Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Rosa Luxemburg, the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism

Marx’s ‘support’ for the Paris Commune is not an isolated example. The Polish
Marxist, Rosa Luxemburg, was to defend the Bolshevik Revolution in the same
way and for the same reasons that Marx and Engels had praised the Paris Commune.
The Bolsheviks, she argued, have acted with immense heroism: the revolution was
an act of proletarian courage, and she supported it. On the other hand, she was
alarmed by the authoritarianism of Lenin and Trotsky and she was particularly
critical when the two leaders dispersed the Constituent Assembly in 1918, when it
was returned with a socialist, but not a Bolshevik, majority. She thought that the
revolution was bound to fail. In fact, the Russian Revolution succeeded by crushing
its opponents, and Luxemburg, who was assassinated by German soldiers in 1919,
never lived to see how a virtue was made of necessity first by Lenin and then by
A whole generation of communists in liberal countries was prepared to support
Stalin and Stalinism on the grounds that such rule was ‘inevitable’. This position
also created a grave dilemma for Stalin’s critics like Trotsky who supported the
Russian Revolution and had shown his own illiberal tendencies. Crick expresses
quite a common view when he says that ‘it would have made little difference had
Trotsky, not Stalin succeeded Lenin’ (1987: 62). Engels was to argue (in response
to the anarchists) that ‘revolution is the most authoritarian thing there is’ (Tucker,
1978: 733). A theory that regards such an event as ‘inevitable’ will produce despotic
political practices.

The concept of class war and the problem of morality

Let us look at the other factors that arguably demonstrate a link between Marxism
as a scientific socialism and the authoritarianism that created the popular upheavals
in 1989. Marxism embraces a polarising concept of class war, and this can only
reinforce its authoritarian consequences. Such a concept has excluded or
marginalised a whole series of struggles – for women’s equality, gay rights, religious
toleration, ecological sensitivity, etc. – which are clearly central to the goal of
emancipation, but which do not fit in with the notion that the proletariat, and only
the proletariat, has a leading role to play. A disdain for moral argument encourages
the view that rights do not matter since we must choose between proletarian morality
and bourgeois morality.
Leadership is a problem for all political movements that seek to change society
in the interests of the poor and the relatively inarticulate, since people from relatively
comfortable backgrounds will tend to monopolise leadership skills. This problem
is aggravated by a belief that utopian ideals are mere fantasies. A ‘scientific’ attitude
ought to be tolerant and empirical, but in Marxism, the notion of leaders
spearheading revolutionary processes that are deemed inevitable and historically
necessary, must give a further twist to an authoritarian version of socialism whose
state and political institutions are illiberal, and – despite Marxist theory on this
point – refuse to ‘wither away’.

222 Part 2 Classical ideologies

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