have survived a difficult trip to South Africa (it takes
about a day and a half to get there), where I
participated in a very exciting conference on the
contemporary relevance of Rosa Luxemburg sponsored by
the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Anti-War
Conference on Rosa Luxemburg, War and Imperialism was
held on May 20-22 at the Workers’ Library and Museum
in the Newton Precinct of Johannesburg, and drew about
100 activists -- from universities and townships,
unions, left organizations, and social movements --
were black or "colored" and included some
seasoned activists (including a key conference organizer
Salim Vally, Trevor Ngwane, Oupa Lehulere, and Maria van
Driel) and some incredibly bright and vibrant student
and youth activists.
There were a few South African Communist Party
folks present, but mostly the people there were further
to the left, not necessarily in left groups (though some
were), but engaged in movements and struggles.
should add that I was invited to participate in this
conference in part thanks to contacts that I had made
through the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, through
which I had an opportunity to meet Oupa but especially
to work, around the Anti-War General Assembly, with
Salim Valley, who is a prominent figure in the anti-war
movement of South Africa.
The yearly World Social Forums are playing an
extremely important role in helping – in multiple ways
– to foster a vibrant internationalism among those who
wish to comprehend and resist the oppressive,
exploitative, and violent results of the dominant forms
They foster a “globalization from below” in
the form of pooling information and ideas and
experience, in the form of connecting struggles of
various countries, and in the form of projecting a
common vision of a future worthy of human beings –
with liberty and justice and a decent life for all –
throughout the world.
The Johannesburg conference on Rosa Luxemburg is
another aspect of that phenomenon.
were two panels on Luxemburg herself
-- one on her life, ideas, and meaning,
and one on her approach to war and imperialism.
On each of these, there
was someone from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Eveline
Wittich and Ottokar
Luban) along with me. In the first I gave a 30-minute presentation which
focused on her political strategy and her links
with the labor movement, in
the second I discussed elements of her important
study on imperialism, Accumulation of Capital, and
the anti-war classic The Junius Pamphlet in
understanding capitalism, imperialism, militarism, and
talks went over very well -- people were
intensely interested in
Luxemburg's ideas and experience.
They see parallels between her
experience (a revolutionary faced with
bureaucratic and reformist developments
in her own movement, who understands the lethal
nature of capitalist
globalization and fights against it) and their own.
sessions were followed by others on imperialism and war
in Africa (and current struggles against war and
imperialism), with presentations by such people as
Thomas Deve (a prominent NGO activist from Zimbabwe) on
war and imperialism in contemporary Congo and Angola,
Lindsey Collen (a novelist and activist from Mauritius)
on the struggle to close U.S. military bases, Professor
N.Y. Osee Muyima (a scientist and activist originally
from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) who spoke of
developments in his homeland, and others.
A video (with English subtitles) of the film
"Rosa Luxemburg" (which I brought, and then
turned over to the Foundation) was viewed on the second
evening with an intense and rich appreciation.
were workshops on specific aspects of anti-war and
anti-imperialist analysis and struggle: 1) military
bases in Africa; 2) the role of South Africa in the
regional conflicts and peace-keeping; and 3) the role of
big business. We were each assigned (by counting off one
two three, one two three…) to one of these workshops,
and I ended up in the third workshop, which was
incredibly abundant in information and ideas.
The other workshops seemed of similarly high
quality, given the reports that were given afterward.
At the closing session of the conference a number
of strands were tied together in a discussion of a draft
of a two-page report summarizing what had taken place at
this, there was time (before my plane left on Sunday
evening) for one of the local Rosa Luxemburg staff
people, Rose Khumalo, to show me around areas in which
she had grown up -- the townships of Soweto and
Alexandra. We saw the Hector Pieterson Museum on the Soweto uprising (he
was a school kid killed at that time) and the Nelson
Mandela house, and also ate great food at one of the
local “shebeens” that used to be frequented by
Mandela and Walter Sisulu when they lived in Soweto.
I gave three or four radio interviews while there.
Salim told me he would try to get me copies of
one or two of them.
I made many contacts, gathered much material, and
hope to follow up on a number of possibilities --
academic, activist, and other.
word should be added about the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation
(whose website can be accessed at: www.rosalux.de). It is based in Germany, with branch offices in Brazil (Porto
Alegre), Russia (Moscow), and South Africa
is dedicated to helping to spread and utilize the ideas
of this great revolutionary socialist throughout the
world and has been active in the World Social Forum.
While having links to the Party of Democratic
Socialism (PDS) in Germany, it seeks to reach out to and
work with a broad range of scholars, radical activists
and left organizations.
Presently I am exploring with them possibilities
of developing a three volume set of Luxemburg’s
selected works on political, social, and economic
questions, plus an additional substantial collection of
be happy to share copies of my talks, and also on-line
photos of the conference, with anyone who is interested. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
bottom-line: Rosa Luxemburg is alive and well in
Johannesburg – and I suspect elsewhere as well.