100 years on, Rosa still rocks

Exberliner's editor-in-chief on why she'll once again be at Friedrichsfelde cemetery this Sunday, January 13, to remember Luxemburg, as well as a bit on what can be found in our Rosa issue out on newsstands now!

Image for 100 years on, Rosa still rocks

Exberliner’s editor-in-chief on why she’ll once again be attending the annual Luxemburg-Liebknecht March this Sunday, January 13 (starting at 10:00 at Frankforter Tor), as well as a bit on what can be found in our Rosa issue out on newsstands now!

EDITOR’S NOTE My 15-year-old daughter and her friends refer to her with an affectionate “Rosa Lux”. In fact, they vaguely know who Luxemburg was: “She tried to make a revolution happen in Berlin. It didn’t work out. But she was a woman,” they told me, and in our post #metoo times, they find her cool. Rosa, the Powerfrau. A superheroine. Of course, they’re Berlinerinnen, and the U-Bahn station on their daily U2 ride might have a lot to do with their enlightenment. This, and a history lesson last year. Meanwhile a quick office survey among our staff of international millennials painted a different picture. Most had no clue; a colleague who was handed Kate Evans’ Red Rosa assumed it was about a Weimar prostitute, and an otherwise educated Englishman referred to her as a “bloodthirsty” type, in the very way she was lambasted in the anti-communist propaganda of her time! The most enlightened among us had at least seen Margarethe Von Trotta film Rosa Luxemburg, and heard about the communist icon. A few years ago, I’d joined the annual remembrance parade at Friedrichsfelde cemetery, and observed the red carnation ritual – adding my own to the massive bed on Rosa’s gravestone. The full spectrum of the Berlin radical left was there: Die Linke youth and the SED dinosaurs, the MLPD, the Maoists, the Trotskyists, the Leninists, and even the Stalinists (yes!) vaguely reconciled for a one-day tribute to this martyr of the revolutionary cause. Lots of Bratwurst and, disappointingly, more Che t-shirts than Rosa ones (fortunately we’ll be on-hand this year with something actually about Rosa – some Luxy buttons designed by Berlin artist Linda Wölfel). I’d also once indulged in a Rosa mug from Der Kleine Buchladen, the friendly communist bookshop housed at the bottom floor of the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus on “Rosa Lux Platz” – it was a feminist friend’s birthday and they had run out of the famous poster of Clara Z. But I must confess that Luxemburg remained for me a rather austere figure, all brains and guts – unattractively earnest in her implacable pursuit of expired Marxist ideals. I guess GDR propaganda should be blamed for that. Working on this issue, I discovered an entirely different Frau. An incredibly modern woman and a visionary thinker, whose analysis, ideals and fights still speak to the new generation of smart militant women – from yellow vest supporters, to pacifists and third-wave intersectional feminists.

Rosa had it all: she was an unflinching pacifist and fierce anti-colonialist at a time fellow members of the radical left supported colonies and voted in favour of World War I; she also was a true democrat, her stance against the parliamentary regime only reflecting her rejection of the elitist system that ruled then and, in many ways, still does today. Last, and this is a little confusing, unlike her friend Clara Zetkin and the suffragettes (whom she saw as the otherwise racially bigoted bourgeois women they mostly were), she never joined the fight for women’s rights (nor the one for fellow Jews; is this why the Jewish Museum has excluded her from their notable Jewish women display?), but she was a feminist at heart – her life attesting to a woman liberated of the sexual mores of her time before de Beauvoir conceptualised the condition for women’s liberation and the post-1968ers happily put it into practice. In short, she invented intersectionality avant la lettre joining together the plights of the oppressed in one and the same compassionate breath – workers, farmers, but also Herero women and even the buffalo bleeding under the whip of the soldier with “his soft black eyes like an abused child”. If anything, one should read her correspondence. In her letters one discovers a Rosa-the-Red keen on every shed, sound and texture that composed the poetics of daily life – the great silver clouds in the silent ocean-blue sky; the clear and thin, needle-like call of her beloved titmice; and the infinite delicacy of a rose in full bloom, which she would meticulously press in one of the 18 notebooks that composed her herbarium. As Berliners get ready to commemorate a century since her death… time to rediscover Rosa!

And see you on Sunday!