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‘Unexplored Marx’

The Socialist Vision of Rosa Luxemburg

Charubrata Ray

The new scholastic interest in Rosa Luxemburg and her theoretical contributions, especially among Marx scholars, not only in Europe but in China and Japan as well, is in sync with collapse of official Marxism, which is hardly expected to be restored. This serves as a catalyst to the gigantic post-USSR international project, Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (MEGA) that has fired great expectations in Marx scholars, genuinely yearning for the hitherto 'unexplored Marx'.

MEGA is a collection of original texts of 'the historical-critical edition of works of Marx and Engels', a task ignored by official Marxists during the 20th century. Fifty-nine out of 114 volumes, have been published though the efforts to rid them of the tendentious misinterpretation of Luxemburg preceded MEGA by about two decades.

While the scholars for repositioning of Luxemburg are grateful to the famous Hungarian Marxist, Georg Lukacs and Gunter Rasczun of the erstwhile Gerrran Democratic Republic—both were with the reigning communist parties—the pace-setter was Lelio Bass) of Italy, together with Fellix Tych, neither associated with official Marxist circles. Basso, a social democrat, was arrested in Milan in 1928 and interned in the island of Ponza for three years during the Mussolini regime. Tych, a Polish Jewish historian, studied history in Warsaw and Moscow and was ostracized by the anti-Jewish rulers of Poland in 1968.

Tych (who died in 2015) edited a three-volume set of correspondence of Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Jogiche in the early 1970s. Basso (who died in 1978) convened an international conference on "The Contribution of Rosa Luxemburg to the Development Of Marxist Ideas" in Italy in 1973. It was a turning point and Basso wished that the Japanese scholar, Narihiko Ito, shoulder the task of restoration of "Another-Luxemburgism", the title of a paper by Dr William A Pelz at the Tokyo conference under the aegis of the International Rosa Luxemburg Society [IRLS]—Internationale Rosa Luxemburg Gesellschaft—in 2009), ending 'Luxemburgism' (coined by Grigory Zinoviev and endorsed by Josef Stalin in the mid 1920s) as counter-revolutionary strain of Menshevism. This Stalinist stigma was aptly termed as "clumsy, cynical and self- serving parody on the ideas of Rosa Luxemburg". The IRLS was set up as a network for this research in 1980 with Prof Ito at the helm in Zurich.

Prof Sobhanlal Datla Gupta, formerly Surendranath Banerjee Chair of political science at the University of Calcutta, attended the Tokyo conference. An eminent scholar on the international communist movement of the period of Communist International (Comintern), Datta Gupta has been associated with the IRLS and participated at every conference, the last having been held in Seoul last year. He deserves accolades for his latest work, The Socialist Vision and The Silenced Voices of Democracy—New Perspectives—Part I, Rosa Luxemburg. It is a slim 137-page book (Price : Rs 495) but packed with reference to source materials that will help scholars, especially on Luxemburg (although mostly in German). He is currently working on Nikolai Bukharin and Georg Lukacs, for the next two books in this series.

Rosa Luxemburg had profound differences with Vladimir Lenin mainly on socialism and the role of party. She wrote in the programme of Spartacus League that the socialist revolution "is in the interests of the great majority and can be brought to victory only by the great majority of the working people themselves. The mass of the proletariat must do more than stake out clearly the aims and direction of the revolution".

One is reminded of Marx's words at the International Workingmen's Association in 1864 : "The emancipation of the working class is the tasks of workers themselves", not by "professional revolutionaries" (Bolsheviks), assigned by Lenin on behalf of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (rechristencd as the Communist Party of Soviet Union). With an indirect dig at the RSDLP's ultra-centralism, she quipped 'socialism will not be and cannot be inaugurated by decrees'. Luxemburg criticized the dissolution of Duma and wanted it to co-exist with the Soviets. Her immortal statement, "Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently", is a never-failing inspiration to those who adhere to the Marxian temper.

The first biography of Luxemburg was written by a Japanese scholar, Yamagawa Kikuei, in 1922 and later translated into Chinese, SDG reveals. The first biography in German, by Robert Evzerov and I S Yashborovskaya, was published five decades later and that too under the monitoring by the partyocracy, hangover of Stalinism that survived his death in the USSR and CPSU. The 'most outstanding' biographer of Luxemburg, however, is Annelics Laschitza, says Datta Gupta, albeit in German.

The author agrees that the new titles and papers on Luxemburg after the Herculean effort by IRLS should be translated from German texts. At the Tokyo conference of the IRLS (2007) SDG highlighted in a paper, Understanding Socialism in Hegemony : Rosa Luxemburg and Nikoiai Bukharin (English version). Bukharin's gravitation towards 'new man' in socialist or communist society in his twilight hours years, collinearly with Rosa Luxemburg. Rukharin, SDG says, snapped fingers at the 'static and tranquilized attitude as a trait that grows out of parasitism'. The active and creative quality of socialist culture results in an ever-renewed growth of both material and spiritual needs, in which the latter develop into actual passions, as Bukharin believed. But was it indirectly an atonement for his aberrant antecedents during his factional equation with Stalin against Leon Trotsky? In the Politics and Economics of the Transition Period (1920) Bukharin spoke of 'concentrated violence, mooted a new labour framework' for 'state coercion'. Luxemburg, on the contrary wrote in 1918 : "The proletarian revolution has no need for terror. It does not fight against individuals but against institutions". Luxemburg did stick to her anathema to suppression of dissent and in the same year expressed her annoyance with the 'reports of arrest or execution of hundreds of Left Socialist Revolutionaries by the Bolsheviks, in a letter to Julian Marchlewski, quoted by the author : "One would like to give the Bolshevils a terrible tongue-lashing" but she did not publicly state this for tactical reasons.

SDG also introduces readers to brilliant scholars like Ottokar Luban (historian and IRLS secretary), Peter Hudis, Gabriel Kuhn and several others inspiring readers to delve deeper into the life and works of an all-time great Marxist thinker and activist. It is refreshing to note that new texts are being translated into English. Equally salutary is Datta Gupta's gesture of dedication to the centurion, Theodor Bergmann, 'probably the longest-standing communist activist in the world'.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 45, May 15 - 21, 2016