When it comes to voting for "woman of the Twentieth Century
" my vote goes to Rosa Luxemburg
, for her powerful revolutionary
writings and for her bravery in fighting for her principles.
Rosa Luxemburg was born in 1871 in the small Polish town of Zamosc. At the age of 16 she joined Proletariat, a revolutionary socialist party. Police pressure eventually led Luxemburg to travelling through Europe, in order to help her party from abroad. She very quickly became known throughout the socialist movement for her fervent writings and speeches and for the revolutionary spirit of the newspapers she edited. Rosa Luxemburg was particularly prominent in campaigning for women's equality and against militarism.
The German Social Democratic Party was the largest in Europe and was seen as the beacon for socialists at the turn of the century. However Luxemburg was disillusioned to find a conservative and bureaucratic mentality amongst its senior members. Her pamphlet "Reform or Revolution" took up the argument against those willing to settle simply for parliamentary representation for Labour. Still today this pamphlet makes for very fresh reading and at the time, the old men of the SDP hated her for it.
In 1905 a revolution accompanied by enormous strikes broke out in Russia and Poland. Rosa Luxemburg raced to join events and produce a paper that could give voice to the risen working class. The only way she could get into Poland was to daringly smuggle herself into a train bringing counter-revolutionary troops to the country. On her return after the defeat of the revolution she produced another pamphlet that makes for wonderful reading "The Mass Strike". She then went on a notorious speaking tour to draw the lessons for future revolutions.
Shortly before the Great War Rosa Luxemburg was arrested for saying to German soldiers: "if they expect us to murder our French or other foreign brothers, then let us tell them 'No. Under no circumstances'". From jail she was shocked when the SPD supported the War, and it was around her clandestine writings that the antiwar socialists began to rally. Rosa Luxemburg welcomed the Russian Revolution of 1917, and in 1918 she was released from jail by the German revolution she had lived for.
Tragically her own death was a crucial turning point in the course of the German revolution. A premature rising of workers in Berlin, January 1918, which Luxemburg advised against, was crushed by the SPD opponents of Luxemburg - in power now that the Kaiser had fallen. In the aftermath of the semi-rising a witchhunt was mounted against Rosa Luxemburg, who refused to go into hiding. But once the military captured her they had no intention of allowing Luxemburg to continue her fight for socialism.
On 15 January 1919, "the finest brain amongst the scientific successors to Marx and Engels"(as one contemporary wrote) was smashed to pieces with the butt of a soldiers rifle.