Rosa Luxemburg (1871, Zamosc, Poland–1919, Berlin, Germany) is one of the most fascinating and imposing revolutionary figures in modern European history and, at the same time, one of the most discussed to date. Her friends and adversaries emphasize the penetrating acuity of her intelligence, her great willpower, her lively and impatient temperament, her strong combative nature, and her great moral rigour.
She was born in Poland in 1871, the year of the Paris Commune, the youngest of five children in a cultured and relatively wealthy Jewish family. Intelligent and brilliant in her studies, independent and rebellious in spirit, she was involved in socialist political activity from her early youth. When she was a little girl, as a typical cultured Central European, she spoke three languages: Russian, Polish, and German. She became an activist in the Proletariat Party, founded in 1882 (almost two decades before the founding of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks), in which she organised and led striking workers. In 1886, four of its leaders were executed, while others were locked up and exiled.
Members and supporters of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), alongside members of the German Communist Party (DKP) and the Socialist Workers Youth (SDAJ), participated on Sunday 9 January in a large rally in honor of slained communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Berlin.
More than 100 years after her murder by counterrevolutionary soldiers during the German Revolution of 1918-1919, Rosa Luxemburg continues to demand attention. As one of socialism’s most prominent Marxist theorists and one of its most courageous revolutionary activists, Luxemburg remains inspiring to radicals today. Not surprisingly there is a large literature on most aspects of her life and work, including relatively recent major biographies such as those by Annlies Laschitza (1996) and Ernst Piper (2018), which, unfortunately, have not been translated into English. J. P. Nettl’s massive study, originally published in 1966, remains the standard scholarly work in English, while a more accessible volume by Luxemburg’s comrade, Paul Fröhlich, is now over 80 years old. Likewise, Stephen Eric Bronner’s brief 1981 biography, which examined the applicability of Luxemburg’s thought to the conditions of the late twentieth century, is also dated. Meanwhile, Kate Evans’s recent graphic biography provides an innovative presentation of Luxemburg’s life, but lacks the depth that a more text-oriented biography can provide.
This paper was delivered to celebrate Rosa Luxemburg’s 150th Birthday at a panel organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and the International Rosa Luxemburg Society. You can find a video of the complete panel and the discussion here.
If you ever went to an anti-austerity protest in the United Kingdom in the last decade, you may well have seen the ubiquitous placards demanding a ‘General Strike Now’. In the US ‘General Strike 2020’ briefly trended on Twitter in March 2020, spurred on by popular writers like Naomi Klein and Bree Newsom Bass. Most tellingly, shortly after this, multiple articles appeared explaining what exactly a general strike is. Of course, no socialist would be against a general strike were it to occur. But raising the demand for a general strike, through placards on demonstrations, or by popular tweets, suggests a decline in our ability to think about what mass strikes are, why they happen, and what can be achieved with them.Read More »
If Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution” showed us her vision, the letter she left to mankind gives us the hope it enshrines. Hope for an equal society between men and women, rich and poor, opponents and dissidents. Hoping for peace versus violence, that mankind will always choose the righteous path, even though it may be the harder one.
March is the month of miracles. March is the month of Rosa Luxemburg.
Rosa Luxemburg occupies a complex place in our history partly because there are several different Rosa’s one can find scattered across the world; the feminist activist, revolutionary Marxist, economist, journalist, essayist literary and critic all have been picked up in coopted by different movements at different times. While this speaks to her versatility as a thinker, writer and person, it also reflects the fragmented way in which her writing has been collected, edited, translated and published. A pamphlet here, an essay there, a book or 2 and several collections of letters but little effort has been made to present her in a thorough, well organized format. Luckily that is changing with the ongoing efforts to publish the entirety of her output in English translation, the vast majority of it being translated now for the first time by Verso. Read More »
“Why are there no organizations for working women in Germany? Why do we hear so little about the working women’s movement?” With these questions, Emma Ihrer, one of the founders of the proletarian women’s movement of Germany, introduced her 1898 essay, Working Women in the Class Struggle. Hardly fourteen years have passed since, but they have seen a great expansion of the proletarian women’s movement. More than a hundred fifty thousand women are organized in unions and are among the most active troops in the economic struggle of the proletariat. Many thousands of politically organized women have rallied to the banner of Social Democracy: the Social Democratic women’s paper [Die Gleichheit, edited by Clara Zetkin] has more than one hundred thousand subscribers; women’s suffrage is one of the vital issues on the platform of Social Democracy.Read More »
Rosa Luxemburg, one of the great leaders in the history of the socialist movement, was born in Poland (then a province of the Russian empire) 150 years ago this month, on 5 March 1871. Luxemburg cut her teeth in the Polish revolutionary underground, but as an immensely talented political leader, she was drawn to the centre of the European workers’ movement in Germany, where, from the late 1890s, she became the driving force of the revolutionary wing of German socialism.Read More »
The Living Flame is a collection of essays penned by Le Blanc that outlines and elucidates Rosa Luxemburg’s most significant political interventions and theoretical contributions, while grounding the evolution of such revolutionary ideas in who Luxemburg was as a person and a woman. For any new initiate to Rosa Luxemburg’s life and politics, such as myself, Le Blanc’s essays will be useful for gaining an understanding of Luxemburg’s unique contributions to revolutionary Marxist theory, including the necessity of imperial expansion for capitalism and the utility of a democratic revolutionary strategy for mobilizing and winning the working-class to the grand project of communism. The significance of her political interventions is also elucidated including her condemnation of reformism within the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the undemocratic processes perpetuated by the Bolsheviks. Perhaps what is most significant about this collection of essays is their enthusiastic attempt at articulating Luxemburg’s political and theoretical contributions in relation to Rosa Luxemburg the person. While this attempt often risks devolving into gendered essentialism, the reader may enjoy this more personal, and often affectionate, characterization of Luxemburg, or ‘Rosa’ as Le Blanc refers to her.
This week marks the anniversary of the Jan. 15, 1919, murders of German communists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. They were both born in the same year, 1871, and died on the same day, their names necessarily linked in history.
As members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), they were outraged that their party supported German involvement in World War I. In 1915, they broke from the SPD and co-founded the anti-war Spartacus League (Spartakusbund). Both were imprisoned for their anti-war agitation.