Sorry, this site requires a modern browser.


The price of freedom

Luxemburg on the fringes of the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, 1907.

Rosa Luxemburg lived from 1871 to 1919. Today she is remembered as a poetic letter-writer and a politically radical revolutionary. People often become aware of her through the story of her violent death, meaning that her work and her life are forgotten. Surrounded by a world defined by clericalism, patriarchy, militarism, nationalism and bigotry, she made numerous decisions that where unusual for her time: at age 17 she travelled to Switzerland; at 22 she founded a political party; at 27 she completed a doctorate and chose to live in Berlin rather than in Paris, the capital of enlightened Europe; at 28 she became chief editor of a periodical for the first time; at 33 she was living in a prison cell, not for the last time; during the same year she openly criticized Lenin and the Bolsheviks; when she was 47, her corpse was thrown into Berlin’s Landwehrkanal.

1 An emigrant at 17 University, definitely—Luxemburg moves to Zurich

Warsaw, circa 1900. As a child, Luxemburg “firmly believed that ‘life’, that is, ‘real life,’ was somewhere far away, off beyond the rooftops. Ever since I’ve been chasing after it. But it is still hiding behind some rooftop or other.” (Letter to Luise Kautsky, 1904)

Luxemburg’s origins lay in a cultured middle class that, although it was not wealthy, not only valued education and culture but lived them. Born in 1871 in the small Renaissance town of Zamość, in what is now Poland’s south-east, her family moved to Warsaw just two years later. Luxemburg passed her school-leaving examinations with a distinction. Her parents’ marriage plans for their daughter failed owing to an insufficient dowry. In 1888, dreaming of university, Luxemburg—still more a girl than a woman—received permission both from her parents and the tsarist authorities to emigrate to Switzerland—a step that today would be described as feminist.

Lina and Eliasch Luxenburg. On her mother’s side, Rosa Luxemburg was descended from a family of rabbis. Her parents lived an enlightened, liberal form of Judaism. When Luxemburg was three years old, her family moved to Warsaw—not to the ghetto but, like many reformed Jews, to a “Christian quarter” nearby. For this reason, when a pogrom took place in Warsaw following the assassination of the Russian tsar in 1881, the family was spared molestation by bloodthirsty mobs.
Luxemburg at twelve. As a child, a medical error left Luxemburg with a hip injury. She taught herself to read—in her sick-bed. Polish, German and French texts were all read in the family home. Only her school-leaving examinations were in Russian, the language of the occupiers. While her mother preferred French literature, Luxemburg’s father read German. Goethe became Rosa Luxemburg’s constant companion. On the evening on which she would be murdered, she read Faust II before her interrogation in the Eden Hotel.

Luxemburg visiting her brother Mikolai’s family in Berlin, Easter 1902. The Luxemburgs had two daughters and three sons; Rosa was the youngest. Even though her parents still belonged to a cultured middle class for which the capitalist economy presented problems, their sons became successful entrepreneurs and university graduates. A large family, the Luxemburgs were spread all over Europe. They were cosmopolitans, with little time for nationalism.

2 Not zoology after all Luxemburg is drawn to politics

Zurich, the old university, 1890 (today’s Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule). Because its statutes made no restrictions on the basis of sex, in 1840 the university—which had been founded in 1833—became the first institution of higher learning on the European continent to admit women as students.
Luxemburg’s doctoral dissertation, published in 1898, was also in the service of political activity. According to its title, it deals with The Industrial Development of Poland. But in the text Luxemburg was primarily concerned with the emergence of her intended audience: the workers, whom she hoped to lead in the struggle against tsarism and capitalism.

Zurich. In the last third of the 19th century, the immigration of students from Eastern Europe to Zurich produced an anti-capitalist parallel society lodged in the city’s unheated garrets. Unlike many of her fellow students, particularly the Russian and Polish ones, Luxemburg was not an exile but had migrated voluntarily. She was thus at home in both of Zurich’s social worlds. Initially she studied zoology, but after three years she switched—and not only to the social sciences. First, she fell for a man, and then for politics. In 1893, together with her lover Leo Jogiches and two further friends, Julian Marchlewski and Adolf Warski, she founded the Polish social democratic party. In 1905, shortly before she and Jogiches split up, she wrote to him: “…and you became hateful to me as the one who always kept me welded to this accursed politics.”[1]

1 Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Leo Jogiches, 20 October 1905, in Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 2, 3rd edition, Berlin 1999, p. 209. English translation in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza, London, 2011.

Leo Jogiches (1867–1919). The son of a family of Jewish bankers. Emigrated in 1890, intellectual leader of the Polish social democratic party, studied zoology but broke off his studies before finishing. As representative of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL, before 1900 SDKP), became Lenin’s rival in the leadership circle of the Russian Social Democrats (1906–1912). An organizer of resistance to militarism in Germany during WWI, he was murdered in Moabit prison eight weeks after Luxemburg’s death.
Rosa Luxemburg, 1895, probably in Paris. Having been a subject of the tsar (though not a particularly subservient one), in Western Europe Luxemburg became a citoyenne, the type of citizen to which the French Revolution had given birth but which would never really take root in Germany.

First issue of Sprawa Robotnicza (The Workers’ Cause) from July 1893. The periodical, the organ of Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP), was begun in Zurich but typeset and printed in Paris and smuggled illegally into the tsardom. By July 1896 a total of 25 issues had been published. Luxemburg gained experience as an editor here, anonymously writing over 30 pieces that have since been identified as hers. When the structures of the SDKP in Poland were smashed by the tsarist police, the journal was obliged to cease publication. 

3 Rosa Luxemburg takes to the European stage The decision to voice dissent

Together with August Bebel in 1904 during the 6th International Socialist Conference in Amsterdam. Luxemburg was made a delegate to this congress twice over, for the SPD and for Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL). The Congress elected her to the International Socialist Bureau. August Bebel (1840–1913) had helped to found the German social democracy movement in 1869 together with Wilhelm Liebknecht, and he remained one of its leading representatives at both the German and the international level until his death.

After defending her dissertation, Luxemburg moved to Berlin in 1898 and put herself at the service of the SPD to assist its agitation in Prussian-occupied Poland. In this way, she also hoped for more success in influencing developments in Russian-occupied regions of the country. But within a few months, she was unintentionally and unexpectedly catapulted onto the stage of the German and European social democratic movement: in her pamphlet Reform or Revolution? (1899), she openly opposed Eduard Bernstein’s attempt at a revision of Marx’s views. In so doing, the young Luxemburg had started a controversy with one of the highest authorities of the left: Bernstein was the executor of the literary estates of Marx and Engels. Two years earlier, Luxemburg had needed the help of Karl Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor Marx Aveling, in order to be at all admitted, along with her party, to the congress of the Socialist International. Now, at 28 years of age, she had gone from being a young Jew in a Zurich student’s lodgings to becoming a well-known European personality—though Luxemburg always had more foes than friends. She put her convictions before any loyalty to a group.

Basel, 1898. In order for Luxemburg to become a Prussian citizen and thus enjoy protection against deportation to Russia, she and typesetter Gustav Lübeck (1873–1945)—the son of Luxemburg’s first landlady in Zurich, an emigrant from Prussia—pretended to be married until 1903.
Reform or Revolution? (1899). According to Luxemburg, the two terms that had triggered the revisionism debate were not in fact opposites but ought rather to be linked, as reform and revolution. She called on social democrats never to lose sight of the revolutionary goal in the daily work of struggling for reforms. Her position has since become known as “revolutionary Realpolitik
Eduard Bernstein (1850–1932). In an analysis of the views of Eduard Bernstein, Luxemburg countered the charge of being a “young recruit to the movement” who wanted “to lecture the old veterans”: “I know that I still have to earn my stripes in the German movement, but I want to do it on the left wing, where people fight with the enemy, and not on the right, where they compromise with the enemy.” (Rosa Luxemburg, “Speech at the 1898 Stuttgart Congress of the Social Democratic Party,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 1/1, Berlin, 1970, p. 238)
The International Socialist Bureau (ISB), elected in Amsterdam in 1904, to which Luxemburg belonged until 1914—mostly alongside old men. The ISB coordinated the work of the Socialist International from congress to congress.
Berlin, Unter den Linden, around 1900. Shortly after her arrival in Berlin, Luxemburg could still write: “Berlin makes a most unfavorable impression on me: cold, monolithic, and lacking in taste—a true and proper barracks; and the dear Prussians with their arrogant demeanor, as if each one had swallowed the stick previously used for beating him!” (Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Mathilde and Robert Seidel, 30 May 1898, in Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 1, Berlin 1982, p. 136. The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza, London, 2011.)

4 Clarity no matter what The decision not to let oneself be silenced

Rosa Luxemburg, Deutz 1910. As a speaker Luxemburg filled large halls and squares, places where—absent today’s technologies—it was difficult to make oneself heard. The image here is from the suffrage campaign, 1910.

Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the independent German workers’ movement, had declared that the most revolutionary deed was “always to say clearly what is.” That is what Luxemburg always did, from her entry into politics onward—whether as a journalist, a speaker, or whenever she had to take responsibility for her actions in front of a court. All told, Luxemburg spent four of her 48 years in prison, the first time in Zwickau in 1904, for lèse-majesté. She subsequently went to prison on three occasions: in Warsaw in 1906, for her participation in the Russian Revolution; 1907 saw her first spell in the women’s prison in Barnimstrasse in Berlin, for “provoking violence”; in 1915—for a year—Barnimstrasse again, for inciting disobedience; from 1916—until 9 November 1918—in the police prison at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, then again in Barnimstrasse, plus Fortress Wronke near Posen, and during 1917 in Breslau, for continuing with her work against militarism. Nonetheless, Luxemburg did not shy away from saying what she considered to be right.

Drawing by Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg hardly spent less of her time in trains than in prison, travelling back and forth across Europe—not least in order to give talks and speeches. Sometimes she took the opportunity to draw, which became a survival strategy during her long spell in prison during the Great War.

Luxemburg was a successful journalist, not only as an author but also as an editor. She was the only person to edit all three of the major social democratic papers: the Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung (Dresden) in 1898, the Leipziger Volkszeitung in 1902, and the central party newspaper Vorwärts (Berlin) in 1905. She was bullied out of the first two leadership positions on account of her sex—the male editors felt themselves to have been demoted.
In 1898, Luxemburg reflected on the articles written for the party press: “I’m dissatisfied with the form and manner in which people in the Party, for the most part, write their articles. It’s all so conventional, so wooden, so stereotyped. […] I believe that people need to live in the subject matter fully and really experience it every time, every day, with every article they write, and then words will be found that are fresh, that come from the heart and go to the heart…” (Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Robert Seidel, 23 June 1898, in Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 1, Berlin 1982, p. 153. English translation in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza, London, 2011)

5 No more little cakes in Berlin The decision to join a revolution

St. Petersburg, in front of the Winter Palace, January 1905. Before 1904/05, people the world over were convinced, firstly, that the Russian army was invincible in Asia and, secondly, that Russia was without history, because Russians would supposedly accept anything without complaint. The victory of the Japanese army not only demolished the first assumption, but threw Russia into an economic crisis that ignited the “historyless” powder keg. This time, it proved possible to put the revolution down.

Breaking out in St. Petersburg in January 1905, the Russian Revolution quickly spread throughout the empire, including to the industrialized parts of Russian-occupied Poland. In reports published almost daily, Luxemburg, working in Berlin as chief editor of the SPD’s major newspaper Vorwärts, sought to make the significance of this revolution palpable to German social democrats—with little to no success. At the end of December 1905, she had had enough, and swapped a position that was as well paid as it was safe for illegality in Warsaw. On 4 March 1906, a day before her 35th birthday, Luxemburg was arrested together with her partner, Leo Jogiches. She was held in custody until mid-July, among other places in the dreaded Tenth Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel, in which “politicals” were kept in detention.

Warsaw, 1905, paper-boys on strike. From Berlin, Luise and Karl Kautsky send Luxemburg a report that is as dry as it is disenchanted: “…enormous difficulties with getting things printed, arrests every day, and threats of the firing squad for those who have been arrested. […] Indescribable chaos in the organization, factional infighting despite all the [talk of] unification, and general depression. (Let’s keep this just between us.)” (Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Luise and Karl Kautsky, 5 February 1906, in Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 2, 3rd edition, Berlin 1999, p. 246f. English translation in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza, London, 2011, translation modified)
December 1905: Luxemburg’s leader on the unrest in the tsarist Black Sea fleet on the front page of Vorwärts.
From Warsaw prison, 1906. Luxemburg—travelling as German journalist Anna Matschke—had been arrested in Warsaw. To secure her release, her family and the executive committee of the German party made a bail payment—unbeknownst to her and against the explicit expression of her will. Afterwards, she wrote a spirited letter to worried friends in Berlin, probably also in order to reassure them: “The revolution is grand, everything else is tripe.” (Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Mathilde and Emanuel Wurm, 18 July 1906 in Gesammelte Briefe 2, 3rd edition, Berlin, 1999, p. 259)

6 For the revolution, but against terror and coups d’état Her defining rejection of every totalitarian development

Cover of The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions. Rosa Luxemburg wrote this text in 1906 while in Finland, shortly before leaving to take part in the SPD party congress. Her demand that the mass strike be incorporated into the repertoire of class struggle from below met with increasing resistance from the SPD’s most influential figures. The participation of supporters of social democracy in the political class struggle had long been replaced by the work of their representatives in parliament.

Following her release from Warsaw prison, Luxemburg went underground for a month and a half in Finland, assuming the name Felcia Budilowitsch (“Happily Reawakened [Into Life]”). Finland was under Russian occupation too, but was being governed in a decidedly more liberal way. From here she not only made repeated incognito trips to visit her comrades Leon Trotsky, Alexander Parvus, and Leo Deutsch in a St. Petersburg prison, but over several weeks she also discussed the defeated revolution with Lenin and his circle, who had also fled to Finland. It then became clear: they agreed on the issue of the inevitability of a revolution, but it was over the how—with or without terror—that they differed. Luxemburg had taken from the revolution her experience of the political mass strikes that it had successfully employed—a tactic for which she also intended to advocate in Germany as a means to the creation of a republic.

Roads to revolution: Lenin (born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 1870–1924), here in disguise, would hide out in Finland once more in summer 1917 before leading the October Revolution. Luxemburg wrote: “The Bolsheviks will surely make many mistakes yet. But the line […] about the noble horse that never strikes more sparks from the stones than when it stumbles fits them. And history will surely judge of them as the old brick-maker at Lassalle’s grave judged: ‘He was a man with a thousand faults, vices even, but he was a whole man.’” (Rosa Luxemburg, “Nicht nach Schema F,” in Spartacus, no. 8, January 1918; reprinted in Paul Levi, Ohne einen Tropfen Lakaienblut: Schriften, Reden, Briefe, vol. I/1: Spartakus, edited by Jörn Schütrumpf, Berlin, 2018, p. 448)
Roads to revolution: from 1900 Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877–1926), together with Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches, led Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, a party that espoused Rosa Luxemburg’s democratic-socialist positions. In 1917 Dzerzhinsky went over to the Bolsheviks and as director of their secret service epitomized the “Red Terror” called for by Lenin.
Roads to revolution: Alexandra Kollontai (1872–1952)—revolutionary fighter for the rights of women, from 1917 People’s Commissioner (minister) for Social Welfare, established the right to abortion, head of the “workers’ opposition” against Lenin and Trotsky in 1921, later transferred to the diplomatic service. One of the few of Lenin’s fellow travellers to survive Stalin’s Great Terror.
Roads to revolution: Angelica Balabanoff (1869–1965)—leader of the Partito Socialista Italiano from 1912, ally of Clara Zetkin, Leo Jogiches and Rosa Luxemburg, during WWI coordinated the international Zimmerwald movement against militarism, figurehead of the Communist International as its “secretary” from 1919, broke with the Bolsheviks and emigrated in 1921.
Roads to revolution: Parvus, Trotsky and Leo Deutsch in a St. Petersburg prison in 1906. Leo Deutsch (born Lev Grigorievich Deutsch, 1855–1941)—from 1903 one of the leaders of the Mensheviks—escaped exile four times. Parvus (born Israel Lazarevich Gelfand, 1867–1924) mutated into a weapons dealer after the 1905/06 revolution, Trotsky (born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, 1879–1940) led the armed uprising of the Bolsheviks in 1917.

“General strike!” The best-known and most successful political general strike in Germany after Luxemburg’s murder took place in 1920 to defend against the Kapp Putsch. In Germany today, “political strikes” are banned. When the Fridays For Future movement calls for a global climate strike, it is essentially taking up Rosa Luxemburg’s idea of a mass strike.

7 Liberation The decision to live and love in freedom

Clara Zetkin-Zundel and Rosa Luxemburg in Magdeburg in 1910: “The last men of social democracy”, as Luxemburg put it, were women.

Luxemburg’s relationship with Leo Jogiches had already broken down before the Russian Revolution of 1905/06. After her return from Russian prisons, Luxemburg ended her first great love affair, which had become a torment. A major drama followed: Jogiches’ announcement that he would kill Luxemburg’s new lover Kostja Zetkin, Luxemburg, and himself was taken so seriously that she acquired a revolver. And a new chapter in Luxemburg’s life began. Now she grew settled in the Berlin she had once so disliked—with new friends and also lovers. She continued to work “like one possessed”. She wrote numerous articles for newspapers in several languages, corresponded across a wide European network, attended party conventions and congresses, and accepted invitations to nationwide lecture tours. For Luxemburg, political action presupposed political education. Starting in 1907, she took on a teaching assignment in political economy at the SPD party school for six months each winter, and with the salary (3,000 Reichsmarks per year) was now better able to get by financially. The work energized her. From it grew her two main economic works, Introduction to Political Economy and The Accumulation of Capital—which still today remain inspiring attempts to apply Marxian thinking beyond Marx.

SPD party school, 1910. Luxemburg was the only woman on the teaching staff. She was considered the most popular teacher in the school, certainly also because of her pedagogical approach: »From the first lesson to the last we tried to make them understand that their knowledge is not yet complete, that they are still learning, that they have to learn their whole life long.« (Rosa Luxemburg, “Gewerkschaftsschule und Parteischule,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2, Berlin, 1972, p. 552)
Rosa Luxemburg and Luise Kautsky holidaying together in Switzerland, summer 1909. Luise Kautsky (1864–1944) kept the public memory of her murdered friend alive.

“The time when I was writing the [first] Accumulation of Capital belongs to the happiest of my life. Really I was living as though in euphoria, ‘on a high,’ saw and heard nothing else, day or night, but this one question, which unfolded before me so beautifully, and I don’t know what to say about which gave me the greater pleasure: the process of thinking, when I was turning a complicated problem over in my mind, pacing slowly back and forth through the room, […] or the process of giving shape and literary form to my thoughts with pen in hand.”[2]

2 Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Hans Diefenbach, 12 May 1917, in Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 5, Berlin 1984, p. 234. English translation in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza, London, 2011.

Of Luxemburg’s later relationships, that to Kostja Zetkin (1885–1980), the son of her friend Clara Zetkin, has received the most attention. Luxemburg, 14 years older, became his teacher, friend and lover. She shared her thoughts with him, her cares and her joy. After they split up, she wrote: “…and I still maintain that the character of a woman shows itself not when love begins, but when it ends.” (Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Mathilde Jacob, 9 April 1915, in Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 5, Berlin, 1987, p. 54)
Rosa Luxemburg in her apartment in 1907. Up until the time of her murder, she would live at the following addresses:
Cuxhavener Strasse 2 (Mitte)
1899: (Wilhelm-)Hauff-Strasse 4 (Friedenau), Lützowstrasse 51
1899–1901: Wielandstrasse 23 (Friedenau)
1901–1911: Cranachstrasse 58 (Friedenau)
1911–1919: Lindenstrasse 2 (Südende).
Luxemburg’s most loyal flatmate was the rescue cat Mimi. For Luxemburg, the wish to have children was not fulfilled.

8 Rather prison than suing for a pardon The decision to go it alone against (nearly) everybody

As late as summer 1914, Luxemburg and her lawyers (pictured are Paul Levi, at that time romantically linked to Luxemburg, and Kurt Rosenfeld) put intense pressure on the militarized Prussian state by presenting 30,000 pieces of evidence documenting the abuse of soldiers. However, these actions, which also became Luxemburg’s greatest success in the media, were unable to hinder the approach of war.
When the state prosecutor submitted an application for Luxemburg to be immediately arrested on account of a “risk of flight”, she answered: “Herr Prosecutor, I believe you when you imply that you would flee. A social democrat does not flee, he acknowledges his deeds and laughs at your punishments.” (Rosa Luxemburg, “Verteidigungsrede vor der Frankfurter Strafkammer,” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 3, Berlin, 1973, p. 406) Once judgment had been handed down, Luxemburg and her two lawyers went on a nationwide speaking tour—including a date at Munich’s Kindl-Keller, advertised here for 21 March 1914.

Besides the struggle for equal universal suffrage in the German Länder and advocacy for a republic (a position that Luxemburg was almost alone in espousing), the struggle against the militarization of society and the impending world war became increasingly urgent. Like Karl Liebknecht, Luxemburg warned against both from early on. But with her attempt to add the mass strike to the tactical repertoire of the German social democracy movement, she experienced a political defeat.

Karl Kautsky (1854–1938) became the symbol of the rise and fall of European social democracy. As a theorist and figure in the press, he had a major influence on the Socialist International. Even before the war, his close friendship with Luxemburg became a deep antagonism because she refused to abandon revolutionary politics.
Eine weltgeschichtliche Katastrophe: die Kapitulation der internationalen Sozialdemokratie – »Juniusbroschüre«
A world-historical disaster: the capitulation of international social democracy.” Luxemburg wrote her reckoning in prison. It became known as “The Junius Pamphlet”. (Translated by Dave Hollis, Marxists Internet Archive, last accessed 27 January 2021)

After the Russian Revolution of 1905/06, Polish antisemites accused Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches of being Jews who had incited good Christian Polish workers to make revolution before themselves absconding abroad. Not least for this reason, following her 1914 conviction for “incitement to disobedience”, Luxemburg refused the recommendation of her friends that she emigrate from Germany. She also refused the prospect of a pardon by the Kaiser. At the end of July 1914, World War I began. Shortly before, the Socialist International—on which Luxemburg had pinned so many hopes—had collapsed with hardly a whimper. On 18 February 1915, Luxemburg moved into a cell in Berlin’s Barnimstrasse women’s prison for a year.

Barnimstrasse Women’s Prison, Berlin.
“Excursion to Paris”, August 1914. During the first weeks of the war, Luxemburg became completely isolated. Even some of her closest confidants turned into militaristic patriots. The German population, controlled and repressed with particular brutality by a police and military state, became impoverished during the war while racketeers and the heads of the arms industry amassed wealth.

9 Unbowed The decision not to give up at any price

Luxemburg’s cell in Wronke Fortress, 1916/17. She was permitted to plant a flower garden in the prison yard.

After being released from prison in February 1916, Luxemburg continued her struggle against militarism. With the group “Internationale”—soon to be known only as the Spartacus group, so called after its illegal newspaper, Spartacus—a new circle formed around her, beginning on 1 January 1916. Luxemburg had written its programmatic theses. Less than six months after her release, the order was given that she be taken into “protective” military custody. Suffering in any case from stomach problems, she was accustomed to treating her depression herself. Now, under trying circumstances, which became even more so in Breslau prison after autumn 1917, the task was not only to keep herself balanced, but also to boost the morale of her friends on the outside. The results can be read in the slim volume Briefe aus dem Gefängnis (Letters from Prison): an example of world literature created almost incidentally. Another piece of world literature emerged in September and October 1918—also in prison: Luxemburg’s fragment on “The Russian Revolution”. Published in 1921/22, it remains until this day a canonical example of the socialist critique of the Bolsheviks.

Many of the letters Luxemburg wrote were addressed to her closest confidante, Mathilde Jacob (1873–1943), to whom Luxemburg also slipped covert messages. Together with Leo Jogiches, Jacob was the real organizer of the Spartacus group. After Luxemburg’s murder, it was she who brought Luxemburg’s literary remains into safekeeping. Jacob’s life ended in Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Letters became the most important form of connection with the outside—and alongside letters, which had to pass under the eyes of the censors, not a few secret dispatches. All of Luxemburg’s articles for the illegal Spartacus, as well as for the Duisburg periodical Kampf, left prison by illegal paths. The Letters from Prison have been repeatedly republished for a century. Some of them constitute world literature.

Excerpts from Luxemburg’s herbarium, begun in 1912.
In prison, Luxemburg followed her passion for botany, turned to mineralogy, and continued her ornithological studies.
The commencement of World War I led Luxemburg and Reichstag delegate Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919) to begin a political collaboration. With his “No” to further war loans, the lawyer Liebknecht became the voice of the German left. His arrest on 1 May 1916 failed to silence him: Liebknecht encouraged people on all sides of the war to resist militarism. A co-founder of the German Communist Party, he was murdered together with Luxemburg on 15 January 1919.

10 All power to the councils The decision to carry a political revolution forward into a social revolution

The last Reichstag or the first revolutionary parliament? From 16 to 20 December 1918, the Imperial Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils met in the Prussian House of Representatives (Berlin), opened by Richard Müller, head of the grassroots democratic group the “Revolutionary Stewards”.

The Russian Revolution of February 1917 heralded upheavals that, in the autumn of 1918, also affected Germany. The November Revolution saw the prison gates open for Luxemburg. In Berlin, she took over the editorship of the newspaper Rote Fahne (»Red The Russian Revolution of February 1917 heralded upheavals that, in the autumn of 1918, also affected Germany. The November Revolution saw the prison gates open for Luxemburg. In Berlin, she took over the editorship of the newspaper Rote Fahne (“Red Flag”). As the SPD leadership placed itself at the head of the revolution—with the aim of stalling it—Luxemburg vehemently opposed the leadership of her former party. The Communist Party, founded at the turn of 1918/19, adopted Luxemburg’s programme, which she had written for the Spartacus League. Her goal was to make the November Revolution in Germany an irreversible political transformation and, in the long term, to drive it forward into a social transformation. However, she was hardly able to achieve anything in the remaining 68 days of her life. The first inflammatory posters appeared as early as December 1918, and soon the atmosphere of a pogrom set in. On 15 January 1919, German officers murdered Rosa Luxemburg. Her body was not found until 31 May.

The “Revolutionary Stewards” were the dominant power in Berlin, representing 200,000 workers. On the other hand, Luxemburg’s Communist Party of Germany (the Spartacus League) had only 300 supporters in Berlin in early 1919. On the evening of 4 January, the majority of the Stewards called for resistance to the removal of police president Emil Eichhorn (USPD). Luxemburg did not publicize this demand, but the legend of the “Spartacus Uprising” is still alive today.
Minutes of the inaugural party conference of the KPD. Luxemburg always refused to leave the SPD or—later—the pacifist Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), formed in 1917, into which she had been forced with the Spartacus group in 1917. However, when Karl Radek, Lenin’s man in Germany, threatened to found a new radical left-wing party in Berlin with Russian money after Christmas 1918, Luxemburg capitulated. Under no circumstances did she want to hand over the German left to the Bolsheviks. She preferred to step forward herself, but could not even get her way regarding the party’s name. Instead of a “Socialist” party, a “Communist Party” was founded.
Poster circulated by the Anti-Bolshevik League, founded in early December 1918. Persecuted and murdered in 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was not only the most influential woman of the German left, but also a “Galician Jew”.
Four weeks after Rosa Luxemburg’s murder, the Rote Fahne ran the headline “The murderers’ binge at the Eden Hotel.” On 10 March 1919, Leo Jogiches was also murdered in a police prison. His killer was promoted.
Monument at the Lichtenstein Bridge over the Landwehr Canal in Berlin’s Tiergarten, designed by Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte. Rosa Luxemburg’s body was dumped at this spot on 15 January 1919.

The last 68 days of Rosa Luxemburg’s life are traced in detail in this chronicle.