Rosa: The Forgotten Revolutionist

Author: Ranganadhan S (@Ranganadhan)

It was in 1795, Poland saw one more partition, and Poland was divided into 3 parts and shared with Austria, Russia and Prussia. The Russian kingdom was then ruled by Alexander 1, Nicholas 1, Alexander 2 and Alexander 3, the autocratic rule of the family created unrest among section of the society and extended across in the name of socialist movement.

It was on 5 March 1871  in the small Polish town of  Zamosc born the inspirational revolutionist, Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa was the youngest of five children of a lower middle-class Jewish family , by then was Zamosc in the Polish area of  Russia, since the childhood  Rosa was interested in politics at sixteen, when she graduated at the top of her class from the girls’ gymnasium in Warsaw, she was denied the gold medal because of  an oppositional attitude toward the authorities.

Alexander followed a cruel policy against political reformers and persecuted Jews and others who were not members of the Russian Orthodox Church he ensured rapid Russification of national minorities by imposing the Russian language and Russian schools on the German, Polish and Finnish peoples living in the Empire. The influence of Marx on her made Rosa to join a revolutionary party called Proletariat, which was founded in 1882, some 21 years before the Russian Social Democratic Party (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) came into being. From the beginning Proletariat was, in principles and programme, many steps ahead of the revolutionary movement in Russia.

The Russian revolutionary movement then started to transform into an act of terrorism carried out by a individual revolutionists, Proletariat was organising and leading thousands of workers out on strike. It was in 1886; Proletariat was practically decapitated by the execution of four its top leaders and imprisonment of 23 others for long terms of hard labour, very few managed to escape and one of these was Rosa Luxemburg .

Rosa Luxemburg then went to Switzerland, to Zurich, which was the most important centre of Polish and Russian emigration those days. Rosa then entered university and studied natural sciences, mathematics and economics, even in Zurich, Rosa took an active part in the local labour movement. Two years by then Luxemburg was popular as the theoretical leader of the revolutionary socialist party of Poland and became an ambassador of Marx ideologies. Luxemburg used to oppose autocratic and military rule through Sprawa Rabotnicza, published in Paris. In 1894, Proletariat name was then changed to become the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland- Lithuania (the SDKPL) , Luxemburg continued to be the theoretical leader of the party till the end of her life.

Rosa Luxemburg became famous in August 1893 when she was just 22 and represented the party at the Congress of the Socialist International. There she challenged the veterans of another Polish party, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), whose main agenda was the independence of Poland as the Support for the national movement in Poland had the weight because of the support of Marx and Engels. It was shock for entire Congress of socialist International when Luxemburg openly opposed Lenin’s ideology of top down approach to fight communism and imperial policy. Rosa always wanted the movement not to be linked with terror and should start through the working class, many of them including friend of Marx and Engels, Wilhelm Liebknecht, going so far as to accuse her of being an agent of the Tsarist secret police but Rosa was firm on her decision and used say Marx policy on independent Poland was old and the situation has changed.

The Russian government always considered Germany to be the main threat to its territory. This was proved true when Germany decided to form the Triple Alliance. Under the terms of this military alliance, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy agreed to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia, to counter this in 1907 Russia also formed an alliance with Britain and France.

Rosa moved to Germany in 1898 she had already established herself amongst international socialists as a Marxist speaker and thinker. She became active in the German Social Democratic Party (SDP), the largest working-class party in the world. Luxemburg dedicated her heart and soul in the labour movement of Germany. Rosa contributed to the movement through her regular writings in different Papers, she mobilized the masses and addressed many mass meetings and took part in all the tasks the movement.

It was in 1910, the fight between Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky reached peak and SPD was split into three wings

  1. a) The reformists, who progressively adopted an imperialist policy
  2. b) The Marxist centre, led by Kautsky which fought on parliamentary methods of struggle
  3. c) The revolutionary wing, led by Rosa Luxemburg.


Rosa addressing crowd

It was when the First World War broke out, On 3 August 1914 the parliamentary group of German Social Democracy decided to vote in favour of war credits for the Kaiser’s government, Karl Liebknecht was the sole vote against war credits. This decision of the party leadership was a cruel blow to Luxemburg ideology, a small group of socialists met in her apartment and decided to take up the struggle against the war. This group, led by Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Mehring and Clara Zetkin, ultimately became the Spartakus League. Luxemburg being in prison continued to lead, inspire and organise the revolutionaries. She knew that Revolutionary movement against war and imperialism was heading towards a big defeat, knowing that Rosa had written ‘The revolution will come back and announce I was, am, I shall be”.

On 8 November 1918 the German Revolution released Luxemburg from prison. She joined the revolutionary movement the very next day with same energy she had before she was put in prison 4 years ago, Right wing Social Democratic leaders and generals of the old Kaiser’s army joined forces to suppress the revolutionary working class. On 15 January 1919 Karl Liebknecht was killed, on the very same day a bullet was shot into Rosa Luxemburg’s head and she closed her eyes.

Rosa’s demise created a biggest void in German revolution, the moment slowly nullified and lost but Rosa’s words never proved wrong revolution again broke in Germany 1923.

Rosa Luxemburg remains as most inspiring leader, revolutionist and bold women who had guts to speak against Lenin, even though she strongly followed Marxism but she always looked Marx ideology keeping time as reference and she strongly opposed war ,which most communists even today fails to do. The Luxemburg ideology today called “ Luxemburgism”.

                            Today is 145th Birth Anniversary of  Rosa.


Statue of Luxemburg in Berlin

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