May 21, 2016
Critique of socialism
What did it mean to say that socialist politics was necessary to have “class struggle” at all? This goes to the heart of Luxemburg’s own Marxism, and to her most enduring contribution to its history: her Marxist approach to the political party for socialism — a dialectical understanding of class and party, in which Marxism itself was grasped in a critical-dialectical way. When Luxemburg accused Bernstein of being “undialectical,” this is what she meant: That the working class’ struggle for socialism was itself self-contradictory and its political party was the means through which this contradiction was expressed. There was a dialectic of means and ends, or of “movement” and “goal,” in which the dialectic of theory and practice took part: Marxism demanded its own critique. Luxemburg took the controversy of the Revisionist Dispute as an occasion for this critique.
In this, Luxemburg followed the young Karl Marx’s own formative dialectical critiques of socialism when he was in his twenties, from the September 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge calling for the “ruthless critique of everything existing,” to the critique of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), as well as in The German Ideology and its famous Theses on Feuerbach (1845). Marx had written of the socialist movement that:
The internal difficulties seem to be almost greater than the external obstacles…
[W]e must try to help the dogmatists to clarify their propositions for themselves. Thus, communism, in particular, is a dogmatic abstraction; in which connection, however, I am not thinking of some imaginary and possible communism, but actually existing communism as taught by Cabet, Dézamy, Weitling, etc. This communism is itself only a special expression of the humanistic principle, an expression which is still infected by its antithesis — the private system. Hence the abolition of private property and communism are by no means identical, and it is not accidental but inevitable that communism has seen other socialist doctrines — such as those of Fourier, Proudhon, etc. — arising to confront it because it is itself only a special, one-sided realization of the socialist principle…
Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them.… We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for…
The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions.
Such formulations recurred in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach a couple of years later:
But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice.
For Marx, this meant that socialism was the expression of the contradiction of capitalism and as such was itself bound up in that contradiction. A proper dialectical relation of socialism with capitalism required a recognition of the dialectic within socialism itself. Continue reading