A hundred years since the assassinations of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, the eagle is still flying

The Red Rose of the revolution was a bold, persistent and deeply critical militant, who dedicated her life to promoting the revolutionary struggle. Rosa and her comrade Liebknecht left us timeless lessons.

From very young, Rosa Luxembourg dedicated herself to the study of Marxism and the active participation in workers organizations. Born in Poland in 1871 “of weak and sickly constitution, Rosa surprised everyone with her mind”, got involved in activism with just 16 years of age and in 1889, facing the persecution of proletarian organizations and the possibility of going of prison, she escaped from Poland to Zurich, where she studied and took her first steps in internationalism.

In the Congress of the Socialist International in 1892, being 22 years old, she represented her party (Polish Social Democratic Party). She traveled to Germany in 1898, where her theoretical debates and interventions in workers meetings led her to quickly occupy an important place in the German Social Democratic Party. Battling to be heard, she deepened the discussions on the role of women inside workers organizations, explaining the need for a socialist feminism with her economic and political elaborations. Her intellectual development and her active participation turned Rosa into an integral militant known worldwide as a great revolutionary socialist leader, as her friend and comrade Clara Zetkin said: “Rosa Luxembourg symbolizes the sword and flame of the revolution, and her name shall be engraved in the centuries as one of the most glorious figures of international socialism”.

Reform or revolution?

Her militancy in the German party was signed by great strategic debates against the reformist sectors. “Social reform or social revolution” was the name of the pamphlet that expressed the struggle against revisionism. Bernstein, the leader of the reformist wing, characterized that the organization of the workers movement should materialize in a party of socialist democratic reforms, arguing that the capitalism was headed towards a period of prosperity that would make social contradictions diminish. For Bernstein, the task of the workers party was to fight in the unions and in Parliament to conquest, one by one, better living conditions for the working class. In this, he expressed the abandonment of the Marxist interpretation of capitalist development and, therefore, the abandonment of the strategy of the seizure of power through revolution. Confronting revisionism, Rosa defended Marxism and deepened the debate of the political orientation of workers organizations. To this day, many of her ideas and thesis are still valid. Rosa clearly expressed that when Bernstein denied the contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production in capitalist development, in the end, he was giving up the struggle for socialism, he was talking about socialism only on the ideological level, abandoning the class struggle and the understanding of its historical and material base. She also denounced how his parliamentarian position constituted a disregard of the class character of the bourgeois state and showed the dangers the party was in if it adapted to bourgeois policy.

Militant internationalism

Her tenacious mind was accompanied by the need to participate in every event. In 1905 she traveled to Warsaw to experience and write about the revolution that would lead her, once back in Germany, to deepen the differences she held with the leadership of the SPD. As she was getting farther from the opportunist positions of social-democracy, she was more respected and loved by the workers that went to hear her at every rally. As German social-democracy was growing in organization and won more seats in the parliament, the suspicions that if Rosa were in the leadership of the party, when facing events that needed a fast response she wouldn’t be conservative or opportunist, also grew. The outbreak of the world war was determinant: in the voting of the war credits, the SPD voted affirmatively under the wing of the reformist and pro-imperialist position. This crossed a limit of principles, not only for Rosa but for the entire revolutionary wing, expressed in the negative vote of Karl Liebknecht. When Trotsky found out about their murders, he refered to this heroic revolutionary action: “In France where the mood of the broad masses then found itself under the heel of the German onslaught; where the ruling party of French social-patriots declared to the proletariat the necessity to fight not for life but until death; even in France Liebknecht’s voice rang out warning and sobering, exploding the barricades of lies, slander and panic. It could be sensed that Liebknecht alone reflected the stifled masses. In fact, however, even then he was not alone as the courageous, unswerving and heroic Rosa Luxembourg came forward, hand in hand with him from the first day of the war. The laws of German bourgeois parliamentarism did not allow her the possibility of launching her protest from the tribune of parliament as Liebknecht did and thus she was less heard. But her part in the awakening of the best elements of the German working class was in no way less than that of her comrade in struggle and in death, Karl Liebknecht. These two fighters complemented each other and marched towards a common goal”. Because of this, Rosa, Karl, Clara Zetkin and Franz Mehring founded the Spartacus League in 1918. Their anti-war actions got Rosa arrested several times. From prison she supported the growth of the League, which then became the German Communist Party and received the news of the Russian Revolution. Freed by the beginning of the German Revolution and, although she was a strong defender of the general strike as a main tool for the beginning of the revolution, she thought that in Germany were the subjective conditions for a triumphant revolution were not ripe. She deeply debated this matter with Karl Liebknecht, while there was an ascent of struggles that caused the general strike against the social-democratic government, thousands of workers ere murdered and on January 15, 1919, the orders of the German government were clear: they wanted to end any revolutionary sign. Reformism allied with the proto-fascist sectors (Freikorps) that captured, tortured and shot Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, throwing them into the waters of the Landwehr channel in Berlin.

The revolution shall rise vibrant

A hundred years after her murder, the validity of her debates force revolutionaries to continue thinking and acting against any intervention of the opportunist and sectarian reformism that emerges as a subjective obstacle for the development of the worldwide revolution. The international organization of the revolutionaries is crucial in the face of a rotting imperialism and the deepening of a civil and environmental crisis.

Building anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, ecosocialist and feminist organizations to fight capital becomes an important task, with the regrouping of the revolutionaries in the face of a savage capitalism and patriarchy. Rosa´s last words portray that, even in a difficult situation, we must not forget that we are moved by a revolutionary spirit and the hope for a world without oppression or exploitation. To the capitalist bourgeoisie and reformism we scream with Rosa: “Tomorrow the revolution will rise again and announce with all its fanfare,’ to your horror: I was, I am, I shall be!”.

Nadia Burgos