Red Rosa

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(407)

This is a really good book and I’d recommend it to anyone new to the ideas of the great Marxist thinker and activist of the German Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg, or, indeed, new to the genre of the graphic novel — it is a great introduction to both.

This is a novelised biography and largely sticks to the reality of her life, with one or two alterations for literary effect.

The story begins with Luxemburg’s birth to a struggling but educated Jewish family in Zamosc, Poland, then a part of the Russian Empire.

In an early act of rebellion she penned a satirical poem about the German Kaiser when he made a state visit to Poland. Her audacity terrified her family and set the pattern for the rest of her life.

The book is a really effective combination of words and images and Kate Evans brings to life Rosa with an astonishing range of expressions drawn on an accomplished likeness.

The book is not a thorough analysis of Luxemburg’s work, and doesn’t seek to be.

Evans takes us on a journey through the revolutionary’s career, focusing not just on politics but also on her personal life and loves. Even her pet cats are graphically brought to life in Evans’s vivid illustrations.

We get a strong sense of Luxemburg as a real rounded human being rather than a collection of her political stances (though the historical notes at the back of the book make for fascinating reading too).

The narrative follows Luxemburg from Poland to Germany where she swiftly became a leading figure in the biggest socialist party in the world, the German Social Democratic Party, still at this time committed to revolution and Marxism.

There is obviously a limit to the size of a book like this and not everything can be fitted in. However, perhaps the most crucial debate has been left out, maybe in an attempt not to alienate her audience.

At the beginning of the First World War European social democratic parties were torn apart by their failure to oppose it. In most parties the right defeated the left and they collapsed into patriotic support for the bloodshed.

Lenin urged the left to break away, as the Bolsheviks had done against the Mensheviks in Russia. He failed to convince Rosa Luxemburg.

The tragic result was the defeat of the German revolution and the murder of Luxemburg and her fellow leader Karl Liebknecht and thousands of workers and, of course, the opening of the road to Hitler and the Nazis.

This is an excellent, atmospheric and moving book, somewhat marred by this omission. I think Rosa might have had something to say about that. Nevertheless it brilliantly conveys the idea, drama and tragedy of revolution.