Analysis: Rosa Luxemburg’s' The Mass Strike

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Author: Anon
First Published: Newsletter 12/04/20

Rosa Luxemburg is often a marginalised figure among the left with the majority of socialists knowing very little about her or her activism. Born in Poland 1871 she became an activist and organiser of general strikes and fiercely defended exploited workers eventually being martyred for the cause of socialism.  Though many people disagree with aspects of theory, philosophy and thinking there are many things relevant for socialists to consider today.

In this short article we will be reflecting primarily on the 1906 publication entitled ‘The Mass Strike, The Political Party and the Trade Unions’ and the relevance for socialists today.

The third chapter ‘Development of the Mass Strike Movement in Russia’ is arguably the most important chapter as Luxemburg details the growth of industrial action taken against the Russian Empire. Workers who had never striked before began standing against their oppressive employers striking for an improvement of wages, schooling, working conditions, dignity in work. The fight for socialism must be a fight of an organised working class through the trade union movement.

One of the most intriguing aspects surrounding the historic strike action seems to be the almost semi-autonomous way that the unions and workers formed. The Mass strike was not won on a national political level, but it began when ordinary workers started demanding better working conditions for themselves and their colleagues.

This is not to devalue the role of the political in the struggle against for a better society, merely what the pamphlet does is encourage workers that without them the economy would not function. We cannot devalue or underestimate the essential nature of the working-class movement in the fight for socialism, the economy is sustained, driven and reliant on the workers.

However, it is through the stand and campaigning by the working class through radical trade unions that political change can be shaped and changed. As empowered workers should be through their collaboration and struggle can be used to shift the debate and political landscape.

The context of ‘The Mass Strike’ is however very different to the material conditions we are currently living through. The role of trade unions has been in rapid decline over decades, membership has dramatically declined and other features such as remote working, distant working and self-employment brings huge challenges to the notion of an organised workforce.

As a result of having a fractured working class that is significantly harder to organise in the same way trade unions must have an ever increasing and strengthened relationship with a political movement. True change to working conditions must be forced by the campaign of the workers and the support of legislators and those in authority. In order for the workers to win concessions we must have a strong relationship with the political to bring about reforms quicker. The dangers of a right wing government on the trade union movement is evident the ‘Trade Union Bills’ forced through by the conservatives reflect the threat that the political realm can still be to workers trying to improve their working conditions.

The Labour party is the only political party in Britain that has a direct link to the workers through trade unions, no other left movement or party is backed by the trade union movement.  Therefore, a better future and a socialist future can only be achieved through the political and industrial actions by a mass left party in conjunction with a strong radical trade union movement.

In conclusion, be encouraged at the difference the working class can make when it stands together, however the fracturing nature of employment compels socialists to work within political structures to produce real and fundamental societal change.