Rosa Luxemburg 1871-1919
(Also wrote under the pseudonym Junius) Polish-born German political activist and journalist.
Luxemburg was a leader of the socialist movement in Europe in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In her writings she articulated political viewpoints based on the economic theories central to social thought. Her best known work, Die Akkumulation des Kapitals, oder Was die Epigonen aus der Marxschen Theorie gemacht haben: Eine Antikritik (The Accumulation of Capital), while often questioned for the soundness of its reasoning on economic issues, is nonetheless applauded for confronting such subjects as ethnicity, the expansion of capitalist nations into underdeveloped countries, and the effects of military spending.
Luxemburg was born into an affluent and well-educated family in Zamosc, Poland, then a part of Russia. She attended secondary school in Warsaw and distinguished herself in her academic studies. She also began to develop a reputation as an independently minded young woman who questioned authority and involved herself in political causes of the day. When she was nineteen Luxemburg left Poland and settled in Switzerland in order to avoid being arrested for her part in anti-czarist activities. At the University of Zurüch she earned two doctoral degrees, one in law and the other in philosophy. Her dissertation on the economic history of Poland was published and became a valuable resource for scholars in modern Europe studies. An important element of this work focused on what Luxemburg viewed as the economic threat faced by Poland if it attempted to sever all economic ties with Russia in the name of political self-determination. In 1898 Luxemburg moved to Germany, where she became active in the German Communist party and apprenticed to Karl Kautsky, the founder and editor of the socialist newspaper Neue Zeit. Luxemburg wrote a series of newspaper articles and pamphlets and taught economics at a school operated under the authority of the German Communist party. Her writings, often published anonymously or pseudonymously, resulted in both communication and ideological conflict with leading figures in the international communist movement, including Leon Trotsky and V. I. Lenin. Specifically, Luxemburg differed with Lenin in her advocacy of socialism as a political ideal that superseded the integrity and autonomy of individual nations.
On the eve of World War I, Luxemburg and several others organized a communist faction called the Spartacans. The group opposed the war because they perceived it as an attempt on the part of capitalist governments to distract the proletariat from the burdens of capitalism. The Spartacans also condemned parliamentary activities on the part of socialists, as opposed to more radical means of reform, as a surrender to the status quo. Luxemburg was jailed after a failed coup attempt against the German government, although it had been staged by others against her wishes. During this time she wrote her Junius pamphlet, in which she warned that Lenin's nascent Soviet government could easily become dictatorial. In 1919 Luxemburg was assassinated by Prussian soldiers during a period of martial law imposed to suppress rioting by German workers, who had been inspired to violence by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
Luxemburg's major work, The Accumulation of Capital, developed out of her lectures as a teacher of political economy and economic history. Central to the thesis of this work was a concern with political imperialism, which Luxemburg viewed as having its source in Western industrialism and capitalist economics. Luxemburg argued that it was the nature of capitalist societies to expand their enterprises into less developed areas of the world and that the survival of capitalism depended upon this expansion. While the ideas advanced in The Accumulation of Capital were for the most part rejected or ignored by many of the leading figures of the European socialist movement, and continue to be criticized as ill-founded or poorly conceived, Luxemburg remains one of the consummate examples of a brilliant polemicist and political activist whose life was the foremost expression of her convictions.
Die industrielle Entwicklung Polens [The Industrial Development of Poland] (dissertation) 1898
Sozialreform oder Revolution; Mit einem Anhang: Miliz und Militarismus [Reform or Revolution] (pamphlet) 1899
"Organisationsfragen der russischen Sozialdemokraten"
["Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy"] (essay) 1904
Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften [The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Unions] (essay) 1906
Die Akkumulation des Kapitals: Ein Beitrag zur ökonomischen Erkldrung des Imperialismus (nonfiction) 1913
Juniusbroschure [The Junius Pamphlet] (pamphlet) 1916
Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie [The Crisis in the German Social Democracy] (pamphlet) 1918
Die Akkumulation des Kapitals, oder Was die Epigonen aus der Marxschen Theorie gemacht haben: Eine Antikritik [The Accumulation of Capital] (nonfiction) 1921
Die russische Revolution: Eine kritische Wiirdigung [The Russian Revolution] (pamphlet) 1922
Gesammelte Werke. 3 vols. [Collected Works of Rosa Luxemburg] (nonfiction) 1923-1928
Einfuhrung in die Nationalokonomie (lectures) 1925
Rosa Luxemburg (speeches) 1928
Leninism or Marxism? The Russian...
(The entire section is 149 words.)
SOURCE: A preface to Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work, translated by Johanna Hoornweg, Monthly Review Press, 1972, pp. xiii-xx.
[In the following essay, Frolich explains how and why he collected material for his survey of Luxemburg's life and work.]
The first edition of [Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work] was published in Paris at the end of August 1939, a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War. The book is a child of the German Emigration and bears the marks of its origins. The author left Germany at the beginning of 1934 after his release from a concentration camp. At the time he thought that the material which he had been gathering for many years to prepare for the Collected Works (Gesammelte Werke) of Ross Luxemburg was in safe hands. Somehow, however, it got lost or fell into hands which would not let go of it. Among these papers were manuscripts and letters of Rosa Luxemburg; almost all of her works published in German, Polish and French; Volume v of the Gesammelte Werke, already typeset and ready to be printed, which contained her writings on imperialist politics; political and private letters to Rosa; a number of notes and many other items. Outside Germany only a part of the losses could be made good, and it became necessary to do without many papers which would have been useful in describing background details and personalities.
(The entire section is 3662 words.)
SOURCE: "Freedom and Revolution: Rosa Luxemburg," in Revisionism: Essays on the History of Marxist Ideas, edited by Leopold Labedz, Frederick A. Praeger, 1962, pp. 55-66.
[Carsten is a German-born historian. In the following essay, he discusses Luxemburg's pamphlets in relation to the ideals of the German Social-Democratic party.]
Among the rather unimaginative and pedestrian leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party of the early twentieth century—who were occupied with the task of achieving better living conditions for the workers and passing high-sounding resolutions against the evils of bourgeois society (which did not oblige anybody to take any action)—one was entirely different: a fiery woman of Jewish-Polish origin, small and slender, slightly lame from a childhood disease, an orator who could sway the masses, a professional revolutionary who seemed to belong to the Russian world from which she came rather than to modern Germany. Rosa Luxemburg was born on March 5, 1871, in the small Polish town of Zamosc near Lublin into a fairly prosperous Jewish middle-class family. Her span of life coincided almost exactly with that of the German Empire which Bismarck had founded at Versailles a few weeks before her birth; its collapse in November 1918 she outlived only by some weeks. Her family sympathized with the aspirations of the Polish national movement, and at the age of sixteen Rosa Luxemburg...
(The entire section is 4769 words.)
SOURCE: "Rosa Luxemburg: 1871-1919," in Men In Dark Times, Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1968, pp. 33-56.
[A German-born American political philosopher and literary essayist, Arendt was one of the most important political thinkers of the twentieth century. Perceiving the political thinker as a "truth-teller" who counters the lies of politicians, Arendt sought through her writings to expand the realm of human freedom and resist tyranny. In the following essay, which originally appeared in The New York Review of Books in 1966, she discusses the value of J. P. Nettl's biography of Luxemburg and the reception of her writings before and after her death.]
The definitive biography, English-style, is among the most admirable genres of historiography. Lengthy, thoroughly documented, heavily annotated, and generously splashed with quotations, it usually comes in two large volumes and tells more, and more vividly, about the historical period in question than all but the most outstanding history books. For unlike other biographies, history is here not treated as the inevitable background of a famous person's life span; it is rather as though the colorless light of historical time were forced through and refracted by the prism of a great character so that in the resulting spectrum a complete unity of life and world is achieved. This may be why it has become the classical genre for...
(The entire section is 8122 words.)
SOURCE: "Appendix I: Rosa Luxemburg as an Economist," in Rosa Luxemburg, Vol. I, Oxford University Press, London, 1966, pp. 828-41.
[Nettl was a German-born English political scientist and novelist. In the following essay, he surveys the main ideas of Luxemburg's The Accumulation of Capital.]
Rosa Luxemburg always said that, in so far as her talent lay in the field of the social sciences, it was in economics—and in mathematical economics at that. Mathematics may have been her violon d'Ingres—the thing at which she would rather have excelled than those in which she was in fact outstanding. It is quite a common nostalgia. The only evidence for her mathematical claim or wish are the recalculations of Marx's not very complicated compound reproduction formulae in Volume II of Capital. And here her calculations are capable both of fairly obvious refinement as well as fairly obvious contradiction. But what is probably true is that the thin end of the wedge of her interest in the problem of accumulation, which gave rise to her remarkable book The Accumulation of Capital, was the mathematical difficulty Marx experienced in the 'proof of accumulation, and which he left unresolved at his death.
Rosa Luxemburg's main talent as a writer and, above all, teacher of economics—the latter was the more important and enduring function—was her capacity to enliven the subject...
(The entire section is 4683 words.)
SOURCE: "Marxism Without An Organizing Party: Personal Observations on Rosa Luxemburg's Life," in Soviet Studies, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, October, 1966, pp. 225-51.
[In the following essay, Schlesinger considers the aspects of Luxemburg's writings and activism that pertained to the issue of the military industrial complex.]
My lack of knowledge of the Polish language and of the source material available in it exclude any claim for this article to be accepted as a comprehensive review of Mr. Nettl's recent biography of Rosa Luxemburg. A picture based primarily upon German and Russian experiences, which is the natural one for me and my contemporaries, is necessarily one-sided. Nettl's emphasis on the Polish aspects, and on the corresponding sides in Rosa's personal life, even if he has exaggerated them, forms the major merit of his book. Its shortcomings are those to be expected from a comparatively young author writing with sympathy, but far away from the intellectual world in which the experience described by him originated, and burdened with the psychological and sociological fashions of our days. The occasional factual mistakes, scarcely avoidable in a work of this size, include, however, some which throw doubt upon the success of the author's efforts to familiarize himself with the whole framework of the drama depicted by him. The following lines are intended as a treatment of a great figure in a specific...
(The entire section is 10119 words.)
SOURCE: "Rosa Luxemburg," in The Concept of Ideology and Other Essays, Random House, 1967, pp. 193-203.
[Lichtheim was a German-born social historian and authority on Karl Marx. In the following essay, which was originally published in Encounter in 1966, he considers Nettl's portrait of Luxemburg and her contemporaries, and applauds the moral rigor of Luxemburg's work despite its technical flaws.]
In the mythology of revolutionary socialism, east and west of the great divide, the name of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) is indissolubly linked with that of Karl Liebknecht: victims of the Spartacist rising in January 1919 whose brutal suppression by soldiers nominally responsible to a Social-Democratic government sealed in blood the wartime split of the German labor movement. Nor is this familiar assessment confined to Communist literature. In Western historiography too, their names invariably appear as though joined together by history's decree. Every study of the Weimar Republic opens perforce with an account of the Berlin insurrection launched by the nascent Communist movement against the government of Ebert and Noske. And while the ceremonial linking of the names Liebknecht and Luxemburg by today's East German regime has long ceased to be anything but a gesture towards a dimly remembered past, the legend persists that German Communism conserves the heritage of this strange pair of martyrs: the solid...
(The entire section is 3692 words.)
SOURCE: "Rosa Luxemburg's The Accumulation of Capital, "in Science and Society, Vol. XXXI, No. 4, Fall, 1967, pp. 474-85.
[Sweezy is an American Marxist economist. In the following essay, he describes how Luxemburg's idea of the accumulation of capital grew from her study of Karl Marx's theories.]
[The Accumulation of Capital] was an outgrowth of Rosa Luxemburg's teaching activity at the school of the German Social Democratic Party in the years after 1906. Her main course was a broad survey of political economy, and in connection with it she undertook to write an Introduction to Political Economy. The work proceeded slowly, owing to the pressure of other tasks and duties, and there were long periods during which she was obliged to put it aside altogether. In January, 1912, however, she took it up in earnest, hoping to be able to complete at least a first draft of the whole book. It was then that she ran into what she describes in the Foreword to The Accumulation of Capital as "an unexpected difficulty."
She was not successful, she tells us, in presenting the overall process of capitalist production "with sufficient clarity." On closer examination, however, she came to the conclusion that the trouble was not one of presentation but rather had to do with "the content of Volume II of Marx's Capital, and at the same time with the practice of...
(The entire section is 4832 words.)
SOURCE: An introduction to Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, edited by Mary-Alice Waters, Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1970, pp. 1-32.
[Waters is a Philippine-born American author and editor who specializes in feminist-socialist issues. In the following essay, she argues that Luxemburg's criticism of more famous Marxists does not make her anti-communist, as some of her detractors believe.]
ROSA LUXEMBURG'S PLACE IN HISTORY
Rosa Luxemburg was destined to be one of the most controversial figures in the history of the international socialist movement, and her rightful place of honor among the great revolutionary Marxists has often been denied her. Her detractors have come from every side, and have used virtually every means of slander and distortion to discredit her, to picture her as the opposite of the revolutionary she was.
The ruling class, of course—whether American, German, Japanese, Mexican, or any other stripe—has had no interest in telling the truth about Rosa Luxemburg. They are more than willing to see her revolutionary heritage smeared and buried. But Luxemburg's detractors have come from sources within the traditional left-wing movement as well.
The first major category of her defamers are those who have tried to turn her into an opponent of the Russian Revolution, to make her a proponent of some special school of "democratic" socialism as...
(The entire section is 10032 words.)
SOURCE: "Rosa Luxemburg's Theory of Revolution," translated by E. B. Ashton, in Social Research, Vol. 40, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 83-109.
[In the following essay, Vollrath compares Luxemburg's theory of political action to ideas of Cicero, Robespierre and the American Federalists, as well as her Marxist contemporaries and successors.]
Every political theory contains a theory on the nature of action, whether specifically weighed or tacitly assumed, stated in so many words or lodged in the categorial apparatus. The problem to which every theory of action seeks to give a direct or indirect answer is the problem of the start and of starting—for all action is a beginning, a new beginning of something which previously did not exist. That such a beginning has been made can be established only when that which began is continued; unless the start is carried out, and the beginning is carried on, start and beginning would not come to appear and would not become visible. The structure of action involves (at least) two moments: the start and the continuance, both essentially linked. This dual structure has been noted and registered ever since the Western theory of action, especially of political action, originated in the thinking of Plato and Aristotle. Its classic formula in regard to political theory was stated by Cicero: "For there is nothing in which human faculties come closer to...
(The entire section is 8490 words.)
SOURCE: "Red Rosa: Bread and Roses," in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XVI, No. 2, Spring, 1975, pp. 373-86.
[Delany is an American-born Canadian author and educator. In the following essay, she comments on the revival of interest in Luxemburg's ideas and explores what made Luxemburg such a compelling and disturbing figure.]
Now Red Rosa is also gone,
Where she lies is quite unknown.
Because she told the poor the truth,
The rich have hunted her down.
Bertolt Brecht, "Grabschrift 1919."
A woman, a Jew and a Pole—it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Rosa Luxemburg was all three, but as a revolutionary communist she transcends definition by sex, religion or nationality.
Franz Mehring, the colleague and first biographer of Marx, called Luxemburg "the best brain after Marx." When Lenin paid homage to Luxemburg in 1922, three years after her death at the hands of German police, he told "a good old Russian fable":
An eagle can sometimes fly lower than a chicken, but a chicken can never rise to the same heights as an eagle.… In spite of her mistakes, Rosa Luxemburg was and is an eagle, and not only will she be dear to the memory of Communists throughout the world, but her biography and the complete edition of her works … will be a...
(The entire section is 5307 words.)
SOURCE: An introduction to The National Question: Selected Writings by Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Horace B. Davis, Monthly Review Press, 1976, pp. 9-45.
[Davis is an American author and professor of economics. In the following essay, he discusses how Luxemburg and Lenin differed on the issue of what qualified as nationalism, and how Luxemburg contrasted individual self-determination for the working-class with ethnic group identity.]
It is perhaps little known that despite Lenin's attacks on her, the philosophical position so ably expounded by Rosa Luxemburg in her articles of 1908-1909 was never refuted; that it was, on the contrary, adopted by a substantial section of the Bolshevik Party, which fought Lenin on the issue, using Rosa Luxemburg's arguments—and eventually, in 1919, defeated him, so that the slogan of the right of self-determination was removed from the platform of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Later, when the issue was no longer so acute, the slogan was revived and today represents part of the CPSU's stock in trade. But the basic arguments in its favor are precisely those which were successfully opposed by Rosa Luxemburg and her partisans. The Soviet leadership is working with a blunted tool.
Julius K. Nyerere, President of Tanzania and one of the more subtle theorists of the new nationalism in Africa, has suggested that overemphasis on the slogan of...
(The entire section is 10306 words.)
Cliff, Tony. Rosa Luxemburg. London: Socialist Review Publishing Co. Ltd., 1959, 96 p.
Cliff provides a biographical sketch, an overview of Luxemburg's teachings, and an essay on her place in history.
Dombrowski, Eric. "Rosa Luxemburg." In German Leaders of Yesterday and Today, pp. 271-76. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1920.
Dombrowski eulogizes Luxemburg.
Ettinger, Elzbieta. Rosa Luxemburg: A Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986, 286 p.
The biographer draws from multilingual source material housed in Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, and other countries.
Nettl, J. P. Rosa Luxemburg. 2 Vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.
Considered the definitive Luxemburg biography.
Wolfe, Bertram D. "The Last Man in the German Social Democratic Party." In Strange Communists I Have Known, pp. 117-37. New York: Stein and Day, 1965.
Wolfe offers a biographical sketch and compares the views of Luxemburg and Lenin.
Ascher, Abraham. "A Marxist Heroine." Problems of Communism XV, (November-December 1966): 78-80.
The reviewer finds Nettl's biography an able inventory of Luxemburg's strengths and weaknesses.
Ascherson, Neal. "Love and Revolution."...
(The entire section is 329 words.)