Rosa Luxemburg

By: Joshua Glenn
March 5, 2010

What was needed in the wake of the Russian Revolution, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy only to replace it with Lenin’s authoritarian Bolshevik Party, wrote the Polish-German Jewish philosopher ROSA LUXEMBURG (1871-1919) the following year, was “not uncritical apologetics but penetrating and thoughtful criticism.” Coming from a diehard socialist activist, this was bold stuff. During the decade before WWI, she’d published The Accumulation of Capital (1913), which traced the capitalist movement towards imperialism; and she’d advocated ceaselessly for a general strike that would encourage solidarity among workers and prevent war. And during the war, Luxemburg had cofounded the Spartakus League, with the aim of convincing German soldiers to turn their weapons against their own government; she’d been jailed for her efforts. The Russian Revolution (1918), which she wrote in prison, argued that it was precisely by rejecting democratic socialism that the Bolsheviks had come to power. Immediately upon her release from prison, Luxemburg cofounded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD); she was then reluctantly swept up in the Spartikist uprising of January 1919, during which she was executed by members of a proto-fascist militia. Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, the Berlin Dadaists — and, later, anti-Communist leftists like Dwight Macdonald — were among those influenced by Luxemburg’s criticism of the moral paralysis of the left after 1917, and by her quasi-anarchistic approach to organizing a party-oriented class struggle. Bertolt Brecht wrote Red Rosa’s epitaph: “She told the poor what life is about/And so the rich have rubbed her out.”

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Mark E. Smith, Rosa Luxemburg.

READ MORE about members of the Anarcho-Symbolist Generation (1864–73).

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