Norman Geras on Rosa Luxemburg’s Jewish Identity

In his 1998 work, ‘The Contract of Mutual Indifference; Political Philosophy After the Holocaust’, the late Norman Geras wrote:

“A Jewish socialist ought to be able to find some special corner of his or her heart for the tragedy of the Jewish people,” he stated. “A universalist ethic shorn of any special concern for the sufferings of one’s own would be the less persuasive for such carelessness.”

Geras was responding to the often quoted (in)famous letter written by Rosa Luxemburg in 1917 in which she wrote ‘I have no special place in my heart for the ghetto.’

Here is a longer extract from Rosa Luxemburg’s letter, which was sent to her friend Mathilde Wurm (who was also Jewish) on 16 February 1917 from her cell in Wronke Fortress:

‘But look here girl, if the fact is that you seldom get around to picking up a book, then at least read only the good ones, not such kitsch as the “Spinoza novel” which you sent me. What do you want with this theme of the “special suffering of the Jews”? I am just as much as concerned with the poor victims on the rubber plantations of Putumayo, the Blacks in Africa with whose corpses the Europeans play catch. You know the words that were written about the great work of the General Staff, about Gen. Trotha’s campaign in the Kalahari desert. “And the death rattles of the dying, the demented cries of those driven mad by thirst faded away in the sublime stillness of eternity.” Oh that “sublime stillness of eternity,” in which so many cries of anguish have faded away unheard, they resound within me so strongly that I have no special place in my heart for the [Jewish] ghetto. I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.’

(Sources: Geras quoted at http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/149657/norman-geras-1943-2013 and Luxemburg’s letter from Adler, Hudis & Laschitza (eds.), The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (London & New York: Verso, 2011), 375- 76)

What do you think?

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.
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