Rosa Luxemburg (Róża Luksemburg; 5 March 1870 or 1871 15 January 1919) was a Polish-born Jewish German Marxist theorist, socialist philosopher, and revolutionary for the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the German SPD, the Independent Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Germany.
In 1914, after the SPD supported German participation in World War I, she co-founded, with Karl Liebknecht, the revolutionary Spartakusbund (Spartacist League), that on 1 January 1919 became the Communist Party of Germany. In November 1918, during the German Revolution she founded the The Red Flag, the central organ of the left wing revolutionaries.
She regarded the Spartacist uprising of January 1919 in Berlin as a mistake, but supported it after it had begun. When the revolt was crushed by the Freikorps (monarchist army remnants and right-wing freelance militias collectively), Luxemburg, Liebknecht and hundreds of left-wing revolutionaries were captured, tortured, and killed. Since their deaths, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht achieved great symbolic status amongst democratic socialists and Marxists.
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, Rosa among them, met in secret. In 1887, she passed her Abitur 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 provoked philosophic tension with Vladimir Lenin. She 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]) by 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.
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 imprisoned for her political activities three times. In 1907, she went to the Russian Social Democrats' Fifth Party Day in London, where she met Lenin. 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 war.
Luxemburg taught Marxism and economics at the SPD's Berlin training centre. A student of hers, Friedrich Ebert became SPD leader, and later the Weimar Republic's first president. 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. But 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 response 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";
In August 1914 Luxemburg, along with Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin, Franz Mehring, founded the 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).
The Spartacist League vehemently rejected the SPD's support for the war, trying to lead Germany's proletariat to an anti-war general strike. As a result, in June 1916 Luxemburg was imprisoned for two and a half years, as was Karl Liebknecht. During imprisonment, she was twice relocated, first to Posen (now Poznań), then to Breslau (now Wrocław). Friends smuggled out and illegally published her articles. Among them was "The Russian Revolution", criticising the Bolsheviks, presciently warning of their dictatorship. Nonetheless, she continued calling for a "dictatorship of the proletariat", albeit not the one-party Bolshevik model. In that context, she wrote "Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden" ("Freedom is always the freedom of the one who thinks differently"). Another article, published in June 1916, was "Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie" ("The Crisis of Social Democracy").
In 1917 the Spartacist League was affiliated with the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) (anti-war, ex-SPD members, founded by Karl Kautsky). In November 1918 the USPD and the SPD assumed power in the new republic upon the Kaiser's abdication. This followed the German revolution begun in Kiel, when Workers' and Soldiers' councils seized most of Germany, to put an end to the war and to the monarchy. The USPD and most of the SPD members supported the councils, while the SPD leaders feared, they could found a Räterepublik ("Council Republic"), in emulation of the system of Soviets of the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
In response to the uprising, Social Democratic leader Friedrich Ebert ordered the nationalist, right-wing Freikorps to destroy the left-wing revolution. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were captured in Berlin on January 15, 1919 by the Freikorps Garde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision. Its commander, Captain Waldemar Pabst, along with Horst von Pflugk-Hartung questioned them and then gave the order to kill them. Rosa Luxemburg was rifle-butted, then shot in the head, her body flung into Berlin's Landwehr Canal. In the Tiergarten park Karl Liebknecht was shot and his body, without a name, brought to a morgue. Likewise, hundreds of KPD members were summarily killed, and the Workers' and Soldiers' councils disbanded; the German revolution was ended. More than four months later, on June 1, Rosa Luxemburg's corpse was found.
Not Pabst, but only one Freikorps soldier Otto Runge (1875-1945) was imprisoned for two years for her murder. The Nazis later compensated him for having been jailed, and they merged the Gardekavallerie into the SA. In an interview given to the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" in 1962 and in his memoirs Pabst maintained that two SPD leaders, defense minister Gustav Noske and chancellor Friedrich Ebert, had approved of his actions. This statement by the perpetrator has never been confirmed, since neither parliament nor the courts examined the case.
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were buried at Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery in Berlin, where socialists and communists commemorate them every January 15.
"The working classes in every country only learn to fight in the course of their struggles ... Social democracy ... is only the advance guard of the proletariat, a small piece of the total working masses; blood from their blood, and flesh from their flesh. Social democracy seeks and finds the ways, and particular slogans, of the workers' struggle only in the course of the development of this struggle, and gains directions for the way forward through this struggle alone.
Organisation mediates spontaneity; organisation must mediate spontaneity. It would be wrong to accuse Rosa Luxemburg of holding "spontaneism" as an abstraction. She developed the Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation under the influence of mass strikes in Europe, especially the Russian Revolution of 1905. Unlike the social democratic orthodoxy of the Second International, she did not regard organisation as product of scientific-theoretic insight to historical imperatives, but as product of the working classes' struggles:
"Social democracy is simply the embodiment of the modern proletariat's class struggle, a struggle which is driven by a consciousness of its own historic consequences. The masses are in reality their own leaders, dialectically creating their own development process. The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands. And as the entire social democracy movement is only the conscious advance guard of the proletarian class movement, which in the words of the Communist Manifesto represent in every single moment of the struggle the permanent interests of liberation and the partial group interests of the workforce vis à vis the interests of the movement as whole, so within the social democracy its leaders are the more powerful, the more influential, the more clearly and consciously they make themselves merely the mouthpiece of the will and striving of the enlightened masses, merely the agents of the objective laws of the class movement.
"The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight... That's exactly what is laudable about it, that's exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers' movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation.
In an article published just before the October Revolution, Luxemburg characterized the Russian February Revolution of 1917 as a "revolution of the proletariat", and said that the "liberal bourgeoisie" were pushed to movement by the display of "proletarian power." The task of the Russian proletariat, she said, was now to end the "imperialist" world war, in addition to struggling against the "imperialist bourgeoisie." The world war made Russia ripe for a socialist revolution. Therefore "the German proletariat are also ... posed a question of honour, and a very fateful question.
In an essay written from jail and published posthumously by her last companion, Paul Levi (publication of which precipitated his expulsion from the Third International) entitled "The Russian Revolution", Luxemburg sharply criticized some Bolshevik policies, such as their suppression of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, their support for the partition of the old feudal estates to the peasant communes, and their policy of supporting the purported right of all national peoples to "self-determination." Luxemburg argued that the Bolsheviks' practices towards the peasantry (and the workers as well), stemmed from what she saw as Marx's original concept of the permanent revolution, outlined in his March 1850 "Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League." According to Luxemburg, the Bolsheviks' failure to carry out this strategy created tremendous dangers for the Revolution, such as its bureaucratisation.
Her sharp criticism of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks was lessened insofar as she explained the errors of the revolution and of the Bolsheviks with the "complete failure of the international proletariat
"In this erupting of the social divide in the very lap of bourgeois society, in this international deepening and heightening of class antagonism lies the historical merit of Bolshevism, and with this feat as always in large historic connections the particular mistakes and errors of the Bolsheviks disappear without trace.
After the October Revolution, it becomes the "historic responsibility" of the German workers to carry out a revolution for themselves, and thereby end the war. When a revolution also broke out in Germany in November, of 1918, Rosa Luxemburg immediately began agitating for a social revolution:
"The abolition of the rule of capital, the realization of a socialist social order this, and nothing less, is the historical theme of the present revolution. It is a formidable undertaking, and one that will not be accomplished in the blink of an eye just by the issuing of a few decrees from above. Only through the conscious action of the working masses in city and country can it be brought to life, only through the people's highest intellectual maturity and inexhaustible idealism can it be brought safely through all storms and find its way to port.
The social revolution demands that power is in the hands of the masses, in the hands of the workers' and soldiers' councils. This is the program of the revolution. It is, however, a long way from soldier from the "Guards of the Reaction" (Gendarmen der Reaktion) to revolutionary proletarian.
"The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this 'defeat' into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this 'defeat'.
'Order reigns in Berlin!' You stupid henchmen! Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already 'raise itself with a rattle' and announce with fanfare, to your terror:
I was, I am, I shall be!
In Berlin's historic Mitte (city centre), the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and the eponymous U2 line U-Bahn were so named in her honour by the Communist East German government. The Volksbühne (People's Theatre) is in Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. The names remain unchanged since reunification in 1989.
Of Rosa Luxemburg, Trotskyist writer-historian Isaac Deutscher wrote: "In her assassination Hohenzollern Germany celebrated its last triumph and Nazi Germany its first."