[Marxism] New Title in the HM Book Series: In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg Selected Writings of Paul Levi Paul Levi. Edited and introduced by David Fernbach
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 25 09:35:15 MDT 2011
On 7/25/2011 11:19 AM, Angelus Novus wrote:
> Nice; good to see Levi get rehabilitated with the respect he deserves, a nice proper English-language anthology.
> It's more than one can say for Germany, where there is no in-print collection of Levi's writings (the last one available is from 1969).
I am deluged with books that I have a responsibility to read and
in some cases write about, but I definitely have to request a
review copy of this one. Levi is the cornerstone of my analysis of
the dead-end of "Marxism-Leninism".
The German left in 1920 now confronted a declining mass movement.
The three major parties of the left were also bitterly divided.
The Social Democracy had 102 delegates in the Reichstag, while a
left-wing split called the Independent Socialist Party had 82. The
Communist Party could only send 2 delegates, Paul Levi--the
party's leader--and Clara Zetkin, a legendary socialist leader.
The only way the Communist Party could have grown was by patiently
persuading the German working class of its message. Many of the
potential recruits would come from the Independent Socialist
Party, which split from the Social Democracy in opposition to the
pro-war policy of the leaders. The Spartacus League was actually a
faction of this party.
The Communist Party and the Independent Socialist Party both
attended the Second World Congress of the Comintern, the latter as
a guest. Another smaller party, the ultraleft German Communist
Workers Party, attended.
At this gathering, Lenin discussed the prospects for German
Communism with Paul Levi, the party's leader. Lenin was anxious
for German Communism to grow rapidly. He keenly felt the isolation
of the young Soviet republic and hoped for a breakthrough in the
West to relieve the pressure. He thought that the left-wing of the
Independent Socialist Party could be split from the party and be
convinced to join the much smaller Communist Party. Levi suggested
a more cautious approach, one which involved patient collaborative
work with the Independents as a preparation for fusion.
Lenin's desire for a rapid victory in Germany clouded his ability
to judge objective conditions there in an impartial manner. The
only judgment we can render on Lenin's expectations was that they
were unrealistic and based on an inadequate understanding of the
German class struggle.
A anecdote reported by the German revolutionary Balabanoff
dramatizes the problem. At a meeting in Lenin's offices during the
Second World Congress, Zinoviev stood before a strategic map of
Germany, with Lenin and 3 German delegates, including Levi, in
attendance. Zinoviev was speculating on possibilities for working
class support for Red Army initiatives. The Red Army was fighting
successfully in Poland against the counter-revolution and driving
westward. Zinoviev stated that according to Trotsky's estimates,
the Red Army would reach the German border within a few days.
Turning to the seated parties, Zinoviev asked, "In your opinion,
Comrades, what forms will the uprising in East Prussia take?"
(East Prussia bordered Poland.) The three Germans stared at him in
amazement. The predominantly peasant East Prussia was one of the
most conservative German regions, and an uprising in support of
the Red Army sounded like a bad joke to the German delegates. One
of them, Ernest Mayer, said that an uprising was unlikely. An
irritated Lenin turned to Levi and asked his opinion. When Levi
remained silent, Lenin terminated the discussion by remarking, "In
any case, you ought to know that our Central Committee holds quite
a different opinion."
The favorable news of Red Army advances emboldened triumphalist
moods in the Kremlin. Even though the French Socialist Party and
the German Independent Socialist Party attended the congress as
friendly consultative delegates, the Russian Communists seemed in
no mood to placate these "half-hearted" or centrist formations. To
the contrary, this congress passed the famous 21 conditions for
entry into the Comintern, which they envisioned as a single
Communist Party with branches in different countries. These 21
conditions were drafted by Zinoviev with Lenin's agreement. One
provision urged by the Italian ultraleftist Bordiga was
particularly stringent. It demanded that all party members be
expelled if they rejected the 21 conditions. These 21 conditions
could only be considered a slap in the face by the French and
German socialists, who in every other way were sympathetic to the
When the congress was over, Levi returned to Germany in a mood of
despair. The Independents also faced a difficult situation. Even
though they felt constrained by the 21 conditions, they still
sought to ally themselves with the Soviet revolution and the
organized revolutionary movement that identified with it. They
convened a special congress to consider the 21 conditions. A
debate was held between Zinoviev in favor of the 21 conditions and
Rudolf Hilferding opposed. The hall was decked out with Soviet
regalia, which helped to deepen the polarization of an already
polarized situation. Hilferding argued, quite correctly, that the
21 conditions were a schematic projection of Russian
organizational norms on other countries with different traditions.
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