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Rosa Luxemburg And Karl Liebknecht

Alex McCrory reflects on the deaths of two German revolutionaries a century ago.

100 years ago, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by a bunch of reactionaries who sold out the German working class for seats of power. In the historiography of the international socialist movement, there is a special place reserved for the German Social Democratic Party (SDP) because of its cowardice in the face of great crisis.

At a critical stage in the development of the international socialist movement, and at the precise moment when the working class desperately needed clear leadership, social democrats across Europe supported the imperialist designs of respective national bourgeoisie. In a stroke of political chicanery, the Marxists offered the working class as cannon fodder for the imperialist generals. Millions of workers died in the most destructive war in history because of an act of outright betrayal by their self-proclaimed leaders.

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were two prominent members on the left-wing of the Social Democratic Party. Both were ideologically opposed to the imperialist war and vehemently condemned their own party for supporting German militarism. Quite simply, the war could not have been fought without the participation of the working class of all nations. Who else would be gullible enough to wallow in the mire of the trenches only the worker whipped into a state of frenzy by imperialist propaganda. Workers' lives were cheap at half the price.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht were expelled from the SDP for opposing war credits to finance the imperialist slaughter. Angry and disillusioned by the capitulation of the socialists, they formed the revolutionary Spartacus League (Spartakusbund), a forerunner to the powerful German Communist Party (KDP). It's goal to overthrow the Weimar Republic and replace it with a Soviet type system. A general strike backed by defensive military action were the revolutionary methods chosen for the task.

A revolutionary situation existed in Germany in 1918-1919, and the Spartakusbund attempted to take full advantage by calling general strike in January 1919, which lasted for seven days. It was violently suppressed by the government using the Freikorps, a militia made up of war veterans. This defeat would mean the end for Luxemburg and Liebknecht as acknowledged leaders of the uprising.

As so often happens with revolutionary movements, former comrades become bitter enemies. Although Luxemburg and Liebknecht were dispatched by members of the Freikorps, the execution orders were signed by former comrades. It is not difficult to see how the existence of these two principled revolutionaries challenged the legitimacy of the class traitors occupying the high offices of the Weimar Republic. They stood as a reminder of the abject betrayal of the German working class movement. Forgiveness or amnesty was not on the cards for these two.

I have always had a personal liking for Rosa Luxemburg. Anybody that would intellectually challenge revolutionary giants like Lenin and Trotsky is a force to be reckoned with: That she was a woman made it even more audacious and untypical of the period. Her ideas on revolutionary democracy and class organisation demand serious consideration. She was not a Leninist having been forged in a different revolutionary milieu. For Luxemburg the working class would achieve its own emancipation assisted by the revolutionary party acting as the highest form of proletarian consciousness.


Alec McCrory is a former republican prisoner and blanketman.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

1 comment to ''Rosa Luxemburg And Karl Liebknecht"

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  1. Good piece Alex - always preferred her to the autocratic Marxists. Some provided some great insights

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