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Rosa Luxemburg

Theory & Practice

Part 3

We have briefly examined the factual basis of Comrade Kautsky’s newest theory on Russia and Western Europe. But the most important thing about this latest creation is its general tendency, which runs on to construct an absolute contradiction between revolutionary Russia and parliamentary “Western Europe,” and sets down the prominent role played by the political mass strike in the Russian Revolution as a product of Russia’s economic and political backwardness.

But here Comrade Kautsky finds himself in the disagreeable position of having proved much too much. In this case, somewhat less would have been decidedly more.

Above all, Comrade Kautsky has not noticed that his current theory destroys his earlier theory of the “strategy of attrition.” At the center of the “strategy of attrition” stands an allusion to the coming Reichstag elections. My inexcusable error lay in this: I held that the mass strike was already called for in the present struggle for Prussian voting rights, while Comrade Kautsky declared that our overwhelming victory-to-come in next year’s Reichstag elections would create the “entirely new situation” which might make the mass strike necessary and appropriate. But now Comrade Kautsky has demonstrated with all desirable clarity that conditions for a period of political mass strikes in Germany – indeed, in all of Western Europe – are lacking after all. “Because of the half-century old socialist movement, Social Democratic organization and political freedom,” even simple demonstration mass strikes of the extent and momentum of the Russian ones have become almost impossible in Western Europe.

Yet if this is so, then prospects for the mass strike after Reichstag elections seem fairly problematic. It is clear that all the conditions which make the mass strike absolutely impossible in Germany – the strongest contemporary government and its glittering prestige, the slavish obedience of the state employees, the unshakeable opposing might of the cartels, the political isolation of the proletariat – that all this will not suddenly disappear after next year. If the reasons which speak against the political mass strike no longer lie in the situation of the moment, as the “strategy of attrition” would have it, but in the direct results of “half a century of socialist enlightenment and political, freedom,” in the highly developed level of “Western Europe’s” economic and political life – then postponement of expectations for a mass strike until the year after the Reichstag elections turns out to be no more than a modest fig leaf covering the “strategy of attrition’s” only real content: the commendation of Reichstag elections. In my first reply I tried to show that in reality the “strategy of attrition” amounted to “Nothing-But-Parliamentarianism.” Now Comrade Kautsky himself confirms this in elaborating his theories.

Yet more. Comrade Kautsky has, to be sure postponed the great mass action until after the Reichstag elections: but at the same time he must admit that in the present situation, the political mass strike could become necessary “at any moment” – for “never in the history of the German Reich were the social, political, and international contradictions under such tension as now.”[K. Kautsky, What Now?, Neue Zeit XXVIII, 2 (15 April 1910), p.80.] But if in general the social conditions and historic ripeness of “Western Europe,” and specifically of Germany, make a mass strike action impossible now, how can such an action suddenly “at any moment” be set in motion? A brutal provocation by the police, a massacre at a demonstration could greatly heighten the masses’ agitation and sharpen the situation: yet it obviously could not be that “great occasion” which would abruptly overturn the entire economic and political structure of Germany.

But Comrade Kautsky has proved yet another superfluous thing. If the general economic and political conditions in Germany are such as to make a mass strike action like the Russian one impossible, and if the extension which the mass strike underwent in the Russian Revolution is the specific product of Russian backwardness, then not only is the use of the mass strike in the Prussian voting rights struggle called into question, but the Jena resolution as well. Until now, the resolution of the Jena party convention [of 1905] was regarded both here and abroad as such a highly significant announcement because it officially borrowed the mass strike from the arsenal of the Russian Revolution, and incorporated it among the tactics of German Social Democracy as a means of political struggle. Admittedly this resolution was formally so composed, and by many exclusively interpreted so that Social Democracy seemed to declare it would only turn to the mass strike in case of an attack on Reichstag voting rights. But once, in any case, Comrade Kautsky did not belong to those formalists; indeed, in 1904 he emphatically wrote:

If we learn one thing from the Belgian example, it is that it would be a fatal error for us in Germany to commit ourselves to a specific time for proclaiming the political strike – for example, in the event of an attack on the present Reichstag voting rights. [Revolutionaries Everywhere, Neue Zeit XXII, 1, p.736. RL’s emphasis]

The chief significance, the essential content of the Jena resolution lay not in this formalistic “commitment, “ but in the fact of German Social Democracy’s principled acceptance of the lessons and example of the Russian Revolution. It was the spirit of the Russian Revolution which ruled the convention of our party in Jena. And now when Comrade Kautsky directly derives the role of the mass strike in the Russian Revolution from Russian backwardness, thereby constructing a contradiction between revolutionary Russia and parliamentary “Western Europe”; when he emphatically warns against the examples and methods of revolution – yes when by implication even the proletariat’s defeat the Russian Revolution is debited in his account to the grandiose mass strike action, through which the proletariat “must eventually be exhausted” – in short, when Comrade Kautsky declares point-blank “but be that as it may, the schema of the Russian mass strike before and during the revolution does not fit German conditions”: then from this standpoint it seems an incredible blunder, that German Social Democracy officially borrowed the mass strike directly from the Russian Revolution as a new means of struggle. At bottom, Comrade Kautsky’s current theory is a frightfully fundamental revision of the Jena resolution.

To justify his individual, cockeyed stand in the last Prussian voting rights campaign, Comrade Kautsky step-by-step sells out the lessons of the Russian Revolution – the most significant extension and enrichment of proletarian tactics in the last decade.

Next: Part 4

Last updated on: 2.12.2008