Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg. Wikimedia Commons

Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish-born revolutionary who agitated for international socialism and developed opposition to Lenin. She founded the German Communist Party after World War I,- but was murdered soon after by the right wing.

Early Involvement with Socialism

Rosa Luxemburg was born on March 5th, 1871 as Rozalia Lukzenburg to a middle-class family in a region of Poland under Russian control; they moved several times.

Living in a divided country and feeling like an outsider because of her parent’s Jewish religion, Rosa rejected nationalism and developed a belief in internationalism and socialism. She took part in revolutionary activities shortly after leaving school and moved to Zurich in 1889 for better educational opportunities. It was then that she changed her name to Rosa Luxemburg. She graduated from a local university with a degree in law and political economy, but also became involved with key leaders of the Russian Social Democratic Movement. Rosa’s ideology began to differ and she founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland Party with a group of friends as a direct challenge to the existing Polish socialist groups; this party would later transform into the Polish Communist Party. Her romantic partner, Leo Jogiches, insisted the affair remain secret. Her articles raised her profile ever higher on the international stage; she also gained her doctorate.

Activities in Germany

Believing that the first socialist revolution would happen in Germany, she married a German in 1898 purely for access reasons, never seeing him after the wedding, and moved to Berlin, where she almost immediately became involved in a controversy dividing the German Social Democrats.

She argued for Marxist theory and the need for revolution against moderates who pushed for slow change through unions and political parties. For Luxembourg parliament was a bourgeois tool. She was invited to write a critique of Lenin by the Mensheviks, and turned away from Lenin’s belief that socialism needed a close-knit party. She spent some time in prison for criticizing the Kaiser, and neglected to have much contact with her parents, who died unhappy with her absence.


The Russian Revolution of 1905 transformed Rosa’s worldview, as she now believed – correctly – that it was Russian where the first socialist revolution would take place. Accordingly, she moved to Warsaw, where she was imprisoned once again. It was in Warsaw where she outlined a theory of class action which focused on the mass strike as the central tool and objective of workers.

Life in Germany and World War 1

Once freed in Russia thanks to bribery and ill health, Rosa returned to Berlin, broke with Jogiches, began teaching at a party school and publishing her views on capitalism, imperialism, and other subjects and was imprisoned once again. She pushed for mass strikes and revolution, breaking links with the core of the Social Democratic Party.

When these supported the start of World War I in 1914 Rosa joined an opposition group and was instrumental in creating the Spartacus League, which wanted an end to the war via a workers revolution. Rosa was imprisoned for her opposition views, the government first invoking a pre-war sentence that wasn’t served, then preventative custody, but continued to write, including creating key documents for the Sparticists: the league former with her in her cell.

Post-War Actions and Death

When the war ended in 1918, Luxembourg was released from prison, and she resumed working with fellow Spartacist Karl Liebknecht for a more socialist makeup in the newly forming, post-revolutionary government which had replaced the German Kaiser. This agitation led to armed skirmishes between her supporters and opponents.

In December 1918 Rosa and Liebknecht formed the German Communist Party but acted to try and minimize the impact of the Bolsheviks, the party who had seized power in Russia and with whom Rosa disagreed. In fact, Rosa published a work on the Russian Revolution which criticized Lenin for being a brutal dictator. However, as a socialist Rosa was a prime target for right-wing paramilitary groups, and as the Freikorps were sent in to crush the communists both she and Liebknecht were murdered by them on January 15th, 1919. Her body was dumped into a river and found months later.

Rosa was a socialist hard on her servants, a woman scornful of woman’s groups, a child of Jews who could be anti-Semitic. Her socialism, too, was at times at odds with socialism's historical results. However, Rosa Luxemburg remains an endearing, tragic figure in European History.