The Great Soviet Encyclopedia on Rosa Luxemburg

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Luxemburg, Rosa

(Polish, R. Luksemburg). Born Mar. 5, 1871, in Zamość, Poland; died Jan. 15, 1919, in Berlin. Figure of the German, Polish, and international workers’ movement. One of the leaders and theoreticians of Polish social democracy, the left-radical tendency in German social democracy, and the Second International; one of the founders of the Communist Party of Germany. Born into a bourgeois Jewish family.

As early as her years in the Gymnasium, Luxemburg participated in illegal revolutionary work, joining the Proletariat Party. She emigrated to Switzerland in 1889 and graduated from the University of Zurich in 1897. Luxemburg studied Marxist literature, took part in the work of a circle of Polish political emigres (marking the beginning of Polish revolutionary social democracy), and fought the nationalist tendency of the Polish Socialist Party.

Luxemburg moved to Germany in 1898, where she was involved in German social democracy, occupying a position on the left. She was a resolute opponent of the revisionist E. Bernstein, considering his views incompatible with membership in the party. Defining revisionism as a variety of petit bourgeois reformist ideology, Luxemburg counterposed revolutionary Marxism to it. She actively opposed ministerialism (Millerandism) and opportunistic compromises with the bourgeois parties. Luxemburg devoted a series of brilliant articles, collected in Social Reform or Revolution? (1899; Russian translation, 1907), to the refutation of revisionism.

In 1904, when the RSDLP split, Luxemburg failed to understand the Leninist principles of the construction of a proletarian party of the new type and hence came forward with a criticism of the Bolsheviks. During the Revolution of 1905-07 in Russia, Luxemburg drew closer to the Bolsheviks on many questions of the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary struggle. Luxemburg greeted the 1905 revolution in Russia with enthusiasm, considering it an event of enormous international significance. She correctly evaluated the role of the proletariat as the decisive force in the revolution and recognized the need for an armed uprising against tsarism and for the establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship. Luxemburg attended the Fifth Congress of the RSDLP in 1907. She joined with the Bolsheviks in evaluating the liberal bourgeoisie as an antirevolutionary force, and she recognized the peasantry as a revolutionary class. Drawing on the experience of the revolution in Russia, Luxemburg and other representatives of the revolutionary wing of German social democracy, such as K. Liebknecht, C. Zetkin, and F. Mehring, subjected the parliamentary cretinism and democratic illusions of the reformists to incisive criticism. She supported the greatest possible development of the extraparliamentary struggle of the masses and fought to include in the arsenal of the proletariat’s fighting methods the “Russian weapon”—the mass political strike.

Luxemburg illegally went to Warsaw in December 1905, where she did revolutionary work. Arrested, she was soon released on bail. In Finland in the summer of 1906, she wrote the pamphlet Mass Strike: The Political Party and the Trade Unions (1906; in Russian translation, The General Strike and German Social Democracy, 1919), in which she summed up the experience of the Russian revolution and formulated, in the light of this experience, the tasks of the German workers’ movement. V. I. Lenin placed a high value on the pamphlet (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 54, p. 481). Luxemburg returned to Germany in September 1906, but she maintained her ties with the Polish workers’ movement. Her writings were published in the Polish and Russian Social Democratic press.

Luxemburg was a passionate fighter against militarism and imperialism. At the congress of the Second International in Paris in 1900, Luxemburg in a speech described the fundamental need for energetic international action by socialists against militarism, the colonial policy of the imperialist powers, and the threat of world war. At the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International in 1907, Luxemburg, together with V. I. Lenin, introduced amendments to A. Bebel’s resolution on the position of the international on an imperialist war and on militarism. The amendments in particular pointed out the need to use the crisis engendered by an outbreak of war to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie. She was persecuted because of her antimilitarist agitation; in all, she spent approximately four years in prison, mainly during World War I.

Luxemburg presented a critique of capitalism and its last stage, imperialism, in her principal theoretical works, Introduction to Political Economy (1925; Russian translation, 1925; new edition, 1960) and The Accumulation of Capital (vote. 1-2, 1913; Russian translation, 1921; 5th edition, 1934). In the latter work Luxemburg vividly depicted the colonial brigandage and aggression of the imperialist powers.

However, there were errors in Luxemburg’s economic conceptions. She believed that the accumulation of capital under capitalism was only possible through the expansion of the sphere of exploitation of the “noncapitalist environment,” as, for example, the economy of the peasants and craftsmen; hence, she defined imperialism as the policy of struggle of the capitalist states for what was left of the “worldwide noncapitalist environment.”

Masterfully applying the materialist dialectic in many of her works, Luxemburg deviated from it in a number of cases, committing metaphysical errors. This showed itself specifically in her incorrect treatment of the national question, in her denial of the right of peoples (natsii) to self-determination. Luxemburg also underestimated the revolutionary potentialities of the peasantry.

Luxemburg understood the true essence of Kautskyianism as a form of opportunism even before the war, and she exposed the centrist “swamp,” the conciliatory policy of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany toward the revisionists. At the same time, Luxemburg did not understand the relationship between opportunism and imperialism or the need to create a party of a new type. Up to the November revolution in Germany, she did not see the need for an organizational break with opportunism, although she had always waged an ideological struggle against it.

With the beginning of the imperialist war of 1914-18, Luxemburg from a revolutionary position resolutely condemned the chauvinist policy of the Social Democratic leadership: the policy of a “civil peace” and support of the war. In 1916, under the pseudonym Junius, Luxemburg published the pamphlet The Crisis in the German Social Democracy (Russian translation, 1923), in which she revealed the imperialist character of the war and condemned the betrayal of the Social Democratic leaders. Lenin, in his article “The Junius Pamphlet” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. vol. 30, pp. 1-16), appraised the pamphlet as a generally splendid Marxist work. At the same time he criticized individual errors, such as the denial of the possibility of national liberation wars during the era of imperialism.

Luxemburg was one of the founders and leaders of the Spartacus League and the author of many antiwar leaflets published by Spartacus. She ardently greeted the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia as the beginning of a new era in the history of humanity and as a great school for the class struggle of the proletariat. Substantiating the objective inevitability of the revolution, Luxemburg at the same time noted the outstanding role of the Bolshevik Party as its inspirer and leader. However, because she was in prison at the time and was inadequately informed, she incorrectly evaluated some questions of Bolshevik tactics, such as the resolution of the agrarian and national questions and the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. Later, in the midst of the acute revolutionary struggle in Germany, Luxemburg corrected many of her mistakes and decisively turned toward Leninism, defending the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviets in Germany. Assimilating the example of Bolshevism, Luxemburg unmasked the Kautskyian theory of “pure” democracy, correctly defined the question of the correlation of socialist democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and rejected the conciliationist idea of the unification of the Soviets and the National Assembly in Germany. Luxemburg was among the founders of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). She presented a report on the party program at the Constituent Congress of the KPD, which met from Dec. 30, 1918, to Jan. 1, 1919. After the suppression of the Berlin workers’ uprising in January 1919, the counterrevolution organized the savage murder of R. Luxemburg and K. Liebknecht. Their tragic death was a severe loss for the German and international proletariat.

Lenin had high regard for the revolutionary services of Rosa Luxemburg. He called her an eagle, a great Communist, a representative of unfalsified, revolutionary Marxism, emphasizing that her works “will serve as useful manuals for training many generations of Communists all over the world” (ibid., vol. 44, p. 422; see also vol. 41, p. 371).

WORKS

Gesammelte Werke, 2nd ed., vols. 1-3. Berlin, 1972-73.
Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Berlin, 1955.
Politische Schriften. Leipzig [1969].
Briefs aus dem Gefängnis, 6th ed. Berlin, 1971.
Briefe an Freunde. Hamburg, 1950.
Listy do Leona Jogichesa-Tyszki, vols. 1-3. Warsaw, 1971.
In Russian translation:
Promyshlennoe razvitie Pol–shi. St. Petersburg, 1899.
Koalitsionnaia politika Hi klassovaia bor’ba? Moscow, 1923.
Pis’ma k Karlu i Luise Kautskim (1896-1918 gg.) Moscow, 1923.
Rechi. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Izbrannye sochineniia, vol. 1, parts 1-2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928-30.
O literature. Moscow, 1961.
“Roza Liuksemburg protiv revizionizma: Iz neopublikovannykh pisem R. Liuksemburg k Ia. Tyshke (L. logikhesu).” Novaia inoveishaia istoriia, 1962, nos. 5-6; 1963, no. 1.
“R. Liuksemburg i rossiiskoe rabochee dvizhenie (K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia R. Liuksemburg).” Voprosy istorii KPSS,1971, no. 3.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Shag vpered, dva shaga nazad: Otvet N. Lenina Roze Liuksemburg.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 9.
Lenin, V. I. “Mezhdunarodnyi sotsialisticheskii kongress v Shtutgarte.” Ibid., vol. 16, pp. 73, 87.
Lenin, V. I. “O prave na samoopredelenie.” Ibid., vol. 25.
Leninskii sbornik XXII. Moscow, 1933. Pages 337-90.
Krivoguz, I. M. “Spartak” i obrazovanie Kommunisticheskoipartii Germanii. Moscow, 1962.
Dil’, E., A. Lashitsa, and G. Radchun. “Revoliutsionnyi vozhd’ proletariata (K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia RozyLiuksemburg).” Problemy mira i sotsializma, 1971, no. 3.
Manusevich, A. Ia. “Roza Liuksemburg i ee mesto v istorii mezhdunarodnogo rabochego dvizheniia.” Novaia i noveishaiaistoriia, 1971, no. 2.
lazhborovskaia, I. “Roza Liuksemburg i protivniki Leninizma.” Rabochii klass i sovremennyi mir, 1971, no. 1.
Bartel’, V. Levye v germanskoi sotsial-demokratii v bor’be protiv militarizma i voiny. Moscow, 1959. (Translated fromGerman.)
Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, vols. 1-2. Berlin, 1966.
Wohlgemuth, H. Burgkrieg, nicht Burgfriedel Der Kampf Karl Liebknechts, Rosa Luxemburgs und ihrer Anhänger um dieRettung der deutschen Nation in den Jahren 1914 bis 1916. Berlin, 1963.
Badia, G. Le Spartakisme: Les dernières années de Rosa Luxemburg et de Karl Liebknecht, 1914-1919. Paris, 1967.
Nettl, P. Rosa Luxemburg. London, 1966.
Laschitza, A., and G. Radczun. Rosa Luxemburg: Ihr Wirken in der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung. Berlin, 1971.

B. A. AIZIN

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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