Published: Rosa Luxemburg: Letters to Karl and Luise Kautsky from 1896 to 1918, Gordon Press, 1975
Translated: Louis P. Lochner;
Transcribed: for marxists.org in August, 2002.
SOON after Rosa Luxemburg's death many of our mutual friends and numerous Socialist Comrades approached me with the request that I publish Rosa's letters. But a certain feeling of hesitation, for which I was unable to account, restrained me, despite the ever stronger urging of my friends.
Whether it was the realization that I myself was still too close to the sad events connected with our departed friend, and that I wets not clear in my own mind as to what could be given to the world from the contents of these letters and what was of interest solely to me; or whether it was a feeling of aversion to exhibiting our exceedingly intimate and friendly relationship to public view--the fact remains that I could arrive at no decision.
Even the reference to the unparalleled effect produced by the publication of Rosa's Letters to Sophie Liebknecht was not sufficient to alter my determination. On the contrary, my doubts were confirmed. For I feared that many a reader might regard the publication of a second collection of letters as a mere repetition and possibly even as importunate presumption on my part. This seemed to me to be so disgusting a profanation of Rosa's memory that I fairly recoiled at the thought.
But our friends would not desist, and gradually, in the course of years, the idea of publication began to assume concrete form in my mind. The decision was hastened by the following circumstance: when the first wild grief quieter sorrow, I frequently recalled how she had urged me again and again to write my memoirs. The reader will find evidence of this in a number of letters.
Her contention was that my chief strength lay in my emphasis upon the personal note; that my articles on the occasion of Clara Zetkin's fiftieth and Bebel's seventieth birthdays, as well as on the anniversary of Julia Bebel's death had proven this to her satisfaction Besides, she never tired of having me tell her about my youth and about other experiences of mine.
Despite Rosa's attempts, in part successful, to raise my "modest self-estimate," I am unable even to the present day to share her opinion on this point. She has not been able to persuade me that my memoirs can lay claim to general interest, especially not in these times, when humanity has far different cares than those of concerning itself about the fate of a single person.
But the story of that portion of my life's path which I walked jointly with Rosa--I should almost like to any, hand in hand with her--, seemed to me to be of interest to a wider circle, and at the same time its publication meant the fulfilment in a certain degree of the terms of a legacy and the squaring of an old account of gratitude. For my whole being, yes, the whole content of my life has been immensely enriched by my connection and friendship with Rosa Luxemburg.
In an ever increasing measure I experienced the feeling of acting entirely in her spirit in publishing her letters, and this gave me not only a certain poise and assurance but also a great personal joy as I prepared the material.
The occasion for choosing this particular moment was furnished by a group of Russian friends who are at the head of the review "Letopis," and who labored ceaselessly to obtain the portion of the letters dating from the years 1905-06, the period of the first Russian revolution. They were able to persuade me to turn these letters over to them for publication.
I therefore began to organize and sift the material, and was immediately captivated by the task. The more I became engrossed in the content of the letters, the more life-like did the figure of my deceased friend rise before me, the more bound was I by the magic charm that seemed to emanate from her memory.
At the same time I recognized that it would be unfair to her to publish this series of letters in fragmentary form, for in such an event it would be robbed of its finest characteristic: the series, beginning in 1896 and ending with the year 1918, shows how a relationship that consisted at first merely of a certain "consanguinity of the mind," of a co-membership in the party and of a co-partnership in work, gradually ripened into a most intimate friendship. Moreover, it gives a picture of Rosa's development and reveals Rosa both while at work and while engaged in struggle, both while resting and while seeking recreation, as a person of tremendous earnestness and at the same time of most joyous abandon.
As compared with the prison letters of Sophie Liebknecht, which resemble a delicate picture in subdued colors projected against a background of grey, these letters give the effect of a painting of many colors, with virile red predominating. They thus serve as a happy complement to the impressions received by the reader from the letters to Sophie.
The gaps between certain letters, often covering a period of several years, are to be explained by the fact that our usual intercourse was direct and personal. Only during times of separation were we compelled to write letters.--Both my husband and I feel very much grieved to think that all the letters that we have written to Rosa have been placed beyond our reach. It is claimed that, in so far as Rosa may have preserved them, they were "confiscated" by the soldiery which searched and plundered her home.
Rosa Luxemburg was born in 1870. She was the daughter of a Warsaw merchant who was fairly well-to-do, and who gave his children a good education. As long as Rosa lived she spoke with special affection of her father, while the memories of her mother seem to have been more or less relegated to the background. Yet of her, too, she spoke in loving terms, albeit a note of good-natured compassion seemed at times to accompany her references to her.
I have the impression that her mother was one of those self-sacrificing women whom one often finds in Jewish families, who center their whole being upon husband and children, and in their concern for them give up their own identity, yes, fairly obliterate it, so that the memory of their existence easily becomes a hazy one. Nevertheless her mother must have been well-read and educated--which fact was disclosed to me by a casual remark of Rosa's. We were once discussing Schiller and his literary works, and Rosa spoke rather deprecatingly of him as of a second-rate. poet. When I warmly defended him and insisted that she, a revolutionary, ought especially to take to him as a revolutionary poet, she replied, thoughtfully: "Well, perhaps I took an instinctive dislike to him because my mother was so crazy about him. By that very fact he was labelled as old-fashioned and sentimental as far as I was concerned."
However that may have been, in any case her father was more congenial to her, and it is from him that she seems to have inherited her strong intellect, her energy, in short, her sense of "the earnest conduct of life." She must have developed very early and thirsted for knowledge even as a child. That is born out by the nature of her reading-matter, with which she busied herself from earliest childhood on. Hardly sixteen years old, she already occupied her mind with the most difficult problems,--not only with the origins of humanity, with the right to motherhood the history of tribes and clans, but also and especially with all problems connected with the modern labor movement, with the history of revolutions, the theory of surplus value, etc. Morgan, Bachofen, Lubbock, Kowalewski and other sociologists, besides Marx and Engels, constituted her chief reading.
At the gymnasium or high school which she attended she soon gathered about her a circle of like-minded fellow students, whose spiritual leader she forthwith became. Although the youngest in the group, she was looked to from the beginning as an undisputed authority. Whenever there were difficulties the others said confidently, "Oh well, Rosa will know it all right; Rosa will help us." With flushed faces the girls debated for hours, and in this clash of minds the youthful faculties were sharpened. Soon, however, these meetings, which czarism rightly suspected to be the centers of plots, aroused the suspicions of the political police and of its stoolpigeons. If Rosa and those of like mind with her did not want to ace their studies rudely ended and their life at school exchanged for one in the prison that was but too eager to receive revolutionary students, they must needs leave Warsaw as quickly as possible. Still wearing the garb and apron of a high-school student, the sixteen-year-old Rosa fled to Switzerland, there to begin the life of intensive study for which she yearned. There was no lack of Russian and Polish companions from her native land, for the universities of Berne and Zurich were filled with large groups of revolutionary countrymen of hers, who like herself had tied to Switzerland to escape the czaristic police.
At Zurich, where she settled, she found in her compatriot, Leo Jogiches, a young man but a few years older than herself, a guide and leader with whom she was associated until her death in an abiding friendship. Her fiery spirit caught home from his; in him she saw the type of representative of revolutionary thought who was worth emulating, for while still quite young he had already learned to know the terrors of Russian prisons and of banishment to Siberia. Besides, he was a master in the art of plotting, the romanticism of which cast an irresistible spell upon Rosa's impressionable mind.
Rosa plunged head over heels into her studies. Her ardor knew no bounds, and as she comprehended with the utmost facility, she was tempted to go into all branches of human knowledge. But she finally decided to specialize in political science, economics and jurisprudence, as these studies gave promise of supplying her with the best weapons for the struggle to which she intended to devote her life: the struggle for the rights, now trampled upon the ground, of the workers, the poor, the dispossessed. In Zurich, too, she soon became the recognized spiritual head of her fellow students, and was rated by her professors as the keenest-minded and most gifted of all.
For Rosa this period was a very happy one. Freed from the unbearable political pressure from which her Russified native land suffered, she breathed deeply the free air of Switzerland. And even though hunger was more than once the guest of the students from the East, who were none too well supplied with earthly goods, and though, despite the mutual aid freely extended to each other, the rebellious stomach insisted in the midst of discussions upon being appeased with large quantities of tea and a little sugar and less bread, yet these university days constituted the high spot in Rosa's memory and she always spoke of them with a sort of happy emotion.
Besides her studies, the problems of the working class movement, then under discussion in the German "Arbeiterverein" at Zurich, interested her keenly, and she took an active part in the debates. In addition, she had begun to write quite early, and even before she came up for her doctor's examination her name had appeared here and there in the columns of socialistic organs. At first this was true only of the Polish periodicals which were published abroad on account of the Russian censorship; soon, however was the first letters in the present collection show--also of the most important organ of the socialist Internationale, the "Neue Zeit," published in Germany. This was the scientific organ of the German social democracy, It was founded in 1883 by Karl Kautsky and edited by him continuously up to the year 1916.
After Rosa finished her studies and, decorated with two doctors' degrees--of philosophy and of jurisprudence--left Switzerland, she went to Paris for further study and for the purpose of obtaining first-hand knowledge of the political and party conditions there. She came in close contact with the socialist leaders, Guesde, Vaillant, Alemane, and the emigres there. She was charmed by the temperament of the French, felt very much at home in French surroundings, and remained true to the friendships there formed throughout her life. Her feeling for the doyen of the French labor movement, Edouard Vaillant, was one of reverence. Her stay in Paris widened her viewpoint very much. She who had come out of the East now became intimately acquainted with the West, and thus felt at home in both civilizations. Warsaw--Zurich--Paris--this combination certainly afforded a good basis for her internationalism! But her greatest yearning was that for the German labor movement, which at that time, after the collapse of the anti-socialist law promulgated by Bismarck, had grown tremendously.
To work in the German movement not as an outsider but as a full-fledged, equal comrade, was her most passionate desire. As this would never have been possible under the laws then existing in Germany--she being a Russian--she seized upon the device of which Russian students often availed themselves in order to force the state to yield certain rights to her: she decided to enter upon a sham marriage with a German national, by which fact she automatically became a German citizen. Gustave Lubeck, son of an old German comrade who lived in Zurich and of a mother who, like Rosa, hailed from Poland and was an intimate friend of hers, was picked by the two energetic women to help Rosa to obtain German citizenship by marriage. After the "wedding" had been performed the "young couple" separated at the very doors of the marriage license bureau. Rosa had achieved what she was after: she was now a German citizen and was entitled to join the German social democracy as an active member; she was now enabled to devote her strength to the German movement and directly to influence the German proletariat by speech and written word--that is, in so far as the state's attorney did not set limits to her activities, a thing that could happen but too easily in Prussianized Germany. Prussian censorship, after all, did not differ much from Russian! But Rosa never knew fear, and in high spirits she arrived in Germany, the scene of her future activities, in the spring of 1839. She found plenty of work immediately--work of a nature that well suited her keen mind and her sharp tongue.
For, at the end of the last century the fight between the old radical tendency and the new "revisionism," as it was called, was in full progress in Germany.
This new tendency, which had for its object to exercise sharp criticism of the Marxian principles thus far adhered to by the social democracy, to modify them, tone them down and "revise" them, had found its spiritual leader in the person of Eduard Bernstein, then living in exile in London. Bernstein had somewhat lost contact with German conditions and, under the influence of the milieu of England, had been swerved from his former, very revolutionary standpoint to one that was strongly reformistic. Among those who rallied to his side were Edward David, M.P., whose specialty was the study of the agrarian question, Max Schippel, also a member of parliament, who specialized in colonial and tariff questions, and a whole circle of publicists, who conducted a spirited fight against the old radical movement in their revisionistic organ, "Socialist Monthly Review."
The leader of the old radical movement was Karl Kautsky. His organ, "Die Neue Zeit," was conducted strictly along Marxian lines. Together with August Bebel and others he opposed the "revisionists" sharply, and Rosa, who had meanwhile joined this group of radicals, boldly jumped into the fray as an esteemed associate editor of the "Neue Zeit." The rest of her time was devoted chiefly to agitation and discussion, and soon she stood out as one of tho propagandists best hated by the bourgeoisie, who scornfully dubbed her "bloody Rosa."
In 1904 she was destined for the first time to make the acquaintance of a German jail. She was sentenced to several months' imprisonment for lese majeste and for inciting to class war, and started to serve her sentence in Zwickau in Saxony. The death of the king of Saxony, however, and the general amnesty granted to political offenders upon the new ruler's assumption of the reins of government, led to a shortening of her prison term, much to her own discomfiture. She left prison under protest, for she found it incompatible with her revolutionary principles to accept any sort of present from the king.
Another year passed amid industrious educational and propaganda work, when suddenly the storm bell of revolution began to toll in the East. By the end of 1905 we see her an her way to Warsaw, and early in 1906 she begins that feverish underground activity, concerning which the letters of that period can best inform the reader. For two months she succeeds in avoiding the czar's spies; then, however, fate overtakes her and she is dragged, first into the prison of the Warsaw city hall and later into the Warsaw citadel. Gripping descriptions of her experiences in Poland are contained in the letters from Warsaw dated March and April, 1906. Set free at last after half a year's incarceration, because nothing could be proved against her, she spends two more months of intensive work in Warsaw and then proceeds via St Petersburg to Finland, in order to strengthen herself and rest up in the seclusion and quiet of that country and to commit her experiences and impressions to paper.
The problem of the general strike, especially, now occupied her mind and became the center of her whole thought and action. In Warsaw as well as in Moscow she had seen the principle of the general strike translated into practice, and hereafter the question was uppermost in her mind as to how the experiences gathered and the results achieved in Russia might be applied to Germany. In Finland she wrote a pamphlet about the lessons of the general strike, which she published immediately alter her return to Germany in September, 1906. Even at that time she came in conflict with Kautsky, with whom she had thus far been wholly of one mind. Rosa defended the Russian standpoint while Kautsky argued that in Germany different conditions demanded different tactics. Every time the two met they debated the question of the general strike heatedly and earnestly. Yet, despite the heat of the argument there was never even the suggestion of a breach in their friendship.
Then came tho contest over the elective franchise in the Prussian parliament. The question of whether or not the socialists should participate in the elections had been one of the most hotly contested problems in the party. Rosa had joined Kautsky in favoring the party's participation, and their point of view had carried the day in the party.
When it came, however, to carrying out the decision of the party convention, there was sharp division of opinion as to tactics. Rosa developed a feverish activity as agitator. She called for general strikes throughout Prussia as a measure for demonstrating the power of the masses. According to her plans, the masses were to organize street demonstrations everywhere; and, wherever possible, general strikes which, in her opinion, alone could bring victory, were to he arranged. Kautsky was of the opposite opinion and defended it in a much-discussed article in the "Neue Zeit" entitled "What next?" in which he vigorously opposed Rosa's views. It was then that Rosa for the first time publicly took issue with him. It now became evident that insurmountable divergencies of opinion separated them and that even the most intimate of personal friendships could not let them forget the factional differences between them. There resulted an estrangement which grew worse as time went on and which finally led to a complete break. In keeping with her fiery, inspiring personality, she soon rallied about her a following from the ranks of the radical elements within the socialist party, who in every way tried to hasten the tempo of the revolutionary development. It became evident soon that a left and a right wing were forming in the group thus far associated with Kautsky. Or to put it more concisely, Rosa and her followers now constituted the extreme left wing of the German movement. Kautsky was thus forced into the center, while the right wing retained its revisionist-reformist character unchanged. From now on Rosa no longer fought side by side with Kautsky, as in former years, but began to go her own way politically. There remained, nevertheless, many points on which she could arrive at a friendly understanding with Kautsky, all the more so since both parties were anxious, in view of their long friendship, to remain as well disposed toward each other as possible. Kautsky especially did everything possible along this line, as the following incident will show:
In view of its constant and rapid extension, the German Social-Democratic Party had felt the crying need of pressing into the service as many functionaries, or organizers, as possible and to equip them in the best manner possible, To give these functionaries a proper education seemed an indispensable necessity. The party therefore planned to found a party school, and began to look about for teachers. When Karl Kautsky was approached with the suggestion that he conduct the courses in economics, be declined as far as he was concerned, but suggested Rosa in his place, whereupon she was promptly chosen. This meant that she had been given the highly complimentary task of instilling in the rising generation within the party--and in the best spirits among them at that, for the various districts sent to this institution, which was looked upon as a party college, only the most gifted and carefully chosen members--the fundamental principles upon which their whole future work in the party was to rest. Rosa thus entered upon an entirely new field, but one in which she was destined to display unusual ability. After but a brief period of teaching she earned the unanimous opinion that she had excellently mastered her problem. Indeed, although the other courses were taught by able, even exceptionally gifted teachers, Rosa was unquestionably looked upon as the spiritual head of the institution. Her pupils adored her. For, not only did she possess the faculty of explaining the subject under discussion in such a manner that it was easily comprehended and understood, but she also inspired them, awakened the love of scientific study, gave life to subjects that had heretofore been looked upon as dry, spurred her listeners on by her own enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge, and filled her pupils with that same sacred fire with which she herself was aflame.
The symphony of Rosa's rich life re-echoes from the pages of her letters. The whole gamut of scales is touched, depending upon her frame of mind, her whims, and the particular situation in which she chanced to find herself. At all times, however, she is herself--a genuine personality--whether in the strong forte of her work, or the soft pianissimo of tenderest emotion, during her andante as well as her allegro, or when, divinely cheerful and happy, she forgets all cares in a gay scherzo.
Hers was the ability to enjoy life as few persons could, to drink in its beauties and find over new pleasure in them. Whether she was busy st some creative task, or whether she was assimilating the results of other people's investigations--everything meant enjoyment and happiness to her. In July, 1918, despite an endless imprisonment that shattered her nerves, she writes me nevertheless: "We shall get out of this mess despite everything and never forget gratefully to enjoy the least of the beautiful things that are left to us."
The thing that characterized her before everything else, and that gave her whole being such buoyancy, was just this: while at work or at leisure, whether stirred by the emotions of love or of hate, she was always at the same white heat; in fact, one of her favorite sayings was, "One must be like a candle that is burning at both ends." And this white heat that radiated from her proved contagious to her entire surroundings. She was a wizard in the art of winning persons over, provided, of course, that she cared about winning them.
The most fossilized Prussian bureaucrats, the most brutal janitors and prison guards wore devoted to her and handled her far more tenderly than they did their other prisoners. In the jails of Wronke and Breslau she had the good fortune of finding persons among the officials in charge--both the civil and the military--who caught a breath of her spirit, who showed her the greatest deference, and who counted it a pleasure and an honor to chat with her now and then. With one of the officials, who through his chivalrous behavior toward her alleviated many a hardship of her long detention, she continued to correspond after her liberation.
When, immediately after her death, I called at the Moabit jail for a young girl who had been arrested on the false suspicion of having conspired with Rosa, one of the higher officials there expressed words of the greatest regret, yes of mourning for Rosa when I introduced myself to him as a friend of hers, saying that he had known her and held her in highest esteem.
The secret of the magic effect of her personality was partly this: she was able, as few persons were, to interest herself in other human beings in a perfectly human way and to treat them humanely. She possessed the true gift of listening with concentrated attention, and just as her ear was accessible to every complainant, so also her heart went out to every human being in distress.
That the word friendship was not a mere conception to a character of her type is self-evident. Despite the complicated nature of her being the simple words of the old poet Siman Dach, of which she was very fond, seem as though written to apply to her:
"To man there is no finer,
No more peculiar charm,
Than to be counted faithful
In friendship ever warm."
To have anybody doubt her friendship grieved her deeply, unless, indeed, in consonance with her ironical nature, she made fun of such doubts as being absolutely senseless. The reader will find various passages in substantiation of this point, e.g., the letter of January 20, 1916, written from the prison in Barnim Street, Berlin, ". .. and 'trifles' don't exist for me as far as you are concerned; everything is important and of the greatest interest." Again, the letter from Breslau dated December 16, 1917: "How is it, you sheep, that you still doubt my friendship from time to time? I was surprised, since I know that our relation is already founded as upon a rock..."
There was one field or sphere, however, where all love of her fellow men and all friendship counted for nothing in case she felt herself misunderstood or even suffered disappointment: that was the realm of politics. For, artist though she was, she was politically minded through and through. To think and act politically was a necessity to her; politics was the element in which she disported herself as a fish does in the water. However tolerant she might be to her personal friends, acquaintances, and relatives, however good-naturedly she might laugh at and make fun of their weaknesses, which she detected with a sharp eye and exposed with a sharp tongue, in the case of her political friends she would stand for no joking. With reference to conflicts within her political party, especially, she regarded considerateness as lukewarmness, readiness to yield as weakness, willingness to meet the opponent half way as cowardice, and compromise as treason. Her passionate nature led her to go straight at the center of an issue, without circumlocution. Concessions even to her closest political friends were anathema to her. Inflexible and unyielding as she herself was in these matters, she demanded a similar attitude from her political friends and closer comrades at arms, and in case she was not able to bring them unreservedly over to her own point of view, she did not hesitate to break with them. "Whosoever is not for me, is against me" was her political leitmotiv.
Those who know the history of the party during the last two decades are aware how her relation to Karl Kautsky underwent a change and how the most intimate Personal friendship gradually changed over into one of bitterest political opposition.
During the year 1896, as a comrade almost unknown in German circles, she addressed herself for the first time to the editors of the "Neue Zeit," a periodical which st that time enjoyed a splendid reputation, and which was personified in the figure of Kautsky. The leading spirits in the international socialist world st that time counted it an honor to contribute to its columns.
With a certain respect, though not always without objection, she submitted to Kautsky's editorial suggestions. Even here, however, one is struck by the self-assurance of this young woman of hardly twenty-six, as well as by her masterful diction, the keenness of her argumentation, the depth of her thinking, the wealth of ideas. In short, a new Pallas Athene, sprung from the head of Zeus, she stood before us, resplendent in her armor.
Notwithstanding the respect that she evinced toward her "beloved teacher," her "master," she felt herself as his peer and had the faculty of defending her standpoint. Her strong feeling of self-reliance is strikingly shown in the first eight letters; and as I was anxious to show this side of her character also, I overcame my original misgivings on this point and, at the risk of turning away this or that reader not interested in politics, I have placed these letters, which have to do with purely editorial matters, at the beginning of the collection, where indeed they belong chronologically. This increasing self-reliance is, by the way, emphasized even more sharply in the letter to Kautsky, written in 1901 after the Lubeck convention of the party.
After about three years of correspondence Rosa came to Berlin in March, 1899, and soon written communication was superseded by active personal intercourse. Residing at first in the student section of Berlin, she moved to the suburb of Friedenau as early as the fall of 1899 and rented a flat on the same street on which we lived.
Hardly a day now passed which did not see her at our home. At first, of course, her visits were intended solely for the party comrade; editor and theoretician Kautsky, with whom she loved to discuss things untiringly. As for myself, I proved a great disappointment to her, used as she was to the ways of the Russian students. Laughingly she herself later confessed this to me:
"Karl Kautsky's wife wears an apron!!"--what a surprise, what a terrible discovery! She, to, nothing but one of those narrow-minded German housewives! Or, according to Rosa's own terminology of that period, "a foolish hen, a cow!"
The apron was not destined long to separate us. After but a few weeks she was so accustomed to it as well as to its wearer that she declared, "All my wants are cared for in the Kautsky home."
With the pater familias she embarked upon politics, with me upon everything that makes life more beautiful, with the three bays upon the maddest tomfoolery, and with our faithful domestic fairy, Zenzi, she even ventured, ambitiously and just like a little housewife, upon the mysteries of cooking, on which occasions she st times did not even scorn--an apron!
For, her versatility was quite as surprising as mere her mental elasticity, her readiness at repartee and her ability to adapt herself immediately to every person and to every situation. Supposing she had just gone deeply into the most difficult theoretical problems with Kautsky--the very next moment she could be found romping about with the boys like a wanton school-girl, or sitting with our second son and engaging with him in friendly rivalry at drawing (she was extraordinarily gifted at painting and sketching, of which fact one finds many a proof in the letters). Or, she appeared in the kitchen department and listened with the most earnest expression in the world to Zenzi's wise maxims concerning the culinary art, delivered in the broadest Suabian brogue; in fact, she herself hinted, rather shamefacedly, that she was no stranger to Lucullian secrets, and waxed eloquent about a certain legendary "husar's roast" which she knew how to prepare in an unrivalled manner.
Christmas would have been unthinkable without Rosa, and it was a joy to observe with what zeal and devotion she played with the children, especially with the youngest, Bendel, then about six years old. The toys which she brought him were always selected with thoughtfulness and good sense. Usually they consisted of pretty, movable objects created by Amo Holz's imaginative mind and offered for sale on the Potsdamer Platz. It was at her hand that the nodding little mule and the creeping crocodile made their entry into the House of Kautsky. Her greatest and most enduring success was achieved, however, with a little cart that, sliding down a winding trestle, in ever accelerating motion brings its passengers down to the ground. With glowing cheeks she could for hours kneel down with the boys and enjoy these wondrous things. It was only with difficulty that she tore herself away from them when the children had to go to bed. After that she would chat and argue for a long time with Kautsky until he, too, withdrew. My hour had now arrived, for I accompanied her home, and measureless is the distance that we traversed, as we brought each other again and again to our respective doors. Tired of boarding-house life, she had soon rented a flat of her own in Cranach street, New Friedenau, about ten minutes away from our home. These minutes usually grew into hours, for there was no limit to the things we had to tell each other. Then, too, Rosa was in the habit of constantly forgetting her "Dricker," as she called all keys for short, and almost every night me stood before her house, waiting for the night watchman to open the portal. The incident always furnished the occasion for unrestrained mirth. She was also fond of giving vent to the revolutionary urge within her by singing aloud in the stillness of midnight, and many a time we were sternly reprimanded by the guardians of law and order in Friedenau, who lacked the necessary artistic appreciation of arias from "Figaro," or songs by Hugo Wolf, or the "Marseillaise" or the "Internationale." One stout police sergeant especially, named Maier, whom the young folk, to the infinite delight of Rosa, disrespectfully nicknamed the Fat-eye of the Law, "had it in" for us. To outwit him was Rosa's greatest earthly joy.
In two passages of her letters she refers to nightly escapades of this sort. Her overbubbling spirit knew no bounds, and she was as though intoxicated by her effervescent cheerfulness, which had a contagious effect. During such moments I felt instinctively what has since then become perfectly clear to me, namely, that hen was a poetic nature which was drawing upon a fountain that was practically inexhaustible. To use her own words, it seemed on such occasions "as though we had drunk champagne, and life pricked us in our finger-tips." Thus our friendship became an ever faster one; and to all of us, not least to our boys, she had soon become the indispensable friend, who had to take part in everything affecting our house, whether in days of joy or of sorrow. She was never absent from the Sunday evening "at homes," when a circle of devoted friends came to us, and halt seriously, half in mockery she called herself the "Sunday Supplement of the Neue Zeit."
Gladly and without much fuss she also joined us when, as was often the case, we were invited to dinner at the Bebels. It did not disturb her in the least to appear there in a simple house-dress even if she suspected that a more formal party was in store. Thus she was very fond of wearing a certain olive green morning frock of velvet, which I had given her as a birthday present, and with which she was so unwilling to part that I presented her with similar goods on all festive occasions thereafter.
Her relations with Bebel mere likewise most cordial and she was very fond of teasing him. For instance, during the party convention at Lubuck, where she was especially overbubbling and full of temperament, she stuck an anonymous slip of paper one morning at the hotel into the shoes standing before his door. The following words were written upon it: "Aujust, ick liebe Dir." He on his part reciprocated this affection and always enjoyed her breezy humor and her readiness at repartee. When at times she had possibly overshot the mark and had been exceptionally biting and aggressive against acknowledged "big guns" in the party, so that the older party members could not find words strong enough to express their indignation at her insolence, he merely observed, smiling indulgently: "Just you leave my Rosa alone. It's a mighty good thing to have a wolf like her in our sheep-fold."
When my husband and I went to Paris in the spring of 1900, where Kautsky was to sift the papers left by Karl Marx at the home of his son-in-law Paul Lafargue, Rosa acted as mother to our boys and helped them with their lessons at school. It must be admitted that, according to reports from both parties concerned, a pretty hot time ensued, and the two grammar-school students, Felix and Karl, are said really to have succeeded in putting the fearless fighter to rout--an unusual triumph!
In this connection I want to recall a pretty episode, since it unrevealed to ms a certain human and lovable trait in her character: Rosa was at that time on intimate terms with the meritorious socialist writer, then editor of the "Leipziger Volkszeitung," Bruno Schonlank, an ingenious man and the father of our poet, Bruno Schonlank. One day she surprised us with an invitation to have dinner with him at her rooms, which were at that time located in two apartments of a certain Mrs. Klara Neufeld, an extremely capable lady of Friedenau whom we all esteemed very highly. The invitation had been extended with such solemnity that I donned my evening clothes to honor Rosa, although Karl's mother declared, "Why should you bother to make a big fuss about Rosa!" --My instinct had served me well, however. When she opened the door and, looking me over with a quick, critical glance, discovered that I was in evening dress, she fell upon my neck and declared with deep gratitude and emotion, "I thank you for having taken me seriously." The evening was a stimulating and harmonious one, Rosa proved a charming little housewife, who took her duties as hostess most seriously, yet who dominated the conversation by her wit and repartee.
Gradually she drew all of her friends then living in Berlin into our circle: Adolf Warschawski and Julian Marschlewski, two Polish socialist writers now in time Communist Party of Russia, were among our regular guests, and whenever Leo Tyschko (Jogiches) turned up, meteor-like, we had the pleasure of entertaining him, the shy conspirator, also in our house.
Her relation to Jogiches was a very special one, but I never presumed to speak to her about it. Nothing, perhaps, cemented our friendship so firmly as the circumstance that I never put questions to her, but let her do as she pleased, without every prying into her feelings or investigating her coming and going. For, despite her vivacity, her communicativeness and her apparent frankness she was, after all, of a reserved, taciturn nature, wanted to live her life all by herself and not be pursued by obtrusive curiosity. She was fond of weaving a thick veil of secrecy about herself, which was to guard her against inquisitive eyes; and a modicum of conspirator's romanticism was indispensable to her if life was not to seem too flat and "petty bourgeois" to her. However anxiously she sought and even demanded to know all emotion's and experiences at her friends--about which by the way, she was able to keep silent with a model sense of discretion--, just as little was it possible for her to reveal herself unreservedly. I recall certain moments when I knew her to be involved in difficult conflicts of the soul or of the heart. She could then sit with me for a long time, her hand clasped in mine, and evidently struggle for words with which to tell me of her distress. Usually, however, nothing more resulted than that she uttered (I few doleful sounds, a few disconnected sentences. After that she told me with a helpless shrug of the shoulders, "I can't"--placed her head against my shoulder and remained silent. In situations of this kind she merely craved quiet understanding and sympathetic tenderness. To press her hands or to fondle her gently was quite sufficient to restore her cheerfulness and to bring hack her customary equilibrium.
In this connection I should like to make a sort of correction on my own behalf: In the spring of 1919 a member of the Belgian commission in Berlin, M. Maurice Berger, visited us to make Kautsky's acquaintance; since he was engaged in writing a book about the "new" Germany. In the course of the conversation the activity and death of Rosa Luxemburg were also touched upon. M. Berger evidenced the greatest interest in her and was most anxious to devote a chapter of his book to her. He pressed me for data concerning herself, laying special stress upon her private life and the circumstances accompanying her death. He finally persuaded me to write him an appreciation of her character and a sketch of her life as a politician, though at the same time I declined emphatically to give any other information. In addition, I made it an expressed condition of my imparting this information, that the whole chapter be submitted to me in French translation before it went to press.
Imagine my surprise when, awhile later, a bound copy of a book entitled "La Nouvelle Allemagne" reached me from Brussels, containing, in addition to the section approved by me, several pages derived from a source entirely unknown to me, which gave a detailed report about Rosa's "amours" and her sensational death!
I protested immediately by letter and by telegram against this misuse of my name, but obtained no further satisfaction than that the author apologized politely, stating that, while the personal data brought at the end of the sketch had "been told him by another source," he had nevertheless incorporated them in my article and published them under my name "for literary reasons and in order to round off the sketch." At the same time he authorized me to publish this explanation. The whole incident, transpiring as it did during days that were in themselves full of excitement, almost made me sick, for I trembled at the thought that the French and Belgian comrades might look upon this publication as an indiscretion, and possibly even as an attempt to be sensational, though nothing had been further from my thoughts than that. But no unfavorable comment came from them, so that I gradually calmed down, all the more so as I had to say to M. Berger's credit that he had done his job not only with tact and literary taste, but even with feeling and from a full heart, so that he had succeeded in placing Rosa in a very sympathetic light before foreign readers.
While Rosa had given conclusive proof of her unusual abilities in all the fields in which she had been active, it began to seem as though her greatest ability lay along educational lines. She possessed all the prerequisites of a pedagogue: not only was she gifted and thoroughly educated, but she also possessed the self-confidence and self-assurance that a teacher needs in order to impress his students. She found great satisfaction in teaching and, while in her former positions, such as editor of the Dresden "Volkszeitung," of the Berlin "Vorwarts," etc., she had not shown particular stick-to-it-ivtness, the teaching profession seemed permanently to fascinate her and her enthusiasm seemed to kindle anew with every succeeding semester. Then came the war and with it an abrupt end to her activity. The school ceased to exist and Rosa was confronted with new problems.
The outbreak of the war was terrible to her. Still more terrible did the attitude of the German Social Democracy seem to her; in fact, as she herself admitted, she was brought to the verge of insanity and almost committed suicide. The granting of war credits by the social democrats was the signal for her to part company once and for all with her former comrades from whom she had already felt herself estranged for a long time, and with a little band of like-minded followers to begin the underground work of propaganda among German workers that found expression in the so-called Spartacus Letters, which, of course, had to be issued secretly because of war censorship. Besides containing propaganda against the war, its pages were filled chiefly with the most biting criticism of the right wing and of the center of the German Social Democratic party. Through hundreds of channels the Spartacus Letters found their way into the factories, the shops, the armies of the reserve, and even out to the front.
Rosa was able to carry on this underground propaganda for but a few months, when the "hand of justice" was laid upon her. She was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison for a speech delivered before the war, on September 25, 1913, near Frankfort-on-the-Main, on "The Political and Economic Situation and the Task of the Proletariat." Her address to the court on the occasion of her trial on February 20, 1915, in defense of her action has become quite famous, and has appeared in print. She spent a full year in a woman's prison in northeastern Berlin. This did not keep her, however, from continuing her activities with undaunted courage and from speaking to the outside world with the aid of friends and like-minded comrades, who undertook to smuggle out not only the Spartacus Letters but also the celebrated "Junius Pamphlet." In the latter Rosa attacked the war and her former comrades even more boldly than in the Spartacus Letter. This pamphlet, written in prison in April, 1915, and distributed secretly, achieved unparalleled success with all opponents of war in Germany and, in so far as it could pass the frontiers, also abroad. The wealth of ideas, the boldness of speech, the beauty of diction, and the truly revolutionary content characterize this work as one of the weightiest documents against the crime of war.
Upon leaving her cell in February, 1916, she plunged at once into the maelstrom of events. Above all she sought contact with the "left" elements in the party, especially with Karl Liebknecht, to whom she had been very close ever since parting company with Karl Kautsky. Liebknecht was at that time in Berlin on furlough. Like herself, he had suffered terribly under the outbreak of the war and had been the only member of parliament to vote against granting war credits when the government demanded them the second time. From then on Rosa felt herself in complete accord with him. Together with Liebknecht she now planned a bold public action, for the slow, underground propaganda, the results of which could not become apparent very quickly, tried the patience of these two fiery spirits too sorely. They decided to call out loudly and audibly into a world paralyzed by terror and fear what they had thus far dared to say only secretly and surreptitiously to the masses of the workers. No matter how dire the consequences might be for them personally, they hoped by their self-sacrifice to stir up the sluggish spirits or at least to hurl a mene tekel at the ruling powers.
They summoned all their followers to the busy Potsdamer Platz on May 1, 1916. It was impossible to organize a May-day celebration on a large scale then, since most men mere at the front and military control was unusually severe at that time. Nevertheless a crowd of faithful followers had gathered, from whose midst Liebknecht stepped forth upon the street and with a voice that resounded afar cried out, "Down with War." He was surrounded immediately by police in uniform and in plain clothes; Rosa and several of his followers, who clung to him, were shoved aside, and he was dragged off to prison. His courage, to be sure, challenged the admiration of all free spirits, but he failed to achieve the far-reaching result that he had hoped would follow upon his action. The time was not yet ripe and people's minds were still too much bound by the tradition of war for his rallying cry to awaken the right sort of echo. Oddly enough Rosa had been permitted to return home unhindered, and for about four more months she was at liberty. She used this respite to conduct incessant educational propaganda. On July 10, 1916, however, she was taken into "precautionary arrest" upon the orders of the military--an arrest that differed in no way from regular imprisonment.
At first she was brought into tho same prison on Barnim street in northeastern Berlin in which she had served previously; soon thereafter, however, to the citadel of Wronke in the Province of Posen, and after another half year, to the prison at Breslau.
The letters of that period furnish eloquent testimony as to how she, the great specialist in the art of living, knew how to make her life, even in that place of severe confinement, a reasonably human one, yes, and even to draw more satisfaction, not to say a greater measure of happiness out of that life than the rest of us succeeded in gaining from our life of freedom. These letters best give us an idea of the richness of her spirit and the greatness of her soul. If it is true that we tried through our letters and gifts to relieve the lonesomeness and enliven the monotony of the cell for her, the prisoner cut off from life, it is also true that her letters carried forth from this solitude light and color, joy and sunshine for our troubled spirits. These letters of hers from prison reveal her from her most beautiful human side. Every one of them show how a strong mind can triumph over all outward adversities, how a noble soul can rise above even the terrors of incarceration. Whenever her health threatened to give way under the exhausting monotony of her long imprisonment, whenever her fiery temperament was arrested by the bars of her narrow prison cell, again and again her studies and her work as well as her mental superiority constituted the magic remedy that sustained her and enabled her to suffer in patience. And infinite patience was indeed necessary! The grandiose drama of the Russian revolution in October, 1917, the seizure of power by the Russian bolsheviks, many of whom had been her former companions in arms--events which, as they transpired, made every fibre of her being tremble and awakened the yearning in her to participate actively in them--all this she had to let pass by her, condemned as she was to be inactive and to play the part of an impotent bystander. Who can adequately gauge the magnitude of her grief, the pain of her impatience, the anguish of enforced passivity! Who can feel adequately what emotions shook her frail body!--And yet, not a word of complaint, of lamentation! Perfectly composed, proudly and even stoically she bore the hard fate that was hers until finally, at last, the hour of liberation struck for her, too.
The German army was defeated. Its glorified leader, Ludendorff, had run away in shameful flight, while the emperor himself had withdrawn from the world's stage in no less despicable a manner. During the first days of November, 1918, first the sailors at Kiel and later the soldiers at Berlin had refused to continue to serve, had fraternized with the people and had ended the military dictatorship at one blow. The prisons were automatically opened for political offenders. Liebknecht was set free and triumphantly received, and soon thereafter Rosa, too, appeared in Berlin, after she had addressed the masses on Cathedral Square, Breslau, immediately after her liberation. Not a moment for quiet reflection was given her. Though still weak and wan from her long confinement, though still unused to the bustle of life after the stillness of her prison cell, the gigantic wave of events carried her right into the midst of the whirlpool of life, where not a moment for thought or even for hesitation was given her, and in the midst of which she had to fight, lest the waves of counter-revolution that were rising threateningly engulf her.
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were still members of the Independent Socialist party which had split off from the old Social-Democratic party over the war issue. But the gulf that had begun to separate the majority of the party from the Spartacus group in recent years became wider and wider, and all attempts on the part of the late Hugo Haase, leader of the Independents, and his followers to bridge the chasm were doomed to failure because of the obstinacy of the Spartacists. Thus it happened that there were sharp differences between the two factions at the convention of the party in Berlin in the middle of December, and that a definite split occurred by the end of December. The group thus far known as Spartacists organized the Communist Perty and decided to publish its own organ, the "Roto Fahne," which was to take the place of the Spartacus Letters thus far issued.
Although the mast-head of the new organ gave the names of Rosa and Karl Liebknecht as founders, it was evident that Rosa from the beginning held views contrary to those of many of her followers and co-workers. Like the sorcerer's apprentice in Goethe, she had conjured up many spirits whom she was no longer able to hold in check and who in following their own ideas went far beyond what Rosa had mapped out as a goal capable of immediate attainment.
Thus, for instance, she differed with most members of her party on the important questions of participating in the coming elections for the Constituent Assembly. Rosa deemed participation essential and categorically demanded it. But this advocacy brought her first defeat at the organization congress of the communists, and she had to realize that she was powerless against the comrades who were rushing headlong blindly. Many a thing she had to let happen with which she did not at all agree. Out of a revolutionary uprising against the military state there had developed, because of these differences within the proletariat and among their leaders, the bloodiest kind of civil war. The bourgeoisie was concerned about re-establishing the spirit of the old system under the slogan "Peace, order, and security," by which it meant the domination of capitalism over the workers. The communists were determined at any price to "carry the revolution on." And the right-wing, moderate socialists, fearing an economic breakdown for Germany if this were to result, looked upon the extremists among the radical elements as constituting the greatest danger. They made use of the military apparatus, such as still existed, and of the officers of the old regime, on the erroneous assumption that they could control them and employ them to hold down the extreme left wing, at the head of which were Rosa and Karl Liebknecht. Tho military was under the command of Gustav Noske and his staff of old generals. Skirmishes were fought for weeks with extreme bitterness and it was not long before a final catastrophe ensued. In the streets everywhere there were bloody encounters daily, and whatever happened in one quarter of the city was reported in a wildly exaggerated manner in the other sections. The fury of the misguided soldiery was directed mainly at Rosa and Liebknecht and their followers, in whom they saw the instigators of the daily recurring attacks upon the troops. They therefore tried in every manner to apprehend them, and both were constantly forced to flee, were constantly compelled to hide, and were prevented from going to their own homes on pain of falling into the hands of their military captors. For several weeks they succeeded in keeping in hiding. But, either because they had been made too bold by their success so far, or else because they tired of being forever pursued, they became very careless in their last abode in the western part of Berlin, where they stopped with sympathizers. They openly took up quarters in the fashionable house of some friends, and soon the other bourgeois tenants became aware of the unwelcome company living under their roof.
It was not long before someone reported them, and the military were quick to throw themselves upon their victims. Under strong cover the two were brought to the Hotel Eden, where the staff of the Reinhard Brigade had its headquarters.
It is hardly to be supposed that Rosa fully appreciated what was in store for her. Although she was undoubtedly familiar with the thought of death, which threatened her daily either in an open street fight or by a treacherous bullet, yet she seems to have thought about this last seizure that, as so often previously, it was merely a ease of being brought to prison so that she might be made harmless for a while. Evidence of this is the fact that she took with her a little bag with books and laundry when the soldiers led her away. In the best of spirits she bade farewell to her hosts, in the best of spirits she started off on the journey that was destined to be her last.
As to what the officers of the Reinhard Brigade discussed with Rosa, and as to what they negotiated with her, the public has never learned the facts with certainty. Judging from later events one may assume that these "gentlemen" heaped vile insults upon the defenceless, delicate woman, in order to wreak their anger upon their hated adversary and to let her feel their power. But even though they may have preserved the semblance of an orderly procedure, the fact is that these murderers seemed to have determined in advance not to let Rosa leave the building alive. Altogether too willing tools were found who undertook to carry out the bestial deed. As she left the building and stepped out upon the street, a non-commissioned officer named Runge struck her down with the butt of his gun, causing her to fall to the ground in a swoon. She was then picked up and thrown into a waiting automobile and, as she gave signs of still being alive, one of the "heroes" present shot a bullet through her head. Runge, the hired assassin, who afterwards quarrelled with his noble employers, later described the gruesome scene in all its ghastly detail before the court. Nevertheless, there is still much in this drama that remains to be explained.
The courageous officers, however, were not yet completely satisfied with their deed. They feared Rosa even though dead and dreaded her influence upon the proletarian masses. The problem therefore was for them that of getting the corpse out of the way and of making up a story about her resistance and flight, so as to deceive the public and to divert the fury and revenge of the angered masses from themselves. As is characteristic of assassins, they added cowardice to their bestiality and dared not stand by their deed. The corpse disappeared, and those who had participated in the cowardly murder would tell nothing but fantastic lies. According to one version Rosa was supposed to have been dragged out of the automobile and lynched; according to another, Rosa's dead body was seized by her murderers and taken into hiding. Then, too, some persons claimed to have seen her body thrown into the water. For months no exact details about the whole affair were known, and already the proletarian masses began to weave legends about the memory of their martyr. Also, they did not cease to hope that she might turn up unexpectedly some fine day and again march at their head as their leader.
This state of uncertainty continued until, several months later, Rosa's distorted corpse was found floating in the water and every doubt was silenced by the gruesome reality. As to just how she died, we shall probably never learn with absolute certainty. That she was fearless and courageous and faced death composedly, of this the letters written shortly before her death give every assurance. That she faced death consciously on behalf of the cause sacred to her is proven by the fact that she remained in Berlin and never thought of fleeing to another country.
For us who outlive her the thought is terrible that her last glance fell upon the brutalized faces of paid assassins, and that she, who believed so firmly in the good within each human being and faced death fighting on behalf of this faith, should have been surrounded by such scum of humanity during her last hours. But although the circumstances attending her death helped to intensify the grief over her loss among her friends, yet not one of them denied to himself that this sacrificial death, despite its gruesomeness, constituted a fitly solemn close to a life rich in sacrifices.
"Enshrined within the great heart of the working class," Rosa Luxemburg's memory will continue to live among the millions of oppressed and dispossessed throughout the world, for whom she fought, suffered and lived. And the name of Rosa Luxemburg will remain engraven upon the brazen tablets of history upon which are recorded the heroes of humanity.