Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Luxemburg and Trotsky: Revolutionaries at 17

A short piece on the roles that Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky played in the socialist movement from the humble ages of 17. It was originally published in the Irish Militant newspaper in 1988.


Youth have always been to the forefront of political and social change and some of the greatest socialist leaders in history embraced revolutionary ideas at a very early age.

Rosa Luxemburg, a giant of the German revolution and the international workers’ movement, had a gold medal for achievement at school exams withheld ‘on account of her rebellious attitude toward the authorities.’

Born in Poland in 1871, she led one of the many struggles of Polish Jewish students against Russian repression in the schools. Luxemburg became active at 16 in the revolutionary socialist party Proletariat and at 18 helped found the Polish Workers’ League.

Her political ideas were well formed at a young age. At 22, she wrote the new document of principles for the Third Congress of the Socialist International at Zurich and was editing the Workers’ Cause newspaper.

At university in Zurich, she wrote a history of Poland and developed her theory on the national question, arguing that it was inseparable from the struggle for socialism.

The Polish Socialist Party went through hard times and almost disintegrated, but was kept alive by herself and other young revolutionaries like her lover Leo Jogiches who had founded the first ever revolutionary circles in Vilna, aged only 18.By Ruth Coppinger