1. Love, Money, and Career in the Life of Rosa Luxemburg
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Part 1 To Germany, from Germany: The Promise of an Unpromised Land? 23 Chapter 1 Love, Money, and Career in the Life of Rosa Luxemburg Deborah Hertz Rosa Luxemburg between Peoples and Nations The legacy of Rosa Luxemburg is very much alive in our time, almost a century after her murder in 1919, during the German Revolution after World War I. Rosa Luxemburg was a well-­ known socialist intellectual, active in Polish and German affairs, whose personality has achieved cult status. Indeed, few of her admirers today are likely to entirely comprehend or endorse the political stance for which she gave her life. To account for her posthumous fame we can point to her dramatic life and tragic end, as well as to her notable intellectual achievements . Her dissertation, The Industrial Development of Poland, originally published in 1897 in Leipzig, remains a classic text in several languages.1 Her second major book, Reform or Revolution, summarized her polemic against the gradualist politics that were becoming the dominant stance of the German socialist party. Another notable contribution was her book The Mass Strike, which articulated her syndicalist strategy, so different from the elitist path to power of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1918.2 Whereas other female radicals of her day, such as Anna Kuliscioff, Gesia Gelfman, or Clara Zetkin, are known mainly to specialists, Luxemburg is celebrated around the world in many genres. Her admirers have named web sites, stamps, salons, foundations, schools, street signs, and even a subway station in her memory. A play by Armand Gatti called The Rosa Collective was performed in Germany in 1970, and a feature film by Margarethe von Trotta, Die Geduld der Rosa Luxemburg, was released in 1986. In France, a rock music group is named for her; a musical about her life was recently performed; and a large painting by Jean-­ Paul Riopelle from 1992 is entitled L’hommage à 24    Three-Way Street Rosa Luxemburg. Two new novels, one in German and one in English, are based on her life.3 Then too she is publicly memorialized every January 15, the anniversary of her murder, at the spot on the Landwehr Canal where her corpse was thrown that night.4 Another commemoration of her murder takes place at her grave at the Friedrichsfeldt Central Cemetery in Berlin, where she was buried after having been dragged from the canal. Alas, we actually cannot be sure that the corpse that was buried in her casket was the authentic Rosa Luxemburg . A forensic firestorm erupted in 2009 after experts discovered a cadaver in the basement of the Charité Hospital in Berlin that they claimed was the correct skeleton.5 Scholars, too, are keeping her legacy alive. In 1990, a fourteen-­ volume edition of her books and articles appeared in German, and an English-­ language translation of that edition is currently in preparation. To grasp how her various intimate relationships influenced her public career, letters are a crucial primary source, and a one-­ volume selection of letters has recently been released in English.6 In the last decade alone, three new biographies have been published in Germany, and numerous editions of her essays continue to be published and republished in various languages.7 In order to understand why she chose to make her career in the leading left party in Europe, the SPD, the German Social Democrats, we must dig beneath the vague labels of internationalist and cosmopolitan so often used by Luxemburg herself and by her admirers in posterity. Like so many other intellectuals then and there, her command of languages and cultures meant she could choose from a crowded field of possible identities, each with its own politics. So many values, ideals, family relationships, and social aspirations could influence the political choices of a particular individual. Rosa Luxemburg was born into a modern, reasonably prosperous Jewish family, so assimilated that they spoke Polish at home.8 In her elite high school in Warsaw she learned Russian, necessary since Poland then belonged to the Russian empire. Her favorite authors and composers tended to be German, and all of her adult years were spent in German-­ speaking milieus, in Zurich and Berlin. Lurking behind her public Polish, Russian, and German identities was her Jewish heritage, a burden for her at the time. In this essay, we explore what a recent observer calls Luxemburg ’s “fanatic anti-­ nationalism.”9 The consequence, so goes the argument, is that “the unnatural living that began with her vague wish...


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Germany -- History.
  • Germany -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Jews, German -- Foreign countries.
  • Jews, German, in literature.
  • Germany -- Civilization -- Jewish influences.
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