A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg
Words and art: Kate Evans
Verso 2015 $16.95
Though the MSM would prefer to mostly cover the clown-car pack of Republican presidential candidates, you may have noticed that on the Democratic side Bernie Sanders is now running neck-and-neck with neo-liberal favorite Hillary Clinton, doing so on a platform proudly stating that he’s a socialist, sending the folks at FOX “News” into slavering hate-shock. But, the more that FOX tries to brand Sanders as a socialist, equating the word with that derogatory-term-of-derogatory-terms, communist, and as you hear/read some of the things Sanders has to say, you might be wondering, Hey, is there something to this socialism stuff?
Voilà the perfect book for socialist-curious: RED ROSA: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans, in the spirit of the For Beginners and Introducing graphic novel series. But this book is better! Longer, and with more detail about Luxemberg’s really fascinating life: a supersmart polish immigrant in France/Germany who got her PhD in Economics when most women couldn’t even go to college, and who fought for democracy and workers rights at a time (around the beginning of the 20th century) when women couldn’t even vote.
Along the way, creator (of both text and art) Kate Evans provides, sometimes in Luxemburg’s own words, some good short intros/reviews of Marxism, and Marx’s critique of capitalism—worth reading with most of us still floundering in our supposed economic recovery:
Each person is now on his own: The community no longer has anything to say to him, no-one can order him to for the whole, nor does anyone bother about his needs. Each person’s share of the social labour is dictated by the market. Whatever he can sell, he labours at. Whether he can sell it determines whether he is rewarded. If he is lucky he can buy dinner. If not, he can go and hang himself, for all society cares. Social wealth is no longer distributed according to need. It matters not to the maker whether our labourer has two mouths to feed, or ten….Each person now floats like a piece of dust in the air and wonders how he will manage.
Sound familiar? Evans even inserts herself (or her persona) into the text to emphasize this: What Rosa Luxemburg wrote about and predicted is scarily relevant today. Thus socialism, which is really the idea that the government regulates business to protect people, and sets up systems outside of the business world to take care of people. Radical idea, huh?
What I love about this graphic biography, and graphic biographies in general is, of course, that the art allows for a more accessible way of learning. Not that it’s easier necessarily than, say, a straight prose biography of Rosa Luxemburg (though sure, yes) but it’s more fun: the artwork shows her world better than prose could—the clothes, the rooms, the emotions. The people in comics almost inherently are at least semi-caricatures, so there’s a continual sense of ‘fun,’ even when Evens is dealing with serious topics. Perhaps especially so. What better way to make Historical Materialism interesting and gettable?
And while RED ROSA is in the same vein as the For Beginners series, it benefits in not being a part of that series and instead being an independent work put out by Verso Books, a publisher willing to put out something with more ‘adult’ content: There is some actual nudity in here, because people, even famous thinkers (gasp) have sex. Not that it’s gratuitous, nor titillating. Instead, is just informs Luxemburg’s life. Like, just for example, Evans includes personal details about Luxemburg having to wear (and hating) corsets and discovering the french invention of the bra. A Rosa Luxemburg For Beginners book probably would have left that out, but in doing so, they’d be leaving out key detail about society—and its expectations for women—at the time.
And too, Luxemburg had lovers, some of them quite younger, and practised birth control. Necessary details for this book? I’d say yes: Evans is not only sharing facts about Luxemburg, but giving us a model of a confident, independent woman making choices about herself and her body, which of course informs her politics. And not just informs: out lifestyle choices are our politics.
That said, the problems of capitalism go beyond the personal or the national. Luxemburg built on Marx’s critique of it, to show how, since the idea of capitalism is built on unlimited growth with limited resources and a limited amount of people that can actually buy the latest thneed, what happens is:
Imperialism….Capitalism expands by forcing its way into non-capitalist markets. It must in order to exist. By occupation, by theft, by extortion, by extermination, by taxation, by the supply of cheap consumer goods, by the appropriation of natural resources, by international loans and everywhere by the use and the threat of military force. Capitalism can never peacefully co-exist with other forms of existence. It is a rampaging tiger committed to the destruction or absorption of all other ways of life except its own.
Also sound familiar?