Rosa Luxemburg (also Rozalia Luxenburg; 5 March 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist of Polish-Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen. She was, successively, a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
- The self-discipline of the Social Democracy is not merely the replacement of the authority of bourgeois rulers with the authority of a socialist central committee. The working class will acquire the sense of the new discipline, the freely assumed self-discipline of the Social Democracy, not as a result of the discipline imposed on it by the capitalist state, but by extirpating, to the last root, its old habits of obedience and servility.
- The Russo-Japanese War now gives to all an awareness that even war and peace in Europe – its destiny – isn’t decided between the four walls of the European concert, but outside it, in the gigantic maelstrom of world and colonial politics.
And its in this that the real meaning of the current war resides for social-democracy, even if we set aside its immediate effect: the collapse of Russian absolutism. This war brings the gaze of the international proletariat back to the great political and economic connectedness of the world, and violently dissipates in our ranks the particularism, the pettiness of ideas that form in any period of political calm.
The war completely rends all the veils which the bourgeois world – this world of economic, political and social fetishism – constantly wraps us in.
The war destroys the appearance which leads us to believe in peaceful social evolution; in the omnipotence and the untouchability of bourgeois legality; in national exclusivism; in the stability of political conditions; in the conscious direction of politics by these “statesmen” or parties; in the significance capable of shaking up the world of the squabbles in bourgeois parliaments; in parliamentarism as the so-called center of social existence.
War unleashes – at the same time as the reactionary forces of the capitalist world – the generating forces of social revolution which ferment in its depths.
- "In the Storm" in Le Socialiste as translated by Mitch Abidor (1 - 8 May 1904)
- From the moment when the workers of our country and of Russia began to struggle bravely against the Czarist Government and the capitalist exploiters, we notice more and more often that the priests, in their sermons, come out against the workers who are struggling. It is with extraordinary vigour that the clergy fight against the socialists and try by all means to belittle them in the eyes of the workers. The believers who go to church on Sundays and festivals are compelled, more and more often, to listen to a violent political speech, a real indictment of Socialism, instead of hearing a sermon and obtaining religious consolation there. Instead of comforting the people, who are full of cares and wearied by their hard lives, who go to church with faith in Christianity, the priests fulminate against the workers who are on strike, and against the opponents of the government; further, they exhort them to bear poverty and oppression with humility and patience. They turn the church and the pulpit into a place of political propaganda.
- Socialism and the Churches (1905)
- Bourgeois class domination is undoubtedly an historical necessity, but, so too, the rising of the working class against it. Capital is an historical necessity, but, so too, its grave digger, the socialist proletariat.
- The Junius Pamphlet (1915)
- I suppose I must be out of sorts to feel everything so deeply. Sometimes, however, it seems to me that i am not really a human being at all, but like a bird or a beast in human form. I feel so much more at home even in a scrap of garden like the one here, an dstill more in the meadows when the grass is humming with bees than - at one of the our party congresses.
- Prison Letter, (May 12, 1917), Rosa Luxemburg Speaks
- 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. (Lenin’s words, Bulletin No.29) Socialism in life demands a complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois rule. Social instincts in place of egotistical ones, mass initiative in place of inertia, idealism which conquers all suffering, etc., etc. No one knows this better, describes it more penetratingly; repeats it more stubbornly than Lenin. But he is completely mistaken in the means he employs. Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties, rule by terror – all these things are but palliatives. The only way to a rebirth is the school of public life itself, the most unlimited, the broadest democracy and public opinion. It is rule by terror which demoralizes.
- "The Problem with Dictatorship" in The Russian Revolution as translated by Bertram Wolfe (1918)
- The proletarian revolution ought now, by a little ray of kindness, to illuminate the gloomy life of prisoners, shorten Draconian sentences, abolish barbarous punishments - the use of manacles and whippings - improve, as far as possible, the medical attention, the food allowance, and the conditions of labor. That is a duty of honor.
- Against Capital Punishment (1918), Rosa Luxemburg Speaks
- Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of 'justice', but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If 'freedom' becomes 'privilege', the workings of political freedom are broken.
- Die russische Revolution. Eine kritische Würdigung (1920) p. 109
- This contains probably her most famous statement: Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden, translated as "Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters."
Variant: Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.
- Without general elections, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, without the free battle of opinions, life in every public institution withers away, becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor.
- Reported in Paul Froelich, Die Russische Revolution (1940)
- The modern proletarian class doesn't carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight... That's exactly what is laudable about it, that's exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers' movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation.
- "The Politics of Mass Strikes and Unions"; Collected Works 2
- The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this 'defeat' into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this 'defeat'.
'Order reigns in Berlin!' You stupid henchmen! Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already 'raise itself with a rattle' and announce with fanfare, to your terror: I was, I am, I will be!
- "Order reigns in Berlin", Last written words. Collected Works 4
- Marxism is a revolutionary worldview that must always struggle for new revelations. Marxism must abhor nothing so much as the possibility that it becomes congealed in its current form. It is at its best when butting heads in self-criticism, and in historical thunder and lightning, it retains its strength.
- As quoted in Quote Junkie : Political Edition (2008) by Hagopian Institute
Reform or Revolution (1899)
- The production relations of capitalist society approach more and more the production relations of socialist society. But on the other hand, its political and juridical relations established between capitalist society and socialist society a steadily rising wall. This wall is not overthrown, but is on the contrary strengthened and consolidated by the development of social reforms and the course of democracy. Only the hammer blow of revolution, that is to day, the conquest of political power by the proletariat can break down this wall.
- Ch. 7
- In the history of bourgeois society, legislative reform served to strengthen progressively the rising class till the latter was sufficiently strong to seize political power, to suppress the existing juridical system and to construct itself a new one.
- Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at the pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and proletariat.
- Ch. 8
- Every legal constitution is the product of a revolution. In the history of classes, revolution is the act of political creation, while legislation is the political expression of the life of a society that has already come into being. Work for reform does not contain its own force independent from revolution. During every historic period, work for reforms is carried on only in the direction given to it by the impetus of the last revolution and continues as long as the impulsion from the last revolution continues to make itself felt. Or, to put it more concretely, in each historic period work for reforms is carried on only in the framework of the social form created by the last revolution. Here is the kernel of the problem.
- Ch. 8
- In the army, capitalist development leads to the extension of obligatory military service to the reduction of the time of service and consequently to a material approach to a popular militia. But all of this takes place under the form of modern militarism in which the domination of the people by the militarist State and the class character of the State manifest themselves most clearly.
- If democracy has become superfluous or annoying to the bourgeoisie, it is on the contrary necessary and indispensable to the working class. It is necessary to the working class because it creates the political forms (autonomous administration, electoral rights, etc.) which will serve the proletariat as fulcrums in its task of transforming bourgeois society. Democracy is indispensable to the working class because only through the exercise of its democratic rights, in the struggle for democracy, can the proletariat become aware of its class interests and its historic task.
- Without the collapse of capitalism the expropriation of the capitalist class is impossible.
- Ch. 9
The Junius Pamphlet (1915)
- The scene has thoroughly changed. The six weeks' march to Paris has come world drama. Mass murder has become a monotonous task, and yet the final solution is not one step nearer. Capitalist rule is caught in its own trap, and cannot ban the spirit that it has Gone is the first mad delirium. Gone are the patriotic street demonstrations, the chase after suspicious-looking automobiles; the false telegrams, the cholera-poisoned wells. Gone the mad stories of Russian students who hurl bombs from every bridge of Berlin, or French men flying over Nuremberg; gone the excesses of spy-hunting populace, the singing through, the coffee shops with their patriotic songs; gone the violent mobs, ready to denounce, ready to persecute women, ready to whip themselves into a delirious frenzy over every wild rumor; gone the atmosphere of ritual murder, the Kishinev air that left the policeman at the corner as the only remaining representative of human dignity.
- Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.
- Ch. 1
- Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth, thus capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics - as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity - so it appears in all its hideous nakedness.
- Ch. 1, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (1970), trns: Mary-Alice Waters
- Friedrich Engels once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization.
Peace Utopias (1911)
- First published as Friedensutopien in Leipziger Volkszeitung (6 & 8 May 1911) Copyleft: Luxemburg Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004. 
- What is our task in the question of peace? It does not consist merely in vigorously demonstrating at all times the love of peace of the Social Democrats; but first and foremost our task is to make clear to the masses of people the nature of militarism and sharply and clearly to bring out the differences in principle between the standpoint of the Social Democrats and that of the bourgeois peace enthusiasts.
- Die Friedensfreunde aus bürgerlichen Kreisen glauben, das sich Weltfriede und Abrüstung im Rahmen der heutigen Gesellschaftsordnung verwirklichen lassen, wir aber, die wir auf dem Boden der materialistischen Geschichtsauffassung und des wissenschaftlichen Sozialismus stehen, sind der Überzeugung, das der Militarismus erst mit dem kapitalistischen Klassenstaate zusammen aus der Welt geschafft werden kann.
- The friends of peace in bourgeois circles believe that world peace and disarmament can be realised within the frame-work of the present social order, whereas we, who base ourselves on the materialistic conception of history and on scientific socialism, are convinced that militarism can only be abolished from the world with the destruction of the capitalist class state.
- Militarism in both its forms — as war and as armed peace — is a legitimate child, a logical result of capitalism, which can only be overcome with the destruction of capitalism, and that hence whoever honestly desires world peace and liberation from the tremendous burden of armaments must also desire Socialism. Only in this way can real Social Democratic enlightenment and recruiting be carried on in connection with the armaments debate.
- The Utopianism of the standpoint which expects an era of peace and retrenchment of militarism in the present social order is plainly revealed in the fact that it is having recourse to project making. For it is typical of Utopian strivings that, in order to demonstrate their practicability, they hatch "practical" recipes with the greatest possible details. To this also belongs the project of the "United States of Europe" as a basis for the limitation of international militarism.
- Plausible as the idea of the United States of Europe as a peace arrangement may seem to some at first glance, it has on closer examination not the least thing in common with the method of thought and the standpoint of social democracy . . . At the present stage of development of the world market and of world economy, the conception of Europe as an isolated economic unit is a sterile concoction of the brain. Europe no more forms a special unit within world economy than does Asia or America.
- The times when the centre of gravity of political development and the crystallising agent of capitalist contradictions lay on the European continent, are long gone by. To-day Europe is only a link in the tangled chain of international connections and contradictions.
The Russian Revolution (1918)
- As the entire middle class, the bourgeois and petty bourgeois intelligentsia, boycotted the Soviet government for months after the October Revolution and crippled the railroad, post and telegraph, and educational and administrative apparatus, and, in this fashion, opposed the workers government, naturally all measures of pressure were exerted against it. These included the deprivation of political rights, of economic means of existence, etc., in order to break their resistance with an iron fist. It was precisely in this way that the socialist dictatorship expressed itself, for it cannot shrink from any use of force to secure or prevent certain measures involving the interests of the whole.
- The Leninist agrarian reform has created a new and powerful layer of popular enemies of socialism on the countryside, enemies whose resistance will be much more dangerous and stubborn than that of the noble large landowners.
- Chapter Two
- One is immediately struck with the obstinacy and rigid consistency with which Lenin and his comrades stuck to this slogan, a slogan which is in sharp contradiction to their otherwise outspoken centralism in politics as well as to the attitude they have assumed towards other democratic principles. Wile they showed a quite cool contempt for the Constituent Assembly, universal suffrage, freedom of press and assemblage, in short for the whole apparatus of basic democratic liberties of the people which, taken all together, constituted the "right of self-determination" inside Russia, they treated the right of self-determination of peoples as a jewel of democratic policy for the sake of which all practical considerations of real criticism had to be stilled.
- Chapter Three, "Nationalities Question"
- Every right of suffrage, like any political right in general, is not to be measured by some sort of abstract scheme of “justice,” or in terms of any other bourgeois-democratic phrases, but by the social and economic relationships for which it is designed. The right of suffrage worked out by the Soviet government is calculated for the transition period from the bourgeois-capitalist to the socialist form of society, that is, it is calculated for the period of the proletarian dictatorship. But, according to the interpretation of this dictatorship which Lenin and Trotsky represent, the right to vote is granted only to those who live by their own labor and is denied to everyone else.
- Chapter Five, "The Question of Suffrage"
- It makes no sense to regard the right of suffrage as a utopian product of fantasy, cut loose from social reality. And it is for this reason that it is not a serious instrument of the proletarian dictatorship. It is an anachronism, an anticipation of the juridical situation which is proper on the basis of an already completed socialist economy, but is not in the transition period of the proletarian dictatorship.
- Chapter Five, "The Question of Suffrage"
- The socialist system of society should only be, and can only be, an historical product, born out of the school of its own experiences, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history, which – just like organic nature of which, in the last analysis, it forms a part – has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction, along with the task simultaneously the solution. However, if such is the case, then it is clear that socialism by its very nature cannot be decreed or introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force – against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot. New Territory. A thousand problems. Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways.
- Chapter Six, "The Problem of Dictatorship"
- The Bolsheviks themselves will not want, with hand on heart, to deny that, step by step, they have to feel out the ground, try out, experiment, test now one way now another, and that a good many of their measures do not represent priceless pearls of wisdom. Thus it must and will be with all of us when we get to the same point–even if the same difficult circumstances may not prevail everywhere.
- Chapter Six, "The Problem of Dictatorship"
- 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. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege.
- Chapter Six, "The Problem of Dictatorship"
- When all this is eliminated, what really remains? In place of the representative bodies created by general, popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the soviets as the only true representation of political life in the land as a whole, life in the soviets must also become more and more crippled. 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. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins (the postponement of the Soviet Congress from three-month periods to six-month periods!)
- Chapter Six, "The Problem of Dictatorship"
Leninism or Marxism? (1904)
- One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward, written by Lenin, an outstanding member of the Iskra group, is a methodical exposition of the ideas of the ultra-centralist tendency in the Russian movement. The viewpoint presented with incomparable vigor and logic in this book, is that of pitiless centralism.
- Lenin's thesis is that the party Central Committee should have the privilege of naming all the local committees of the party. It should have the right to appoint the effective organs of all local bodies from Geneva to Liege, from Tomsk to Irkutsk. It should also have the right to impose on all of them its own ready-made rules of party conduct. It should have the right to rule without appeal on such questions as the dissolution and reconstitution of local organizations. This way, the Central Committee could determine, to suit itself, the composition of the highest party organs. The Central Committee would be the only thinking element in the party. All other groupings would be its executive limbs.
- For Lenin, the difference between the Social Democracy and Blanquism is reduced to the observation that in place of a handful of conspirators we have a class-conscious proletariat. He forgets that this difference implies a complete revision of our ideas on organization and, therefore, an entirely different conception of centralism and the relations existing between the party and the struggle itself.
- Social Democratic centralism cannot be based on the mechanical subordination and blind obedience of the party membership to the leading party center. [...] The Social Democratic movement cannot allow the erection of an air-tight partition between the class-conscious nucleus of the proletariat already in the party and its immediate popular environment, the nonparty sections of the proletariat.
- The working class will acquire the sense of the new discipline, the freely assumed self-discipline of the Social Democracy, not as a result of the discipline imposed on it by the capitalist state, but by extirpating, to the last root, its old habits of obedience and servility.
- But what has been the experience of the Russian socialist movement up to now? The most important and fruitful changes in its tactical policy during the last ten years have not been the inventions of several leaders and even less so of any central organizational organs. They have always been the spontaneous product of the movement in ferment.
- Granting, as Lenin wants, such absolute powers of a negative character to the top organ of the party, we strengthen, to a dangerous extent, the conservatism inherent in such an organ.
- In the present situation, such an experiment would be doubly dangerous to the Russian Social Democracy. It stands on the eve of decisive battles against tsarism. It is about to enter, or has already entered, on a period of intensified creative activity, during which it will broaden (as is usual in a revolutionary period) its sphere of influence and will advance spontaneously by leaps and bounds. To attempt to bind the initiative of the party at this moment, to surround it with a network of barbed wire, is to render it incapable of accomplishing the tremendous task of the hour.
- If we assume the viewpoint claimed as his own by Lenin and we fear the influence of intellectuals in the proletarian movement, we can conceive of no greater danger to the Russian party than Lenin's plan of organization. Nothing will more surely enslave a young labor movement to an intellectual elite hungry for power than this bureaucratic straightjacket, which will immobilize the movement and turn it into an automaton manipulated by a Central Committee. On the other hand there is no more effective guarantee against opportunist intrigue and personal ambition than the independent revolutionary action of the proletariat, as a result of which the workers acquire the sense of political responsibility and self-reliance.
- But here is the "ego" of the Russian revolutionary again! Pirouetting on its head, it once more proclaims itself to be the all-powerful director of history — this time with the title of His Excellency the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party of Russia.
- Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.
Quotes about Luxemburg
- As the second decades of the new millennium nears completion we are beginning to truly understand what Rosa Luxemburg meant when she said: Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Franz Mehring, the biographer of Marx, did not exaggerate when he called Rosa Luxemburg the best brain after Marx. But she did not contribute her brain alone to the working-class movement; she gave everything she had — her heart, her passion, her strong will, her very life.
- Tony Cliff, in his Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg, Ideas in Action (1972) by Paul Frölich, p. ix
- A passion for truth made Rosa Luxemburg recoil from any dogmatic thought. In a period when Stalinism has largely turned Marxism into a dogma, spreading desolation in the field of ideas, Rosa Luxemburg's writings are invigorating and life-giving. Nothing was more intolerable to her than bowing down to "infallible authorities". As a real disciple of Marx she was able to think and act independently of her master.
- Tony Cliff, in his Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg, Ideas in Action (1972) by Paul Frölich, p. x
- During a period when so many who consider themselves Marxists sap Marxism of its deep humanistic content, no one can do more to release us from the chains of lifeless mechanistic materialism than Rosa Luxemburg. For Marx communism (or socialism) was "real humanism", "a society in which the full and free development of every individual is the ruling principle".
- Tony Cliff, in his Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg, Ideas in Action (1972) by Paul Frölich, p. x
- Rosa was saved from personal, inner disaster during the great betrayals of the First World War by several, all rather tough-minded, characteristics. She had a tenacious orthodoxy: she was perfectly confident of the sufficiency of Marxism as an answer, though she was more humane about it than Lenin. She had a warm, purely human love of people — physically, their smell and touch and comradeship. And a kind of Jewish indomitable guts, that ultimate unkillability which comes only from grandparents in yamulke and horsehair wig.
- With a will, determination, selflessness and devotion for which words are too weak, she consecrated her whole life and her whole being to Socialism. She gave herself completely to the cause of Socialism, not only in her tragic death, but throughout her whole life, daily and hourly, through the struggles of many years ... She was the sharp sword, the living flame of revolution.
- Clara Zetkin, her closest friend, as quoted in Rosa Luxemburg, Ideas in Action (1972) by Paul Frölich, p. x
- Rarely was heard on her lips the phrase, “I cannot”; more frequently were heard the words, “I must.”
- Rosa Luxemburg is an outstanding example of a type of mind that is often met with in the history of Marxism and appears to be specially attracted by the Marxist outlook. It is characterized by slavish submission to authority, together with a belief that in that submission the values of scientific thought can be preserved. No doctrine was so well suited as Marxism to satisfy both these attitudes, or to provide a mystification combining extreme dogmatism with the cult of “scientific” thinking, in which the disciple could find mental and spiritual peace. Marxism thus played the part of a religion for the intelligentsia, which did not prevent some of them, like Rosa Luxemburg herself, from trying to improve the deposit of faith by reverting to first principles, thus strengthening their own belief that they were independent of dogma.
- Polish historian and philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: Volume II: The Golden Age, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978, pp. 94-5
- Brief biography at Kirjasto (Pegasos)
- Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive a free library of her works at Marxists.org