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“The War and the Workers” by Rosa Luxemburg


According to Luxemburg, masses that agreed with leaders who advocated for World War I did so due to social attributes (13). Some of the issues that Luxemburg mentions as “social attributes” include the “…cholera in the wells, Russian students heaved bombs on railway bridges in Berlin, telegrams became false on a regular basis, city neighborhoods were turned into mobs that were prepared to denounce and mistreat women” (Luxemburg 13). In her writing, Luxemburg (13) explains that the problems faced by Germany during the First World War were mainly ignored since the leaders focused on the war.

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Luxemburg’s Objections

Luxemburg, being a vocal activist, strongly opposed the war (4). She believed that the mentioned social issues were more important than the war. To the author, the stumbling press, stifled public opinions and the working class experiencing an economic and political class struggle (Luxemburg 30) were indicators of a failed state. On the other hand, the organization of the proletariat had been solely confined to imperialism. On the same note, the bourgeoisie were not interested in making life bearable for the working and lower classes.

Luxemburg (45) explains that amidst the war, the society continued to disintegrate. A significant amount of population lived under the poverty line. Additionally, the treaties and alliances that had previously been agreed upon were no longer valid. Governments viewed one another as enemies. Food riots were witnessed in Venice, Lipson, Moscow, and Singapore. Interestingly enough, the bourgeoisie made more money due to the war. Thus, Luxemburg believed that the war was intentional.

Defeat for the Working Class

Luxemburg adds that the fall of the socialist proletariat, which was unexpected (42), was a misfortune for humanity. To the author, the international proletariat failed to evaluate the fall of the socialist proletariat (Luxemburg 49). In turn, they did not learn from their mistakes. Thus, the bourgeoisie took advantage of the situation to make money. In author’s opininion, these concerns confirm that the war was a defeat for working people in all countries, not just Germany.

To further prove that the war was a defeat for working people, labor movements were affected across the globe. For instance, the grave of the Paris Commune ended the first phase of the European labor movement. Due to the disruptions, there were spontaneous revolutions where the proletariat began the systematic “everyday struggle” as they exploited the bourgeois parliamentarianism. The role of the working class was not given much thought during the war. Indeed, the makeup of the working class changed completely. Women had to take up positions in factories because many men who constituted the working class were recruited into the army.

Germany’s Victory

It can be argued that Germany had a Pyrrhic victory. First, the economy had been severely affected by the war. Secondly, they only had a few depopulated territories to annex. Chances of healing the wounds inflicted by the war were a far stretch for any observer.

The German victory held the prospect of unlimited economic growth, but it faced uncertainties such as the survival of the trade unions for the working class (Berenson 511). This was because the union action of the French, English, Belgian and Italian workers was under threat of being thwarted by economic regression. Politically, Germany’s victory would result in the immediate annexation of Belgium. It would then give territories in the east and west, and part of the French colonies to Germany. The Habsburg monarchy would, however, be preserved and enriched with new regions. Turkey would become a German protectorate meaning the transformation of the Middle East into de facto German provinces. It is important to note that an Anglo-French victory would have led to the loss of some German colonies and Alsace-Lorraine. Luxemburg argues that such a loss would not have negatively affected the German economy as much as the whole war did (47).

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Berenson’s Ideas

Berenson argues that socialism was by far one of the first popular movements in the history of the world (513). The fact that the movement encouraged free will in the economy was attractive to the public. However, socialism would not have worked because the German government had to repay the war credits granted by their neighbors, France and England. In essence, the public had to endure massive taxations despite the already failing economy.

Luxemburg had hope for economic growth during the postwar period. However, this was a distant reality for countries such as Italy whose leader at the time was Giovanni Giolitti. There were charges of excessive materialism that promoted a mundane bourgeoisie (Berenson 520). In Germany, liberals fought for “humane treatment of all persons” (Berenson 521). However, due to the highly popular materialism approach, many citizens were more inclined to get wealthy at any cost (Berenson 521). It can be argued that the failing economy and high cost of living also contributed to the rise of materialism.

There was inaction on the economic front as well. Due to inflation, the Italian currency reduced to a fifth of its pre-war value (Berenson 522). The middle class suffered the most due to their fixed incomes and the living wages. The lower social classes had to live in the urban slums or the streets. Consequently, the per capita income decreased drastically.

The outlawing of labour unions in Italy also profoundly affected the global economy in a bid to silence any form of opposition to Mussolini’s leadership (Berenson 517). It suffices to mention, the impact was on a worldwide and not just a national level. Despite the liberation of states from its colonies and the desire for self-rule, some countries such as were unable to establish a critical parliamentary and democratic regime. There was also a seemingly never-ending power struggle in Italy during the post-war period. Mussolini and Giolitti’s power struggle for a coalition government led to violent attacks in the countryside, further damaging the economy.


In conclusion, Luxemburg’s ideas and premises are insightful. Her predictions were direct and thought-provoking. Despite this, her work was widely criticized. It has been argued that many critics of her time judged her work based on three things: the fact that she was a woman, a Pole, and a Jew. Some of her predictions would have informed future leadership on how to address the foreseen economic and political challenges promptly and with efficiency. According to Luxemburg, an awakening of the consciousness would have been instrumental in realizing the desired change in Europe. However, actions such as banning of a majority of independent newspapers in countries such as in Italy by Mussolini derailed such anticipated change. Indeed, the First World War had negative impacts on citizens, and Luxemburg highlights some of these impacts in her book. Berenson’s ideas also echo Luxemburg’s sentiments.

Works Cited

Berenson, Edward. Europe in the Modern World: A New Narrative History, Since 1500. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Luxemburg, Rosa. The War and the Workers. Junius Phamplet, 1916.

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