Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Assassination of Fred Hampton. How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. By Jeffrey Haas.

On Thursday, December 4, 1969, the Chicago Police broke into the apartment of Black Panther Chairman, Fred Hampton, and murdered him. Attorney Jeffrey Haas was part of a legal team that won damages for the families of Hampton and other Panthers killed and wounded in the raid. Damages were paid by the Chicago Police, by the FBI (whose informant supplied a floor plan of the apartment showing where Hampton slept and was killed) and by Cook County (whose State’s Attorney [Edward V. Hanrahan] ordered the raid). This book is Haas’s version of the chronology which exposed the criminal collusion of those three government bodies.

Haas is aware throughout, that this book will be read by people who have little sympathy for the revolutionary rhetoric of the Panthers. He honestly presents Fred Hampton’s support of violent tactics: When Hampton is asked “Do you feel that a legitimate means of obtaining what you are after is armed violence or armed revolution,” Hampton responds “I believe if we tried anything else we would end up like Dr. Martin Luther King” (Haas, p. 51).

In order to make his case to a readership where some are likely to be skeptical of his clients and conclusions, Haas relies on evidence from the FBI and government sources. When he wants to present FBI collusion with police in the murder, he employs the transcript testimony of FBI agent Roy Mitchell, who admitted under oath that he obtained the floor plan of Hampton’s apartment from his planted informant inside the Panther organization, then passed it on to the Chicago Police (Haas, pp. 195-7). When Haas wishes to show that the police murdered Fred Hampton while he lay face-down and helpless in his bed, he uses the evidence from FBI ballistics specialist Robert Zimmers, and pathology reports of the Federal Grand Jury, which reveal the downward trajectory of the bullets into Hampton’s prone body (Haas, p. 124). When Haas wants to demonstrate that the FBI wanted Hampton dead, he uses the FBI’s anonymously written letter from its own files, to a Chicago street gang leader, attempting to convince him to kill Hampton (Haas, p. 224). All these pieces of evidence were obtained from the FBI via legal discovery, documented in the public record and presented in the trials against the FBI, the Chicago Police & Edward V. Hanrahan.

Haas was a young lawyer in 1969. His demeanor was frequently self-righteous and unprofessional. Haas put in writing to the appellate court that “FBI racial counterintelligence was a star-spangled blueprint for genocide” (Haas, p. 361). Such strident language, used often by Haas, is common in street protest, but does not constitute evidentiary language in a legal argument. Experienced NAACP civil rights lawyer James Montgomery, (Haas’s one-time co-counsel), told Hampton’s parents that “he no longer wanted to work with [Haas] and that [his] tactics only led to infuriating the judge” (Haas, p. 312). When Haas and his co-counsel defend in court their labeling of opposing attorneys ideas as “’fascist’ mentality,” Judge Fairchild admonishes them to “focus on the facts…not the abstract labels (Haas, p. 322). All of this is described in the book without any self-criticism or self-awareness on the part of the author.

Despite Haas’s prior lack of polish and current inability to self-reflect, his book accomplishes what it set-out to do: Using legal facts supplied by FBI and government records, it exposes FBI , Chicago Police and State's Attorney General, collusion in the murder of a political figure.


Haas, Jeffrey. The Assassination of Fred Hampton. How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2010.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

George Jacob Holyoake. By Joseph McCabe.

George Jacob Holyoake (April 13, 1817 – January 22, 1906) was a significant activist in the British Secular and Cooperative Movements. He created the term “secularism,” and stopped using the description “atheist,” not out of any rancor towards atheists, but because “he wanted to describe what he was, not what he declined to be…he wanted men to give all their devotion to the problems of this world (saeculum)…Secularist was the best name to adopt” (McCabe, p. 31). He worked all his life alongside people who described themselves as atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secularists, etc., to reform the UK to be more secular in government and education. His activism with the Cooperative Movement involved support for business ventures that were owned and democratically managed by their members. Most of his work was as a newspaper editor and a lecturer. The latter activity resulted in his prosecution for “Blasphemy,” a religiously-motivated form of legal censorship that was not eliminated in British law until 2008.*

Joseph McCabe’s biography of Holyoake is itself a piece of history. It is part of the “Life Stories of Famous Men” series, created by secularist publisher Charles Albert Watts, and issued for the Rationalist Press Association. Like the Little Blue Book Series in the United States (for whom McCabe also wrote), this book was intended as brief, low-cost propaganda aimed at working class readers. The writing is ghastly. McCabe’s bio has all the sobriety and rationalism of an eager choir boy’s school report on his favorite nun. He characterizes secularism as “the noblest struggle on which the sun has ever shone” and Holyoake’s advocacy as setting out “to slay dragons” (McCabe, p. 31). But a modern reader does not approach this book for its content. It is to be examined as a historical, propagandistic document. Given the elements that its author emphasizes, this book is more valuable for what it reveals about the UK of 1922, than what it tells us about Holyoake. So what does it reveal? What are the points that McCabe leans upon to press his case?

First, it is significant that this book and series are aimed at the working class, given that this is a group whose political influence is on the rise in 1922. Before World War I, aristocracy was highly regarded in Britain. Herbert Henry Asquith, Earl of Oxford, was the Prime Minister who led the United Kingdom into that war. While the Great War was patriotically regarded by the populace at large, there was a great deal of criticism for the way that aristocratic generals conducted campaigns. Aristocratic officers with no experience but great titles, sent thousands of working class soldiers over the tops of trenches to die for a few feet of soil, only to see those conquests re-captured the next day. It was this perception of aristocratic responsibility for the slaughter which prompted Parliament to finally give the sacrificing working class universal suffrage. By the time that McCabe had written this biography, the Labor Party had surpassed the Liberal Party as the primary opposition to the Conservatives in Parliament. Of course it did help that George Jacob Holyoake had working class roots and that he was a leader in the Cooperative Movement, both good reasons to select him for the series. But the constant emphasis on his roots does show the growing political importance of the working class at the time of the writing.

Second, this book, a piece of secularist propaganda, ironically displays the importance of religion in UK society. Language is used in reference to Holyoake that evokes religious feeling. Phrases like “Holyoake was touched by the sacred fire” (McCabe, p. 14) and “then his real martyrdom began” (McCabe, p. 19) show that religious feeling still exist and can be evoked to support even the cause of secularism. Throughout the book, this reformer is shown inviting theists to join his society (McCabe, p. 32) or being praised by clerics (i.e. “even Bishops avowed the same esteem as Ingersoll” [McCabe, p. 95]). These examples are meant to express to readers who have grown-up in Christian households, that it’s okay to see the good in a secularist and even join-in with them. Such encouragement would be unnecessary were religion unimportant to the target audience.

Third, there is a marked attempt to secure the interest of women in the Secular Movement. Women who were householders obtained the right to vote in 1918. There was significant feminist agitation for the franchise to be extended to all women, which succeeded in 1928. As the women’s movement is increasingly important in the public sphere, Holyoake’s support is emphasized: “the woman movement (sic)…round him gathered the little band of early pioneers in the struggle. Harriet Martineau admired him enthusiastically” (McCabe, p. 35).

Fourth, in spite of a growing egalitarianism in Great Britain, big names still impress circa 1922. Litanies of socially prominent admirers are a frequent occurrence in this biography. For example: “Sir Wilfrid Lawson writes: ‘I have long thought that you are one of our few original thinkers and writers.’ Jacob Bright says: ‘I value highly your judgment.’ The Marquis of Ripon says: ‘I am glad to see your handwriting again.’” It goes on for a page and a half (McCabe, p. 111-2). Regardless of how progressive and educated society has become, the rich and famous remain a source of public fascination.

The purpose of this evaluation is not to single-out secularists for criticism. Whether secular or religious, left-wing or right-wing, all movements use propaganda. Examining propaganda allows a reader to step back from a document and see both how it is attempting to influence, and what it shows about the values of the society it is directed towards. This kind of analysis helps one understand the historical uses of this technique, and makes one more mindful of its use in our own time. The biography George Jacob Holyoake is useful for some factual information on the activist’s life, for what it shows about 1920s Britain and for its exemplification of propaganda.

McCabe, Joseph. George Jacob Holyoake. London: Forgotten Books, 2015.

*Ruth Geller. "Goodbye to Blasphemy in Britain". Institute for Humanist Studies. Archived from the original on 2008-06-07

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany. The Campaigns of the Judischer Frauenbund, 1904-1938. By Marion A. Kaplan.

Marion Kaplan offers a rare history. It is a portrayal of the Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany prior to World War II. Her narrative centers around an organization called the Judischer Frauenbund (JFB), which existed from 1904 to 1938. At its height, in the late 1920s, the Frauenbund had a membership of 50,000 women (Kaplan, pp. 10-11). It networked with Germany’s largest feminist organization, the Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, of which many JFB organizers were members. Chief among the issues addressed by the Frauenbund were sexual slavery, equality in Jewish communal affairs and career training for women. It is the unique position of this feminist organization which permits the author to focus upon “the convergent spheres of German, Jewish and women’s history” (Kaplan, p.3).

After a standard introduction, describing the organization and its cultural environs, a chapter is then devoted to its founder and primary organizer for most of the group’s history: Bertha Pappenheim. A fascinating and dynamic personality, Pappenheim was friends with the philosopher Martin Buber. The most shocking revelation of this chapter is that Bertha Pappenheim is also “Anna O,” one of Sigmund Freud’s most famous case studies and a patient of his protégé Josef Breuer (Kaplan, pp.31-2). As a result of Freud’s and Breuer’s notes, we know a great deal about this activist’s inner life. Kaplan does an admirable job of countering Breuer’s and Freud’s patriarchal interpretations of women, as well as picking-up the chronology of Bertha’s life after she leaves therapy. The author presents the external elements of this woman’s life so that she is not simply a psychological case study, but a vibrant, curious, adventurous catalyst in politics and life.

Kaplan’s depiction of the Frauenbund is not that of an idealized, modern organization. Throughout her book, the author reveals issues that her 1979 feminist readership, might regard as backward. German Jewish prejudice against Ostjuden (Jews from Eastern Europe) was common. JFB members tended to be middle class Germans and Ostjuden were primarily working class immigrants escaping Eastern pogroms. “Ostjuden remained recipients of, rather than collaborators in, the JFB’s social work” (Kaplan, pp 7-8). In addition, the social work to which Kaplan refers involved training immigrant women to become domestic servants; an aim at a low horizon, and not a little self-serving given that affluent Frauenbund members employed such help. Kaplan describes the JFB as “a case study of a group whose ‘feminism’ displayed a strange amalgam of internalized patriarchal values and woman-oriented concerns. A typical JFB member would be a housewife and mother who accepted her status in the private sphere and performed traditional voluntary social work” (Kaplan, p.6). Such members were not strong proponents of “suffrage or legal equality.” Here, both internal pressures of a traditional religious community and external pressures of anti-Semitic threat conspired to subdue member radicalism.

The author is also not afraid to present the Jewish Community with all of its blemishes. One particularly staggering chapter discusses the number of Jews involved in trafficking women. Jewish activists against sexual slavery were acutely aware of their people’s involvement: “The First Jewish International Conference on White Slavery released its own survey. In Germany, 182 traffickers were listed, among whom were 19 Jews. Austria counted 101, including 65 Jews. Of 93 known South American traffickers, 80 were Russian or Polish Jews. In Galicia, 38 of the 39 known traffickers were Jews, while 104 of the 124 Russian traffickers were Jews and 68 of the 105 known Hungarian traffickers were also Jews” (Kaplan, p.111). Perennial history readers understand that dislocated populations escaping violence are prone to develop criminal elements; but this does not excuse the behavior. Marion Kaplan deserves grateful acknowledgement for placing honest historical reportage above concerns about how her own ethnic group or political foremothers might appear. To learn from history, information must prevail over image.

The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany is an original, prolifically footnoted, representation of history. Its significance lies in what it preserves: the memory of a German Jewish culture and aspiring movement that were annihilated in the Holocaust. But it also preserves its own 1979 feminist perspectives, permitting a reader to examine traits of that era as well. In addition, it benefits those in the future, when memories of 1904 and 1979 will be more faded. Kaplan supplies unique and diverse information that maintains our western legacy.


Kaplan, Marion A. The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany. The Campaigns of the Judischer Frauenbund, 1904-1938. Westport: Greenwood Press, Inc., 1979.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Future of Our Past. From Ancient Greece to Global Village. By H.J. Blackham.

In The Future of Our Past, H.J. Blackham examines what he calls “‘universals’ of history.” Universals are cultures, religions or empires that can “claim to be a model for the human race.” In Western Civilization, these so-called “universals” have their origins in Classical Greece, Judea and the Roman Empire (Blackham, p. 8). After acquainting the reader with this view, Blackham presents a chronology divided into four parts.

Part One is sub-divided into three sections, “Hellas,” “Zion” and “Romanitas,” which describe the history of each culture and its contribution to Western Civilization. Part Two discusses the Middle Ages in Europe after the fall of Rome, with an emphasis on what information from the three universals was lost, what was preserved, and what was rediscovered at the end of that period. Part Three begins with the Renaissance, a re-awakening for which Blackham credits the rediscovery of Greek philosophy and culture. It ends with the secularization of Europe at the completion of the 19th Century. Part Four is devoted to the 20th Century, its various difficulties, and what the author calls “the final universal model…the One World which the West has brought about and organized as a consequence of technological innovation, and has inescapably laid on all humanity…a shared human self-awareness that is a new version and vision of what humanity is” (Blackham, p. 9).

A little ethnocentric? Discussing the development of Europe is a fine topic of history. But offering Europe’s so-called universal forebears as “a model for the human race,” and claiming in the end that the final universal is a model created by the West and “laid on all humanity” is a bit blinkered. He presents his theory as if the other continents on the planet are just passive receptacles of western gifts, rather than participants in the evolution of culture. This is nowhere more apparent than in his ignoring of Medieval Islam. When the West was experiencing a dearth of education, Islam was preserving a great deal of the Greek legacy, which it passed-on to the Christian West. In addition, Blackham inaccurately states that “The Greeks originated the scientific approach” (Blackham, p. 8). The Greeks employed empirical observation of the physical world; but observation alone is not scientific method. Most historians of science recognize Ibn al-Haytham (965 AD – 1040 AD), a Persian Muslim, as the first individual recorded to have performed experiments according to the scientific method. These too were passed-on to the West.

The most significant failure in the book is that Blackham drops his thesis less than half way through. After discussing the debt that the Renaissance owes to Greece, the author loses his thread connecting the three model universals to the following history. From that point on, the originality of the document, however flawed with traditionalism and ethnocentrism, reverts to a standard recap of events between the Renaissance and the present.

This recap has value. It optimistically depicts an evolution of culture from religious ignorance to science and rational secularism, with all the technological and medical benefits that accompany that change. Blackham understands that the prior “uniformity of Christendom…implied a rigid orthodoxy…enforceable if necessary by totalitarian power.” The freeing of thought, along with related scientific, political and cultural developments, “opened the door of obedience to the intrusion of questions” (Blackham, pp. 110-111).

As the narrative reaches the 20th Century, a chaos of wars, injustices, religious extremisms, ecological crises and other problems, threaten to drown the theme of civilized development. It is here that the author attempts to establish his “final universal”: “Responsibility for consequences, good and ill, is at last recognized as being global and shared…Everyone has the moral obligation to work out and undertake his or her appropriate part in the collective tasks…In fulfilling this obligation, one enacts one’s personal human identity. This is the bond of human union and the final historical universal that supersedes the claims of Hellas, Zion, and Romanitas to universality” (Blackham, p. 381). An inspiring goal for humanity. If only there was some confirmation that this so-called universal was anything more than a personal wish of the author’s. He offers no evidence of a worldwide trend or force moving in that direction. If anything, most of the final section makes the point that the activities of the 20th Century are driven by greed, violence and selfishness, rather than a sense of global cooperation. Blackham reached the end of his book, after having dropped his universals in the Renaissance, and attempted to cobble together a final universal that had no foundation in the modern portrait he had just presented.

Readers who undertake The Future of Our Past, will be rewarded with an effective presentation involving the currents of Hellas, Zion and Romanitas, which aided Western Civilization through Medieval times and affected the Renaissance. In addition, an encouraging synopsis of secular development in Europe between Renaissance and 19th Century, is exhibited. If one is mindful of the pitfalls of ethnocentrism and unsubstantiated theory, one will benefit from the information.


Blackham, H.J. The Future of Our Past. From Ancient Greece to Global Village. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1996.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The History of Spain. By Peter Pierson.

Peter Pierson’s The History of Spain is a no-nonsense guide covering Spain’s evolution from the re-conquest of Muslim al-Andalus, to the end of the 20th Century. It begins with an orienting chapter of basic geography and current regional social studies. Next is a highly condensed chapter of 11 pages that rockets a reader from Neanderthal excavations through the end of Muslim control. Pierson presents the Muslim Empire as a comparatively positive cultural and intellectual influence, given its’ relative tolerance towards non-Muslim perspectives as compared to Christian Europe. Unfortunately, this rich influence is presented in less than four pages. The true subject of the book is Western development.

The next four chapters are an uninspired chronicle of kings, wars and dates. For almost half of the book, a reader is bombarded with a dizzying pantheon of never-to-be-remembered royal names. There are tiny bits of Spanish pride in cultural advance and the arts. A couple of artists’ names slip into the text. But the Colonial period apex of Spanish culture, often called the Golden Age, is reduced to four sentences. The victims of Spain during this time (native Western Hemisphere populations, Jews and impoverished peasants) are handled progressively, though briefly. Their oppression is presented in a factual manner, and seen as sad occurrence in Spain’s history. However, these groups remain a faceless, voiceless mass. Their presentation contrasts sharply with that of the kings. Frequently, monarchs are accorded personality and details that individuate them. A personal letter from King Frances I to King Charles V (Pierson, p. 60) is one example of this frequent, imbalanced practice. It is not uncommon for a prominent monarch to receive a miniature biography. Presentation of rulers with personality, but non-elites as masses is inaccurate history. Reading this section on Imperial and Colonial Spain, one would think that the people had no thoughts, no ambition, and simply toiled for Spain’s rulers. One may argue that Pierson’s book relies upon secondary reading material to present his overview, and much of that is biased against populations. However, there are a multitude studies by historians of niche groups, subcultures, non-aristocratic individuals and movements. This is what historians do: they excavate primary material from archaeology and research to depict past life. Pierson could have employed a few of these. A chronicle of kings may easier to come by, but it fails to present a whole picture of a period.

As the book moves into the mid-18th Century, the balance improves. The improvement has little to do with Pierson’s efforts. Both historians and reporters of that time were becoming aware that classes below the aristocracy were vital to societies. The middle class was developing a sense of itself and creating a liberal agenda to promote its political and economic concerns. Working class people were becoming more aware of themselves as a class and agitating for recognition. As a result, the general historical material that is Pierson’s main source of information becomes more holistic. Names and quotes from individuals who are not elite begin to emerge in this historian’s text and his work begins to breathe with the vivid life of a whole culture involved in defining itself and determining its course. This changed, balanced view, proceeds through an immensely tumultuous 18th & 19th Century where Spain’s prominence as an international power falls, colonies are lost, and domestic divisions between national groups or classes become prominent. It is a difficult, frequently violent trajectory from these conflicts, through the 20th Century’s Civil War, Franco’s Fascist dictatorship, and Spain’s eventual transformation to democratic republic. Pierson handles the material with an unembellished, factual account of development. The second half of the book is an improvement over the first half. For readers seeking a brief overview of 18th through 20th Century Spain, this book provides a satisfactory narrative.


Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain. London, Greenwood Press, 1999.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Medieval Underworld. By Andrew McCall.

Author Andrew McCall defines the Medieval Underworld as “those people who were unwilling or unable to comply with the laws of medieval society” (McCall, p.12). The laws to which he refers are biblical. They are based upon “The idea of a Chain of Being” where each element of God’s creation (from angels to kings, to aristocrats, to peasants, to animals, to plants to rocks), has “an appointed place and function in the Christian hierarchy…Let anyone try to step outside his appointed place…then here was the seed of disaster” as well as defiance of the Lord’s will (McCall, pp.14-15). The groups presented as members of this underworld include criminals, prostitutes, lesbians, gays, heretics, sorcerers, witches, and Jews.

While the topic is fascinating, McCall’s book provides only a small amount of information about this underworld. The first chapter is devoted to defining the Middle Ages. The second chapter examines the roles of Royal and Ecclesiastical courts in prosecuting behaviors considered criminal. The last chapter provides a medieval depiction of hell based on Dante’s Inferno. In addition, there are many pictures that cover half a page or a full page. Therefore, the sub-cultures which comprise the underground are covered in 175 pages. Of those few pages, half discuss thieves and armed robbers of various stripes. The rest of the groups, actual cultures of non-conformists with interesting worldviews, divide the remaining pages.

McCall claims that his book “looks at the period from the point of view of the outsider,” through the eyes of underground members (McCall, p.18). This assertion is most assuredly false. Almost all of the information employed by the author is from the perspective of the persecutors of these sub-cultures: the Royal and Ecclesiastical Courts that tried these groups. Little is written by members of the underground about themselves. Even with groups like Jews and heretics, both of whom left numerous written documents, the majority of the book’s evidence concerns legal decisions and recorded mob violence against non-conformists.  It is surprising that the voices of the people within these sub-cultures are so poorly represented, given that entire books have been written on each of the non-conformist groups to whom McCall dedicates only a few pages.

In spite of its meager quantity of information, almost all of which is presented by those prejudiced against underground sub-cultures, the book does have value: It provides an overview of Church legal repression and violence against groups who failed to conform. Although that overview is remarkably superficial, it constitutes a starting point, or outline, for non-fiction readers who wish to explore further. In addition, it is informative to have a confession from the Church, in its own documentation, describing its persecution of people who were different.


McCall, Andrew. The Medieval Underworld. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rosa Luxemburg. Abridged Edition. By J.P. Nettl.

If we only read about individuals whose worldview confirms our own, we learn little. By this logic, the assemblage of contradictions which produce a portrait of Rosa Luxemburg will be vastly instructive. She was an independent woman, whose sheer personal drive led her to create national organizations, edit leading periodicals and influence Marxist party politics in several nations. All of this was accomplished during a time when women were considered by men to be intellectually inferior and hardly worth hearing. In spite of this independence, she “was not interested in any high-principled campaign for women’s rights.” In her mind, “the inferior status of women was a social feature which would be eliminated only by the advent of Socialism” (Nettl, p. 415). At times, Luxemburg expresses the purest motives of a life dedicated to serving what she sees as a noble purpose; a purpose for which she sacrificed her life. At times, she reveals stark personal ambition and strategy with comments like “in a year or two…I shall occupy one of the foremost positions in the party” (Nettl, p. 90). There are passages in Rosa’s writings where she counter-intuitively justifies her acceptance of worker suffering for her revolutionary goals as evidence of her compassion: Her chilly prediction, that advocacy of a 1905 general strike will mean that “the masses will die of hunger” and “some blood will be spilt,” is explained away with the rationalization that people who worry about such consequences “haven’t got the least contact or feeling for the masses” (Nettl, p. 212). However it is not only her contradictions that will invite a reader to expose themselves to a differing worldview. Few Western readers are Marxists; especially during a period where the Soviet Union has fallen and most existing, self-described “Communist” nations (Vietnam, China, Laos) are simply dictatorships fostering Capitalist economies. Examining an idealistic individual, who saw economic injustice and believed that Marxism was the answer, permits access to a mindset quite different from our own. It is our willingness to understand (whether or not we agree) that permits intellectual and personal growth.

Peter Nettl completed an academic, two-volume study of Luxemburg in 1966. But between his pre-1966 research and 1969, the political zeitgeist had changed. The United States was in the midst of upheaval concerning an imperialist Vietnam War, a more militant Civil Rights Movement and a general mistrust of authority. It was in this context that Nettl revised his book, cutting its length in half and providing commentary relevant to the late-Sixties protest movements. In the abridged edition, released in 1969, he is clear in his intention to foster and instruct dissent. “The purpose of this shortened version of my  work is to enable a wider audience to have access to her life and ideas…I unashamedly address this edition to anyone interested in using this rich fund of ideas, this rich life of action and experience, for their own purposes” (Nettl, p. xiii). In spite of his “for their own purposes” claim, Nettl speaks to protesters with an eye to converting them to Marxism. “Youth, mostly students; racial minorities, a few dissident intellectuals—these form the new ‘proletariat’ … there is no good reason why such groups should not form, and act like, a proletariat in a perfectly Marxist sense” (Nettl, p. x). His conclusion reiterates this goal: “Those…who hold that the revolutionary steps to progress must lead directly from highly developed capitalism to Socialism…will all find no better guide for inspiration than the life and work of Rosa Luxemburg” (Nettl, p. 499). In service to these ends, Nettl emphasizes elements in this earlier activist’s views that would resonate with his 1968 audience. He devotes long passages to her anti-imperialism (Nettl, p. 163), and her objections to authoritarianism (Nettl, p. 198). A reader’s ability to examine the period in which Nettl is writing and his objectives, adds a meta-biographical dimension to one’s understanding of this book. It can be read both for its’ late-19th/early-20th century biographical content, and for the understanding one may glean about the 1960s.

Because the purpose for this project was largely political and polemical, there is a dearth of illustration regarding the subject’s personal life. We learn the details of her childhood, her relationships, her friendships and the progress of her existence, but that is all. Nettl’s comprehension of Luxemburg’s life events and thought is extensive, but presented in a punctilious manner. In his narrative, Rosa moves but she does not breathe. This is not a book for the sentimental; it is a book for the intellectual who is concerned with theory, historical development and political process. Readers inclined towards the latter mode will find this work satisfying.


Nettl, J.P. Rosa Luxemburg. Abridged Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.