Discovering Rosa

As an economist and political theorist, Rosa Luxemburg created a body of work that still resonates powerfully today. In the compelling new biography by Dana Mills, we discover the colossal economic and political legacy left behind. In this new blog, Dana discusses what it was like to walk in Rosa’s footsteps.

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It is a common accusation of writers who are deep within their topic that they see their subject everywhere and hallucinate connections between their book and the real world where they do not exist. I had to rub my eyes and pour myself a generous cup of coffee on the 23 September 2019, the third day of the Labour Party Conference, when Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP wrote to the entire Labour Party membership: ‘I'm reminded of the words of Rosa Luxemburg. Our choice is “socialism or barbarism”’. As my closest and most trustworthy companion for several years, I had felt that Rosa Luxemburg’s work and ethos was coming back into our world. A truly revolutionary woman, who refused to accept oppressions and discrimination as delimitation of action, she had become my compass and inspiration.

I had first gravitated towards Luxemburg as a radical Jewish woman who inspired me, a fellow Jewess, to critically think about discourses concerning inequality and injustice. She took more and more space in my life, and like most writing relationships, I felt that she has chosen me to walk alongside her and I was very grateful for that choice. Her comrade Franz Mehring called her ‘the best brain after Marx’, and I was astounded by the brilliance of her economic and political work which deserves a more central place in our canon, whether she was right or wrong. An original thinker who dared to see connections where others ignored them, she had a keen eye for textual inconsistencies. A committed radical at heart, her political work cost her in lengthy incarcerations and the heaviest price, her life, taken away in a heinous murder which continues to shock greatly. But she never wavered from her ideals and her political beliefs.

Rosa Luxemburg the woman provided me with no less challenges than Rosa Luxemburg the thinker and activist. A woman living in grossly unequal time, the target of anti-Semitism, a disabled woman who suffered from ill health and depression, her resilience as well as break -downs made her very human. A life story that was accompanied by many heartaches, Rosa paid a hefty price for her singular life path. But I was equally astounded by her energy, her joy, her love for the world and all things beautiful in it, her generosity and her open heart. Rosa invested herself completely in everything she did; whether it was the revolutionary struggle or her personal relationships. She did not suffer fools gladly, had a witty and sharp sense of humor, a tendency to protect those she loved and unhinged anger towards those she despised. While writing the book I kept thinking that I would not have liked to cross Rosa! But would like to think if we were to be summoned together, we’d have a good chat over a picnic over Marx’s mistakes, as well as her own. I immersed myself in the music she loved listening to, read the books that inspired her, and opened my own heart to the depth of the emotion in her writing.

Rosa Luxemburg lived in a very different world to the one we inhabit today. At the same time, it is depressing to see how many of the issues she spent her life fighting to make better are still rife. As we emerge from the COVID 19 lockdown the number of poor and hungry is rising in inexplicable ways. Women and men are scrambling to survive while the rich are getting richer. Exploitation of the poor deepens as we hear of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos profiting from this global emergency. But, in the years working on the book, I saw around me more and more ‘Rosa Luxemburgs’—women and men who agitate, write and organize so that there is less suffering in the world; And it was for them I was writing the book. As Rosa herself wrote in one of her letters, ‘The world is beautiful with all its horrors, and would be even more beautiful if there were no weaklings or cowards in it’; Rosa’s bravery inspired me throughout writing the book which introduces her work in the context of her life. Her absolute commitment to make this world a better place will remain with me forever. As she herself put it in 1913, ‘History will do its work, see that you too do your work’.

– Dana Mills

To read more about Rosa Luxemburg, order Rosa Luxemburg from our online shop now.

Dana Mills is a political theorist, lecturer, campaigner for socialist-feminism and anti-racism, dancer and the author of Dance and Politics: Moving Beyond Boundaries (2016).