Elizabeth Butterworth reviews the Workers’ Liberty pamphlet on The German Revolution. Get and read more about the pamphlet here.
Around the anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg’s brutal murder, I saw numerous posts on social media apparently celebrating Luxemburg’s contribution to anti-fascism, Marxism and free thinking.
Luxemburg must be one of the most quoted Marxists on the internet. These two quotes are often shared: “Those who do not move do not notice their chains” and “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”
In my ten years on the left, I’ve seen Luxemburg being lauded by anarchists, right-wing social democrats, and everything in between.
Telling things as they were was the most important thing Luxemburg did, and was the thing she most valued too.
Before she died, Luxemburg was clear about the role of the SPD [Germany’s Social Democratic Party] in ensuring bourgeois power. She was clear about how and why things can go wrong in a revolutionary movement, and, while she should not be seen as perfect or perfectly right, she was proven correct on many occasions.
Self-respecting revolutionaries should see it as our task to educate ourselves and others not only on share-able quotes for social media but on the lessons that our comrades paid for with their lives in the cause of our class.
We should situate the moving, scathing and often beautiful words of revolutionaries like Luxemburg into the time they were written and why.
Revolutionary history, and a wider revolutionary education, is the only way to understand ourselves, our struggle, the pitfalls and the potential victories.
Workers’ Liberty’s pamphlet on The German Revolution takes on this task, setting out selected writings of Luxemburg in a thoughtful manner and contextualising them for the reader.
Paul Vernadsky’s introduction makes the history of the German Revolution digestible and readable without being patronising.
Lenin was right that in the decades following a revolutionary’s death – a century now for Luxemburg – their more radical aspects are dumbed down and their legacy is treated as open-season to tack on all sorts of dodgy ideas.
Some like to define Rosa as a brave, inspirational survivor of polio and a forthright woman in a man’s world. Yes, she was. And more than that, she was a political refugee who made difficult and dangerous choices in order to live in Germany.
But she did not organise, educate and write so we could just admire her or see her as an icon of “girl power.” She dedicated her life to making a workers’ revolution.
It’s why we have to really read and understand for ourselves. We cannot rely on captions or nice two-line quotes to do this for us.
Rosa was fiery, radical, sentimental, clinically analytical, serious, an intellectual, a left-wing extremist, a gifted writer and was occasionally very wrong. Don’t believe me? Read this pamphlet to find out what I mean.
We don’t have the luxury of suffering fools gladly, not when we have the urgent task of rescuing the planet and ourselves from climate change and rampant, bloodsucking capital.
We don’t have the luxury of making the same mistakes as our comrades did in the past – not if we want to change the world we live in now.
Rosa didn’t suffer fools. She strove to tell the whole truth as a revolutionary principle. And more than a hundred years after her death, there’s a hell of a lot we can learn from her.