Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rosa Luxemburg to Matthilde Wurm

Looking forward to our next meeting, here's Luxemburg's famous rebuttal:

Dearest Tilde,
Received letter, card and biscuits-- many thanks. Don't worry, despite the boldness of your parry, even to the point where you declare war, I will remain as fond of you as always. I had to smile: you want to 'fight' me. Young lady, I sit tall in the saddle. No one has yet laid me low, and I would be curious to know the one who can do it. But I had to smile for yet another reason: because you do not even want to 'fight' me, and also you are more dependent upon me politically than you would wish to believe. I will always remain your compass, because your straightforward nature tells you that I have the most infallible judgement-- because with me all the annoying side issues are forgotten: anxiousness, routine, parliamentary cretinism, which cloud the judgement of others. Your whole argument against my watchword-- 'Here I stand, I can't do otherwise!'-- amounts to the following: Good, so be it, but the masses are too cowardly and weak for such heroism. Ergo, one must fit tactics to their weakness and to the axiom: 'Walk softly, and you'll walk safely.'
What a narrow historical view, my little lamb! There is nothing more mutable than human psychology. The psyche of the masses like the eternal sea always carries all the latent possibilities: the deathly calm and the roaring storm, the lowest cowardice and the wildest heroism. The mass is always that which it must be according to the circumstances of the time, and the mass is always at the point of becoming something entirely different than what it appears to be. A fine captain he would be who would chart his course only from the momentary appearance of the water's surface and who would not know how to predict a coming storm from the signs in the sky or from the depths! My little girl, the 'disappointment over the masses' is always the most shameful testimony for a political leader. A leader in the grand style does not adapt his tactics to the momentary mood of the masses, but rather to the iron laws of development; he holds fast to his tactics in spite of all 'disappointments' and , for the rest, calmly allows history to bring its work to maturity. With that, let us close the debate. I will gladly remain your friend. Whether, as you wish, I am to remain your teacher, that depends on you...
That you now have neither time nor interest for anything except the 'single issue,' namely the quandary of the party, is calamitous. For such one-sidedness also clouds one's political judgement; and above all, one must live as a full person at all times.
But look, Lady, since you so rarely get to open a book, at least read only good books and not kitsch like the 'Spinoza-novel' which you sent me. What do you want with this particular suffering of the Jews? The poor victims on the rubber plantations in Putamayo, the Negroes in Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play a game of catch, are just as near to me. Do you remember the words written on the work of the Great General Staff about Trotha's campaign in the Kalahari desert? 'And the death-rattles, the mad cries of those dying of thirst, faded away into the sublime silence of eternity.'
Oh, this 'sublime silence of eternity' in which so many screams have faded away unheard! It rings within me so strongly that I have no special corner of my heart reserved for the ghetto: I am at home wherever in the world there are clouds, birds and human tears...
Your R

(Rosa Luxemburg to Matthilde Wurm. [Written from prison, Wronke]. February 16 1917. Excerpt. Adapted from

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Meeting: 6 December

The reading for next month's meeting is Orwell's 'Notes on Nationalism' (1945) and Luxemburg's 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination' from The National Question (1909).

You can access electronic versions of these texts by clicking on the links below:

George Orwell, 'Notes on Nationalism'
Rosa Luxemburg, 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination'

As ever, you can pick up hard copies of the texts from my pigeon-hole.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

after Forster

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.  

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again. 

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.  

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good. 

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love But to be loved alone. 

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb? 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die. 

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

-W.H. Auden

Suggested Readings - further additions

Emma Goldman, 'The Psychology of Political Violence'/ 'The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation'
Bertrand Russell, 'The Elements of Ethics'/ 'Justice in Wartime'/ 'The Ethics of War'/ 'Disintegration and the Principle of Growth'
Georges Sorel, from The Illusions of Progress/ Materials for a Theory of the Proletariat

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Keynes and Forster photocopies

You can now pick up photocopies for next week's meeting from my pigeonhole in the secretaries office - 6th floor, DHT.

Proposed additions

Thanks to all those who responded to our call. The latest additions to our (long, ambitious - but very exciting) list of possible-texts-to-read are:

Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation"
Beatrice Webb, Wages of Men and Women: Should they be Equal?Labour and the New Social Order