Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg-2
Born 1871

Zamość, Congress Poland, Russian Empire

Relevant Work "The Problem of Dictatorship"


 Biography Edit

  • Rosa Luxemburg (Róża Luksemburg; 5 March 1871 - 15 January 1919) was a Polish-born Marxist theorist, philosopher, and socialist revolutionary
  • Born to a Jewish family in Poland, Luxemburg joined the Proletariat Party, the first socialist party in Poland, at the age of 15
  • The party was outlawed following a general strike that it had organized and the reaction from the Polish government brought about the execution of party's leadership
  • These events eventually pushed Luxemburg to flee to Switzerland in 1889 where she attended the University of Zurich and received a Doctor of Law
  • Luxemburg's dissertation was titled "The Industrial Development of Poland" and focused on the history of political economy in Poland from the early 19th Century

Luxemburg, who saw Germany as the centerpiece of the revolutionary socialist world, married Gustav Lubeck in order to gain German citizenship. The two never lived together and, a few years later, the marriage was dissolved. In Germany she rose to prominence within the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party of Germany, or SPD) and, along with Karl Liebknecht and Clara Zetkin, founded the Spartacus League, a far-left, Marxist faction within in the SPD.

Luxemburg became a central figure in denouncing the SPD's move toward reformism in favor of a revolutionary programme that advocated for full workers' democratic control of the means of production.  Her call to oust the reformists from the SPD, however, was ultimately unsuccessful.

At the Stuttgart congress of the Second International in 1907 Luxemburg drafted a resolution that pushed for all European workers' parties to stop the war which was becoming an increasingly apparent inevitability. The bulk of her resolution was rejected by the congress, especially with the intriguingly pro-war French delegates who represented the majority, with the congress instead passing a moderate resolution that took a middle position on the impending war.

When World War I finally did break out, the SPD (like most other socialist organizations that comprised the Second International) sided with their nation's efforts and promised the Kaiser's government that they would not strike or agitate for the duration of the conflict. The Spartacus League, on the other hand, stuck to their Marxist position on the war and Luxemburg, Zetkin, and Liebknecht set about writing and distributing illegal anti-war pamphlets some of which urged the German soldiers to turn their weapons on their leaders and overthrow them.

A critic of the Bolshevik government which took power in Russia after the 1917 October Revolution. Her critiques of Lenin and Trotsky often centered on the lack of individual freedom and democratic processes in the recently founded and war-ravaged Soviet state. Lenin nevertheless held a great deal respect for Luxemburg and, as Marx did in 1848, he vested his hopes in Germany becoming the pivotal point in a global socialist revolution.

In 1918, the Kaiser abdicated and Lenin's hope for a revolution in Germany came to fruition. Luxemburg and Liebknecht, upon being freed from prison at the fall of the old government declared proclaimed the founding the "Free Socialist Republic" (Freie Sozialistische Republik) in Berlin and demanded amnesty for all political prisoners and an end to capital punishment in Germany. Over the next few weeks the Spartacus League, against the backdrop of the revolution, underwent several changes in policy and programme. On 1 January 1919 the Spartacus League became the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, or KPD).

The revolution, commonly called the Spartacist Uprising, took on an increased tempo as labor strikes became commonplace throughout Berlin. In order to put down the revolution, Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD, ordered the Freikorps to target the KPD, with a special focus on Luxemburg and Liebknecht. On 15 of January 1919 both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were captured, subjected to torture and executed. Luxemburg was smashed in the head with a rifle and then shot by a Freikorps officer, her body was then thrown into Berlin's Landwehr Canal. Liebknecht was shot and his body was sent to a morgue without a name.

The death of Luxemburg and Liebknecht did not give Ebert the cessation of violence that he had hoped to achieve. Over the next several weeks the violence in Berlin actually increased as the Freikorps and workers' militias fought it out in the streets. Even at the inception of the Weimar Republic in August 1919 the violence still raged, spreading throughout Germany over the next few years before winding down in 1923.

"The Problem of Dictatorship" Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

1905 Russian Revolution and Revolutions of 1917

Key Words and Terms Edit

Bolsheviks - Members of a wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party, which, led by Lenin, seized control of the government in Russia (October 1917) and became the dominant political power (

Bourgeoisie - (in Marxist contexts) The capitalist class who own most of society's wealth and means of production.

Hegemony - leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.

Proletariat - workers or working-class people.

Ukase: (pronounced ookáhz) 1: a proclamation by a Russian emperor or government having the force of law. 2: edict. (

Key Quotations Edit

“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all.” ("The Problem of Dictatorship")

"Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” ("The Problem of Dictatorship")

“The public life of countries with limited freedom is so poverty-stricken, so miserable, so rigid, so unfruitful, precisely because, through the exclusion of democracy, it cuts off the living sources of all spiritual riches and progress.” ("The Problem of Dictatorship")

“Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways."

"Public control is indispensably necessary. Otherwise the exchange of experiences remains only with the closed circle of the officials of the new regime. Corruption becomes inevitable.” ("The Problem of Dictatorship")

“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing "I was, I am, I shall be!" (Order Prevails in Berlin )

"...when it comes to the nature of the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships, there is no key in any socialist party program or textbook." (Order Prevails in Berlin )

"Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element." (The Problem of Dictatorship)

Discussion Edit

Culture of Peace Edit

"Rosa Luxemburg makes a strong case for the principles of a culture of peace: education, democratic participation, transparency and the free flow of information. Without these the Soviet Union fell into the trap of a socialist culture of war which led eventually to its bankruptcy and death" (

The Problem of Dictatorship Summary:

Luxemburg states that Lenin says the bourgeois state oppresses the working class and the socialist state does the opposite (i.e. socialist state oppresses the bourgeoisie). She goes on to argue that political training and education are of more importance to the socialist state than it was for the bourgeois class rule.

Freedom is non-existent if one is not able to be divergent and think differently.

Bolsheviks think they have a fool proof formula, but the future is unknown and they are on new terrain which will require experimentation.  They really only have pieces of a plan that give direction.  Not having a working formula is not a problem but a key factor in creating a socialist system of society which can only come into existence through “experience, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history.” In other words it can only come to be by working itself out during the process.

Because of the organic nature of the existence of a socialist system of society, it cannot be forcible be built up.  Negative aspects may be torn down by decree, but positive new ways cannot come by way of decree from a dictatorship but must arise because of the whole mass of people taking part in its evolution.

Socialism requires the masses participation and decrees from a dictatorship do not heal social problems implying that masses must heal themselves. Without freedoms of election and opinion and being under the rule of a dictatorship is similar to being in the bourgeois state and society will degrade.  

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

Related Works Edit

References Edit

“Rosa Luxemburg.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Oct. 2017

Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.