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Rosa Luxemburg to Mathilde Wurm

Wronke, December 28,1916

My  dearest Tilde!

I want to answer your Christmas letter immediately, while the anger it stirred up in me is still fresh. Yes, your letter made me hopping mad, because every line in it, brief as it is, shows how very much you are again under the spell of your milieu.[1] This crybaby tone, this “oh dear” and “woe is me” about the “disappointments” you’ve experienced—attributing them to others, instead of just looking at the mirror to see all the wretchedness of humanity in its most striking likeness! And in your mouth “we” now means the froggy denizens of the swamp [i.e., the centrists] with whom you now associate, whereas earlier, when you were with me, “we” meant in company with me. So just wait, and I’ll deal with you [Dich— singular, familiar] in plural terms [per “Ihr”—in the plural of “you”; “you-all”; “all of you”].

You suppose, in your melancholy way, that you are “too little of an adventure-goer” for my taste. “Too little” is good! Generally speaking, all of you are not “goers” but “creepers.” It is not a difference of degree, but of substance. In general, “you-all” [‘!ör”] are of a different zoological genus from me, and you-all’s peevish, sourpuss, cowardly, and half-hearted way of being was never so foreign and so hateful to me as now. You suggest that “adventure-going” would indeed be suitable for you-all, but one merely gets put “in the hole” for that, and is then “of little use.” Oh, you miserable pettifogging souls, who would certainly be ready for a bit of “heroism,” but only for cash, for at least three moldy copper pennies, because you first have to see “something of use” lying on the store counter. And for you people the simple statement of honorable and straightforward men, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God,” was never spoken. It’s lucky that world history up to now was not made by people like all of you, because otherwise we would have had no Reformation and would probably still be sitting under the ancien regime. As for me, in recent times I, who certainly was never soft, have become as hard as polished steel and from now on will neither politically nor in personal relations make even the slightest concession. When I simply recall the gallery of your heroes, such a fit of depression takes hold of me [to think of them]: the sweetspoken Haase, Dittmann with his lovely beard and lovely Reichstag speeches, and the wavering, misguided shepherd Kautsky, who your Emmo[2] follows loyally, of course, over hill and dale, the magnificent Arthur [Stadthagen]—ah, je n’en finirai![3] I swear to you: I would rather sit for years [in prison]—and I don’t mean here [in Wronke], where after all it’s like being in the kingdom of heaven, but rather in the cave at Alexanderplatz where I, in an eleven square meter cell, without light both mornings and evenings, crammed in between the C (without W) and the iron bunk, would recite my Mörike aloud—I would rather do that than “fight,” if I can use the term, beside your heroes, or in general have anything to do with them! Indeed I would rather deal with Count Westarp—and not because he spoke of my “almond-shaped velvet eyes” in the Reichstag, but because he is a man. I tell you, as soon as I can stick my nose out of here again, I will come hunting and hounding your company of frogs with the blare of trumpets, the cracking of whips, and the baying of bloodhounds—I was going to say, like Penthesilea,[4] but by God the bunch of you are by no means Achilles. Have you had enough of my New Year’s greeting yet? Then see that you remain a human being. To be a human being is the main thing, above all else. And that means: to be firm and clear and cheerful, yes, cheerful in spite of everything and anything, because howling is the business of the weak. To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life “on the giant scales of fate” if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud. Oh, I don’t know any recipe that can be written down on how to be a human being, I only know when a person is one, and you too always used to know when we walked together through the fields of Südende for hours at a time and the red glow of evening lay upon the stalks of grain. The world is so beautiful, with all its horrors, and would be even more beautiful if there were no weaklings or cowards in it. Come, you get another kiss, after all, because you actually are an honorable, well-intentioned little girl. A toast to the new year! R.

  1. Luxemburg is referring to the milieu of the centrist opposition in German Social Democracy, grouped around Karl Kautsky.
  2. The nickname of Emmanuel Wurm, Mathilde Wurm’s husband.
  3. French: “oh, I could never finish [the list].”
  4. In ancient Greek myth, queen of the Amazons, who fought against and is killed by Achilles in the Trojan War. In Heinrich von Kleist’s play Penthesilea, which Luxemburg directly refers to in another letter, Penthesilea kills Achilles.

Rosa Luxemburg an Mathilde Wurm, in: dies.: Gesammelte Briefe, Bd. 5, Berlin 1984, S. 150f.