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Rosa Luxemburg Essay, Research Paper   47

Rosa Luxemburg

Before one can even attempt to discuss the Marxists of the World, one must examine and define the meaning of the term itself. What is the definition of Marxism? How did it come about? How did it change through the years?

Marxism is the system established by Marx and Engles. The foundation of Marxism is based on Dialectical Materialism-a way of understanding reality; whether thoughts emotions, or the material world. Through this Marx and Engles examined history, which led them to explain class struggle and the basis of social relations throughout economics

Marxs Communist Manifesto was the first systematic statement of modern socialist doctrine. Marx contributed the central propositions of the Manifesto, which embody the materialist conception of history. This theory was later formulated in Marxs Critique of Political Economy (1859). Marx drew the conclusion that the capitalist class would inherently collapse. The only class he believed which can assimilate the critique of political economy with out damage to itself is the proletariat.

After Marx, there were many people who tried to re-model and interpret his philosophy; one of those people was Rosa Luxemburg. Born on March 5th, 1871 in Zamoshc of Congress Poland, Rosa Luxemburg was born into a Jewish family, the youngest of five children. She was not good looking, she had a limp, a deformed shoulder, but she possessed a powerful intellect, and a strong, clear voice. In 1889, at 18 years old, Luxemburgs revolutionary agitation forced her to move to Z?rich, Switzerland, to escape imprisonment. While in Z?rich, Luxemburg continued her revolutionary activities from abroad, while studying political economy and law; receiving her doctorate in 1898.

Like everyone else, Rosa Luxemburg can only be understood in the context of the phase of the social-democratic movement of which she was a part. Whereas Marxs critique of bourgeois society evolved in a period of rapid capitalistic development, Rosa Luxemburg was active in a time of increasing instability for capitalism, wherein the formulated contradictions of capital production showed themselves in the concrete forms of imperialistic competition and in intensified class struggles. While the actual proletarian critique of political economy, according to Marx, consisted at first in the workers fight for better working conditions and higher living standards, which would prepare the future struggles for the abolition of capitalism, in Rosa Luxemburgs view this final struggle could no longer be relegated to a distant future but was already present in the extending class struggles. The daily fight for social reforms was inseparably connected with the historical necessity of the proletarian revolution.

According to Marx, capitalisms basic contradiction, from which spring all its other difficulties, is to be found in the value and surplus value relations of capital production. It is the production of exchange-value in its monetary form, derived from the use-value form of labor-power, which produces, besides its own exchange-value equivalent, a surplus-value for the capitalists. The drive for exchange-value turns into the accumulation of capital, which manifests itself in a growth of capital invented in means of production relatively faster than that invested in labor-power. While this process expands the capitalist system, through the increasing productivity of labor associated with it, it also tends to reduce the rate of profit on capital, as that part of capital invested in labor-powerwhich is the only source of surplus-valuediminishes relative to the total social capital. This long and complicated process cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in this short article, but must at least be mentioned in order to differentiate Marxs theory of accumulation from that Rosa Luxemburg.

In Marxs abstract model of capital development, capitalist crises, as well as the inevitable end of the system, find their source in the temporary or, finally, total breakdown in the accumulation process due to a lack of surplus-value or profit.

For Marx, then, the limits of capitalism are given by the social production relations as value relations, while for Rosa Luxemburg capitalism cannot exist at all, except through the absorption of its surplus-value by pro-capitalist economies. Rosa Luxemburgs theory was quite generally regarded as an aberration and an unjustified criticism of Marx. Yet her critics were just as far removed from Marxs position as was Rosa Luxemburg herself. Most of theme critics adhered either to a crude under consumption theory, a theory of disproportionality, or a combination of them. Lenin, for example, saw the cause for crises in the disproportionalities due to the anarchic character of capitalist production, and merely added to Tagan-Baranowskys arguments that of the under consumption of the workers.

She met with many Russian Social Democrats (at a time before the R.S.D.L.P. split); among them the leading members of the party: Gregory Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod. It was not long before Luxemburg voiced sharp theoretical differences with the Russian party, primarily over the issue of Polish self-determination. Luxemburg believed that self-determination weakened the international Socialist movement, and helped only the bourgeoisie to strengthen their rule over newly independent nations. Luxemburg split with both the Russian and Polish Socialist Party over this issue, who believed in the rights of Russian national minorities to self-determination. In opposition, Luxemburg helped create the Polish Social Democratic Party.

During this time Luxemburg met her life-long companion Leo Jogiches, who was head of the Polish Socialist Party. While Luxemburg was the speaker and theoretician of the party, Jogiches complimented her as the organizer of the party. The two developed an intense personal and political relationship throughout the rest of their lives.

Luxemburg left Z?rich for Berlin in 1898, and joined the German Social Democratic Labour Party. Quickly after joining the party, Luxemburgs most vibrant revolutionary agitation and writings began to form. Expressing the central issues of debate in the German Social Democracy at the time, she wrote Reform or Revolution in 1900; against Eduard Bernsteins revisionism of Marxist theory. Luxemburg explained:

His theory tends to counsel us to renounce the social transformation, the final goal of Social-Democracy and, inversely, to make of social reforms, the means of the class struggle, its aim. Bernstein himself has very clearly and characteristically formulated this viewpoint when he wrote: The Final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything.

While Luxemburg supported reformist activity (as the of class struggle), the aim of these reforms was a complete revolution. She stressed that endless reforms would continually support the ruling bourgeois; long past the time a proletarian revolution could have begun to build a Socialist society. Luxemburg, along with Karl Kautsky, helped to prevent this revisionism of Marxist theory in the German Socialist party.

By the 1905 Revolution in Russia, Luxemburg refocused her attention to the Socialist movement in the Russian Empire, explaining the great movement the Russian proletariat had begun:

For on this day the Russian proletariat burst on the political stage as a class for the first time; for the first time the only power which historically is qualified and able to cast Tsarism into the dustbin and to raise the banner of civilization Russia and everywhere has appeared on the scene of action.

Although Rosa Luxemburg held that in one fashion or another the whole mass of people must take part in the construction of socialism, she did not recognize the soviets as typifying the organizational form which would make this possible. Impressed as she was in 1905 by the great mass-strikes taking place in Russia, she paid little attention to their soviet form of organization.

In her eyes, the soviets were merely strike committees in the absence of other more permanent labor organizations. Even after the 1917 Revolution she felt that the practical realization of socialism and an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future.

Only the general direction in which to move was known, not the detailed concrete steps that had to be taken to consolidate and develop the new society.

Socialism could not be derived from ready-made plans and realized by governmental decree. There must be the widest participation on the part of the workers, that is, a real democracy, and it was precisely this democracy, which alone could be designated as the dictatorship of the proletariat. A party-dictatorship was for her no more than a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins.

In 1906, Luxemburg began to strongly advocate her theory of The Mass Strike as the most important revolutionary weapon of the proletariat. This continual drive became a major point of contention in the German Social Democratic party, primarily opposed by August Bebel and Karl Kautsky. For such passionate and relentless agitation, Luxemburg earned the nickname Bloody Rosa.

Before the First World War, Luxemburg wrote in 1913; a work explaining the capitalist movement towards imperialism. With the beginning of World War I, Luxemburg stood ardently against the German Social-Democratic Parties social-chauvinistic stand; supporting German aggression and annexations of other nations. Allied with Karl Liebknecht, Luxemburg left the Social Democractic party. She helped form the Internationale Group, which soon became the Spartacus League, in opposition of Socialist national chauvinism, and stating instead German soldiers turn their weapons against their own government and overthrow it.

For this revolutionary agitation, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested and imprisoned. While in prison, Luxemburg wrote the Junius Pamphlet, which became the theoretical foundation of the Spartacus League. Also while in prison, Luxemburg wrote on the Russian Revolution, most famously in her book: The Russian Revolution, where she warns of the dictatorial powers of the Bolshevik party. Here Luxemburg explains her views on the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat:

Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the not in its but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people.

While Luxemburg attacked the Soviet government being dominated by the strong hand of the Bolshevik party, she recognized the Civil War that was raging through Russia and the present need for such a government:

It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy. By their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international socialism, they have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions. The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.

Luxemburg later opposed the newly formed Soviet governments efforts to come to Peace on all fronts, by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany. (Further reading: The Russian Tragedy)

In November 1918, the German government reluctantly released Luxemburg from prison, whereupon she immediately began again revolutionary agitation. A month later, Luxemburg and Liebknecht founded the German Communist Party, while armed conflicts were raging in the streets of Berlin in support of the Spartacus League. The task of the party, as she saw it, was to educate, guide, and inspire the masses in anticipation of the historic crisis, not to soften the revolutionary impulse through reform.

On January 15, 1919, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Wilhelm Pieck; the leaders of the German Communist Party, were arrested and taken in for questioning at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. While what happened is not known, one account is that they were told they were to be relocated.

German soldiers escorted Luxemburg and Liebknecht out of the building, knocking them unconscious as they left. Pieck managed to escape, while the unconscious bodies of Luxemburg and Liebknecht were quietly driven away in a German military jeep. They were shot, and thrown into a river.

With the finest leaders of the German Communist movement murdered, the gates of rising German fascism opened unhindered. Rosas revolutionary impulse yielded the essential elements required for a socialist revolution: an unwavering internationalism and the principle of the self-determination of the working class within its organizations and within society. By taking seriously the emancipation of the proletariat, she bridged the revolutionary past with the revolutionary future. Her ideas thus remain as alive as the idea of revolution itself, while all her adversaries in the old labor movement have become part of the decaying capitalist society.

Acton, Edward. Russia. Logman Press; New York, 1973.

Barbabra W. Tuchman. The Proud Tower. Batman Books; New York, 1966.

Bottomore,Tom. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1983.

Luxemburg. The Russian Revolution. University of Michigan Press; Michigan, 1961.

Luxemburg. Social Reform and Revolution. Pathfinder Press; New York, 1973.

Marx, Karl. Das Kapital. Gateway Edition; Washington, DC., 1987.

Schapiro. Civilization in Europe. The Riberside Pres; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974.


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