Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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 Specifically, Luxemburg differed with Lenin in her advocacy of socialism as a political ideal that superseded the integrity and autonomy of individual nations.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.

Major Works

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.