This past week has seen the remembrance and commemoration of one the worlds greatest Marxist thinkers, the Polish-born revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. In Germany, an estimated 20,000 people came out in dignified fashion to remember the communist leaders of the Spartacist Uprising, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and the multiple leftist workers who were tortured and murdered by right-wing death squads when the uprising fell.
In Berlin, leftists of various radical affiliations solemnly paid respects to the two lost leaders of the working class, placing flowers at their graves and a note which read “Peace, bread, roses, freedom”. Communists from across Europe came out to commemorate the event including British communists who ran the headline “Red Rosa, the communist eagle”, Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin’s description of the budding revolutionary.
Rosa Luxemburg’s popularity and important place in left-wing circles can be owed to her pioneering role in revolutionary politics in a scene mostly dominated by men. A notable critic of World War 1, she became a founding member of the Communist Party of Germany. Her brutal death, beaten tortured shot and thrown in a lake, by the Freikorps (the far right paramilitary forerunners to Hitlers Brownshirts) mean that many radicals see her as a lost leader of the working class in Europe. Whilst she disagreed with the Bolsheviks on various issues, her solidarity to the international revolution led her to help lead the Spartacist League and attempt to establish a Soviet government in Germany.
Her murder and subsequent martyrdom lay not only at the hands of the far right but also the centre-left Social Democratic Party who sanctioned the Freikorps to brutally put down the workers’ revolt. The state-sanctioned assassinations of Liebknecht and Luxemburg led to an irreversible split between the social democrats and the communists with both parties pitted against each other throughout the history of the Weimar Republic. The lack of a united front became one of the factors that led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in the 1930s.
To date, the SPD has never officially apologised for its role in the murders despite evidence that Gustav Noske, the minister of defence at the time, signed off on the murders instead of imprisoning the leaders. After effects of the killings of 1919 can still be felt today in German politics. Die Linke, the descendant of the former ruling socialist party of East Germany, accuses the SPD of betraying the working class now as it did then.
Rosa Luxemburg’s impact on politics cannot be downplayed. Her contributions to Marxist theory on issues such as imperialism and the national question are considerable. Her writings most famous statement of “Socialism or Barbarism” rings true today as it did in the ’30s with the rise of far-right forces and decaying capitalism. Rosa Luxemburg message is as factual now as it was when she wrote her thesis’ and through this acknowledgement can her memory be best remembered. Her sorrowful demise at the hands of fascists and opportunists cannot compromise her work as an empowered Jewish female spokesperson of the working class.
A true revolutionary, her message lives on.