Rosa Luxemburg was a prominent Marxist theorist and philosopher, whose contributions to revolutionary socialism were evident from her anti-war position. One of the key arguments that Rosa Luxemburg expressed to object to the First World War was the belief that the European working class would have to pay the largest price for the suffering and loss of lives during the war, despite the outcome. She spoke against war through appealing to the extended period of modern labor movement development, and that war would diminish all accomplishments that it had brought.
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Luxemburg’s Arguments Against War
Luxemburg underlined the role of German Social Democracy with regards to the battle against war and militarism: “For us Germans that is unacceptable,” she said. Through hard work, sacrifice, and immense attention to detail, German Social Democracy was built as an example to other labor organizations that received the powerful support of masses of voters, and the war could ruin everything that was accomplished. In Luxemburg’s opinion, the World War would be the turning point that would bring chaos and destruction that would require decades of restoration as falling back into the old state of affairs was unrealistic. The First World War could change the conditions of the society’s struggles and ultimately shift the way it would think and make decisions.
The battle between socialism and imperialism was also among the themes that Luxemburg discussed in her “The War and the Workers” pamphlet. With war came the struggle between labor and capital, fuelled by astronomical price increases, the lack of welfare support for the society, and the overall war crisis that decreased morale. In her opinion, to withstand the pressure that came with the war and fight against imperialism, the proletariat had to work harder and, as a result, reinforce its organization, which was hard to accomplish in a war-stricken society.
It is crucial to analyze the following quote to understand Luxemburg’s true feelings about the war regarding the struggle between socialism and imperialism: “proletarian power spares mankind the terrible cruelty of a world war, or be it that the capitalist world sinks into history in the same way as it was born, in blood and violence. In either case, the historical hour will find the working class prepared – and preparation is everything”. It is evident that her views on imperialism and its effect on the society were negative as the overall tone was associated with elevating the role of the working class and underlining the many losses that it would suffer from war.
Luxemburg saw war as the immediate defeat of working classes in all European countries regardless of the outcome. Despite the fact that the version of the officials was that the victorious party would encounter prosperity and accelerated economic growth, Luxemburg argued the opposite. In her view, economic growth could occur from unification and did not have to be a direct consequence of winning the First World War. Working classes would suffer from armed conflicts because such conflicts were merely competitive struggles between capitalisms for global domination, which did not take into consideration the value of the working class, along with the negative implications it would have to withstand.
As a result of the First World War, working classes in all countries involved in the conflict would become subjected to continuous limitations and the lack of support since it would be the most beneficial for imperialism and militarism to abandon the proletariat. Political complications, colonies, annexations of territories, and the overall military regimen were unlikely to bring any benefit to the European working class, regardless of whether Germany or any of its rivals would achieve victory; for the working class, the implications would be disastrous.
In her argument against Germany’s involvement in the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg also spoke about the direct results for Germany. She underlined the fact that even in the case of victory, the country would lose much more than it could gain. In the pamphlet “The Work and the Workers,” Luxemburg proposed a scenario of events that could unravel in the case of Germany’s victory. First, she mentioned that Belgium would be immediately annexed along with some territories in both east and west, including French colonies.
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Second, the addition of new regions into the land of Germany would enrich the Habsburg monarchy and thus drive imperialism. Third, the immediate declaration of Germany’s victory would lead to new preparations for the next war, as the Prusso-German militarism would become a burden to Europe. Therefore, Luxemburg concluded that Germany’s victory would only exacerbate the political climate in Europe and lead to new conflicts, thus facilitating a new round of devastation.
When speaking about the implications of the war for other countries and the world as a whole, Luxemburg explored the scenario of the Anglo-French victory. First, such a victory would lead to the loss of German colonies and the bankruptcy of imperialism on a global scale. Second, this bankruptcy would further lead to the partition of Austria-Hungary and the complete “liquidation” of Turkey as a country (Luxemburg). Subsequently, the fall of monarchies would result in their populations being subjected to the rule of Italy, France, Russia, and England. Such dramatic shifts in world power were likely to lead to further global political conflicts as well as a new World War.
Significance of Luxemburg’s Predictions
In the discussion about the possible implications of German or Anglo-French victory proposed by Rosa Luxemburg, it is essential to mention the real development of events and compare them with the revolutionist’s ideas. First, the increased fragility of post-war governments should be mentioned. As described by Berenson in Europe in the Modern World, ethnic rivalries within European countries contributed to the creation of new republics and political parties that specifically focused on the skewed interests of minority groups (514).
Second, the aftermath of war implied an environment where people wanted to distance themselves from democracy and liberalism in the search for new governmental structures (Berenson 516). Third, the disillusionment with democracies facilitated a unique process of development of new institutions and procedures that made such ideologies as fascism possible. In some way, democracy contributed to fascism’s emergence. For achieving success and capturing the public attention, fascist political parties used democratic institutions to their advantage (Berenson 516).
Following the development of fascism in Italy, Germany witnessed a historical spark in the popularity of this ideology within the population. Fueled by the nationalist passions propagated by Hitler, Germany entered a completely new stage of development that left other countries no choice but to protect themselves in the Second World War.
Apart from the emergence of new parties and political ideologies, the interwar period was also characterized by an economic crisis, which developed from the hyperinflation and the excessive borrowing of funds by Germany and its rivals during the First World War. The country did not have enough resources to pay off its debts, and the defeat in the War only exacerbated its financial position. Furthermore, the need for paying reparation taxes led to the government increasing taxes even further, which not only put the working class into a restricted position but also contributed to the depreciation of currency overall.
If one is to compare Luxemburg’s predictions about the consequences of the First World War with the description of actual events, it becomes evident that many of her ideas took place in real life. Among the most important similarities between the predictions and real events were the shifts in political ideologies of governments and their people as well as the deep economic crisis that cost Europe it’s living. The growing resentment of German society with the former governmental structure facilitated the emergence of fascism that had been previously popularized in Italy. Subsequently, Germany was the key contributor to the Second World War, which was also predicted by Luxemburg.
Despite the varying opinions about the credibility of Rosa Luxemburg, the analysis showed that she could be viewed as a far-sighted individual who warned society about the devastating implications of the First World War. It is important to underline the fact that her focus on the consequences for the working class was predominantly underlooked. However, it was the working class that made the most significant contribution to the restoration of politics and the economy in the interwar period. Luxemburg also managed to successfully predict the occurrence of the Second World War as she stated that either a victory or defeat of Germany would eventually lead to a new armed conflict between European countries.
Berenson, Edward. Europe in the Modern World. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Luxemburg, Rosa. “The War and the Workers.” Sourcebooks. Web.