Rebecca Short writes:
Jess E led off a debate on Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and the fight for the revolutionary party on Saturday morning as part of a series of meetings on Leninism in the 21st century. She began with an explanation of the polemic between Lenin and Luxemburg over the central question of what form the revolutionary party ought to take.
Jess looked at Lenin’s vision of a party that is rooted in the class and brought together the most advanced layers of the working class in order to be able to intervene in the struggle. The Leninist model of democratic centralism flowed out of this vision, she said, highlighting the importance of unity in action.
She moved on to look at Luxemburg’s polemic with Lenin and what he wrote in his pamphlet What is to be done? where he argued that a separate organisation for revolutionaries was necessary. Luxemburg countered with arguments about the spontaneity of working class activity and how the trade union bureaucracy can hold back struggle.
Jess emphasised the strengths of Luxemburg’s arguments in recognising working class spontaneity, the relationship between economic and political struggles, and the dangers of conservative bureaucracy. But there were also limitations to Luxemburg: she overemphasised spontaneity. The presence of the Bolshevik party in Russia enabled the Russian revolution to succeed, while the German revolution did not.
In the debate from the floor a number of comrades, including Paul Le Blanc, argued that following 1905 there was a convergence of Lenin’s and Luxemburg’s ideas – and this point was of relevance today. Some comrades drew on this, discussing the relationship between membership and leadership of the party, and how we can fight to be “tribunes of the oppressed” today. Others argued that democratic centralism meant party members had to act in unity once a decision had been taken by the revolutionary party.