Rosa Luxemburg – revolutionary socialist, Marxist anti-war activist

Lee Heidhues 1.15.2023

On January 15, 1919 Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were assassinated in Berlin.

In America, the assassinations and life histories of these socialists and anti-war activists is totally unknown and unrecognized.

The lives and political activities of Luxemburg and Liebknecht are widely known and remembered in Germany. There are yearly memorial demonstrations.

Books and movies have been made about Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Perhaps the most famous is the 1986 film Rosa Luxemburg is a 1986 West German drama film directed by Margarethe von Trotta. The film received the 1986 German Film Award for Best Feature Film (Bester Spielfilm), and Barbara Sukowa won the Cannes Film Festival‘s Best Actress Award and the German Film Award for Best Actress for her performance as Rosa Luxemburg.

Excerpted from Wikipedia Last updated 1.3.2023

Rosa Luxemburg  5 March 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a Polish and naturalized-German revolutionary socialistMarxist philosopher and anti-war activist.

Rosa Luxemburg addresses the crowd

Successively, Luxemburg was a member of the Proletariat party, the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund), and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

Born and raised in an assimilated Jewish family in Poland, she became a German citizen in 1897.

Young Rosa Luxemburg

After the SPD supported German involvement in World War I in 1915, Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht co-founded the anti-war Spartacus League (Spartakusbund) which eventually became the KPD. During the November Revolution, Luxemburg co-founded the newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), the central organ of the Spartacist movement. Luxemburg considered the Spartacist uprising of January 1919 a blunder, but supported the attempted overthrow of the government and rejected any attempt at a negotiated solution.

Friedrich Ebert‘s majority SPD government crushed the revolt and the Spartakusbund by sending in the Freikorps, government-sponsored paramilitary groups consisting mostly of World War I veterans. Freikorps troops captured and assassinated Luxemburg and Liebknecht during the rebellion.

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were abducted in Berlin on 15 January 1919 by the Rifle Division of the Cavalry Guards of the Freikorps (Garde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision). 

Rosa known as Red Rosa Luxemburg

Its commander Captain Waldemar Pabst, with Lieutenant Horst von Pflugk-Harttung, questioned them under torture and then gave the order to summarily execute them.

Luxemburg was assassinated by being knocked down with a rifle butt by the soldier Otto Runge, then shot in the head, either by Lieutenant Kurt Vogel or by Lieutenant Hermann Souchon. Her body was flung into Berlin’s Landwehr Canal. In the Tiergarten, Liebknecht was shot and his body, without a name, brought to a morgue.

The assassinations of Luxemburg and Liebknecht inspired a new wave of violence in Berlin and across Germany. Thousands of members of the KPD as well as other revolutionaries and civilians were killed. Finally, the People’s Navy Division (Volksmarinedivision) and workers’ and soldiers’ councils which had moved to the political left disbanded. Luxemburg was held in high regard by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, who recognized her revolutionary credentials at the Third International.

Annual march honoring Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

In Berlin a Liebknecht-Luxemburg Demonstration, shortened to LL-Demo, is organized annually in the month of January around the date of their death. This demonstration takes place on the second weekend of the month in Berlin-Friedrichshain, starting near the Frankfurter Tor to the central cemetery Friedrichsfelde, also known as the Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten (Socialist Memorial). In East Germany, the event was widely considered to be a mere show for Socialist Unity Party of Germany politicians and celebrities, which was broadcast live on state television.

In 1919, Bertolt Brecht wrote the poetic memorial Epitaph honouring Luxemburg and Kurt Weill set it to music in The Berlin Requiem in 1928:

Red Rosa now has vanished too,
And where she lies is hid from view.
She told the poor what life’s about,
And so the rich have rubbed her out.
May she rest in peace.