Rosa Luxemburg [1871-1919], the Polish-born revolutionary and writer, was one of the most original theoretical minds of the early twentieth century. Her work stands as a testament to the great social of upheavals of the time and a life lived in struggle for a better world. She ultimately suffered for her convictions, spending time in jail between 1904 and 1906 and again for three and a half years for opposing the First World War, before her brutal and untimely death in 1919 at the hands of the proto-fascistic Freikorp. To mark her birthday, we have an extract from The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg that shows her characteristic mix of astute political and social analysis and incredible compassion for her fellow creatures. The letter, written around Christmas 1917 from her prison cell in Breslau to fellow SPD-member Sophie Liebknecht, relates an incident in the prison courtyard between a guard and a buffalo carrying piles of torn and bloodied clothes sent from the frontlines.
Rosa Luxemburg was tortured and executed on this day 96 years ago, on January 15 1919.
The last letter contained in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is dated January 11 1919, following the crushed Spartacist Uprising, and is reproduced in full below. In her last known piece of writing, 'Order prevails in Berlin', Luxemburg writes about the reasons contributing to the failure of the rebellion and the future of the movement:
A new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”
Over at the Rain Taxi Review of Books, Vladislav Davidzon has written an excellent review of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, providing a valuable historical overview and evaluation of her frequently overlooked importance—in the Anglo-American world, at least—to the political struggles and development of socialist thought in the early 20th century. Davidzon's review delves both into her extraordinary life as well as into the world-changing historical events that influenced it and which are mirrored afresh through her correspondence and most personal insights. He writes,
One sign of the multidimensionality of Rosa Luxemburg's life and work is the way she appeals to thinkers and activists coming from a number of different directions. Some view her primarily as a brilliant economist, who wrote the first study (at least since Marx's Capital) of capitalism's inherent drive for global expansion. Others view her mainly as a path-breaking political thinker, because of her embrace of spontaneous forms of revolt and her searing critique of those who fail to grasp the centrality of mass participation and democracy in efforts at social revolution. Others are drawn to her largely because of her striking personality, which exhibited a fiercely independent spirit and a fascination with both the beauty and tragedy of the human and natural world. The great merit of Jacqueline Rose's review of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is that it focuses on what connects the many strands of Luxemburg's legacy—her profound appreciation of the transformative power of the human intellect.