Rosa Luxemburg: Interview with Luxemburg Scholar and Editor, Peter Hudis

Peter Hudis

Dr. Lenore Daniels, a columnist for Black Commentator Magazine, discusses Rosa Luxemburg’s legacy as a an anti-imperialist thinker and  interviews Peter Hudis, co-editor, along with Georg Adler and Annelies Laschitza, of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (2011). Originally appeared in OpEdNews – Editors

rl2Dr. Lenore Daniels, a columnist for Black Commentator Magazine, discusses Rosa Luxemburg’s legacy as a an anti-imperialist thinker and  interviews Peter Hudis, co-editor, along with Georg Adler and Annelies Laschitza, of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (2011). Originally appeared in OpEdNews   –Editors

“Meanwhile, the preparations go on, the dreamlike rituals are rehearsed, and the whole earth is being set up as an altar for a brunt offering, a monstrous human sacrifice to an imagined god with averted eyes.”

‘The Unforgettable Fire#, Lewis Thomas, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony

It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.”


“We have tried to make clear to [the workers] that they must continue to go on learning, that they will go on learning all their lives….”

Rosa Luxemburg, (qtd. In JP Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg )

“Gone is the first mad delirium.” The “patriotic street demonstrations,” the persecuting of women, the “atmosphere of ritual murder”–all gone. “The show is over,” and the “curtain has fallen” and those soldiers returning on trains are no longer laughing. No longer cheerful. “Quietly they trot through the streets, with their sacks upon their shoulders. And the public, with a fretful face, goes about its daily tasks.”

“And the cannon fodder that was loaded upon the trains in August and September is rotting on the battlefields…while profits are springing, like weeds, from the fields of the dead. While cities are in shambles and whole villages turned into cemeteries and whole nations into beggars, and while there is ‘misery and desperation’ everywhere, ‘business is flourishing upon the ruins.’ Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth, thus capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics–but as a roasting beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity–so it appears in all its hideous nakedness.”

Written in 1916, nearly two years after the start of World War I, these are the words of the revolutionary thinker and activist Rosa Luxemburg, who rightly called attention to the atrocity that is the economic system of capitalism, which we, in 2013, are still grappling with despite our witness today to “its hideous nakedness.”

Capitalism, the economic system that promotes permanent war and austerity, that promotes death and suffering, starvation and desperation, takes hold of our minds. We not only forget the cannon fodder rotting on the battlefields; we not only forget the “beggars” and the “misery”; we forget the “flourishing” of capitalism “wading in blood and dripping with filth.”

Where are the “shamed” and “dishonored” capitalists?

Look through your museums, at your park statues, look for them resurrected in your children’s textbooks. Read the bestsellers written by contemporary capitalist moguls. Everyone does in order to read about how it is done. How does one follow in the footsteps of the multinational corporate CEO?

The corporate capitalists have learned to throw crumbs toward the masses of the workers and the poor, those settling for trickled down policies, aided in the liberalization process of the once “shamed” and “dishonored.”

“Who loves you, Baby?”

The Corporations! The Corporations!

We are now the “shamed” and “dishonored,” taught to forget as a way of life. Denied even the right to be or think, we only thrive on what is fed to us, what is good and patriotic. We cannot remember for our own sake, our own survival, unless we risk the right to exist.

Thanks to capitalism, we are not encouraged to learn from those who really honored and loved this Earth and respected all living forms on it. We do not know what it means to honor, to love, to respect.

So we mistrust and deny ourselves the memory of Crazy Horse, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, or Amilcar Cabral, and others who remain out-of-bounds as models and likewise as subjects for study at our corporate institutions for “higher” learning. You have to ask yourself why certain ideas are demonized? Who declares certain thoughts off limits? Who benefits from the censoring of revolutionaries and whistleblowers? Why is Bradley Manning tortured and kept behind bars? Why are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden hunted by this powerful US Empire while Bush II celebrates the opening of his library?


What Rosa Luxemburg observed behind prison walls was the business of war, from the amassing of profits to the production of propaganda, from the return of the disillusioned and the maimed physically and psychologically, to the confiscation of land and resources, to the shattering of the dispossessed. It is the business of the US Empire today–war. The Empire’s business is frantic and brutal.

Those in government, those attracted to a capitalist orientation, are guiding this nation, step-by-step, through draconian laws and unjust policies, toward imperialist domination. On the land, in the air, in the production of food and basic necessities for sustaining life, in the airwaves, in the cyberspace of cable communications, and in the minds of the people, everywhere, we see the insanity of the iron heel.

Years ago, George S. Messersmith, U.S. Consul General at Berlin to the Under Secretary of State, William Phillip, in a letter dated 26 June 1933, described a similar display of this insanity.

“With few exceptions,” he wrote, “the men who are running this Government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere. Others are exalted and in a frame of mind that knows no reason. The majority are woefully ignorant and unprepared for the tasks which they have to carry through every day. Those men in the party and in responsible positions who are really worthwhile, and there are quite a number of these, are powerless, because they have to follow the orders of superiors who are suffering from the abnormal psychology prevailing in the country.”

Is Messersmith’s description of those who believe in the establishment of a fascist state so different from the way we might describe those who serve the US government as facilitators for US imperialist domination?

At the helm of the US Empire today is Barack Obama, who, in speaking for Empire, for imperialism, speaks over the heads of other “sovereign” governments to the corporate rulers. The most recent example of this was in his speech in South Africa. As Commander and Chief for the business interests of the US Empire, Obama is no longer obliged to maintain the formality of speaking to the government of South Africa or to its people. Surrounded by government officials in South Africa for good theater, a chorus of nodding heads, he speaks to his constituents, the corporate class, just as Bush II once admitted he did. The US Empire will set aside money for new development in South Africa–and the “sovereign” government of South Africa will accept the “humanitarian” invasion of corporate capitalists from the U.S.–or it will become vulnerable to another form of invasion organized with international isolation, embargoes, and the imputation of “evil doing” dictators.

More people will become cannon fodder, and others highly-paid servants of the U.S. Empire.

Obama’s fears are not those of the disfranchised, the unemployed, the poorly-paid working class, the elderly, or the mothers of starving children, because these are not the concerns of a flourishing imperialist state. Such a state, which speedily and stealthily establishes its global apparatus for the containment of revolt, flourishes in the proliferation of chaos! It is all good for the business of Empire.

Rosa Luxemburg embraced Mother Earth and the life she produced. She was a Jew, a woman, and one of the first women in Europe to receive her doctorate, yet she did not stand for her specific people or tribe, or only for women. Nor was she interested in conversing at conferences and appearing in journals as a representative of the “educated” class. Instead, Luxemburg dedicated her life’s work to those she identified with–the poor, the working class, the dispossessed–all those swept aside still today by those who work on behalf of the survival of capitalism.

For that and more, Rosa Luxemburg deserves our attention today.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak by phone with Professor Peter Hudis, co-editor with Kevin B. Anderson of The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (2004), and co-editor, along with Georg Adler and Annelies Laschitza, of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (2011). Hudis and his colleagues plan to publish 14 volumes starting this fall that will include more of Luxemburg’s works and correspondence not available in English.

I asked Professor Hudis to elaborate on the significance of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas and thoughts for her own time and for today’s struggles to bring about an end to mass destruction and suffering.

Hudis: Rosa Luxemburg was one of the “greatest thinkers and researchers, who thought deeply about what makes people rebel.”

In her time, she understood that “mass revolts don’t come out of the blue but perculate over time. People always revolt against occupational grievances, against an elitist personality cult.” In the case of the Arab Spring, “it would seem unexpected,” but a Luxemburg would argue to the contrary. For her it would be more important to “see what kind of determination emerges from these uprisings.”

Rosa Luxemburg was a radical thinker and, as such, she “understood grassroots” revolts. Consequently, she was “not afraid to critique her close friends, Lenin and Trotsky”–in other words, the self-anointed leadership of resistance.

Luxemburg recognized that the “best support she could offer to grassroots uprisings was her critiques” of the socialists and their leadership. As a result, “she is the most important woman socialist theorist in the last hundred years”–particularly for what she had to say during her era, an era when women were held in “low esteem” and “she had to fight to be heard.”

It is interesting, Hudis notes, that since the publication of The Rosa Luxemburg Letters, which received “a lot of attention even from the mainstream press,” people were paying attention to someone who “traced capitalism’s drive toward imperialism and expansion”–and “she did so as a woman”!

The interest in the “recovery” of this woman thinker and anti-capitalist thinker is a “legacy” of resistance we can no longer forget or ignore.

As Hudis reminds us, when Rosa Luxemburg studied capitalism, “she did not do so as a socialist does it, focusing on structure and development.” Her study of this economic system was “akin” to Marx’s study of capitalism. That is, Luxemburg was “interested in what leads to the dissolution of society. What are the internal dynamics that cause a breakdown from the inside?”

In his paper entitled “The Unknown Rosa Luxemburg: Her Contributions to Anthropology, Ethnology, and Economic History” (June 7, 2013), Hudis elaborates:

Luxemburg’s emphasis on dissolution also explains why she was so determined to develop a Marxist theory of imperialism….

In emphasizing capitalism’s tendency towards dissolution Luxemburg is following the approach of Marx, who treated dissolution as the key to the study of society. Indeed, that is the essence of Capital. Its primary object of investigation is not the development of capitalism but rather the elements within it that contain the seeds of its destruction.

In this sense, Hudis continues in the interview, it is important to examine Luxemburg’s writings on the impact of internal dissolution and imperialism in so-called “Third World” nations. As radicals, British, French, and US socialists practiced a form of “racial discrimination.” Most “viewed the non-Western nations as backward and their struggles as relatively unimportant.” Consequently, Hudis continues, the “bulk of Western radicals did not emphasize the destructive impact of capitalism on pre-capitalist and communal social formations in what we now call the “Third World.” Echoing the propaganda of the capitalists, these “socialists” spoke of the West as “bringing higher standards of living to the uncivilized.”

Rosa Luxemburg studied and critiqued these non-Western struggles, Hudis states, and she countered the socialist rhetoric by arguing that “these non-Western nations were being destroyed by Western intervention.”

In many ways, Hudis contends, Rosa Luxemburg was more “progressive” than her comrades.

Luxemburg’s critiques, however, as Hudis notes, “did not romanticize non-Western struggles,” since her critiques did not hesitate to point out and “unravel contradictions” within those struggles.

Therefore, when Luxemburg studies a national struggle for independence, argues Hudis, she does so by pointing to the position of women within that struggle. A national liberation movement, in other words, “does not mean you don’t have some kind of hierarchy” among the people themselves. She points to the communal relations of working and tilling land.

In other words, come “liberation,” would women still remain subjugated and limited to particular tasks because they are women?

“Marx pointed this out as well,” and Rosa Luxemburg follows up to consider the “internal hierarchy” surrounding “gender difference,” which makes any national struggle for independence “already ripe for conquest from elsewhere.”

Dissolution from within and the march of imperialism from without!

Hudis: “What makes it so easy for the British to take over India? Or for Spain to take over the Incas? There was already a process of dissolution underway, especially between men and women. The Europeans were able to make use of the division of labor!”

Hudis continues: “The socialists and anti-imperialist writers of the first decade in the 20 th Century never mention Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa did not seem to register in the works of Marxist thinkers in the early part of the 20 th Century. Rosa Luxemburg, however goes out of her way to study the nature of social relations in Sub-Saharan Africa by asking–how did these relations get undermined by capitalism?”

Her answer: It was undermined “by the integration of Sub-Saharan Africa into the world market.”

“Rosa Luxemburg needs to be in the pantheon of major critics of capitalism,” particularly among English speakers/readers, Hudis states. In China, in Brazil, in Africa, and in other non-Western locations, Hudis points out, Luxemburg is read and discussed.

Hudis was invited to a 2004 conference in China. The subject of the conference: Rosa Luxemburg! “The conference was very well attended by intellectuals critical of the government in China,” intellectuals “who were not capitalist leaning,” and for whom “Rosa Luxemburg represented an alternative to capitalism.”

Hudis recently returned from Brazil, where again, Rosa Luxemburg’s work was the subject of discussion. And in South Africa, Hudis witnessed “township activists, lacking public utilities,” talking about Luxemburg. He stopped to speak to a “young man,” studying among friends, “an old, worn pamphlet”–Luxemburg’s “Social Reform or Revolution.”

Despite the increased practice of censorship at educational institutions, in the press, and among those who call themselves socialists, Rosa Luxemburg is still at work!

The editors of The Rosa Luxemburg Reader and The Rosa Luxemburg Letters are also working to provide us English translations of Luxemburg’s correspondence, speeches, and articles currently available in German. “Despite her considerable reputation,” Hudis writers in a paper delivered to the Conference of Society for Socialist Studies (June 7, 2013), “close to 80 per cent” of Luxemburg’s writings, including “90 per cent of her correspondence, have never appeared in English translation.” Her writings were part of her activism with the Polish Marxist movement, and “many of her articles and essays on imperialism, world politics, and nationalism, and such critical works as The Introduction to Political Economy,” have appeared only in parts in English (“The Unknown Rosa Luxemburg: Her Contributions to Anthropology, Ethnology, and Economic History.”)

As a result, The Complete Works, (Verso Books), 14 volumes, is scheduled to appear in English, beginning this fall, 2013.

One day, at one conference, Peter Hudis was just “sitting around,” and another attendee sat next to him. Hudis mentioned to him how hard it was to “get many of these texts written by Luxemburg, since they were written in German, Polish, or Russian.” The man turned to him and said: “Why don’t you do it! Let’s sit down and see how we can get the funding to produce a Complete Works.”

And so– the work is getting done!


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