Rosa

February 28, 1994|By ANDREI CODRESCU

CHICAGO — Chicago. -- On the coldest day of the century the remnants of the radical left braved the ice to gather at the Blue Rider theater to take stock of socialism. It was so cold that a Russian man in the lobby of my hotel muttered: ''We got rid of communism, but Siberia's everywhere.''

Providing the spark for the meeting was Donna Blue Lachman, the playwright performer of ''The Language of Birds; Rosa Luxembourg and Me.'' Rosa Luxembourg was a fiery revolutionary who led the German Communists in the early days of the century. She was a passionate woman whose personal life and revolutionary politics meshed. She disagreed with Lenin's authoritarian methods and would have greatly influenced the course of socialism if she had lived. She was murdered by the fascists in 1919 along with fellow radical Karl Liebknecht.

Donna Blue gave Rosa a renewed lease on life with her play and now the participants at ''Rosa Luxembourg: A Conference Where Artists & Revolutionaries Meet'' were trying to do the same for socialism. After the collapse of authoritarian communism, the relentless attacks of the right, co-optation by bourgeois parties, the discrediting of its language -- could socialism still mean something?

I wasn't too sure. What I was sure of is that I liked the people in the room, especially the older ones, people with lively eyes, still fiercely interested in improving the world, despite the battering and bruising of age, weather and reality. Some of them even smoked cigarettes, an action so rare these days it qualified instantly for radical subversion.

I shared the stage with Leon Despres, a former Chicago socialist alderman, whose speeches had been notorious during Mayor Richard Daley Sr.'s authoritarian administration. Former Alderman Despres was of the deeply held opinion that Rosa Luxembourg and socialism will never die.

I wasn't too sure about that, either, but then, once again, what can one do but feel affection for the idealists of the world, an endangered species? There were artists, anarchists, socialists, peaceniks and actors in the room, defying Siberian weather, all of them smoky, luminous, betrayed, rare and terribly alive.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of ''Exquisite Corpse.''

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