Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Sometimes Rosa Luxemburg Was Depressed Too

Rosa Luxemburg was known as a ball of energy — “like a candle burning at both ends.” But like every person, she also suffered moments of despair.

Nathaniel Flakin

March 22, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
This is not Rosa Luxemburg. It is actress Barbara Sukowa playing Rosa Luxemburg in a 1986 film. There do not appear to be any historical photos of Mimi the cat, so we chose this one.

We just celebrated Rosa Luxemburg’s 150th birthday. She is remembered as one of the most astounding revolutionaries in the history of the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation.

She was a woman in a society that excluded women from political life; she was an immigrant in a deeply racist country; she was a Jew in an antisemitic world. Despite facing so much discrimination, she terrified the Czar, the Kaiser, and all the capitalists.

Her friend Clara Zetkin wrote about her: “The small, frail Rosa was the embodiment of unparalleled energy.”1Clara Zetkin, “Rosa Luxemburg und Karl Liebknecht,” Sozialistische Klassiker 2.0, our translation. Luxemburg’s motto was that a person must be “like a candle burning at both ends.”

In a sense, it is very hard to identify with someone like this. I feel inspired by Luxemburg, but I seldom feel “unparalleled energy.” Quite the opposite: I often feel depressed and despondent. I think a lot of people in 2021 feel this way.

So in a way, it was heartwarming to read that Luxemburg also felt despair and sometimes wanted to quit her work as a revolutionary. The sacrifices and the stress, the endless meetings, and the exhausting fights can wear on anyone — Luxemburg spent many hours occupied with other hobbies like collecting plants.

In spring 1917, while trapped in prison for her opposition to the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg wrote to her dear friend Sophie Liebknecht:

Deep down, I feel much more at home in a small garden like this or in a field among bumblebees and grass than — at a party congress. I can tell you all this: You will not immediately sniff a betrayal of socialism. You know that I will nonetheless hopefully die at my post: in a street battle or in prison. But my innermost self belongs more to my birds than to my comrades.2Rosa Luxemburg in a letter to Sophie Liebknecht, quoted in: Heinz Knobloch, Meine Liebste Mathilde (Berlin: Der Morgen, 1988), 169, our translation.

Having other passions that were dear to her heart did not make her any less of a revolutionary. And this makes her tragic end kind of sweet: she went out exactly how she had hoped to.

The revolution on November 9, 1918 liberated her from prison, and the last two months of her life were spent in a maelstrom of speeches, writing, editing, and hiding from counterrevolutionary violence. One of those nights, returning from the editorial offices of The Red Flag to her apartment in Berlin-Südende, Luxemburg expressed herself to her friend and secretary Mathilde Jacobs:

Can you tell me why I am always living in a state to which I do not have the slightest inclination? I want to paint and live on a patch of earth where I can feed animals and love them. I want to study natural sciences. Above all I want to live peacefully by myself, and not in this endless hustle.3Ibid., 167, our translation.

That is a person I can identify with! So, if we aspire to be like Luxemburg, we don’t need to always feel “unparalleled energy.” We don’t always have to enjoy our political work. We can also acknowledge feelings of hopelessness, and try to fight against them, like she did. It doesn’t hurt to take time to feed birds and collect plants every once in a while too, like Luxemburg did between her political commitments.

Notes[+]

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from New York City. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which appeared last year in German and this year in English. He is on the autism spectrum.

Instagram

Ideas & Debates

Four healthcare workers, including co-author of this article Mike Pappas, stand in scrubs and masks in front of an Amazon warehouse holding signs in support of better wages and safer working conditions for Amazon workers.

What Billionaire Space Flights Mean to Healthcare Workers

While the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage around the globe and climate disaster is destroying the planet, billionaires are taking joyrides to space. Two healthcare workers who worked throughout the pandemic respond.

Mike Pappas

August 2, 2021
On the left, the front cover of Argentine Marxist Juan Dal Maso's book Hegemony and Class Struggle. On the right, Dal Maso sits at a desk wearing a black sweater, mid-speech.

A Welcome and Necessary Encounter Between Trotsky and Gramsci

The following is Warren Montag's foreword to the new book by Argentinian Marxist Juan Dal Maso entitled "Hegemony and Class Struggle. Trotsky, Gramsci and Marxism" released by Palgrave Publishing House on July 28th.

Warren Montag

July 30, 2021

Michael Harrington’s Failure of Vision

Interview with Doug Greene, author of a new biography of Michael Harrington.

Left Voice

July 25, 2021

Mariátegui: Marxism, Anti-imperialism, and Socialism

The political crisis in Peru has led to a renewed interest in José Carlos Mariátegui, Latin America’s greatest Marxist.

Juan Dal Maso

July 25, 2021

MOST RECENT

Pro-Palestine protesters at a march in Philadelphia. Palestinian flags in the background while someone holds up a sign that says "Freedom for Palestine."

Temple University Rank and Filers Release Palestine Solidarity Statement

Rank and filers at Temple University in Philly are demanding their union local and national fight to end all support for Israel and join the cause of Palestinian workers.

Jason Koslowski

August 3, 2021
An older woman wearing a hat holds a sign that reads "No More Unjust Revictions: I Lost My Home of 36 Years"

Eviction Moratorium Expired, Millions Face Homelessness

After a half-hearted attempt to extend the eviction moratorium failed, the House of Representatives left for summer vacation.

Emma Lee

August 2, 2021
Image of rubble and a lot of smoke in the background. People stand in front of the wreckage.

Joe Biden is Bombing Somalia

Despite claims to reduce drone strikes, Joe Biden is bombing Somalia.

K.S. Mehta

August 1, 2021

Pandemic Profiteers: Pfizer Profits Exceed $10 Billion in Six Months

Pfizer has announced record profits as a result of vaccine sales. While the world is in crisis, pharmaceutical companies are raking in billions of dollars from advance contracts and by preventing the release of patents.