(ON 15th January, 1919, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, both leaders of the Communist Party of Germany, were hunted down by the ‘Freikorps’ ("Free Corps”), a private militia, and assassinated at the behest of the Government headed by the Social Democratic SPD. In this feature, Liberation salutes the legacy of Comrades Karl and Rosa. In future issues in 2019, we will revisit Rosa Luxemburg’s polemical works and her letters.)
Epitaphs For Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
(Bertolt Brecht’s epitaphs for the two fallen German Communists)
Red Rosa has also now disappeared
Where she lies is unknown
Because she told the truth to the poor
The rich have hunted her out of the world.
Epitaph for Karl Liebknecht
The fighter against war
When he was struck down
Our city still continued to stand.
Epitaph for Rosa Luxemburg
Here lies buried
A Jewess from Poland
Champion of the German workers Murdered on the orders of
The German oppressors. Oppressed;
Bury your differences!
Translated from the German by V.P. Sharma (courtesy Revolutionary Democracy, April 1999)
Death To The Butchers
"Today the bourgeoisie and the social-traitors are jubilating in Berlin -- they have succeeded in murdering Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Elbert and Scheidemann who for four years led the workers to the slaughter for the sake of depredation, have now assumed the role of butchers of the proletarian leaders. The example of the German revolution proves that democracy is only a camouflage for bourgeois robbery and the most savage violence. Death to the butchers.” - V I Lenin
I Was, I Am, I Shall Be!
(From Rosa Luxemburg’s last article, ‘Order Prevails in Berlin’, Rote Fahne, written on 14 January 1919 a day before her assassination)
The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this "defeat" they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this "defeat."
"Order prevails in Berlin!" You foolish lackeys! Your "order" is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will "rise up again, clashing its weapons," and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!
A Short Life
(Walter Jens, From Rosa Luxemburg: Neither Poet nor Petroleuse, 1995)
A short life; full of persecution, constantly spied on, time and again living illegally or being incarcerated, being released then imprisoned again, she was living on the margins of society. She entered into marriage to obtain a German passport; her face eventually betraying the scars of martyrdom in full knowledge of what was to come: she that wanted to die “at her station”, in open battle, fell into the hands of murderers in uniform, unaccompanied by any of her comrades. “Here comes little Rosie, the old harlot”, cried the soldiers as she entered Hotel Eden to be abused and mistreated. One of the perpetrators later offered for sale a shoe which the victim had lost in that unimaginably grim death dance.
Again – a short life full of persecution. Short due to her execution by those who, on the night of 15th January 1919, had proven themselves to be just as Rosa Luxemburg had described them: inhumane and merciless.
A short life, but one that – as her letters show – was characterised by enthusiasm and inspiration, by great triumphs and battles won for the social-democratic Left. A life characterised by daring love stories oscillating between ecstasy and estrangement, by affairs with younger men and, later on, friendships with older women – adventures and tightrope walks on the boundaries between politics and the personal/ private, between great love and the pragmatism of small disclosures.
Clara Zetkin on Rosa
(From Clara Zetkin’s May 1919 article about the legacy of her close friend and comrade Rosa Luxemburg, and in particular about her work, the ‘Junius Pamphlet’.)
It is as though Rosa Luxemburg, in anticipation of her sudden end, had gathered together in the Junius Pamphlet all the forces of her genial nature for a great work – the scientific, penetrating, independently searching and pondering mind of the theoretician, the fearless, burning passion of the convinced, daring revolutionary fighter, the inner richness and the splendid wealth of expression of the ever struggling artist. …The Junius Pamphlet was an individual revolutionary deed. It must give birth to revolutionary mass action. It is of the dynamite of the spirit which is blasting the bourgeois order. The socialistic society rising in its place is the only fitting monument for Leo Jogisches and Rosa Luxemburg. And this monument is being reared by the revolution for which they lived and died.