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 - Rosa den Oudsten -

Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) wanted a better place for the world’s working-class. Even though she didn’t succeed at that, for a woman, a Jew, and a Polish citizen, she accomplished amazing things. Her ideas and believes are still relevant today. 


Rosa was born as the fifth child of a Jewish family in Zamosc, a Polish city that was then part of the Russian Empire. Girls were not allowed to go to school in her time. There was, however, an exemption rule and because of her enormous intelligence, Rosa was allowed to study at the gymnasium in Warsaw. There she joined the Socialist Party at the age of 15. At the age of 18, she had to flee the country, because she was at risk of getting arrested for her involvement in the party. 


Rosa went to Zurich, as this was the only city in Europe where women were allowed to enter university. She studied Law and Political Economy. During this time, she got involved with the international socialist movement. She believed that Poland should not be under Russian rule, but that it should not be an independent country either. As a socialist, she thought that the entire world should be as one. She was one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of the Polish and Latvian Kingdom. At the same time, she went to Berlin in 1898 to become an important member of the Social-Democratic Party (SDP), for whom she became a public speaker. This party was not only much more influential, but she also believed that in the end all socialist parties would become one.  


In the years following, the SDP became divided. Some believed that capitalism needed to be reformed from within. Rosa believed the words of Karl Marx and tried to convince the SPD that a revolution without violence was the way to go. 


In 1899 Rosa Luxemburg published Sozialreform oder Revolution?, in which she put to paper her arguments for the latter. One of her theories was that the government needed a ‘counsel of the people’ where the people had an actual say in political decisions. Another was that the capitalistic system needed to be overthrown. 


She started the new century with traveling through Western Europe to speak at gatherings. When in 1905 the Russian Revolution started, she went to Warsaw to support the revolution, but she was arrested there in 1906 and jailed for 4 months. The Russian Revolution confirmed her ideas that mass strikes would be the way for the working class to get to power.  


From 1907 till 1914 Rosa taught at the SDP school in Berlin, where she also wrote her most important work: The Accumulation of Capital(1913). In this, she confirms Marx’sideas, but also specified what needed to happen for capitalism to fall. She also stated that imperialism was the result of capitalism. Due to her work, she gained many enemies - even within her own party. 


When the First World War started, the SPD backed the German government in its war efforts. Rosa and other party members were against the war and started the Spartakusbund, an organisation that wanted to end the war with a revolution and start a proletarian government. For her involvement, she spent the greater part of the war in prison. While there, she kept on writing. 


In November 1918, she was once again a free woman. When Emperor Wilhelm fled to the Netherlands, she and her Spartakusbund tried to take over with a revolution. This was shut down by the government. Rosa was arrested on 15 January 1919 in Berlin. After being questioned and tortured, she was murdered by gunfire on the same day, and her body was thrown in a canal. An abrupt and tragic end to the life of a woman, who withstood so much throughout her life.


Image: Unknown (1905) Portrait of Rosa Luxemburg.


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