14 January 2019

Rosa Reloaded: Rosa Luxemburg and Our Civilisational Crisis

by Hernán Ouviña (translated by Nicolas Allen)

*The following is an excerpt from Rosa Luxemburgo y la reinvención de la política. Una lectura desde América Latina, scheduled for publication on January 15th by Editorial El Colectivo and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Argentina).

Rosa Luxemburg, like many before her, considered the appropriation of surplus-value by the capitalist class to be a basic dynamic of the capitalist system, along with the resistance to exploitation and alienation that such a system necessarily implies. But this is only one – fundamental– dimension of capitalism, just as it is only one point of entry into Rosa’s vast lifework. Throughout her lifetime, Luxemburg came to develop a unique understanding of the particular system of domination known as capitalism: a complex web of power relations and forms of subjugation, a totality encompassing much more than the immediate production process, narrowly expressed in the capital-labour relation.

As Marx used to say, the concrete is the concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations. In that same spirit, we would do well to summon Luxemburg on the 100th anniversary of her death – murdered, in what we would today call a “femicide” – and allow her to shed some light on the multiple, concrete forms of contemporary oppression: in the struggles against patriarchy and coloniality; in the resistances being waged against the instrumentalisation, pillaging and plundering of the natural world and the commons. The proposals she formulated for self-emancipation can help us to understand the nature of what we today call the “subaltern position” and, with any luck, allow us to grasp the emancipatory potential for these types of subaltern struggles being played out across the globe. In brief, these subalternities –women, Indigenous, the natural world– are subordinated within a capitalist system that should be seen as a structure of multiple dominations.

The “Woman Issue”

Whether Rosa Luxemburg can be considered a feminist is still the subject of some debate. Her most superficial readers have tried to dismiss the question altogether, claiming that the issue of women’s liberation was completely foreign to her concerns. What is certain is that in a male-dominated world – or, just as well, inside leftist organizations rife with misogyny, where women were deliberately excluded from positions of power – Luxemburg’s own experience as a woman merits closer examination.

We know, for example, that she was made to suffer all type of sexist insult when engaging in political disputes: “hysterical lady”, “rabid bitch”, “venomous witch”, “whore”, “coarse amazon” and “snotty brat” are just some of the abuses she received.

Luxemburg’s close comrade and biographer Paul Frölich confirms that it was her status as a woman that provoked such hostilities: “She did not content herself with asking modestly for the opinions of the ‘practical politicians’ (Praktiker), but was ‘cheeky’ enough to develop her own views, and –what was worst of all– put forth such convincing arguments that the others had to begrudgingly capitulate” (Frölich, 2010: 42).

The Ecuadorian-Mexican philosopher Bolívar Echeverria stresses the uniqueness of this type of female self-assertion within the history of the organized workers’ movement: “By the end of the 19th century, a woman finding herself in the ‘objective error’ of not being ‘attractive’ still had the opportunity to rectify that error if she cultivated the compensatory graces of ‘male virtue’; but only by doing so in a properly ‘feminine’ way, that is, by disguising or imitating a [masculine] model that would thus be confirmed in its superiority. She could do so only be demonstrating the validity of the productive, bourgeois spirit (i.e., ‘masculine’), a spirit composed in equal parts of ambition, intelligence, wilfulness and realism, and only then by showing herself to be a version of that model whose defects –impulsivity, inconsistency and exaggeration– are attributable to the ‘feminine’ side” (Bolívar Echeverría, 1986: 150).

But Luxemburg paid no mind to the feminine mandate. Far from being a question of “temperament”, her boldness in the face of patriarchal hegemony quickly became the target of malicious invectives. Franz Mehring was quick to point this out in 1907, when Luxemburg had already turned into the object of public ridicule by the Social-Democratic press. In defence of his friend and comrade, Mehring protested, “this tasteless knocking of the most brilliant intellect of all the scientific heirs of Marx and Engels can, in the last resort, only be rooted in the fact that it is a woman whose shoulders bear this intellect” (cited in: Frölich, 1976: 210).

One can only imagine the sense of indignation those false leaders and grey bureaucrats must have felt upon seeing such a display of irreverence in public debate, political rallies and conferences; or in the private sphere, in the manner Luxemburg conducted herself in her social and romantic relationships. The Argentine feminist Claudia Korol reminds us that, even while living her romantic life to the fullest, Luxemburg refused to be emotionally blackmailed by her close political companion and lover Leo Jogiches, “daring to fall in love over and over again, breaking all the conventions set by the party-line concerning the nature of the family, going so far as to fall in love with Kostia Zetkin, the son of her friend Clara, who was 13 years her junior. She was an absolute scandal for a conservative brand of socialism in which the family was conceived along highly patriarchal lines as a disciplinary element” (Korol, 2018: 18).

Where there has been some confusion in the past over Rosa’s “spontaneism”, we can say without reservation that, in matters of the heart, Rosa was fiercely “spontaneist”. She was opposed to any control or oversight where mutual engagement and affections were concerned, just as she was against the imposition of hierarchies in her own relationships. This is most evident in her epistolary exchanges with Leo Jogiches, where she bears her soul and accuses Jogiches of arrogance, coldness and an almost obsessive focus on “The Cause” (written thusly in capitals and quotes, dripping with irony). Biographer Elzbieta Ettinger reveals that Rosa’s spontaneity formed a sharp contrast with [Jogiches’] calculated attempts to “manage her”, and Rosa often accused Jogiches of treating the relationship in a “purely superficial” manner (Ettinger, 1979: 23). When their strained relationship reached an impasse, Rosa even began to consider having a child and raising it on her own.

Generally speaking, there was a profound disconnect between what the German socialist parties preached in theoretical and programmatic terms with respect to women, and what actually took place in reality. Leaving aside some noteworthy passages from Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, it was August Bebel, leading political figure of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany, who first made a serious pass at the issue in Woman and Socialism. First published in 1878, the volume went through 50 editions before 1909 and was translated into 15 languages, becoming one of the most widely read and discussed materials throughout European leftist circles. There, Bebel denounces the plight of the doubly oppressed woman and sketches a detailed analysis of her socio-economic dependence with respect to men, highlighting her lack of fundamental rights. The same considerations weighed heavily in the Social Democrat’s 1891 Erfurt Programme.

But the rhetoric of women’s emancipation largely fell on deaf ears, and practice rarely aligned with the precepts and good intentions of documents and speeches. Ever since the SPD’s famous founding congress in Gotha in 1875, the demand for universal suffrage only ever contemplated the male vote, and as Geoff Eley puts it, in subsequent years “exclusivist misogyny [was] transmuted into generalized cultures of aggressive masculinity, unwelcoming to women” (Eley, 2002: 99), to the point that many party members prohibited their wives and daughters from attending meetings. This masculine hostility was magnified among the German trade unions (who, not by coincidence, considered Rosa their greatest enemy): following their legalisation in 1890, only 1.8% of members were women, and only 9% on the eve of the First World War.

It is true that Luxemburg did not leave behind many texts concerning the women’s struggle. And yet, in her trajectory as a militant as well in her personal life, she showed a unique attentiveness to the principle banners of the feminist movement, albeit never dissociating those demands from the broader dynamics of class struggle. Not only did her everyday conduct and romantic affairs fly in the face of contemporary mores, she was a comrade and personal companion of Clara Zetkin, the principal activist and European propagandist for a powerful brand of socialist feminism. The two women participated together in the 1907 International Socialist Women’s Conferences and headed up a largely women-run anti-war campaign across Germany and other countries, which would ultimately cost them long months in prison.

Raya Dunayevskaya has written one of the best books on this often overlooked and little understood side of Luxemburg. Dunayevskaya asserts that the “total disregard of the feminist dimension of Rosa Luxemburg by Marxists and non-Marxists alike calls for the record to be straightened” (Dunayevskaya, 1991: X). Considering that omission, Dunayevskaya calls for further study to be performed on the Polish Marxist as a feminist and revolutionary.

Along with other women of the revolutionary left (like Alexandra Kollontai or Clara Zetkin), Rosa did not see the oppression of women as an abstract question, but rather as a concrete reality wherein capitalism and patriarchy become mutually constitutive, making it impossible to disassociate class exploitation from the subaltern condition of women.

Nor was this a generic, abstract type of intersection. Exploitation and oppression assume a heterogeneous latticework of nuanced situations, albeit structured within a single structure of domination. As Luxemburg put it in “The Proletarian Woman”: “A world of female misery awaits deliverance. Here the wife of the small farmer groans, almost breaking under the burden of life. There in German Africa in the Kalahari Desert the bones of defenseless Herero women bleach, driven to a cruel death from hunger and thirst by German soldiers. In the high mountains of Putumayo on the other side of the ocean, unheard by the world, death screams die away of the martyred Indian women in the rubber plantations of the international capitalists. Proletarian women, poorest of the poor, those with the least rights, hurry to the fight for the liberation of the female sex and the human race from the terrors of the rule of capital” (Luxemburg, 2009: 52).

In that same text, Luxemburg issues the call for an International Women’s Day set to take place during the SPD’s “Red Week,” between March 8 and 15 of 1914, raising the banner for the female vote and equal rights for women: “The day of the proletarian woman opens the Week of Social Democracy. The party of the disinherited places its female column in the vanguard, while it sets off to the strenuous week’s work, in order to sow the seeds of socialism on pastures new”. She adds, while “the modern wage-earning proletarian woman thus today enters the public stage as the champion of the working class”, it has been the case that “from time immemorial the women of the people have worked hard” and yet remain the “poorest of the poor, those with the least rights”. She goes on to enumerate the tasks performed by women across the centuries: from the indigenous village, where “she planted grain and milled it, and made pottery”; to the time of antiquity, in which “she served the ruling class as a slave and suckled their offspring at her breast”; in medieval times, where she could be found labouring “at the spindle for the feudal lord”; to the contemporary age, when the supremacy of private property meant that women live “cooped up in the domestic confines of an impoverished household existence”, their labour sequestered from the sphere of social production.

While envisioning a common destiny for both, Luxemburg drew an important distinction between “bourgeois feminism” and the socialist feminism that leftist activists hoped to bring about. The bourgeois variant of feminism, Luxemburg argued, lacked a vision of the totality that would allow for specific, genuine causes like women’s suffrage to be situated within a comprehensive struggle against society’s oppressive structures. Without a sense of the social totality, the struggle becomes a question of “acquiring political rights, in order to participate in political life”, where some bourgeois women may well enjoy “the finished fruits of class rule”. Luxemburg’s activism, inspired in large part by Clara Zetkin’s example, sought to link together diverse struggles in which women would play a leading role in building a far-reaching emancipatory project that embraces, while transcending, specific demands and grievances. Thus, she didn’t hesitate to defend the linkage between the “women’s’ cause” and universal social change, since women, she argued, were tasked with fighting for equality and fraternity for all humankind and the abolition of oppression in all parts of the world.

Luxemburg was dismayed by the militarist chauvinism that took hold of Europe’s Social-Democratic parties during the First World War. She looked on, from behind bars, as women too were swept up in bellicose hysteria: “The leaders of the social democratic women’s movement united with capitalist women for ‘national service’ and placed the most important elements that remained after the mobilization at the disposal of national Samaritan work. Socialist women worked in soup kitchens and on advisory commissions instead of carrying on agitation work for the party” (Luxemburg, 1915).

In her Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle, Luxemburg insists that while women raise “children or [do] their housework which helps men support their families on scanty wages”, this type of labour “is not productive in the sense of the present capitalist economy no matter how enormous an achievement the sacrifices and energy spent” (Luxemburg, 1912). A hasty reading of these lines might lead one to object that they reproduce the classic Marxist dichotomy between productive/unproductive labour, a schema that has come under scrutiny by many feminists in the last decades. Indeed, it would appear that Luxemburg could not imagine the profoundly productive character of domestic labour, nor its vital importance for what Silvia Federici has termed the “wage patriarchy”.

Despite these reservations, and taking into account that Luxemburg was writing over a hundred years ago, the fact that she was casting light on thereto-invisible realms of reproduction and care work, offering a political analysis of relations of power and subjugation, is all the more remarkable considering her overwhelmingly male surrounding in leftist organizations. A separate passage from the same text brings this point home: “A hundred years ago, the Frenchman Charles Fourier, one of the first great prophets of socialist ideals, wrote these memorable words: In any society, the degree of female emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation. This is completely true for our present society” (1912).

Her growing alienation from the entire SPD leadership class, not to mention her early, irreparable rupture with the party cupola, might be read as a principled, militant stance taken by a women who was not afraid to pay the political –and emotional– costs of opposing the masculine arrogance of a political old guard as it embarked on its increasingly conservative drift. Having broken off all links, she, in the words Dunayevksaya, “kept her distance from the leaders who practiced leadership as if they were government rulers, though they did not have state power” (Dunayevksaya, 35: 1991).

Luxemburg practiced a particular brand of women’s solidarity among the party’s female members, but she extended that solidarity beyond the SPD ranks to those who were fighting tooth-and-nail against all injustices while not fearing to question the exclusive and exclusionary nature of the men’s club. As is often the case, her correspondence is the clearest window into this lesser-known side of Luxemburg, where we can best appreciate her sense of sisterhood and solidarity among women (see, for example, her letters to Mathilde Jacob, Clara Zetkin, and Sonia Liebknech). Noteworthy are her letters to Luise Kautsky, a relationship she nurtured despite the fact that by 1910 she had broken off relations with her husband Karl, largely due to the latter’s faintheartedness regarding the general strike and direct action as tools for the democratization of German society (not to mention the authoritarian attitudes that Kautsky adopted in his personal dealings with Luxemburg).

In her life and work as a militant, but also in her own behaviour and private life, Luxemburg upended the social roles that a patriarchal, capitalist division had assigned to her. She was subversive as much in the public as private sphere, and she was a tireless proponent of the belief that women should have the greatest possible agency in the revolutionary struggle. She put her entire body, affect and ideals into the service of the emancipatory project in which she so fervently believed. And she paid for that single-mindedness with her life.  Today, as the streets of Latin America ring out with the feminist cry of Ni Una Menos, we would do well to give her cowardly murder a specific name: a femicide, perpetrated by soldiers drunk on violence and virility who were incapable of tolerating the impudence of that small, larger-than-life, woman.

Indigenous Resistances

During her years as an educator with the SPD School, Luxemburg taught on a variety of subjects. Particularly noteworthy were her classes dedicated to the basics of Marxist political economy. Her intention, since 1908, had been to systematise the lessons developed in that educational space and produce a book entitled Introduction to Political Economy. And yet, amidst a series of setbacks, she was unable to finish the volume. And although she was briefly able to resume the project after a period of incarceration between 1916-17, what is certain is that her assassination frustrated any ambition to develop the manuscript into a finished work.

Apart from offering a straightforward and compelling explanation of political economy, the pages of the Introduction are evidence of Luxemburg’s vocation to render accessible the central categories of Marxism, drawing on numerous examples from history. Perhaps most strikingly of all, more than half the pages are dedicated to the analysis of societies different from and often opposed to capitalist society, to a great extent drawn from the Latin American subcontinent in the age before its conquest and colonization by European powers. Luxemburg provides a generic name for these types of societies: agrarian or primitive communism.

This material is important for several reasons: one, it makes a mockery of the idea that private property is somehow an eternal feature of society, a notion she shows to be false with the support of anthropological studies similar to those Marx was considering in his later years, when he grew interested in the rural commune; it also skewers the profound ignorance of European so-called “wisdom” (of economists, but also historians and philosophers) by showing their complete incomprehension of indigenous peoples. But Luxemburg went further, drawing a parallel between those communitarian forms of social life and the “red spectre” lurking behind the greatest social struggles of 19th century Western Europe: “ In the light of these brutal class struggles, primitive communism as the latest discovery of scientific research showed a dangerous face. The bourgeoisie, clearly affected in their class interests, scented an obscure connection between the ancient communist survivals that put up stubborn resistance in the colonial countries to the forward march of the profit-hungry “Europeanization” of the indigenous peoples, and the new gospel of revolutionary impetuousness of the proletarian mass in the old capitalist countries” (Luxemburg, 2014: 163).

As Michael Löwy notes, the chapters dedicated to analysing these types of agrarian communist societies outnumber those concerning mercantile production and the capitalist economy, and “it is probably why this work has been neglected by most of the Marxist economists” (Löwy & Sayre, 2001: 280). There is also a degree of Eurocentric colonialism behind the downgrading of the manuscript: despite providing the impetus to ponder other –still possible- forms of life foreign to the logic of capital, it has not been given its due centrality in the larger Luxemburg corpus. Perhaps this is down to a scientific strain of Marxism at odds with the worldview and communitarian practices of indigenous peoples throughout the world.

Not unlike how some Marxisms had attributed to Marx an “anti-peasant essentialism”, taking a selection of one-off historical annotations on the peasantry as supporting evidence for the revolutionary centrality of the industrial proletariat, something similar has occurred with Luxemburg. In the aforementioned manuscript and in other writings – first and foremost, The Accumulation of Capital – a very different picture comes into view: far from interpreting agrarian societies as a hindrance to progress, waiting to be atomized and proletarianized, these texts invite us to consider forms of life removed from the market-individualism and bourgeois rationality of capitalist modernity.

Luxemburg wrote numerous paragraphs in praise of these society’s’ organisational methods. She made special mention of the ancient Germanic commune studied by historian Georg Ludwig von Maurer, highlighting how in the “mark” a stateless society without any written law had managed to exist without rich and poor, owners and workers. She singles out the research of Maxim Maximovich Kovalesky, another anthropologist whose friendship with Marx had enabled the German revolutionary to study Lewis Morgan’s Ancient Society, stirring in Marx a series of reflections on communitarian forms of social life.

Perhaps the most arresting passages from the Introduction to Political Economy are those where Luxemburg recognises in Morgan, Kovalesky and Maurer a common pursuit to unearth the universal character of agrarian communism, a feature present – particularities notwithstanding – across all the continents in a given historical epoch and, better still, enduring in the global periphery of the 20th century wherever the ongoing accumulation-by-dispossession is met with resistance. Morgan in particular represents a high-water mark, where “primitive communism, with the democracy and social equality that went together with it, were thereby shown to be the cradle of social development. By this expansion of the horizon of the prehistoric past, he showed the whole present-day civilization, with private property, class rule, male supremacy, state compulsion and compulsory marriage, as simply a brief transition phase that, just as it arose itself from the dissolution of age-old communist society, is bound to make way in turn in the future for higher social forms” (Luxemburg, 2014: 162). 

Later in the same text, Luxemburg makes light work of “the official science of the bourgeois enlightenment”, going so far as to write that their worldview is an “infinitely narrower horizon and cultural-historical understanding than the Romans had two thousand years ago”. The epistemological myopia of the conquistadors, continues Luxemburg, is thrown into bold relief by the autochthonous populations they conquered: “Here the Europeans in their colonies came upon relationships quite foreign to them, which directly overturned all their notions of the sanctity of private property. The English in South Asia had the same experience of this as the French did in North Africa” (2014: 135).

Terms like “savagery” and “barbarism” provide Luxemburg with the opportunity to resurrect and inspect the colonial roots of capitalist modernity. Used to stigmatise those civilisations in which society was organised along the lines of agrarian communism, or where private property was not the dominant organising principle, Luxemburg avers with biting irony that “the descriptions ‘savagery’ and ‘barbarism,’ which were customarily used as a summary description of these conditions, had only a meaning as negative concepts, descriptions of the lack of everything that was considered characteristic of ‘civilization,’ i.e. of well-mannered human life as seen through contemporary eyes. From this point of view, properly mannered social life, appropriate to human dignity, began only with those conditions described in written history. Everything that belonged to ‘savagery’ and ‘barbarism’ indifferently formed only an inferior and embarrassing stage prior to civilization, a half-animal existence which present-day civilized humanity could only regard with condescending disparagement” (2014: 140). 

We should note that these remarks draw short of “romanticising” all existing agrarian societies, be they from the remote past or those that persisted into the 20th century (and into our own). Similar to the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui, she did not view them as static entities arrested in time, but as dynamic, contradictory movements, and none more so than those – virtually all – affected by the 20th century’s process of capitalist accumulation. Weighing up all these consideration, she arrived at a positive appreciation of agrarian societies without overlooking their ambiguous, even negative elements.

A far cry from the racist, colonial evolutionism that plagued certain strains of Marxism, Luxemburg’s timeless meditations reach us today based on their bold intention to, as Löwy puts it, “adopt the point of view of the victims of capitalist modernization”, offering an antidote to those who would celebrate the subjugation and despoilment of indigenous communities. Moreover, they encourage us to broaden our vistas and embrace the subaltern, oppressed peoples whose struggles may draw on ancestral practices, but just the same contain important emancipatory potential for the present.

Oppressed Nature

Based on the foregoing, it should come as no surprise that Luxemburg felt a special sensibility for the defence of the natural world and the commons. Likewise today, we can assert without hesitation that the natural world is an oppressed subject.

Luxemburg could even be taken as a precocious thinker of the ecological questions that would later come to be known as eco-socialism or Marxist ecology. Her staunch defence of all living things and the land, against the violence exacted by the capitalist drive for accumulation and despoliation, seems to point in this direction.

This facet is one of the least explored among Luxemburg’s multifarious writings. Where it has received attention, it is often to recall her fondness for botany and herbal remedies, as well her affinity for certain animals – mainly cats and birds. This attribute is no less astonishing considering she maintained a heightened vigilance for injustice perpetrated against all forms of life, and yet rarely is this connected back to her broader socialist project. Going somewhat against the grain, we should take Luxemburg’s passion for nature as inseparable from her anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-colonial politics.

Once again, her letters reveal the true scope of these concerns – what might be called, tentatively, a desire to abandon the anthropocentric worldview (that is, a properly modernist conception that supposes humankind as a superior being and the centre of the universe, with the natural prerogative to subjugate all living beings). Thus, the question of totality appears again, although under a different guise: where before Luxemburg showed herself concerned with the social totality, the lens has widened to include the entire natural world. As Anna Bisceglie puts it, “all the political leaders and cadres, militants and fellow travellers that Rosa recalls in her letters, these cannot be separated from her lively descriptions of landscapes, or the surroundings where political rallies were held, or for that matter, her tender rendering of all living things, be they sparrows, swallows, robins, bumblebees, wasps, flowers and leaves of all kinds, always accompanied by some artistic reference. There is always a world present in Rosa Luxemburg, sometimes a whole world in all its intensity, other times a mere hint of it. One must feel that world within oneself to truly approach her vision” (Renzi & Bisceglie, 2010: 27).

Luxemburg felt a deep magnetism drawing her towards the natural world. Nature served her as an antibody against the exhaustion that came with relentless political agitation and the everyday bureaucracy of modern life, shielding her from being swallowed up by the rationalization and disenchantment of the world of commodity fetishism and pure quantifiable exchange value. It also lent her an added fortitude to protect her during periods of confinement. As Isabel Loureiro says, “through her contact with nature, Rosa could restore the energies sapped out of her by political combat” (Loureiro, 1999: 25).

A near-infinite number of letters speak of her compassion towards the suffering of animals, especially where this was understood to be the product of humans’ irrational and predatory violence, part and parcel of the vicious circle of accumulation-by-dispossession and the most brutal forms of colonialism. One of the most moving of these letters is written from a Breslau prison cell to her friend Sonia Liebknecht, on Christmas Eve, 1917. There, she shares her “intense pain” upon seeing a group of soldiers beating a wagon-bearing buffalo. Rather than quoting an excerpt here, the extraordinary beauty of her prose, full of compassion for a fellow living being, deserves to be read in full.

Thus, it seems justified to imagine an “elective affinity” between Luxemburg and the indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities and peasant organizations who supposed that nature, like human beings, is the holder of rights. Her zeal for imitating birdsong, like the tom-tit announcing the coming spring (“tsvee-tsvee”, she confessed, would be her preferred epitaph), or her personal diary filled with sketches and imprints of the flowers from her diminutive garden, these ephemera can be read in tandem with the theoretical and historical texts intended for political education and intervention, where primitive accumulation is denounced as a destroyer of “natural economies”, ecosystems and the cosmo-coexistence found in the capitalist periphery; these should be read together as complementary elements in order to break with the productivism and anthropocentrism that enshrines the human – male, white, bourgeois adult – at the centre of modernity, to draw a line under the plurality of living things concealed by the homogenizing and reifying concept of “natural resources”.

Contemporary intellectuals and activists marching under the banner of ecofeminism have called for us to rethink our political analyses of patriarchy and capitalism by taking our relationship with nature as a starting point.  Vandana Shiva, for example, has made visible the connections between patriarchal oppression, violence against women and the relentless destruction of the natural world in the name of “progress”. In a similar vein, Silvia Federici is of the opinion that “today, faced by a new process of primitive accumulation, the woman assumes the strength of the main opposition to the total commodification of nature” (Federici, 2014: 90). Mariarosa Dalla Costa has insisted on the importance of building a political agenda around “respect for the fundamental balances of nature, the will for conservation of its self-generating/reproductive powers, a respect and love for all living beings” (Dalla Costa, 2009: 350). In both Federici’s and Dalla Costa’s case, it is impossible to not think of the pioneering work of Luxemburg.

Beginning in the 1980s, at a time when the environmental question was still a marginal concern for most leftist organisations, the historian Luis Vitale attempted to draw up a history of Latin America from the point of view of a totality based on a non-dichotomous interrelation between “nature” and “human society”. His pioneering book, entitled Toward a History of the Environment in Latin America, proposed a series of interpretations that renew the same concerns touched upon by Luxemburg, sounding the alarm for a coming civilizational collapse: “Contemporary Marxism faces a great challenge: to provide a theoretical, programmatic and political answer for the environmental crisis, starting by developing a clear conception of the totality constituted by nature and human society. Insofar as this key issue is concerned –and which will only be resolved on the terrain of class struggle– the survival of humanity is being played out. Rosa Luxemburg’s dilemma between ‘barbarism and socialism’ is more relevant now than ever” (Vitale, 1983: 108).

Works Cited

Bernstein, Eduard (1993). The Preconditions of Socialism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Bolívar Echeverría (1986). El discurso crítico de Marx, Editorial Era, Mexico.

Dalla Costa, Mariarosa (2009). Dinero, perlas y flores en la reproducción feminista, Akal, Madrid.

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Eley, Geoff (2002). Forging Democracy. The History of the Left in Europe (1850-2000), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Ettinger, Elzbieta (1979). Comrade and Lover: Rosa Luxemburg’s Letters to Leo Jorgiches, MIT Press, Cambridge, MS.

Federici, Silvia (2014). La inacabada revolución feminista. Mujeres, reproducción social y lucha por lo común, Editorial Desde Abajo, Bogotá.

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Korol, Claudia (2018). “Las revoluciones de Rosa”, in VV.AA. Revolución. Escuela de un sueño eterno, Cuadernos Relámpago/Negra Mala Testa, Buenos Aires.

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Luxemburg, Rosa (1915). The Junius Pamphlet,


Luxemburg, Rosa (2009). Rosa Luxemburg, Selected Political and Literary Writings, Merlin Press, London.

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Vitale, Luis (1983) Hacia una historia del ambiente en América Latina, Editorial Nueva Imagen, México.