‘These new movements do not need an intellectual vanguard to provide them with an ideology because they already have one: the rejection of intellectual vanguards and embrace of multiplicity and horizontal democracy itself‘ infoshack, radioshackorsomesuch.com
Rosa now more than ever
Or why Rosa is someone who should be read at this point in time.
To be a student of Rosa Luxemburg today is assisted hugely by the (hopefully ongoing) publication in English of her Complete Works, starting with the two volumes out so far on her anthropology studies and course on economics. This alone is enough to extend fourfold what most leftists might know of her, which is usually only a half-digested something or other about ‘spontaneity’ and a disagreement with Lenin.
Now, over and over, more than ever, I see people worrying both about spontaneity and vanguards. They say it’s all terrible or it’s all fine (actually this borrows an early move from Mao, but still…). The communists hate the anarchists and the anarchists hate the communists, basically, for being too much like each other in all the ways that are wrong.
My friend David Graeber for example says of the squares, Occupy, yellow vests and all future horizontal protests, that:
Hence the need for Rosa. Against the idea that all we need is already delivered by those who say we don’t need the Party (albeit we don’t need some old fart Party, against the party I would lead, which would be available only to people who could name the stations of the Kronstadt). Anarcho adventures into the void will not do.
At the same time, communist comrades are incensed that the anti-Leninist and verbose anarchists are undermining their theoretical primacy. Ha ha. Well overdue. As if their political, and philosophical, purity had been baptised and sanctified in previous militant vanguardist struggles such as … wait, I’m, where? When? Theoretical struggles perhaps. Bloody minded entryism, penetration and destruction. Fuck them too.
So, Rosa for the Party and in symbiosis of a new moving type, moving with the masses – becoming masses, finding their unities, alongside and with Rosa, forming the Party that can keep forming across time. Since time is all the meantimes and meanwhiles where everyone but the caviariste class knows it’s long past the time when the shitty conditions in which most find themselves are such that with this up we cannot put.
Hence, Rosa now more than ever.
A few brief words though. In common reception of Rosa, in particular with the spontaneity question, there really is a dangerous and defeating mistake made if Rosa‘s commitment to the masses is ever taken to mean no active organisation by the Party within the class forces. There were certainly, also shown in the Letters (same publisher, should be cheaper though), so many ways in which Luxemburg was committed to tendencies and factions within the Party, within the International and within the general Left movement. Her relationship with Kautsky grows fractious over time, her squabble with Lenin is really resolved by the time of the Bolshevik uprising, and between times Lenin had been visiting Rosa and stoking her cat – and being scratched by said kitten, because not all cats fell for Lenin right away. Though in due course…
Luxemburg was well aware of the need for the class to be organised and able to move with the workers whenever the possibility presented itself, and without the ability to organise the Party to swiftly move into place alongside the ‘spontaneous’ uprising, there would be nothing afterwards. Listening to the sounds of adventurism crashing on the rocks – we need adventures and rock-moving teams (not rock spiders lying in wait with their entryism of doom). Rosa now more than ever. Albeit what organisation there was would be in large part itself only possible because of the tireless devotion of Luxemburg (or Cam) urging on the uprising at meeting after meeting. And indeed, what claim could she have for even being discussed by anyone other than adventurers at the barricades since we all know that her insurrection was crushed, she and her former lover murdered, by a repressive militarist counter-revolution. No, it would be dangerous not to realise that reaction is always already coming and that we also need to organise defense in offense. To say listen, stand aside, wait, all these give space for the reaction – fill the gap with forward and better, bigger and more power to the movements.
Reading Luxemburg can show us why now more than ever. She does not come across in her writings, or even in her actions as revealed in her biography, or the letters, as someone with a blind faith in going out to the streets. She goes out in the streets. Also, she reads, she teaches, she deploys vast troves of footnotes and argument in an ongoing polemic that always sought to teach, but was always making space for contemplation, education and polemical life that was more than simple or naive spontaneity.
Her effort was to make links with those on the streets, and she did this as a life-long commitment, and through long patient but urgent work, through talks, classes, writing and editorial meetings, with those inside workplaces and working class areas of the city so as to build the organisation around issues such as hours worked, wages, prices, subsistence, work organisation and justice for women, justice for murdered workers, justice for all. And forever pushing for a better argument and better outcome, aspiring to get the idea accepted that the communist dream was something that could be. Could be by force of her will perhaps, but as an illustration, and a model to be replicated, the path to a revolution that can be sustained is made clear.
Her polemic with co-revolutionaries always strove towards improving her own as well as their capabilities, through argument to express her own will to clarify and build a revolutionary capacity. And to be able to present her ideas before the masses and at any time strive for the uprising that after-all was – and today has been for a long time again – well overdue. Listening all the time, she is never silent, since participation in the revolution comes from saying, loudly, what is happening, what you can see.
And read, with care. Rosa does not say no to the Party, does not say no to Party organiser going out to talk to the masses, urge them with ‘fire in their bellies, and their minds’, but she does say no to a Party that is above the dictatorship of the class, no to the dictatorship of a Party or of a clique –yes to ‘dictatorship of the class’ which means dictatorship of the proletariat ‘in the broadest possible form on the basis of the most active, unlimited participation of the mass of the people, of unlimited democracy’ (On the Russian Revolution).
Without the Party, Luxemburg is nothing, the revolution is nothing, and the masses have no voice. The Party is the organisational form that best coordinates the preparedness required to build alongside the spontaneous uprising of the masses when its best chances arrive. On many occasions the potential of such an uprising might seem more or less apparent, but without robust organisational preparation in place, the political movement will always lack consequence, be subject to fluctuations of spontaneity in the random sense – as opposed to the general sudden realisation that now is the time we have been preparing for, and when the Party serves the masses as a rallying cry, vehicle for articulation direction and aspirations for a path out of the horror of persecution, oppression and inequalities.
Many skirmishes and test case battles prepare the ground for spontaneity of the revolutionary type. These disconnected struggles are the school for revolutionaries, the training and honing of skills in single issue campaigns, in local initiatives, in building comradeship and Party organisation. They cannot yet be the mode of transition to a communist future but they develop the possibility. Through local wins, and no doubt losses, coordinated battles and preparedness, anticipation, analysis and expectation – knowing perhaps a little more though this of what we might expect – the groups that work together learn together and will face down the tanks together. The Tanks are coming. Do not think Rosa now more than ever means they won’t – the ruling class will want to throw us all in the canal. But we will swim. For this, reading, writing, distributing newsletters and papers, forums and research groups, all build – and crucially, reproduce – potential for spontaneity. Swimming in the spontaneous flow.
The reading and research group is not the only form in which this Party as the vehicle of the wider class interests can articulate and hone its skill base, but it is all the more important because this form of organising has a role in defining and producing knowledge and analysis of the situations in which we are faced with oppression, exploitation, desperation and despair at the hands of capital.
The urgency of the situation. it is never all day every day, and a part of it is reading, together. meet to plan and talk, if only over a paragraph n between urgent tasks and planning. This research group, that has read its way into a Marxist analysis will move forward and articulate further connections with the oppressed and offer the classes knowledge not by telegraphing it in, or posting it on this blog, but by sharing not only knowledge as knowledge, but knowledge as a knowledge making process. A revolutionary act whose patron figurehead is also Rosa. Now more than ever. What then if in the current conjuncture those who rise up in protest do so on the basis of having come together over time to develop a shared analysis of the ways an exit from capitalism and oppression can be achieved with equally for all?