In the Hotel Eden in Berlin, soldier Runge smashes his skull and face with rifle butts; another soldier, also in the service of Captain Pabst, finishes it with a shot in the neck. They tie his corpse to sacks with stones so that it weighs and does not float, and is thrown into one of the channels of the river Spree, near the Cornelio bridge. It will not appear until two weeks later. The government of the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert ended the life of Rosa Luxemburg (RL), the most important Marxist leader in history, former member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the most significant leader of the Spartacist League and founder of the Communist Party of Germany.
A few minutes earlier, the same characters had killed RL's main companion in his long march. Karl Liebknecht, the only parliamentarian who in the first instance (year 1914) voted in the Reichstag (Parliament) against the war credits to finance the presence of Germany in the First World War, was to be transferred to prison from the same hotel, but before leaving the premises where he had been interrogated, he was given two rifle butts which left him stunned and fainted; dragged to a car, is transferred to the Tiergarten, the large Berlin park, where is shot in cold blood with pistol shots and abandoned on the ground until someone finds it. "Attempt to escape", will say the official note; that of Luxembourg will pray: "Linchada by the masses".
It was the night of January 15, 1919. This Tuesday marks the centenary of the arrest and murder of the main leaders of the Spartacist League and historical icons of the German revolution of 1918-1919, which erupts immediately after the German Army was defeated and humiliated in the Great War. RL had spent the four long years of war in prison, after a rally in Frankfurt, had asked the soldiers, with his overwhelming oratory, to refuse to fight, brothers against brothers, and workers in his country , that they would initiate a general strike that had to be spread to the workers of the other countries in the opposite side, so that all would converge under the same flag beyond the homelands. He leaves prison in early November 1918 and joins the revolutionary wave that floods the streets of major cities and, above all, Berlin. Two years before, at another rally, on May 1, 1916, in the middle of the conflagration, Liebknecht ends his speech with the cry of "Down with the war, down with the government!". He is also arrested and goes to prison for two and a half years. It leaves on October 23, 1918.
From that moment on, the two Spartacist leaders had barely two months to live, and they devoted their efforts to publish a newspaper (The Red Flag) and founding the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). They become objects of contempt and hatred of their former colleagues of the Social Democracy, who had ruled in Germany for a few weeks before. I hate mortal. The historian Sebastian Haffner (The German Revolution of 1918-1919; Unpublished History) writes that the murder of RL and Liebknecht was planned, at the latest, in early December 1918 and was carried out systematically. Posters appeared on street poles that said: "Workers, citizens! The end is near to the motherland! Save her! It is threatened, not from outside, but from within, by the Spartacist League. Kill your leaders! Kill Liebknecht! Then you will have peace, work and bread! " Signed: "The soldiers from the front." Despite the widespread threats, neither of them left Berlin nor carried bodyguards; they simply changed their address.
Who were the intellectual authors of the murder? The material protagonist was Captain Pabst (who decades later, in 1962, protected by the prescription of the crime, spoke openly of what happened) and his death squad, but -according to the historian Haffner- they did not act as mere executors who obeyed with indifference an order, but as volunteer authors and convinced of what they did. The bourgeois and social democratic press unwittingly spread successive incitements to murder, while the Social Democratic leaders -Ebert, Noske, Scheidemann … – looked away and remained silent.
When RL and Liebknecht leave prison, the German fronts of the war are falling apart and the demoralization in the trenches is spreading. Kaiser Wilhelm II takes refuge in the Netherlands. The same day that RL is released, the Social Democrat Scheidemann proclaims the German Republic from a balcony of the Reichstag. Ebert holds the presidency, forms a Council of Moderate Social Democratic Ministers and asks the people to leave the streets and return to normal. The majority wing of the SPD wanted the republic and the liberties, while the Spartacists wanted the proletarian revolution, as the proclamations indicate: "The time has come for the various manifestos, the platonic resolutions and the booming words. For the International the time of action has sounded. " Both factions, reformists and revolutionaries, will fight fiercely on the streets of Berlin, sometimes building by building. The Government of Ebert entrusts the repression of the insurgents to the moderate Social-Democrat Noske, who organizes a military force in which it allows the integration of the officers of the former monarchical army. On January 13 the Spartacist insurrection had been suppressed. Two days later, they violently end up with the lives of their main leaders.
RL did not reach his 50th birthday. Born in Russian Poland in the year 1871 in a Jewish family, she soon realized that the struggle for her Marxist ideology would be very limited if she stayed in her country and that to have influence she had to cross the border into Germany, where there was the strongest Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the world. To be a legal German citizen, she signed a marriage of convenience with a German socialist, which gave her the right to the nationality of that country. As of that moment, Germany was its main field of action. Within the Social Democracy and the Second International, he combined theory (multitude of articles and very important books) and praxis (intervention in congresses, debates with many of the popes of Marxism – his friend Franz Mehring defined it as "the best head after Marx "-, classes at the party training school …). On the other hand, he had no organizational skills. His physical presence was a mixture of strength and tenderness, of decision and of prudence, his biographers say. A Jewish leader describes it as follows: "Rosa was small, with a large head and typically Jewish features, with a large nose, a difficult gait, sometimes irregular due to a slight limp. The first impression was unfavorable, but it was enough to spend a moment with her to see what life and what energy there was in that woman, what great intelligence she possessed, what her intellectual level was. "
Of his vast theoretical production, the themes that are part of his legacy stand out and which constitute what, once Rosa died, was called "Luxemburgism", a Marxist school with its own characteristics: its pacifism, its struggle against revisionism and the defense of democracy within the revolution. His positions, sometimes intransigent, made him argue with the most relevant figures of Marxist socialism, like Lenin, Trotsky, Bernstein, Kautsky …
He recommended preparing the masses to take advantage of national and international crises and assault power
Claiming the best Marxism (although also polemicized with some of the ideas of Marx economist in the book The accumulation of capital), argued in favor of internationalism as a way of thinking and living. The Communist Manifesto ended with the famous formula "Proletarians of all countries, unite!", And RL and Liebknecht made it their own by relating it to the Great War. The social democratic parties had traditionally argued that in the event of a war between capitalist powers, the workers would refuse to fight and call the general strike (the "mass strike" in Luxembourgish terminology). But at the decisive moment, the SPD, the largest and most influential party of the Second International (more than a million members), voted in favor of the war loans, and the rest of the socialist parties followed in its footsteps. Each of them stood behind their governments. The homeland prevailed over social class.
Already at the beginning of the 20th century, in a congress of the International in Paris, RL presented a presentation of deeply antimilitarist convictions, which he would maintain until the end of his days. It defended that the armed attacks between imperialist powers would become in formidable revolutionary conjunctures. Seventeen years later, the Bolshevik revolution was an irrefutable testimony of this thesis. RL recommended not only an open criticism of imperialism, but that the masses be prepared with a view to taking advantage of international crises and the possible national crises generated by those to assault power. He considered it essential to intensify the action of all socialist parties against militarism.
Seven years later, in another congress of the International, RL presents an amendment signed jointly with Lenin and Martos (who would later be the Menshevik leader) who maintains that, if there is a threat that the war will break out, it is the obligation of the working class and of the parliamentary representatives, with the help of the International as coordinating power, to make every effort to avoid violent confrontations; in the event that the armed conflict multiplied nevertheless, it was their obligation to intervene in order to end it immediately and take advantage of the crisis created by the war to stir the deepest strata of the people to "precipitate the fall of capitalist domination" " These words were a call to insurrection, which was what the Spartacists did in 1919, with the participation of RL.
That Rosa Luxemburg, murdered by the Prussian soldiers, more than possibly with the active or passive complicity of her former social-democratic comrades, was dismissed at her funeral by her friend Clara Zetkin (another Spartacist) with the following words: "In Rosa Luxemburg, the Socialist idea was a dominant and powerful passion of the heart and brain; a truly creative passion that burned incessantly. (…) Rosa was the sharp sword, the living flame of the revolution. "
The core of RL's political allies was always very small. On the contrary, that of his adversaries, among whom were many of the leaders of the right wing of the Social Democracy and the bureaucratized trade unionists, whom he attacked without mercy. But both nuclei were mobile targets: they depended on the moments and the themes. Lenin, Trotsky, Kautsky, Jaurès, etc., were some of the legendary Marxists who shared and dissented from the ideology and political practice of the German. An example of this was the relationship with Lenin, the Soviet leader; both admired and agreed, but also criticized.
In 1918, just a few months after the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution, RL publishes a pamphlet entitled The Russian Revolution that vindicates the events of Leningrad and Moscow, but that criticizes some aspects that can distort its future, especially those related to revolutionary terror. (which would largely star a Polish friend of RL, who would direct the Cheka and the headquarters of the Lubyanka, the bloody Felix Dzerzhinski) and the suppression of democracy.
In the cited pamphlet, RL writes that only the freedom of those who support the government, only freedom for members of a party, "is not freedom at all. Freedom is always freedom for those who think differently. " He believed that socialism can only be the result of the development of the society that constructs it, and for that, the broadest freedom among the people is required (which does not mean that political control is not necessary). If political life is stifled, paralysis will eventually affect the lives of the soviets; without general elections, without freedom of press and of meeting, without the free confrontation of opinions, the life of any political institution will perish, it will become an apparent life in which the bureaucracy will be the only living element.
In his book on the Russian revolution, the revolutionary RL guesses premonitoryly with what was to happen in the Soviet Union, especially from the moment the Stalinist future begins. Some dozen leaders of the Party, animated by an inexhaustible energy and by an idealism without limits, will direct and govern; Real power will be found in the hands of a few of them, endowed with a unique intelligence. The labor aristocracy will be invited from time to time to attend the meetings to applaud the speeches of the leaders and to vote unanimously the proposed resolutions; in the end it will be a government of cliques, a dictatorship in truth, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but a dictatorship of a handful of politicians. In many cases the reality surpassed the Luxembourg forecasts.
In spite of this severe questioning, he vindicates the historical role of Lenin's party, always in opposition to his German comrades: "That is why the Bolsheviks represented all the honor and revolutionary capacity that Western social democracy lacked. His October uprising not only saved the Russian revolution; he also saved the honor of international socialism. "
With this idea of democracy it is explained that Stalin never raised Rosa Luxemburg to the altar of the maximum iconography of socialism. She was an heterodox until the end of her life.