Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg (1871–1919)

A Polish-born socialist and exponent of revolutionary Marxism, Luxemburg advanced the first Marxist critique of the Bolshevik tradition from the point of view of democracy. Emphasising the benefits of a broadly based democratic organisation, she condemned Lenin’s conception of a tightly centralised vanguard party as an attempt to exert political control over the working class. By associating vanguardism with the rise of despotism, she predicted the subsequent course of Russian communism. In her most important theoretical work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Luxemburg examined the intrinsic connections between capitalism, nationalism, militarism and imperialism. In Social Reform or Revolution (1899), she condemned the revisionism of Bernstein and others for denying the objective foundations of the socialist project. Luxemburg therefore represented a form of Marxism that attempted to steer a course between Bolshevism and Marxist revisionism, and thus between the major two traditions of twentieth-century socialism: orthodox communism and social democracy.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist theorist and revolutionary socialist, criticized the revisionist socialism of German social democrat Eduard Bernstein. She opposed gradualism and parliamentarianism, instead defending Marx’s ideas of dialectical materialism and historical analysis. Luxemburg also critiqued the Russian Revolution, fearing its potential for authoritarianism. She disagreed with Lenin's decision to dismiss the Russian Constituent Assembly in 1918, foreseeing the revolution's failure. Luxemburg strongly opposed capitalism, rejecting gradualism due to its acceptance of exploitation inherent in the capitalist system. She believed social democracy failed the working classes by supporting capitalism and imperialism, and she denounced the First World War as an imperialist conflict. Luxemburg advocated for revolutionary mass action, emphasizing the importance of grassroots organization and spontaneous proletarian uprising. She supported the mass strike as a means to foster class consciousness and lead to a natural socialist revolution. Criticizing Lenin's democratic centralism, Luxemburg argued against a tightly structured revolutionary party led by intellectuals, fearing it would result in dictatorship. In her work "The Accumulation of Capital" (1913), Luxemburg predicted that capitalism would lead to economic imperialism, a concept akin to modern-day globalization. Luxemburg met her demise in 1919, executed alongside Karl Liebknecht by the right-wing paramilitary group Freikorps in Germany.

Rosa Luxemburg aimed to support and expand upon Karl Marx's ideas. As a member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Luxemburg played a unique role in the advancement of Marxist socialism. In her early work "Reform or Revolution?" (1900), Luxemburg agreed with Marx's view that capitalism fostered exploitation and conflicted with humanity's natural, fraternal instincts. She also believed that only revolution, not evolutionary socialism, could bring about real change. Luxemburg differed from Marx and Lenin in her analysis of how revolution should unfold. Luxemburg rejected Lenin's assertion that a revolution could only be achieved through the planning and leadership of a vanguard elite. Instead, she envisioned revolution occurring spontaneously as class consciousness grew through the proletariat's ongoing struggles for workplace progress. This grassroots movement would culminate in mass strike actions and spark a broader revolutionary wave to overthrow the capitalist state. Luxemburg opposed the Marxist-Leninist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat and advocated for the immediate establishment of a new democracy based on common ownership, open discussion, and elections. Luxemburg remained more aligned with Marxist principles than Lenin in many aspects. She emphasized Marx's internationalism, criticizing Lenin's focus on socialist nationalism for disregarding the global nature of capitalism and proletarian interests. Luxemburg argued that socialist revolution should transcend national boundaries and target capitalism and nationalism worldwide. Luxemburg's opposition to nationalism intensified with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, which she vehemently opposed. Disillusioned by the SPD's backing of the German war effort, Luxemburg exited the party to organize anti-war protests, viewing the war as an opportune moment for revolution. She believed that true enemies of socialism resided within the country. Following the war, Luxemburg played a key role in founding the German Communist Party (KPD). Despite criticism from traditional Marxists and Leninists, who rejected her idea of the KPD participating in post-war German Constituent Assembly elections, Luxemburg argued that this strategy would facilitate communists' outreach to proletarian voters. This approach foreshadowed Euro-communism in the late twentieth century and remains popular among contemporary communist parties in Europe.