDP and the German trade unions of the period in question (1905, etc.). That is fine. I would say that I am less familiar with the SDP and the general social democratic movement of that time. But "centralsm" is a conceot that has a reinforcing hierarchical structure (or structures). I would venture to say, from my point of view, the hierarchical structure(s) and flowing of authority from "the center" would not be something I would be supportive of. As I have read that the German trade unions were much a relection of the organizational format of the SPD (a centralized hierarchy and bureaucracy), it is no wonder why German syndicalists formed their own organizations.

I would agree that simple slogans are never enough. Nor is thinking that "centralism", as known and practiced, has value is also deficient.

Class struggle anarchists need to have ways and means that are efficent, democratic and participatory, no doubt. But "centralisation", even as practiced by anarchists (Spain) leads to significant conflict and problems.

I don't claim to be a very good theorist, so I will not be able to pull all the good quotes out of the hat. Yet all of my understandings of how "the center" works (mainly through my union and left movement experiances), leaves me with a view that is anything less than sympathetic to
any forms of "centralism", even so-call "democratic centralism".