Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016
Rosa Luxemburg: Future belongs to ‘Bolshevism’
Monday 7 November 2016
October Revolution: Ninetyninth Anniversary
Seventh November this year will be observed as the ninetyninth anniversary of the historic October Revolution whose centenary will be marked next year. Although the socio-economic system in Russia has been overturned and the once mighty USSR dismantled, the worldwide significance of the Russian Revolution of 1917 has not waned in the least; on the contrary its importance has been heightened in the light of the latest international events that bring out the sole surviving superpower’s lust for global hegemony in the true spirit of the leader of the imperialist world having reached the highest stage of capitalism. At the same time its feet of clay has been exposed by the impact of the prevailing global economic crisis on it. In this context while recalling the October Revolution, we reproduce excerpts from the pamphlet, The Russian Revolution, which the immortal revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg wrote in prison (September-October 1918) in a bid to critically analyse the events of November 1917 that transformed the world. (The first edition of the pamphlet was published in 1922 after Rosa’s death by her comrade-in-arms Paul Levi; in 1928 a new edition was published on the basis of a newly-found manuscript.)
Future belongs to ‘Bolshevism’
by Rosa Luxemburg
The Russian Revolution is the mightiest event of the World War...
The mighty sweep of the revolution in Russia, the profound results which have transformed all class relationships, raised all social and economic problems, and with the fatality of their own inner logic developed consistently from the first phase of the bourgeois republic to even more advanced stages, finally reducing the fall of Czarism to the status of a mere minor episode—all these things show as plain as day that the freeing of Russia was not an achievement of the war and the military defeat of Czarism, not some service of “German bayonets in German fists,” as Neue Zeit under Kautsky’s editorship once promised in an editorial. They show, on the contrary, that the freeing of Russia had its roots deep in the soil of its own land and was fully matured internally....
The fate of the revolution in Russia depended fully upon international events. That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies. In it is visible the mighty advance which capitalist development has made in the last decade. The Revolution of 1905-07 roused only a faint echo in Europe. Therefore, it had to remain a mere opening chapter. Continuation and conclusion were tied up with the further development of Europe.
Clearly, not uncritical apologetics but penetrating and thoughtful criticism is alone capable of bringing out the treasures of experiences and teachings. Dealing as we are with the very first experiment in proletarian dictatorship in world history (and one taken place at that under the hardest conceivable conditions, in the midst of the worldwide conflagration and chaos of the imperialist mass slaughter, caught in the coils of the most reactionary military power in Europe, and accompanied by the completest failure on the part of the international working class), it would be a crazy idea to think that every last thing done or left undone in an experiment with the dictatorship of the proletariat under such abnormal conditions represented the very pinnacle of perfection. On the contrary, elementary conceptions of socialist politics and an insight into their historically necessary prerequisites force us to understand that under such fatal conditions even the most gigantic idealism and the most storm-tested revolutionary army are incapable of realising democracy and socialism but only distorted attempts at either...
Everything that happens in Russia is comprehensible and represents an inevitable chain of causes and effects, the starting point and end term of which are: the failure of the German proletariat and the occupation of Russia by German imperialism. It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy. By their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international socialism, they have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions. The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics. When they get in their own light in this way, and hide their genuine, unquestionable historical service under the bushel of false steps forced upon them by necessity, they render a poor service to international socialism for the sake of which they have fought and suffered; for they want to place in its storehouse as new discoveries all the distortions prescribed in Russia by necessity and compulsion—in the last analysis only by products of the bankruptcy of international socialism in the present World War.
Let the German Government socialists cry that the rule of the Bolsheviks in Russia is a distorted expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If it was or is such, that is only because it is a product of the behaviour of the German proletariat, in itself a distorted expression of the socialist class struggle. All of us are subject to the laws of history, and it is only internationally that the socialist order of society can be realised. The Bolsheviks have shown that they are capable of everything that a genuine revolutionary party can contribute within the limits of the historical possibilities. They are not supposed to perform miracles. For a model and faultless proletarian revolution in an isolated land, exhausted by world war, strangled by imperialism, betrayed by the international proletariat, would be a miracle.
What is in order is to distinguish the essential from the nonessential, the kernel from the accidental excrescences in the policies of the Bolsheviks. In the present period, when we face decisive final struggles in all the world, the most important problem of socialism was and is the burning question of our time. It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act; the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones upto now who can cry with Hutten: “I have dared!”
This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy. In this sense theirs is the immortal historical service of having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the problem of the realisation of socialism, and of having advanced mightily the settlement of the score between capital and labour in the entire world. In Russia the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia. And in this sense, the future eveywhere belongs to “bolshevism”.