Paul Frolich’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg

The book is quite interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its passionate defense of the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg from her many detractors. I read the book as a companion piece to Reform or Revolution, which a number of people in Austin are reading at the moment.

While the book has many things to recommend it, I found two arguments to be particularly provocative (either because I haven’t heard them before or because they didn’t strike me the first time I heard them – I can’t decide which).

First, Frolich argues that the historical conditions were against the German Revolution (1918-23) from the beginning:

And to top it off, there was another fact of the greatest significance: history provided the movement with no direct or imperative objective that could be brought about only by revolution. Peace and land were the two great slogans which had carried the Russian Revolution to victory, but in 1918 peace was already a fact, and defeated German imperialism was prepared to pay anything for ti, providing it could retain power at home; and although a broad section of the small-hold peasants made a rather precarious living, land-hunger was not strong enough to rouse the rural areas into revolt. Having been kept until then in complete servitude by Junkers and rich land-owning peasants, the agricultural labourers made only hesitant use of the ‘coalition right’ and their new-found political freedom. The working class was certainly in favour of the socialization of the economy, but the greater part of the masses came to realize what this demand meant and how it could be carried out only after all chance of doing so was irrevocably lost (263).

Frolich adds to this grim picture the following proviso: “However, there was one factor which forced matters to a fateful showdown: sections of the working class were armed.” This makes it appear as though the German Revolution was really only ever about the disarmament of the German working class so that German capitalism could force through its own agenda on the German workers. If the revolutionary prospects were not really all that good, then all revolutionary action in Germany in 1918 really did amount to putsches.

Second, Frolich argues about the pivotal events of January 1918, “The truth is: there was no Spartakus uprising … The truth is that the January fighting was cautiously and deliberately prepared and cunningly provoked by the leaders of the counter-revolution.” (285) This argument seems to flow from the first (that the advantage was in the hands of the bourgeois reaction and that there could only have defensive actions by the working class at the moment).

This is fairly different from the picture painted by Pierre Broue, for instance, who argues that there was an attempt to push forward in 1918 when the KPD did not have a decisive advantage (due in part to the adventurist politics of Liebknecht).

Part of Frolich’s argument seems to be the result of focusing on Rosa Luxemburg’s role in the events of 1918, but there does seem to be an important debate here about whether or not any party would have been able to push the German Revolution to a decisive conclusion early on. The proletariat of course gets another go at it in 1923, when conditions are more favorable.

One thought on “Paul Frolich’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg

  1. Pingback: Rosa Luxemburg: The Case for a Mass Workers’ Strike | ikners.com

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