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Study Notes

Rosa Luxemburg (1871−1919)

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 7 Jun 2021

Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist intellectual who played an active role within left-wing politics throughout her life.

For example, Rosa Luxemburg co-founded the anti-war Spartacus League and the newspaper ‘The Red Flag’ to raise awareness of exploitation under capitalism. She believed that the evolutionary path towards socialism was insufficient given the extent to which capitalism was built upon exploitation of the working-class. The only means by which a genuine socialist society could ever emerge was via a revolution based on class consciousness.

Whilst Rosa Luxemburg is undoubtedly a figure of the left, she was also a critic of both Leninism and social democracy. Unlike many other Marxists, she warned that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be replaced by the dictatorship of the party, which would in turn be replaced by the dictatorship of the central committee. That said, she was a true believer in revolution as a catalyst for social change. Indeed, she believed that the age of revolution against the bourgeois social order had finally arrived. Rosa Luxemburg also defended the Marxist conception of history driven by dialectical materialism.

Rosa Luxemburg also held certain beliefs more commonly associated with libertarianism. Indeed, one of her best-known quotes is that “freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” A society based around a slavish adherence to social conformity will stifle individualism. She also adds that “freedom is how free your opponent is.” Such arguments have more in common with John Stuart Mill than any figure from the left of the political spectrum. Rosa Luxemburgwas also a feminist who put forth the observation that “all war is male.” As such, she can be classed as a socialist feminist alongside figures such as Simone de Beauvoir.

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