The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Luxemburg's Perspective February 10, 2006 by RedStar2000

Rosa Luxemburg is, of course, one of our "legendary heroines"...not least because of her murder in Berlin by the German Army in 1919 during the Spartakist uprising.

Her actual political views are rarely quoted these days. Sometimes, she will be quoted attacking Lenin's apotheosis of the "vanguard party". And occasionally a Leninist will quote her late articles in support of the new Bolshevik regime.

But what did she actually think about things prior to 1914? And how useful are her ideas in the 21st century?

That's the subject of this collection of posts.

And my conclusions may surprise you.


quote (Rosa Luxemburg):

At present, the trade union struggle and parliamentary practice are considered to be the means of guiding and educating the proletariat in preparation for the task of taking over power....Viewing the situation from the current standpoint of our party, we say that as a result of its trade union and parliamentary struggles, the proletariat becomes convinced of the impossibility of accomplishing a fundamental social change through such activity and arrives at the understanding that the conquest of power is unavoidable.

This work was written in 1900 and revised in 1908.

It summarizes what was commonly thought to be "orthodox Marxist" practice in that period.

I will now ask the question that I constantly recommend that we always ask: is it true?

Is that "how" the proletariat "learns" that revolution is the only real option?

The evidence for Luxemburg's proposition is virtually nonexistent. I know of no case in the western world where the kind of "process" that she speaks of resulted in a revolutionary proletariat...even though nearly all of the "heirs of Lenin" have done precisely what she recommended.

Defenders of her hypothesis have to "fall back" on "other explanations" for its demonstrated failure. Stalinist parties blamed post-World War I social democrats. Trotskyist parties blamed Stalinists.

Neither evidently ever considered the possibility that she might have just been wrong. That her "conception" of "how the proletariat learns" might have simply been mistaken.

I think she was wrong. I don't think the proletariat ever "learns" the need for revolution from trade union struggle or parliamentary practice.

For the most part, I think those methods teach workers nothing but passivity and cynicism.

There have been a few especially militant strikes in the last century that "broke out" of normal trade union channels...and had a measurable if brief "revolutionizing effect". I know of no case where parliamentary politics has ever had any "revolutionizing effect" at all on the working class.

Ok, if those things don't "teach the workers why they should be revolutionary", what would?

Perhaps we could apply a little "common sense" here. If you want to teach something to someone, what are the known effective ways to do that?

1. Understand that you can't teach people who don't want to learn.

2. Tell those who do want to learn what you want them to learn right from the beginning.

3. Teach by example.

4. Offer positive feedback when the student "gets it right" and negative feedback when the student "gets it wrong".

5. Be patient...realize that students must "learn at their own pace".

How would revolutionaries implement such practical suggestions?

1. We'd direct what we had to say to those sections of the proletariat who demonstrate at least an interest in resistance to capitalist despotism.

2. We'd tell them flat-out that revolution is the only option that will make any significant difference in their lives.

3. We'd show by our own example the need to repudiate servility, the need to become contemptuous of "bourgeois right", and the need to reject every hint of the "legitimacy" of the bourgeois order.

4. We would enthusiastically praise any sign of real rebelliousness on the part of the proletariat while harshly condemning any kind of servility to the bourgeoisie.

5. And we'd recognize that proletarian revolution is something that only takes place when the proletariat is ready to do's not something that we can "nag" them into doing.

Rosa Luxemburg was a great revolutionary of her era...her historical reputation will live for many generations.

But we should not let that reputation blind us to her mistake.

Marx made mistakes. So did Engels. And so did Luxemburg.

For that matter, so have I.

And you will too, folks. The main thing is to catch our mistakes, past and present, and correct them.

That's the real road to revolution.
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2006


It is self evidently true that as workers struggle as a class their class consciousnesss will increase.

Yes, that would appear to be indisputable.

But what does the phrase "struggle as a class" mean?

There was a time when trade unions did have a "revolutionary edge" least at some times in some places.

The bourgeoisie learned to integrate trade unions into the norms of bourgeois "right"...mostly by using the already existing mechanism of contract law.

Since then?

Mostly zip.


The Russian Revolution and the setting up of the soviets was the result of a process of radicalisation of the workers which started out as strikes here and there; also the soviets themselves were originally strike organisations: they later developed into revolutionary organs.

Quite so.

But what really happened there? It wasn't the proletarian revolution that Luxemburg envisioned for the developed capitalist countries.

It was a bourgeois revolution...what Marx and Engels predicted back in the late 1870s.

The Russian soviets themselves did not ever seek state power for the proletariat. The Bolsheviks staged a coup in the name of the soviets.

At best, you can argue that the soviets had nominal state power for five or six months...until the Bolsheviks reduced them to purely ceremonial bodies.

This is not what Luxemburg meant when she spoke of the proletariat learning the need to "take over power".

At least I don't think that's what she meant.


More accurately, this process has not resulted in a victorious proletarian revolution anywhere in the "western world". If by that you mean the advanced capitalist countries.

But of course no other process has done so either "in the Western World."

So your whole argument is a fallacy.

Why is it a "fallacy"? Luxemburg's approach dominated the left throughout the 20th century.

Only Spain was a partial exception...where anarcho-syndicalist unions organized around half the proletariat there. But even there, the proletariat did not "learn" to "take over power". They certainly "got close" in Catalonia...but they didn't actually "smash the bourgeois state apparatus".

Luxemburg's proposition that trade union activity teaches the proletariat the need to "take over power" remains unsupported by direct evidence.


Redstar's statement is true only in that they've all been defeated - and yes, I'd argue that it's because of the subjective factor in history, including the misleadership of Social Democratic and Stalinist parties. (The two tended to follow a fairly similar course.)

Then why didn't the Trotskyist parties emerge triumphant...if, as you presume, they followed Luxemburg's advice with more fidelity than their rivals.

Trotskyist parties today are still following Luxemburg's advice (and the Stalinists are mostly gone while the social-democrats are all openly capitalist). Now you have an "open field"...and still nothing that even remotely approaches a revolutionary proletariat.


No other revolution which has actually taken place...was led by ultralefts who refuse to make demands for "reforms" on the capitalist state, who disdain the economic organization of the toilers, or who refused on principle to participate in capitalist elections.

To all intents and purposes, there were no "ultra-leftists" in significant numbers during the last century. The prestige of Lenin and the Russian "Revolution" was so enormous that there was simply no "political space" for an "ultra-left" to emerge.

Even the most radical current in the "west" of the last century -- Maoism -- still did no more than try to follow Luxemburg's advice..."with a more radical line".

It's my contention that a Marxist "ultra-left" will emerge in this century.

It will not "lead" a revolution in the Leninist sense...but its ideas will be appropriated by a revolutionary proletariat because they make sense.


If communists don't take advantage of parliamentary politics, bourgeois parties certainly will.

They would's their turf.

Six years after Luxemburg revised her article, the real result of the parliamentary perspective showed itself across Europe when all those "orthodox Marxists" united with their own bourgeoisie to enthusiastically vote for imperialist war.

That's what most "revolutionaries" do when they "get comfortable" in parliament.

Finally, I don't see the point in disputing the details of the Chinese Revolution in this thread.

Luxemburg was speaking to revolutionaries in the advanced capitalist countries...not in the "third world".

It could be argued, of course, that the emerging trade unions in the "third world" are potentially revolutionary in a sense that's no longer the case in the "first world". But keep in mind the fact that such a revolution will always be bourgeois...because it's 1789 in those places.

Meanwhile, what of Luxemburg's advice for revolutionaries in the "first world"? Did she turn out to be right or wrong?

Do you want to keep trying to do what she proposed or are you willing to look for alternatives?

We ought to know now that reformism is not a "road to revolution"'s an obstacle.

One that needs to be demolished.
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2006


Luxemburg, after all, was not a Leninist, and the political approach she advocates here is no innovation, but a defense of Marxism's fundamental political approach against Bernstein's attempt to revise it.

A point I made in my first post to this thread.

Bernstein's great "crime" was to argue that social democratic rhetoric should match its practice.

Had he demanded that its practice should match its rhetoric, people would have been even more pissed off at him!

They would have called him an "ultra-leftist". *laughs*


Well, I didn't get the in-depth discussion of Luxemburg's pamphlet I woulda liked...

I responded in detail...and you preferred to just call me a "do-nothing windbag" instead of offering a substantive response.

Probably because "fidelity to orthodoxy" is really all you have to offer.

By your standards, most of the "big names" in the history of the revolutionary movement were "do-nothing windbags" at least for a substantial portion of their lives. What strikes did Marx or Engels lead over the last decade of their lives? Oh yeah, and when did they ever run for office in a bourgeois election?

And there's Lenin, scribbling away in Switzerland, trying desperately to encourage the tiny number of European "ultra-left" social democrats who actually opposed their own ruling class in World War I.

And Trotsky in Mexico, writing whole books in the hope that people would learn something, dammit.

What a bunch of "do-nothing windbags!" *laughs*

As far as my own life is concerned, I actively participated in what I believed to be revolutionary struggle when I had the chance in the 60s and 70s.

After that, I had no choice but to either study and think about what a revolutionary movement might be like...or jump into the reformist muck like most of my contemporaries did.

I think I made the right choice.
First posted at RevLeft on January 27, 2006


Lenin was not Redstar, and was not in the habit of thinking something was good enough for the wogs but bad for the advanced and enlightened Westerners.

Funny, I thought we were talking about Rosa Luxemburg here...whose advice was directed towards the European social democratic parties.

Did anyone in European social democracy ever consider the possibility of "socialism" in backward countries?

Not to my knowledge.


I'm not going to play the out-of-context quote game - it always reminds me of Biblical exegesis - but if you read his pamphlet on Ultra-Left Communism there's a whole argument for participating in parliamentary elections and even for voting for the British Labour Party....under certain conditions.

By all means quote Lenin as much as you like...

Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions?

Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?

What will undoubtedly strike the modern reader -- aside from the rather old-fashioned prose -- is Lenin's vantage-point of a party striving for power.

In this context, the things he says make a kind of sense.

If your concept of proletarian revolution is one in which a party takes power, that party must obviously be ready and willing to do anything to achieve as much popular support as it can.

The temptation to "sound moderate" is always present...regardless of the ritual denunciations of "centrism" (a polite word for reformism).

It's a version of "stealth politics".

We'll say "nice moderate things" until we get into power and then we can do the revolutionary things that we really want to do.

That could least in principle. But even a Trotskyist can't help but notice the consequences.


I might comment, though, that I don't think it's OK to publicly project a line you don't really believe. It disorients and misleads the millions listening...and the line you put out publicly often tends to become your "real line".

Precisely. The 20th century Leninist parties that followed Lenin's advice did become reformist as a consequence...yeah, even the Trotskyist parties.

Try locating even the phrase "working class revolution" applied to North America in the pages of Leninist tabloids.

With extremely rare exceptions, modern Leninist parties don't even talk about that stuff anymore...and haven't for decades!

For them, it's "off the table".

Because it's "ultra-leftist". *laughs*

Another thing to keep in mind is that the "ultra-leftists" of the 1920s don't really have all that much in common with modern "ultra-leftists". That is, they also thought in terms of a highly-disciplined "cadre party" that would, in some sense, "lead" the proletariat to power. You could almost call them "democratic Leninists"...they wanted the soviets to actually function as working class organs of power and not the ceremonial bodies that they became under Lenin.

As a modern "ultra-leftist", I don't think communists should "be" a "party" in the bourgeois sense at all! We don't exist for the purpose of "organizing the proletariat to make a revolution"...they'll do that themselves. Nor are we training ourselves to "run the show" after the revolution. We think that idea is totally impractical!

Our purpose is to develop communist ideas and spread them among the working classes as widely and broadly and deeply as we can.

That's the most that can be reasonably asked of any relatively small minority of the human species.

Lenin aspired to be "the best philosopher-king ever" have all his descendants.

The "ultra-left" hypothesis is that we have finally reached the point at which philosopher-kings are no longer necessary.

And the strategies for "gaining the throne" consequently irrelevant.
First posted at RevLeft on January 27, 2006

Pannekoek as a "left Luxemburgist"?

I suppose so. The main thing is that he also envisioned post-capitalist society as a series of reforms...even though he thinks of them as "deep reforms".

For European social democracy, it was as if the Paris Commune had never happened.

Political amnesia was and is all too common on the "left".

Perhaps that's something we'll overcome in "the age of the internet".
First posted at RevLeft on January 28, 2006


It's not true to simply say that bourgeois politics does not make a difference and that 'capital makes the decisions'.

Yes, it is true.

Bourgeois "politics" is a the halftime superbowl show. It has no effect whatsoever on the real game.


Therefore, when socialists enter parliament they have an opportunity to challenge this bourgeois hegemony.

Which is exactly what they never do!

They carefully observe "parliamentary decorum" and are as "well-behaved" as any smarmy petty bourgeois social climber.

Which is what they are.
First posted at RevLeft on January 29, 2006

I wrote...

quote (redstar2000):

What will undoubtedly strike the modern reader -- aside from the rather old-fashioned prose -- is Lenin's vantage-point of a party striving for power.

And the response?


Why yes. Which is ordinarily considered revolutionary, but you consider reformist.

That's right. I don't consider it "revolutionary" in any proletarian sense.

It is reformist.

quote (The Militant):

A former packinghouse worker in the audience asked, "My 18-year old daughter wanted me to ask you, what can you offer people if you're elected?"

Harris responded, "The question isn't what I do, it's what you do that counts. As long as workers see elections as a way of fundamentally changing things, we're tricked. If elections really were a way of changing things, they would take them away from us. Great individuals don't make history, but masses of people do."

In other words, Harris just told people that his campaign was completely meaningless; and that he had been "tricked" into running for office.

Maybe so...but then why do it? If you want to say what he said, why not just do that?

The only reasonable hypothesis is that the SWP (U.S.) really thinks that bourgeois "elections" actually "mean something".

They've "tricked" themselves. *laughs*


If revolutionaries actually get elected - which shouldn't be the primary goal, but sometimes happens - they can say the same thing from office. Use their offices and the publicity they can get with 'em to build mass actions.


As if that could ever happen.


In contrast, Redstar does advocate "stealth politics"...

Demonstrate Against Fake "Elections"!


Nobody would have any way of knowing this leaflet was written by somebody who claims to be a communist. If that's not "stealth politics", what is?

Well, it ain't some knucklehead running for office, is it? *laughs*

I'll leave it to the reader to decide if my proposal is "stealth politics".


He can't believe that others could use election campaigns, parliamentary seats, or even participation in mass struggles as a platform to advocate revolution is inconceivable to him...

No, it's not "inconceivable" just doesn't work.

It was attempted many times in the last century...with abysmal failure as the consequence.


While I pointed out that it's experience that's the great teacher, not any organization.

I don't dispute this obvious truism...but the dispute is over what kinds of experience are genuinely useful in teaching valuable lessons.

I argue that the "experiences" of bourgeois electoral politics and ritual trade unionism teach passivity, followership and cynicism about the chances for real change.

And that rebellious self-initiative teaches the need for revolution.

My "stealth proposal" above was precisely intended to begin the latter course.


It emerges from previous struggle. It's because of their previous struggle that Russian workers made the February Revolution and immediately set up Soviets.

In an era when organizing a trade union was in and of itself a revolutionary act.

In "new" capitalist countries, that can sometimes happen. Look at the "great strike" in the U.S. in 1877.

We do not live in 1917 anymore.

The real struggles that the working class engages in during this century are not going to be "like" what happened back then.

Except in the sense that they will be completely outside the bourgeois norms of "conflict resolution".

Nor will they likely have anything to do with "reforms" in the traditional sense of that word.
First posted at RevLeft on January 29, 2006

quote (Luxemburg):

Bernstein denies the existence of the economic conditions for socialism in the society of today.

He was obviously right about that.

Even now, some 90 years later, we're still "short"...though not, perhaps, by all that much.

quote (Luxemburg):

Bernstein introduces his theory by warning the proletariat against the danger of acquiring power too early.

If he indeed does that, then it's a dumb "introduction". If the objective conditions don't exist, then it's obviously something that can't happen.

quote (Luxemburg):

His theory condemns the proletariat at the most decisive moments of the struggle, to inactivity, to a passive betrayal of its own cause.

Maybe it does...though when she was writing those lines (1900 or 1908), there was no "decisive moment" in sight in Germany or anywhere else that I know of.

quote (Luxemburg):

Our programme would be a miserable scrap of paper if it could not serve us in all eventualities...

Historically, that's usually what "programmes" have turned out to be...miserable scraps of paper.

quote (Luxemburg):

It presupposes (with the exception of such cases as the Paris Commune, when the proletariat did not obtain power after a conscious struggle for its goal but [it] fell into its hands like a good thing abandoned by everybody else) a definite degree of maturity of economic and political relations.

Interesting that she remembered the Paris Commune but ignored its significance.

Yes, when the old order reaches "the end of the line", power does seem to just "fall into the hands" of the proletariat.

That slow, methodical, almost "Germanic" method of building a parliamentary majority and enacting reforms "step by step" is the exact opposite of proletarian revolution...and will not lead to one, either!

Of course, she thought it would...everybody thought that then except Lenin. And Lenin made an exception only for Russia. Otherwise he was fine with European social democracy.

quote (Luxemburg):

In the first place, it is impossible to imagine that a transformation as formidable as the passage from capitalist society to socialist society can be realised in one happy act.

This could be read in a number of different ways...but from the context, it's clear that she's defending that "step by step" social democratic strategy.

Proletarian revolution -- "one happy act" -- was "impossible" for her to "imagine" in 1908.

I find it quite easy to imagine myself in 2006.

I will let pass the attempt to link me to Bernstein generally and to cynically infer that she "would have been" opposed to my position now.

When a revolutionary situation appeared to arise in Berlin after the armistice, she did not speak of parliaments or reforms...unlike most of the people she was working with in 1908.

She thought (mistakenly) that "the happy act" was about to happen.

As I thought back in the 60s...even more mistakenly.

The SWP was sucking up to bourgeois liberals at the time.

I don't think there's much doubt with whom she would have sided; nor, for that matter, where Herr Bernstein would have found himself a comfortable niche.
First posted at RevLeft on January 29, 2006


If the objective conditions were insufficient, then how can you blame any strategy for failing to produce total victory?

I don't, actually.

What I criticize the social-democratic strategy for is that it fails to even advance things a little bit.

The claim advanced by Luxemburg in 1908 and you in 2006 is that electoral politics and ritual trade unionism will "teach" workers to "become revolutionary".

But that hasn't happened at all.

Luxemburg had an excuse; you don't!


In context, it's clear she's saying that a number of revolutionary waves will be required.

Do you think that makes sense? First the working class will come to power and "make reforms" and then it will "give up power" and then it will come to power again and "make more reforms" and then it will "give up power" again???

I can't imagine that she thought of this stuff in terms of the "revolving doors" of bourgeois "changes of government".

Perhaps Bob Avakian used his time machine and sent her a copy of his own speculations on the "wave-like" process of revolution. *laughs*


It's as if she's answering in advance all your self-contradictory, defeatist crap about how the eventual degeneration and defeat of the Russian Revolution proves the political course of the communist movement was wrong.

Well, if it wasn't "wrong" then what was it?

The "ill will" of the "gods"? *laughs*


You can, of course, "imagine" one fell swoop of revolution or anything you like; but those who've studied history know it is a drawn-out, messy, enormously complex process.

That's a "big tent"...with room for everybody from Bernstein to Kautsky to Lenin and all points in between.

The reason we're doing electoral politics is that history is a drawn-out, messy, enormously complex process.

Ok, try that one and see if you can find people to fall for it.
First posted at RevLeft on January 29, 2006


Does the failure of the Russian Revolution - and the revolutionary movement generally - to produce communism prove there was a fundamental flaw in the political strategy?...Or not?

The failure of the Russian Revolution to produce communism was due to objective material conditions.

It would not have mattered what anyone had "done"...the outcome would have inevitably been modern capitalism.

Both the Stalinist and the Trotskyist "internationals" imitated social democracy...both strategically and tactically.

That is, they both considered trade union work and parliamentary politics as "the ways to go".

Thus they have pretty much all ended up in the same reformist swamp as pre-World War I social democracy.

Was that also "inevitable"?

The possibility exists that it was. Revolutionary innovation is difficult...and copying is easy.

What was social democracy, after all, but the formation of a political party along the same structural lines that various bourgeois elements invented such parties.

For that matter, the earliest trade unions often imitated (or thought they were imitating) medieval guilds or "secret societies" like Freemasonry.

The dead oppress the living; the historical inertia of tradition is hard to break away from.

SDS back in the 60s tried to "break away" from traditional hierarchal politics...and failed.

Even the western Maoists, in their limited fashion, tried to "break away"...and either failed or careened into outright lunacy.

I honestly don't know if all those things "had" to happen the way they did; the "fine details" of history are indeed subject to contingency.

But since we still retain at least the illusion of "free will", that means that at any given point we are at least nominally free to choose.

We could do what the 20th century left did...with whatever incremental improvements we could think of.

Or we can make a conscious and sustained effort to devise entirely new organizational forms with entirely new strategies and perhaps some new tactics as well.

I think I've made it pretty clear what I think should be done...but, of course, others might think up much better stuff than I ever did or will.

Indeed, it's inevitable that future generations will come up with better ideas than we possibly can...because they'll know more than we do.

We know more than the 20th century left did...and it will be a pretty sad outcome if we can't do better than they did.

Or at least try!
First posted at RevLeft on January 31, 2006


For starters, are you going to claim the Russian Revolution didn't advance the class struggle or the revolutionary consciousness of the working class "at all"?

Is it "revolutionary consciousness" to simply "side with a (perceived) winner"?

I've seen Comintern material written in the 20s and 30s...and what's the appeal?

For that matter, how does it differ from Maoist material written in the 70s?

People were supposed to emotionally identify with the USSR or China; to accept the inference that those countries, their parties, and their leaders had "the winning ticket" in history's grand "lottery".

What was "really important" to a Stalinist in the United States back then?

"Defending the USSR", that's what.

And American Trotskyists, though critical of Stalin and Stalinists, basically preached the same sermon.

Would the "great wave" of American reformism and trade union organizing taken place even if there had never been a Russian "Revolution"?

I don't see why not.

So where was the "advance"?

Other than a great deal of words along the lines of I have seen the future and it works.

Or better jump on this bandwagon while you have the chance!

That's not what revolutionary consciousness is.


Then you argue on the assumption that Luxemburg's strategy is the same as Bernstein's - that reformist and revolutionary trade union work, parliamentary politics, really all political work are the same.

In 1908 it was the same. Bernstein's "crime" was that he wanted to drop all the rhetoric about revolution, socialism, communism, etc. He wanted social democratic rhetoric to match its practice.

His adversaries were having none of it...then. They liked to flatter themselves as "serious revolutionary Marxists" least on May Day and in election campaign speeches.

But as nearly all of them showed in 1914, Bernstein had their number...he knew what their real sympathies were! They were the same as his!

Only Luxemburg, Liebknecht, and a very small number of other social democrats throughout Europe moved sharply to the left...that is changed their practice to match their rhetoric rather than the other way around.

And that change was, alas, temporary...though the KPD did retain a heady "ultra-left" flavor into the 30s.

That is, the KPD did the same things that social democrats had done and were doing...but also flirted with more intransigent forms of direct resistance to capitalism.

But since then, where are the "differences"?

All we hear from all the Leninist parties these days is "run for office" and "do trade union stuff"...what the social democrats were doing back in 1908!

That these things will "teach workers to be revolutionary"...which they have never done.

If objective material conditions were such as to make success "impossible", we should still see some positive effects of those perspectives.

We should still see some revolutionary workers offering some kind of significant resistance to capitalism.

Not only do we see nothing of the sort, but all of the Leninist parties in the "west" have dwindled into sects. Even reformism can't attract any kind of significant support for them any longer.

All you ever really tell us here is "stay the course" and someday these strategies will "pan out".

Lenin "said so" and he "wouldn't lie to us".

Overlooking entirely the possibility that he could have been wrong!

My hypothesis is that what has always been considered "traditional political work" -- that is, work within the permitted boundaries of bourgeois "right" -- cannot be revolutionary!

In fact, it must be reformist...regardless of either your "good intentions" or your rhetoric.

It may be (and will be!) objected that such an "ultra-left" perspective will "fall on deaf ears" or "turn people off" to communism.

That's true...or at least mostly true. We live in a period of reaction where capitalism still "works"...and people are indeed disinclined to "fix what ain't broke".

The social democratic tradition -- including its Leninist variants -- would have us "tailor" our message to "fit the situation". Let us begin by reviving reformism and then we can do more later on.

No. Even if that could be done, it wouldn't advance the prospects for revolution a single nanometer. And as I have noted many times previously, I don't think there's any reasonable chance that it even can be done.

Instead, we must begin to prepare our class for revolutionary struggle.

We are at "day one"...and the first task is just to get people to even think about the idea!

If we can get significant numbers of people to do that over the next decade or two...then we'll be doing pretty good.


And you have to examine the results of those cases where a revolutionary strategy was applied - and not those cases where the social-democratic party or official CP applied Bernstein's method!

Special pleading: you want to carve out a "niche" for Trotskyism as an "exception" to social democracy and its Comintern variation.

The various Trotskyists on this board -- whatever their vigorous disagreements with one another -- do agree on parliamentary politics and trade union work as "platforms" that are supposed to be used to "radicalize" workers.

That's social democracy!

Are there any historical examples of even limited success?

You might, I suppose, cite the Minneapolis Teamsters' strike back in the 1930s. A Stalinist would counter with the San Francisco dockworkers' strike...from the same period.

But did either of those struggles really lead to the promised development of revolutionary consciousness?

As a matter of fact, there was a transit workers' strike in New Orleans in the late 1920s that actually did sort of "edge" towards a revolutionary perspective. At one point early on, a "mob" of some 800 workers tried to break in and seize City Hall! To my knowledge, no Leninists were present at least the local bourgeois media of that period did not say or even hint that the strike was "communist inspired".

So there you are. You want us to do the same stuff that the western "left" did throughout the last century, promising that "this time" it will "really work".

I see no reason to accept that offer.
First posted at RevLeft on January 31, 2006


You'll need this: Open Letter to Comrade Lenin by Herman Gorter (response to "Infantile Disorder").

quote (Gorter):

In Western Europe we still have, in many countries, leaders of the type of the Second International; here we are still seeking the right leaders, those that do not try to dominate the masses, that do not betray them; and as long as we do not find these leaders, we want to do all things from below, and through the dictatorship of the masses themselves. If I have a mountain-guide, and he should lead me into the abyss, I prefer to do without him. As soon as we have found the right guides, we will stop this searching. Then mass and leader will be really one. This, and nothing else, is what the German and English Left Wing, what we ourselves, mean by these words....

And the same holds good for iron discipline, and strong centralisation. We want them all right, but not until we have the right leaders.

Isn't this sad?

It's as if he was saying that the only reason we're not Leninists yet is that we haven't yet found our "Lenin".

"Mass and leader as one"???

Well, we know where the Germans went with that one, don't we?

I don't think it's at all "surprising" that the "ultra-left" of the 1920s didn't make much of an impact on the political scene didn't offer any real alternative to the rise of the Leninist parties.


It is you, redstar2000 who suffers the political amnesia. Electoral and Union work were the twin tactics of your bandwagon...the syndicalists in republican Spain.

It does help if people will read the thread before they comment...

quote (redstar2000 on January 26 2006):

Luxemburg's approach dominated the left throughout the 20th century.

Only Spain was a partial exception...where anarcho-syndicalist unions organized around half the proletariat there. But even there, the proletariat did not "learn" to "take over power". They certainly "got close" in Catalonia...but they didn't actually "smash the bourgeois state apparatus".

Luxemburg's proposition that trade union activity teaches the proletariat the need to "take over power" remains unsupported by direct evidence.

I think it could be shown that the anarcho-syndicalists in Spain were most effective precisely when they broke away from the established norms of republican Spain and acted directly in the class interests of the proletariat.

When they got sucked into the "popular front", everything just went to shit. Not "all at once" and "not everywhere"...but the demoralization must have reached enormous proportions by 1938 or so.

In a sense, Franco's military victory was a ratification of something that had already happened...the death of a proletarian revolution.

Those who make the revolution half-way have signed the orders for their own execution.
First posted at RevLeft on January 31, 2006
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