The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg

The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg

Norman Geras

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 1781688710

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


An important contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century Marxism

During the first decades of the twentieth century, Rosa Luxemburg was the leader of the workers’ movement in Poland and Germany. She made a remarkable contribution to socialist theory and practice, yet her legacy remains in dispute. In this book Norman Geras interrogates and refutes the myths that have developed around her work. She was an opponent of socialist participation in the First World War and, as Geras shows, her views on socialist strategy in Russia were closer to Lenin’s than any other leader’s. Geras explores the development of Luxemburg’s critique in the period following the war and demonstrates how her thought is distinct from the social democratic or anarchist theories into which it is often subsumed. Geras brings new light to bear on one of the most misrepresented figures in radical history, illustrating her inspiring lack of complacency and her commitment to questioning those in authority on both the Right and the Left.

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and Trotsky’s are indeed striking, emerging most clearly in the following, central passage. It too contains the kind of ‘ambiguity’ we have referred to; but, read carefully, it does not speak of the Russian revolution going beyond the limits of bourgeois-democratic objectives. ‘The Russian revolution has for its next task the abolition of absolutism and the creation of a modern bourgeois-parliamentary constitutional state. It is exactly the same in form as that which confronted Germany at the

come out of factory and workshop, mine and foundry, must overcome … the decay to which they are condemned under the daily yoke of capitalism’.31 Socialism requiring by its very nature the control of the working masses over the entirety of the social process, it was not possible to envisage that the road to socialism might bypass the direct intervention and active participation of these masses in movements of an unprecedented scope and vigour. There could be no short cuts, neither putschist nor

years, and how much the course of events itself was influenced by Social-Democratic agitation and direction.44 Luxemburg’s ‘faith’ in the masses, when all is said and done, was circumscribed by clearly defined limits. It is not just that she stated in a general way the importance of determined revolutionary leadership. She stated in a specific and precise way the consequences of its absence, to wit, the demoralisation and confusion which begin to overtake the masses in struggle when they are

because it is not organically related to the various ends which it can be used to produce, is a more neutral means than the seed. Moreover, the soil which in its hard and barren state constitutes the material point of departure in this example is not even neutral with regard to the production of wheat, but actually resistant to that end until it has been suitably transformed. So transformed, it embodies some of the preconditions for producing wheat. However, in the first instance it also embodies

precisely in this way that the socialist dictatorship expressed itself, for it cannot shrink from any use of force to secure or prevent certain measures involving the interests of the whole.’69 What Lukacs imputes to Luxemburg, in other words, is the very opposite of what she says here and it is not founded by him on anything else she says. Her concern about freedom is manifestly over its scope within the dictatorship of the proletariat rather than over a principle above the dictatorship of the

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