Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg
Ed. Georg Adler, Peter Hudis & Annelies Laschitza
translated by George Shriver
Pubs. Verso

This volume of 230 of her letters was published to commerorate the 40th anniversary of her birth in March 1871, based largely on the German selection, Herzlichst, Ihre Rosa, and published by Dietz Verlag in the GDR in 1989. This is the first volume in English of what is hoped will eventually be her complete works in 14 volumes.
Verso is once again to be congratulated for publishing this collection for the first time in English, in an excellent translation by George Shriver. What is also invaluable is a glossary of personalities mentioned in the letters and very informative footnotes.
Luxemburg has always been a controversial figure on the Left, but was revered in her day and was undoubtedly one of the alltime leading thinkers of the socialist and communist movements.
She famously clashed with Lenin on the tactics adopted by the Bolsheviks and was always clear that socialism at the expense of democracy was not a road she was willing to take.
Like all collections of letters not originally intended for a wider readerhsip or publication, much here is concerned with the daily trials and tribulations of friends, comrades and lovers and observations of a purely personal nature. They do, though, give a unique insight into her character, her deep humanity as well as her passionate commitment to the struggle for socialism. Her unsuccessful attempts to reconcile her need for personal love, stability and homely pleasures with the enormous demands of the struggle would be ideal material for a dramatist.
She was often imprisoned by the German authorities who feared her fiery rhetoric and popularity, and included here are some of her prison letters. Despite the harsh conditions and frustration at her incarceration, she always dismisses her own deprivations to enquire about the health and well-being of friends outside and always attempts to cheer them up and reignite their commitment to the cause. She can be severely critical, uncompromisingly militant but also warm and compassionate. Her resilience in the face of great odds, her thirst for knowledge and breadth of interests, as well as her self-sacrifice and sense of humour are still inspirations for us today.
The odd quirky Americanisms grate a little but are minor: ‘Kuchen’ is hardly ‘Cookie’ and ‘Titmice’ will sound archaic to an English readership.

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