Jul 11, 2013 - Issue 524

BlackCommentator.com: Rosa Luxemburg: Letter Writing and the Road to Freedom - Represent Our Resistance - By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD - BC Editorial Board

She was born in Poland, lived in Germany. She dedicated her life to social revolution, right up to the day at the beginning of 1919 when the guardian angels of German capitalism broke her skull with their rifle butts.

Not long before, Rosa Luxemburg wrote an article on the first years of the Russian Revolution. The article, penned in her German jail cell, opposed the divorce of socialism and democracy.

[from the article]

On freedom:

Freedom for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party - however numerous they may be - is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.

-Rosa,” Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, Eduardo Galeano

I doubt if anyone remembers, all these 94 years since she was murdered in Germany, what Rosa Luxemburg wore on such and such a day or on some special occasion during her days as a thinker, activist, and writer in Poland, in Paris, and then in Germany. Pictures of her show Luxemburg wore the appropriate attire for a woman in those days. In her correspondence, she writes of negotiating with printers, for example, Adolf Reiff, for the least expensive paper for pamphlets. To her comrade and lover, Leo Jogiches, she writes:

I’m sending you, finally, the bill from Reiff for the pamphlet. It will definitely give you a shock.” She had refused to pay. “A furious fight” ensued. Reiff had to pay his workers. “I inquired among the workers whether he had really paid them so much.” He had, “with a few exceptions.” She was able to get “5 francs off the price” (Paris, March 29, 1894, The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, eds., Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza).

In the same letter, Luxemburg thanks Jogiches for “the brassiere and the underclothes.”

When her “home” was not a cell in prison, as it often was, it was often among the cheapest, but bearable, places to work in Berlin.

All day yesterday and today,” she writes to Jogiches, “I’ve been running around with ’the little cousin’ in search of a place to live. You have no inkling what it means, in Berlin, to search for a place to live...the dimension of things here are such that you spend hours on a couple of streets, especially because you have to run way up, many storeys high, one building after another, depending on what’s said on the notice on the front door - and it’s mostly all in vain. The rooms are generally dreadfully expensive everywhere. Here in Charlottenburg the cheapest room that would be at all acceptable to me cost 28 marks [per month]. There is no sense in dreaming, not even for a moment, of having a separate bedroom. What we generally run into is a single room that doubles as a bedroom. (Berlin, May 17, 1898).

Needless to say, Luxemburg lived within a tight budget, cognizant of the privilege to even have the constraints of a limited budget, and she did not permit her productivity as a revolutionary to be constrained by her financial status or any desire to be safe and “free” with the chains of capitalism around her neck.

We do remember Rosa Luxemburg for daring to be free!

To be free is an occupation and not a mindless occupation. Thanks to the allure of capitalism’s attractiveness, the road to freedom is “the one less traveled by” (“The Road Not Taken,” Frost).

Hers was not a fast break out the gate, rah-rah-revolution for a young Jewish woman in a Russian occupied part of Poland. But Luxemburg’s motives were not invested with the commonplace path to “freedom.” Accepting the status quo and leaning to shuffle before those in control would not suit someone with an independent mind. She becomes politically active as a teenager with the Proletariat, “one of the first organizations of Polish Marxists” (The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, eds., Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson). By 1897, Luxemburg has earned a doctorate (writing The Industrial Development of Poland) from the University of Zurich, the first woman in Europe to do so.

Yet, the following year, Luxemburg questions her purpose in The Struggle. What does all this work (the degree, the articles published in the Neue Zeit, the activism) amount to? Are her efforts leading somewhere beyond the chains of enslavement?

Living in Berlin now, she resumes her correspondence, and, in the Adler, Hudis, and Laschitza collection of Luxemburg’s correspondence, one of the early and most telling letters was written to Jogiches (The Letters, Berlin, June 24, 1898). Rosa Luxemburg’s letters, to be clear, are a form of work, the exercising of freedom against group think, and as such, we can remember and learn.

Previously, Jogiches had written to Luxemburg to express his grief at the death of his mother. In a very long letter, Luxemburg responds first by discussing the galleys of her book, The Industrial Development of Poland. There is still much to be done, “proofreading,” and did Jogiches note the “improved” passages? She has articles written for the Leipziger Volkszeitung, and her speaking engagements keep her a pretty busy woman - but, in all this hectic movement from one thing to the next, there is little time for self-reflection on her personal goals and her commitment to revolutionary change, little time to assess the connection between her goals and her commitment, to come to terms with the struggle, small “s”, and to confront the doubts and uncertainties and desires.

Finally, the writer becomes introspective:

I cannot write much about me personally. I would like to restate what I wrote to you already, but again you won’t understand me, and it will be unpleasant for you. ’I feel cold and calm.’ You took that as a statement related to you, when I was simply complaining to you about my own state of mind, which still persists.

She is experiencing “a kind of apathy.” She sees herself doing things, “even those that only involve thinking,” as if she were an “automation,” someone else.

What is that? Explain to me.

She feels as if something “had died” inside her.

I experience neither anxiety nor pain, not even loneliness, exactly like a corpse. It is as though I am an entirely different person from the one I was in Zurich, and I look back on myself as I was then as though I’m looking at someone else.

The “terrible pain” Jogiches feels, she too experienced when her mother died. It neither stops nor leaves her. “This feeling of shuddering horror does not let go of me,” particularly at night, when lying awake, “this fact [of my mother’s death] immediately arises again.”

I don’t know how it is with you but I don’t suffer mainly from longing anymore and I don’t suffer on my own account, but what makes me shudder every time is this one thought: what kind of life was that! What has this person lived through, what is the point of a life like that! (translator’s use of bold print to “indicate Luxemburg’s emphatic type”)

What is the point of a life lie that! It is this thought that catches her at any time, and she cannot hold back the tears.

I’m writing this myself not out of egotism, but only so that you will now that I understand very well what such a simple three-word phrase means which you wrote me [feeling the loss of one’s mother]. I don’t know any longer how that [realization] came to me all of a sudden.

The “fields of grain” and “Polish landscape” where Jogiches lives in contrast to the “not real” “Berlin landscape” she calls her home. Why Jogiches has not “answered” her letter, the letter in which she visualized “wandering though the fields of grain?”

But where is she now? The sadness and loss has he, dreaming of the idyllic! Is she really meant to exist among the lost? The apathetic? The “dead?”

The letter takes an abrupt turn and Luxemburg’s own question immediately reminds of her “financial matters.” Let us return to the road to freedom. “So I will take them up right here and now.” It is not easy, but what is the alternative?

The situation stands as follows: the remainder of all that I had will now last only until the first of the month...because I have to pay a lot for milk (one liter daily! and three eggs for each supper) and also a lot is spent on stamps...

The millions and millions of humanity that corporate/capitalism does not serve are but stepping stones towards its imperialist dream of global domination.

Anyone can follow the crowd. The decision to be free is the decision to reject the injustice and inequality, the violence, of those bent on expanding global franchises of the enslaved.

How else to see a vision of freedom converge on that historical road paved by those courageous enough to think of us here and now, in our time?

This is what Rosa Luxemburg left us to remember!

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.