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.
With the letter of July 25, 1918, this collection closes, even though our correspondence, which was very active at that time, did not end there.
At the beginning of 1918 I had to leave Berlin, to visit my sons who were living in various Austrian garrisons. I went first to Prague, to my son Karl who was employed as a physician at the military hospital there, Punctually, on August 11, the never-failing birthday letter from Rosa reached me at Prague and from there I went to the Steiermark to my youngest son. Then I returned to Prague, which I left only on October 28, the day of the revolution in Bohemia, using the very last train that was permitted to depart under the "K. und K." government, so as to reach Berlin before train service stopped.
All letters that I received during those three months from Rosa had to be left behind on account of the strict control exercised at the frontier, and I believed them to be in good hands when left with my good landlady in Bruck-on-the-Mur in the Steiermark.
Unfortunately they were lost after all in the confusion and unrest of those exciting days--irretrievable treasures lost!
To be sure, they would hardly have added a new nuance to the character portrait of Rosa as it is plastically revealed to us in the writings here published, excepting possibly one single, little letter which she sent to me secretly and which threw light upon her mental condition at that time in a manner that my heart almost ceased to beat as read it,--so frightened was I at the passion revealed to me by it, a passion that, as I observed, almost consumed this woman who otherwise knew so well how to restrain herself.
I had returned to Berlin at the end of October, and now the November events follow in rapid-fire succession. When Rosa emerged from prison, she was dragged into the wild maelstrom from the very first moment, fate left her never a moment for reflection, not the smallest pause for catching her breath after all the difficulties through which she had passed. With both feet she jumped into the revolutionary movement and was always found standing with Karl Liebknecht in positions where I never could follow her, despite my love and admiration for her.
While differences of opinion, that in a measure had really always existed between us, had never before interfered with and disturbed our relationship, and while formerly she had usually brushed aside objections on my part with a good-natured, "you sheep, you don't understand anything about this," affairs now had shaped themselves in such a manner that there could be only a "for" or "against."
To have remained entirely silent toward her during that situation, during which the course pursued by Rosa, and especially by Karl Liebknecht, with whom she identified herself outwardly, seemed so unspeakably fatal, would have been impossible for me; I should have run the danger that she had regarded my silence as approval. On the other hand the times were too serious, there was too much at stake, one felt oneself too much involved in the historical events that were transpiring, to have been willing to be pushed aside with a joking word. Had I come together with Rosa, I should perhaps not have been able to avoid adjuring her to turn back from the road that in my opinion must lead her and others to destruction. But that such an attempt would be made in vain, of this I was fully convinced from the beginning, and therefore I renounced, though with a bleeding heart, every opportunity of being together with her, all the more so as we should never have been able to see each other and talk together without the presence of third persons annoying to me.
Thus it could happen that during those eight hot weeks during which she was permitted to live after her liberation, we did not see each other one single time, did not embrace each other one more time. We did indeed exchange tender greetings through third persons, thereby giving weak expression to our yearning, and more than once she let me know that she was unable to understand why I did not hasten to her side. But however much I suffered from the separation imposed upon us by the conditions, I remained steadfast and kept away, waiting and yearning for the better time that might bring us together again.
Instead of the hoped-for reunion there came that day which even today seems to me like a wild, terrible dream. When the remembrance thereof overtakes me during a sleepless night, I am seized with a cold shudder and infinite sorrow fills my soul. Again and again Rosa's own words then recur to me, which she wrote when we lost our dearest friend: "I am still unable to emerge from the deep surprise: is that possible? It seems to me like a word that has been silenced in the midst of a sentence, like a suddenly broken-off chord that I still hear.
* * * I cannot comprehend it; is that possible? Like a flower that has been torn off and trampled upon. * * * *
And yet, despite all horror at the terrible deed, despite all sorrow over a friend who has been snatched away altogether too soon and who is lost to me forever, I must say that it was the sort of death that she herself wished for. Let it be recalled that she once wrote to Sophie Liebknecht: "You know, I shall some day die at my post: in a street fight or in the house of correction. * * *"
And therefore this death, notwithstanding all the horror of its attendant circumstances, seems nevertheless to me like a logical ending to the drama of her life, like something before which we stand in silence and in deepest emotion as before the great, implacable tragedy of an antique play.
What Don Carlos said of his friend Marquis Pose, is also applicable to her: her "beautiful course of life" has been sealed by "her beautiful, great death." Beautiful, because she died for her great cause, the liberation of mankind. Like a firebrand she carried light and warmth into a million hearts and awakened the spark of enthusiasm--like a firebrand she expired, but in a million hearts the spark that she fanned continues to glow.
I, however, cannot close this retrospect upon her life better than by quoting her own words: "I continue to live in a dream as though she were still here; I see her alive before me, chat with her in my imagination about everything, in me she continues to live. * * *"
"Die Neue Zeit" was the scientific organ at the German Social Democracy. If was founded in 1883 by Karl Kautsky, to whom a number of the letters in this volume, especially the earlier ones, are addressed.
Karl Kautsky was born October 16, 1854, in Prague, but at an early age became a resident of Vienna, where he studied economics and history at the university. The uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871 made a deep impression upon the active mind and the revolutionary instinct of tho young man, whoso entire sympathies were with the Commune. Its heroic collapse touched him deeply. From then on he steeped himself in everything that he could obtain on the subject of socialism, especially the writings of French socialists or those dealing with the French revolution. In addition he read German writers, among them especially Heine and Boerne. Also, Darwin and Buckle (History of Civilization) exercised a great influence upon him. By 1871 his mind was made up to join the Austrian Social Democracy and to devote himself to its service.
As long as he was a student at the university, he worked for the Austrian and German parties anonymously and under the pseudonym of "Symmachos." By the time he had reached his twenty-sixth year, his first book, entitled "The Influence of Increasing Population upon the Progress of Society," appeared. In it he reveals himself as adherent to the Malthusian theory and turns against Marx, whom he at first distrusted although he accepted two of his theories unreservedly--that of the class struggle and of the materialistic conception of history.
Disciple of Darwin that he was, the struggle of the races for existence had interested him greatly; now, however, the struggle of the classes took precedence with him over the struggle of the races as a factor of human development. Thus it was that he first became a Marxian as an historian.
The end of his university days had come and it was necessary for him to cast about for a calling--a thing that was by no means easy for a revolutionary socialist in Austria. Fortunately he received an offer to come to Zurich, where the rich German economist Karl Hoechberg, a pure idealist, had founded a socialist periodical and was looking about for co-workers. Hoechberg's private secretary was Eduard Bernstein, whose intimate friend Kautsky soon became. It was at Zurich, too, that the "Sozialdemokrat" was founded, since it had become impossible under the anti-socialist law of Germany to express one's opinion freely in that country. In this new organ all elements that were interested in the struggle were able to obtain a hearing. Kautsky felt overjoyed to leave the narrow conditions of Austria and to enter upon this large field of activity which also afforded him the opportunity of coming into closer contact with Marx and Engels.
In the spring of 1881 Kautsky for the first time went to London as an emissary of Hoechberg. The deepest impressions of his life were gathered there as a result of his intercourse with Marx and Engels.
He continued the work with Bernstein at Zurich until 1882, and then left for Stuttgart, where in 1883 he founded the monthly periodical, "Die Neue Zeit." In 1885 he settled down in London, in order to be nearer to Engels. Marx had died meanwhile. Besides enjoying the high intellectual pleasure of constant contact with Engels, he was also in a position to draw upon the rich treasures of the British Museum. The results of his London activity are embodied in two works, "Thomas Mann and His Utopia" and "The Class Wars of France,"--two books which Kautsky refers to as the most beloved children of his spirit.
In 1858 Bernstein and his associates on the "Sozialdemokrat" were deported from Zurich, and the organ was transferred to London. Bernstein was thus united with Engels and Kautsky and it seemed as though they were to remain together permanently. But the collapse of the anti-socialist law in Germany created a new situation. The "Sozialdemokrat" suspended publication. The "Neue Zeit" became a weekly and Bernstein one of its regular contributors. Kautsky moved on to Germany while Bernstein was compelled to continue to remain in exile in London. Kautsky's activities now underwent a transformation. The time for purely academic and literary researches was over. The "Neue Zeit" became a political organ, and Kautsky had to occupy himself with questions of the day.
But Bernstein, too, underwent a change after 1890. Under the influence of his British surroundings he inclined more and more toward the Hoechberg point of view and became allied with the Fabians. As long as Engels lived, this school of socialism did not have much influence; but when, after Engels' death in 1895, the so-called "Prosperity Era" began, not only Bernstein but many workers gave evidence of a feeling of being satisfied with what had been accomplished.
There resulted the clashes between Bernstein and Kautsky, between revisionism and radicalism.
A decade later the historical situation again changed. The "Era of Prosperity" came to an end, and with it revisionism became pretty much of a dead issue. Now, however, the revolutionary movement in Russia showed signs of unusual progress. In fact, this country, thus far the citadel of reaction, became the most revolutionary land in Europe. This meant that the Russian socialists believed themselves called upon to assume the leadership in the socialist Internationale, and to apply to the rest of Europe crass methods based upon the backwardness of Russia. New problems thus arose for Kautsky: no longer was it the illusions based upon English conditions which Kautsky had to combat, but illusions harbored by a section of the Russian revolutionaries. This brought him in conflict with many comrades with whom he bad thus far fought shoulder to shoulder against revisionism, among them Rosa Luxemburg, with whom he first took public issue in 1910 on the question of the general strike and its practical application.
While this fight was on, the World War came. It brought Kautsky into a position of opposition to the majority of the German Social Democracy. Though Kautsky could understand the anxiety of the German socialists to spare the people the terrors of an invasion and of defeat, he could not accept the unconditional granting of war credits, since he believed the German government to be responsible for the outbreak of the war and unwilling to strive for a peace of understanding. He therefore joined the minority which, under the leadership of Hugo Haase, declined to vote the war credits, and which formed the Independent Socialist Party.
Within this minority party the same divergencies which had existed even before the war between the points of view of Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, soon became noticeable. They were emphasized when, in 1917, the revolution broke out in Russia and the bolsheviks executed their coup d'etat through which they achieved their dictatorship. The whole working class of Europe at that time paid homage to the bolsheviks; Kautsky, however, was one of the few who from the beginning decidedly opposed bolshevism. Thus he became isolated within his own party, after having already parted company with the majority Socialists, who in October, 1917, removed him from the editorship of the "Neue Zeit," of which he had been the incumbent for nearly 35 years.
When in November, 1918, militarism and Hohenzollernism broke down in Germany, a fundamental change of conditions presented itself to Kautsky. He now believed that, in order to ensure the success of the revolution, it was essential for the two socialist parties to unite and offer resistance to every attempt to introduce bolshevist methods into the German revolution. He therefore joined those Independent Socialists who demanded that their party form a joint cabinet with the Majority Socialists. He himself entered this cabinet as a "Beigeordneter" to Secretary-of-State Self, i. e., as an associate with equal powers and rank with the professional diplomat taken over from the old regime who then headed the foreign office. He was not able, however, to render much service of a practical nature, since the Independent Socialists, to his great regret, under the pressure of communistically inclined members after but a few weeks withdrew their representatives from the government. Nevertheless he improved his position in the foreign office for gathering from its archives the documents concerning the outbreak of the war which in 1919 he published under the joint editorship of Professor Schuecking and Count Montgelos--two men assigned to him by the government as collaborators--and himself, and which he also used as the basis of his book, "The Beginnings of the World War."
For the present it seemed hopeless to try to bring about a union of the socialist parties and to oppose communism successfully. He was unable to prevent his party from leaving the Second Internationale and from establishing contacts with the Third (Communist) Internationale. He seriously considered resigning from the party altogether, when the request of the socialists of Georgia to come there for an investigation of conditions relieved him of the necessity of making an immediate decision. During his stay in Georgia a split occurred in the Independent Socialist Party of Germany, so that Kautsky found a totally changed situation upon his return. The communist elements had left and those remaining adopted a line of procedure that ran more and more parallel to that of the Majority Socialists, and that finally, with Kautsky's energetic aid, made the reunion of the two wings of German socialism possible in 1922.
From now on it was again possible for Kautsky to devote his whole time to the development of socialist theory. Recently he published a book on "The Program of the Proletarian Revolution." He is now at work on a book on historical materialism.