Book Review

Rosa Luxemburg’s Letters to the Kautsky Family

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 5, September 1923, No. 3, pp. 186-187 (847 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Briefe von Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Luise Kautsky.
Laub’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung. Berlin
C. 54. 5 marks plus index multiplicator.)

These are letters which Rosa Luxemburg wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Kautsky in the years from 1896 to 1918, as often as she or they happened to be away from Berlin. There are altogether ninety-seven letters, the first of which is dated from Zurich, March, 1896, dealing with the new social patriotic currents within the Polish social democracy, while the last letter was written in the Breslau prison, July, 1918. They cover a period of twenty years, and although they allow but glimpses of the workings of Luxemburg’s mind, they contain sufficient material for forming an opinion of her capacities and her character.

Luxemburg bears a striking resemblance to Ferdinand Lassalle. The same boundless intellectual energy, the same joy of conflict and struggle, the same playing with danger. It was exceedingly easy for both of them to excite the admiration, but difficult to win the confidence of the public. Luxemburg was, however, the more artistic, the more delicate and refined nature. She might have been a painter or a naturalist had she grown up in another atmosphere or born in another period. Her letters leave sometimes the impression that she was more interested in Nature than in social problems; the Labour Movement appears to have been for her an arena in which she could exercise her intellectual strength and her emotional eloquence, but her soul, her inner being, was spontaneously lit up and enraptured when, on a lonely walk, she heard the rustle of the leaves, the murmur of the brook, the warbling of the birds, or when her eyes discovered a rare plant, a beautiful flower, a fine arrangement of colours and tints, an unusual geological formation.

To a letter, in which Mrs. Kautsky spoke of her diligent study of the Accumulation des Kapitals, Luxemburg give the following characteristic reply (from a Berlin prison, October 18, 1915):—

I find it touching, and it makes me feel proud that you are reading my book. But I could not help laughing at your protest against entering into any discussion with me about it. Do you think that anything of it is still present in my mind! It was a kind of intoxication in which I wrote it. You have my most solemn assurance that the book is from beginning to end the first draft and that I gave it to the printer without my having re-read the manuscript. Such was the hold it got on me, just as painting had had six years ago, when I could think of nothing else but painting. After the book had been published, the matter lost all interest for me and it disappeared from my mind. I now purposely re-read that part which you refer to, in order to see what it was that you liked so much. It was quite unfamiliar to me. . . . About two years ago—and you are not yet aware of it—a passion for plants got possession of me. I began to collect, to dry, and to classify plants. For four months I did literally nothing but make botanical excursions and fill up my herbaria. I have got twelve of them.

It appears from occasional remarks in her letters that Luxemburg was Menshevik up to the first Russian revolution (1905-06), in which she took part in Petrograd and Warsaw; there are several letters from Warsaw prisons (1906) to Mr. and Mrs. Kautsky. After 1906 she gradually inclined towards Bolshevism, and in the same measure she fell out with Mr. Kautsky; from about 1910 the breach was complete, but this did not prevent her continuing her close friendship with Mrs. Kautsky. After the victory of the Bolsheviks in Petrograd (October, 1917), Luxemburg writes to her (from Breslau prison, November 24, 1917):—

. . . . Are you not delighted with the Russians? They will of course not be able to maintain their power in this witches vigil—not because statistics show a backward economic development of Russia, as your clever husband has figured it out, but because the Social Democrats of the highly developed West are a lot of downright cowards and will passively look on now the Russians are being bled to death. But such an end is better than “living for the fatherland.” It is a world-historic deed, the imprints of which will not be obliterated by the passing of ages. I look for great things in the near future, but I should not like to observe the making of history through the prison bars only. . . .

We are grateful to Mrs. Kautsky for having published these letters and also for the information that their writer was treated with much kindness by the Prussian prison authorities during the last war.




*  EDITORIAL NOTE.—An English translation by Eden and Cedar Paul of Rosa Luxemburg’s Letters from Prison to Mrs. Sophie Liebknecht has just been published by the Young Communist League, 36 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, W.C. 1, price one shilling.