Rosa Luxemburg and the heart of darkness

Journal: 
Issue: 
Autumn 2018
Author(s): 
DOI : 10.3898/NEWF:94.08.2018

‘Imperialism’, Rosa Luxemburg tells us, ‘is the political expression of the process of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle over the unspoiled remainder of the noncapitalist world environment’. The realities analysed by this outstanding socialist revolutionary have also found significant reflection  in classic writings of such literary icons as Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell. Conrad’s racist conceptualisation in The Heart of Darkness shows us an idealistic imperialist, Kurtz, whose last words - ‘the  horror’ - can be understood in opposite ways:as an idealism grotesquely corrupted when a ‘civilising’ white ‘goes native’ or, more persuasively, as a grotesque violence  emanating from ‘progressive’ capitalist civilisation itself. Dark horrors visited upon innumerable victims in Africa, Asia, Latin America and among indigenous peoples of Australia and North America have been  generated, as Luxemburg demonstrates in The Accumulation of Capital, from the very heart of European civilisation, permeated and animated as it is by the capital accumulation process. The eloquent justifications of Kurtz can be found in the glowing prose of - for example - Winston Churchill: ‘Let it be  granted that nations exist and peoples labour to produce armies with which to conquer other nations, and  the nation best qualified to do this is of course the most highly civilised and the most deserving of  honour.’ Yet the actual impacts have been summarised by W.E.B. Du Bois: ‘There was no Nazi atrocity - concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or ghastly blasphemy of childhood - which the Christian civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defense of a Superior Race born to rule the world.’ Such horrors have  afflicted not only vast ‘peripheries’ but have also defined modern and contemporary history in the civilised ‘metropolis’.

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