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Rethinking Rosa Luxemburg

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The centenary of the Russian Revolution has received “special” attention in the pages of EPW (Russian Revolution Centenary Special, 4 November 2017). This compels us to rethink Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of the Leninist party organisation, as well as her critical reading of the revolution.

In her seminal text, “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy” (1904), Luxemburg critiqued Lenin’s concept of party organisation. To put it in her own words, “Lenin’s thesis is that the party Central Committee should have the privilege of naming all the local committees of the party … The Central Committee would be the only thinking element in the party. All other groupings would be its executive limbs.” She concluded her critique with the following revolutionary observation: “Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

Luxemburg critically revisited the “mighty sweep of the revolution in Russia” in her text, The Russian Revolution, written in 1918. She raised fundamental questions about the coercive means used for socialist reconstruction under the leadership of Lenin, stating, “Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties, rule by terror—all these things are but palliatives. The only way to a rebirth is the school of public life itself, the most unlimited, the broadest democracy and public opinion. It is rule by terror which demoralizes.”

The different countries that experimented with “socialism” in the post-revolution years, all followed one variant or the other of the Leninist concept of party organisation. In spite of its many noble achievements on the economic and social front, the Leninist “vanguard party” rule led to gross human rights violations in post-revolutionary societies. In the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, Luxemburg’s heretical reading of the revolution and her ethical moorings demand special attention for exploring new pathways of radical social transformation.

Arup Kumar Sen

Kolkata

Updated On : 24th Nov, 2017

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