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January 06, 1971 - Image 5

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y January 6, 1971


Page Five

yJonuory6, 1971 THE MICHIGAN DAILY

,,,. .

Rosa Luxemburg: An

eagle amongst the

J. P. Nettl, ROSA LUXEM-
bURG, Oxford University Press,
SPEAKS, edited by Mary-Alice
Waters, Pathfinder Press, $3.95.
The name Rosa Luxemburg
elicits a response of confused
ignorance from most people,
even those activists who should
know better. Part of the expla-
nation is that there is very lit-
tle in English written by her or
about her. At last in the past
few years there has appeared in
English a fully satisfying poli-
tical biography by J. P. Nettl, a
British academic socialist, and
in the last year a compendium
of her most important writings
' ably edited by Mary-Alice Wat-
Who was Rosa Luxemburg?
This question isn't easy to an-
swer in abbreviated form. Her
activities and contributions were
so vast, that even Nettl divides
his biography into separate
strands of activity as one would
a volume of European history.
Rosa (no one called her Lux-
emburg) was a leader of the
Polish Socialist Party and the
German Social-Democratic Par-
ty, an influential force in the
Bolshevik - Menshevik contro-
versy, and together with Karl
Liebnkt, the co-founder of the
itGerman Communist Party. Her
contributions to Marxian poli-
tical thought and political econ-
omy were so important t h a t
long after her death they were
used and mis-used as a rallying
. point in struggles against the
reformist socialists and the Len-
inist revolutionaries.
Born in Poland in 1871, edu-
cated in Political Economy at
Zurich, and most politically ac-
tive in Germany between 1898
and 1919, Rosa synthesized in
her complex and'extraordinary
personality several divergent
strands of her, times. She was. of
that brilliant and uprooted
band of Jewish wanderers who
reacted to the obloquy heaped
on European Jewry by disclaim-
ing all pretences of nationalism,
finding national salvation in the
international revolution of the
proletariat. Though she lived in
the West from 1889 until her
death, Rosa never felt comfor-

table in her surroundings. She
always idealized the 'activist'
temperament of the Easterner,
most particularly the Russian.
There was more than a trace of
the Slavophile in her. She once
said that one could find more
ife in a Russian village than
in all of Berlin.
All of these qualities are very
profoundly studied in Nettl's

mind. At the same time, Near'
has succeeded in describing the
struggles of political ideas in
such a way that one senses tls
'flesh and blood', living realit-:
of these struggles. Not only are
whole chapters devoted to de-
tailing and analyzing the pri-
mary elements in Rosa's poli-
tical thought, but all thiough
the book Nettl identifies the pc-

volume biography of Trosky.
Yet one would have to consider
Nettl's work superior even to
Deutscher's masterpiece. jeu-
tscher sometimes lapses in; a
mawkishness and at times con-
fuses his own political thinking
with that of Trotsky's. Nettl at
all times maintains a historical
and personal distance from his
The book is beautifully writ-
ten! A few selections will indi-
cate the flavor of the writing.
"Rosa Luxemburg was never
an easy person to get on with
Her passionate temperament, of
which she was aware and very
proud, generated a capacity for
quick attachment but also an
unpredictable touchiness which
acted like trip-wire to unsus-
pecting invaders. H e r rigid
standards were partly the moral
superstructure of her philosophy
of life. But, though rigid, they
were not constant; she Delib-
erately adjusted them to what
she thought was the capacity
of the other person."
There is an interesting selec-
tion in the first chapter which
illustrates what I mean by un-
derstanding the 'flesh a n d
blood' of thought. Nettl is com-
parip'g Rosa's thought process-
es to those of Lenin and t h e
German socialist Karl Kautsky.
"Rosa Luxemburg was more
original than either. She always
overshot her limited political
objective, her argument bursts
with assumptions, ideas, and
hints, sometimes supporting it
but occasionally running far be-
yond and contrary to her inten-
tions. Her mind was a compli-
cated machine, once stimulated
it generated its own energy and
ranged way beyond the original
problem. Consequently we find
things in unexpected places.
Like Lenin her basic theories
were few; like Kautsky, howev-
er, she subordinated tactics to
basic theoretical propositions.
Comparing Rosa with Kautsky
is like comparing a compound
equation with a host of simple
ones; compared with Lenin she
was atomic fission instead of
fusion - releasing energy rath-
er than compressing it. A three-
way comparison (or f o u r or
five) thus becomes almost im-
In the second volume of this
biography is a letter Rosa wrote
from prison at the end of 1916
that provides the reader with
the essence of her extraordinary
"I want to answer your
Christmas letter immediately
while I am still in the grip of
the r a g e which it inspired.
Yes, your letter made me ab-
solutely wild..r"
'"You are not radical enough'
you suggest sadly. Not radi-
cal enough is hardly the
word. You aren't radical at
all, just spineless. It is not a
matter of degree but of kind.
You a r e a totally different
zoological species from me
and never have I hated your
miserable, acidulated, coward-
ly and half-hearted existence
as much as I do now ..."
"As far as I am concerned I
was never soft, but in recent
months I h a v e become as
hard as polished steel and I
will not make the slightest
concession in the future, eith-
er politically or in my person-
al friendships ... I swear to
you - I would rather sit here
for years - I do not even say
here which is approaching
paradise, but rather in t h e
hell-hole in t h e Alexander-

be human means throwing
one's life 'onto the scales of
destiny' if need be, to be joy-
ful for every fine day and ev-
ery beautiful cloud - oh, I
can't write you any recipes
how to be human, I only know
how to be human and you too
used to know it when we
walked for a few hours in the
fields outside Berlin a n d
watched the red sunset over
the corn. The w o rl d is so
beautiful in spite of all the
misery and would be e v e n
more beautiful if there were
no half wits and cowards in
it ..."
It is so easy to lose one self
in the labyrinth of Rosa's per-
sonality, that one can neglect
the importance of her political
contribution. Until this sum-
mer very few of Rosa's writings
were available in English, with
these few in a scattered form.
Now with t h e publication of
Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, edited
by Mary-Alice Waters, it is pos-
sible to absorb and evaluate

vate ownership of property more
acute, Finally Rosa posited that
the belief in reform and in the
likely failure of a dictatorship
of the proletariat. was in reality
an implicit belief that the "so-
cialist program is at all times,
Rosa functioned primarily as
a publicist. She had very little
interest in the day-to-day or-
ganizational questions of Ger-
man Social Democracy. This a -
titude is reflected in her writ-
ings on Lenin's ideas on cen-
tralized organization. which she
vehemently attacked, arguing
that they separated the leader
from the m a s s, retarded the
growth of workers' self-con-
sciousness, and paved the way
for the dictatorship over t h e
proletariat, rather than the dic-
tatorship of the proletariat.
Rosa committed the error of to-
tally identifying social democ-
racy with the working c l a s s
movement, t h e n compounded
this error by over-emphasizing
the degree of discipline Lenin

of paramount Inportance that
the most advanced sections of
the working class constitute
themselves as a vanguard and
lead the workers in the struggle
for socialism. Rosa like the pre-
1917 Trotskyv misinterpreted the
Leninist concept of leadership
resulting from respect. for the
party with leadership basing it-
self upon bureaucratic coercion.
Trotsky corrected his error. Ro-
sa's ideas we r e undergoing a
rapid transformation j u s t be-
fore her death, but s he still
maintained a somewhat. disor-
ganized and idealistic rin her
worship of m a s s spontaneity)
view of just how revolution took
place. T he argument has been
made that this was one of the
causes of the demise of the Ger-
man Revolution in January.
Space limitations forbid a
thorough discussion of other
ideas developed in the articles
contained in this compendium.
However, with the excepetion of
Rosa's ideas on imperialism,
it may be said that her most
important political ideas are de-
veloped in this book.
Perhaps the most famous
characterization of Rosa Lux-
emburg's place in history was'
written by Lenin in a polemic
defending himself against at-
tempts to counterpose Luxem-
burgism to Leninism.
"'Eagles may at times f 1 y
lower than hens, but hens can
never rise to the height of ea-
gles.' Rosa Luxemburg was mis-
taken on the question of the in-
dependence of Poland, she was
mistaken in 1903 in her apprais-
al of Menshevism, she was mis-
taken on the theory of the ac-
cumulation of capital; she was
mistaken in July, 1914, when to-
gether with Plekhanov, Vander-
velde, Kautsky, and others, she
advocated unity between the
Bolsheviks and Mensheviks; -.ne
was mistaken in what she wrote
in prison in 1918 (she corrected
most of these mistakes by the
end of 1918 and the beginning
of 1919 after she was released
- Lenin). But in spite of her
mistakes she was - and re-
mains for us - an eagle. And
not only will Communists all
over the world cherish her
memory, but her biography and
her complete works . . .will serve
as useful manuals for training
many generations of Commun-
ists all over the world."


Today' swriters9,.
Robert Bernard, a senior ma-
joring in history, is doing in-
dependent research on Rosa
R. A. Perry, former books
editor for the Daily, now man-
ages a farm with his wife and
daughter while teaching at the
University of Wisconsin.

Rosa Luxemburg's self-portrait

biography. The m o r e I think
about this work and reread pas-
sages of it, the more I am daz-
zled by the extent of its genius.
Nettl combines the finest qual-
ities of the various schools of
historiography. He has thougnt
long and hard about his sub-
ject - for twenty years; in a
sense he has dwelt within he.-

litical clashes that occurred
during the period, that wrackedt
the Marxists, and that caused
turmoil within Rosa's own mind.
The only political biography
I am familiar with that even
approaches Nettl's in exhaus-
tiveness of research, clarity and
depth of thought, and beauty of
style is Isaac Deutscher's 'hre-

OArt's flawed companion

Henriette Roland-Holst, pencil sketch

TO ART, edited by Harold Os-
borne, Oxford University Press,
The most useful new art book
published this fall might appear
to be not a "picture book" at all
but rather a 1277 page refer-
ence tome entitled The Oxford
Companion to Art: appearances
are deceiving. Similar to t h e
other "Companion" books in the
Oxford series, s u c h as Percy
Scholes' useful volume on mu-
sic, the Companion to Art fea-
tures short entries on individ-
ual artists, 1on g e r entries on
more generic topics, and fairly
extensive entries on major sub-
jects, such as "Flemish A r t"
and "Perspective."! Black a n d
white illustrations (there is on-
ly one color plate) appear fre-
quently, but not as regularly as
one would wish and the choice
of illustrations seems to have
been decided more by popular
appeal than by true usefulness.
The v e r y brief entry on "Op
Art," f o r instance, is accom-
plished by an almost full page
reproduction of Bridget Riley's.
"Fall 1963". (though there is no
separate entry on Miss Riley),
while the entire essay on Chi-
nese painting is granted only
one small and unimportant il-
The Companion to Art is ser-
iously flawed in m a n y ways.
First of all, its scope is conser-
vative and modern art and art-
ists given less attention than
one might desire; what infor-
mation is given betrays the En-
glish origin of this volume, ed-
ited by the British aesthetician
Harold Osborne. Twentieth-cen-
tury British artists Feliks Topo-
lski, Alan Davie, Francis Bacon,
and Wyndham Lewis a r e in-
cluded, but you will not find
any mention of Leonard Baskin,
Morris. Louis, Barnett Newman,
Helen Frankenthaler, Clifford
Still, Philip Guston, or Joseph
Cornell, to name a few import-
ant American artists overlooked.
F There is an entry on the late
Sir Charles Reilly, Professor of
Architecture at the University
of Liverpool, but no word on
Joseph Stella, Gaston Lachaise,
Arthur Rackham, or Nicolas De
Stael. Roger Fry and Clive Bell
receive paragraphs, but not
Susanne Langer, Harold Rosen-
berg, or Clement Greenberg. Sir
,fmo, L 1..

Herbert Read is oddly missing,
and the entry on Robert Moth-
erwell is twice as long as the
inadequate few lines allotted to
Paul Klee.
If these deficiencies are to be
excused by Oxford's admission
that their volume is a handbook
and not an encyclopedia of the
arts, there can still be no ex-
cuse for the shoddy, inadequate,
and vacuous coverage of Indian
and Far Eastern Art. To wit:
there is a long entry on "Gar-
dens as an Art Form" with no
mention of Japanese gardens;
the article on "Pottery" devotes
18 lines to "The Far and Near
East" with this gratuitous at-
tention only refering to the ef-
fects of Oriental ceramics on
Western manufacture. There is
a long entry on the Tate Gal-
lery, but no mention whatsoev-
er of any of the major mus-
eums of Oriental art: the Mu-
see Guimet in Paris, the Freer

Kangra painting a "feminine
style," an unamplified judgment
that can only confuse the neo-
phyte and annoy the specialist.
The four bibliographic referenc-
es given to Rajput painting di-
rect the reader to outdated and
inconsequential material. Under
"Stupa," the vaguest generali-
ties about this major Asian ar-
chitectural form are given with-
out one specific site ever noted!
The entries on Chinese painters
are likewise misleading through
oversimplification: Mi Fei prac-
ticed a "spattering of ink
blots" and Ch'ien Hsuan's De-
troit scroll is always referred to
as "Early Autumn" and not "In-
sects and Lotus."
All entries in the Oxford
Companion to Art are unsigned
and it is difficult to believe that
the scholars' noted in the "List
of Contributors" could have
been responsible for infelicities
such as those mentioned above.

Luxemburg's political thought.
The most important of these
writings deals with the question
of revisionism, organization of
the revolutionary party, the im-
plications of t h e mass strike,
and the Russian Revolution.
Rosa Luxemburg first be-
came prominent in the German
Social Democratic Party during
the controversy over the revis-
ion of Marxian thought by Ed-
uard Bernstein. Bernstein in
his book Evolutionary Socialism
argued that capitalism h a d
proven itself capable through
special adaptive processes, such
as credit and amalgamation, of
ameliorating the crises and so-
cial ills of capitalism. The task
of the socialist workers was not
to struggle for socialiast revo-
lution, but rather to struggle for
piece-meal reforms with the
long term goal being socialism.
Rosa in a series of articles bril-
liantly and thoroughly destroy-

expected in his party. Lenin in
What is to be Done? argued that
there is not a complete identity
between the ideal of socialism
and the working class. Socialism
as an ideology was first devel-
oped by middle class intellect-
uals and then injected into
working class struggles. M o r e
important, Lenin perceived the
working class as heterogeneous
with many different levels of
political belief. It is therefore
......-.-CLIP AND SAVE..... -
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For the student body:
, Navy
Sizes 34 to 46
State Street at Liberty

Gallery in Washington, the Pal- Perhaps the entries in Western platz where in a minute cell, eten's theses. First with 5 Ave., New lorK cry u
ace Museum in Taipei, the Top- art history excel those in Orien- without li g h t, I recited my her very solid understanding of I There is a fee for our servie.
kapi in Istanbul. Following the tal art, the area which I know favorite poets... I swear to economics she proved that the
entries on Western artists, there best, but I remain skeptical. It you, let me once get out of so-called adaptive mechanisms a
almost always is given one or is hardly useful or enlightening prison and I shall hunt and described by Bernstein in fact
two numbers refering to biblio- to be told merely that Soutine disperse your company of served to intensify the contra- s
graphic information (an exten- was "a tragic figure." We are singing toads with trumpets, dictions in capitalism. Then teV' ew┬░
sive if erratic bibliography is in- assured that "no specialized whips, and bloodhounds - I through a thorough discussionGeb *
cluded at the end of the book) knowledge" is assumed on the wanted to say like Penthesi- of the development of the cap-
but rarely is a Chinese painter reader's part; I take this to in- lea, but then by God you are italist means of production, she place
so graced with a reference, even dicate that this volume will no Achilles. Had enough of demonstrated that its growing huy *
when a major monograph of a serve well only those who know my New Year's greetings. centralization was not a move het
major painter exists, s u c h as nothing about the information Then see to it you remain a toward socialism, but rather a
Richard Edwards' work on Shen they are seeking. Those w i t h human being. To be human is collectivization that only made
Chou. some concern and experience in the main thing, and that its contradiction with the pri-
Moreover, more extensive en- the arts may well find the price means to be strong and clear
tries on Asian subjects are rid- asked hardly worth the slight and of good cheer in spite of
dled with errors, outdated opin- xncxrements of knowledge to be everything, for tears are the
ions, and statements so simpli- obtained. preoccupation of weakness. To
fied as to be meaningless. Brief
ography" we find that "All icons 2 SHELL
of Shiva show him as holding a>
trident" - a grossly inaccurate DOES RIVE GOSI MEAN ANYTHING TOBu
comment. The entry on "Raj- YOU? USED
put Painting" - a bare five USED
paragraphs of platitudes-calls THE INTERNATIONAL (i.e. Foreign & BOOKS
American) STUDENTS ASSOC. invites
you to our I nformative Meeting Ot
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