Rosa Luxemburg: The Struggle and Role of Women Today

Lenore Daniels

My dear little bird, the whole world history of human civilization, which according to moderate estimates has lasted some twenty thousand years, is based on “some human beings deciding about the lives of others’; the practice is deeply rooted in the material conditions of existence. Nothing but further development, an agonizing process, can change such things, and at this very time we are witnesses to one such agonizing transition”

Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, May 23, 1917 , Letters of Rosa Luxemburg

Wars save no one!

Wars among “nations” organize humanity into armies of soldiers, men and women, who, in turn, maim and annihilate “enemy” villages, towns, and cities of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, children born and unborn.

Wars among “nations” destroy the air, water, soil, and wildlife that sustained humanity for centuries before the introduction of pesticides and bio-technology, before the organizing of “humanitarian relief” removed the woman and tipped the scale that has now fallen upon her.

Once, the God of War, Huitzilopochtli, revealed to people a place where the Eagle, perched on a cactus, carries a writhing Serpent in its beak, recalls the late thinker and writer, Gloria Anzaldua. The Eagle threatens extinction of the Serpent, “sacrificed” to the “higher masculine powers.” [1] .

In wars, “nations” never save the feminine, women, girls, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, children born and unborn. Between the Eagle and the Serpent, the equilibrium is splintered. Democracy is sacrificed to the ideology of the international Market. The capitalist’s trickle down theory is not Democracy.

It is no wonder that nations of armies invade other nations with “shock and awe” to end all terrorism by transforming sleeping women and children into bloodied corpses. It is no wonder that young men at computer consoles dispatch drones toward enemies that rarely fail to be women, tillers of the soil, caregivers to future generations and to elderly grandparents, custodians of our ancestral heritage. And when women demand the restitution of democracy, demand the right to recognized and determine a course for humanity that does not result in the destruction of all that sustains life, laws are mandated, social restrictions imposed, cultural images are generated, and political objections are set into motion in an effort to hold firmly to all that is anti-democratic.

But the capitalist’s wars are always saving women!

For the powerful, women are anti-democratic except when they are useful to serve the capitalist in generating the illusion of democracy.

If Marxist scholar and activist Rosa Luxemburg were alive today, she would write again what she wrote over 90 years ago: We are confronted, she wrote, with the “awful proposition”:

Either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism [democracy], that is, the conscious struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism, against its methods, against war. (“Junius Pamphlet”) [2]

The dilemma humanity faces is this “inevitable choice,” and the “scales are trembling in the balance awaiting the decision of the proletariat.”

What is the relationship of women’s struggles to the proletariat’s international struggle for Democracy?

Rosa Luxemburg’s analysis of women’s struggles within the broader struggle of the proletariat resonates today as we witness the vanguard leadership of the ruling class instigating more wars among nations and imposing ever more draconian repressive tactics to minimize and therefore better manage resistance within and without national boarders. Although a close friend to leading feminist of her day, Luxemburg refused to declare herself a feminist. She was critical of feminism, recognizing in the feminism of her time, as did Black, Chicano, and Indigenous women in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a racial and ethnic perspective that equated women with European women and an even specific class of European women, as Luxemburg discovered, when she asked: who is speaking and for whom? For what class of women does Feminism report to serve and why?

In a 1912 speech entitled, “Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle,” Luxemburg told her audience that “the worst and most brutal advocates of the exploitation and enslavement of the proletariat are entrenched behind throne and altar as well as behind the political enslavement of women” (The Rosa Luxemburg Reader).

And they were not exclusively men.

The ruling class (in Germany and elsewhere in Europe) would like nothing more than to continue suppressing the women’s vote, she said. The capitalist state is fueled by fear–fear of resistance, opposition to its anti-democratic ordering of humanity. Women have within their means the power to “threaten the traditional institutions of rule,” particularly militarism, Luxemburg continued, “(of which no thinking proletarian woman can help being a deadly enemy).” If “millions of women” stood up to “strengthen the enemy within, i.e. revolutionary Social Democracy,” the monarchy and robber barons would have a fair fight on their hands–and they just might topple.

On the other hand, who are these German women calling for suffrage? From what class do they hail? What group is the most immediate and greatest threat from within? “Bourgeois ladies!” They are like “lionesses” in the struggle against “”male prerogatives'” but would “trot like docile lambs in the camp of conservative and clerical reaction if they had suffrage.” But note: aside from the few jobs they hold, do these women take part in social production? No, Luxemburg answers. Bourgeois women are “co-consumers of the surplus value their men extort from the proletariat.” And watch out: they are “usually even more rabid and cruel in defending their “right’ to a parasite’s life than the direct agents of class rule and exploitation.” :

The women of the property-owning classes will always fanatically defend the exploitation and enslavement of the working people by which they indirectly receive the means for their socially useless existence.

Luxemburg asked her audience to recall the 1871defeat of the Paris Commune, when the men brought out the machine guns, the “raving bourgeois females” out did them “in their bloody revenge against the suppressed proletariat.”

Some Serpents “fall”–but not as a result of their engagement as a proletariat on the right side of history!

Twenty years before the Paris Commune ended in defeat, here in the U.S., a former enslaved woman stood before an audience of predominantly women, bourgeois women, at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Few women were permitted to “speak in meeting” just as in Rosa Luxemburg’s day. “”Slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. “Don’t le her speak!’ gasped half a dozen in my ear'” (Narrative of Sojourner Truth). [3]

“I tink dat “twixt de niggers of de Souf and de women at de Norf all a talkin’ “bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon…”Nobody eber help me into carriages, ober mud puddles, or gives me any best place”and ar’n’t I a woman? Look at me? Look at my arm…I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me–and ar’r’t I a woman?’

Bourgeois society will fail to recall that white capitalist men playing the role of the Biblical serpent as opposed to our symbol for Mother Earth, whispered in the ears of white women words fit to conjure up images of horror: Black men as rapist, Black men as beast! The vilification of our grandfathers, fathers, and sons keep the vote from the Black community until the mid-1960s.

Nonetheless, the surplus value from our labor and from our wombs helped to produce the bourgeois society in this U.S. Empire! But how necessary is it for the bourgeois educators to omit this historical development from the classrooms today.

Sixty-one years from the day Sojourner Truth stood begging for the rights of Black women Luxemburg pointed out the reality material conditions since the advent of capitalism–that the underpaid and free labor of poor and working class women “is productive for society like the men” (“Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle”). What of those women, millions of proletarian women, who work at “factories, workshops, on farms, in home industry, offices, stores”–aren’t these women as “productive in the strictest scientific sense” in our present society? These women are “productive,” but they are also “women exploited by capitalism.”

The proletarian woman marches with the tunnel workers from Italy to Switzerland, camps in barracks and whistles as she dries diapers next to cliff exploding into the air with blasts of dynamite. As a seasonal worker, she sits in springtime amidst the commotion of train stations on her modest bundle, a scarf covering her plainly parted hair, and waits patiently to be hauled from east to west. (“The Proletarian Woman”) [4]

And there is another kind of work women do that is not considered work because it does produce a profit for the capitalist rulers Luxemburg told her audience (“Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle”). Raising children and housework is not “productive in the sense of the present capitalist economy no matter how enormous an achievement the sacrifices and energy spent…This is but the private affair of the worker,” a “nonexistent” worker. By contrast, the work of the “music-hall dancer” is work. Her “legs sweep profit into her employer’s pocket,” but “all the toil of the proletarian women and mothers in the four walls of their homes is considered unproductive.” This “brutal and insane” treatment of the proletarian women “corresponds to the brutality and insanity of our present capitalist economy.”

The first task of the proletarian woman is to “clearly and sharply” see this “brutal reality.”

“The education and intelligence” of women has served to bring women to the Social Democracy organizations and to unions, crying “injustice!” In turn, Socialism has benefited from this “mental rebirth of the mass of proletarian women.” But so has the capitalists, for the Party no doubt also made these women “capable productive workers for capital.”

“The current mass struggle for women’s political rights is only an expression and a part of the proletariat’s general struggle for liberation.”

While there is injustice in the capitalist system, it is not enough, Luxemburg pointed out, for proletarian to cry “injustice!” and look to the leaders and the electoral process for relief. We should note, she told her audience, that the Social Democracy organizations and unions in Germany do not “use the argument of “injustice.'” And why should they? We experience injustice, leaders! And the response: What injustice!

Furthermore, poor women and working class women are “productive” but yet have no “political rights.” Two years later, Luxemburg would that the poor and working class woman should be weary of the “bourgeois advocates of women’s rights” who only “want to secure political rights in order then to assume a role in political life” (“The Proletarian Woman”).

Revolutionary Social Democracy does not ask for justice! [5]

“We do not depend on justice from the ruling class, but solely on the revolutionary power of the working masses and on the course of social development which prepares the ground for this power.” Consequently, we must recognize in our world today that the capitalist rulers profit from national boundaries but the U.S. Empire and its “allies” and their combined batons, tasers, drones, fighter jets, bombs, jail and prison cells are for us–the proletarian of the world. The anti-democratic nature of the bourgeois society fears women’s suffrage as women have the potential to “advance and intensify” the proletarian class struggle. The bourgeois class understands this and the proletariat must understand this as well. “The proletarian woman can only follow the path of the workers’ struggle, the opposite to winning an inch of real power through primarily legal status” (“The Proletarian Woman”). There can be no boundaries of any kind in our struggle against the capitalist rulers, against an Empire intent on war and more war.

Rosa Luxemburg would be pleased to see the people take to the streets in the global Occupy Wall Street protests, acknowledging, as they do so, that the artificial divisions of humanity that result in dispossession, deportation, and misery, are no longer acceptable, and that people around the world will come together to work toward a democratic world order.

Those “vanguard” leaders with their vested interests in capitalism and imperialist ventures will never tell the truth about capitalism’s proliferation of poverty and its violent repressive apparatus. Therefore, when we hear speeches or read articles expounding on the human condition under capitalism and these speeches and articles conclude with a request that we “ask Obama”” or “ask our Congressional representative”” we should recognize the message from the capitalist rulers and we will know then that these individuals are doing a disservice to the poor and working classes. We should shut our ears or tear the pages to shreds! We should shout: Shame on you–for you are as much an arm of the repressive apparatus as the militarized police force, if not more so because you have the ears of the people, and clearly you are deceivers. We have work to do! Our power will bring about the balance between the Eagle and the Serpent.

Luxemburg:

Proletarian women, the poorest of the poor, the most disempowered of the disempowered, hurry to join the struggle for the emancipation of women and of humankind from the horrors of capitalist domination! (“The Proletarian Woman”)

[1] Borderlands/La Frontera: the New Mestiza, Aunt Lute Publishers, 1987

[2] The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, editors Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson, Monthly Review Press, 2004. .

[3] Nell Irvin Painter, editor, Penguin Classics, (1998).

[4] Article written in 1914, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader

[5] “Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle”

Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, Black Commentator, Editorial Board and Columnist, Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory

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