Ninety years ago, on January 15, 1919, the revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg was murdered by the German military, supported by the cowardly right-wing leaders of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Luxemburg was a heroic fighter for the oppressed, whose name belongs with Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky in the revolutionary pantheon. Originally from Poland, she was a prominent member of the German SPD, the largest mass socialist party in the world at the dawn of the 20th Century.
Luxemburg defended the ideas of revolution within the SPD against the reformist wing, who sought to limit the struggle to reforming capitalism rather than overthrowing the system. Her famous pamphlet Reform or Revolution, written in 1899, is still a very good read!
Red Rosa showed a tremendous faith in the capacity of the masses for revolutionary action. She looked to the initiative of the masses as a bulwark against the timidity and bureaucratism of the reformist leaders of the workers movement, who sought to maintain the movement within electoral and legal channels.
Luxemburg was a bitter opponent of militarism. While the leaders of the SPD and other socialist parties throughout the world supported their governments in the slaughter of World War I, she spoke out against the imperialist war from the onset. She spent years in the Kaisers jails as a result.
She was finally released from prison in November 1918, when a sailors revolt, inspired by the Russian Revolution, sparked off workers anger throughout the country and brought down the Kaiser. This was the beginning of the German Revolution, which saw the formation of workers and sailors’ councils. The revolution was snuffed out when the reformist SPD leaders conspired with the capitalists and reactionaries in the military to crush the left wing.
Luxemburg fought against this effort to derail the workers revolution. Her steadfastness cost her her life. Yet she remains a towering example of a heroic revolutionary woman, whose ideas and legacy deserve to be studied by all who want to build a better world.
For a more in-depth look at the life of Rosa Luxemburg, check out The Revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg
“We stand today … before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism.” Rosa Luxemburg