Monday, April 25, 2011

Rosa Luxemburg

During April 2011 Dick posted 3 items to his Blog, IT’S THE WAR DEPARTMENT.  
1.     A new (selected) edition of Rosa Luxemburg’s letters.   She worked her lifetime for a humane social democracy, opposed nationalism and wars, and specifically WWI, which sent workers to slaughter one another in the names of nations, for which she was imprisoned by the German government.  After the war she was murdered by members of the Freikorps, a paramilitary group that became Hitler’s Brownshirts.   See:  The review in The Guardian below.  And The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza.  Verso, 2011.  Rev. by Vivian Gornick, “History and Heartbreak,”The Nation (May 2, 2011).  See passage below.
2.     The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).   Founded by Jane Addams, WILPF was always anti-war and continues that work today through its U.S. magazine Peace and Freedom and its many other international activities, with headquarters in Switzerland.
3.     The UN’s Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges all nations and agencies to include women equally in all deliberations affecting women.   This resolution offers a powerful guide to women’s aspirations for equity internationally.

Over the next two decades, Luxemburg wrote books, essays and articles on one aspect of radical politics or another; engaged regularly in long speaking tours across Europe; taught in the party school; and grew into one of the most articulate and influential members of the SPD’s increasingly troublesome left wing. The SPD was, essentially, a theory-driven, centrist party devoted to the workings of its own organization and to the achievement of socialist progress through parliamentary change. Luxemburg, on the other hand, believed heart and soul that capitalism in all its forms had to be eradicated—through nothing less than the spontaneous uprising of rank-and-file workers—if there was ever to be a social democracy. For Luxemburg, the words “general strike” were definitive. For the SPD elite, they were words that sent shudders up the collective spine. It was in fiery opposition to her conservative comrades that she wrote her most insightful works.
Soon, however, the internal splits within international socialism were to become painfully moot, as Europe drifted toward war in 1914, and German, French and Austrian social democrats prepared to support not the international working class but the war effort of their own countries. The mental paralysis of the theoretical socialists was overwhelming, and Luxemburg all but had a nervous breakdown. Along with colleagues Karl Liebknecht and Clara Zetkin, she broke with the SPD and took to speaking out, in loud objection to the war. In 1915 she was arrested (open opposition to the war had become illegal in Germany), and spent the next three years in prison.
She’d been in prison many times before, and it had always been something of a lark—visitors, books, good food, furnished cells—but now the party, in more ways than one, was over. Her hair turned gray and she began to grow confused, not in her mind but in her spirit. Nevertheless, she read—Tolstoy, not Marx—and wrote incessantly. In the summer of 1918, still in prison and now in distress over what was happening in Russia as well as in Europe, she completed a pamphlet called The Russian Revolution, which to this day qualifies as one of the most stirring documents in modern political thought. Luxemburg was a diehard democrat. Never for a moment did she think democracy should be sacrificed to socialism, and in this brief work—the work of one ever mindful of what a human being needs to feel human—she laid out her impassioned insights on the danger to democracy that the Bolshevik Revolution posed.

We all have our heroes and Rosa Luxemburg is within my front rank. I first came across her as a raw, uneducated young worker, desperately trying in a haphazard manner to make sense of the world. Fortunately, by chance I stumbled across Rosa when I liberated from a London book shop J. P. Nettl's biography of the great lady. From then on I immersed myself in her work and in the process learnt much, for here was a revolutionary socialist who understood any lack of democratic accountability by socialists would sound their death toll.
In today's Guardian, Sheila Rowbothan reviews Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Annelies Laschitza, Georg Adler and Peter Hudis. It is well worth a read and can be found here

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