NEWS & LETTERS, January-February 2003

Review: German scholar's view of Dunayevskaya's Luxemburg

by Annelies Laschitza

ROSA LUXEMBURG, FRAUENBEFEIUNG UND MARX’ PHILOSOPHIE DER REVOLUTION by Raya Dunayevskaya. German translation from the English by Thomas Laugstien. Preface by Frigga Haug. Hamburg: Argument Verlag, 1998. 215 pp.

The author wrote this critical philosophical work mainly with regard to the unexplored feminist dimension of Rosa Luxemburg. She also puts special emphasis on the connection with and the conflicts between the women's movement, the workers' movement, and worldwide immigration. In addition, she wants to clarify aspects of Marx's late work that have not been considered with regard to the role of women.


Frigga Haug read the entire book [ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN’S LIBERATION AND MARX’S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION] at one sitting when it appeared in the USA in 1982. In her preface, she explains her enthusiasm:

1. There is the significance of the author herself. Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-87) was born a Jew in Ukraine, emigrated as a child with her family to the U.S., where she lived first in the Jewish and later in the African-American ghetto. At age 13 she joined a revolutionary group. In the following years, she became a strong supporter of the American Negro Labor Congress.

Expelled by the Communist Party in 1928 due to "deviation," she turned to the Trotskyists. In 1937-38, she was Trotsky's Russian-language secretary. In 1939, she broke with him at the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. She is the founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.

2. Rosa Luxemburg is very strongly connected to the women's movement and the dynamic thought of Marx. 3. Haug urges feminists to learn--from Luxemburg's stance, from her way of analyzing problems, from her politics--for their own politics: "To continue Luxemburg's legacy--this is the message of the greater part of the book, in which she works out and presents very carefully the problematics of masses and leadership, of direct democracy, as well as of the relationship between rationality and intuition, and between reason and spontaneity." (p. 5).

4. Also of importance were the author's anti-economistic approach to Marx, questions from the women's movement, and the ongoing struggles of the Third World.


The book is divided into three parts: 1. Rosa Luxemburg as a theorist, activist, and internationalist; 2. the women's liberation movement as revolutionary force and reason; 3. Karl Marx, from a critic of Hegel, to the author of CAPITAL, to the theorist of permanent revolution. This third part became somewhat independent inasmuch as it directs the reader's interest to the development of Dunayevskaya's own school of thought, Marxist-Humanism.

There is an active group, which is still working around Dunayevskaya's archive in Chicago, publishes a newspaper, appears at conventions, and maintains contacts all over the world. Thus, for example, the participants in the [1998] International Rosa Luxemburg Society meeting in Chicago were guests and interlocutors of the colleagues of the Raya Dunayevskaya Memorial Foundation on Wabash Avenue.

The translation into German was made from the new edition of the book published in 1991. It appeared, with the additions made by the author in 1983, as a "challenge to the post-Marx Marxists." Unfortunately the preface by Adrienne Rich, an active figure in the new women's movement, was not included in the present publication.

"How would it feel to be free and truly human?" (p. 7) It is this question, asked by Adrienne Rich, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Rosa Luxemburg, that makes the book worth reading even decades after its appearance.

As far as the biographical aspects and the history of Social Democracy are concerned, it is based on the literature of the 1950s and 1960s (Peter Nettl and Carl E. Schorske). In her preface, Frigga Haug makes the somewhat misleading remark that Rosa Luxemburg was covered under a cloak of silence in Germany in 1982.

(Translated by Heinz D. Osterle)  

This review was published in the journal BEITRAGE ZUR GESCHICHTE DER ARBEITERBEWEGUNG [CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT], Vol. 42:3 (2000). A noted Luxemburg scholar, Laschitza was an editor of Luxemburg's collected writings and letters in the former East Germany. In 1996, her book IM LEBENSRAUSCG, TRATZ ALLEDEM ROSA LUXEMBURG: EINE BIOGRAPHIE [IN THE ECSTASY OF LIFE, ROSA LUXEMBURG DESPITE EVERYTHING: A BIOGRAPHY] appeared. An English translation of Frigga Haug's preface was published in NEWS & LETTERS, December 1998.

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