Major Work On A Major Figure

Major Work On A Major Figure

Rosa Luxemburg
by J.P. Nettl
Oxford University Press, 984 pp., $20.20


By the standards of vulgar Hegelians, such as E. H. Carr, this book should never have been written. Hegelians are concerned with the history of those movements and persons that have been historically successful and in tune with the Zeitgeist. Rosa Luxemburg’s political life (1871-1919) is the record of a magnificent quixotic failure. Luckily not all British historians, even on the Left, share Carr’s worship of the bitch-Goddess success, and so we owe to J. P. Netts a monumental biography of the great revolutionary socialist.

Though Rosa Luxemburg’s name has loomed large in the historical imagination of the socialist movement ever since her brutal assassination by counterrevolutionary soldiers after the Berlin Spartakist rising in January 1919, no satisfactory biography has been available up till now. Mr. Nettl’s painstaking work fills a gap. Of previous work, only the biography of my friend, the late Paul Froelich (Rosa Luxemburg, Her Life and Work, London, 1940) merits serious attention. But Froelich had no access to the archival materials in Poland, Russia, East Germany, and elsewhere which Nettl has put to excellent uses. And while Froelich had the advantage of having known Rosa personally, his work was marked by an almost hagiographic attitude toward his heroine and by a somewhat tortured attempt to play down the differences that existed between Rosa and Lenin. Nettl, though clearly under the spell of Rosa, writes with considerably more distance. His is a full-scale portrait, warts and all, of the woman, the revolutionary, the political activist, and the socialist theoretician. It is an unqualified success


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