Luxemburg, Rosa

(1870-1919)
   socialist politician and theorist; the only woman in pre-World War I socialist politics to attain a stature comparable to that of Jean Jaurès, Viktor Adler, August Bebel, and Karl Kautsky. She was born in the Polish village of Zamosc near Lublin (within tsarist Russia); her father was a wealthy Jewish businessman. When she was three, the family moved to Warsaw to escape the Jewish influence in Zamosc. While attending a Russian-language school, she joined a proscribed political group. She became a socialist at seventeen, and fled to Switzerland in 1889. From 1890 she pursued studies at Zürich that included law, philosophy, economics, political science, medieval history, and zoology. She was a brilliant student, but her political activities interrupted her studies (she helped found Poland's Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1894); however, she took a doctorate in 1897 with a thesis on Polish industrial development.
   Luxemburg cultivated friendships with leading Polish and Russian socialists in Zürich, including long-time colleague Leo Jogiches. To take part in Ger-many's socialist movement, she contracted a pro forma marriage in 1898 with a German citizen and moved to Berlin* in 1899. She soon became a member of the SPD's left wing; she opposed Eduard Bernstein's "revisionism" and published Sozialreform oder Revolution? (1900) to introduce her views and de-mand the removal of reformist ideas. Her devastating critique of militarism and nationalism was developed in numerous articles and speeches. She formed her closest connections with Franz Mehring and Kautsky and was arrested in 1904 for Majestatsbeleidigung. She participated in Poland's 1905 revolt against Rus-sian rule; her arrest by Russian officials led to her first brief imprisonment. An instructor from 1907 at Berlin's Party School, she developed her ideas in two works on economics, Einfuhrung in die Nationalokonomie (Introduction to po-litical economy) and Akkumulation des Kapitals (Accumulation of capital), key contributions to the study of imperialism and capitalism. Her ideas of sponta-neous revolution and general strike alienated Kautsky, who feared a renewal of Bismarck's old antisocialist legislation.
   Luxemburg's attack on militarism, which appeared in 1913 in Sozialdemok-ratische Korrespondenz (Spartakusbriefe from 1916), induced a one-year prison sentence, served from March 1915 to February 1916. Meanwhile, not a member of the Reichstag,* she was mortified in August 1914 by a "world historical catastrophe": the SPD had voted for war credits. In reply, she anonymously wrote the Junius-Broschure in 1916 as a protest against socialist submission to the Kaiser's Burgfrieden. She argued that the SPD's newfound patriotism was a betrayal of the working classes. Liberated long enough to help found the Spartakusgruppe, she was arrested again in July 1916 on "grounds of security"; she remained imprisoned until 9 November 1918. The lengthy incarceration was used to write scores of letters and articles for Spartakusbriefe.
   Upon her release Luxemburg rushed to Berlin to found the Spartacus League* and the newspaper* Rote Fahne. On 29 December, vainly trying to prevent separation from the USPD, she expounded her vision of a unified socialist re-public. The KPD was established the next day. Although she argued that the Spartacist Uprising* of January 1919 was foolhardy, she joined the KPD ma-jority when it voted to overthrow Germany's interim regime. When the uprising was crushed, she was arrested with Karl Liebknecht* on 15 January and taken to Berlin's Eden Hotel. Dragged from the rear entrance, she was murdered and her body was thrown into Berlin's Landwehr Canal. Liebknecht was shot the same day.
   Luxemburg's writings aimed at working-class emancipation. Her key posi-tions were as follows: (1) the concepts of reformism and revisionism must be removed from socialist dogma; (2) militarism must be combatted; (3) imperi-alism is fundamental to capitalism; (4) Lenin's notion of the dictatorship of the Party must be rejected. The final point is crucial. Since 1902 she had quarreled with Lenin over the latter's belief that the masses must be controlled and ma-nipulated. Her faith that the masses would spontaneously rise and overthrow autocracy never wavered. Arguing in 1918 that Germany should learn from Russian mistakes, she wrote a critique of Lenin's repression of democracy; Paul Levi* persuaded her not to publish it. Her tragedy—perhaps Germany's—was that the Spartakusbund, whose leader she was, was torn in the weeks after Germany's collapse between Lenin's example and her vision. Her wish not to achieve power without mass support was overruled by colleagues determined to fan the revolutionary flame when conditions were unfavorable.
   REFERENCES:Arendt, "Rosa Luxemburg"; Bassler, "Communist Movement"; Ettin-ger, Rosa Luxemburg; Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg; Schorske, German Social Democracy; Waldman, Spartacist Uprising.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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