Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1926
Monument to Rosa Luxemburg & Karl Liebkneckt,
later demolished by Hitler
As a continuation of my last post, the focus of which was more to specifically spell out the relationship between the revolutionary thought of Lenin and Luxemburg, the present entry is meant to clarify the relevance of looking at the thought of past revolutionary figures in general. It will begin with a further examination of some statements made by the Luxemburg that were quoted in the last post. This will help explain my position on a separate but related issue that I have discussed with Reid Cane of The Luxemburgist. While originally this was included as part of the last post, I have decided to modify it in order to post it as a standalone entry, both for reasons of length and since its content is fairly distinct from that dealt with in the last one.
Returning to the passage cited toward the end of the last entry (beginning with “[e]verything that happens in Russia…”) from The Russian Revolution, we may take note of the language Luxemburg uses to characterize the European proletariat. Her stress on the “failure” of the international proletariat and its “betrayal” of the Russian revolutionaries, along with the “bankruptcy” of international socialism, highlights another point of contention that has arisen between Reid and myself. In the comments section to his recent “Note on Popular Right Ideology”, I stated my belief that the glaring deficiencies of Leftist politics in the present day should be of greater concern to the Left than the perennial opportunism of the Right. Reid correctly noted in his replies that concern for one should not preclude concern for the other, and explained that his interest in the Tea Party movement was not in order to simply discredit it but understand it as a distorted expression of class consciousness. His explanation shows that I mistook his preoccupation with the Tea Party movement to be the result of a perception that this movement constitutes a great threat. With regard to his prior point, I accordingly clarified that I certainly did not mean that one had to choose whether to worry about the Right or the Left. I suggested, rather, that Leftist thought and the political project of the Left in general had undergone an extreme regression in the course of the 20th century (Platypus’ “Decline of the Left” thesis), and that this should be the Left’s foremost concern. To this, Reid responded:
I have to admit, I find your defamatory comments about the existing Left (and those of Platypus more generally) to be extremely discouraging. These people are our allies, and while I may disagree with a lot of what they say and do, the way to make that evident is not through condescension, but by expressing critical solidarity, by joining them and trying to steer them in other directions where appropriate, and where there is too great a divide or too much stubbornness, to demonstrate in practice what is wrong with their approach. I agree that its a shame that we are no longer witness to the sort of working class mobilization of the earlier part of the last century, but I don’t count this fact as either a cause or effect of “regression in Leftist consciousness”. The left hasn’t regressed, we’ve been brutally beaten down, silenced, defamed and overwhelmed for a century, and the disorganized and splintered remnants that persist today, however “backward” their thinking may be at times, are not symptoms of the Left’s decadence and degeneration but the first flares of its rekindling.
Though there is great poetry expressed in this last line, I’m afraid I can’t agree with Reid’s optimism. Reid is most certainly right to note that the Left has for well over a century often “been brutally beaten down, silenced, defamed and overwhelmed.” But the failure of the Left is not explainable solely by the strength of its enemies. In large part, its failure must be traced to its inadequate theorization of historical reality, its misrecognition of objective possibilities, its celebration and support of seemingly progressive political movements that are in fact reactionary, down to its outright betrayal of its own interests. Repression surely exists, but at some point the Left must hold itself accountable for its failures and work through the history of its defeats. The refusal to do so means that these mistakes go on unresolved — that their pernicious ramifications remain unexamined. Revisiting these defeats does not mean that the Left must simply eulogize the great movements of the past or lament the opportunities that they missed. Rather, a working through of the troubled legacy of the Left is necessary for its reconstitution.