BY SARA LOBMAN
Pathfinder Press has just reprinted Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, which contains the writings of one of the most outstanding Marxists of the 20th century.
Born in tsarist-occupied Poland in 1871, Luxemburg joined the revolutionary movement as a high school student in the 1880s. For more than four decades-until her assassination in Berlin in 1919 during the German revolution-she was a proletarian revolutionist. The lectures, articles, essays, and resolutions included in this collection address the central questions confronting the working-class movement in her-and our-epoch: reform versus revolution, imperialist war, and the fight to transform the trade union movement.
In "Reform or Revolution," written in 1899, the 28-year- old Luxemburg takes on Eduard Bernstein, then one of the most established and respected spokespeople of the Socialist International. Bernstein argued that capitalism had reached a new stage that would allow it to develop unimpeded by economic and social crises. Because of this, he said, the working class should limit itself to fighting for reforms within the framework of capitalism; over time these reforms would lead to socialism.
Luxemburg rejected this theory, noting that it was a "program of reaction." Communists participate wholeheartedly in the struggle for the "amelioration of the conditions of the workers," she said. But those who "pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer, and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Our program becomes not the realization of socialism, but the reform of capitalism: not the suppression of the system of wage labor, but the diminution of exploitation."
Luxemburg was among the first leaders of the communist movement to point to the accelerating drive toward the first imperialist slaughter and to challenge those who were inclined to buy into the nationalist rhetoric of the bourgeoisie. "We, who base ourselves on the materialistic conception of history and on scientific socialism, are convinced that militarism can only be abolished from the world with the destruction of the capitalist class state," she wrote in 1911 in an article titled "Peace Utopias."
"What is Economics?" was intended as the first chapter of a book based on a series of lectures Luxemburg gave to participants at the German Social Democratic Party school in Berlin between 1907 and 1912. "An ordinary mortal reading [the typical economics texts] can't help wondering why his head is spinning like a top," she jokes before offering her students a lively and clear explanation of the subject.
Included in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks is "Organizational
Question of Social Democracy," where Luxemburg explains her
views on the revolutionary party; "Socialism and the
Churches"; "The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the
Trade Unions"; "Against Capital Punishment"; and "The Junius
Pamphlet: The Crisis in the German Social Democracy," one of
the initial policy statements of those who rejected support
for the German government in the war and continued to fight
for an internationalist perspective.
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