It is strange that the collected works of one of the most important Marxist revolutionaries, Rosa Luxemburg, have just begun to be translated and published in English – that is almost a century after her murder! More strangely, but quite understandably, the Chinese who seem to ride ahead of everyone in the economic race of capitalism, immediately got ready to publish the translation of Rosa’s works in Chinese. But in spite of rich and varied left political traditions in India, there haven’t been such endeavours.
It is not at all surprising that Rosa Luxemburg’s writings are referred mostly to explain and critique crises in the political movements of the working class. Throughout her theoretical and practical struggles she was a staunch defender of the primacy of workers’ self activism, in which the organisational question and the issue of the revolutionary transcendence of capitalism must be grounded and resolved. It was this conviction that allowed her to comprehend the dialectic of spontaneity and organisation against the dualistic discourse that dominated the working class politics, which overstressed and celebrated organisation as a given institution, which fits and filters spontaneous class impulses, rather than as being made and remade in class self-activism. Her experience in the revolutionary movements of Poland and Germany armed her with a sensitivity towards the unevenness of the material ground of workers’ politics and their consciousness. It was this sensitivity that sharpened her critique towards the reformist and the revolutionary vanguardist tendencies within the world social-democratic movement, deconstructing them in terms of the specificities and exigencies of class struggle in particular spacetimes.
The mesmerising successes of revolutionaries in acquiring state power in countries with dominant peasantry and semi-proletarians in the early decades of the last century, without similar successes in advanced capitalist countries led to a dilution of the lessons of the Paris Commune, and even of the workers’ soviets, which symbolised the class self-capacity of the proletarians. Instead the vanguardist and statist tendencies became powerful which substituted the self-emancipatory activities of the working class, or at the most instrumentalised them in building up a strong state. The prime task now was simply to develop a powerful apparatus of the party that would acquire state power, competing with other political forces. What was lost in fact was the revolutionary project itself – of the dissolution of the capitalist power entrenched in the State and the simultaneous building up of workers’ power from below through their self-activities, in which the dialectic of spontaneity and organisation operated. Those who critiqued this situation found a powerful theoretical guide in Rosa Luxemburg in their endeavours to save and shape the emancipatory task of working class politics.
In the Indian subcontinent, the revolutionary movement since its inception was entrenched with nationalist ideologies and wedded to the immediate task of developing a United Front to attain national independence. This curtailed every possibility of an independent emergence of working class politics in the region. However, recently a lot has been done in history writing to chronicle and trace the trajectory of working class self-assertion with and without the classically recognised forms of workers politics. The unavailability of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas in vernacular languages, except filtered through the self-censorship of South Asian revolutionaries and scholars, who could not question the institutionalised leadership and successes of the Second World, made it impossible for dissidents to use the resource of rich conceptualisations found in Rosa Luxemburg’s writings to organise and strengthen critical tendencies within the local revolutionary and working class movements. Hence, we find them mired in the same polemical and sectarian milieu. In fact, the general image of Rosa Luxemburg that prevails in our part of the world – a great tragic revolutionary heroine, a mighty eagle with whom chicken couldn’t compete in flying high, but who could and did sometime stoop a little lower than chicken. Definitely not less than a great martyr, but not more.
It is a pity that almost a century has past since Rosa Luxemburg’s death, but her works are still unavailable in vernacular languages of India. Definitely, with the post-soviet collapse and the rise of neoliberal globalisation, interests in her contribution in the critique of political economy have arisen tremendously, which we witness in scholarly writings coming even from the institutionalised left community. However, what is still lacking is her political understanding equipping activists and workers who are steeped into the labour movement and who can appreciate the full import of her writings. For this to take place, her writings must be made available to them in their languages, in the languages of workers themselves, for whom Rosa Luxemburg wrote.