Book Review: “In Search of Rosa’s Heritage”

The German Marxist Willy Huhn (1909 – 1970)

Jochen Gester: Auf der Suche nach Rosas Erbe. Der deutsche Marxist Willy Huhn (1909-1970); Die Buchmacherei, Berlin, 2017.

Paperback, 628p. + CD 207p. (Pdf); 22,-. ISBN 978-3-00-056463-5. Orders via Die Buchmacherei, with postal charges.

In this article you find:

  • The book description by the Editor

  • The review: Willy Huhn, an unknown coun­cil communist


Book Description by the Editor

The workers’ movement of the 20th Century was a historically powerful force. For generations it could influence the political landscape in its sense. But both its main political currents, Social Democracy and Bolshevism lost their emancipat­ing potential, each in a different way, and became bearers of new relations of dominance. Today it becomes clearer than ever that to overcome capi­talism new political beginnings are necessary. Therefor it is on hand to raise the question what answers the historically marginalized tendencies of the workers’ movement gave and how they tried to practically realize their idea. And it is of course interesting [to find out] which part falls upon themselves for their proposals to have met so little resonance. How should Marxists who share the critique of Rosa Luxemburg on both Lenin and majoritarian Social Democracy have situated themselves in the second half of the 20th Century? Willy Huhn, who deceased in 1970, is one of the few German socialists who confronted themselves with this task. His political life and writings are however hardly known. The book we have pub­lished has the vocation of filling in this gap. Jochen Gester has conceived an extensive bio­graphical sketch of the author, that makes pur­suable – in the first place by Huhn’s thought itself – how Huhn became politically socialized and how his learning process developed that finally made him a protagonist of anti-authoritarian socialism. In addition, the book enables the reader to study Huhn in more than 30 documents by his own work.


 Source: Auf der Suche nach Rosas Erbe.
 Translation and annotations: H.C., January 16, 2018

A translated text  from the book can be read on this blog: Willy Huhn (1948): “Lenin as a Utopian”

Review: Willy Huhn, an unknown coun­cil communist

The author qualifies/denotes this work as “a bio­graphical sketch”. This is all too modest, as Gester has succeeded in describing and critically analyzing Huhn’s personal and political develop­ment in 200 pages. Further, the book contains a selection of texts by Huhn on 400 pages in print, and more than 20 pages in PDF on a CD-ROM.

In his preface Gester explains how he incidentally ran into Huhn’s text “Trotzki – der verhinderte Stalin”. (1) His interest in this author unknown to him was instantly raised. Not without reason he qualifies Huhn as an important theoretician of so­cialism, which is documented by the text selection from the 10 meters of bookshelves occupied by the Huhn archive at the Amsterdam I.I.S.G. in­cluded in the compendium. The main emphasis of his work consists of the critique of the German majoritarian social democracy, Leninism and Trot­skyism. Educated politically since 1929 in the so­cial-democratic youth and trades union move­ment, Huhn adhered to the left wing of the SPD as a young man. Following his exclusion he had his first encounter with Trotskyism, but was re­volted by its Bolshevik methods.

He subsequently came into contact with former members of the K.A.P.D. who would constitute the ‘Rote Kämpfer’ in Germany. He has to be characterized as a council communist since. Huhn analyzed the emerging fascism in the 1930s as a process whose origins lie in the Lasallean ten­dency of the German workers’ movement to lean on the Bismarckian state. Isolated in the NS-pe­riod, Huhn got lost in a kind of national Bolshe­vism, which he never completely got rid of, as Gester critically demonstrates. After 1945 Huhn was engaged in the S.E.D., was excluded, changed to the SPD and was excluded once more. In this time he was editor at ‘Pro und Contra’, collabo­rator to ‘Neues Beginnen’ (“New Beginning”) and ‘Funken’ (“Spark”). In the 1960s Huhn made contact with the students’ movement, whose anti-authoritarian wing he was sympathetic with. He reacted head shaking to the “authoritarian turn” of the SDS, in which a majority consecrated itself to ML part forming.

Huhn did however not content himself with “testi­fying to the world, in a ‘Watchtower’-like way, that he alone had found the truth”, like “activists of small leftist groups”. (p. 9, 10) In his afterword Gester arrives at the conclusion “Going forward is only possible with a new political culture of deal­ing with each other, in which we learn to fight among ourselves and to respect one another at the same time.” In contradiction to this he views Neo-Leninist organizations that are marked by “the erroneous conception that the bearers of ideas of these organizations would know which way to go, and the others would not yet under­stand this of would not want to know it. Exactly at this point Willy Huhn drew one of his central lessons from the experience of the common fail­ure, a conclusion that is fit to be taken up and that is recommendable indeed.”

To illustrate this motto I provide the following quotation of Huhn in the book, that has my spe­cial likening because of my experiences with a left communist organization in the 1970s and 1980s that functioned ever more as a Leninist sect:

“The fear of ‘confusion’ as such! Gradually one transforms this into a slogan for the strangling of the freedom of opinion and conscience. How do you in fact conceive of a vivid democratic discus­sion, without any confusion, which is at first the result of every collision of different views? It is precisely the precondition for any creative forma­tion of opinion and consciousness, that a chaotic (‘confusing’) moment arrives by the confrontation between the points of view time and again, from which the clearer, better views must develop ev­ery time again. Who that acts with the delusional arrogance that his opinion is the only correct one in advance, for whom tries to let it prevail by any means – including by ‘democratic’ (say: dema­gogic) ones – of course all different views are “confusing”. Should I allow myself, I would qualify your views as confusing ones in the same right. This confusion, this momentary unclarity, this dissolution of fixed opinions is welcome in order to arrive at new, better higher forms of conscious­ness. Therefor I welcome the ‘confusion’! Without it, democratic freedom of opinion is just dema­goguery. Not from discussion, but from acclama­tion to already constituted views, declared [from] above, should emerge class consciousness with you. This is not a proletarian, but a plebiscite democracy, it is the democracy of Bonapartism, of fascism and national socialism. We are so well ac­quainted with it that we have become over-sensi­ble to every small appeal to its forms and meth­ods.” (Huhn quoted on p. 114)

Fredo Corvo, December 27, 2017

Source: Willy Huhn, ein unbekannter Rätekommunist

Translation: H.C., January 16, 2018.

Last update: May 18, 2019