Lenin, Luxemburg and the revolutionary strategy for reforms

2:30pm Saturday 18 September

About this session

Rosa Luxemburg’s Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Unions is rightly celebrated as a clear and passionate explanation of why the struggle by the mass of workers for reforms has the potential to build the confidence and develop the class consciousness of workers necessary for revolution. In contrast, Lenin is often portrayed as an authoritarian, only concerned with his own party and his desire to exercise power. In this session, Sandra Bloodworth will interrogate the assumptions behind these portrayals.

As early as 1895, Lenin had concluded: “The mass of working folk learn from [the] struggle”. From then until the end of his life, this was a theme in Lenin’s writings. His whole orientation was imbued with enthusiasm for the struggles of workers from the smallest of strikes to mass protests.

Contrary to the widely held view that the struggles for reforms sharply differentiated Luxemburg from Lenin, Sandra will argue that in fact they were closer on this than on any other question. And she will seek an explanation for the mistaken ideas about them.

Why does this matter? Understanding the relationship between the struggles for reforms and revolution has been a question revolutionary socialists and syndicalists have grappled with in every upsurge of working class struggle. And, in many cases their inability to draw the connections which both Lenin and Luxemburg drew has undermined their attempts to lead revolutionary movements to victory.

In discussing this question we will necessarily look at Lenin and Luxemburg’s theoretical stance on the state and the need for political organisation, another question they are often assumed to fundamentally disagree about. And we will see two important revolutionaries in agreement on much more than is often thought. We will challenge the picture of a spontaneist beloved of many who reject the need for a revolutionary party on one side and an authoritarian who was more obsessed with the domination of the central committee over his party than workers’ struggles.

In doing so we will enrich our own knowledge of these crucial questions for the struggle to achieve Marx’s vision of the self emancipation of the working class and workers’ revolution, to which both Luxemburg and Lenin were committed.

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