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Another View of Things: Rosa Luxemburg (1913)

In this speech delivered in Leipzig, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) speaks of the consequences of European imperialism not only for the working class of Europe but also for the oppressed peoples of the colonies. She also criticizes the Social Democratic Party (SPD) for tacitly supporting the government’s military expansion. A year later, Luxemburg was jailed for speaking out against conscription.

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We live in a curious age, one in which a very specific aspect of public life is increasingly claiming the attention of the working class: the field of foreign policy. In the opinion of the average member of the petty bourgeoisie, and in keeping with his intellectual horizons, foreign policy refers to that section of the morning paper that he reads over his morning coffee to distract himself from his cares or from the nagging of his better half. For the working class, though, foreign policy is a deadly serious and extremely important matter. This has not always been the case. If we examine the intellectual life of the working class over the past few decades, if we take the pulse of this intellectual life, we can observe how the working class’s interest in foreign policy has increased year by year. Yet it has not gone far enough: it must reach the point where every worker understands that he or she must follow the events of world politics with the same energy, attention, and passion reserved for domestic issues. Every proletarian man and woman must today say to him- or herself: everything that happens in foreign policy affects the proletariat’s interests. If Negroes are suppressed by the German army in Africa, if Serbs and Bulgarians murder Turkish soldiers and peasants in the Balkans, if the conservative party suddenly gains the upper hand in Canadian elections, dismantling the liberal government, workers must understand that this is their business and that their interests are at stake. It was Karl Marx who provided us with a way to grasp this phenomenon many decades before developments had taken on such clear contours. In his famous inaugural address, he said, among other things, that struggles over foreign policy represented a part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat and were therefore part of the class struggle.

When we compare the current state of world politics with the period in which Marx delivered his inaugural speech, we can gauge how times have changed. In the 1860s, the focal point of world politics was the after-pains and consequences of the division of Poland at the hands of Prussia, Austria, and Russia. World politics centered on the friction between the countries that took part in this theft. If a person were to ask today, “What is the focus of international political events?,” he would cause even a serious politician to get flustered. Today, we have a similar focus in the North Sea, in the rivalry between Germany and England. There is an entire cluster of conflicts and antagonisms in the Mediterranean. Peace in the Balkans has entailed dismembering European Turkey and has simultaneously laid the groundwork for the next war for Asian Turkey. But the international conflicts do not end here. Russia and England are fighting their battle at the expense of an unhappy Persia. A land and a people are being carved up in a time of peace. Farther east lies the formidable epicenter of the revolution in China. From Asia, our path takes us across the Pacific Ocean to America, which has been the source of constant surprises over the last few decades. American capitalists have been eyeing Asia greedily ever since the United States fought its first colonial war with Spain over the Philippines in 1898. This has led to a conflict between Japan, the United States, and England.

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