Although Mikhail Bakunin, that fiercest of Russian anarchists, was one of her heroes, his famous definition of the revolutionary as a man who “has no interests of his own, no feelings, no habits, no longings, not even a name, only a single interest, a single thought, a single passion—the revolution” was as abhorrent to Goldman as corporate capitalism. If revolutionaries gave up sex and art while they were making the revolution, she said, they would become devoid of joy. Without joy, human beings cease being human. Should the men and women who subscribed to Bakunin’s credo prevail, the world would be even more heartless after the revolution than it had been before.The conviction that revolution and the life of the senses dare not be mutually exclusive made Goldman eloquent in defense of causes—sexual freedom, birth control, marriage reform—that a majority of her fellow anarchists derided as trivializing the cause. Comrades repeatedly took her to task for, as many of them said, interpreting anarchism as a movement for individual self-expression rather than a revolution of the collective.
Luxemburg’s letters from prison are, in fact, so resolutely cheerful and gentle that they can become cloying. There is a solemn whimsy in her devotion to animals, for instance, that puts the contemporary reader helplessly in mind of Disney cartoons: “Recently I sang the Countess’ aria from Figaro, about six [titmice] were perched there on a bush in front of the window and listened without moving all the way to the end; it was a very funny sight to see.” Yet coming from “Red Rosa,” this kind of thing struck the first readers of her letters with the force of a revelation. Here was a revolutionary who loved flowers and birds, and Hugo Wolf’s Lieder, and the poems of Goethe. This Luxemburg offers the strongest possible contrast with Lenin, who famously said, “I can’t listen to music too often . . . it makes you want to say stupid nice things, and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell. And now you must not stroke anyone’s head: you might get your hand bitten off. You have to strike them on the head, without any mercy.”