Rosa Luxemburg († January 15, 1919 in Berlin) was an influential Polish-Russian representative of the European labor movement, Marxism, antimilitarism, and proletarian internationalism.
From 1887 she was active in Polish Social Democracy, and from 1898 also in German Social Democracy. There she fought nationalism, opportunism and revisionism from the beginning. She advocated mass strikes as a means of sociopolitical change and to prevent war. Immediately after the beginning of World War I in 1914, she founded the “Gruppe Internationale,” from which the Spartakusbund emerged. This she led as a political prisoner together with Karl Liebknecht through political writings in which she analyzed and condemned the SPD”s Burgfrieden policy. She affirmed the October Revolution, but at the same time criticized the democratic centralism of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. During the November Revolution, she tried to influence current events as editor-in-chief of the newspaper Die Rote Fahne in Berlin. As author of the Spartakusbund program, she called for a soviet republic and the disempowerment of the military on December 14, 1918. In early 1919, she co-founded the Communist Party of Germany, which adopted her program but refused to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections as she had demanded. After the ensuing Spartacus Uprising was put down, she and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by members of the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division. These murders deepened the split between the SPD and the KPD.
Rosa Luxemburg”s date of birth is uncertain. Her birth certificate, followed by her marriage certificate and other documents, state December 25, 1870. In 1907, however, in response to a birthday letter on this date, she wrote that the certificate had only been issued subsequently and that the date on it had been “corrected”; in fact, she was “not quite so old. Her family and she herself always celebrated her birthday on March 5. For her matriculation at the University of Zurich, she gave 1871 as her year of birth. Therefore, more recent biographers give March 5, 1871 as her birth date. Her surname Luxenburg became Luxemburg during her father”s lifetime due to an official misspelling, which she then retained. She shortened her first name Rosalia colloquially to Rosa.
She was the fifth and last child of Eliasz Luxenburg (1830-1900), a timber merchant who later called himself Edward, and his wife Lina, née Löwenstein (1835-1897). Their parents were Jews in the rural middle town of Zamość in the Russian-controlled part of Poland. The Luxenburgs had come to Zamość as landscape architects, the Löwensteins as rabbis and Hebraists. Their mother”s brother, Bernard Löwenstein, was a rabbi at the Temple Synagogue in Lemberg. Over a third of the inhabitants were Polish Jews, mostly Haskala representatives with a high level of education. Their parents did not belong to any religious community or political party, but sympathized with the Polish national movement and promoted local culture. They owned a house in Town Hall Square and modest wealth, which they used primarily for the education of their children. The sons (Natan Mikolaj, Maximilian, Jozef), like their father, attended higher schools in Germany. The family spoke and read Polish and German at home, not Yiddish. The mother, in particular, taught the children classical and romantic German and Polish poetry.
Rosa received a comprehensive humanistic education and learned not only Polish, German and Russian, but also Latin and ancient Greek. She mastered French, could read English and understand Italian. She knew the important literary works of Europe, recited poetry, was a good draftswoman, was interested in botany and geology, collected plants and stones, and loved music, especially opera and the songs of Hugo Wolf. Among her authors, who were respected throughout her life, was Adam Mickiewicz.
In 1873, the family moved to Warsaw to strengthen the father”s business connections and provide better educational opportunities for the daughters. In 1874, one of the daughter”s hip ailments was mistakenly diagnosed as tuberculosis and incorrectly treated. As a result, her hip remained deformed, causing her to limp slightly from then on. At the age of five, during almost a year of bed rest prescribed by her doctor, she learned to read and write self-taught. At nine she translated German stories into Polish, wrote poems and novellas. At the age of 13, she wrote a sarcastic poem in Polish about Kaiser Wilhelm I, who was visiting Warsaw at the time. In it, she ducked him and demanded, “Tell your cunning rag Bismarck, Do it for Europe, Emperor of the West, Command him not to shame the pants of peace.”
From 1884, Rosa attended the Second Women”s Gymnasium in Warsaw, which only admitted Polish girls in exceptional cases, and even more rarely Jewish girls, and where only Russian was allowed to be spoken. For this reason, too, she became involved in a secret circle of further education starting in 1886. There she became acquainted with the Marxist group “Proletariat,” founded in 1882, which distinguished itself from the anti-czarist terror of the Russian Narodnaya Volya, but like the latter was persecuted by the state and dissolved. Only in the underground did some subgroups continue to work, including the Warsaw group “Second Proletariat,” founded in 1887 by Martin Kasprzak. Rosa Luxemburg joined this group without hiding it at home and at school. There she read for the first time writings of Karl Marx, which at that time were brought illegally to Poland and translated into Polish. In 1888, she passed the Abitur at the top of her class and with the highest grade of “excellent.” The school administration refused to award her the gold medal to which she was entitled “because of her oppositional attitude towards the authorities”. In December 1888, she fled Warsaw to escape the tsarist police, who had discovered her membership in the banned “proletariat,” and finally, with Kasprzak”s help, from Poland to Switzerland.
Study and construction of the SDKP (1890-1897)
In February 1889, Rosa Luxemburg moved to Oberstrass near Zurich, because in the German-speaking world women and men were only allowed to study on an equal footing at the University of Zurich. From October 1889 she took philosophy, mathematics, botany and zoology. In 1892 she switched to law, where she took international law, general constitutional law, and insurance law. In 1893 she also enrolled in political science. There she took economics with a focus on finance, economic and stock market crises. She also studied general administration and history, especially medieval history and diplomatic history since 1815, studying primarily with Julius Wolf, who studied Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx”s Das Kapital, which he claimed to refute. He expressed his belief in 1924 that she had been a convinced Marxist even before she began her studies.
Zurich was attractive for many politically persecuted foreign socialists. Rosa Luxemburg quickly found contact with German, Polish, and Russian émigré associations that were trying to prepare the revolutionary overthrow of their governments from their Swiss exile. She lived in the house of the family of Carl Lübeck (SPD), who had emigrated after his conviction at the Leipzig treason trial in 1872. Through him, she gained insight into the development of the SPD. Among others, she got to know the Russian Marxists Pavel Axelrod and Georgi Plekhanov and formed a circle of friends and discussions that maintained regular contacts between emigrated students and workers.
From 1891 she had a love affair with the Russian Marxist Leo Jogiches. He was her partner until 1906 and remained closely associated with her politically throughout her life. He taught her his conspiratorial methods and helped finance her studies. She helped him translate Marxist texts into Russian, which he smuggled into Poland and Russia in competition with Plekhanov. Plekhanov then isolated Yogiches in the Russian émigré scene. Rosa Luxemburg”s initial attempts at mediation failed.
In 1892, several illegal Polish splinter parties, including former “proletariat” members, founded the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), which sought Poland”s national independence and transformation into a bourgeois democracy. The program was a compromise of various interests that had not been worked out because of the persecution situation. In July 1893, Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Julian Balthasar Marchlewski and Adolf Warski founded the Parisian exile newspaper Sprawa Robotnicza (“Workers” Matter”). In it, they advocated a strictly internationalist course against the PPS program: the Polish working class could emancipate itself only together with the Russian, German and Austrian classes. Priority had to be given not to shaking off Russian domination in Poland but to working together in solidarity to overthrow tsarism, then capitalism and the monarchy throughout Europe.
Rosa Luxemburg was in the vanguard of this line. As a newspaper editor (pseudonym: “R. Kruszynska”), she was allowed to participate as a Polish delegate in the Congress of the 2nd International (August 6-12, 1893) in the Tonhalle in Zurich. In her report on the development of social democracy in Russian Poland since 1889, she stressed that Poland”s three parts were now so integrated economically into the markets of the occupying states that a restoration of an independent Polish nation-state would be an anachronistic step backward. In response, PPS delegate Ignacy Daszyński challenged her delegate status. Her defense speech brought her to international attention: She declared that behind the inner-Polish dispute was a principled decision of direction affecting all socialists. Her group represented the genuine Marxist point of view and thus the Polish proletariat. But a congress majority recognized the PPS as the only legitimate Polish delegation and excluded Rosa Luxemburg.
As a result, she and her friends founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKPiL) party in August 1893. The illegal founding party congress in Warsaw in March 1894 adopted her editorial of July 1893 as the party program and the Arbeiterache as its press organ. The SDKP saw itself as the direct successor to the “proletariat” and, in strict opposition to the PPS, sought as its immediate goal a liberal-democratic constitution for the entire Russian Empire with territorial autonomy for Poland, in order to be able to build a joint Polish-Russian socialist party. To this end, close, equal cooperation with the Russian Social Democrats, their unification, and integration into the Second International were essential. An independent Poland was an illusory “mirage” intended to distract the Polish proletariat from the international class struggle. Polish socialists should join or closely align themselves with the social-democratic parties of the three partitioning powers. It succeeded in establishing the SDKP in Poland and later attracted many PPS supporters over to it.
Rosa Luxemburg led the Workers” Cause until it was discontinued in July 1896 and also defended the SDKP program abroad with special essays. In Das unabhängige Polen und die Sache der Arbeiter (Independent Poland and the Workers” Cause), she wrote that socialism and nationalism were incompatible, not only in Poland but in general. Nationalism was a subterfuge of the bourgeoisie: if the workers adhered to it, they would endanger their own liberation, since the bourgeoisie would be more likely to ally with the respective rulers against their own workers in the event of a threatening social revolution. In doing so, she always linked Polish experiences with those of other countries, frequently reporting on foreign strikes and demonstrations in an attempt to promote an international class consciousness. Since then, she was hated by political opponents inside and outside Social Democracy and often subjected to anti-Semitic attacks. Members of the Black Hundred group, for example, wrote that their “poison” inculcated hatred of their own fatherland in Polish workers; this “Jewish ejection” was carrying out a “diabolical work of destruction” aimed at the “murder of Poland.”
For the 1896 Congress of the Second International in London, Rosa Luxemburg defended her line in Social Democratic newspapers such as Vorwärts and Neue Zeit. She achieved a debate on it and found Robert Seidel, Jean Jaurès, and Alexander Parvus, among others, as supporters. Karl Kautsky, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Victor Adler, on the other hand, rejected her position. Adler, a representative of Austromarxism, insulted her as a “doctrinaire goose” and tried to circulate a rebuttal in the SPD. At the congress, the PPS wanted Poland”s independence established as a necessary goal of the International and suspected several SDKP representatives of being tsarist secret agents. This time, however, Rosa Luxemburg and the SDKP were admitted as independent representatives of Polish social democracy. She surprised the congress with a counter-resolution, according to which national independence could not be a possible programmatic point of a socialist party. The majority agreed to a compromise version that affirmed the right of peoples to self-determination in general, without mentioning Poland.
After the congress, Rosa Luxemburg wrote articles for the Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung on organizational problems of German and Austrian social democracy and the chances of social democracy in the Ottoman Empire. She pleaded for the dissolution of this empire in order to allow the Turks and other nations to develop capitalistically for the time being. Marx and Engels had been right in their time that tsarist Russia was the stronghold of reaction and should be weakened by all means, but conditions had changed. Once again, leading Social Democrats such as Kautsky, Plekhanov, and Adler publicly contradicted her. Thus she became known far beyond Poland as a socialist thinker with whose views people took issue. She continued her uncompromising struggle against nationalism in the labor movement throughout her life. This stance initially isolated her almost completely and brought her many bitter conflicts, including in the SPD from 1898 and with Lenin from 1903.
Julius Wolf became her doctoral advisor. In 1924, he described her as the “most gifted” of his students in Zurich. In May 1897, Rosa Luxemburg was awarded her doctorate in Zurich, magna cum laude, on the subject of Poland”s industrial development. Using empirical material from libraries and archives in Berlin, Paris, Geneva, and Zurich, she sought to prove that Russian Poland had been integrated into the Russian capital market since 1846 and that its economic growth was entirely dependent on it. In this way, she wanted to support the view that the restoration of Polish national independence was illusory with economic facts, without explicitly arguing in Marxist terms. After publication, Rosa Luxemburg wanted to build on this by writing an economic history of Poland; the manuscript for this, which she often mentioned, was lost but, according to her, was partially processed in Franz Mehring”s explanations of Marx texts he had edited.
Spokeswoman of the Left in the SPD (1898-1914)
In order to more effectively win over the SPD and the workers in the German-occupied part of Poland to the SDKP, Rosa Luxemburg decided to move to Germany in 1897 against the wishes of Leo Jogiches. In order to obtain German citizenship, on April 19, 1898, she married Gustav Lübeck, a 24-year-old locksmith and the only son of her Zurich host family in Basel. From May 12, 1898, she lived at Cuxhavener Strasse 2 (Berlin-Hansaviertel) and immediately joined the SPD, which was considered by the labor movement to be the most progressive socialist party in Europe. She offered the SPD district leader Ignaz Auer to campaign for the SPD among Polish and German workers in Silesia. Through her eloquence and successful campaign speeches, she quickly gained prestige in the SPD as a sought-after specialist on Polish affairs. In the following Reichstag elections, the SPD won mandates in Silesia for the first time, breaking the previous autocracy of the Catholic Center Party.
In 1890, the Socialist Laws had been repealed in the German Empire after twelve years. As a result, the SPD won more Reichstag seats in elections. Most SPD deputies wanted to preserve the SPD”s new legality and advocated less and less a revolutionary overthrow and more and more the gradual expansion of parliamentary rights and social reforms within the framework of the existing social order. The Erfurt Program of 1891 held up social revolution only as a theoretical distant goal and separated the everyday struggle for reform from it. Eduard Bernstein, author of the practical part of the program, moved away from Marxism starting in 1896 with a series of articles on “Problems of Socialism” in Die Neue Zeit and founded the theory later called reformism: reconciliation of interests and reforms would mitigate the excesses of capitalism and bring about socialism in an evolutionary way, so that the SPD could confine itself to parliamentary means. Kautsky, a close friend of Bernstein and editor of Die Neue Zeit, did not allow any criticisms of Bernstein”s theses to be printed. Alexander Parvus, by then editor-in-chief of the Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung, then opened the revisionism controversy in January 1898 with a polemical series of articles against Bernstein.
On September 25, 1898, Parvus was expelled from the country. At his urgent request, Rosa Luxemburg moved to Dresden and took over the editorship of the Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung. As a result, she was allowed to speak at the following SPD party congress in Stuttgart (October 1-7, 1898) on all the topics of the day, not just Poland. There, for the first time, she intervened in the Bernstein debate, positioning herself on the Marxist party wing, emphasizing its conformity with the party program and rejecting the style of debate: personal polemics only showed the lack of factual arguments. The party executive around August Bebel avoided a programmatic decision. In the weeks that followed, she published her own series of articles against Bernstein”s theory, which later became part of her book Sozialreform oder Revolution? In it, she took a consistently class-struggle stance: genuine social reforms must always keep in mind the goal of social revolution and serve it. Socialism could only be achieved through the seizure of power by the proletariat and the upheaval of production relations.
Georg Gradnauer, Dresden SPD Reichstag deputy and Bernstein supporter, attacked the leftists in the Vorwärts as having caused the dispute. Rosa Luxemburg defended them in the Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung and allowed him to print a first but not a second replica. As a result, three fellow editors, who wanted to use the change of editorship for more of their own rights and felt patronized by her attempts to raise the quality of the paper, publicly opposed her. On November 2, she therefore offered her resignation, but wanted to wait for the SPD Press Commission”s decision on her editorial rights. The following day, the Vorwärts claimed that she had already resigned. August Bebel arranged for the SPD Press Commission to agree with her colleagues and forbid her to respond publicly: she had shown herself too much as a woman and too little as a party comrade. Her direct reply to Bebel, in which she rejected the restriction of her freedom of action as editor-in-chief, remained unpublished. This negative experience furthered her later attacks on the hierarchical organizational structures of the SPD.
She moved back to Berlin and from there regularly wrote anonymous articles for various SPD newspapers about important economic and technical developments around the world for a fee. To do this, she researched daily in libraries, which led to her being under police surveillance for a time starting in December 1898. Her close friends included Clara Zetkin, who advocated a self-determined international women”s movement inside and outside the SPD, and Bruno Schönlank, editor-in-chief of the Leipziger Volkszeitung. There, in February 1899, she rejected the theses of Max Schippel in a series of articles entitled Militia and Militarism: the latter wanted to abandon the SPD goal of a people”s militia as an alternative to the imperial military and saw the existing standing armies as an indispensable economic relief and transition to a future “people”s army.” She criticized Schippel”s rapprochement with imperial militarism as a logical consequence of Bernsteinian revisionism and its failure to be combated in the SPD. She suggested that the internal minutes of the SPD Reichstag faction be published and that Schippel”s theses be discussed at the next party congress. This time she met with a positive response from the party executive. Kautsky invited her to his home in March 1899 and proposed an alliance against militaristic tendencies in the SPD. Wilhelm Liebknecht allowed her to speak on the current course of the government and the SPD in Berlin. Bebel met with her, supported her demands, but continued to refuse to take a stand of his own because he feared electoral losses for the SPD. The party leadership had thus recognized her as a partner in dialogue. It used this to campaign for greater acceptance of the SDKP”s positions.
From April 4 to 8, 1899, Rosa Luxemburg responded to Bernstein”s new book, The Preconditions of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy, with a second series of articles on the topic of social reform or revolution? in the Leipziger Volkszeitung. In it, she affirmed the SPD”s everyday struggle for reform as a necessary means to the end of abolishing the exploitative wage system. Bernstein had abandoned this end and made the means of the class struggle, the reforms, an end in itself. In doing so, he had basically declared the mission of the SPD historically obsolete. The SPD would give itself up if it followed this. Marx”s theory of crisis remained relevant, she said, because the growth of the productive forces under capitalism inevitably produced periodic crises of sales, and credit and business organizations only shifted these crises to interstate competition, but did not abolish them. She called on the “revisionists” to leave the SPD because they had abandoned the party goal. For this, she found much support in the SPD. Several SPD constituencies requested the expulsion of the revisionists.
At the Reich Party Congress in Hanover (October 9-17, 1899), Bebel, as keynote speaker, reaffirmed the Erfurt Program, free and critical discussion of Marx”s theory, and rejected the exclusion of the revisionists. Rosa Luxemburg largely agreed with him: since the revisionists did not determine the SPD position anyway, their exclusion was not necessary. It was enough to put them in their place ideologically. A proletarian revolution meant the prospect of a minimum of violence; the extent to which this was necessary was determined by the opponent. Since this inner-party dispute, Rosa Luxemburg had been known, respected and sometimes feared as a sharp-tongued and intelligent opponent of the “revisionists”. As a Jew from abroad, she experienced much rejection in the SPD.
In 1900 her father died. At her request, Leo Jogiches moved in with her in Berlin. She dissolved her marriage to Gustav Lübeck. In 1903 she became a member of the International Socialist Bureau. In the 1903 Reichstag election campaign, Kaiser Wilhelm II claimed that he understood the problems of the German workers better than any Social Democrat. To this Rosa Luxemburg replied in an election campaign speech: “The man who speaks of the good and secure existence of the German workers has no idea of the facts.” For this, in July 1904, she was sentenced to three months in prison for “insulting the majesty,” six weeks of which she had to serve. In 1904 she first criticized Lenin”s centralist party concept (Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy) in the Russian newspaper Iskra. Representing the SPD and the SDKPiL, she asserted class-struggle versus reformist positions at the Second International Congress in Amsterdam. In 1905 she became an editor at the SPD party newspaper Vorwärts. In December 1905, under the pseudonym “Anna Matschke,” she traveled to Warsaw with Leo Jogiches to support the Russian Revolution of 1905 and to persuade the SDKPiL to participate in it. In March 1906 she was arrested. She managed to avert a court-martial with the threat of a death sentence. After her release on a large bail, she traveled to Petersburg and met Russian revolutionaries, including Lenin.
In this context, Polish nationalists (Roman Dmowski, Andrzej Niemojewski) publicly accused her of directing the “Jewish” internationalist wing of Social Democracy, which was conspiring to destroy Congress Poland. The anti-Semite Niemojewski blamed Jewry for socialism. Rosa Luxemburg then succeeded in getting leading Western European social democrats (the Frenchman Jean Jaurès as well as August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Franz Mehring) to jointly reject anti-Semitism as the ideology of the reactionary bourgeoisie.
She warned early on of a coming war between the major European powers, attacked German militarism and imperialism ever more strongly, and tried to commit her party to a vigorous counter-course. In 1906, at the request of the Weimar public prosecutor”s office, she was sentenced to two months in prison for “inciting various classes of the population to violence” in an SPD party conference speech, which she served in full. After her return to Germany, she processed her experiences with the Russian Revolution in the writing Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften (1906). In order to practice the “international solidarity of the working class” against the war, she demanded that the SPD prepare a general strike along Polish-Russian lines. At the same time, she continued her international commitment and in 1907 participated with Leo Jogiches in the fifth party congress of the Russian Social Democrats in London. At the following congress of the Second International in Stuttgart, she successfully introduced a resolution providing for joint action by all European workers” parties against the war.
From 1907, she maintained a love affair with Kostja Zetkin that lasted several years and from which about 600 letters have been preserved.
Also from 1907, she taught economic history and national economics at the SPD party school in Berlin, and in 1911 the subject “History of Socialism,” introduced at her suggestion, was added. One of her students was the later KPD founder and GDR president Wilhelm Pieck. When the SPD spoke out clearly against the colonialism and imperialism of the Kaiserreich during the uprising of the Herero and Nama in German Southwest Africa, today”s Namibia, it lost about a third of its Reichstag seats in the 1907 Reichstag elections – the so-called “Hottentot elections.” But the SPD and trade union leadership continued to reject the general strike as a political means of struggle. Rosa Luxemburg”s friendship with Karl Kautsky broke down over this in 1910. At that time, reports in the New York Times about the Socialist Congress in Magdeburg also made her known in the USA.
In 1912, representing the SPD, she traveled to European socialist congresses, including the one in Paris where she and Jean Jaurès brought the European workers” parties to a solemn commitment to call for a general strike at the outbreak of war. In 1913, when the Balkan War almost triggered a world war, she organized demonstrations against the war. In two speeches in Frankfurt-Bockenheim on September 25 and in Fechenheim near Frankfurt am Main on September 26, 1913, she called on a crowd of hundreds of thousands to refuse military service and orders: “If we are expected to raise murder weapons against our French or other foreign brothers, we declare: ”No, we won”t do it!”” She was therefore charged with “inciting disobedience to laws and orders of the authorities” and sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison in February 1914. Her speech before the Frankfurt Criminal Chamber was later published under the title Militarism, War and the Working Class. Before going to prison, she was able to attend a meeting of the International Socialist Bureau at the end of July. There she realized with disillusionment: nationalism was also stronger than international class consciousness in the European workers” parties, especially the German and French ones.
Involvement during the First World War (1914-1918)
On August 2, in response to the German Reich”s declaration of war on Russia and France the previous day, the German trade unions declared a strike and wage renunciation for the entire duration of the impending war. On August 4, 1914, the SPD Reichstag faction voted unanimously, along with the other Reichstag factions, to take out the first war loans, thus enabling mobilization. Rosa Luxemburg experienced this breach of the SPD”s pre-war resolutions as a serious, momentous failure on the part of the SPD and briefly considered suicide as a result. From her point of view, opportunism, which she had always fought against, had triumphed and resulted in a yes to the war.
On August 5, together with Hermann Duncker, Hugo Eberlein, Julian Marchlewski, Franz Mehring, Ernst Meyer and Wilhelm Pieck, she founded the “Gruppe Internationale,” which Karl Liebknecht and others joined a short time later. This group brought together those opponents of the SPD who completely rejected its policy of stalemate. They tried to persuade the party to return to its pre-war resolutions and to turn away from the policy of a truce, to prepare a general strike for a peace settlement, and thus also to come closer to an international proletarian revolution. This gave rise in 1916 to the Reich-wide “Spartacus Group,” whose Spartacus Letters were jointly edited by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
On February 18, 1915, Rosa Luxemburg had to begin the prison sentence she had received in Berlin”s Weibergefängnis for the speech she had given in Frankfurt am Main. She was released a year later. Just three months later, she was sentenced to a total of two and a half years in prison under the then protective custody law for “averting a danger to the security of the Reich.” Her “preventive detention” began in July 1916. She spent three years and four months in prison between 1915 and 1918. She was transferred twice, first to Wronke near Posen, then to Breslau. There she collected news from Russia and wrote some essays, which her friends smuggled out and published illegally. In her essay The Crisis of Social Democracy, published in June 1916 under the pseudonym Junius, she reckoned with the “bourgeois social order” and the role of the SPD, whose reactionary nature the war had revealed. Lenin was aware of this writing and responded positively to it, without suspecting who had written it.
In February 1917, the revolutionary overthrow of the tsar in Russia raised hopes for an early end to the war. However, the Provisional Government continued the war against Germany. There, protests and mass strikes lasted for months in many cities in March: first against the economy of scarcity, then against wage sacrifice, and finally against the war and the monarchy. In April 1917, the USA entered the war. Now the opponents of the war, whom the SPD had excluded, founded the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, which quickly gained popularity. Although the Spartacus League had until then rejected the party split, it now joined the new Left Party. It retained its group status so that it could continue to consistently campaign for an international socialist revolution. Only a few USPD founders followed this goal.
While the SPD leadership tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Supreme Army Command (OHL) to negotiate peace with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the latter allowed Lenin to pass through from his Swiss exile to St. Petersburg. There he won over the leadership of the Bolsheviks and offered the Russians an immediate separate peace with Germany. This won the Bolsheviks a majority in the People”s Congress, but not in the Duma, the Russian national parliament. In the October Revolution, they occupied it, dissolved it, and set up workers” councils (soviets) as organs of government.
Rosa Luxemburg kept herself informed about these events and wrote the essay On the Russian Revolution. In it, she welcomed Lenin”s revolution, but at the same time sharply criticized his strategy and warned against a dictatorship of the Bolsheviks. In this context she formulated the famous sentence: “Freedom is always freedom of dissenters.” It was not until 1922 that her friend Paul Levi published this essay. Despite her reservations, she now tirelessly called for a German revolution on the Russian model and demanded a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” but demarcated this term against Lenin”s concept of the vanguard. She understood this to mean the democratic self-activity of the workers in the revolutionary process, factory occupations, self-management and political strikes up to the realization of socialist relations of production.
November Revolution and the founding of the KPD (1918-1919)
In the January strike of 1918, independent workers” representatives, the revolutionary Obleute, emerged in many strike-stricken factories. More and more Germans rejected the continuation of the war. After the breakthrough of the Triple Entente on the Western Front on August 8, 1918, the imperial government, at the request of the Supreme Army Command (OHL), involved the Reichstag in its decisions for the first time on October 5. Max von Baden became Reich Chancellor, and several Social Democrats joined the government. The latter asked the Entente for armistice negotiations. The Spartacists saw this constitutional change as a deceptive maneuver to ward off the coming revolution and, on October 7, issued their demands throughout the Reich for a fundamental restructuring of the social and state order.
The November Revolution reached Berlin on November 9, where Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a German republic, and Karl Liebknecht, released from prison early, proclaimed a socialist republic. Rosa Luxemburg was released from Breslau prison on November 9 and arrived in Berlin on November 10. Karl Liebknecht had already reorganized the Spartacus League. Together, the two published the newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Banner) to influence developments on a daily basis. In one of her first articles, Rosa Luxemburg called for an amnesty for all political prisoners and the abolition of the death penalty. On November 18, she wrote:
According to Wilhelm von Bode”s recollection, she advocated the protection of Berlin”s cultural assets against looters at the time and ensured that a guard was assigned to Berlin”s Museum Island.Ebert had secretly agreed with Ludendorff”s successor, General Wilhelm Groener, on the evening of November 10 in the Ebert-Groener Pact to cooperate against attempts to disempower the imperial officers and further revolution and ordered former front-line troops to Berlin in early December. These were to thwart undesirable results of the planned Congress of Imperial Councils, which was to prepare a new constitution and elections. On December 6, soldiers from these troops shot demonstrating workers during street fighting. On December 10, the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division moved into Berlin. Rosa Luxemburg suspected that Ebert intended to use these Reichswehr units against Berlin workers, and in response demanded in the article What Does the Spartacus League Want? in the Red Banner on December 14 that all power be given to the councils, that the returned soldiers be disarmed and re-educated, and that the “people be armed.” It rejected terror as practiced by the Bolsheviks, but it did not want to talk about non-violence in view of the expected resistance of the capitalist class:
Only ten Spartacists were represented at the Reich Council Congress from December 16 to 20. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were not given the right to speak. A majority voted, in accordance with the broad will of the population, for parliamentary elections to the Weimar National Assembly on January 19, 1919, and the self-dissolution of the workers” councils. A control commission was to supervise the military, and a socialization commission was to begin the much-demanded expropriation of large-scale war-related industries.
As a result of the Christmas struggles of December 24, the members of the USPD left the Council of People”s Deputies on December 29. Thereupon, Luxemburg insinuated that it would establish a dictatorship. In doing so, she delegitimized the government and its efforts to create a parliamentary democracy. For Luxemburg, there was only a choice between two dictatorships: that of Ebert-Scheidemann or a military dictatorship under Paul von Hindenburg, which she considered possible, and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which she advocated.
On January 1, 1919, the Spartacists and other left-wing socialist groups from all over the Reich founded the KPD. The latter adopted Rosa Luxemburg”s Spartacist program, with little change, as its party program. In it, she stressed that communists would never seize power without a declared majority popular will. Her urgent recommendation to participate in the coming parliamentary elections in order to campaign for a continuation of the revolution there as well was rejected by a clear party conference majority.
When Ebert deposed Berlin police chief Emil Eichhorn (USPD) on January 4, 1919, for making common cause with insurgent soldiers during the Christmas fights, revolutionary obleutes called for a general strike on January 5 and occupied the Berlin newspaper district to call for the overthrow of the interim government. While Karl Liebknecht supported them and the KPD unsuccessfully tried to persuade Berlin regiments to participate, Rosa Luxemburg considered this second attempt at revolution to be inadequately prepared, premature, and harshly criticized Liebknecht internally for it. While Karl Liebknecht openly called for armed struggle against the government, Rosa Luxemburg advised against it. But she did not want to publicly advise against the uprising either. Calls for murder against the Spartacus leaders had been circulating in newspapers since early December; at that time, Eduard Stadtler had founded an “Anti-Bolshevik League” with money from Deutsche Bank and Friedrich Naumann, whose Anti-Bolshevik Fund received money from German business from January 10, 1919. This was used, among other things, to pay for the recruitment and equipment of the Freikorps and rewards for the arrest and murder of Spartacists. The government spoke on leaflets of the impending “hour of reckoning,” while the revolutionary side threatened government members with the “scaffold” on its leaflets and spoke of “mortal enemies.” Mediation talks between the Revolutionary Committee and the interim government failed. Imperial troops commanded by Gustav Noske violently put down the so-called Spartacus Uprising from January 8 to 12, shooting hundreds of insurgents, including many unarmed people who had already surrendered. The Spartacus leaders had to go into hiding, but remained in Berlin. In this situation, more military units, Freikorps, moved into the city on January 13. The Guard Cavalry Rifle Division, soon expanded to the Guard Cavalry Rifle Corps, was moved to Berlin. Further acts of violence by these units followed. The forces were not necessarily united to secure the government, but united in the fight against the republic, democracy and revolutionaries.
Murder and burial
In the last days of her life, Rosa Luxemburg”s health was very poor, but she still actively followed the revolutionary events. In her last publication in the Red Banner, she reaffirmed her unconditional faith in the working class; it would learn from its defeats and soon rise again to “final victory.” Already since December, leaflets and posters had been published by the “Anti-Bolshevik League” calling for the capture of the leaders of the revolutionary uprising. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were explicitly named as responsible. In all these media, there was an explicit call to kill the leaders of the Spartacus League.
On January 15, 1919, a “Wilmersdorf vigilante group,” which had precise wanted posters, arrested her and Karl Liebknecht in an apartment at Mannheimer Strasse 27 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf and took them to the Eden Hotel. There resided the staff of the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division under First General Staff Officer Captain Waldemar Pabst, who organized the persecution of Spartacists in Berlin. The commander of this division was Lieutenant General Heinrich von Hofmann, who, severely limited in health, left operational command to Pabst. The prisoners were interrogated one after the other for several hours and seriously injured.
Pabst decided with his officers to murder them; the murder was to look like a spontaneous act of strangers. To the end of his life, he understood this not as a murder, but as an execution in the national interest. The hunter Otto Wilhelm Runge, who was waiting at the main entrance, hit Rosa Luxemburg several times with the butt of a rifle as she was leaving the hotel until she was unconscious. She was thrown into a waiting car. Freikorps lieutenant Hermann Souchon jumped up on the running board of the carriage as she was being taken away and shot her with a mounted shot to the temple at about the corner of Nürnberger StraßeKurfürstendamm (today Budapester Straße). Kurt Vogel had her body thrown into the Berlin Landwehr Canal near today”s Lichtenstein Bridge.
The official reading for this murder was “killed by an angry crowd while leaving the hotel.” The body had later been taken by a “crowd”.
Because her body had not yet been found, an empty coffin for Rosa Luxemburg was symbolically buried next to Karl Liebknecht at the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery on January 25, 1919. Over 100,000 people attended. The assassination of the Spartacus leaders was followed by civil war-like unrest throughout Germany until early July 1919. Gustav Noske had them violently suppressed with Freikorps and imperial troops; this claimed several thousand lives.
On May 31, 1919, a lock worker found Rosa Luxemburg”s body at a lock in the Landwehr Canal near the Untere Freiarchenbrücke. To avoid mass unrest, Noske imposed a news blackout, had the body confiscated and taken to the military camp in Zossen. The forensic physicians Fritz Straßmann and Paul Fraenckel performed an autopsy on him at the Wünsdorf-Waldstadt military hospital and determined that the cause of death was a close-range pistol shot. On June 5, Mathilde Jacob identified the dead woman. On June 13, Rosa Luxemburg”s body was brought to Berlin and buried next to Karl Liebknecht”s grave. Tens of thousands accompanied the burial. There was also a large demonstration and strikes in Vienna to mark the occasion.
For decades, Kurt Vogel was thought to have murdered Rosa Luxemburg, but Hermann Souchon is now considered to have committed the crime. Both officers, however, were directly involved in the crime. In both cases, the soldier who struck the prisoners with the butt of his rifle before the car left was Otto Runge.
Marxism as a self-critical method of capitalism analysis
Rosa Luxemburg vigorously advocated the ideas of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. However, she did not interpret their theories dogmatically, but critically:
In two essays on Marx, she updated his basic ideas quite differently. For Franz Mehring”s 1901 biography of Marx, she wrote a summary of Capital. In it she explained
For them, these regularities established the fundamental class solidarity of the owners of capital vis-à-vis the producers, so that structural exploitation could only be overcome through the abolition of wage labor and class rule.
As a party lecturer since 1907, then in 1916 while imprisoned, she also wrote a generally understandable introduction to national economics, which appeared posthumously in 1925.
In her major work, The Accumulation of Capital, published in 1913, Rosa Luxemburg developed her theory of imperialism. She showed, similar to John Atkinson Hobson”s underconsumption theory earlier, that imperialism was “a historical necessity, the concluding stage of capitalist development”.
In critical reference to Marx”s remarks on the scheme of extended reproduction (capital accumulation) in the second volume of “Capital”, she proves, among other things also with reference to Engels” remarks on Marx”s manuscripts, that Marx did not work out this point conclusively and without contradiction, but rather contradicts his own solution elsewhere, namely in the third volume and in the theories on surplus value, and that his solution is a simple arithmetical construction. The problem here is already for Marx the question of who realizes (buys) surplus value, that is, the additional mountain of commodities, in the case of total social accumulation. Marx tried to solve the problem, among other things, with the concept of extended money production (mining capital for gold), which he had previously rejected, but elsewhere in Capital called this “tasteless.” Rosa Luxemburg also shows, in terms of theoretical history, that bourgeois political economy before Marx had already wrestled intensively with this problem and could not provide a solution to the lack of demand for the surplus product at the conclusion of accumulation, but rather, in the interest of avoiding the crises, somehow wanted to mediate the contradictions politically or simply denied them.
Since neither the workers nor the capitalists come into question as consumers for the surplus product, i.e. for the realization of surplus value in Marx”s scheme of expanded reproduction, according to Rosa Luxemburg the market must be expanded accordingly. Capitalist growth is thus always ensured at the expense of natural economic and non-capitalist modes of production, both within the country itself and outside it. She traces this expansion on the basis of colonial history: 1. with the dissolution of the natural economy through the compulsory introduction of ownership of land and thus the division of communally organized natural resources, 2. through the introduction of the commodity economy, 3. through the dissolution of the peasantry and, connected with this, finally 4. through the introduction of large-scale capitalist production, above all with the capital of the colonial powers. The bloody colonial conflicts associated with the expropriations for the realization of surplus value, for example the Opium War in China, the colonization of South Africa, the War of Secession and the tax burdens associated with it, or the North African and Asia Minor colonial efforts of German capital, are extensively used by her as historical material.
By considering the accumulation of capital, which is its only purpose, thus not inherently solvable in the system, for example accumulation for accumulation”s sake, i.e. growth of the machine-building industry for the increased production of machines without final consumption, she declares in summary at the end of her consideration the dissolution of simple commodity production:
By demonstrating colonialism as a compelling necessity of capitalism, she also expanded and modified Marx”s theory of crisis:
In their opinion, this is the only way to properly understand the history of capitalism in the 19th century.
Beginning in 1896, Eduard Bernstein published his series of articles revising Marx”s alleged theory of collapse. He concluded from the temporary absence of crises that capitalism had proved unexpectedly durable. The SPD, he said, must therefore abandon its revolutionary goals and concentrate entirely on improving the living conditions of workers: “The goal is nothing to me, the movement is everything.”
Rosa Luxemburg”s pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution summed up her response:
These sentences, which foresaw some of the developments to come, were rejected at the time by many party and trade union officials, who hoped for recognition through adaptation in the empire and gains in votes by renouncing revolution. Rosa Luxemburg thus did not set the upheaval of production relations against the everyday struggle for better living conditions, but advocated an interlocking of reform and revolution in the proletarian struggle for self-liberation. Reforms were also intended to form the political consciousness of the workers and prevent the SPD from being appropriated to preserve the class of the bourgeoisie.
Critical solidarity with the October Revolution
After the fall of the tsar as a result of the February Revolution of 1917, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the article The Revolution in Russia. In it, she emphasized the driving force of the Russian proletariat in the events. Its rise to power had initially pushed the liberal bourgeoisie to the forefront of the revolutionary movement. Its task now was to end the imperialist war. To do this, it had to fight its own bourgeoisie, which desperately needed the war and wanted to continue it. This had made Russia ripe for the socialist revolution.
Thus, she foresaw that only another revolution in the Russian Empire would end the war. For the Mensheviks, like German and French social democrats, wanted to continue to gain advantages for their country. But because the urban industrial proletariat in Russia was proportionately much smaller than the backward rural small peasantry, Rosa Luxemburg, like Lenin, considered an analogous German revolution indispensable in order to create the conditions for socialism in both countries at the same time as the war ended. To this end, she wanted to unite the pan-European workers” movement to the best of her ability.
Rosa Luxemburg welcomed Lenin”s attempt at revolution after he had had the constituent assembly dissolved by force. She criticized, however, that the Bolsheviks thus suspended any parliamentary control over their policies. She recognized that Lenin was beginning to suppress not only other parties but also democracy within his own party. This threatened the absolutely necessary participation and leadership of the workers in building socialism. That is why, after the October Revolution, she criticized the Bolsheviks” tendency toward party dictatorship with the famous sentences:
When she spoke of freedom of dissent, however, Luxemburg was not thinking of “class enemies” or “class traitors,” emphasizes historian Heinrich August Winkler. It was not liberal democracy but socialist pluralism that she had in mind.
In a sharp confrontation with the dictatorship theory of Lenin and Trotsky, she goes on to say that the latter, on the one hand, like Kautsky on the other, commit the basic error of opposing dictatorship to democracy. Thereby they would be two opposite poles, which are equally far away from the real socialist politics.
She goes on to say that it is not a matter of idolatry to formal democracy, nor to socialism or Marxism; rather, the “bitter core of social inequality and unfreedom under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom” must be filled with new social content. In this sense, she defines the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat:
She explained the dilemma in which she saw the Russian revolution in the historical context from the “complete failure of the international proletariat” – above all the SPD – in the face of the imperialist war. Despite all necessary and justified criticism, Lenin”s merit remains to have dared the revolution. In doing so, he had opened up the world-historical opposition between labor and capital internationally and made it conscious. In doing so, she also justified his violent measures, of which she was only initially aware at the time:
Now it became the “historical responsibility” of the German workers to stand up as well to end the war. That is why she enthusiastically welcomed the German January strikes for peace and tried to make the Germans aware of what she saw as the latent historical goal, international socialism, from within the prison.
When the German November Revolution deposed the emperor, it immediately agitated again for proletarian revolution:
After Ebert had deprived the “Vollzugsrat” of its power, it called on the workers” and soldiers” councils to seize power on December 10, 1918. The soviet republic was the natural program of the revolution. But from soldier – the “gendarme of reaction” – to revolutionary proletarian was still a long way. The military, which had hitherto served the “fatherland,” would first have to learn to subordinate its power to the common good and, to this end, be placed under the political control of the workers” councils.
Ebert”s secret pact with Reichswehr General Groener prevented this in the Christmas riots. Thereupon, the radical left-wing groups founded the KPD. Rosa Luxemburg unsuccessfully campaigned for their participation in the elections to the Weimar Reichstag, in order to work for the continuation of the revolution there as well.
Dialectics of the Class Struggle and the Task of the Workers” Parties
Rosa Luxemburg understood history with Marx and Engels as a permanent class struggle. In it there was a tendency to recognize the causes of exploitation and thus to revolutionize the conditions:
In this revolutionary learning process, spontaneity and organization of the working class drove each other forward. For Rosa Luxemburg, the two are inseparable “moments” of the same process that are mutually dependent. For unplanned actions – for example, wildcat strikes against wage cuts – responded to current challenges. In this elementary struggle, workers would gradually recognize the historical tasks and goals of their class. This insight would in turn raise their struggle to a higher level and lead to the formation of organizations, for example trade unions. These would orient and bundle their actions toward long-term planned goals, for example collective agreements. It is the task of the Workers” Party to make conscious and promote the tendency to overcome exploitation that is contained in them. In doing so, it could not detach itself from the workers” own activity:
Rosa Luxemburg thus believed that without organization, spontaneous strikes would have only temporary success, but no lasting power and effect to change society as a whole. Without the workers” own activity, their organizations would also soon lose their thrust, the political goal of socialism. Unlike Engels, Kautsky and Lenin, she did not see the workers” party as a mere electoral party, nor as an elitist cadre party following from “scientific” insight into the course of history:
The party is thus not supposed to “represent” or “lead” the proletariat, but only to be its “vanguard”. For Rosa Luxemburg, it was impossible to separate it from its own movement, which was partly spontaneous and partly organized, but emerged from it and expressed it consciously. It had ahead of the workers only the insight into the necessity of socialism, but not the means to realize it without them. It could not plan and force the revolution if the workers themselves were not ready, capable and mature for it. Its task, therefore, was to train the consciousness of the workers about their historical mission until they were independently capable of overturning the relations of production.
Rosa Luxemburg”s Marxist theory of class struggle, for its part, arose as a result of real processes: Around 1900, more and larger mass strikes broke out in Europe, especially in Russia and Poland. They led to the Russian Revolution of 1905, in the course of which the tsar had to grant the people democratic rights such as the formation of their own parties. These, in turn, prepared the ground for the next revolution, which overthrew the tsar in 1917. Rosa Luxemburg tried to make these experiences of struggle fruitful for the German workers. That is why, since 1905, she demanded that the SPD resolutely prepare for the political general strike. With this linking of political party organization and workers” education in the workplace, she wanted to ward off two things:
The self-organization of the councils was intended to strengthen the workers” parties to assert the overall interests of the proletariat ever more effectively. If they lost contact with their base, they would inevitably fail, in Luxemburg”s view. But she believed that the internal contradictions of capitalism, the opposition of capital and labor, would always put the proletarian revolution on the political agenda. This itself, not the party, would train the masses to be revolutionaries. Only by relying on this could the workers” parties determine and achieve their short- and long-term goals:
Rosa Luxemburg had gained this conviction at the time of the first mass strikes in Poland and found it reinforced by similar mass strikes in Russia, Belgium and northern Europe around 1905. She had tried to introduce the transnational general strike to the SPD in time as a political means of struggle to practically prevent the world war. When this failed, she agreed with Lenin that the crisis brought to a head by the war must lead to revolution and be exploited. The new mass strikes in the course of the war confirmed their confidence in the spontaneity of the working class, which learned from its defeats: new forms of self-organization arose from the disappointments with the SPD leadership, especially among workers in the German armaments industry. Under the pressure of illegality, the Spartacists tried to orient the USPD and the council movement toward joint revolutionary action in time. But in the German November Revolution, spontaneity and party organizations did not work in concert. As a result, only the monarchy was overthrown and a bourgeois republic was established, but the socialization of the means of production important for the war, which had been decided by the Reichsrätekongress at the time, failed to materialize.
Combating the false representation of interests
A party that “represents” and patronizes the workers in parliaments or a “politburo” will inevitably no longer act for them, but against them. It would then itself become the tool of those who wanted to prevent the revolution and turn back its successes. Then the workers would also have to fight a so-called “workers” party.
Thus Rosa Luxemburg wrote in the Red Banner of December 21, 1918:
Therefore, the workers would have to continue the direct class struggle in bourgeois democracy at all costs: in parliaments, but also against them, or both at the same time, depending on the circumstances. In fact, only a general strike prevented a right-wing military dictatorship once again in 1920, but in the following years the workers” movement was divided into two hostile camps that fought each other more than the common opponent, so that they were ultimately unable to stop the decline of the Weimar Republic.
Belief in the proletarian revolution
On the eve of her assassination, Rosa Luxemburg wrote:
The last sentence quotes the 1848 revolutionary Ferdinand Freiligrath, who honored the revolution with this biblical expression as a recurring “red thread” of history. Their related criticism of the leadership concerned not only Ebert but also Hugo Haase (USPD) and Liebknecht (KPD), whose occupation action in January 1919 was miserably planned. A huge crowd of waiting demonstrators was ready at the time to blockade and disarm the approaching soldiers, but was not included by the occupiers.
Rosa Luxemburg – unlike Kautsky and the SPD party executive – did not believe in a determinism of the international revolution in the wake of impoverishment and the collapse of capital rule through war. If socialism failed, humanity would be threatened with a relapse into unimaginable barbarism. The awareness of this either-or was the decisive driving force behind their actions. She considered setbacks and defeats of the working people to be particularly important for their learning process: They could sharpen the historical consciousness for the inevitable necessity of revolution. It was not the “final victory” that was the “pride” of the workers” movement, but the ever new attempt to bring it about.
Rosa Luxemburg thus trusted in the constant learning capacity of working people, in their indestructible ability to determine their own history and to lead it to a goal that would free everyone, not just a minority, from the yoke of class domination. It drew this confidence from the real historical attempts and social movements to achieve a just world society.
The anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg”s death (January 15) became a regular commemoration day for the left. The song Auf, auf zum Kampf was supplemented in 1919 with verses on the double murder of the Spartacus leaders. Max Beckmann depicted Rosa Luxemburg”s murder in 1919 with his painting Martyrium mit Zügen der Kreuzigung Jesu Christi (Martyrdom with features of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ) as a lust murder of the German nation (Germania), which was intended to particularly affect persecuted and disadvantaged groups such as pacifists, communists, Jews and women.
Kurt Eisner, the first Minister President of Bavaria commented shortly before his assassination:
In his 1919 eulogy for Spartacus, Arnold Zweig praised the murdered woman as a martyr for the immortal idea of world peace. He attributed Rosa Luxemburg”s revolutionary attitude to her Jewishness. Luise Kautsky published a selection of her letters from prison to herself, Karl Kautsky, Mathilde Jacob, Sophie “Sonja” Liebknecht and others in 1920. The letters showed a personal side of Rosa Luxemburg that had been little known until then and were often reprinted. In 1921, Richard Lewinsohn praised Rosa Luxemburg in the Weltbühne as the greatest revolutionary Germany had ever known. Artists close to the KPD stylized Rosa Luxemburg as a martyr of the proletariat whose example was to mobilize the masses for the fight against war, “counterrevolution” (meaning primarily social democracy) and fascism. They also placed her alongside representatives of the Soviet Union such as Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, whose policies she had sharply rejected.
Leo Jogiches pushed the investigation of the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht with articles in the Red Banner. He was arrested in March 1919 and murdered in prison. Some of those involved in the crime were court-martialed. The Guard Cavalry Rifle Division chose its judge, Paul Jorns. He delayed the investigation and covered up the complicity of the senior officers. In May 1919, he acquitted most of those involved in the crime and sentenced only Runge and Vogel to minor prison terms and fines, respectively. Runge did not appear in court, was transferred, and evaded punishment by leaving Germany. Pabst was not charged, and possible principals were not sought. Despite many protests, Noske, as Reichswehr minister, confirmed the sentences and prevented an appeal. In 1929, Paul Levi, as a defense lawyer, proved the cover-up of the murders by Paul Jorns. For the historian Wolfram Wette, the “interplay of right-wing extremist military and political justice” in covering up perpetrators and backgrounds continued in many other political murders of opponents of the war.
Paul Levi became the new KPD chairman in 1919 and followed its program by uniting the KPD with the left wing of the USPD (about 300,000 members) in November 1920, making it a mass party. He resigned in February 1921 because the Communist International (CI) was trying to steer the course of the KPD. After the failure of the March struggles in central Germany in 1922, he published Rosa Luxemburg”s critical prison essay on the October Revolution against the KPD”s “putschism.” As a result, the KPD expelled him and his supporters. Against Levi”s intention, some Social Democrats used Luxemburg”s criticism of Lenin for a general anti-communism. As a result, the KPD distanced itself from her even more. The new KPD chairwoman Ruth Fischer wrote in 1924: “Whoever wants to cure Brandler”s ”centralism” by invoking Rosa Luxemburg, wants to cure a gonorrhea patient by instilling syphilis bacilli.” Levi, in turn, criticized in 1924 with reference to Rosa Luxemburg”s criticism of Lenin: “The freedom which the Bolsheviks, like the tsar, claim for themselves lacks the measure of the freedom of others and thus loses all its qualities.”
In the 1920s, the criminal psychologist Erich Wulffen and the “cripple educator” Hans Würtz described Rosa Luxemburg prototypically as a woman who was fanatical and ready to commit crimes because of her physical handicap.
In 1925, the CI identified the “errors of Luxemburgism” in its “Theses on the Bolshevization of the Communist Parties”. With this slogan, Rosa Luxemburg”s positions in the Soviet Union and in the KPD were henceforth devalued as dangerous errors. In 1926, the KPD adopted Josef Stalin”s social fascism thesis, according to which the Free Trade Unions and the SPD in particular were the main enemies of the proletariat. In 1929, on the tenth anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg”s death, the SPD newspaper Vorwärts wrote that the communists had not followed her in 1919. The assertion that the SPD or individual Social Democrats had wanted the murder of the Spartacus leaders was a lie that resembled a desecration of a grave. The KPD glorified the Bolsheviks” atrocities against dissidents. This would have shown Luxemburg and Liebknecht the error of their ways if they had survived. In 1931, as part of his propaganda campaign against Trotskyism, Stalin claimed that Rosa Luxemburg had invented Leon Trotsky”s “theory of permanent revolution” and that Lenin had uncompromisingly rejected “Luxemburgism.” Trotsky refuted these claims in 1932 with quotes from Lenin as a falsification of history. But KPD leader Ernst Thälmann also claimed in 1932: “In all those questions in which Rosa Luxemburg held a different view from Lenin, her opinion was erroneous, so that the whole group of German left radicals in the pre-war and wartime period fell very considerably short of the Bolsheviks in clarity and revolutionary firmness.” He called for the “fiercest struggle against the remnants of Luxemburgism” and described it as a “theoretical platform of counterrevolutionary tendencies.”
Within the majority Social Democracy, Luxemburg”s left-wing radicalism was criticized and explained, albeit mostly behind closed doors, by her Jewish origins. Among revisionist Social Democrats, on the other hand, it was unusual to mention her Jewish origins, if any. The division and paralysis of the workers” movement greatly promoted the political rise of National Socialism. The Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund and the NSDAP defamed the Weimar Republic as a “Jewish republic” and increasingly used the anti-Semitic term “Jewish Bolshevism,” which had originated in Russia. Adolf Hitler met Waldemar Pabst during a visit to Berlin in 1920. Both supported the Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch of that time. In 1925, Paul von Hindenburg was elected president of the Reich. This replacement of Ebert by a former OHL representative was in line with Rosa Luxemburg”s predictions. Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933, thus enabling the “barbarism” of another world war and further genocides that she feared.
After Hitler”s rise to power, the Nazi regime granted Otto Runge, who now called himself Wilhelm Radolf and had not served a day of his prison sentence, 6,000 Reichsmarks in prison compensation. In the 1933 book burning in Germany, the Nazis also burned all of Rosa Luxemburg”s writings published up to that time. In 1935 they destroyed her and Karl Liebknecht”s grave. In his memoirs published in 1935, Eduard Stadtler stated that he had persuaded Pabst to commit the murders in direct conversation.
In his 1939 exile novel about the November Revolution, Alfred Döblin portrayed Rosa Luxemburg retrospectively as a clever, strategically far-sighted and realistic politician, but predominantly as a hysteric and ecstatic mystic. He referred to imaginary conversations with her slain lover Hans Diefenbach and Satan in private letters. The depiction is considered artistically freely designed, not historically accurate.
The SED, founded in 1946, always accused Rosa Luxemburg of “spontaneism,” which had contributed to the failure of the November Revolution. It rejected her views as a whole as “Luxemburgism” in the wake of Stalin. Fred Oelßner wrote in 1951 in the party official Luxemburg biography:
The SED organized the commemoration of the anniversary of her death, which had been celebrated since 1919, as an annual Liebknecht-Luxemburg demonstration in Berlin. In doing so, it made it the most important state demonstration of power alongside May 1 and appropriated Rosa Luxemburg to legitimize the GDR. The meticulous official organization and the prescribed, largely involuntary participation did not generate any real enthusiasm among parts of those involved. In the GDR, her complete works were not published until 1970, and her critique of Lenin not until 1974. Her radical democratic and anti-militaristic texts were commented on as “errors” in the process.
SED dissidents and civil rights activists in the GDR invoked Luxemburg”s texts to criticize the SED”s autocracy and inability to reform. Bertolt Brecht”s 1948 poem Eine Jüdin aus Polen (A Jewish Woman from Poland) about Rosa Luxemburg met with rejection in the then SBZ, as did later memoirs of her in his works in the GDR. In 1965, Robert Havemann called for a new, reformed KPD in both parts of Germany and for the ban on the KPD in the Federal Republic to be lifted. The new KPD would have to be based especially on Rosa Luxemburg”s writings, which had been suppressed by Stalinists for decades: “They were suppressed because Rosa Luxemburg, with prophetic clarity, had already recognized and sharply criticized the first dangerous steps toward the elimination of inner-party democracy, which later led to Stalinism.” The statute and program of the new KPD would have to be “democratic and make any relapse into ”Stalinist” centralism impossible from the outset” by allowing oppositional factions and criticism of members from within and without. In 1968, Havemann called for democratic socialism for the GDR, citing Luxemburg”s quote about the freedom of dissenters.
Wolf Biermann welcomed the publication of Rosa Luxemburg”s critique of Lenin in 1974 as a great step forward for the GDR. He called for its comprehensive democratization as a consequence, if necessary through a revolution, and for the unity of the left in East and West Germany. He quoted the sentence about the freedom of dissenters in his concert in Cologne in 1976, whereupon the GDR government expatriated him. The quote was on a poster by protesters at the annual official celebrations of the anniversary of their deaths on January 17, 1988. The incident triggered a wave of arrests and expulsions and is considered a harbinger of the 1989 Wende.
The city of Berlin named “Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz” after her in 1947. After the fall of communism in the GDR in 1989, Dresden, Erfurt and Weimar each named a square Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and erected monuments to her there.
Federal Republic of Germany
In his 1946 dissertation (Die Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands in der Weimarer Republik), Ossip K. Flechtheim sharply distinguished the founding generation of the KPD around Rosa Luxemburg from the mentality of the later KPD leaders and the soviet republic sought by the Spartacists from the authoritarian state system of the Soviet Union. He thus established Rosa Luxemburg”s image as a “democratic communist.” In the 1960s, he edited her political writings. In his work From Marx to Kolakowski (1978), he emphasized that Rosa Luxemburg had contradicted the deterministic belief in progress of historical materialism with the alternative “socialism or barbarism.” She had been the first Marxist to clearly foresee the potential for violence of the ruling classes and the coming First World War, and she had recognized the bourgeoisification and bureaucratization of social democracy as an adaptation to authoritarian features of the empire. The SPD”s approval of the war and the “Burgfrieden” justified the socialist right of resistance claimed by Rosa Luxemburg, which included revolutionary violence if necessary.
SPD representatives have interpreted Rosa Luxemburg”s ideas in contradictory ways. The 1959 Godesberg Program excluded many of Marxism”s main goals, such as the socialization of the means of production, which had again seemed plausible after 1945. Willy Brandt declared in 1968, on the 50th anniversary of the November Revolution, that Rosa Luxemburg, had she lived, would have resolutely opposed “Marxism-Leninism” and the party dictatorship it justified in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. In 1982, he explained in his autobiography that the SAPD, which he had co-founded in 1931, had been modeled on Rosa Luxemburg, who had been regarded by many young socialists as the representative of an “unadulterated” social democracy. Her statement about the freedom of dissenters anticipated the SPD postulate “No socialism without democracy. She had not wanted a KPD subordinate to the Bolsheviks and had opposed the founding of the CI. A stamp with Rosa Luxemburg”s portrait, approved in 1973 by the then Federal Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Horst Ehmke, triggered a Bundestag debate and fierce protests from the CDU and CSU. The stamp was seen as a sign that Rosa Luxemburg would be reinstated in the SPD”s “gallery of ancestors”.
Until the 1980s, the Young Socialists advocated Marxist theorems and also referred to Rosa Luxemburg. In his research on the council movement in 1976, Peter von Oertzen came to the conclusion that the unguided spontaneous democratization of large-scale enterprises, born out of the crisis-like escalation of conditions, impressively proved Rosa Luxemburg”s thesis of the spontaneity of the working class. Bärbel Meurer recalled in 1988 that Rosa Luxemburg had criticized above all the SPD”s Burgfrieden policy in 1916, because it had abandoned even the few democratic civil rights that had been fought for so far and the struggle for them, against August Bebel”s line that had been valid for decades. Gisela Notz, on the other hand, summarized Rosa Luxemburg”s 1916 criticism thus: “In her Junius pamphlet and other writings, she denounced the patriotic attitude of Social Democracy as a betrayal.” In 2009, Tilman Fichter attributed the SPD”s 1914 war approval to a paralysis of the party organization caused by “organizational patriotism” in the SPD leadership. Like Helga Grebing, he blamed Gustav Noske for the double murders: although Noske had not ordered them, he had allowed them by omitting the order to immediately take the imprisoned Spartacists to a specific assembly point. The SPD”s historical commission would have to clarify whether, along with Noske, “the leadership of the majority Social Democracy at the time also bore political responsibility for the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht”.
The non-Marxist philosopher Hannah Arendt based her study of the elements and origins of total domination on Rosa Luxemburg”s theory of imperialism. She interpreted völkisch nationalism as an outgrowth of continental imperialism, which made anti-Semitism racist and racism anti-Semitic, ending in the extermination of the Jews and the Slavs. For Hannah Arendt, Rosa Luxemburg was also a positive example of the worldliness of the political: “For Rosa Luxemburg, the world was of very great importance, and she was not at all interested in herself. … she could not come to terms with the injustice in the world.”
In the “New Left” of the 1960s, Rosa Luxemburg was regarded as an early representative of anti-authoritarian socialism. In the run-up to the Paris May 1968, students named a lecture hall at Nanterre University after her. German students named the University of Cologne after her. Student leader Rudi Dutschke saw Rosa Luxemburg as a radical democratic, not Leninist, communist. He invoked her revolutionary concept of the spontaneity of the working class and tried to use it for new political approaches, such as a permanent “cultural revolution” in bourgeois late capitalism. In 1978, he affirmed Rosa Luxemburg”s 1918 critique of Lenin: she had not been able to separate democracy and freedom of speech from the dictatorship of the proletariat and had insisted on the legacy of the bourgeois revolution in order to make the proletarian revolution possible. That is why she had opposed the Bolsheviks” factional and party bans. Her criticism had not been adequately taken into account by Social Democrats or Leninists and Trotskyists after the publication of the essay in 1922. For Jacob Talmon, it was only in the New Left that an academic interest in Rosa Luxemburg independent of party politics emerged: “Before that, she was an embarrassment to all parties, with the exception of a few nonconformist Marxists who had been friends of hers and to whom her tragic end was close.”
In 1962, Pabst declared that he had “judged” the Spartacus leaders. Noske had brought his division to “liberate” Berlin from the hands of the Spartacists. A court-martial could not have been convened in the revolutionary situation. On the question of his order to murder, he refused to testify. He emphasized that he had not planned Runge”s butt and the disposal of Rosa Luxemburg”s body. An unknown pistol shooter had been reported to him as the perpetrator. In 1969, Süddeutscher Rundfunk broadcast the documentary Zeitgeschichte vor Gericht: Der Fall Liebknecht-Luxemburg. In it, Dieter Ertel interviewed contemporary witnesses from 1919 who were still alive, including Waldemar Pabst. According to their statements, the Reich Chancellery covered up the double murder and Hermann Souchon, not Kurt Vogel, fired the fatal shot at Rosa Luxemburg. Further documents supported this thesis. Günter Nollau had recorded a corresponding statement by Pabst to him in 1959. However, Souchon successfully sued Ertel and the SDR: the latter was only allowed to broadcast the documentation with the addition that there was no objective evidence. Ertel had to publicly retract his statements about Souchon after the broadcast. In 1970, Pabst”s diary was discovered, in which he had noted in 1919 that he had telephoned the Reich Chancellery before the murders and had received Noske”s backing for this.
In 1986, Margarethe von Trotta made the film Rosa Luxemburg and won the Federal Film Award for it. Barbara Sukowa received the acting prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the title role. In 1987 Günter Kochan composed his Music for Orchestra No. 2 based on letters by Rosa Luxemburg.
In 1987, a work of art was installed on the Landwehr Canal based on the initiative and designs of Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte. The accompanying commemorative plaque reads:
The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, founded in 1990 and affiliated with the Left Party, regards Rosa Luxemburg as an outstanding representative of democratic-socialist thought and action in Europe. In 2008, the play Rosa about her premiered at the GRIPS Theater in Berlin. In May 2009, forensic pathologist Michael Tsokos doubted that Rosa Luxemburg”s body had actually been buried in 1919. He considered an unknown female corpse from the Berlin Charité to be the dead woman. Other forensic experts and historians contradicted him. In early 2010, a street was named after Rosa Luxemburg in Wünsdorf-Waldstadt.
Today, a broad spectrum of left-wing groups, parties and individuals take part in the annual Liebknecht-Luxemburg commemorations in Berlin. The women”s movement, the anti-militarist peace movement, the Socialist Youth and the globalization critics also find an important role model in Rosa Luxemburg. From the perspective of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, commemorations of Luxemburg and Liebknecht are an important traditional element of German left-wing extremism.
Democratic or reformist socialist opposition groups and civil rights activists in the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc often invoked Rosa Luxemburg: for example, in the Prague Spring of 1968 for freedom of expression and social democratization. In non-aligned Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, she was invoked for workers” self-government, among other things.
On March 13, 2018, at the behest of the Lublin voivode, invoking the so-called “decommunization law” of the ruling PiS party, the memorial plaque to Rosa Luxemburg was removed from the Luxemburg family home in Zamość.
There is a memorial plaque at her residence in Poznań.
Revolutionaries in “Third World” countries also referred to it for a Marxism independent of capitalism and Stalinism. Salvador Allende also based his politics in Chile on her theory of mass strikes. In 1971, playwright Armand Gatti wrote a play Rosa Kollektiv in two versions that depicted the different reception of Rosa Luxemburg in the GDR and the Federal Republic. He saw an enduring relevance of her ideas for revolutionaries in Africa and Latin America. Thus, the socialist Rosa Bonaparte († 1975) was also referred to as the “Rosa Luxemburg of East Timor.”
Western Marxists like Michael A. Lebewitz adopted Luxemburg”s position of the spontaneous self-activity of the working class, to which the left parties had to subordinate themselves, for a critique of the economic determinism of the late Karl Marx. Paul Sweezy, Riccardo Bellofiore, Samir Amin, and other social scientists and economists interpreted their theory of imperialism as the first genuinely Marxist explanation of capitalist globalization. The theory of dependency developed in Latin America is considered an update of the imperialism theory.
The International Rosa Luxemburg Society, a network of non-party scholars, has been holding a conference on it approximately every two to four years since 1980. So far, two of them have been held in the People”s Republic of China.
Named after Rosa Luxemburg:
Expenditure after 1945
Reception of the work
Foundations and institutes(many more individual studies there)