If you are yet to fall for Rosa Luxemburg, your time has come: Scott McLemee's review of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg for Bookforum is nothing less than a love letter, sure to pull at the heartstrings of readers—both experts and those less acquainted with her life and work.
"Dear Rosa," McLemee begins,
You will not, I trust, take this mode of address as disrespectful, least of all coming, as it does, from a comrade. Familiarity with you makes contempt impossible ...
The affection with which we speak your name is not, let me explain, a sentimental response to your political writings. They are as hard-edged as those of any polemicist. You did not suffer renegades gladly. Someone once asked what the epitaph should be for you and your friend Clara Zetkin, and you said, "Here lie the last two men of German social democracy." The quip was not appreciated by party leaders, and our feminists would give you a stern lecture. But then, you wouldn't have much use for the contemporary American left, where mutual policing of verbal behavior often counts as activism.
You, by contrast, went to prison more than once and spent most of the First World War there; and the right wing murdered you during the German revolution of 1919, dumping your body in a canal. We admire martyrs, but usually without feeling an intimate connection to them. That changed in the early 1920s, when the letters you wrote in prison were published.
I suppose your hatred of war, and your confidence that it and other social brutalities could be uprooted, would count as romantic, by the cruel standards of today's realpolitik. But as you described the birds coming to your cell's window, your moments of elation and despair, the passages of Goethe you had memorized, the yearning to see your cat, Mimi—here, you seemed to be writing in your heart's blood, and the reader found it natural to consider you a friend, almost. You became our Rosa.
Of the publication of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, and the inauguration of The Complete Works Project, McLemee wonders, hopefully, "Does this revival of your work in English reflect a sudden growth in an audience for it?" If the delight and enthusiasm with which The Letters has been met is any indication, there is every reason to be hopeful—may many others be moved to write McLemee's closing line:
Please consider me, then, now, and always, yours for the revolution, S.
Visit Bookforum to read the letter in full.