Rosa Luxemburg - Polish Marxist revolutionary

Activities of Rosa Luxemburg
Summary Outline


Class division

The enrichment of a small number of idlers is the aim of today's economy.

From The Socialisation of Society

Abolition of wage slavery

Nowadays work in industry, in agriculture and in the office is mostly a torment and a burden for the proletarians. One only goes to work because one has to, because one would not otherwise get the means to live. In a socialist society, where everyone works together for their own well being, the health of the workforce and its enthusiasm for work must be given the greatest consideration at work. Short working hours that do not exceed the normal capability, healthy workrooms, all methods of recuperation and a variety of work must be introduced in order that everyone enjoys doing their part.

From The Socialisation of Society

War and militarism

The squandering that currently takes place wherever one goes must stop. Naturally, the entire war and munitions industries must be abolished since a socialist society does not need murder weapons and, instead, the valuable materials and human labour used in them must be employed for useful products.

From The Socialisation of Society


There is nothing more subject to rapid change than human psychology. The psyche of the masses embraces a whole world, a world of almost limitless possibilities: breathless calm and raging storm; base treachery and supreme heroism.

"Disappointment" in the masses is always a compromising sign for political (i.e., Socialist) leaders. A real leader, a leader of real moment, will make his tactics dependent, not on the temporary spirit of the masses, but on the inexorable laws of historical development. He will steer his course by these laws in defiance of all disappointments, and he will rely on history to bring about the gradual maturing of his actions.

From letter to Matilde Wurm, Feb. 16, 1917


It is absolutely false and totally unhistorical to represent work for reforms as a drawn-out revolution, and revolution as a condensed series of reforms. A social transformation and a legislative reform do not differ according to the duration but according to their essence. The whole secret of historical transformations through the utilization of political power consists precisely in the change of simple quantitative modification into a new quality, or to speak more concretely, in the transition from one historical period, one social order, to another.

He who pronounces himself in favor of the method of legal reforms in place of and as opposed to the conquest of political power and social revolution does not really choose a more tranquil, surer and slower road to the same goal. He chooses a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new social order, he takes a stand for surface modifications of the old order.

From Social Reform or Revolution?


It is stated in the Communist Manifesto that the emancipation of the working class can only be the work of the working class itself and it understands by the working class not a party executive of seven or twelve but the enlightened mass of the proletariat in person. Every step forward in the struggle for emancipation of the working class must at the same time mean a growing intellectual independence of its mass, its growing self-activity, self-determination and initiative. How should the capability of action and political quickwittedness of the broad popular masses develop if the vanguard of these masses, the best and most enlightened sections united in the Social-Democratic Party organisations, exhibit for their part no initiative and independence as masses, on the contrary, always be at the ready until a command is issued from above?

From Again the Masses and Leaders, a letter published in 1911
in the newspaper "Leipziger Volkszeitung"

The ballot

The working class must above all else strive to get the entire political power of the state into its own hands. Political power, however, is for us socialists only a means. The end for which we must use this power is the fundamental transformation of the entire economic relations.

From The Socialisation of Society

Motivation in a socialist society

In a socialist society the industrialist with his whip ceases to exist. The workers are free and equal human beings who work for their own well-being and benefit. That means by themselves, working on their own initiative, not wasting public wealth, and delivering the most reliable and meticulous work. Every socialist concern needs of course its technical managers who know exactly what they are doing and give the directives so that everything runs smoothly and the best division of labour and the highest efficiency is achieved. Now it is a matter of willingly following these orders in full, of maintaining discipline and order, of not causing difficulties or confusion.

In a word: the worker in a socialist economy must show that he can work hard and properly, keep discipline and give his best without the whip of hunger and without the capitalist and his slave-driver behind him. This calls for inner self-discipline, intellectual maturity, moral ardour, a sense of dignity and responsibility, a complete inner rebirth of the proletarian.

One cannot realise socialism with lazy, frivolous, egoistic, thoughtless and indifferent human beings. A socialist society needs human beings from whom each one in his place, is full of passion and enthusiasm for the general well-being, full of self-sacrifice and sympathy for his fellow human beings, full of courage and tenacity in order to dare to attempt the most difficult.

We do not need, however, to wait perhaps a century or a decade until such a species of human beings develop. Right now, in the struggle, in the revolution, the mass of the proletarians learn the necessary idealism and soon acquire the intellectual maturity. We also need courage and endurance, inner clarity and self-sacrifice, to at all be able to lead the revolution to victory. In enlisting capable fighters for the current revolution, we are also creating the future socialist workers which a new order requires as its fundament.

From The Socialisation of Society

Feelings about being imprisoned

Here I am lying in a dark cell upon a mattress hard as stone; the building has its usual churchyard quiet, so that one might as well be already entombed; through the window there falls across the bed a glint of light from the lamp which burns all night in front of the prison. At intervals I can hear faintly in the distance the noise of a passing train or close at hand the dry cough of the prison guard as in his heavy boots, he takes a few slow strides to stretch his limbs. The gride of the gravel beneath his feet has so hopeless a sound that all the weariness and futility of existence seems to be radiated thereby into the damp and gloomy night.

I lie here alone and in silence, enveloped in the manifold black wrappings of darkness, tedium, unfreedom, and winter -- and yet my heart beats with an immeasurable and incomprehensible inner joy, just as if I were moving in the brilliant sunshine across a flowery mead. And in the darkness I smile at life, as if I were the possessor of a charm which would enable me to transform all that is evil and tragical into serenity and happiness. But when I search my mind for the cause of this joy, I find there is no cause, and can only laugh at myself -- I believe that the key to the riddle is simply life itself, this deep darkness of night is soft and beautiful as velvet, if only one looks at it in the right way. The gride of the damp gravel beneath the slow and heavy tread of the prison guard is likewise a lovely little song of life -- for one who has ears to hear.

Written from a cell in Breslau Prison, December, 1917,
Excerpted from Rosa Luxemburg, Letters from Prison;
Eden and Cedar Paul, translators and editors;
published by Allen & Unwit, 1921

Last page revision: March 4, 2004