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Rosa Luxemburg on Lenin’s Concept of the Party

Mike Jones

THE ESSAY on "Lenin’s Concept of the Party" by Hal Draper, in What Next? No.12, ends before considering how the Communist International (CI) was structured as a world party, how the individual sections were structured, or how the ruling Soviet party structure developed. It would seem to me that these matters bear on the subject tackled, particularly in the case of the CI and the national Communist Parties, whereas one could argue that the ruling Soviet CP was a special case owing to the conditions imposed by civil war, imperialist intervention and isolation due to the lack of revolutionary success elsewhere.

The Second Congress of the Communist International in July-August 1920 (and in fact the first real one, as the first merely established the rudiments of a new International) adopted both the Statutes and the 21 Conditions. The former demanded "a strongly centralised organisation" and granted the ECCI (Executive Committee) supreme power, while the latter, in Point 12, which declares Democratic Centralism a principle, demands on organisation "as centralised as possible", with "iron discipline", and a party centre "equipped with the most comprehensive powers".

Of course, the above-quoted phrases do not necessarily mean a Stalinist-type set-up, and the legal CPs tended to have quite a democratic structure, with remnants of the rank-and-file checks and balances associated with the social-democratic parties. The removal of the election of the party functionaries and their accountability to the membership, and the substitution of a top-down appointed method with all decisions residing in the Central Committee, came about through "Bolshevisation" in the mid-1920s. However, the power of the ECCI was established already in 1920, so it seems to me that Rosa Luxemburg’s objections to Lenin’s party-concept need more serious consideration than given in Hal Draper’s essay.

Very little by Rosa Luxemburg was in print in 1963, when Draper penned his piece. The 5-volume Gesammelte Werke appeared between 1970 and 1975, and the 5-volume Gesammelte Briefe between 1982 and 1984, a sixth volume of correspondence appeared in 1993, and a sixth volume of her works, translated from Polish, is at present under preparation.

The objections mentioned by Draper in Luxemburg’s "Organisational Questions ..." (1904) were not a one-off occurrence, but, according to renowned Polish Luxemburg scholar Feliks Tych, run through her writings up to her death. In Revolutionary History, Vol.6, No.2/3, I resuméd a number of articles on the latest research on Luxemburg-Jogiches regarding the question of their attitude towards Lenin’s party-concept and his methods, plus some newly found texts, contained in the respected German historical quarterly Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz ..., Vol.27, No.3. Writing in the Czerwony Sztandar in July 1912, following the split in the RSDLP, Luxemburg sees Lenin’s conception of organisation thus: "the Central Committee is everything whereas the real party is only its appendage, a mindless mass which moves mechanically on the orders of the leader like the army exercising on the parade ground and like a choir performing under the baton of the conductor". That sounds just like a criticism of the ECCI as set out in 1920.