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Searching, Re-Searching Rosa:
The backward look behind the assurance of recorded history,
The backward half-look over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror
“Today we can seriously set about destroying capitalism once and for all. Nay, more; not merely are we in a position to perform this task, not merely is its performance a duty toward the proletariat, but our solution offers the only means of saving human society from destruction”
Prophetic words unheeded that have stood testimony, made humanity pay a price once too often in the course of its nine decades of existence after the expunging of profundity by a “moron” who took it upon himself to use a long iron as a club in an act of brutal barbarism - “Two blows with the butt of a gun, a cracked skull, and a shot to ensure before dropping the body in a canal so that it may be flushed out months later” .
What has the world borne witness to, other than a million deaths in a Siberian cold winter, imperialistic colonisation programmes, crucifixion of gender on the altar of Irish and other Nationalisms, aggrandising genocides, World War II, building of walls instead of bridges, partitions, cold wars and neo-colonial hegemonies, barbaric other uprisings, banishments of the children of the soil from cities of salt, pesticides in valleys of flowers, oil for civilisation and concomitant clashes, engineered collapses of labour along with instrumented fallings of stock exchanges, big brothers bumbling, Bamiyan Buddhas, Kandahar, nine-elevens, revenges, recriminations, and reparitions, suicides, murders, death, mayhem and even more significantly a state of insecurity where your best friend is an enemy, with a bomb in his hand and thirty pieces of silver in his pouch? It appears as if the world has been held to ransom through out these nine decades by a bunch of delinquents, terrorists and counter terrorists, arsonists by trade, put in a room full of fire crackers and given a match box with a specific instruction not to strike it, in the back-drop of which advancements, setting foot on the moon and realising progressions in the arenas of health, wealth and prosperity, pale into insignificance.
Gandhi has been shot. Neighbours have betrayed. Leaders have misled. Riot- torn, strife- torn ‘Wastelands’ are all that are left. Proverbial crabs that escaped providence have deserted ‘Brave New Worlds’ and sought solace with the same foster parents. Transient but imperceptible phase in history with its despondent urgency has seen individual furtherance. We have naturalised a confused surplus value theory. Marx, Fanon and Freire we have buried in Brazil. A new Pedagogy of the Oppressed we have chosen to essay.
In effect we are living purposes to hallucinations. Our Basic Instinct has always been governed by a Sleeping with the Enemy, True Lies are all that govern an Independence Day, in short a precession of simulacra is all that is left of what appears now in retrospect an utopian dream ably nullified and negated by a non-sense of hyper-reality and its simulations on mathematical models and game theories, new histories impelled to be writ on forced erasures of memories, where the human ceases to pulsate even in the sterile logos of cultural re-presentations.
We suffer a forced indwelling in a problematic present, which in the context of a constant deferral of actual meaning, endless procrastination of larger political purport, has further aggravated appropriated, rewritten sites of meaning, to the elision of the unwritten other “marginalised or suppressed or forgotten histories”.
The point is in such a situation how may one privilege the future when the past is thus non-available, erased, or available as nostalgia, myth, and mere memory? When the present impinges on the past in particular ideological ways?
The reiteration of the essentiality of a past does not however obliterate its metaphysics. Yet, in this very dichotomy a point of contiguity may be located - a conjunctive that even while stressing the importance of history, chooses to dispossess the past of those certain purchases which the present has sought to credit it with.
A precise need to rub knuckles against the grain and re-possess the value and worth of that which has hitherto been marginalised which begins the action of liberation is the need of the hour. The past, then becomes history, the future hope and the present achieves a dialogical ordering of mutually contradictory strains – a new ordering temporally and spatially encompassed able of instructing a radical collective/ community.
The present as action is then, the liberating agent which can forge moral links through cracks and discontinuities: as practice it would be poised to blast open the continuum, since it would perceive here less a sequence and more a catastrophe; as agent it would seek to tie enslaved ancestors to liberated grandchildren . Unable as it is to ground itself in linear time, it would look backwards to the future and forwards to history. It is then the need of the hour to study those different other sites of (elided) meaning historically, redefine the present continuously so that the future writes a positive story by itself. In short liberate the past as present for the future, as a chronotope that is dialectic at stand still, as an image in which the past and now, flash into a constellation.
It is in this context that Rosa becomes significant. Her life was enshrined in a politics of existence living as it were in a historical time and geographical space of turmoil and re-mappings respectively. Boundaries for her had ceased to be, the personal was the political. 1871 to 1919, between the Second and Third international, in the midst of three revolutions with similar and yet different undertones she was undoubtedly part of process - motion. As a person she lived probed and instrumented history, as a comrade in combat and also as an intellectual locked with an adversary in a Gramscian ‘war of position’. Thus she sought to follow this violent logic into those spheres where it was ostensibly least apparent and even considered irrelevant. In this sense, there was no intellectual or intellectuals who were as much “national-popular”, who could “approach the people in order to guide it ideologically and keep it linked with the leading group” as she did. We know after Gramsci and his scheme such a national-popular element, is indispensable for the making of revolutions that are permanent, and what we have in Rosa’s elision is an obviation of that which fulfils an important role in representing and linking popular energies to the imperatives of class struggle.
Further we know that by 1905 history had already repeated itself twice, the first time as tragedy the second time as farce. 1905 may be taken to be the point of arrival of three events – evolutionary, which took place in different contexts and at different times : the three bourgeois revolutions - the great French revolution, the German Revolution of March (1848), and the present Russian revolution – form a continuous chain of development in which the fortunes and the end of the capitalist century are to be seen. This point of arrival is said to have set into motion certain objectives which got crystallised in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. It is a point of arrival, as a continual for a new beginning in the back-drop of which the abortive Spartacist revolt of 1919 is to be read. Accordingly it is to Rosa Luxemburg’s strike papers – the text which offered a coherent account of the moment, we have to go to. A text that re-read and added to Marx's theories of revolution that history gets made and encompasses people in its storm but people are its necessary constituents.
To elaborate, what actually happened in 1905 had its first volley fired as early as 1896 in Petersburg . What is of interest to us here is the process of evolution - of the revolutionary struggle over a decade and which effectively transformed the direction of historical change, moved it from the economic imperatives of the Mass strike to the political achievements of 1917 and after. As John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World explicates, this was a period in process, which was not a gestation time period, but one of actual process-motion, which, as in nature, rebels in the moment of its saturation to change instantly the order, when equations are assimilated into the motion, even as they are forged. In this context, Karensky, the cadets, and even Bukharov enjoy a seeming momentum in comparison to the mass of people who grew in a single day beyond the possible, precisely because of the power of the historical present – “A year of revolution has therefore given the Russian proletariat that “training” which thirty years of Parliamentary and trade union struggle cannot artificially give to the German Proletariat”. Here then was a situation of fraternity, created and sustained in process, a process of learning and growing in the field, in the instant of the 'motion'. Thus opposed camps came to exist in togetherness, across classes, isolating merely those proponents undesirable, to create an habitation where victor and vanquished could be accommodated.
It is against the backdrop of this moment that we need to, through a reading of Rosa, enunciate the elided moments of German social democracy. The German revolution, leading to the establishment of the republic was a tragedy that fast turned into a farce. How did this happen? Was it an inevitability, as the revisionists would have it, because Germany was far too progressive to usher in a change? Or was it because Rosa and the Spartacist League were idealists, given to a theory of revolutionary spontaneity that did not await its historical moment, but chose to jump ahead of it? Or was it her one big bloomer, her stand against national self determination that wrote her out of history as her critics would have us believe.
German democracy chose to endorse an irrelevant and misconstrued perception of the First World War as a struggle for self-determination; while, clearly, the War was an exercise in self-opportunism, which suffered an illusion as to its meaning and purpose, an illusion that sought semantic and symbolic solace in nationalism. In effect, it was a war propagated by bourgeoisie imperialism to give a new fillip to a dying capitalism which was hinged on unproductive colonialist practices, and the concomitant competition thereof .
One thing is clear though that Rosa Luxemburg was acutely sensitive to the fact that the idea of the mass strike, as envisioned by the unions could not instrument a revolutionary upsurge. Besides, the dialectical development of the capitalist mode of production had created a situation which by providing subsidies encouraged a fight for privileges. Unionism thus was convinced of its own rationale, both of existence and action and unionists failed to see that in and of themselves, they may never usher in a revolution but would perhaps have to take charge under directive when the event occurred . The Russian experience precisely taught this. German social democracy, for its part, while not fundamentally economistic could yet only merely theorise, rather than praxiate the event - hence, the endless quibbling over timing, situation, the possibilities immanent or not in Germany to urge forth a revolution. Rosa and her comrades in the ill-fated Spartacist League which refused to accept the shabby compromises of German social democracy, especially its position on the war, and who were convinced that the spontaneity of the mass of workers had to be claimed, rather than diverted in and through unionist rhetoric embodied in this sense, the revolutionary hopes that were systematically betrayed by the social democrats and the unions. The poignancy of their politics, the ineffability of their revolutionary courage which stood out against the false and elaborate reasoning of the social democrats acquire a measure of tragic gloom and power when seen in the context of the fate which struck them.
This would then be the trajectory that my paper would take…
The Dry Salvages, Four Quartets, Eliot. T. S
Refer Mary-Alice Waters, “Introduction” in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, Pathfinder press, NY, 1999, p7.
“her physical body will never again take its place in the struggle for social revolution, but no bonfire and no dictatorial order can destroy her ideas. They live on in the minds of her adherents and in the masses of the proletariat.” Rosa Luxemburg, Her Life and Work, Paul Frolich, London,Victor Gollancz, 1940.
This is how the angel of history is pictured. His face is turned towards the past. Where most can perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is called progress. Refer to Benjamin, Walter: ‘Thesis on the Philosophy of History’ in Arendt Hannah (ed) : Walter Benjamin: Illuminations, translated by Zohn, Harry, Collins/ Fontana Books, Great Britain, 1970
“ The mass strike is… not a specifically Russian product, springing from absolutism but a universal form of the proletarian class struggle resulting from the present stage of capitalist development and class relations…” (The Mass Strike, Rosa Luxemburg speaks, pathfinder New York 1970,p.279
The present official period, so to speak, of the Russian revolution is justly dated from the rising of the proletariat on January 22, 1905, when the demonstration of 200,000 workers ended in a frightful bloodbath before the Czar’s palace. The bloody massacre in St. Petersburg was, as is well known, the signal for the outbreak of the first gigantic series of mass strikes which spread over the whole of Russia …. But the St. Petersburg rising of January 22 was only the critical moment of a mass strike which the proletariat of the Czarist capital had previously entered upon in January 1905. This January
mass strike was without doubt carried through under the immediate influence of the gigantic general strike which in December 1904 broke out in the Caucasus, in Baku, and for a long time kept the whole of Russia in suspense. The events of December in Baku were on their part only the last and powerful ramification of those tremendous mass strikes which, like a periodical earthquake, shook the whole of south Russia, and whose prologue was the mass strike in Batum in the Caucasus in March 1902. This first mass strike movement in the continuous series of present revolutionary eruptions is, finally, separated by five or six years from the great general strike of the textile workers in St. Petersburg in 1896 and 1897. Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, “Chapter III”, The Mass Strike … And The Junius Pamphlet, Harper Torch Books, 1971, pp. 20/1
“In Germany one may study the development of imperialism, crowded as it was into the shortest possible space of time, in concrete form. The unprecedented rapidity of German industrial and commercial development since the foundation of the Empire, brought out during the 1880’s two characteristically peculiar forms of capitalist accumulation : the most pronounced growth of monopoly in Europe and the best developed and most concentrated banking system in the whole world. The monopolies have organized the steel and iron industry, ie: the branch of capitalist endeavour most interested in government orders, in militaristic equipment and in imperialistic undertakings (railroad building, the exploitation of mines, etc) into the most influential factor in the nation. The latter has cemented the money interests into a firmly organized whole with the greatest, most virile energy, creating a power that autocratically rules the industry, commerce and credit of the nation, dominating in private as well as public affairs, boundless in its powers of expansion… by its capacities to use the world as its stage”. Junius Pamphlet., op.cit., p. 130.
“They were competing in their expansion toward the non-capitalist countries and zones of the world. As early as the 1880’s a strong tendency toward colonial expansion became apparent. England secured control of Egypt and created for itself, in South Africa, a powerful colonial empire. France took possession of Tunis in North Africa and Tonkin in East Asia; Italy gained a foothold in Abyssinia; Russia accomplished its conquests in Central Asia and pushed forward into Manchuria; Germany won its first colonies in Africa and in the South Sea, and the United States joined the circle when it procured the Phillipines with “interests” in Eastern Asia. This period of feverish conquests has brought on, beginning with the Chinese-Japanese War in 1895, a practically uninterrupted chain of bloody wars, reaching its height in the Great Chinese invasion, and closing with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904”. (Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet, pp. 128/9).
“If we now leave the pedantic scheme of demonstrative mass strikes artificially brought about by order of parties and trade unions, and turn to the living picture of a people’s movement arising with elementary energy, from the culmination of class antagonisms and the political situation – a movement which passes, politically as well as economically, into mass struggles and mass strikes – it becomes obvious that the task of Social Democracy does not consist in the technical preparation and direction of mass strikes, but, first and foremost, in the political leadership of the whole movement ”. ibid. p. 68.