Rozalia Luksenburg was born to a Jewish family in Zamość, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, and grew up in Warsaw. Her parents supported the Jewish Reform and Polish national movements, raising her as Pole first and a Jew second.
From 1884 to 1887, Luxemburg attended the all-girls gymnasium, a Russian school, where she was among the few Polish students who got accepted and one of the only Jewish children. There, she participated in secret study circles that studied Polish writers and poets and became a member of an illegal Polish left-wing Proletariat Party. As a result of her continued involvement in the proletariat after graduation, she became wanted by the tsarist police and lowered her profile.
In 1889, at 18, she fled to Switzerland and studied politics, economics, history, philosophy, and mathematics at the University of Zurich. In 1897, Luxemburg became one of the first women in the world to receive a Ph.D.
While in Zurich, she continued her social activism and befriended many leading figures of the Russian social democratic movement. With her fellow activist and long-time friend, Leo Jogiches, Luxemburg founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) party, which later merged into the Communist Workers Party of Poland. Luxemburg and her party opposed the Polish Socialist Party, which supported Polish independence, arguing that nationalism is a concession to the bourgeoisie, and advocated for socialist internationalism.
By 1898, Luxemburg moved to Germany and married a family friend’s son to receive German citizenship. She settled in Berlin and became a leading member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The following year, Luxemburg published the brochure Social Reform or Revolution? in which she attacked Eduard Bernstein’s revisionism theory, defending Marxist orthodoxy and the need for revolution to achieve international socialism.
Luxemburg returned to Warsaw after the Russian Revolution of 1905 to join the fight against the Tsar. She wrote for the SDKPiL’s illegal newspaper Czerwony Sztandar (The Red Banner). Within two years, she published over 100 articles, speeches, and brochures supporting the revolution and advocating for mass strikes, stating that this was the most essential and powerful tool for the proletariat to achieve socialist victory. Her actions led to her arrest by the tsarist authorities on March 4th, 1906. After three months, Luxemburg was released and went back to Berlin. There, she taught at the Social Democratic Party school and continued to promote her socialist agenda. In 1913 she published Die Akkumulation des Kapitals (The Accumulation of Capital), claiming that imperialism results from capitalism’s expansion into underdeveloped regions.
In 1914, Luxemburg co-founded with Karl Liebknecht the Spartakusbund (Spartacus League), a movement dedicated to ending WWI through revolution and forming a proletarian government. She also established the league’s newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag). Through the Spartacus League, Luxemburg aimed to lead Germany’s proletariat into an anti-war general strike. She got arrested again, this time for two-and-a-half years, during which she continued writing articles smuggled out of prison and published by her fellow activists.
After her release in November 1918, Luxemburg immediately returned to work on promoting the revolution and co-founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on January 1st, 1919. Four days later, a second revolutionary wave broke in Berlin, and Luxemburg, through the Red Flag, encouraged the rebels to occupy all positions of power, for which she received the vilified nickname of “Bloody Rosa.”
On January 15th, 1919, German Cavalry Guards abducted Luxemburg and Liebknecht and questioned them under torture before killing them and throwing the bodies into the Landwehr Canal. Their assassination inspired a new wave of violence across Germany, and the authorities killed thousands of revolutionaries and civilians.
Four months later, Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s bodies were found and brought to burial at the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery in Berlin.
Rosa Luxemburg – The Eternal Rose
Ein animierter Kurzfilm des renommierten jungen Künstlers Viet Su Kieu Hung in Zusammenarbeit mit der Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Südostasien über das Leben Rosa Luxemburgs. Voller Hingabe rekonstruiert der Film Rosa Luxemburgs Leben, um ihr unvergleichliches Erbe aufzuzeigen. Über einen imaginären Brief, den Rosa in den letzten Augenblicken ihres außergewöhnlichen Lebens hätte schreiben können, lernen wir ihre Herausforderungen und Motivationen kennen.
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
- As a child, she suffered from a hip problem that left her with a permanent limp.
- She and her husband, whom she married to receive German citizenship, never lived together and got divorced after five years.
- She often published her writings under the pseudonym Junius, referring to Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Roman Republic.
- She chose the name the Spartacus League after Spartacus, the slave-liberating Thracian gladiator who fought the Romans.
- In 1919, the German poet Bertolt Brecht wrote the memorial Epitaph in her honor:
"Red Rosa now has vanished too,
And where she lies is hidden from view.
She told the poor what life's about,
And so the rich have rubbed her out.
May she rest in peace."
- To commemorate her and Liebknecht, the Liebknecht-Luxemburg Demonstration is held annually in Berlin around the date of her death.
- A collection of her correspondence was published in the book The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg.
- Many places and establishments are named in her honor, including a manufacturing facility of electric lamps in Warsaw, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin, and a street and streetcar stop in Dresden.
- Several statues, plaques, and monuments commemorate her worldwide, including terraced gardens in Barcelona, Spain, the Lady Rosa monument in Luxemburg, the Rosa Luxemburg Memorial in Berlin, the Rosa Luxemburg Memorial in Zwickau, and the Rosa Luxemburg Denkmal in Erfurt, Germany.
- Her life was portrayed in many artworks, including poems, novels, and films, such as the historical fiction Europe Central, the Southern Victory series, and the graphic novel Red Rosa.
- The feminist magazine Lux is named after her.
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