‘The World Holiday of the Proletariat'; Rosa Luxemburg on May Day

Rosa Luxemburg addresses a crowd in Stuttgart, during the Congress of the Socialist International, 1907. Seated on the left is Clara Zetkin and to the right is Dutch workers leader Troelstra. On the placards are the portraits of Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Marx.

Rosa Luxemburg, like many socialists of her era, saw 1 May as a uniquely important international holiday. It symbolised the solidarity and potential power of the working classes of all countries.

Rosa Luxemburg as a student in her early 20s (early 1890s)

Below are two of her articles on the subject. The first was written in Paris, by a 23 year old student in exile. Rosa wrote the article in Polish for publication in ‘Sprawa Robotnicza’ [Worker’s Cause], the newspaper of the party founded by her and Leo Jogiches the year before: The Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP). It was printed in 1894 and smuggled into Poland. In the article, Rosa detailed the origins of May Day as a worker’s holiday and it’s main goal: the introduction of the eight-hour day. She concluded optimistically:

“The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.”

Rosa Luxemburg in her mid 40s (around 1915)

The second article was written seventeen years later in 1913, with Europe- and the world- on the brink of war and catastrophe. It is an appeal for international solidarity in the face of impending disaster and carnage. Rosa opened the article ‘In the middle of the wildest orgies of imperialism, the world holiday of the proletariat is repeating itself for the twenty-fourth time.’ Her conclusion is far from the optimism of 1894. She calls for immediate and full-blown revolutionary action to prevent war:

“…only the personal stepping forward of the broadest masses, their personal political action, mass demonstrations, and mass strikes which must sooner or later open into a period of revolutionary struggles for the power in the state, can give the correct answer of the proletariat to the immense oppression of imperialistic policy.”

“In this moment of armament lunacy and war orgies, only the resolute will to struggle of the working masses, their capacity and readiness for powerful mass actions, can maintain world peace and push away the menacing world conflagration.”

“And the more the idea of May Day, the idea of resolute mass actions as a manifestation of international unity, and as a means of struggle for peace and for socialism, takes root in the strongest troops of the International, the German working class, the greater is our guarantee that out of the world war which, sooner or later, is unavoidable, will come forth a definite and victorious struggle between the world of labor and that of capital.”

May Day is to be employed as a powerful symbol of working class solidarity and resistance to a world war. The two articles demonstrate Rosa Luxemburg’s passionate committment to international socialism, which she saw as the new ‘Fatherland’ of the entire working class of the world. May Day was the most visible and powerful demonstration of the power, or rather the potential power, of the international socialist movement before 1914.

Read the articles (courtesy of Marxists Internet Archive- http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg):

‘What Are The Origins of May Day?’ (1894)

The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.

In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops? Thus, the idea of a proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole proletarian world.

The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. On this day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for many years from repeating this [size] demonstration. However in 1888 they renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1, 1890.

In the meanwhile, the workers’ movement in Europe had grown strong and animated. The most powerful expression of this movement occurred at the International Workers’ Congress in 1889. At this Congress, attended by four hundred delegates, it was decided that the eight-hour day must be the first demand. Whereupon the delegate of the French unions, the worker Lavigne from Bordeaux, moved that this demand be expressed in all countries through a universal work stoppage. The delegate of the American workers called attention to the decision of his comrades to strike on May 1, 1890, and the Congress decided on this date for the universal proletarian celebration.

In this case, as thirty years before in Australia, the workers really thought only of a one-time demonstration. The Congress decided that the workers of all lands would demonstrate together for the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890. No one spoke of a repetition of the holiday for the next years. Naturally no one could predict the lightning-like way in which this idea would succeed and how quickly it would be adopted by the working classes. However, it was enough to celebrate the May Day simply one time in order that everyone understand and feel that May Day must be a yearly and continuing institution […].

The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.


‘The Idea of May Day on the March’ (1913)

In the middle of the wildest orgies of imperialism, the world holiday of the proletariat is repeating itself for the twenty-fourth time. What has taken place in the quarter of a century since the epoch-making decision to celebrate May Day is an immense part of the historical path. When the May demonstration made its debut, the vanguard of the International, the German working class, was breaking the chains of a shameful law of exception and setting out on the path of a free, legal development. The period of the long depression on the world market since the crash of the 1870s had been overcome, and the capitalist economy had just begun a phase of splendid growth which would last nearly a decade. At the same time, after twenty years of unbroken peace, the world breathed a sigh of relief, remembering the period of war in which the modern European state system had received its bloody baptism. The path seemed free for a peaceful cultural development; illusions, hopes of a reasonable, pacific discussion between labor and capital grew abundantly like green corn in the ranks of socialism. Propositions like “to hold out the open hand to the good will” marked the beginning of the 1890s; promises of an imperceptible “gradual move into socialism” marked its end. Crises, wars, and revolution were supposed to have been things of the past, the baby shoes of modern society; parliamentarism and unions, democracy in the state and democracy in the factory were supposed to open the doors of a new, better order.

The course of events has submitted all of these illusions to a fearful test. At the end of the 1890s, in place of the promised, smooth, social-reforming cultural development, began a period of the most violent and acute sharpening of the capitalistic contradictions – a storm and stress, a crashing and colliding, a wavering and quaking in the foundations of the society. In the following decade, the ten-year period of economic prosperity was paid for by two violent world crises. After two decades of world peace, in the last decade of the past century followed six bloody wars, and in the first decade of the new century four bloody revolutions. Instead of the social reforms – conspiracy laws, penal laws, and penal praxis; instead of industrial democracy – the powerful concentration of capital in cartels and business associations, and the international practice of gigantic lock-outs. And instead of the new growth of democracy in the state – a miserable breakdown of the last remnants of bourgeois liberalism and bourgeois democracy. Specifically in the case of Germany the fate of the bourgeois parties since the 1890s has brought: the rise and immediate, hopeless dissolution of the National Socialists; the split of the “radical” opposition and the reunification of its splinters in the morass of the reaction; and finally the transformation of the “center” from a radical peoples’ party to a conservative governmental party. The shifting in the development of the parties was similar in other capitalist countries. In general, the revolutionary working class sees itself today standing alone, opposed to a closed, hostile reaction of the ruling classes and their malicious tricks.

The sign under which this whole development, both economic and political, has been consummated, the formula back to which its results point, is imperialism. This is no new element, no unexpected turn in the general historical path of the capitalist society. Armaments and wars, international contradictions and colonial politics accompany the history of capitalism from its cradle. It is the most extreme intensification of these elements, a drawing together, a gigantic storming of these contradictions which has produced a new epoch in the course of modern society. In a dialectical interaction, both cause and effect of the immense accumulation of capital and the heightening and sharpening of the contradictions which go with it internally, between capital and labor; externally, between the capitalist states – imperialism has opened the final phase, the division of the world by the assault of capital. A chain of unending, exorbitant armaments on land and on sea in all capitalist countries because of rivalries; a chain of bloody wars which have spread from Africa to Europe and which at any moment could light the spark which would become a world fire; moreover, for years the uncheckable specter of inflation, of mass hunger in the whole capitalist world – all of these are the signs under which the world holiday of labor, after nearly a quarter of a century, approaches. And each of these signs is a flaming testimony of the living truth and the power of the idea of May Day.

The brilliant basic idea of May Day is the autonomous, immediate stepping forward of the proletarian masses, the political mass action of the millions of workers who otherwise are atomized by the barriers of the state in the day-to-day parliamentary affairs, who mostly can give expression to their own will only through the ballot, through the election of their representatives. The excellent proposal of the Frenchman Lavigne at the Paris Congress of the International added to this parliamentary, indirect manifestation of the will of the proletariat a direct, international mass manifestation: the strike as a demonstration and means of struggle for the eight-hour day, world peace, and socialism.

And in effect what an upswing this idea, this new form of struggle has taken on in the last decade! The mass strike has become an internationally recognized, indispensable weapon of the political struggle. As a demonstration, as a weapon in the struggle, it returns again in innumerable forms and gradations in all countries for nearly fifteen years. As a sign of the revolutionary reanimation of the proletariat in Russia, as a tenacious means of struggle in the hands of the Belgian proletariat, it has just now proved its living power. And the next, most burning question in Germany – the Prussian voting rights – obviously, because of its previous slipshod treatment, points to a rising mass action of the Prussian proletariat up to the mass strike as the only possible solution.

No wonder! The whole development, the whole tendency of imperialism in the last decade leads the international working class to see more clearly and more tangibly that only the personal stepping forward of the broadest masses, their personal political action, mass demonstrations, and mass strikes which must sooner or later open into a period of revolutionary struggles for the power in the state, can give the correct answer of the proletariat to the immense oppression of imperialistic policy. In this moment of armament lunacy and war orgies, only the resolute will to struggle of the working masses, their capacity and readiness for powerful mass actions, can maintain world peace and push away the menacing world conflagration. And the more the idea of May Day, the idea of resolute mass actions as a manifestation of international unity, and as a means of struggle for peace and for socialism, takes root in the strongest troops of the International, the German working class, the greater is our guarantee that out of the world war which, sooner or later, is unavoidable, will come forth a definite and victorious struggle between the world of labor and that of capital.

*This piece was originally posted on 30 April 2012.

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Dispute over Rosa Luxemburg plaque in Poznań, Poland

(Photo: Błażej Dąbkowski)

A dispute has broken out over a plaque to Rosa Luxemburg in the Polish city of Poznań, where she was politically active when the city was part of the German Empire. Activists associated with the main opposition party, Law and Justice, wish to see the plaque removed as a relic of Communism.

In September 2013, the plaque was vandalised and subsequently replaced (see: https://rosaluxemburgblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/poznan-plaque/)

For Polish news reports, see:

Błażej Dąbkowski, ‘Poznaniacy stają w obronie Róży Luksemburg. Historyk: Lepiej zdjąć tę tablicę’ Polska Times, 27 January 2015 (http://www.polskatimes.pl/artykul/3729154,poznaniacy-staja-w-obronie-rozy-luksemburg-historyk-lepiej-zdjac-te-tablice,id,t.html)
‘Czarne róże pod tablicą Róży Luksemburg. O co chodzi?’ Nasze Miasto (Poznań), 16 March 2015 (http://poznan.naszemiasto.pl/artykul/czarne-roze-pod-tablica-rozy-luksemburg-o-co-chodzi-wideo,3315833,artgal,t,id,tm.html)
‘Happening: Czarne róże pod tablicą Róży Luksemburg w Poznaniu’, Głos Wielkopolski, 16 March 2015
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On This Day: 10 March 1919: Leo Jogiches Murdered by Freikorps

Originally posted on rosaluxemburgblog:

File:Leo Jogiches 02.jpg

Leo Jogiches (1867- 1919)

Jogiches was born in Wilna (Vilnius) in the Russian Empire, the son of a wealthy Jewish family. He was forced to flee into exile in the early 1890s as a result of his involvement in the revolutionary movement. As a student at Zurich University, he met Rosa Luxemburg, with whom he formed a romantic relationship which lasted for many years and a political and ideological partnership which continued until their deaths.

A co-founder of the Social Democracy of Kingdom of Poland (SDKP), which later merged with the Lithuanian organisation to become the SDKPiL, Jogiches remained a leader of the Party until 1918, when it merged to form the Polish Communist Party.

During the First World War, Jogiches became involved in German politics for the first time as a member of the Spartacus League, established by Rosa Luxemburg and others in opposition to the war. While its prominent leaders languished…

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Tributes to Professor Feliks Tych (1929- 2015)

Professor Feliks Tych, who died on 16 February  2015 after a long and illustrious career, was one of the most important scholars on Rosa Luxemburg. He was the editor of three volumes of Luxemburg’s letters to Leo Jogiches (published in Warsaw between 1968 and 1971), a longstanding member and contributor of the International Rosa Luxemburg Society and the author of a vast number of articles, papers and studies on Luxemburg.

Professor Tych headed the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw from 1995 to 2006 and wrote on a range of other subjects, including the history of the labour movement in Poland and the Holocaust.

A selection of obituaries and tributes to Professor Tych in English:

‘Saying Goodbye to Prof. Feliks Tych’ (Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw): http://www.jhi.pl/en/blog/2015-02-17-saying-goodbye-to-prof-feliks-tych

‘Professor Feliks Tych, Historian, Dies at 85′ (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews): http://www.sprawiedliwi.org.pl/en/cms/news-archive/1126,professor-feliks-tych-historian-dies-at-85/

‘Feliks Tych (1929- 2015)’ (YIVO Institute, New York): http://www.yivo.org/blog/index.php/2015/02/20/feliks-tych-1929-2015/#more-3305

‘IHRA Regrets the Passing of Professor Feliks Tych’ (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance): https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/media-room/news-archive/ihra-regrets-announce-passing-professor-feliks-tych

In German:

‘Chronist des Grauens. Zum Tod des polnisch-juedischen Historikers Feliks Tych’ (Juedische Allgemeine): http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/21553

‘Feliks Tych’ (by Annelies Laschitza) (Neues Deutschland): https://www.neues-deutschland.de/artikel/962503.feliks-tych.html

At an International Workshop on Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin (6-7 March 2015), Professor Tych’s longstanding collaborator Dr. Juergen Hensel, spoke movingly about his life, work and legacy.

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International Workshop on Rosa Luxemburg held in Berlin (6-7 March 2015)

On 6-7 March, a workshop was held at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin. Participants  from around the world gathered to discuss recent publications on Luxemburg, especially the sixth volume of her Complete Works in German and the first volume of her Complete Works in English. The workshop focussed on Luxemburg’s ideas on (and experiences of) revolution, under the heading of a quote from one of her letters: “the revolution is magnificent, everything else is bilge!”

 

Participants included Annelies Laschitza, Jörn Schütrumpf, Peter Hudis, Wladislaw Hedeler, Holger Politt, Evelin Wittich, Florian Weis, Tanja Storlokken, Ottokar Luban, Pablo Slavin, Rory Castle, Kate Evans, Jürgen Hensel and Julia Killet.

The workshop concluded with a fascinating tour of the Berlin sites associated with Rosa Luxemburg, led by Claudia von Gélieu.

A full programme can be found (in English and German) at: http://www.rosalux.de/event/52681/internationale-arbeitsgespraeche-rosa-luxemburg.html.

You can purchase the latest volumes here: http://www.dietzberlin.de (German) and http://www.versobooks.com (English)

Further information and reports of the workshop to follow.

Some photos of the workshop and tour can be found below.

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Kate Evans talks about her forthcoming graphic novel, ‘Red Rosa’.

IMG_2138[1]At 58 Cranachstrasse, where Luxemburg lived from 1902- 1911.

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At the site of the former Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, where Luxemburg was imprisoned on numerous occasions, including during the First World War.

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At the monument to Luxemburg at the Landwehr canal, where her body was dumped after her murder on 15 January 1919.

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Happy 144th Birthday Rosa Luxemburg!

1907 or 1908 maybe- rosa luxemburg- rls

Rosa Luxemburg was born on 5 March 1871 in the small Polish city of Zamosc and grew up in Warsaw. She earned a doctorate from Zurich University in 1897 and co-founded the Polish social-democratic party (SDKPiL). Living in Germany from 1898, she joined the German social-democratic party (SPD) and rose to prominence as a left-wing journalist, speaker and theorist. Imprisoned several times in Germany, she was active in the 1905 Revolution in Poland before returning to exile in Berlin. Luxemburg was a leading figure in the Second Socialist International and a campaigner against imperialism, war and dictatorship. She believed in socialism and democracy and called for the overthrow of the capitalist system.

During the First World War, Luxemburg was imprisoned for her anti-war activities and expelled from the SPD. She co-founded the Spartakusbund, which sought to end the war and overthrow the Kaiser and capitalism. During the German Revolution, which ushered in the Weimar Republic, Luxemburg was a co-founder of the German Communist Party (KPD). On 15 January 1919, she was arrested by government soldiers and murdered.

Nearly one hundred years later, her life and ideas continue to be an inspiration to people all over the world. To read some of her works online go to: marxists.org/archive/luxemburg.

Happy 144th Birthday Rosa Luxemburg!

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100 Years Ago Today: Rosa Luxemburg Imprisoned for Anti-War Speech

Rosa Luxemburg, Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, 1915

On 18 February 1915, Rosa Luxemburg began a twelve month sentence in Berlin’s Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison for an anti-war speech delivered to workers at Fechenheim, near Frankfurt.

In her Fechenheim speech (delivered before the war, in September 1913) Luxemburg had called on German workers to refuse to shoot their French brothers in the event of war. As a result, she was charged with ‘inciting public disobedience’ and put on trial in Frankfurt in February 1914. Declared a flight risk by the public prosecutor, Luxemburg famously replied:

‘Sir, I do believe that you would run away. A Social Democrat never does. A Social Democrat stands by his deeds and laughs at your judgements. Now sentence me.’

The judge did indeed sentence her- to twelve months in prison, but the trial was a propaganda success and made Luxemburg a hero of the anti-war left and villain of the right-wing press. The implementation of her sentence was delayed while Luxemburg underwent hospital treatment, but on 18 February 1915 she was suddenly arrested and informed that her sentence would begin immediately.

Luxemburg served her entire twelve months in Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison and was released on 18 February 1916. As a result of her continued anti-war work, she was arrested again on 10 July 1916 and placed under ‘protective custody’ (ie. imprisonment) for the rest of the war, held first in Wronke Fortress and then Breslau Prison. During her incarceration, Luxemburg produced some of her most important works, including the anti-war Junius Pamphlet (1915), the economic work The Accumulation of Capital: An Anti-Critique (1915) and her analysis of events in Russia, The Russian Revolution (1918).

The Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, Berlin

 

 

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