December 1998

Rosa Luxemburg, feminism, and the struggle to be truly human

by Frigga Haug

Editor's Note: Frigga Haug, the noted German feminist and Marxist theoretician, wrote the following Preface to the recently published German edition of Raya Dunayevskaya's ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION. We here publish Haug's Preface, on the 100th anniversary of Luxemburg's famous debate with Eduard Bernstein on "reform or revolution" and a month prior to the 80th anniversary of her murder following the 1918-19 German revolution, as part of our effort to encourage new discussion and debate on Dunayevskaya's writings on this crucial figure. To obtain the English language edition of ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION, see page 7.*

In 1982, shortly after its publication in the U.S., I read Raya Dunayevskaya's book on Luxemburg, women's liberation, and Marx's theory of revolution. There were four moments that fascinated me and made me read the whole in one sitting.

First there was the author herself. Born as a Jew in Ukraine in 1910, she emigrated to the U.S. with her family at a young age and joined the revolutionary movement at age 13. Black people were her main interest. Due to her divergences, she was expelled from the Communist Party at the age of 18 and found herself with the Trotskyists. She became Trotsky's secretary during his exile in Mexico (1937-38).

Then the link to Rosa Luxemburg, who was still mostly under a cloak of silence in Germany at the time. Although she was known as being strong, rebellious, militant. Raya Dunayevskaya put her into the center, linked her with both of the movements that were important in my life at the time: the women's movement and Marx's theory of social change.

I benefited greatly from reading the book, precisely because it altered so many ways of thinking that were regarded as correct. This began with her view of Rosa Luxemburg. As against the usual view, she does not examine what Luxemburg achieved concerning women's politics, where she intervened, what her parliamentary petitions regarding women showed. On the contrary, she puts Luxemburg forward as a human being and a political leader and proposes that feminists can learn from Luxemburg's attitude, her way of approaching problems, her politics. To inherit from Luxemburg-this is the message of the greater part of the book in which she works out and portrays very carefully the problematics of masses and leadership, of direct democracy, of the relationship between rationality and intuition, between reason and spontaneity. She shows a connection between the question of racism and the struggles against it, and the early connections and convergences throughout the world between women's liberation, the workers' movement, and immigration.

She proposes new criteria for political analysis, including the question of hegemony (That is not what she calls it, however) and, as a connecting line between groups, wherein the exclusion from politics unites precisely those who are the most oppressed.

She also proposes a new anti-economistic reading of Marx regarding the questions raised by women's liberation, a reading that does not search for oppression and early forms of domination, but rather moves gender relations and family forms into the center of historical-critical work. She strongly urges us to read Marx's ETHNOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS.

She discusses the women's movement of the late seventies and tries, in the sense discussed above, to influence it politically. At the same time she succeeds in bringing together the questions of social change, women's liberation, and permanent revolution. Finally, it is not only the problem of dismantling the old, but above all that of constructing the new. It is in this way that she brings problems of concern to political and cultural struggles into the discussion from early on.

What fascinated me was her linking of Marx and Luxemburg to current struggles in the Third World and to questions of women's liberation that were also discussed in a topical fashion. It was only with the final chapter, where a link back to Marx and to Hegel is being attempted in order to found a new humanist Marxism, that I could not get very far.

At the time I did not know that her own school called MARXIST HUMANISM grew out of this new, if also changed, relation of Hegel and Marx. It is an active group that is working up through today around Raya Dunayevskaya's office in Chicago (that is managed as an archive), publishing a journal, is present at conferences, and tries to establish her ideas all over the world, and that also contacted me, who had reviewed Dunayevskaya's' book on Luxemburg. Thanks to the persistent energy of this group, the book can be published in German 15 years later.

The themes-Luxemburg, revolution, Marx, Lenin, even the women's movement-seem strangely out of date, Hegel being the only one that seems to have endured unimpaired the turning points of 1989 and after. What then, or who, could still be interested in this book today?

Hence I read the work once again, this time the 1991 edition, published in the U.S. as a "Challenge to the post-Marx Marxists," with a preface by Adrienne Rich, that militant figure in the new women's movement, who certainly would not be characterized by anyone as antiquated. Adrienne Rich applies the same procedure Dunayevskaya had used for her rereading of Luxemburg to Dunayevskaya herself. She examines her method of working with regard to its possible benefit for us living today. She discovers here the connection of experience and revolutionary thought and thus an actualization of the philosophic in the sharing of political struggle. Rich focuses on Dunayevskaya as a political theorist who was at the same time also a scholar and a knowledgeable woman of learning, and in spite of that was never far from daily political struggles in the ghettoes of the world, especially that of Blacks in the U.S. In short, she describes Dunayevskaya as an organic intellectual in the sense of Gramsci, who moreover could follow no party line, no Marxist-Leninism, and yet tried again and again to work out what is living in Marxian thought.

Adrienne Rich comes from the new women's movement and describes her mistrust of Marxian categories, her experience that women are being directly and systematically cast aside on the Left, so that the new women's movement began at first as a critique of the Left, a kind of shock-experience. She allows herself to be convinced by Dunayevskaya that the women's movement is not only a force of change, but above all that the feminist theoreticians also contribute to the creation of new thought, new perspectives: "The first thing to strike a reader, ranging through Dunayevskaya's book, is the vitality, combativeness, relish, impatience of her voice. Hers is not the prose of a disembodied intellectual. She argues; she challenges; she urges on; she expostulates; her essays have the spontaneity of an extemporaneous speech (some of them are) or of a notebook-you can hear her thinking aloud. She has a prevailing sense of ideas as flesh and blood, of the individual thinker, limited by her or his individuality yet carrying on a conversation in the world" (xiii).

How would it feel to be free and truly human? This question-put forward by Adrienne Rich, by Raya Dunayevskaya, by Rosa Luxemburg, yet certainly by all who are still alive-is what makes the book worth reading, far beyond any fashionable notion that would regard its subject matter as dated.

(Translated by Stephen Steiger)

* ROSA LUXEMBURG, FRAUENBEFREIUNG UND MARX' PHILOSOPHIE DER REVOLUTION was translated from the English by Thomas Laugstien and published by Argument Verlag. It is available from News & Letters for $20. See Literature page for instructions on ordering it as well as the original ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION in English from News & Letters.



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