Rosa Luxemburg

From Kaiserreich


Rosa Luxemburg (born on March 5 1871 in Russia) is an German philosopher, economist and syndicalist activist, living in the Union of Britain.


Early life and education

Luxemburg was born to a Jewish family in Zamość, in Russian-controlled Congress Poland. She was the fifth child of timber trader Eliasz Luxemburg and Line Löwenstein. After being bedridden with a hip ailment at the age of five, she was left with a permanent limp. On her family's moving to Warsaw, Luxemburg attended a Gymnasium from 1880.

From 1886 onward, she belonged to the Polish, left-wing Proletariat party (founded in 1882, anticipating the Russian parties by twenty years). She began in politics by organizing a general strike; this resulted in four of its leaders being put to death and the party being disbanded, though remaining members, Luxemburg among them, met in secret.

In 1887, she passed her Matura examinations. After fleeing to Switzerland to escape detention in 1889, she attended Zürich University (as did the socialists Anatoli Lunacharsky and Leo Jogiches), studying philosophy, history, politics, economics, and mathematics. She specialized in Staatswissenschaft (the science of forms of state), the Middle Ages, and economic and stock exchange crises.

In 1893, with Leo Jogiches and Julian Marchlewski (alias Julius Karski), Luxemburg founded the newspaper Sprawa Robotnicza ("The Workers' Cause"), to oppose the nationalist policies of the Polish Socialist Party, believing that only through socialist revolution in Germany, Austria, and Russia could an independent Poland exist. She maintained that the struggle should be against capitalism, and not just for an independent Poland. Her position denying a national right of self-determination under socialism would later provoke philosophic tension with Vladimir Lenin and have practical implications during Lenin's short-lived attempt to create a revolutoinary regime in Russia.

Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches co-founded the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP) (later Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania [SDKPiL], after merging with Lithuania's social democratic organization). Despite living in Germany for most of her adult life, Luxemburg was the principal theoretician of the Polish Social Democrats, and led the party in a partnership with Jogiches, its principal organizer.

Nor was she especially concerned with the plight of Jews. She said, “Why do you come to me with your special Jewish sorrows? I feel just as sorry for the wretched Indian victims in Putamayo, the Negroes in Africa. . . . I cannot find a special corner in my heart for the ghetto. I feel at home in the entire world wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”

Before the Weltkrieg

In 1898 Luxemburg married Gustav Lübeck, obtained German citizenship, and moved to Berlin. There, she was active in the left wing of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In its ranks she sharply defined the border between her faction and the Revisionism Theory of Eduard Bernstein, by attacking him in an 1899 brochure titled Social Reform or Revolution.

Luxemburg's rhetorical skill made her a leading spokeswoman in denouncing the SPD's reformist parliamentary course. She argued that the critical difference between capital and labour could only be countered if the proletariat assumed power and effected revolutionary changes in production methods. She wanted the Revisionists ousted from the SPD. That did not occur, but Karl Kautsky's leadership retained a Marxist influence on its programme.

From 1900 Luxemburg published analyses of contemporary European socio-economic problems in newspapers. Foreseeing war, she vigorously attacked what she saw as German militarism and imperialism. She wanted a general strike to rouse the workers to solidarity and prevent the coming war; the SPD leaders refused, and she broke with Kautsky in 1910.

Between 1904 and 1906 she was on three occasions imprisoned for her political activities. In 1907, she went to the Russian Social Democrats' Fifth Party Day in London, where she met V.I. Lenin, who would later become well-known as leader of the failed Russian Revolution. At the Second International (Socialist) Congress, in Stuttgart, she moved a resolution, which was accepted, that all European workers' parties should unite in attempting to stop the coming war.

Luxemburg taught Marxism and economics at the SPD's Berlin training centre. In 1912 she was the SPD representative at the European Socialists congresses. With French socialist Jean Jaurès, she argued that European workers' parties should effect a general strike when war broke out.

In 1913 she told a large meeting: "If they think we are going to lift the weapons of murder against our French and other brethren, then we shall shout: 'We will not do it!'". As events all too soon proved, this noble vision was doomed to remain a mirage.

Early part of the war

In 1914, when nationalist crises in the Balkans erupted to violence and then war, there was no general strike and the SPD majority supported the war – as did the French Socialists.

The Reichstag unanimously agreed to financing the war. The SPD voted in favour of that and agreed to a truce (Burgfrieden) with the Imperial government, promising to refrain from any strikes during the war. This led Luxemburg to contemplate suicide: The "revisionism" she had fought since 1899 had triumphed.

In August 1914 Luxemburg, along with Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin, and Franz Mehring, founded the Die Internationale group; it became the Spartacist League in January 1916. They wrote illegal, anti-war pamphlets pseudonymously signed "Spartacus" (after the slave-liberating Thracian gladiator who opposed the Romans); Luxemburg's pseudonym was "Junius" (after Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic).

Luxemburg organised anti-war demonstrations in Frankfurt, calling for conscientious objection to military conscription and the refusal to obey orders. On that account, she was imprisoned for a year for "inciting to disobedience against the authorities' law and order".

The Spartacist League vehemently rejected the SPD's support for the war, trying to lead Germany's proletariat to an anti-war general strike. This ideas were expressed in an important article, written in 1915 and published in June 1916 - "Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie" ("The Crisis of Social Democracy"). As a result of her radical agitation, in June 1916 Luxemburg was imprisoned again, for two and a half years - as was Karl Liebknecht. During imprisonment, she was twice relocated, first to Posen, then to Breslau.

Friends smuggled out and illegally published her articles. Among them was "The Russian Revolution", criticising the Bolsheviks and warning of dictatorial tendencies in the Socialist state they were trying to build. While Luxemburg called for a "dictatorship of the proletariat", this did not mean for her what it implied for the Bolsheviks - i.e. a state where a single revolutionary party had a monopoly on power. In that context, she wrote "Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden" ("Freedom is always the freedom of the one who thinks differently"). Still, all her criticism of the Bolsheviks was "inside the family", and she strongly took their side as against the reactionary forces which evetually overwhelmed their revolution.

Later, in articles written after the Bolsheviks were defeated and their attempted Soviet state destroyed, Rosa Luxemburg in part attributed their failure to their having alienated other left-wing parties and forces which might otherwise have helped them against the Whites and the German Army.

Later part of the war

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht's release from prison in early 1919 coincided with the German Army's great breathrough on the Western Front and the revolutionary outbreak in France. Luxemburg was overjoyed with the latter development, though she had some criticism of and disagreements with the French revolutionaries.

At this time she developed the idea - expressed in various articles and speeches - that it was vital to include Germany in this revolutionary wave and have the German working class carry out its own revolution, thus creating a "bridge" between revolutionary France and revolutionary Russia, ending the imperialists' war and paving the way to a Socialist Federation of Europe. However, attempting to carry out this strategy turned out to be an uphill struggle.

The sudden upsurge of military victories created a wave of nationalist euphoria in Germany; soldiers and sailors who in 1918 were war-weary and on the edge of mutiny were now caught up in the enthusiasm of the big surge forward. The urban working class was also strongly affected, in spite of all that Luxemburg and her fellows could do. The government's representatives - and the SPD leadership, all the more pro-war now that the war was going so well - could and did tell the workers that Germany was on the verge of a historic victory and that attempting revolution at such a time would be tantamount to a "stab in the back".

When the German government's intention of intervening in the Russian Civil War became evident, Rosa Luxemburg shelved her differences with the Bolsheviks and embarked on a major solidarity campaign, under the slogan "Hands off Revolutionary Russia!". The Spartacists called for a general strike in Berlin and other cities, as well as calling upon soldiers to refuse the order to fight the Russian revolutionaries. Some strikes did break out, but not to the extent which would have hindered the anti-Bolshevik intervention in Russia. The strikes and demonstrations were repressed with considerable brutality, and the Spartacist leaders arrested.

As later revealed documents indicated, some officers in Ludendorff's circle considered the possibility of having Luxemburg, Liebknecht and others killed out of hand and "getting rid of them, once and for all". The SPD leaders, whom Luxemburg constantly attacked, would have apparently been willing to tacitly assent to such an act. However, other officers argued that this might have the effect of turning Luxemburg and her fellows into martyrs, whose myth would inspire new revolutionaries. Instead, they were kept in close imprisonment and denied any contact with the outside. Though Luxemburg did write several articles also in this prison term, she was unable to smuggle them out and they were only published after her release.

Directly upon the Peace with Honour the Spartacist leaders were exiled from Germany, a decision of very doubtful legality. They were placed on a ship to Britain, which - among greater indignities - was forced to take these hot potatoes off Germany's hands.


Rosa Luxemburg several times visited the Commune of France and was warmly received by recently-victorious revolutionary leaders there. Nevertheless, she decided against moving to France, not wishing to be seen as trying to take over somebody else's successful revolution when she failed in her own country. Moreover, the recently ended war and France's having been humiliatingly defeated for the second time since 1871 left a heritage of anti-German bitterness among many French people, which - while not encouraged by the Syndicalist leaders - was sometimes manifested even in their attitudes to German revolutionaries.

In all, London seemed a better place than Paris for the exiled German syndicalists to base themselves, maintain their cladesitine contacts in Germany and work towards the day of their return.

Having established extensive contacts with the British left, Rosa Luxemburg took an active part in the 1925 British Revolution, often making stirring speeches in public meetings and rallies. She was careful, however, to reiterate her being "a guest of the British Revolution", and declined several offers of taking a position in the victorious revolutionary government. Rather, she regarded her primary responsibility as being a German revolutionary, living in exile and seeking to sow the seeds of revolution in her own country. The victorious leaders of the Union of Britain were highly sympathetic to this aim and were helpful in facilitating the German exiles' activities. They had, however, to keep from being too open and blatant about it, as they could not afford to directly antagonize the now globally-dominant German Empire.

In articles and commentaries smuggled into Germany and clandestinely published and distributed there, Rosa Luxemburg strongly denounced the policies of Reichskanzler Tirpitz. Far from a "a golden age", as his term seemed to many Germans, she regarded it as the epitome of reactionary oppression in Europe and the whole world, only superficially camouflaged by the return of a thin parliamentary facade in Germany itself. She denounced the Mitteleuropa system as "a new prison house for the peoples" and predicted that it would eventually crumble under a new revolutionary wave. Having been born in Poland and always opposed Polish nationalism, she particularly castigated the postwar Poland as "a miserable and totally useless puppet" and poured scorn on "the miserable Polish nationalists, begging for crumbs from the Kaiser's table".

Luxemburg is also an outspoken opponent of German colonial expansion, declaring it "A monstrous system where colonial peoples are mercilessly robbed and exploited, their oppression tragically facilitated by German workers in uniform into whose hands guns were placed by their own exploiters - and all in order to endlessly enrich a narrow layer of capitalists and junkers".

She called upon German soldiers in Mittelafrika, China and elsewhere to mutiny and make common cause with local rebels against German imperial rule. Some of her articles in this vein were translated to Chinese by revolutionary groups there, which also attempted to distribute them in the original among German soldiers serving the Allgemeine Ostasiatische Gesellschaft. In 1928, unfounded rumors of her having secretly come to Mittleafrica to agitate in person precipitated a massive and futile hunt by the colonial authorities. Luxemburg's fiery stance effectively precluded any idea of herself and her fellows being allowed to return to Germany.

In the 1930's, following Tirpitz's death, the deteriorating economic situation in Germany encourages Rosa Luxemburg in the hope of a new revolutionary wave which would facilitate her return. For their part, left-wing elements in the SPD on various occasions petitioned the government in this direction, but were always turned down out of hand.

At present Rosa Luxemburg - still vigorous and energetic though no longer young - lives somewhere in England, where she and other exiled German syndicalists are planning a future return and meanwhile building up their network of contacts in Germany. She enjoys high esteem among syndicalists and revolutionaries everywhere, being often invited to speak in public, invited as guest of honor to various meetings and having her writings extensively published and translated - and being correspondingly high on the hate list of all Conservatives and upholders of the capitalist order.

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