Luxemburg, Rosa

Luxemburg, Rosa
   A German revolutionary leader and socialist theorist, Rosa Luxemburg was born in Russian Poland, into a Jewish middle class family. She became involved in revolutionary politics when she was still at school. In 1889, state repression forced her into exile in Switzerland. Luxemburg entered the University of Zurich, where she earned a doctorate in political sciences. When she moved to Germany in 1898, she had already established herself as a marxist speaker and thinker. In 1899, Luxemburg published “Reform or Revolution.” She opposed Eduard Bernstein who had rejected Karl Marx ’ s theories of class struggle and concluded that revolution was unnecessary. Bernstein’s theory of gradual reform of capitalism was utopian, Luxemburg argued.
   Luxemburg became a leader of the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) left wing, taught at party school in Berlin, and developed ideas about general strike as a political weapon. In 1912, she published “The Accumulation of Capital,” in which she tried to prove that capitalism would inevitably collapse, and she interpreted imperialism as a conflict between capitalist nations for places to dump their excess industrial production and thus forestall crises. After differences with the SPD, Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht founded the radical Spartacus League in 1916. During World War I, Luxemburg spent long times in prison for her opposition to the German war effort. She welcomed the October Revolution in Russia as a precursor of world revolution; however, Luxemburg participated reluctantly in the Spartacist uprising in Berlin against the new SPD government. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested. While being transported to prison, the couple was murdered on the night of January 15 to 16, 1919 by Freikorps soldiers.
   Next to Liebknecht, Luxemburg was the most important representative of the left-wing socialist, antimilitarist, and internationalist positions in the SPD before 1918. Luxemburg combined political commitment, scientific analysis, and the quest for empowerment as a woman. She was an advocate of mass action, spontaneity, and workers’ democracy. A passionate critic of capitalism as well as dictatorial tendencies within Bolshevism, Luxemburg argued that there could be no real socialism without democracy. For Luxemburg, Marxism was not a theoretical system, but a method of examining economic and social changes.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Abraham, Richard. Rosa Luxemburg: A Life for the International. Oxford, New York: Berg, 1989;
    Ettinger, Elzbieta. Rosa Luxemburg: A Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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