From International Socialism, No.54, January 1973, p.25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Pluto Press £1.50
Of all the writings on Rosa Luxemburg, Frolich’s book is among the most vivid and moving; further, it is the first full-length study to provide a competent Marxist analysis of those political debates so central to her development as a person and as a revolutionary.
Frolich demonstrates that the classic confrontation ‘Luxembourg vs. Lenin’ is a false one, that as Marxist revolutionaries they marched shoulder to shoulder and, indeed, had more in common with each other than Luxemburg ever had with the leadership of her own party, the SPD. Frolich thus sees the disputes between Lenin and Luxemburg, on the national question and on party organisation, not as fundamental cleavages but as differing strategies deriving from different arenas of struggle. On the national question, Frolich argues that Luxemburg was correct not to advance the demand for national independence as the aim of the Polish proletariat – and Lenin agreed with her, for they both knew that the aim could be realised only by the revolutionary overthrow of Russian Czarism. Luxemburg, far from ‘generalising’ the Polish example to an overall rejection of the demand for national self-determination anywhere, emphasised precisely that there was no universally applicable formula for the solution of the national question, which is why she could not accept what she considered to be one proposed by Lenin.
Similarly, overmuch has been made of the gulf between Luxemburg’s ‘libertarian’ concept of the party and Lenin’s ‘centralism’. Frolich sees these differences once more as strategic rather than fundamental. Lenin and Luxemburg held in common the belief that the revolutionary party must be the vanguard of the class, that it must be centrally organised and that the will of the majority must be carried out by means of strict discipline. Luxemburg insisted on this in the Polish party, and always upheld it in the German party. But she believed that only by allowing freedom to criticise at all levels of the party could the creativity of the class find expression and prevent socialist tactics from becoming rigid formulae.
Frolich does not ‘over-Leninise’ Luxemburg, but reconciles that combination of passionate humanism and disciplined Marxism which liberal critics have found inexplicable or in some sense contradictory. He shows that, far from being incompatible, these traits form a powerful unity in her character.
The debates in which Rosa participated, on reformism, on party organisation, on national self-determination, on the mass strike, on the nature of the capitalist crisis, on the future of the International, echo currents in the movement today with quite uncanny accuracy. Both Luxemburg’s contributions and Frolich’s interpretations are invaluable. The book is unreservedly recommended.
Last updated on 12.1.2008