Some Recently Discovered Material on Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches

IN THE respected German historical quarterly Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Volume 27, no 3, September 1991, there are a number of articles which add greatly to our knowledge of the views of Rosa Luxemburg on Bolshevism and the Soviet regime. Feliks Tych, the Polish Luxemburg scholar, has an essay entitled ‘Leo Jogiches’ Criticism of the Bolshevik Party’. Ulrich Carterius has an essay entitled ‘Leo Jogiches-Tyszka in Germany as an Individual and Politician’, which deals with the period of the First World War, and relates, amongst other things, how the Spartakusbund developed and operated. This is followed by 10 previously unpublished letters. There is a newly-found essay of 1911 by Rosa Luxemburg on the situation in the Russian Social Democracy, introduced by Feliks Tych, and three newly-discovered letters from Rosa Luxemburg to her Polish associates. I will attempt to give their flavour, and suggest that some myths be cleared away.

Tych points out that the activities of Leo Jogiches in the Russian-Polish-Yiddish workers organisations began in Vilna in 1885, 18 years before the Bolshevik party was set up. Two and a half years older than Lenin, he started operating as a revolutionary six years before him. He began with the Populists, and with Charles Rappaport belonged to the first Marxist group in the Russian revolutionary movement. He was later connected with Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labour group. Hence, as Tych points out, his criticism of Bolshevism was not that of an outsider. He knew both the European, and particularly the German, labour movement far better than Lenin. From 1890 he had lived in Western Europe, and had gone through the whole experience of the Second International. He knew the Russian movement as well as Lenin, but was far better informed about the Western European movement than he. He was the key leader of Polish Social Democracy (SDKPiL) in Russian Poland. (In April 1906 at the Fourth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in Stockholm, the Polish party became an autonomous component of the RSDLP, which it remained until December 1918.) Jogiches’ views on Bolshevism sprang from his experience as a whole.

Until the 1905 Revolution, or the summer of 1905 to be exact, the differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were centred on the organisational question — democratic centralism. On this issue the Poles agreed with the Mensheviks, and so were closer to them in 1903-05.

Luxemburg’s ‘Organisation Questions of Russian Social Democracy’ (1904) was written for the Menshevik Iskra. Its inspiration was Jogiches. He was her mentor, she was his mouthpiece, and, prior to 1905, he guided her writing. Tych says: ‘For Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches it was, however, clear from the start that a fundamental concept was involved here, and not a temporary solution. For them democratic centralism was a euphemistic code-word [ersatzbegriff] for the suppression of party democracy, for a Blanquist conception of the political struggles of the workers’ movement.’ (p305)

In the latter part of 1905 Jogiches and the Poles shifted closer to the Bolsheviks. This was because both adopted a boycott tactic towards the Bulygin Duma. The shift away from the Mensheviks had a deeper cause, which was the analysis of the rôle of the bourgeoisie in the Russian Revolution after the events of 1905. Jogiches agreed with the Bolsheviks that the liberal bourgeoisie sought a compromise with Tsarism, and he saw the hegemony of the working class in the democratic revolution as a guarantee of its success. The Poles’ agreement with the Bolsheviks went no further. In the former’s view, the workers should make no claims to power after the triumph of the democratic revolution. They opposed Lenin’s view of a workers’ and peasants’ democratic dictatorship.

Tych quotes Jogiches speaking at the Sixth Congress of the SDKPiL in 1908 on the nature of the Russian revolution. Its causes, the development of capitalism itself, and the class relations all pointed to a bourgeois revolution, which, when taken to its limit, would achieve democracy, even if the proletariat had begun the revolution.

Jogiches doubted Lenin’s faith that the peasantry would be an ally of the workers in the second, Socialist phase of the revolution. He saw already that out of the Bolshevik schema of revolution would come a revolution of the minority which would lead to its dictatorship, and also to a dictatorship of the proletariat over the peasantry. Tych identifies two aspects of this criticism: a criticism of the arbitrary attempt on the part of the Bolsheviks to accelerate the process towards Socialism, and the rejection of a minority revolution and a minority dictatorship.

Jogiches saw Lenin’s schema for revolution in Russia as having a phenomenon of general significance: Bolshevism had a pronounced tendency ‘to regard the development of the party and its struggles not as a living process’, but mechanically, ‘as an arid, abstract formula’ (cited in Tych, p306). His view of the Bolsheviks’ postulate of a joint proletarian-peasant dictatorship following the triumph of the democratic revolution was as follows: ‘One could hardly imagine a more abstract, mechanical, undialectical interpretation of the matter.’ For the Bolsheviks the revolution would be ‘a type of campaign conducted to an already drafted plan’:

‘The aim is set out, the rôles shared out correspondingly, and the spoils will fall to the allies as joint property. The whole living content of the revolutionary process, which only defines its results during its course, often against and independent of the subjective aims of the participant... the whole multiplicity and variability of the internal and external factors of the revolution — all this vanishes without trace in a rigid, arid schema without flesh and blood, like any abstract vision.’ (pp306-7)

Tych points out that it was not merely a matter of the schema, but the whole attitude of the Bolsheviks towards revolution, which Jogiches regarded as false — in other words, their method.

From 1909 to 1914, the biggest source of dispute between Jogiches and the Bolsheviks concerned the unity of the whole RSDLP. The Stockholm Congress brought about unity, not just between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, but the Bund, the Letts and the Poles also adhered to the party. Jogiches emerged from gaol, hoping to exercise some influence within the RSDLP, but party unity was a fiction, and, as Tych points out, differences had sharpened, and amongst the Bolsheviks in 1907-12 there were at least three factions.

Jogiches criticised both the Menshevik liquidators and the ultra-Bolshevik ‘otzovists’, seeing the Bolshevik mainstream as his closest allies, but he sharply opposed their factionalism. He was critical not only of the Mensheviks for their centrifugal tendencies, but also of Trotsky’s ‘ambiguous position’. Jogiches and the Poles had, against Lenin’s will, organised a ‘unity plenum’ in Paris of the RSDLP Central Committee in January-February 1910, but the squabbling broke out again shortly after. Jogiches drafted a memorandum to the other SDKPiL leaders about it, where he criticised the Mensheviks for not closing Golos and dissolving their faction, and the Bolsheviks — ‘that is, Lenin and Gregory [Zinoviev] — for dreaming about re-establishing their faction, or even... of putting the party in their own pocket’. Jogiches saw the task of the SDKPiL as thwarting Bolshevik factionalism, as well as opposing the opportunism within Menshevism, and of replacing factional struggles by a ‘struggle of unorganised ideological currents’.

By 1911 the RSDLP was in a state of total atomisation. As Jogiches had foreseen, Lenin et al wanted to decide which tendencies could be in the party and which could be excluded. They wanted to place all outside the party except for the little group around Plekhanov and the Poles. None of the Russian factions wanted unity. At bottom was the old difference of what type of party it should be. On the one hand was the German example, where all currents coexisted with freedom of opinion, and, on the other, Lenin’s concept of a strict, centralised party consisting of only one current and only one opinion. Jogiches supported the German example, which he saw as beneficial to the development of the labour movement in Russia. Jogiches used every means to prevent the break-up of the RSDLP, even trying to prevent Lenin from getting his hands on the money held in trust by Kautsky, Mehring and Zetkin of the SPD, the so-called Schmidt Legacy. He describes the Bolshevik tactic in February 1910 as ending up by making the aim and main content of all party life the internal struggle against the liquidators. There are various references to Jogiches’s efforts to prevent Lenin’s group driving the Mensheviks out of party life. One should discuss with the Menshevik-liquidators. He wrote to Sophie Goldenberg: ‘One should counterpose our methods of struggle... to the Leninist methods of bar-room brawling’ (literally ‘mirror-smashing in pubs’, p310). Just prior to the final split in the party, and as the Leninists were manoeuvring, Jogiches described the Bolsheviks’ breaking up of the RSDLP central organs, the seizure of the party moneys, etc, etc, as indicating ‘that what we have before us here is a shameless, savage, Asiatic [bashibuskish] policy for the reconstruction of the Leninist faction... That is, a splitting policy.’ (p310)

Tych says that to start with, Jogiches was under the illusion that Lenin only wanted to drive out the RSDLP’s right wing, but it emerged that the Bolsheviks wanted the party to themselves. Tych ends on what he describes as the little known history of Jogiches’ criticism of Lenin and others during the First World War, the October Revolution and the foundation of the Communist International. He quotes from some memoirs appearing in the Kommunistiche Internationale, no 3, 1935 by Fritz Heckert. Heckert had written to Jogiches in early 1917 asking why the Spartacists did not join the Bremen Left radicals who supported Lenin’s evaluation of the international labour movement:

‘I put it to him that we agreed with Lenin on some important questions; he was correct as opposed to Rosa, and therefore we [the Chemnitz Spartacus Group] did not want the Berliners deciding everything themselves, and presenting us with faits accomplis... But Leo Jogiches rudely replied to me that we understood nothing of the matter, and ought not to let ourselves be confused by Lenin.’ (p311)

Leo Jogiches opposed a split with the SPD, in spite of Lenin’s ‘good advice’. He had the same view about the USPD in 1918, saying that ‘on no account should we appear as a branch of the Russian Bolsheviks’, as he wrote to Fritz Rück, a key Spartacus leader in Stuttgart on 7 November 1917.

What he thought of Rosa Luxemburg’s Die russische Revolution of 1918 is not known. He expressed no opinion about it, but opposed its publication in the period after November 1918 because of the dire straits in which the revolution in Russia found itself.

Both he and Luxemburg agreed in opposing the foundation of the Comintern. Their thoughts were not set out systematically, but were merely reported by others. Hugo Eberlein said that it owed itself neither to any Western parties nor to any platform. In her book on Leviné, Rosa Leviné-Meyer reports how Jogiches tried everything to prevent him from going to Moscow with Eberlein. Tych believes that the reasons for this can be established from the sources that are available, and that Jogiches feared that a new International built by the Bolsheviks would be on a very narrow sectarian basis. The Bolshevik initiative would result in its being dominated by them.

Tych says that the example of Jogiches, his consistent opposition to Lenin’s methods and his tragic failure, ‘raises the question of whether there was room for a second democratic, non-autocratic Blanquist force within the revolutionary wing of the labour movement, or even whether there was room for a third force within the whole Social Democratic movement at that time’.

‘It is the task of historians’, says Tych, ‘to say that such an attempt occurred, and also who represented it. Until now we have been witnesses to a substitution; there have been attempts to make Luxemburg and Jogiches, the representatives not of a third grouping but of a second Bolshevik one (“in spite of their many errors”).’ They have been made ‘political and intellectual [geistigen] patrons of a system which did not correspond to their vision’.

Lenin did this for them posthumously in 1922, and he knew what he was doing. (I would maintain that Trotsky also dishonestly tried to claim Luxemburg’s heritage.) ‘But it was Stalin in his letter to Proletarskaya Revolutsia in 1931 who came closest to the truth when he insisted that Luxemburg and the “German left” did not belong to the Bolshevik tradition, and that everything they said was totally alien to Bolshevism.’ Tych winds up by saying that ‘one can add nothing to that’.

Carterius, in his fascinating essay on Jogiches in Germany, sketches out how he took over the Spartakusbund leadership, and, until his arrest, undertook its illegal activities. Jogiches believed not in the ‘Trojan Horse’ strategy when operating within the SPD, but in a smaller coherent group being able to take over the party through the power of persuasion and in an entirely democratic manner. Cartarius explains this strategy, and quotes from Politische Brief, no16, 30 March 1916, which set out an orientation for all Spartakusbund members:

‘Neither splits nor unity, neither an old nor a new party... [but] the reconquest of the party from below, through the rebellion of the masses who must take the organisation and its resources into their own hands, not through words, but through their actions in their rebellion. The decisive struggle for the party has begun.’ (p322)

When, in the spring of 1917, Arbeitsgemeinschaft called for the founding of a new party from the entire opposition in the SPD, Luxemburg, Mehring and Jogiches continued with the same orientation, and adhered to the Independents (USPD). This was not without difficulty, as Lenin had begun his campaign to install his methods and aims into the non-Russian labour movement, with Radek being his tool in Germany. Carterius sets out how Lenin’s views gradually persuaded various personalities whom he believed had earlier misjudged the Bolsheviks. Of course, this was a period when the leading Spartacist figures were in gaol and Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered, as was Jogiches shortly afterwards. The German Communist Party that was set up shortly afterwards proved to be a troubled sect, and in the meantime Communism developed in the USPD, with its 900 000 or so members.

Jogiches’ 10 letters from gaol are a mixture of instructions and his various concerns, including personal ones.

The newly-found text by Rosa Luxemburg is from 1911, and is about the situation in the RSDLP. It probably came too late to avoid the split in the RSDLP. Feliks Tych describes it as a link between the Organisational Questions... of 1904 and Die russische Revolution of 1918, which criticises Lenin’s politics and methods. It criticises all the tendencies within the RSDLP, the Mensheviks included, but also Trotsky (seeing his Pravda as carrying out a hypocritical conciliation policy by covering for the Menshevik liquidators with left wing phrases), although it mainly hammers Lenin. Tych quotes an anonymous article on the split in the RSDLP in Czerwony Sztandar, no 188, July 1912, which was in fact by Luxemburg, and is to be published by Dietz Verlag, Berlin, in Polnische Schriften (Collected Works), Volume 6. Here Luxemburg condemns Lenin, who, even before the 1905 Revolution ‘smashed the unity of the party in order to rescue his conception of organisation, according to which the Central Committee is everything, whereas the real party is only its appendage, a mindless mass which moves mechanically on the orders of the leader, like an army exercising on the parade ground, like a choir performing under the baton of the conductor’ (pp341-2).

The text from 1911 makes two references to Western revolutionary Social Democratic conceptions which the Russian factions, particularly the Bolsheviks, had failed to assimilate. The first, which Jogiches crossed out, speaking of the rôle of the SDKPiL within the RSDLP, insists that from the start it identified with neither the Menshevik nor the Bolshevik groupings, but had its own distinct position ‘in the spirit of the revolutionary Social Democracy of Western Europe’ (p349). The second speaks of a positive development which the Bolsheviks had undergone ‘in the direction of a European understanding of Social Democratic radicalism’ since the RSDLP’s 1907 London Congress, where the SDKPiL delegation had ‘consistently struggled against both the opportunist rottenness of the Mensheviks as well as the uncouth revolutionism of the Leninist left’ (p350), which had enabled them to unite in a joint struggle against liquidationism. However, as Tych points out in his introduction, the Bolshevik faction regressed to its old habits, and the evolution after 1907 proved to be ‘only an episode in the history of the party’ (p343).

The article from 1911 is richer in information about the internal workings of the RSDLP. Luxemburg had a distinct concept of the party as compared with Lenin. She saw his methods focusing on internal differences to the detriment of external activity, and thus harming the labour movement. For Lenin ideological and tactical issues were resolved by organisational measures. Tych sees a logical connection between the 1911 text and her criticism of Lenin and Trotsky in 1918, ‘a crude mechanical understanding of the essence of revolution’, as she describes the ideas of Lenin and his supporters. In the final analysis, in 1904 as well as 1911 and 1918, it concerned one and the same thing — that the Bolsheviks resolved the problems of the labour movement, not through democratic decision making, but ‘by ukase’ with all the inevitable bureaucratisation.

Tych introduces the three newly-found letters, two to Julian Marchlewski and one to Stefan Bratman-Brodowski, both leaders of the SDKPiL who shared her views. The letters are critical of the politics of the Bolsheviks in power, not merely the internal repression, ‘the revolutionary terror’, but also the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty. She saw the October events as merely the beginning of a European revolutionary process, and the idea that the revolution could ensconce itself in one country, Russia or anywhere else, was dangerous for Socialism. She saw the separate treaties signed with Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey as strengthening Germany, and putting off any ending of the war by the revolutionary masses. Tych points out that the letters destroy the myth that Luxemburg did not intend to publish her critical essay, as the letter to Stefan Brodowski says the opposite — ‘To remain totally silent is impossible.’ — and that the criticism would have been even sharper if the situation of the Bolsheviks had not been so critical. She condemns the repressive measures taken against the Socialist Revolutionaries, and says in her letter to Marchlewski of 30 September 1918 that owing to the situation ‘in the pincers of imperialism from all sides, it is clear that neither Socialism nor the dictatorship of the proletariat can be realised, but, at the most, a caricature of both’ (p364).

These new materials and research show a coherent and consistent alternative to Bolshevism, and will inevitably impel wholly new evaluations.


Mike Jones