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Reference Desk: Unanswered Questions

A dear comrade asked me this one the other day, and I couldn’t find the answer.  Perhaps someone out there in libraryland has resources I don’t have access to & can hook us up.

There’s this (supposed) Rosa Luxemburg quote, “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

We were wondering, is it actually something Red Rosa said or wrote, or is it apocryphal?  And if it’s real, when & where did she say or write it?  I need a primary citation here — a speech, interview, article, book, what-have-you.  [For example, Susan B. Anthony’s {often slightly misquoted} bit about how bicycles had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world” is originally recorded in an article written by Nellie Bly, who had interviewed her, in the New York World in 1896.]



[ETA: for the answer, read the comments]


About oneofthelibrarians

Respectable mid-career librarian by day, dirty street librarian by night & other days.

6 comments on “Reference Desk: Unanswered Questions

  1. Siusaidh
    July 6, 2013

    I don’t have the answer, but the folks at Marxist Internet Archive likely do and will be happy to check.

  2. TheLuddbrarian
    July 7, 2013

    A well-known quote and an excellent question. Frequently hunting down citations for common quotations such as this can be quite a challenge, particularly as more and more people take to simply citing it as “the quote” by “the purported author,” with nothing more in the way of a formal citation, thus a sort of self-propelling loop is created wherein a given quote is attributed to somebody because…well…it’s always attributed to them. In such cases a person can feel generally safe quoting the famed quote, but having some trepidation is certainly understandable. That being said, some cursory research this morning turned up little in the way of an official citation for these lines; however, I did find some rather similar lines (Luxemburg was certainly fond of invoking “chains”):

    From The Acheron in Motion

    “The moment the equilibrium of the classes is dislocated by the storm of revolution, the strikes change suddenly from gently lapping surf into tidal waves; the very depths begin to move; the slave does not start up in anger merely because the pressure of his chains is too painful; he rebels against the chain itself.”

    From On the Spartacus Programme

    “Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there must the chains be broken.”

    From The Mass Strike (Chapter 4)

    “The worker, suddenly aroused to activity by the electric shock of political action, immediately seizes the weapon lying nearest his hand for the fight against his condition of economic slavery: the stormy gesture of the political struggle causes him to feel with unexpected intensity the weight and the pressure of his economic chains.”

    From Socialism and the Churches

    “The capitalists have shaped with hammer blows the bodies of the people in chains of poverty and slavery.”

    Luxemburg invokes chains (and “breaking” or “shattering” them often) which is likely meant to refer back to the concluding lines of The Communist Manifesto wherein Marx and Engels have the famous line that “the workers have nothing to lose but their chains.” Yet, I am somewhat taken aback by the challenge at finding an attribution, which in and of itself may tell us something about the reliability of this quote. It may be a paraphrase of something she had written or said (see above), it may simply be from a very obscure publication or speech, or it may just be a mistranslation (Luxemburg wrote mainly in German) that has enjoyed circulation. I’ll continue looking, but I would just note two things: due to how commonly the quote is attributed to Luxemburg you can probably use it (and attribute it to her) without much trouble; however, if you are truly concerned I would avoid using it and consider using one of the above quotations.

    • T E Stazyk
      July 7, 2013

      Yes! And don’t forget Shelly in the Mask of Anarchy:

      Rise like lions after slumber
      In unvanquishable number
      Shake your chains to earth like dew
      Which in sleep had fallen on you
      Ye are many, they are few..

  3. oneofthelibrarians
    July 7, 2013

    I asked the Marxist Internet Archive as suggested, and quickly received the following reply, which seems to find the quote to be apocryphal:

    “The German version of this (alleged) quote is “Wer sich nicht bewegt, spürt seine Fesseln nicht.” It has been attributed to Rosa Luxemburg by many people and she did say some things that have a similar meaning but none of the discussions I’ve read have been able to quote where it came from. While it may appear in one of her letters (most of them aren’t online yet), the earliest definite reference to this statement seems to be a banner on an opposition demonstration in the GDR on 17 January 1989 (i.e. on the 70th anniversary of her murder)!
    The confusion may have arisen because the other banner carried by the demonstrators definitely was an abbreviated Luxemburg quote, i.e. “Freiheit ist the Freiheit des Andersdenkenden” (Freedom is the freedom of those who think differently). So I tend to think that the “quotation” is apochryphal – but I’m not going to search through the 6 volumes of her correspondence looking for it – particularly as many others have done so already without success: a recent discussion can be found (in German) in item 3 of this Wikipedia discussion archive:

  4. Good research, librarians! I even consulted old print reference books with no success. I can’t believe that even an online encyclopedia will quote something without attribution –> I’m sneering at you New World Encyclopedia. :/

  5. Pingback: From the Reference Desk: Resources | LibrarianShipwreck

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2013 by in Friends of the Library, Librarianship, Reference Desk and tagged , .

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