I thought it would be interesting to compare the discussions about the Rosa Luxemburg entries that can be found on the English and German Wikipedia pages. The German version of the article is much longer and far better developed than the English version. Likewise, the discussion found on the German version contains many more threads. What is interesting, however, is that none of the discussion threads cross over into the other version. So, while the English version debated things like Rosa Luxemburg’s nationality (was she Jewish, Polish or German) and whether she was born in 1870 or 1871, the German discussions were aimed at topics regarding interpretation – things like her interpretations of Marxism and her correspondence with Lenin. Of course the German discussion also had some rather drawn out flame and edit wars – over whether Luxemburg (a sworn atheist) inadvertently referenced the book of Exodus in the Bible when she wrote her last words “I was, I am, I will be” when she was quoting an 1848 revolutionary by the name of Freiligrath. Another flame war erupted on the German discussion page when the article was voted off the Wikipedia list of recommended reading – apparently for being too politically slanted toward sympathizing with her Communist politics. There is also a humorous question raised by one editor whether it was true that Ruth Fischer, another leader of the German Communist Party, urinated on her grave.
While the German site seems to have a combination of academic and amateur historians (as well as a few political rivals) contributing to the entry, the English site appears to be completely written (or at least discussed) by amateur historians. While the Germans ask for citations from leading scholars and printed material, the discussion on the English site about her birth date seems to have been settled by a Google search – comparing how many websites claimed she was born in 1870 to those claiming 1871. 1871 won out according to Google.
The differences here between the two cultures that we see in the discussions is probably linked to larger cultural differences between Germans and Americans (although with Wikipedia it is close to impossible to know who is contributing). Nonetheless, the memory of Rosa Luxemburg is still a very powerful element in German political consciousness – at least on the Left. There are still yearly parades each January to commemorate her murder in 1919. The fact that the article was removed (or voted off) the recommended reading list was probably linked entirely to the political nature of the article. There were efforts to “neutralize” the site, but these changes seem to have been quickly re-corrected in order to maintain a Left-leaning interpretation of her life. The English version has comparatively less substance, but does not seem to be as controversial politically – although there is a great deal of content taken directly from the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive, which itself is not known for its political independence.
All of this raises a larger question – is it possible to write about historical political figures without being political? Are politicized articles “bad”? Maybe there should be a portion of such articles dedicated to current debates about these figures and allow editors to take part (each side could group-edit the best version or interpretation and each would be displayed). Although this would not remove the political nature of such figures, the process of politicization would become much more transparent.