A rev­o­lu­tion­ary ahead of her time

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

Kate Evans’s RedRosa is a graphic bi­og­ra­phy of Rosa Lux­em­burg, so­cial­ist the­o­rist and rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader. Born into a Jewish fam­ily in Zamosc, Poland, in 1871, Lux­em­burg strug­gled through­out her life to over­come prej­u­dice and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties: a child­hood hip ail­ment caused her to limp.

As a gym­na­sium stu­dent in War­saw, she­be­camein­volved­with­un­der­ground po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and in 1889 she fled to Switzer­land to es­cape po­lice ar­rest and at­tend the Univer­sity of Zurich.

Dur­ing the First World War, Lux­em­burg played a lead­ing role in the paci­fist Spar­ta­cus League, and was one of the founders of the Com­mu­nist Party of Ger­many. Af­ter the 1919 up­ris­ing was crushed, she was ex­e­cuted by gov­ern­ment forces.

Red Rosa is ex­ten­sively re­searched and presents the pub­lic and pri­vate Lux­em­burg in her own words, taken from her works and let­ters. It high­lights how her think­ing on eco­nomics was far ahead of its time. Long be­fore the terms “mil­i­tary in­dus­trial com­plex” and “glob­al­i­sa­tion” were coined, Lux­em­burg talked about a tie be­tween cap­i­tal­ism and mil­i­tarism, ar­gu­ing that cap­i­tal­ism ex­pands by forc­ing its way into non-cap­i­tal­is­tic mar­kets.

Evans por­trays her­self en­ter­ing Lux­em­burg’s class­room, de­scrib­ing how mod­ern Western con­sumers, in­doc­tri­nated into con­spic­u­ous consumption, de­vour the prod­ucts of over­seas ex­ploited work­ers, prod­ucts such as the book the reader holds. Lux­em­burg fo­cused on ac­tivism, be­liev­ing that so­cial­ism would bring jus­tice and true free­dom. She also was pas­sion­ate about na­ture and art, and ex­pressed joy in life it­self.

The se­quences drama­tis­ing her close friend­ships and her un­con­ven­tional part­ner­ship with fel­low ex­ile Leo Jogiches il­lu­mi­nate how her ded­i­ca­tion to so­cial re­form ex­tended to her per­sonal life. They openly re­veal their in­ti­macy and in­ten­sity.

The text fore­shad­ows that one of Lux­em­burg’s stu­dents, Fred­er­ick Ebert, will be­come pres­i­dent of Germa- ny, but does not in­tro­duce other char­ac­ters clearly or in­di­cate how some will also play key roles in the fu­ture.

It touches on how Lux­em­burg faced misog­yny even from her own party — at one point, a ri­val leader calls her a “poi­sonous bitch”. The teenaged Lux­em­burg is de­picted quot­ing Marx, stat­ing that gods are all pro­duc­tions of “the mist-en­veloped hu­man brain” and ex­claim­ing, “I have no spe­cial place in my heart for the ghetto. I feel at home in the en­tire world wher­ever there are clouds and birds and hu­man tears”.

While the book com­ments that “Rosa’s lack of re­li­gious faith can­not buy her free­dom. Her cul­tural legacy is writ­ten on the fea­tures of her face. She will al­ways be seen as a Jew”, it scarcely ad­dresses how an­ti­semitism af­fects Lux­em­burg as an adult.

Yet, even though Red Rosa leaves some is­sues un­ex­plored, it is an un­de­ni­ably en­gag­ing por­trait that con­veys Lux­em­burg’s life and thought with warmth and hu­mour, and shows how she con­tin­ues to in­spire new gen­er­a­tions.

Ivy Gar­litz is a poet and critic A page from de­pict­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion of the Re­ich­stag

“Her cul­tural legacy is writ­ten on the fea­tures of her face”

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