Thursday, 12 June 2008

Review - Rosa Luxemburg by Harry Harmer - £9.99

Bonus posts today - cos i've been working so muchg recently I haven't had time to post much, so today I'm posting twice with this review, and the rather different piece below. Btw. I am especially interested as to waht people think of both of these pieces.

At first appearances this book seems like it could be a good introduction to the life and ideas of Rosa Luxemburg. The author is acquainted fairly familiarly with Luxemburg’s life and the major disputes she was involved in within the world of socialist politics, he is also particularly acquainted with her letters, especially to her first lover, Leo Jogiches. But this is where what can be commended in this book ends.
The whole method used in the book is flawed. Partially I believe this is because Harmer tries to portray himself as much more knowledgable than he is, claiming at one point that no Marxist has explained why capitalism hasn’t collapsed from all its contradictions (a position that was held by many pre-WW1 Marxists), but this was discussed thoroughly at the first four congresses of the Communist International, which concluded that although capitalism will inevitably experience continually more severe crises it could possibly recover on the basis of massive defeats of the working class. But also problematic is that Harmer does not seem to want to understand the complexities of how Luxemburg’s thought developed, rather he wants it to be fully formed and fails particularly to understand how Rosa’s ideas on question of working class organisation and the Russian revolution were moving decisively in support of the Bolsheviks. Worst of all, however, is the implicit suggestion (and many of the worst features of the book are things that the author half-says, questions posed that the author could if he were serious answer but doesn’t) that Luxemburg, and other Marxists of the time, were simply playing at being revolutionaries because they were rich and idle. In particular he accuses Rosa of effectively being a power-hungry megalomaniac, adapting her ideas, to suit her opportunistic aims. Her belief in Marxism is put down to its “romantic allure of revolutionary conspiracy”, rather than her seeing it as the theory that explains the world best.
One could carry on listing the flaws and weakness of the book, but it is hardly worth it. There are far better sources of information on Rosa Luxemburg and her ideas than this book.


Highlander said...

Liked the brevity of the review in so far as you clearly didn't like, or agree, with it. My only criticism would be to name, for the hungy reader, some of the "far better sources" that you allude to. And possibly state why, in your opinion, they are better or which is the best place to start.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

the reason i don't name them explicitly is becuase i haevn;t read all that much about rosa luxemburg - but everything i've read has been much better than this.

as for what i've read there a few pieces by trotsky (the author cites some stuff from my life) - but he wrote two other pieces after that about her which are much better which the author ignores - hands off rosa luxemburg and i can't remember the other one but they are both on the tortsky internet archive (at

James said...

I finally got round to reading the book, having read most of the previous biogs including the massive one that came out in the 60s. It looks to me that one of the writer's problems was that the book is one of a series brought out by the publisher, which restricted the length to what looks like 40 or 45,000 words. In some ways an extended essay. It's also pretty obvious that the writer has more sympathy with anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism than with Marxism - I don't think the review highlighted that enough. For that reason I found the approach a more interesting and fresher than what I was used to and raised some interesting points. For that reason I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.