Rosa Luxemberg

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Thu Feb 1 11:26:10 MST 2001

I intend to participate further in the current discussion on nationalism at some
later point as time permits. But Phil Ferguson's recent posts are truly bizarre,
and I can't restrain myself. Go back and read the debate between Lenin and
Luxemburg, Phil -  you can start with Lenin's The Right of Nations to
Self-Determination - and you will find that Rosa opposed the _right_ of
self-determination itself, point 9 in the Russian Social-Democrats' program.

To my knowledge, neither Lenin nor the Bolsheviks advocated independence for any
of the national components of the Czarist empire. That's not where the debate
was. The person with the dogmatic, categorical, undialectical position was Rosa,
who was opposed _in principle_ not just to raising the demand for independence
in relation to any oppressed nation within the Czarist empire, but to making
support for the right of the oppressed nations to decide their national fate a
part of the revolutionists' program.

I think most intelligent people know the difference between supporting the right
and advocating a particular exercise of that right (independent state, or
whatever). You needn't waste our time with abstract lectures about that. The
debate here has been predominantly, as it ought to be among Marxists, over how
or whether to apply the right of self-determination to concrete situations
(Kurds, Québécois, Scots, etc.), or whether particular peoples such as the Scots
or the Québécois are "oppressed" (which promises to be a very interesting debate
in itself that has hardly been addressed yet).

Rosa's error was a major one. Read her essay on the Russian Revolution, in which
she castigates the Bolsheviks for not only their position on the national
question but also their acceptance of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries'
program on the agrarian question. Yet the Bolsheviks themselves thought the key
to the victory lay precisely in their ability to apply and adapt their program
on those two questions, which were crucial to the success of the October
Revolution. (See, for example, the chapters on the question of nationalities and
the agrarian question in Trotsky's History of the RR.)

As Lou pointed out in his post yesterday on The National Question, Lenin put the
whole national question on a qualitatively different, more radical, footing when
he moved beyond the old "stagist" argument over completing the
bourgeois-democratic revolution and advancing the historical development of the
productive forces and linked the national question, as so much else, to the
realm of _strategy_ around what kinds of issues had to be addressed in building
a mass revolutionary party capable of leading to victory the struggles of the
proletariat and its allies, the peasantry and oppressed nations and
nationalities -- as Lou put it, a party "that could act as a tribune of the
masses in defense of all layers of the oppressed, including minor

Personally, I think that in doing so Lenin moved far beyond not only Rosa and
Stalin, but also Trotsky, whose theory of Permanent Revolution was very much
trapped within the formal problematic of how to "complete" the
bourgeois-democratic program, distinguishing "socialist" from "bourgeois" tasks,
limiting the formation of states to the epoch of the rising bourgeoisie, etc.
But that's a whole 'nother debate....

Richard Fidler

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