London: Verso, 2015; 220pp; ISBN 9781784781019
I had always imagined that Rosa Luxemburg was born into and lived through a period of tumult and upheaval that I could only possibly try to imagine and will never experience. Recently, I sometimes think otherwise.
Kate Evans’ beautifully crafted graphic novel charts the course of Rosa Luxemburg’s life, from her birth in Poland around the time of the Paris commune, through her childhood, having to battle physical infirmity, sexism and anti-Semitism, her travel and studies, political awakening and activity (including spells of imprisonment), to her death at a dark time in German history that foreshadowed even darker times to come.
From the opening frame the author/artist’s enthusiasm for her subject matter is evident. While the main focus of the book is Luxemburg’s political theory and activity, the person is not neglected, giving glimpses of her relationships with partners and family, her love for science and art and even her cat. But of course the book is really about Rosa Luxemburg the revolutionary. Political theory is presented simply in the graphic novel format; basic tenets of Marxist theory are laid out in accessible ways, along with Luxemburg’s critiques and responses and her own theory and principles, notably her pre-emption of what we now call ‘Globalisation’ and ‘The Credit Crunch.’ The graphic novel/storyboard format necessitates that these ideas are presented in relatively elementary ways, but there are detailed notes and appendices that provide more depth, detail and context in reference to particular frames, as well as suggestions for further reading both about and by Luxemburg. Also illustrated more than once is her principled and unwavering socialist internationalism and consistent opposition to war, while others on the left took more ‘pragmatic’ positions. Her opposition to World War I led to her imprisonment, and some of the most moving parts of the book are the illustrations of her letters from prison during this time and the excerpts from some of her final letters which are used to accompany the artist’s imagining of her murder and its aftermath.
In short, this is easy and compulsive reading whether familiar with the history and subject matter or not, hard to put down, and might bring a hint of a tear to the eye in places (not confessing to anything). And even if it’s not for you, definitely a great gift idea for that very special Council Communist in your life.