In Memoriam of George Shriver, translator of Rosa Luxemburg
George Shriver was an outstanding translator, warm human being, and dedicated socialist that I had the privilege of working with for close to a decade in my capacity as general editor of The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg.
I was first introduced to him by Paul Le Blanc, as we were putting together a project to issue all of Luxemburg’s writings in English, in new translations. George enthusiastically joined the project and gave it his all as translator, critic, and advisor.
He began by translating the 600-page The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (2011), the most comprehensive collection of her letters ever published in English. It was based on the collection Herzlichst, Ihre Rosa edited by Annelies Laschitza; it was issued by Verso Books as a companion volume to the Complete Works. He moved with rare ease in German, Polish, and Russian, and brought his wide-ranging knowledge of Marxism and love of literature to bear on bringing Luxemburg’s voice to a new generation of readers in the English-speaking world. Thanks to his labors, The Letters received a remarkable array of appreciative reviews throughout the English-speaking world.
From that point George joined us as one of the main translators of the Complete Works: He translated Luxemburg’s unpublished manuscripts on pre-capitalist society, anthropology and economic history that appeared in Volume 1 of the Complete Works (2014) as well as an essay by Luxemburg on Volume 2 and 3 of Marx’s Capital in Volume 2 (2015). He played an especially pivotal role in translating dozens of Luxemburg’s articles and speeches on the 1905 Russian Revolution (most of which had only recently been identified as being written by her) for Volume 3 of the Complete Works, the first of three volumes devoted to the theme “On Revolution” (published in 2019).
For many years I was engaged in almost daily correspondence with George as he worked on drafts of his translations. He was one of the meticulous translators I have ever worked with: he pondered hard over how to translate a given word or passage and took extremely seriously the task of presenting Luxemburg’s words as faithfully as possible. He also provided important information that assisted me and other co-editors in drafting the footnotes for each volume as well as the introductions. He was quick to point out any defect in our understanding of the historical or political context of the various writings; he worked hard and made you work hard as well. But it was never with a rough edge: he repeatedly offered helpful editorial suggestions as we worked to produce these volumes of more than 500 pages each.
What I most treasure are the moments George when would pick up the phone to call me about one or another aspect of the project—which more often than not veered into discussions of the state of U.S. politics, the future of the labor and socialist movement, and his involvement over the years in the Trotskyist movement and organizations of the radical Left. He was above all a kind and caring person, who often inquired about my political, professional and personal life and offered encouragement when I worried whether we could successfully carry out such a massive project (at least a dozen further volumes are planned for the series).
When George’s health made it impossible to continue doing translations for the project, we reached out to a number of young scholars and translators to join us. I think it is fair to say that the spirit and energy that George put into translating Rosa Luxemburg has given inspiration to those currently translating material for future volumes. For this among other reasons, we plan to devote the forthcoming Volume 4 of the Complete Works—which contains Luxemburg’s writings “On Revolution” from 1906 to 1909—to George’s memory.
George’s translations of Rosa Luxemburg are of course only a portion of his legacy; others can testify far better than I to the importance of the many other dimensions of his life and work. But I think there is something specific about the character and spirit of Luxemburg that he carried with him, and which he conveyed in providing a new translation of a famous passage in one of her letters: “Then see that you remain a human being. To be a human being is the main thing, above all else. And that means: to be firm and clear and cheerful, yes, cheerful in spite of everything and anything, because howling is the business of the weak. To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life ‘on the giant scales of fate’ if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud.”
Let us rejoice in remembering the life and work of George Shriver.
—April 26, 2020