Frequently Asked Questions about Rosa Luxemburg

Compiled and answered by staff at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung's Archive of Democratic Socialism.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rosa Luxemburg

Where can the famous quotation “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters” be found?

The famous passage occurs in a marginal note on the unfinished manuscript “Zur russischen Revolution” (On the Russian Revolution) from 1918. The note, which does not refer to a specific line in the manuscript, appears in the context of Luxemburg’s analysis of the Bolshevik Party’s dictatorial measures after the revolution. Rosa Luxemburg was particularly opposed to the suppression of an oppositional public.

The passage as a whole reads: “Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for members of a party—however numerous they may be—is not freedom. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. Not because of the fanaticism of ‘justice’, but because all the invigorating, healing and purifying aspects of political freedom depend on this essence and fail to have an effect when ‘freedom’ becomes a privilege.”
(Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, New York: Workers Age Publishers, 1940 [1922])

Further reading: Annelies Laschitza (ed.), Rosa Luxemburg und die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden, Berlin: 1990, p. 152; Michael Brie, Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit der Anderen. Gerechtigkeit oder Barbarei. Rosa Luxemburgs Entdeckung eines radikal sozialen Freiheitsbegriffs, Berlin: Freitag, 2000, nr. 39 (22 September 2000).

Are there also original documents on the life and work of Rosa Luxemburg in the RLS Archive of Democratic Socialism?

Historical sources available in the Archive of Democratic Socialism include original editions of the journal Die Rote Fahne, which was edited and published by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht until their murder on 15 January 1919.

Unfortunately, our archive does not contain any other historical sources, such as first editions of the works and articles, or original documents such as letters and handwritten manuscripts by Rosa Luxemburg. This also applies to film and photographic material and sound recordings.

The RLS library owns literature by and about Rosa Luxemburg (overview of holdings). There is also a permanent exhibition on the life and work of Rosa Luxemburg in the corridors of our building. It can also be viewed online.
Original sources by and about Rosa Luxemburg can be found in the following institutions, among others:

  • Foundation Archive of the Parties and Mass Organizations of the GDR (SAPMO) in the Federal Archives, literary remains: Luxemburg, Rosa (5/3/1871–15/1/1919), sign. NY 4002, 81 archive items plus library and collection items.
  • International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, in the Rosa Luxemburg Papers collection there.
  • Archiwum Akt Nowych, ul. Hankiewicza 1, 02-103 Warsaw, email:, tel: 022 822 52 45, fax: 022 823 00 42.

What was Rosa Luxemburg’s position on gender equality and issues such as women’s suffrage?

Rosa Luxemburg lived equality in practice rather than dealing theoretically with gender relations. Her dissertation on “The Industrial Development of Poland” was praised by contemporaries, such as the journalist Robert Seidel, as a contribution to the struggle for equality. “It is a new justification for the right of women to equality with men, if this right still requires justification at all”, he wrote in a review for the newspaper Zürcher Volksrecht. (Quoted from Maxi Besold, Rosa Luxemburg Exhibition, Munich 2002, panel 6). 

Rosa Luxemburg herself wrote in a letter to Clara Zetkin in November of 1918: “Perhaps write something about women, that is so important now, and none of us here understands anything about it” (Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 5, Berlin: Dietz, 1984, p. 417).

However, Rosa Luxemburg dealt intensively with the question of voting rights for women in several of her works, such as the 1912 publication Frauenwahlrecht und Klassenkampf (Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle) (Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 3, Berlin: Dietz, 1978, pp. 159–165). Nevertheless, it is also clear that she regarded the demand for women’s suffrage primarily from the perspective of class struggle and not so much as an independent emancipatory demand.

Rosa Luxemburg’s relationship to gender-political issues is one of the topics examined from a feminist perspective in the following works:

  • Frigga Haug, Rosa Luxemburg und die Kunst der Politik, Hamburg: Argument, 2007.
  • Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1982.

When and where did Rosa Luxemburg make her first major public appearance in the international labour movement and what were the issues at hand?

In 1893, at the age of 22, Rosa Luxemburg took the stage on an international level for the first time at the third International Socialist Workers’ Congress in Zurich, making an impression on the prominent members of the workers’ movement.

Together with Julian Marchlewski, she was registered at the congress as an editorial member of the magazine Sprawa Robotnicza (The Workers’ Cause) and as a founding member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP). She requested a mandate for herself and Marchlewski. It was denied them, mainly at the instigation of the Socialist Party of Poland (PPS), which saw their request as threatening its quasi-monopoly on foreign representation of the Polish labour movement. In a blazing appeal to the delegates, Luxemburg succeeded at least in getting Julian Marchlewski admitted, and he was allowed to deliver the speech she had written.

In substantive terms, the dispute between the SDPK and the PPS was not least about the fact that the PPS pursued a Polish-nationalist agenda, while Luxemburg’s SDPK followed a consistently internationalist one. On this matter, Rosa Luxemburg declared at the congress in Zurich that “our current goal is not to fight for an independent Polish state, but for political freedom.” (Quoted in Annelies Laschitza, Im Lebensrausch, trotz alledem: Rosa Luxemburg. Eine Biography, Berlin: Dietz, 2002, p. 50)

Could Rosa Luxemburg speak Yiddish?

So far, no Luxemburg researcher has discovered a manuscript in Yiddish by Rosa Luxemburg.

Rosa Luxemburg understood Yiddish (she was brought up in the Jewish faith), but regarded it as a form of slang and used it rather seldom, and then mostly as an insult or in self-irony... (see Annelies Laschitza, Im Lebensrausch, trotz alledem. Rosa Luxemburg. Eine Biographie, Berlin: Dietz, 1996, p. 23).

Most of the radical Jewish intellectuals spoke Polish or Russian or both. The biographer Elżbieta Ettinger interprets Luxemburg’s disdain for Yiddish as a reflection of her fear of being associated with Jewish clichés (see Elżbieta Ettinger, Rosa Luxemburg. A Life, Boston: Beacon, 1986).

Further reading: Jack Jacobs, “A Familial Resemblance: Rosa Luxemburg, Polish Maskilim and the Origins of Her Perspective”, On Socialists and the “Jewish Question” after Marx, New York: NYU Press, 1992.

With which men did Rosa Luxemburg have a relationship?

  • In 1889 Rosa Luxemburg married Gustav Lübeck (born in 1873) in order to obtain German citizenship. They divorced in 1903.
  • From her time as a student until 1907, Rosa Luxemburg maintained an intense and often conflictual relationship with Leo Jogiches. She was also engaged to him for a time. Leo Jogiches (1867–1919) came from a wealthy, highly educated Russian-Jewish family. He was one of the editors of the first Polish Social Democratic newspaper, Sprawa Robotnicza, and one of the founders of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP). After the outbreak of the revolution in Russia in 1905, he fought with Rosa Luxemburg against tsarism in Warsaw. From 1907 on he headed the board of the SDKP. He was elected for the central office at the founding party congress of the KPD.
  • Beginning in 1907 Rosa Luxemburg had a love affair lasting several years with Kostja Zetkin, the son of Clara Zetkin. Kostya (Constantine) Zetkin (1885–1980) was a doctor.
  • For a time, Rosa Luxemburg had a relationship with her lawyer Paul Levi. Levi (1883–1930) came from a republican Jewish, merchant family. He joined the SPD in 1909 and was a member of the Reichstag in the Weimar Republic. He was one of the founders of the Spartacus League and the KPD. After the deaths of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, Levi led the party from 1919 to the spring of 1921. In 1921 Levi was expelled from the KPD for his critical attitude toward the Comintern and his criticism of the Communist Party’s putsch-oriented tactics. But he remained true to his leftist convictions and the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg, initially in the Kommunistischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft and later in the SPD.
  • Rosa Luxemburg and Dr. Hans Diefenbach had a deep, cordial friendship. Diefenbach (1884–1917) was a physician. He died on the front, serving as a military doctor, while Luxemburg was in prison.

Are there still records of Rosa Luxemburg’s travel itineraries and events she participated in across Germany (especially between 1903 and 1908)?

There are no documents on Rosa Luxemburg’s travels in the Archive of Democratic Socialism. However, details can be found in the relevant biographies, especially:

  • Annelies Laschitza: Im Lebensrausch, trotz alledem. Rosa Luxemburg. Eine Biographie, Berlin: Dietz, 1996.
  • Elżbieta Ettinger, Rosa Luxemburg. A Life, Boston: Beacon, 1986.

Her letters from this time also give clues to her travel activity. See Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Briefe, volume 2, Berlin: Dietz, 1999.

Where did Rosa Luxemburg live during her stays in Paris?

Rosa Luxemburg’s letters show that in Paris she lived at the following addresses:

  • Paris, 12 March 1894: 7, Faubourg St-Denis, Chambre 11
  • Paris, 11 April, 1894: Montmartre, rue Feutrier 21, Paris (Family Adolf Warski)
  • Paris, 21 March 1895: 7 Reille Avenue, au 3-ème
  • Paris, 24 September 1900: Hôtel Moderne 3, rue de l’Etoile, Chambre 2

(See Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 1, Berlin: Dietz, 1984, pp. 16, 45, 57, and 506)

What kind of person was Rosa Luxemburg? What character traits made it possible for her to survive situations of existential threat such as imprisonment?

“Rosa Luxemburg led an affirmative, beautiful life, by living in a way that was consistent and true right up to her death. ... A beautiful life worthy of affirmation can also be a life that ends tragically, that fails, and to which despite everything one could say 'da capo', as she did then. That can include continuing to fight on against all odds, battered already, alone with the few faithful, and it is this sober, lucid, incomparable bravery that made Rosa Luxemburg into a heroine.” (Volker Caysa: “Die ‘Lebenskünstlerin’ Rosa Luxemburg”, UTOPIE kreativ, Berlin: Issue 129/130, 2001, pp. 622–623)

Volker Caysa, the author of this statement, attributes to Rosa Luxemburg qualities such as the desire to live, cheerfulness, patience and decisiveness at the right moment, serenity, insight, and calm. “Rosa Luxemburg’s concept of life always aims at the whole, at totality. She not only wants the feasible, but the entirely other, she does not only seek satisfaction in life, she wants a useful, meaningful, and sensually beautiful life” (Ibid, p. 616).

In 1916 Rosa Luxemburg wrote to Mathilde Wurm: “To be a human being is the main thing above all else. And that means to be firm and clear and cheerful, yes, cheerful in spite of everything and anything, because weeping is the business of the weak. To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life in the giant scales of fate if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud ... The world is so beautiful in all its horror, and would be even more beautiful if there were no weaklings and cowards on it." (Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 5, Berlin: Dietz, 1984, p. 151)

Further reading: Volker Caysa: “Die ‘Lebenskünstlerin’ Rosa Luxemburg”, UTOPIE kreativ, Berlin: Issue 129/130, 2001, pp. 614–623.

What intellectual interests did Rosa Luxemburg pursue in addition to her political-theoretical activities?

In addition to her studies in economics, which she critically adapted as the basis for her intellectual work as a Marxist theorist, she also attended scientific lectures, for example on botany and zoology.

Later in her life she continued to study these two disciplines. In addition to her travels through Germany and Europe, during her prison stays Rosa Luxemburg also devoted herself to botanical and geological studies alongside her political activities. Her intense scientific interests and knowledge are attested to by her herbarium, which she began in 1913 and maintained during her imprisonment, as well as by the “Geological and Botanical Notes” she kept at the Wroclaw prison.

Where can you find the quote, “my innermost personality belongs more to my tomtits than to the ‘comrades’”?

This quote can be found in one of Rosa Luxemburg’s prison letters. On 2 May 1917 she wrote to Sophie Liebknecht: ‘‘But my innermost personality belongs more to my tomtits than to the ‘comrades’. This is not because, like so many spiritually bankrupt politicians, I seek refuge and find repose in nature. Far from it, in nature at every turn I see so much cruelty that I suffer greatly.” (Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 5, Berlin: Dietz, 1984, pp. 229-30)

Does the prison in which Rosa Luxemburg was incarcerated until November 1918 still exist?

The prison in Wroclaw at which Rosa Luxemburg was incarcerated until 1918 still exists and continues to be used as a prison.

What arrangements were made for handling Rosa Luxemburg’s literary estate?

It is thanks to Mathilde Jacob (1873–1942), Rosa Luxemburg’s long-time private secretary, that the Luxemburg literary estate was saved. In a letter to Mathilde Jacob dated 18 January 1919, Clara Zetkin formulated a kind of request for this purpose: “Dearest friend, it is your task to ensure that not a piece of paper, not a line of Rosa’s manuscripts is mislaid and scattered, and not one of her old, already printed works, articles, booklets, etc. gets lost. You must vigilantly ensure that nothing, nothing at all, can be stolen from Rosa’s intellectual and political legacy under any pretext of court decisions, house searches, etc. Rosa’s spiritual heritage must be defended; it belongs to the revolutionary proletariat.” (Clara Zetkin, Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, vol. II, Berlin: Dietz, 1960, p. 73)

In 1939 Mathilde Jacob handed over the literary estate to the American historian Ralph Lutz, who brought it to the United States.

Who gave the eulogy at Rosa Luxemburg’s funeral?

Rosa Luxemburg’s renowned biographer, Annelies Laschitza, describes Rosa Luxemburg’s funeral, which took place on 13 June 1919 at the cemetery in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde. Laschitza names three speakers: Paul Levi, Clara Zetkin, and a “female former pupil of the party school” as “representative of the youth” (See Annelies Laschitza, Im Lebensrausch, trotz alledem. Rosa Luxemburg. Eine Biographie, Berlin: Dietz, 1996, p. 622).

Where are there monuments or memorials to Rosa Luxemburg?

Monuments and memorials to Rosa Luxemburg can be found in various cities, for example in Berlin:

  • The monument at the Lichtenstein Bridge over the Landwehr Canal in the Tiergarten (near Budapester Straße), by Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte. It is located at the site where Rosa Luxemburg’s body was thrown into the Landwehr Canal on 15 January 1919.
  • Grave plate and stela Die Toten mahnen uns (The Dead Admonish Us) in the Memorial to the Socialists in Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery. Rosa Luxemburg was buried at this cemetery on 13 June 1919, beside Karl Liebknecht and other victims of the counter-revolution. More than 100,000 people attended the funeral.
  • The memorial for Rosa Luxemburg on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz by Hans Haacke. Sixty quotations from Luxemburg’s works and letters were embedded in the ground in bronze lettering on concrete beams up to seven metres long. The memorial in honour of Rosa Luxemburg was handed over in September 2006.
  • The memorial Von der dicken Berta zur roten Rosa (From the Fat Bertha to the Red Rosa) by the Israeli sculptor Igael Tumarkin, located on the central strip of the Bundesallee at the junction of Spichernstraße, along the route that her kidnappers took to get to the Eden Hotel. The steel-relief monument depicts Luxemburg taming the devastating field gun “Dicke Berta”.
  • The life-size bronze sculpture Rosa Luxemburg, by Rolf Biebl, and ceramic reliefs by Ingeborg Hunzinger, at the entrance to the building at Franz-Mehring-Platz 1 in the Friedrichshain district. The Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung has its headquarters in this office building.
  • Memorial stela in Weinstraße 1-2, in the Friedrichshain district, at the site of the women’s prison where Rosa Luxemburg was incarcerated. The stela was erected in 1977.

In Birkenwerder, near Berlin:

  • Bronze monument showing Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg in conversation. The monument is located in the courtyard of the former residence of Clara Zetkin, at Summter Straße 6, which Clara Zetkin occupied from 1929 on. The building housed a Clara Zetkin memorial until the beginning of the 1990s; today it is used for multiple purposes (children’s library, music school) by the community. A room fitted out with furniture and objects from Clara Zetkin’s estate, an exhibition, and a commemorative plaque pay tribute to this important representative of the proletarian women’s movement.

In Erfurt:

  • The Rosa Luxemburg monument, a sculpture in the Talknoten Park.

In Hamburg:

  •  Ein Gartenstück für Rosa Luxemburg (A Patch of Garden for Rosa Luxemburg) by Gerd Stange, a political artist from Hamburg. In November 2006 the “Alte Leute Garten” in Eimsbüttel’s Wehbers Park was officially renamed “Rosa-Luxemburg-Garten”. The memorial commemorates the fact that on 13 December 1900, Rosa Luxemburg gave her first Hamburg speech on “World Politics and Social Democracy” in the Eimsbütteler Association House Fruchtallee (then Sottorf) across the street.

In Marisfeld near Hildburghausen:

  • Rosa Luxemburg Monument, a sculpture of shell limestone, created by Rolf Traut in 1986. It stood in the schoolyard until October 2007 and is to be relocated either to the village square, the sports field, or the castle park.

Last updated: 25 October 25 2007

Further information and photos can be found in the exhibition of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.