On This Day: Sept 1904: Rosa Luxemburg writes to the Kautskys from Prison


 Luxemburg and Luise Kautsky- Vierwaldstattersee, Switzerland 1909- IISHkarl and luise kautsky- 1902- iisg

Rosa Luxemburg and Luise Kautsky on holiday in Switzerland in 1909 (left) and Luise and Karl Kautsky in 1902 (right)- unfortunately not the same picture Luxemburg describes in her letter  (Source: International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam)

In September 1904, Rosa Luxemburg wrote to her friends Karl and Luise Kautsky from Zwickau Prison, where she was serving a three month sentence for insulting the Kaiser in one of her speeches.

In this typically reflective and yet uplifting letter, Luxemburg writes about- amongst other things- Karl Kautsky’s taste in ties (“such a tie is grounds for divorce”), politics, poetry and provides a rare reminiscence of her childhood in Tsarist Warsaw during the 1870s and 1880s.

Below are some excerpts (Source: ‘Letters of Rosa Luxemburg’ (Verso, 2011)):


Many thanks for the photo of Karl with the lovely dedication! The picture is marvellous, the first really good picture of him that I’ve seen. The eyes, the expression on the face- it’s all superb. (Only the necktie, teeming with little white bean shapes, which really catch the eye!- Such a tie is grounds for divorce. Yes, yes, I know- women- even in the presence of the loftiest spirit, the first thing they notice is the necktie….) [But seriously] The picture gives me great joy…

Now it is evening, and a soft breeze is blowing from above through my dormer window into the cell… and gently blowing the pages of the Schiller volume that lies open before me. Outdoors a horse is being led slowly past the prison on its way home and in the nocturnal stillness the clopping of its hoofs on the pavement resound in an oddly peaceful way. From the distance, barely audible, come the sentimental strains of a harmonica…

Life plays an eternal game of tag with me. It seems to me always that it’s not inside me, not here where I am, but somewhere far off. Back then, at home [in my childhood], I used to sneak across to the window- it was strictly forbidden to get up before Father was up- I would open it quietly and peek out at the big courtyard…

Back then I firmly believed that “life,” that is, “real life,” was somewhere far away, off beyond the rooftops. Ever since then I’ve been chasing it. But it is still hiding behind some rooftop or other. In the end was it all some kind of wanton playing or frivolous toying with me? And has real life actually remained right there in that courtyard…

I embrace you with all my heart,


(Emphasis added. Source: Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, Annelies Laschitza (eds.), George Shriver (trans.), The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (London & New York: Verso, 2011), p. 174- 177)


About rosaluxemburgblog

I was awarded a PhD in History by Swansea University for a thesis on Rosa Luxemburg (2016). I am currently co-editing the fourth volume of 'The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg' and am a member of the Advisory Board of the International Rosa Luxemburg Society.
This entry was posted in On This Day, Rosa Luxemburg. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On This Day: Sept 1904: Rosa Luxemburg writes to the Kautskys from Prison

  1. Jeramy says:

    Appreciate this post. Let me tryy it out.

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