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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans
Red Rosa follows the life of Rosa Luxemburg from her birth in Zamość Poland in 1871 to her execution in Berlin in 1919. Born with a congenital dislocation of the hip, Rosa's left leg was shorter than her right and she walked with a limp and used a special shoe with a lift. After she was born her family moved to Warsaw where, at the age of 15, she became involved with the Socialist Proletariat Party and helped organize a general strike. When four of the Proletariat Party leaders were put to death and the party was disbanded, she fled to Switzerland where she attended the University of Zurich. Her doctoral dissertation, "The Industrial Development of Poland," was published when she was 27. It is in Zurich that she meets and falls in love with Leo Jogiches who helps her organize Polish Socialist activities.

Wanting to be in Germany where the leading Socialist thinkers are, Rosa marries the son of an old friend Gustav Lubeck to get German citizenship and moves to Berlin in 1897. They never lived together and they formally divorced five years later. She became a leftist member of the Social Democratic Party and a founding member of The Spartacus League. Through these groups she promoted equal rights for women, an internationalist perspective, and opposition to the First World War. She tried to rally the workers to a general strike when war was declared saying "If they think we are going to lift the weapons of murder against our French and other brethren, then we shall shout: 'We will not do it!'". During the war the Spartacus League wrote illegal, anti-war pamphlets signed "Spartacus" (after the slave-liberating gladiator who opposed the Romans) and Rosa was imprisoned for two and a half years, as was her lover Karl Liebknecht. At the end of the war she and Liebknecht were freed from prison and they resurrected the Spartacus League, pushing for a Free Socialist Republic. Both were shot by right-wing paramilitary militia working for the government.

That is the framework that Kate Evans uses through her drawings to breathe life into the story of Rosa Luxemburg. She uses a recently made available letters written by Rosa and other works of scholarship to create a detailed account of her life. Filled with lovely black and white drawings, we find a Rosa Luxemburg that author Stephen Eric Bronner called in 1987 A Revolutionary for Our Times. I found her economic arguments written at the end of the 19th century, and very deftly explained by Kate Evans, very forward thinking and with extreme relevance to our 21st century predicament. Kate Evans' six pages of Rosa explaining Capitalism to her family at the dining room table is excellent. The book closes with 33 pages of notes for people who want to know more about particular events in the book. There is also an Afterword that brings the reader up to date on the historiography of thinking about Rosa Luxemburg and her influence. An excellent introduction to a radical and highly insightful scholar.


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