Political Theorist and activist Dana Mill’s latest new book, Rosa Luxemburg (Reaktion Books, 2020), is part of an extensive series of books published by Reaktion Books, Ltd, which focuses both on the ideas or creations and the lives of many leading cultural figures of the modern period. These volumes are not long, but they are thorough, and they help the reader to understand the historical context in which these thinkers, artists, writers, etc. lived, created, and worked. Mill’s contribution to this series centers on the turbulent life of Rosa Luxemburg, who lived, worked, studied, and advocated in Europe in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. Mills provides a biographical guide to Luxemburg as we learn about her young life growing up in Poland and her move to Zurich to pursue a PhD in Economics. Luxemburg becomes involved in politics in the late 1880s and 1890s, and she is also developing her thinking about economics, politics, exploitation, and nationalism during this same period. As Mills makes clear, Luxemburg quite enjoyed the experience of thinking and engaging ideas, taking on the dialectical arguments that were very much the mode and method of learning and teaching, particularly among those focusing on economics and Marxism. Luxemburg transferred this method of learning and teaching to her own work as a teacher, a very talented teacher in the trade union schools.
Rosa Luxemburg was imprisoned for long stretches of her life—and, as a result of these experiences, she learned quite a lot about what incarceration does to a person, how this form of constraint impacts the individual psyche. This also contributed to her continued thinking about what freedom and equality actually mean to people, how these concepts are dimensions of justice, and how justice may be achieved in a colonial, imperial world marked by nationalism and material inequality. Mills’ biographical analysis incorporates Luxemburg’s murder, which, as Mills notes, is indeed tragic, but does not make Rosa Luxemburg into a tragic figure. Luxemburg was very much the author of her own life story, but she anticipated her murder, which was committed by right-wing fascists who would ultimately become members of the Nazi Party under Hitler. Dana Mills brings Rosa Luxemburg to life, exploring her revolutionary thinking and writing, all while helping the reader get to know Red Rosa, who always took brisk walks, loved reading Goethe’s Faust, regularly corresponded with V.I. Lenin, and continually worked towards an open and just future.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @gorenlj.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.