Quote of the Day 20.05.2017

Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit der Andersdenkenden. An was aber denken die anderen? Und wie frei denken sie?

Rosa Luxemburg

Looking for a means to procrastinate this morning, I searched my favourite radio programme (In our Time BBC Radio 4) for a new podcast to listen to and stumbled across one on Rosa Luxemburg. As mentioned before, I was raised in a slightly left-ish household and was fed socialist thoughts and history from a very early age.

My interest in Rosa Luxemburg was sparked by an amazing book by one of my favourite authors, Klaus Kordon’s Die roten Matrosen. The book tells you the story of the political situation in Germany at the end of the Great War, the socialist movement under Liebknecht and Luxemburg, the Kiel mutiny and the beginning of the Weimar Republic through the eyes of a teenage boy, Helle. It is the first book of a trilogy that covers the history of Berlin from WWI to the end of WWII. I highly recommend Klaus Kordon but unfortunately you need to be able to read German. His books are the reason I studied History and my all-time favourite is 1848. His Erich Kästner biography is on my reading list, so I will try to do a review on this one soon (I have to do this soon! Can there be anything better than a great author telling the story of a great author? I don’t think so!).

So, let’s go back to Rosa Luxemburg’s quote (a Luxemburg biography is on my reading list as well, so I will go into detail on her fascinating life when I do my review on that book – for the time being it has to suffice that she was an inspiring, strong and highly intelligent woman who was brutally murdered for her involvement in politics).

The most famous translation of the first bit of this quote, which I have as a poster hanging on my office wall and am considering getting as a tattoo as it has been one of my favourites since 2001 (so for more than half my life), is “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters”. Although this is a correct translation of the initial snippet and conveys the meaning properly, it does not translate the following paronomasia. Anders in German can mean different or other, Andersdenkende are those who think differently (non-conformist thinkers or dissenters). In the next sentence she asks “But what are the others (dissenters) thinking of?”, so she easily exchanges the meaning of anders from dissenters (those who think differently) to the others – as you can see the beauty of the quote is already lost in translation. Her last question comes back to the freedom that she defines as the freedom of the dissenters, “How free(ly – it should be an adverb, shouldn’t it?) are they thinking?”. A nicer translation of this question could be “How free is their thinking?”.

A full translation lacking the pun would be:

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.

But what are the dissenters thinking of?

And how free is their thinking?

If you are interested in Rosa Luxemburg’s life and cannot wait for my review on Max Gallo’s biography, here are some useful links:

In Our Time Podcast, you can download it everywhere. I listened to them when I was living outside the UK, so everyone should be able to listen to it http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08lfc77 I highly recommend listening to some other IOT podcasts.

History of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (German) https://www.rosalux.de/themen/geschichte/

Rosa Luxdemburg Internet Archive https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/

Pic stolen here which also is a nice article (German) about her life.

More on Klaus Kordon in German here

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Megan says:

    I love your book reviews so, so much! They lead me to discover so many new authors 🙂 I think the Weimar Republic was such a fascinating era, but the only novel I’d read about it is Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. Anyways, I wish there are more Luxemburgs in politics these days. One of my profs once introduced her to us as Badass Rebel #1. While her theoretical works are definitely important, I always enjoyed reading her letters more because their tone just convey such a caring and fearless personality. Can’t wait for your future review about her. My family is really weird because my grandparents are very left but my parents are slightly right, so political discussions within the family can get kind of heated, to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debra says:

      As someone who enjoys children fiction, you should give Kordon a try. Nice long and very detailed historic novels. My family is weird because the person who introduced me to all the commie literature and history is my dad who happens to be a minister. People are often flabbergasted by this paradox. He considers the fact an achievement that he was both on the BRD and DDR list for his membership and contact with certain groups. He says it just means he is a normal decent guy being on both lists. I sometimes describe him as a less heroic and less romantic Robert Colquohoun to people who think ministers can’t be interested in socialism. I wouldn’t consider myself a socialist though but there is a tendency. Yeah, Rosa is amazing. Aaah the long 19th century, my favourite.Seufz.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Megan says:

        I started to read Kordon’s Krokodil im Nacken this morning because I’m so intrigued by his biography on his website. He actually got jailed for trying to escape to West Germany in 1972, wow. In some ways, I think Christianity and Marxism are quite similar (i.e. ideas of oppression, historical progress, anti-capitalism) so I can understand why ministers might be attracted to socialist regimes. I think Angela Merkel’s father was a pastor who moved to DDR as well? Your dad sounds awesome btw. I’ve always been told that Marxism is nonsense because most of the communist governments had failed. So I read a lot of neoliberal stuff, which left me really confused because reality doesn’t match up with the theory.


      2. Debra says:

        I try not to be offended by your mentioning of Angela Merkel. 😉 I didn’t vote for her and I won’t in September either. Funnily, the reason for this is also influenced by my dad. He told me to never vote for a party that has “Christian” in its name. I would rather die than vote conservative. I share your view on the similarities between C and M but would amend it slightly by highlighting that we are talking about what people made out of the idea (like you do further down in your comment). My problem with Marxism and any version thereof is that it is only an ideal of human life & society and like all ideals it cannot be reached, ever! Ideals usually ignore innate human character traits like greed, envy and jealousy. Competitiveness is part the caveman’s survival strategies. We keep forgetting that we are essentially still cavemen and we keep fighting all our cavemen characteristics constantly which on a personal level leads to sickness and on a societal level to war, corruption etc Don’t get me wrong, I am not some weirdo diffusionist and I don’t think going back to the ice age is gonna fix our problem. I do want people to strive for the ideal but they have to keep in mind that it is only something you should aim for to guide you through life but it is nothing you can ever achieve. I hope I didn’t make to much of a hash of things and you get what I am trying to say. So, long story short: Aye, reality doesn’t match theory and I doubt it ever will. Ta

        PS I am also generally not a big an of institutions. Do I consider myself Christian? Aye! Do I go to church? Only if I can’t help it or if is considered a historic house but in this case I like the building and not what it is used for. I am a sucker for ecclesiastical history, though. It’s like a good political thriller most of the time. My aversion towards institutions is why I like Emerson so much.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Megan says:

        Apologies about the Merkel comment! I always forget how differently she is perceived in North America and in Europe. In New York Times and other media outlets, she’s generally portrayed as the last defender of liberal west and her more conservative politics are rarely mentioned. Most people have forgotten the fact that she used to be a strong supporter of George W. Bush. Anyways, I totally agree with you re: Marxism and institutions. I’ve seen first hand all the problems with Marxism in action or “actually existing socialism,” so I’m attuned to the dangers of idealism. In general, my problem is that I’m too left for rightists and too right for leftists, which means I just piss everyone off when it comes to politics 😉 When dealing with institutions, I always take Thoreau as my guide (minus the tax evasion part of course).

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Debra says:

        Yeah, Angie has come a long way but I cannot forget that if she had a say back then, we would have gone to Iraq as well. Schröder was only re-elected because of his rejection of the Iraq war. Afghanistan was a mistake and I am so glad we did not go to Iraq as well. I used to ditch school to demonstrate against people like her, incl. her. But I am kinda proud that she sticks to her support for the refugees. However, now that it is giving her problems with voters, she will probably abandon it all together. We’ll see. I usually vote the Greens. Great as opposition, shitty in government but if a party can perform so miserably without completely ruining our system, without attacking our rights – then I they have my vote. Well, to be perfectly honest in 99% of the cases I spoil my ballot as they all kinda suck. These end up in the statistics as well and if only more people had the guts to show all of them the middle finger, you could turn it into a movement. Only if there is a chance that another seriously fucked up party can benefit from me spoiling my ballot, I go and properly cast my vote. Like this year. Every vote against those fucked up AFD nazis counts, so I will go home and vote the Greens.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Megan says:

        I do admire Merkel for her refugee stance. Hard to remember the last time when a politician made a moral decision and executed it immediately. But I don’t think I can handle any more elections coverage this year. There’s already a deluge of news on Dutch elections, French elections (Thank god Le Pen lost), German Landtagswahlen, Canada’s own Landtagswahlen, and the upcoming US 2018 Senate elections. I think I’m going to get a chronic case of Weltschmerz at this point. I do appreciate the fact that German parties seem at least a bit willing to work together in coalitions for the greater public good. Most governments in North America are stuck in perpetual deadlock and it’s the most exasperating thing.


      6. Debra says:

        Weltschmerz exactly. It’s a messed up world. Well, it always has but instant media coverage makes it inescapable. Dann trägt noch jeder unabhängig vom IQ seinen Senf bei and you want to throw up constantly.

        Liked by 1 person

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