Jacqueline Rose and Lea Haro speak to Louise Hidalgo about Rosa Luxemburg's life and work for "Witness" on BBC World Service.
Harriet Walter brings The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg to life, beginning with one of the first—a love letter to Leo Jogiches, written from Switzerland in 1893.
Rose and Haro give insights into Luxemburg's childhood in Poland, and the start of her political life whilst attending secondary school in Warsaw. They follow her through her rise in German Social Democracy and the development of her ideas, including about the mass strike, her opposition to the First World War, the founding of the Spartacist league, her imprisonments and finally to her murder.
Luxemburg spent much of the war in prison, following news of the Russian Revolution from behind bars. In November 1917, she writes to Clara Zetkin,
I am now convinced that in the next few years a great upheaval in all of Europe is unavoidable especially if the war lasts much longer. The events in Russia are of amazing grandeur and tragedy. Lenin and his people will not of course be able to win out against the tangle of chaos, but their attempt by itself stands as a deed of world historical significance and a genuine milestone.
Visit the BBC World Service to listen to the programme.
Tariq Ali interviewed by Sarfraz Manzoor for the Guardian about his life in dissent, student protests and the Arab uprisings.
Peter Hudis introduces the last letter contained in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg for the New Left Project. The letter is dated January 11 1919, following the failed Spartacist uprising. Luxemburg writes,
It is impossible to describe the way of life that I-and all of us-have been living for weeks, the tumult and turmoil, the constant changing of living quarters, the never-ending reports filled with alarm, and in between, the tense strain of work, conferences, etc ... I hope in a week or so the situation will have clarified itself in one way or another and regular work will again be possible.
Murdered within a few days on January 15 1919, Luxemburg did not live to see this through. Peter Hudis introduces the turbulent historical context:
This letter was written in the immediate aftermath of the abortive "Spartakusbund Uprising" of January 4-10, which attempted to overthrow the SPD government of Ebert and Scheidemann and install a revolutionary government representing the German working classes' demand for genuine socialism ... Although Karl Liebknecht and others were carried away by these events to see them as a demand to overthrow the regime, Luxemburg saw them as a defensive reaction and held that calls for a seizure of power were premature. However, she decided she could not stand in the way of the uprising given the course of events on the ground that were taking on a life of their own ...
She here tries to put the best face possible on the defeat, arguing that the elections might not be held ... Luxemburg works to keep the spirits of her longtime friend and comrade up by reminding her that no defeat is ever permanent since such "events are a tremendous school for the masses." It is fitting for this letter to end the collection of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, given that it expresses her long-held view was that the most important aspect of social struggle is the "intellectual sediment" that it leaves for future generations to continue the struggle for freedom.
Visit New Left Project to read Peter Hudis' introduction and the letter in full.
Sheila Rowbotham reviews The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg for the Guardian, bringing into relief the portrait of Luxemburg's passionate political and personal life painted by the letters:
George Shriver's new translation of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is the most comprehensive collection of her correspondence yet to appear in English. It transports us directly into the private world of a woman who has never lost her inspirational power as an original thinker and courageous activist in first the Marxist Social Democratic party, and then the German revolutionary group, the Spartacist League. She suffered for her convictions; jail sentences in 1904 and 1906 were followed by three and a half years in prison for opposing the first world war. Her brutal death at the hands of the militaristic Volunteer Corps during the 1919 workers uprising in Berlin has contributed to her mystique: she is revered as the revolutionary who never compromised. This collection of her letters reveals that the woman behind the mythic figure was also a compassionate, teasing, witty human being.
Citing Luxemburg as an influence on her own work, Rowbotham, the author of Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century and Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love, untangles Luxemburg's ambivalent relationship with the feminist movement of her time:
Luxemburg's criticism of Marxism as dogma and her stress on consciousness exerted an influence on the women's liberation movement which emerged in the late 60s and early 70s. When I was writing Woman's Consciousness, Man's World during 1971, I drew on her analysis in The Accumulation of Capital (1913) of capital's greedy quest for non-capitalist markets, adapting it as a metaphor for the commodification of sexual relations and the body
Watch Tariq Ali on the “Riz Khan” show on Al Jazeera discussing how the changes sweeping the Middle East will affect American foreign policy and its relationship with the region.
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