A new book on Rosa Luxemburg aims to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to commit our words and lives to the struggle against barbarism and for socialism. The book adopts an internationalist approach with Global South contributions from Kenya to Vietnam. The editor of the book, Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn, presents the volume for roape.net (complimentary hard-copies can be ordered below, and a pdf of the entire book is also available).
By Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn
Post Rosa: Letters against Barbarism is a collection of letter-exchanges in conversation with Rosa Luxemburg, in the year of her 150th anniversary. Nineteen ‘Luxemburgians’ from across the globe engage in vivid correspondence, with references to and reflections about Rosa L. and the times we live in, as understood through their own bodies and geopolitical locations and informed by an understanding and appreciation of both the head and the heart.
Conceived in the midst of a barbarous(ly handled) pandemic, the book adopts an internationalist approach, with Global South contributions from Mo Kasuku (Kenya), alejandra Ciriza (Argentina), Xiong Min (China), Rosa Rosa Gomes (Brazil), Haydeé García Bravo (Mexico), Jigisha Bhattacharya (India), Asma Abbas (Pakistan/USA) and Hong Duc (Vietnam).
What follows is an edited version of the original introduction by Hjalmar :
Left Loneliness – Luxemburg, Letter-Writing and Us
“Hänschen, good day to you, here I am back again. I feel so lonely today and I need to refresh myself a little by chatting with you.” Rosa Luxemburg
Ditto, Rosa. So, let’s start chatting. The starting point for this book was an intense and still ongoing bout of Left Depression, Left Loneliness and a (re-)encounter with Rosa Luxemburg, “[the] lone voice in the wilderness,” just a few weeks before her 150th anniversary on 5 March 5 last year. More precisely, the meeting was one between my increasingly disintegrating self and Luxemburg’s Letters – from inside prison and the prison inside her – with the surprising outcome being a sense of resurrected vitality and desire to move, once more, against my inner and our outer chains. The next thing I know, I am frantically reaching out to Luxemburgians from across the globe, trying to cajole them away from their busy schedules and enthuse them about contributing to a slightly unorthodox, deeply personal Luxemburg publication in the midst of a barbarous(ly handled) pandemic. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, and the decidedly non-commercial product of these life-affirming collaborations is the book you are about to read, Post Rosa: Letters against Barbarism.
I have been battling with mental health issues for close to six years now and, frankly, things have not begun to look up at all, no matter what I try. I find it quite amazing how many shades of powerlessness, hopelessness, paralysis, disillusion, demoralisation and despair one can experience, though I get the feeling I haven’t yet seen the whole rainbow. And what to say about how all this affects, in the most subversive ways, what once seemed like your own, reasonably vigorous body? Sometimes it’s an uprising of headaches striking you – in Rosa’s words – “with the hammer-blow of [counter]revolution,” the next moment it might be your insides setting up burning barricades for hours on end, only to be (temporarily) purged a few minutes later by General Secretary Heart aching and breaking you until you “drip from head to foot, from every pore, with [the] blood and dirt” of your mutilated dreams and shattered self-image. Anyway, no self-pity here, just a thoroughly debilitating process of self-destructive, primitive accumulation born-in-struggle that I didn’t really see coming and, frankly, did not need.
In other words, it really isn’t much fun to live with a Left-Wing Zombie festering inside of you. Then again, I am even more afraid to imagine who I would be without him, as he is at least a version of the former me that I have been so desperately trying to become again. Pathetic, isn’t it? What’s also slightly pathetic – and I am trying to say this with love and respect – is to bear witness not only to our own self-implosion, but to the utter helplessness, wilful ignorance and oftentimes straight-out abuse we receive from our family, friends and comrades in response to our alleged ‘whining.’
Of course, we know that Rosa L. herself often adopted a carrot and stick approach when dealing with people, including being pretty impatient, not to say harsh, with comrades she perceived to be indulging too much in their personal pain, but really, we must do a better job of taking care of each other, to genuinely have each other’s backs.
I don’t know if any of this resonates, but I sense there are quite a few of us who have been feeling pretty fu**ed up for a long time – starting way before the pandemic – and although I get the impression that Left Depression is never in fashion, I am putting it out there anyway, with what’s Left of my (com)passion, because, who knows, in one of our next self-help sessions, we may eventually, at long last, put a human face back on ourselves. I could do with a new one ASAP. Can I borrow one of your fancy hats, Rosa?
In any case, from what I understand introductions are meant to give context and rationale to what is about to come next, which in our case is a book of letters in conversation with Rosa Luxemburg, conceived in a state of dwindling life force, intense loneliness and a corresponding drop in energy that has made limping along what our Comrades Rosa and Karl [Liebknecht] called the “Golgotha-path” towards socialism a very rough endeavour indeed. After all, “it’s not words, but lives – and in the first place our own – that we are committing,” as our brother Victor Serge, himself no stranger to the defeat of socialist movements, once wrote. Serge also wrote, on the occasion of the death of Trotsky’s son Leon Sedov in 1938:
It was obvious that his physical strength was exhausted. His spirits were good, the indestructible spirits of a young revolutionary for whom socialist activity is not an optional extra but his very reason for living, and who has committed himself in an age of defeat and demoralisation, without illusions and like a man. Such epochs alternate, in our century, with other periods, of revival and strength, which they prepare the way for – which it is the job of all of us to prepare the way for.
Patriarchal language aside (sorry), and acknowledging and admiring all the amazing people and movements out there fighting the good fight “despite all,” as Rosa might say, I think there is a good case to be made that Serge’s 1938 age of defeat – yes, he was referring to the murderous developments in the USSR, but no doubt it was an age of barbarism(s) all over – is still ongoing, arguably starting even earlier, say in 1919 with the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, and that one of our main tasks today continues to be that of preparing the way for revival and victory. In this age of defeat which was, in no small part, brought upon us by our own capacity for Left barbarism there is no innocent position for us to return to, Rosa Luxemburg included, and from which to reconstruct a new socialist-communist horizon.
Other than that, this labour of preparation and creation will preferably include tasting some of its fruits in the here and now because tomorrow may be too late for some of us too exhausted to keep committing our lives to what so often seems like an impossible ‘romantic utopia’. The Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci was spot on: now is the time of monsters, and sometimes they look like you and me.
Anyway, the idea for this book originated in Berlin. Mid-January. Heavy snow. 102 years since the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, Volume 1-6, German Edition. Read every single letter. Bingeing on Rosa. Sometimes bored, sometimes elated. Jörn Schütrumpf and Michael Brie are correct, writing in 2021, some of her language is outdated, “[b]ut getting past this language allows one to unlock the lived reality behind it and discover the enduring reason for her radiance over an entire century: her empathetically sensitive relationship to the world.”
Rosa, the Sensitive. Rosa, the Radiant. For sure. But what (re-)connects me to her in those lonely Berlin days is precisely that, her Loneliness, her Left Loneliness, her emphatically dialectical relationship with it, sometimes being devoured, at other times yearning for it and making it productive. Not always palpably present, but never totally absent. Sounds familiar? Here is a sample of Red Rosa’s expressions of solitude and loneliness, put together from multiple letters:
I lie there quietly, alone
Wrapped in these many-layered black veils of darkness, boredom, lack of freedom
All day long
Up in my room, as usual
The stage remains empty
I don’t go anywhere, don’t see anyone
I am lazy like a corpse
Mimi is happy
It will always be that way
Everything else is bilge
Sitting in my little ‘den’ at around midnight
I do things like an automaton
Cold and calm
As though something in me has died
The prison yard is empty
Boarding myself up
Now and then
A stranger to everything around me
All by myself
A kind of deadly apathy
Do you not see how beautiful the world is?
Do you not have a heart like I do to rejoice in it all?
It seems as though we’re in a tomb
Very, very happy
Insane and abnormal
I break into cascades of laughter the way you know I do
How lovely it is to be alive in the springtime
Bad dreams, trembling hands
One day of solitude is all I need to find myself again
Awake, the light goes out
Lying on a stone-hard mattress
I’m terribly exhausted both physically and spiritually
The sand crunches hopelessly
Mimi is merry
I laugh at myself
But that’s certainly the way things are at times, when there’s loneliness
The deep darkness of night is so beautiful and as soft as velvet
God forgive me for this prose poem of wretched quality
My heart constricts
Patching up my inner self
In spite of the snow and frost and the loneliness
I am beginning without wanting to, to hatch plans and nourish hopes
So alone, so free with my reveries
Smiling at life
A twinge of despair
Solitude and work
A storm is brewing
I am standing here as though enchanted
There’s a glaring flash of lightning from time to time
The coming of spring
I feel quite ill
Let’s not drag out the matter unbearably
The Revolution is magnificent!
A cheerful youngster, a boisterous child
A flowering meadow in radiant sunshine
A caricature that I fear more than loneliness
It’s simply Life
And if out of impatience I don’t live through it
The revolution can never be victorious in St. Petersburg alone
A storm is brewing
Let’s shake up the masses
Let’s trust in the masses
Auf, Auf zum Kampf
WE were, WE are, WE shall be!!!
Have a good day on Sunday
The deadliest of days for prisoners and solitaries
I will spend tomorrow as usual, all day long, alone
Dancing (on) the Golgotha-path…
Ok, I admit I added the dancing part. Clearly, dancing and revolution go together, but so do Left activism and mental health problems, as well as struggling against barbarism and (seemingly never-ending) periods of profound loneliness. Rosa knew this and seemed to have found a dialectical response to it, understanding and embracing the ebbs and flows of revolution and the people who make it, that is, US. A long quote is due here, from the (in)famous 16 February, 1917 letter to Mathilde Wurm:
You argue against my slogan, ‘Here I stand – I can do no other!’ Your argument comes down to the following: that is all well and good, but human beings are too cowardly and weak for such heroism, ergo one must adapt one’s tactics to their weakness and to the principle che va piano, va sano. What narrowness of historical outlook, my little lamb! There is nothing more changeable than human psychology. That’s especially because the psyche of the masses, like Thalatta, the eternal sea, always bears within it every latent possibility: deathly stillness and raging storm, the basest cowardice and the wildest heroism. The masses are always what they must be according to the circumstances of the times, and they are always on the verge of becoming something totally different from what they seem to be. It would be a fine sea captain who would steer a course based only on the momentary appearance of the ocean’s surface and did not understand how to draw conclusions from signs in the sky and in the ocean’s depths.
Well, I have never aimed for the captaincy of anything, but I confess that I am struggling mightily not to drown in the “raging storm” that is living in this absolutely unacceptable world. But Luxemburg is right when she scoldingly laughs at her (former) lover Kostya Zetkin, upon hearing about his plans to leave the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) after their treacherous support for the Kaiser’s war effort in 1914: “You big baby, do you want to ‘opt out’ of being human too?”
Again, Left Depression and Left Loneliness are not forms of Left self-pity, though admittedly the (party) line may sometimes be thin, but it’s true, why leave the struggle or the world when we “are always on the verge of becoming something totally different from what [we] seem to be.” La lucha does continúa, with or without us, so we might as well hang on, even if battered and bruised.
In the case of this book, with you, dear readers, as well as all those who helped to make it happen – especially Pat, Jo and Daria, THANK YOU – and, of course, the amazing author-comrades, all 18 of them, hailing from at least 17 countries, who agreed to join this spontaneous, unfunded, experimental, letter-writing Samizdat initiative at very short notice and during a global pandemic that has once more exposed and confirmed that capitalism, colonialism and (hetero-)patriarchy are but the intersectionally connected expression of the same barbarism that’s been relentlessly violating bodies and minds, so-called ‘nature’ included, since at least 1492.
The invitation extended to the authors was ‘simple’: Pair up and write from the heart, in loving solidarity with Rosa Luxemburg, the letter-writer, on the occasion of her 150th anniversary. That is to say, let’s engage in an exchange with a ‘pen-comrade,’ in most cases from another part of the world, in a writing style of your choice, with references to and reflections about Rosa L. and the times we live in, as understood through our own bodies and geopolitical locations and always informed by a theory of both the head and the heart, or sentipensar as we say in Spanish, i.e. to feel-think.
My hope for these exchanges was for them to be(come) a source of affective-intellectual inspiration and encouragement for everyone involved – authors, editors and, I trust, for you, reader-comrades – with the final aim of joining (once more) the rank and file of those of us committing our words and lives, solitaire and solidaire, to the struggle against barbarism and for socialism. Letters against Barbarism. As Rosa L. stated, “Not a wo/man and not a penny to this system!”
See you on the barricades,
ROAPE version: If anyone is interested in exchanging ideas and experiences about Left Loneliness, please get in touch via email@example.com.
Post Rosa: Letters against Barbarism is now available and can be ordered free of charge here.
Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn is a German-Bolivian theatre maker, writer and editor. Joffre-Eichhorn Hjalmar is the editor of Lenin150 (Samizdat), Daraja Press, 2nd Edition, revised and expanded 2021, reviewed by Adam Mayer for roape.net here.
Featured Photograph: Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse, portrait of Rosa Luxemburg, on a pillar of an elevated road, Frankfurt (13 September 2015).
Genuinely fascinating and original introduction.
I loved this: “The masses are always what they must be according to the circumstances of the times, and they are always on the verge of becoming something totally different from what they seem to be.”