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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Du bon usage de Rosa Luxemburg

by Hervé Touboul

The Right Use of Rosa Luxemburg

Translated Thursday 9 September 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Rosa Luxemburg is one of modern history’s leading feminine figures. In Réconcilier marxisme et démocratie (Marxism and Democracy Reconciled) [1], sociologist David Mulhmann’s analysis of the German revolutionary’s legacy is inscribed in a reflection on today’s radical thought.

David Muhlmann’s book is a must: the older among us will find there a useful reminder of the labour movement’s intellectual and political history, the younger will begin or continue to learn it. That history is indeed the background of one of his key figures, namely Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), one of modern history’s greatest feminine figures, who was murdered on the orders of the German Social-Democrats. The book consists of two main parts: the first is a narrative of the great revolutionary’s life and thought; the second consists of interviews with Marxist intellectuals from all over the world. Both parts tell us what was at the very heart of her practical and theoretical work: always to associate Marxism and democracy. The question they raise is: what can we learn from a historical reading of the texts?

Three points (which belong to past and present history)stand out

First, at a very early stage, and like Marx himself, Rosa Luxemburg perceived that capitalism’s globalization is the inevitable consequence of the quest for profit through the lowering of prices to under-cut competitors. The result of this is that raw materials are pilfered in countries that are not yet developed in order to price all competitors out of the markets; consequently, undeveloped economies have to be maintained in that condition so as to prevent the system from exploding under the pressure of excessive competition.

Secondly, since global capitalism leads to an international class struggle, the answer cannot be strictly national — it must also be international: if not, failure is bound to follow sooner or later. Thus, the German revolutionary stood up against national chauvinism, and her hostility to the first world war was at all times radical. To this must be added the fact that though the revolutionary struggle entails or may entail the struggle for reforms, it is important carefully to determine the nature of these reforms.

Thirdly, the party or the parties that lead the struggle can be no more than the main signposts that point the way to revolution; they can never be the fount of truth that tells the masses what they should aim at. Let us always bear in mind her extraordinary remark in 1918, for which she ranks highly not just among democrats but also among communists: “Freedom is always the freedom of the person who thinks differently.”

As one of the authors interviewed in the second part observes: Rosa Luxemburg’s legacy can “serve as a bridge between the experiences of the past and the promises of the future.”

Hervé Touboul is a philosopher.

[1Éditions du Seuil

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