"Rosa Luxemburg: A Socialist With a Human Face"
[Copyright 1998 Beverly G. Merrick.]
To recognize Rosa Luxemburg is a conscientious act, for she triumphed over many odds to found a practical theory that combined the Marxist dialectic with historical pragmatism. Although she became a martyr for her contributions to radical thought, more than 40 years before the sixties movement of the New Left, Luxemburg, is -- as Robert Bland suggests -- the ideological founder of that movement. Bland further writes:
For although student leaders and publicists do not yet document their tactics and rhetoric with citations from her pamphlets, there are curious parallels to her insights into situations that, with the availability now of her works, may become apparent and relevant to the contestateurs the future. . . . Despite the current notion that revolution begins at the bottom of the masses, or that theory and organization come out of action, the current dispersed adherents of praxis still need a theorist of her audacity -- one who knew that no one "makes" a revolution..
Luxemburg, according to Stephen Bronner, is the founder of an "emancipatory heritage" that allows theorists to view socialism in a favorable light. Bronner writes that the socialism, of the linage of Marx-Lenin-Stalin "conjures up a socialism of grey, a socialism of dictatorship and concrete, of repression, truly "strains against the shackles of both capitalistic and 'social' oppression.". Rosa Luxemburg advocated socialism with a human face. The purpose of this research is to explore the contributions of Rosa Luxemburg to socialist thought, by presenting her personal life and theory of historical progressivism in the context of strategies. Her personal tactics were to get to the center of the action, to be a fighter, and to never be afraid to tackle those who had gained stature in a field, whether it be on the political scene or in philosophical discussion. She discovered truth by applying historical examples to the revolutionary struggle. This type of political approach has proved her to be a visionary. Most of all, she is an example of how far belief in one's self and one's own vision can be acted out for the betterment of humanity. As a hero, not heroine, Luxemburg resisted the separatism between men and women conveyed by such nuances in the language. Luxemburg considered herself a person, not a gender type. How Luxemburg arrived at the state of supreme self-confidence is a study in heroism. She was a subject of the Russian state, a member of a subject people, a member of the outcast Jewish race, and a cripple. Yet, as Mary-Alice Waters writes, Rose Luxemburg
dedicated her immense energies, capabilities, and intellectual powers to the goal of world social revolution. She understood that the stakes were high, that the fate of humanity was at stake and, as a woman of action, she gave herself completely to the great historic battle..
Her life spanned the five decades that opened the first dress rehearsal for the socialist revolution and closed as a new era was launched -- 1871 to 1919. Luxemburg was born on March 1, 1871, in Zanosc, a small town in southeastern Russian Poland in the year of the Paris commune.. She was the youngest of five children. Her parents were Jews who de-emphasized their Jewishness.. Although little is known about her mother, it is known that she was well-read. Luxemburg wrote to Sophie Leibknect, in Letters From Prison, that her mother considered Schiller and the Bible supreme sources of wisdom, being "firmly convinced that King Solomon understood the language of birds.". Rosa said that in the pride of her 14 years and in her training in natural science, she used to smile at her "mother's simplicity.". Her father, educated in Germany, owned a timber business. He has generally been described as cosmopolitan in thought and actions. The Polish and German languages were spoken in the home. Luxemburg also learned Russian. Rosa said she learned from her father liberal ideas, an active interest in world affairs, an ongoing pleasure in Western literature. He had emancipated himself from the strictness of the ghetto and from the Jewish orthodoxy at an early age.. The family moved to Warsaw, where at the age of 5 Rosa developed a serious hip ailment. Bedridden for a year, she taught herself to read. Luxemburg never fully recovered from the disease. She walked with a slight limp the rest of her life.. Biographer and friend Paul Frolich writes:
Physically she was not cut out for the role of heroine. She was slight of build and her body was badly proportioned; her legs were too short for her torso, and owing to her early hip trouble her walk was ungainly. Her features were sharp and pronouncedly Jewish. It was a face indicating energy and determination, and it repelled one and fascinated the other..
Her education was remarkable in several respects. At the age of 13, she entered the second girls school, graduating in 1887 with an excellent academic record from an institution reserved "first and foremost" for the children and Russian administrators.. Mary-Alice Waters said school authorities denied Luxemburg a gold medal she had earned for academic achievement because of her "rebellious attitude." Apparently, Luxemburg had already become active in the underground revolutionary movement.. Two years later, with arrest eminent, Luxemburg was smuggled out of Poland into Germany. A Catholic priest helped her after she told him she had to leave Poland because she wanted to be baptized to marry her lover.. Luxemburg went to Zurich. She attended the University of Zurich, one of the few institutions of the time that admitted men and women on an equal basis. Her studies covered a wide range of the humanities, social science and history. Earning a doctorate in political science, she was considered an oddity by prospective landlords, who had never before seen a woman with a doctor's degree.. Frolich writes that along with her studies, Luxemburg took part in the Zurich working-class movement. She became active in the intellectual life of political emigrants from Poland and Russia.. Frolich said that free thought prevailed amongst them in an angst of strict and almost ascetic morality.. The subjects of discussion had one theme -- revolution, whether it be philosophy, Darwinism, the emancipation of women, Marx, Tolstoy, Russian agrarian communism, capitalistic development, Nihilist terrorism, Bakunin, Blanqy, methods of revolutionary struggle, demoralization of the Western bourgeoisie, Bismark's fall, German social democracy, the emancipation of Poland, Emile Zola.. Luxemburg positioned herself in the thick of political battles, invariably advocating Marxism. She became one of the central leaders of Polish social democracy, and remained so until her murder. She also entered into an intimate personal, intellectual and political relationship with Leo Jogiches, which lasted for 15 years.. Her friend Clara Zetkin once said of Jogiches:
He was one of those rare men who can tolerate a great personality in the woman by his side, working with him in loyal and happy comradeship, without feeling her growth and development as a limitation on his own personality..
Luxemburg refused to assume the stereotypical roles women usually fill in a political organization. Waters said she had virtually no interest in the details of party functioning, financing, underground work, nor the complications of getting underground literature published. Jogiches dealt with such matters. Luxemburg chose rather to be always the orator and writer. In her public life, she was continually in the spotlight.. One of her earliest battles, as a founding member of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), was to be seated as a delegate at the Third Congress International of 1893. She met stiff opposition when she demanded the right to delegate status. Frolich writes that as a trenchant fighter, Luxermburg took the floor at the convention showing no trace of self-consciousness "at being seated in the presence of the illustrious heads of the international socialist movement.". He added, "On the contrary, the unknown woman defended her [particular] cause by launching a vigorous attack on its opponents.". By the next congress in 1986, her demand to be seated went unchallenged.. A year laster, Luxemburg completed her studies. She decided to make her living as a journalist while working for Germany's large and influential socialist party. She reportedly married Gustav Lubeck to achieve citizenship status, so that German authorities could not prevent her political activity. Five years later, when she gained German citizenship, she parted company with Lubeck outside the registry office.. At the Paris Congress of the International, a new attempt was made to exclude her from the proceedings of socialist discussion. This time the attempt was "pitiful" in view of her wide support.. Her opponents apparently did not argue against her ideas but her character. Apparently, the "abuse" had no visible effect on Luxemburg:
In political argument she could be extraordinarily trenchant, and her irony was biting, but she remained objective always." The mud thrown at her was so ineffective that she never bothered to answer it or defend herself in her writings..
Luxemburg did not think highly of the methods and the doctrines of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). While they learned to
respect her exceptionable abilities, they generally considered her, to put it most bluntly, a cantankerous foreign youngster who, on top of everything else, was a woman. One of their first proposals to her was that she turn her attentions toward the SPD's organization for women, where they thought she properly belonged, and where they hoped she would be sidetracked and eliminated from the mainstream of the part's political life..
Waters further writes that Luxemburg promptly turned them down. She looked for another area in which to be active: "While she understood the importance of organizing women to take part in the revolutionary struggle, . . . she steadfastly refused to be forced into any traditional women's role within the party.". Luxemburg encouraged the women around her to follow her example. According to researcher Dick Howard, Luxemburg continually tried "to persuade her women friends to take an independent role in politics, and to free themselves from the domination of their husbands.". In a letter from prison, she urged Sophie Liebknecht to keep up her reading: "[Y]ou must go on with your mental training, and it will be quite easy for you since your mind is still fresh and pliable.". In a speech given on May 12, 1912, at the Second Social Democratic Women's Rally, Luxemburg said that women's suffrage is a worthy goal, but added:
[T]he mass movement to bring it about is not a job for women and men of the proletariat. Germany's present lack of rights is only one link in the chain of reaction that shackles people's lives. . . . Monarchy and women's lack of rights have become the most important tools of the ruling capitalist class..
Luxemburg's friend Clara Zutkin became the leader of the SPD's women's movement.. Even though Luxemburg rarely wrote about the struggle for women's liberation, she considered herself, according to Waters,
a revolutionary leader of men and women, and she dismissed the insults directed against her because she was woman as simple part of the overhead of political battle. She understood that women can achieve their full liberation only with the triumph of the social revolution nd elimination of their economic bondage to the family institution, and she devoted all her energies to bring about that revolution..
Luxemburg viewed women as part of the exploited of the population, which included the working class, national minorities and peasants.. She once wrote with biting irony about the role women are required to play, according to the traditional viewpoints. In What Is Economics?, she said:
In the winter there is spinning to be done -- women's work, while the men make whatever the household needs with axe, saw and hammer. For all I care you can call it "agriculture" or Handicraft." In any case, we have to do a little of everything since we need all kinds of things around the house and for the fields. How do we "organize" the work? Another silly question! The men, naturally, do those chores which call for the strength of men; the women take care of the house, the cows and the chicken coop' the children help wherever they can. You don't mean that I should send a woman to cut the wood and that I should milk the cows myself? (The good man does not know -- let us add on our part -- that in many primitive tribes, Brazilian Indians, for instance, it is precisely the women who collect the wood, dig for roots and gather fruits in the forest, while with the cattle-raising tribes of Africa and Asia it is the men who not only take care of the cattle, but also milk them. Even today, in Dalmatia, one can still see the woman carrying heavy loads on her back, while the robust man rides alongside on a donkey, puffing a pipe.).
She said the division of labor in the respective cultures seem just as natural to them as it seems to the peasant that the husband should cut the wood and the wife should milk the cows.. Frolich said her political acumen was instinctive rather than acquired. She was able to speak affectively to mass of people. Her meetings were always triumphs.. Even so, Luxemburg wrote several years after the fact about what she called "the strange reception" her oratorical prowess had been given in the German socio-democratic camp. She complained to a correspondent of pettiness. Frolich said the founders of the movement were angered that Luxemburg,
. . . a woman, had dared to interfere in politics, an almost exclusively male affair. Not only that, but she had not contented herself with modestly asking the opinions of "practical politicians," who were years her senior, but had put forth her own ideas, and what was worse, supported them with such brilliant arguments that the graybeards were forced to capitulate, and they bore her a grudge for it..
Luxemburg was able to cut to the heart of an argument because she believed facts have their own logic, and individuals fail to know how to use that logic effectively. She would lay bare the "logic of facts" rather than develop a moral system of political logic.. If was not liked, she was at least gained respect in some quarters. Max Beer, who traced the history of the movement in "Fifty Years of International Socialism," said about Luxemburg, who he called the Jewess:
Her wide learning, intellectual and artistic culture, her eloquence and sparkling wit, made her one of the great figures of the Socialist International. She won the admiration of men [persons] of action, like James and Lenin, and of artists such as Hugo Wolf.. Her method of dialect was strongly influenced by Marx. She regarded history as a process. In the process class-forces struggled for their own interests as they evolved out of a given economic situation.. For Luxemburg,
Marxism was not a theoretical system solving all questions at once and for all, but a method of examining the process of economic change at each new stage of its development, with all its effects on the interests, ideas, aims and political activities of each group in society.. Her ability to use the system of logic was, according to Frolich, "a weapon enabling her to maintain intellectual mastery of the social process as a whole.". Other scholars have studied her method of inquiry as a continuing process. Robert Looker writes that Luxemburg was convinced that "nothing is more contrary to the historical-dialectical method of Marxist thought than absolute, general application.". The Marxist dialectic was for Luxemburg, a model to communicate in-depth historical insight gained from careful analysis of situations in her own times. Above all, Luxemburg was a woman of thought and will. Frolich said her heart was disciplined by her head: "all her political decisions first passed the test of reason and justified themselves in theory before they developed into action.". She had the strength to withstand 20 long years of battling within the German Socialist Party, fighting often single handedly against the party's reformist drift. Waters said Luxemburg held on to her "profoundly revolutionary perspective in the fact of heavy pressure to retreat and find a comfortable niche in the party apparatus.". Because she founded her theories of fact on historical evidence, her process often proved her to be on target when applied to similar situations. Frolich writes:
She displayed almost a visionary ability to grasp as a whole the great historical process, in which technique, the organization of product and distribution, historical tradition, scientific achievement, jurisdicial conceptions and laws, and scores of other factors interacting to facilitate or retard the cyclopean battle of the classes, but of which, in the long run, economic factors are the determining force shaping the organization of society.. Luxemburg never was prepared to view only the surface phenomena of a problem. She investigated below the surface, seeking the motives behind a particular act. Her contemporaries often thought her speculations were far afield of the problem, but history unfolding bore out her predictions.. Even as she looked at a current development, she looked into the future at the repercussions caused by chosen courses of action. Frolich said Luxemburg invariably had the next stage of the movement in mind. She understood that revolution had a secondary character: for the bourgeoisie, considerations meant more civil liberties,. the republic and parliamentary democracy; for the working class, the change had a proletarian character.. During a time of international political upheaval, during World War I,Luxemburg wrote
The task of Social Democracy and its leaders it not to let themselves be dragged along in the wake of events, but deliberately to forge ahead of them, to foresee the trend of events, to shorten development by conscious action, and to accelerate its progress..
It is difficult to know where to place Luxemburg into the context of intellectual thought because she was always controversial, always playing the devil's advocate in arguments by finding the weaker points. She was called at times an opponent of the Russian Revolution. At other times, she was praised. For instance, at the Petrograd Soviet meeting of January 18, 1919, she was called "one of the first Marxists to evaluate the Russian Revolution correctly as a whole.". After all, she was often a battling dissenter of the agenda of the German Social Democrats. Others say her classical analysis of imperialism, The Accumulation of Capital, and other works have gained popular recognition in the United States. It is interesting to note as well that she founded the Polish and Lithuanian Social Democratic Part (SDPIL), the Gruppe Internationale, the Spartakusbund, and the German Community Party. She first gained renown by taking on Bernstein and Kautsky. Later she challenged Lenin and the Bolshevik machine. Apparently, she had great self-confidence in her own methods and application of the theories aggravated political enmities.. Luxeumburg also questioned political dogma. She accepted no generally applicable formula to solve all national problems. She challenged accepted tradition, even if it were political postulates of Marx and Engels, even while all other Marxist of the time were buying the whole of dogma hook, line and sinker.. During the 1890s. she opposed Russian expansionism because she saw not further need to foreign powers "to act as mid-wives for the Russian revolution.". Luxemburg agreed with Lenin that the founding of the new society must be brought about by revolutionaries. She agreed that the advanced guard of the class struggle must be centrally organized with a disciplined majority carrying out policies. However, the two parted company in visualizing how the government, once in place, would operate.. Luxemburg regarded the continued existence of an all-powerful Central Committee as a danger to the development of the struggle itself.. She maintained that social tactics could become hidebound and mechanical unless controlled by the total membership of the party. She wanted the masses to be encouraged to widely criticize the process.. Her predictions were borne out when the Stalinist regime made bolshevist policy "a virtue of necessity." This resulted in a bureaucracy that divided the leaders from the masses.. Luxemburg argued convincingly that the ruling party would become an elitist party cadre even though such questions of nationality lay with the masses. Theorist Horace P. Davis writes:
Since Lenin advocated self-determination only up to a point, those who wished for self-determination beyond that point -- those who were not interested in social revolution [except to combat it] -- would of course charge Lenin with hypocrisy; and this was done, both at the time [of the Russian Revolution] and later. Luxemburg's position was not any more palatable to the conservatives, but she did escape the charge of hypocrisy..
Davis says the difference between Lenin and Luxemburg were in a portion due to a difference in the "set of facts" with which they were operating. However, her statement of the case against the theory of self-determination is as relevant today as when it was written in 1908.. Norman Geras also recognizes Luxemburg's call for the scope of democratic gains and liberties within the dictatorship of the proletariat. Geras writes:
Luxemburg's view on the issue is clear. The proletarian dictatorship is a more direct and more extensive form of democracy than anything that has existed hitherto and must involve comprehensive democratic procedures and freedoms: elections, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion -- for the one who thinks differently, not only for the members of the party -- freedom of assembly, etc., in the absence of which a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. . . . [A]n elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously..
Geras maintains that Luxemburg called described a socio-political system based on a plurality of tendencies and of parties within the dictatorship of the proletariat.. He also suggests that Luxemburg protested against what she regarded as "a failure of the leadership in the Bolshevik camp to weigh fully the dangers involved in restricting democratic rights and liberties.. Further, that she was not protesting from a liberal stance or from an anarchy against the dictatorship of the proletariat. Nor did she appeal to universal freedom, nor to interclass democracy against coercion of any kind, nor the plea of a pacifist " to the effect that the masses must join the battle with an enemy armed to the teeth, shielded only by the strength of their ideals.". The critic says Luxemburg was warning the party intellectuals against the temptation to rigidify their principles to the point of finding they are necessities. She said the principles could become a kind of model of necessity.. Lenin heard her cautionary words, but did not agree. However, after her death, in 1922, he upbraided the German party for being slow to publish her work.. A decade later, Stalin, as the new leader of the Soviet Union, attempted to discredit her writings. Waters writes that Stalin tried to rewrite history when he decreed that Luxemburg was "personally responsible for that greatest of all sins, the theory of permanent revolution.". Trotsky got into the debate, coming to her defense. In articles titled "Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg" and published in the August 6 and 13, 1932, issues of The Militant, Trotsky writes:
If one were to take the disagreements between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg in their entirety, then the historical correctness is unconditionally [biases] on Lenin's side. But this does not exclude the fact that in certain questions, and during definite periods Rosa Luxemburg was correct against Lenin [sic]..
Trotsky further maintains that Stalin did not hesitate to vilify her and to lie about her motives and theories.. Efforts to eradicate Luxemburg's name from the social movement were ultimately unsuccessful because she was never declared "an unperson" . Waters said Luxemburg was not eliminated from history books altogether; therefore, her image has been partially restored with the passage of time.. It should be pointed out that Luxemburg never aligned herself unreservedly with the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks. More so, she stood for unity within the Russian Social Democratic Party (RSDRP).. Even so, she was not afraid to criticize those in powerful leadership positions. Reform or Revolution was Luxemburg's first major political work. The book is comprised of a series of articles written while she was still in her twenties. The articles were published in Neue Zeit, from 1897 to 1898.. In the work, she attacks the theory of Edward Bernstein, who is in the leadership of the German Socialist Party, for calling on socialists to join forces with the liberal bourgeoisie on the basis of a capitalistic program.. In 1905, in a pamphlet titled Socialism and the Church, Luxemburg indicted the church, under the pen name of Josef Chmua, as a reactionary institution. The essay maintains that the church was one of "the most wealthy and vicious exploiters of the poor.". On March 4, 1906, Luxemburg was arrested in Poland and charged with serious crimes against the state. She was released in July of that year. After her release, she went to Finland, where she wrote The Mass Strike: the Political Party and the Trade Union. She had predicted the mass strike, which occurred in Russia in 1905, when the working classes led a revolution and general strike and used other economic leverages.. The reason for her arrest is probably because of her innumerable speech in Germany about the revolt in Russia. Frolich writes:
[E]verywhere she was regarded as the living representative of the revolution, and her meetings turned into a tour of triumph. Under irresistible pressure from the enthusiastic masses, who would brook no refusal, she was allowed to speak even on trade-union platforms, which up to then had been closed to her..
Around that time, Luxemburg authored a pamphlet about the mass strikes outlines the 1905-1906 revolution in Russia, which attacks "the institutionalized conservatism of the social democratic trade-union bureaucracy in Germany.". It is pertinent to show several arguments she used concerning the mass strike in that they represent tactics Luxemburg proposed in her Marxist theory of historical progressivism. Luxemburg writes:
As the Russian Revolution shows it to us, the mass strike is such a changeable phenomenon that it reflects in itself all phases of the political and economic struggle, all states and moments of revolution. Its applicability, its effectiveness, and the moments of its origin change continually. It suddenly opens new, broad perspectives of revolution just where it seems to have come to a narrow pass; and it disappoints where one though he [she] could reckon on it with full certitude..
Further, she maintained:
Political and economic strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, demonstrative strikes and fighting strikes, general strikes of individual cities, peaceful wage struggles and street massacres, barricade fighting -- all these run through one another, next to each other, cross one another, flow in and over one another; it is an eternal moving changing sea of appearances..
Luxemburg said the law of movement of these phenomena is clear. "
It does not lie in the mass strike itself," she explained, "not in its technical peculiarities, but in the political and social relation of the forces of the revolution. The mass strike is merely a form of revolutionary struggle.". Luxemburg suggests that the mass strike is not artificially made, not decided out of the blue, not propagated: rather the strike is an historical phenomenon, which at "a certain moment follows with historical necessity from the social relations.". She said it is impossible to propagate a strike in the same way it is impossible to propagate a revolution' The terms "mass strike" and "revolution" are only "concepts which signify an external form of the class struggle, and which have a sense and a content only in connection with determined political associations.". It stands to reason, therefore, that revolutionaries are not inciters of civil strife, only the conduits of it. In simple terms, no one can cause something to happen unless the conditions are ripe for something to happen. During World War I, Luxemburg wrote under another pseudonym, that of Junius, an earlier champion of liberty against absolute abuses. Frolich said the Junius pamphlet, published in April 1916, openly and powerfully reveals Luxemburg's deep indignation about the conflict. With "bitter and ice-cold sarcasm,". she describes
a world in which the mass slaughter of human beings has degenerated into a monotonous daily task, in which business flourished on mass ruin, and in which the mad hunt for war profits was praised as an expression of the same patriotism which led others to lay down their lives on the battlefield..
Despite daily reports of German victories, Luxemburg prophesied the collapse of Austria, Turkey and Tsarist Russia, and the rivalry between Japan on one side and Great Britain, the United States and China on the other.. The Junius pamphlet could just as well be a pamphlet for our time. During Luxemburg's second and longest imprisonment, from July 1916 to November 1918, she was prevented from participating in any political activity, including political writing. Therefore, her correspondence to friends became her sole emotional and intellectual outlet.. Her letters from prison, according to Waters, reveal a side of her personality finding little overt expression in her political writings. Luxemburg's correspondence demonstrates that she had a deep love for life in all forms.. Max Beer agrees that Luxemburg's imprisonment revealed her humanist tendencies. True, she was a theoretician who was willing and able to challenge the theories of Lenin.. She was also a person who gave a passionate part of her mind to contemplating "the ways of birds and beats and poets.". During the two years in prison, Luxemburg drew her strength, not from dwelling on the struggle itself, but finding in herself a place in the universal order of things: "the clouds she could see above the prison wall, the weeds which grew in the crannies of the prison paving stones, the birds she could watch and hear from behind the bars, and the poems men [persons] had written to express their joy in these things.". She wrote to Sophie Liebknecht in May of 1917:
Sometimes . . . it seems to me that I am not really a human being at all, but like a bird or beast in human form. I feel so much more at home even in a scrap of garden like the one here, and still more in the meadows when the grass is humming with bees than -- at one of our party congresses..
She also fought through bouts of depression, saying she suffered in silence. Later in May she again wrote to Liebknecht
If at this moment the very job of my soul had stood embodied before me, I should have been unable to utter a word of greeting, and could only have gazed at the vision in dumb despair. In fact I rarely have much inclination to talk. Weeks pass without my hearing the sound of my own voice..
One of the first pieces she wrote after her release on November 8, 1918, was "Against Capital Punishment," published in Rote Fahne. In the article she condemns the inhumanity of what she calls capitalistic "justice" and outlines the humanitarian goals of the social revolution and the treatment of prisoners.. The last two months of her life were, according to Waters, days and nights of almost uninterrupted mental and physical exertion.". From November 9 to mid-January, there Luxemburg was involved in demonstration after demonstration, with hundreds of thousands of workers pouring into the street. They protested every governmental move made against their organizations and supporters. Mass meetings were held daily.. Luxemburg's final speech was given at the founding convention of the German Communist Party. On January 15, 1919, Rosa, Wilhelm Pieck and Karl Liebknecht [Sophie's husband] were arrested in Berlin by a cadre of solders. The three were murdered shortly thereafter. Reportedly, Luxemburg's skull was first smashed by two blows from the butt of a carbine. Then she was shot in the head. He corpse apparently was flung into a canal, where it was recovered the following May.. Leo Jogiches, her confidante, spent the next few days suggesting she must have been murdered, until he was arrested. On March 10, he was dragged out of prison and murdered.. Waters suggests that the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht marked the end of the first phase of the Russian Revolution. She said it was a tremendous blow to the revolution.. Ironically, although Luxemburg was not a liberal pacifist, she criticize the use of violence against those who opposed Bolshevism, even though she was in substantial agreement with their analysis of the need for a revolution. Luxemburg, in fact, had written a work called Peace Utopia in 1911, which decried the use of force or violence -- the destruction of life. Her position as theorist was basically a moral argument, with a human reluctance to see life destroyed, even if the violence against the oppressed is in no way comparable to the violence of the oppressor.. When Rosa Luxemburg spoke of changing the order of society, she spoke not of violence, but of class struggle. She spoke not of war, but revolution within, through strikes and other forms of civil disobedience. Juxtaposed to her tactics are those of Lenin, who firmly insisted that civil war defined the nature of the revolution, an all or nothing approach to resolve differences. It is ironic, that the peace she wanted could be obtained only by the seizure of power, and no one willingly relinquishes power.. She could not stand to see any living entity suffer. This is the context in which she justified force for the oppressed to free themselves. While in prison, Luxemburg at written to Sophie Leibknecht:
While the lorry was being unloaded, the beasts, which were utterly exhausted, stood perfectly still. The one that was bleeding had an expression on its black face and its soft black eyes like that of a weeping child -- one that has been severely thrashed and doers not know why. nor how to escape from the torment of ill-treatment. I stood in front of the team; the beast looked at me; the tears dwelled up in my eyes. The suffering of the dearly beloved brother could hardly have moved me more profoundly than I was moved by my impotence in the face of this mute agony..
She said she saw the strange and terrible prison guards rain blows upon blow on the buffalo. Blood was running from its gaping wounds. She said, "Poor wretch, I am as powerless, as dumb, as yourself, I am longing.". A few days later, on May 12, she came to some kind of terms with the incident, writing, "I cannot shed tears over all the thrashed buffaloes in the world. . . . "Logic does not help in the matter, and it makes me ill to see suffering.". Juxtaposed against the violence of the scene and her similar brutal murder, is Luxemburg's words about hopes for a revival of life. The letter was written to Sophie Liechknecht toward the end of that May: I had such an experience yesterday. I must tell you what happened. In that bathroom, before dinner, I found a great peacock butterfly on the window. It must have been shut up for two of three days, for it had almost worn itself out fluttering against the hard windowpane, so that there was now nothing more than a slight movement of the wings to show it was still alive. Directly I noticed it, I dressed myself, trembling with impatience, climbed to the window and took it cautiously in my hand. It had now ceased to move, and I thought it must be dead. But I took it to my own room and put it on the outside window sill, to see if it would revive. There was again a gentle fluttering for a little, but after that the insect did not move. I laid a few flowers in front of its antennae, so that it might have something to eat. At that moment the black-cap sang in front of the window so lustily that the echoes rang. Involuntarily, I spoke out loud to the butterfly, saying, "Just listen how merrily the bird is singing; you must take heart, too, and come to life again!" I could not help laughing at myself for speaking life this to a half-dead butterfly, and I thought: "You are wasting your breath!" But I wasn't, for in about half an hour the little creature really revived; after moving about for a while, it was able to flutter slowly away. I was so delighted at this rescue..
The paradox of the passage: to save a butterfly. She who would save life was destroyed by those she would have saved. When Luxemburg's letters, with such passages, were published after her death, they brought about a revulsion of public feeling. Frolich writes:
Many men and women, not socialist, have since openly confessed their deep regret that the news of her murder filled them with satisfaction, and they have bitterly reproached themselves for having had any share, even indirectly, in the creation of the savage atmosphere which made the murders possible.. Luxemburg had been targeted for death because of the mass hysteria caused by the revolutionary ideas proposed in a mass strike. Others in the socialist organization of Spartakusband were also targeted because big business and government feared the loss of their stranglehold on the worker. Her mass rallies became the center of political discussion for the masses. She became a martyr for her cause because her tactics of historical progressivism tempered by humanism were apparently effective strategies for the political atmosphere of the post-war period. Luxemburg was far from being an armchair revolutionary. She as always in the thick of the action. She paid the price of carrying out her beliefs. Someone once wrote that Luxemburg had remarked in one of her letters from prison: "You know that I really do hope to die at my post, in a street-fight or in prison. But my innermost personality belongs more to my tom-tits than to my comrades.".
1. Max Beer, forward in Letters From Prison, by Rosa Luxemburg, translated from German by Eden and Cedar Paul (Berlin: Publishing House of the Young International, 1921, 1923; London: The Socialist Book Centre, Ltd., 1946; New York: R.M. McBride and Co., 1928), p. viii. .
2. Stephen Eric Bronner, editor and introduction in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (Boulder. Colorado: Westview Press, 1978), p. 3. .
3. Mary-Alice Waters, editor and introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), p. 1. .
4. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 1. .
5. Ibid., p. 2. .
6. Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (letter of May 23, 1917), pp. 20-21. .
7. Rosa Luxemburg, Letters From Prison, pp. 20-21. .
8. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 2. .
9. Ibid. .
10. Paul Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, translated by Edward Fitzgerald (London: Victor Gollanez, Ltd., 1940), p. 210. .
11. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 2. .
12. Ibid. .
13. Ibid. .
14. Ibid. .
15. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 194. .
16. Ibid., p. 23. .
17. Ibid., p. 23. .
18. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 3. .
19. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action. p. 23. .
20. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 3. .
21. Frolich. Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 51. .
22. Ibid. .
23. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 3. .
24. Ibid., p. 4. .
25. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 53. .
26. Ibid. .
27. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 5. .
28. Ibid., p. 3. .
29. Dick Howard, editor and introduction in Selected Politic Writings of Rosa Luxemburg (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 165. .
30. Rosa Luxemburg, letter of January 15, 1917, Letters From Prison, p. 11. .
31. Howard, introduction in Selected Politic Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, pp. 218-219. .
32. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 5. .
33. Ibid. .
34. Ibid. .
35. Rosa Luxemburg, What Is Economics? Translated by T. Edwards, prepared for publication by Trotsky School (New York: Distributed by Pioneer Publishers, 1954), p. 62. .
36. Rosa Luxemburg, What Is Economics?, p. 62. .
37. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 56. .
38. Ibid., p. 57. .
39. Ibid. .
40. Beer, forward in Letters From Prison, p. vi. .
41. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 64. .
42. Ibid. .
43. Ibid., p. 65. .
44. Robert Looker, editor and introduction in Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, translated from German by William F. Graf (New York: Grove Press, 1974), p. 13. .
45. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 217. .
46. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 7. .
47. Frolich, p. 67. .
48. Ibid., p. 131. .
49. Ibid. .
50. Ibid. .
51. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 7. .
52. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 49. .
53. Ibid., p. 39. .
54. Ibid., p. 45. .
55. Ibid., p. 102. .
56. Ibid., p. 104. .
57. Ibid., pp. 105-107. .
58. Ibid., p. 280. .
59. Horace P. Davis, introduction; Rosa Luxemburg, The National Question: Selected Writings (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976; five of six articles on "The National Question and Autonomy" from Luxemburg's Cracow Magazine, 1909-1909), p. 18. .
60. Ibid., p. 10. .
61. Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg (London: NLB, 1976), p. 188. Geras apparently espouses the viewpoint of Waters, "The Russian Revolution," p. 391. .
62. Ibid., p. 189. .
63. Ibid. .
64. Ibid., p. 200. .
65. Ibid. .
66. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 7. .
67. Ibid., p. 10. .
68. Ibid., p. 446. .
69. Ibid., p. 447. .
70. Ibid., p. 10. .
71. Ibid., p. 110. .
72. Ibid., p. 33. .
73. Ibid., p. 91. .
74. Ibid., pp. 131-132. .
75. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 115. .
76. Ibid., p. 118. .
77. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 154. .
78. Rosa Luxemburg, Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, editor Dick Howard (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 236. .
79. Ibid. .
80. Ibid. .
81. Ibid., p. 237. .
82. Ibid. .
83. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 243. .
84. Ibid. .
85. Ibid. .
86. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 332. .
87. Ibid. .
88. Beer, forward in Letters From Prison, p. vi. .
89. Ibid. .
90. Ibid. .
91. Luxemburg, letter of May 2, 1917, in Letters From Prison, p. 16. .
92. Luxemburg, letter of May 23, 1917, in Letters From Prison, p. 22. .
93. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 396. .
94. Ibid., p. 400. .
95. Ibid. .
96. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, pp. 331-333. .
97. Bernard Wolfe, pp. 18-19. .
98. Waters, introduction in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 405. .
99. Ibid., p. 29. .
100. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 240. .
101. Luxemburg, Letters From Prison, p. 40. .
102. Ibid. .
103. Ibid., p. 47. .
104. Ibid., p. 24. .
105. Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action, p. 210. .
106. Beer, forward in Letters From Prison, p. vi.
[Note: These were contributed by Beverly Merrick.]
Luxemburg, Rosa. Letters From Prison. Translated from German by Eden and Cedar Paul. Berlin: Publishing House of the Young International, 1921, 1923; London: The Socialist Book Centre, Ltd., 1946; New York: R.M. McBride and Co., 1928.
Luxemburg, Rosa. The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg. Editor and Introduction by Stephen Eric Bronner. With Forward by Henry Pachter. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1978.
Luxemberg, Rosa. Rosa Luxemburg Speaks. Editor and Introduction by Mary-Alice Waters. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.
Luxemburg, Rosa. Selected Political Writings. Edited and Introduction by Robert Looker. Translated from German by D. Graf et al. New York: Grove Press, 1974.
Luxemburg, Rosa. Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg. Edited by Dick Howard. New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1971.
Luxemburg, Rosa. What Is Economics? Translated by T. Edwards. Prepared for publication by Trotsky School. New York: Distributed by Pioneer Publishers, 1954.
[Note: These were contributed by Beverly Merrick.]
Beer, Max. Forward in Letters From Prison by Rosa Luxemburg. Translated from German by Eden and Cedar Paul. Berlin: Publishing House of the Young International, 1921, 1923; London: The Socialist Book Centre, Ltd., 1946; New York: R.M. McBride and Co., 1928.
Bronner, Stephen Eric, Editor and Introduction. The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg. Boulder. Colorado: Westview Press, 1978.
Davis, Howard P. Introduction in The National Question: Selected Writings by Rosa Luxemburg. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976; five of six articles on "The National Question and Autonomy" from Luxemburg's Cracow Magazine, 1909-1909.
Frolich, Paul. Rosa Luxemburg: Ideas in Action. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. London: Victor Gollanez, Ltd., 1940.
Geras, Norman. The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg. London: NLB, 1976.
Howard, Dick. Editor and introduction in Selected Politic Writings of Rosa Luxemburg. New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1971.
Looker, Robert. Editor and introduction in Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings. Translated from German by William F. Graf. New York: Grove Press, 1974.
Waters, Mary-Alice. Rosa Luxemburg Speaks by Rosa Luxemburg. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.
The Rosa Luxemburg Institute in Vienna, Austria can be reached at: http://iguwnext.tuwien.ac.at/~rli or click here. The Insitute has information and links on Women's Studies and women's movements worldwide. There are three main areas of the site: 1) Technology Assessment and Cultural Studies of Technologies, along with Theory, History, and Social Studies of Science; 2) Women and Development; and 3) Women's Education and Feminism. The postal address is: Rosa Luxemburg Institute, Postbox 12, A-1091 Vienna, AUSTRIA.
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