Rosa Luxemburg, along with Karl Liebknecht, was to play a key role in Germany in the months that immediately followed the Armistice in November 1918. Rosa Luxemburg was one of the key leaders of the Spartacist movement.
Luxemburg was born in March 1871 in Zamosch, Poland. In 1889, aged 18 and because of her revolutionary agitation, she had to leave for Zurich in Switzerland. If she had stayed in Poland, it was almost certain that she would have been imprisoned for her political views. While abroad, Luxemburg continued to study and she received her doctorate in 1898.
While in Zurich, she met many exiled revolutionaries from Russia including Gregory Plekhanov. Luxemburg and the exiles from Russia fell out over what they believed should happen to Poland – should Poland receive self-determination or not? Luxemburg was against self-determination as she believed that a newly created state was weak and at a disadvantage to the people there as the “bourgeoisie” would use this national weakness to their advantage to strengthen their hold over the workers. Her view was opposed by many and as a result Luxemburg formed the Polish Social Democratic Party.
In 1898, Luxemburg left Zurich for Berlin where she joined the German Social Democratic Labour Party. Luxemburg was very keen on supporting the idea of debate and in 1900 she produced “Reform or Revolution”. She supported reform as a way of improving life but she did not want to stop at reforms that came from the government as she believed that governments frequently gave only what they wanted to. Luxemburg wanted a complete revolution of governmental systems.
She saw the revolution in Russia in 1905 as a very good sign of hope. She moved to Warsaw where she hoped to make more of a mark in Russia. However, she was caught by the authorities and put in prison.
When the war broke out in 1914, she was very much against it. Luxemburg was very angered by the Social Democratic Party that had fully supported Germany’s entry into the war. Luxemburg left the SDP. It was at this time that she allied with Karl Liebknecht who shared the same views and had also left the SDP. They formed the Internationale Group that was to become the Spartacists. Their main party platform during the war was for German soldiers to turn their weapons against their officers and then against the government thus overthrowing it.
Both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested for their political activities. While in prison, Luxemburg wrote the “Junius Pamphlet” which was to become the foundation of the Spartacists beliefs.
In November 1918, Luxemburg was released from prison. Prince Max von Baden had introduced a general amnesty for all political prisoners though there was reluctance to let Luxemburg have her freedom. On her release, she immediately started her revolutionary activities again. In December she co-founded the German Communist Party which was essentially made up of Spartacists. At this time the so-called German Revolution was taking place and Berlin was a very dangerous place to be. The head of the government, Friedrich Ebert, had moved the government to the safety of Weimar and the right-wing Freikorps was left to deal with the communists.
On January 15th, 1919, Luxemburg, Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck, another Spartacist leader, were arrested. What happened next is unclear but Luxemburg, Liebknecht and Pieck were taken from the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, where they were being held, to be local prison. Pieck managed to escape. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were both murdered by their captors. Luxemburg’s body was found in a river.