...success in the world seems almost a prerequisite for success in the genre [of biography]. And it was precisely success--success even in her own world of revolutionaries--which was withheld from Rosa Luxemburg in life, death, and after death. Can it be that the failure of all her efforts as far as official recognition is concerned is somehow connected with the dismal failure of revolution in our century? Will history look different if seen through the prism of her life and work?" (pg 34, Men in Dark Times; Harcourt, Brace, and World 1968)
It took a few more years and a few more catastrophes for the legend to turn into a symbol of nostalgia for the good old times of the movement, when hopes were green, the revolution around the corner, and, most important, the faith in the capacities of the masses and in the moral integrity of the Socialist or Communist leadership was still intact. It speaks not only for the person of Rosa Luxemburg, but also for the qualities of this older generation of the Left, that the legend—vague, confused, inaccurate in nearly all details—could spread throughout the world and come to life whenever a “new Left” sprang into being. But side by side with this glamorized image, there survived also the old clichés of the “quarrelsome female,” a “romantic” who was neither “realistic” nor scientific (it is true that she was always out of step), and whose works, especially her great book on imperialism (The Accumulation of Capital, 1913), were shrugged off.
Every New Left movement, when its moment came to change into the Old Left—usually when its members reached the age of forty—promptly buried its early enthusiasm for Rosa Luxemburg together with the dreams of youth; and since they had usually not bothered to read, let alone to understand, what she had to say they found it easy to dismiss her with all the patronizing philistinism of their newly acquired status. “Luxemburgism,” invented posthumously by party hacks for polemical reasons, has never even achieved the honor of being denounced as “treason”; it was treated as a harmless, infantile disease. Nothing Rosa Luxemburg wrote or said survived except her surprisingly accurate criticism of Bolshevik politics during the early stages of the Russian Revolution, and this only because those whom a “god had failed” could use it as a convenient, though wholly inadequate weapon, against Stalin. (“There is something indecent in the use of Rosa’s name and writings as a cold war missile,” as the reviewer of this book pointed out in the Times Literary Supplement.) Her new admirers had no more in common with her than her detractors. Her highly developed sense for real differences and her infallible judgment, her personal likes and dislikes, would have prevented her lumping Lenin and Stalin together under all circumstances; quite apart from the fact that she had never been a “believer,” had never used politics as a substitute for religion, and had been careful, as Mr. Nettl notes, not to attack religion when she opposed the church. In short, while “revolution was as close and real to her as to Lenin,” it was no more an article of faith with her than Marxism. Lenin was primarily a man of action and would have gone into politics in any event, but she, who, in her halfserious self-estimate, was born “to mind the geese,” might just as well have buried herself in botany and zoology or history and economics or mathematics, had not the circumstances of the world offended her sense of justice and freedom.
This is of course to admit that she was not an orthodox Marxist, so little orth0dox indeed that it might be doubted that she was a Marxist at all. (37-38)
THERE IS ANOTHER ASPECT of her personality which Nettl stresses but whose implications he seems not to understand: that she was so “self-consciously a woman.” This in itself put certain limitations on whatever her ambitions otherwise might have been—for Nettl does not ascribe to her more than what would have been natural in a man with her gifts and opportunities. Her distaste for the women’s emancipation movement, to which all other women of her generation and political convictions were irresistibly drawn, was significant; in the face of suffragette equality, she might have been tempted to reply, Vive la petite différence. She was an outsider, not only because she was and remained a Polish Jewess in a country she disliked and a party she came soon to despise, but also because she was a woman. Mr. Nettl must, of course, be pardoned for his masculine prejudices; they would not matter much if they had not prevented him from understanding fully the role Leo Jogiches, her husband for all practical purposes and her first, perhaps her only, lover, played in her life. Their deadly serious quarrel, caused by Jogiches’s brief affair with another woman and endlessly complicated by Rosa’s furious reaction, was typical of their time and milieu, as was the aftermath, his jealousy and her refusal for years to forgive him. This generation still believed firmly that love strikes only once, and its carelessness with marriage certificates should not be mistaken for any belief in free love. Mr. Nettl’s evidence shows that she had friends and admirers, and that she enjoyed this, but it hardly indicates that there was ever another man in her life. To believe in the party gossip about marriage plans with “Hänschen” Diefenbach, whom she addressed as Sie and never dreamed of treating as an equal, strikes me as downright silly. Nettl calls the story of Leo Jogiches and Rosa Luxemburg “one of the great and tragic love stories of Socialism,” and there is no need to quarrel with this verdict if one understands that it was not “blind and self-destructive jealousy” which caused an ultimate tragedy in their relations but war and the years in prison, the doomed German revolution, and the bloody end.
Leo Jogiches, whose name Nettl also has rescued from oblivion, was a very remarkable and yet typical figure among the professional revolutionists. To Rosa Luxemburg, he was definitely masculini generis, which was of considerable importance to her: She preferred Graf Westarp (the leader of the German Conservative party) to all the German Socialist luminaries “because,” she said, “he is a man.” There were few people she respected, and Jogiches headed a list on which only the names of Lenin and Franz Mehring could be inscribed with certainty. He definitely was a man of action, he knew how to do and how to suffer. It is tempting to compare him with Lenin, whom he somewhat resembles, except in his passion for anonymity and for pulling strings behind the scenes. And this love of conspiracy and danger must have given him an additional erotic charm. He was indeed a Lenin manqué, even in his inability to write, “total” in his case (as she observed in a shrewd and actually very loving portrait in one of her letters), and his mediocrity as a public speaker. Both men had great talent for action and leadership, but for nothing else, so that they felt impotent and superfluous when left to themselves. (44-45)