photo by SG

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Luxemburg and the Unorganized

"On the other hand, it is said that we would be acting prematurely were we to propagate the mass strike in Germany, for we are less ripe for it than the proletariat of other countries. We in Germany have the strongest organizations, the fullest coffers, the largest parliamentary party, and yet we, alone among the whole international proletariat, are not supposed to be ripe? It is said that, despite its strength, our organization is only a minority of the proletariat. According to this notion, we would be ripe only when the last man and the last woman had paid their dues to their constituency associations. This is one wondrous moment for which we need not wait. Whenever we instigate an important action, not only do we count upon those who are organized, but we also assume that they will sweep the unorganized masses along with them. What would be the state of the proletarian straggle if we counted only on the organized!

During the ten-day general strike in Belgium, at least two-thirds of the strikers were not organized. Of course one must not conclude from this that the organization was of no significance. The organization’s power lies in its understanding of how to draw the unorganized into the action at the right time. The exploitation of such situations is a method of bringing about a huge growth in the organizations of the party and trade unions. Recruitment to the strong organizations must be based on a large-scale and forward-looking policy; otherwise the organizations will quietly decay. The history of the party and the trade unions demonstrates that our organizations thrive only on the attack. For then the unorganized flock to our banner. The type of organization that calculates in advance and to the nearest penny the costs necessary for action is worthless; it cannot weather the storm. All this must be made clear, and the dividing line must not be drawn so nicely between the organized and the unorganized."
Rosa Luxemburg, "The Political Mass Strike," speech 1913.

I don't have much to say about this just yet, mostly posting it here so that I can think about it and return to it. One thing that strikes me right away is I'm finding myself really able to access Luxemburg's writings in a way that I have more trouble with from other folks from the "party activist" tradition of Marxism. I think particularly here of Lenin. I know he's an important thinker but when his only reference point to a shared orientation is the party, taken to mean a party of cadre, I don't have a really easily comparable political label. Anarchist political organization? Okay, but they shouldn't really organize like Leninists (as discussed in my centralism entry the other day.)

But Luxemburg frequently speaks about "the party and the trade unions" in one breath, as she does here. This is great for me because what is the IWW if not a party (here read: non-electoral political organization) and a trade union (read: small one!) So placing myself there as a starting point, I can read her analysis a lot more coherently, or at least it relates to my work a lot more coherently.

Also the last sentence here is I think really great: "All this must be made clear, and the dividing line must not be drawn so nicely between the organized and the unorganized." Here Luxemburg is posing a powerful critique that plenty of modern day organizers and radicals should really think on. Who are the unorganized? Outside of the unions, the social movements, the political organizations? How do the unorganized become organized? Often we say they do when they join a party or a union. But what I draw from Luxemburg's arguments here, and maybe to push them a bit further, is that organized, as a state of being, is less about your card and more about who you are and even more importantly what you do.

But as she says, it's not that the organization isn't important because its members represent a minority within the movement. This is the mistake of the anti-organizationalist tendency in modern day anarchism and I strongly believe it continues to be one of the biggest mistakes that anarchists make. But Luxemburg suggests that we need to think about how the organization moves and deliberates in a sea of unorganized workers who move forward and backwards on their own (though not wholly on their own, even a small organization can shape the way that the unorganized think and act). Her suggestion, attack, is I think a solid one, though it also carries the concern that we might resemble the squawking activist yelling for revolution through his bullhorn without anyone listen. Sometimes people take "attack" to mean "suggest that we attack," I think this is an ongoing problem in the Trotskyist milieu today. The organization matters because we debate and organize "to draw the unorganized into the action at the right time" and outside organization we can't.

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