Amadeo Bordiga

In the Red Light of Sacrifice
Karl Liebknecht ... Rosa Luxemburg

(26 January 1919)

From Il Soviet, II/6, 26 January 1919 (unsigned).
The Italian text was taken from Amadeo Bordiga, Scritti 1911–1926, 3, Lotte sociali e prospettive rivoluzionarie del dopoguerra, 1918–1919, edited by Luigi Gerosa, Formia: Fondazione Amadeo Bordiga, 2010.
Translated by David Broder for MIA.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive

In our last issue we did not want to speak of the terrible crime perpetrated by the gloating reactionaries in Germany. There was still some element of doubt about the news, and still some possibility that the monstrous tragedy was merely the brainchild of the sinister, Torquemada-like fantasies of the preening hyenas that count for capitalism’s journalists. [1]

Alas, in its heinous implementation the reality has gone beyond even a persecutor’s most sadistic and finely-tuned fantasies. With the barbaric joy of the vendetta, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were exposed to the insults of the mindless rabble, drunk on lies and probably bought-off. They were beaten, martyrized, disgracefully murdered, their lifeless bodies abused and left to the mercy of delinquent brutes.

The proletarians must never forget this massacre! This date, these names, the horrific details, must remain solidly fixed in their memory and in their hearts, until the majestic day of vengeance comes!

The German social-nationalist renegades’ daily, the degenerate “Vorwärts!” succeeded in its shameful work of bloody perversion, whipping up the lowliest of plebeian passions.

This rag, which never quibbled when the Kaiser, the Crown Prince, Lüdendorff and Hindenburg sent millions of proletarians to the slaughter in the blood-soaked fields of France, and indeed stood right behind them, safely protected in their cosy headquarters, getting drunk on stolen champagne with females-for-hire; nonetheless immediately found cause for caricature and incitement against Karl and Rosa, who were not among the hundred proletarian dead in Red Week, as its editors, the minions of bourgeois and militarist reaction, had so craved!

When they looked upon the faultless life of two great agitators, the iron consistency of their conduct, and the unfailing rigidity of their convictions and their action, they were enraged to see a constant rebuke of their own devious past subservience to Kaiserism. But this hatred has finally found satisfaction.

Karl and Rosa, the unshakeable champions of the proletariat’s full right, the irreconcilable opponents of all pleas for compromise between exploiters and exploited, the apostles of the new communist and egalitarian society, have fallen. In their noble martyrdom they are again bound together by their ideal, as they already had been in their lives of action.

Those who profane socialism, the Eberts, Scheidemanns and Noskes, are rejoicing, and their rejoicing shines through from the hypocritical handwringing through which they try to show themselves pained and reproachful. And rejoicing behind them, even more so, are the militarists, the generals who suddenly became saviours of the fatherland again, as in August 1914, those officers who tyrannise the streets of Berlin, epauletted and hobnailed, as in the golden days of Wilhelm and the Round Table, insulting and abusing passers-by, insulting and ... caressing women, shooting the proletarian rebels in their barracks.

And behind them can already be heard the mocking roars of laughter from the capitalist – from the Junker who will again be able to rob and cudgel the peasants on his estate, from the industrialist freed of the danger of having to give the worker the full fruits of labour, from the trader allowed to go on with his noble operation robbing both producer and consumer, from the rentier exempted from any obligation on him, too, to work in order to eat ...

The government has won, with the White Guard bayonets. But there are victories that dishonour, and defeats that prepare the way for the future!

The German majority [Social Democrats] will not be able enjoy the fruits of a victory paid for with proletarian blood and the lives of the two most strenuous, convinced defenders of proletarian right in Germany. For when, in defence of their power, itself stolen from the Revolution, they arm the bourgeois, the officers, the students, the soldiers who are such recent veterans of four years of unspeakable exertions and desirous of rest at all costs, they have signed their own political death sentences. Already now they are the prisoners of reaction, and they will have to give way and hand back the leadership of the state to bourgeois, military, capitalist reaction.

That day, the colossal political fraud which they have perpetrated to the detriment of the revolution, of socialism, of the proletariat, will become obvious even to that part of the German proletariat which is still to wake up from the effects of the jingo-patriotic narcotic so fulsomely foisted on it by the bourgeois and the majority [Social Democrats] during the four years of war. That day, the proletariat will see, and will know. That day, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg will have their inevitable crowning with glory – and Spartacus will have triumphed!

We expect that day with the surest confidence. It will not take long for the German proletariat to realise the folly of giving up the birth of its total and definitive emancipation from capitalism, both indigenous and foreign, just for a meagre ration of order and the generosity of the victorious bourgeoisies. Nor will it be too late. For no force can now stop the proletarian revolution’s advance through the world. And the German proletariat is too gigantic a force for it to be constrained by the shackles of parliaments and constituent assemblies, once it has become conscious of itself.

Then, the giant shadow of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg will cover a renewed world, and they will be revered in the faithful hearts of the proletarians around the world as heroes and pioneers.

Shortly before his death, Spartacus said that “Victory will be ours, for Spartacus stands for the fire and the spirit, the soul and the heart, the violent action of the proletarian Revolution. Spartacus stands for all the proletariat’s hardships and all its yearnings for happiness. It stands for socialism, the world revolution-” [2]

This is why, even as we are pained by the massacre of two apostles of communism, even as we tremble at it, we accept their fate. Before an idea triumphs it must be ennobled by the sacrifice of its first and most generous defenders. Every religion .– and socialism is the religion of the new age – needs its martyrs.

Yesterday these martyrs were called Christ, Hus, and Giordano Bruno. Today they are called Jaurès, Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Each of them fell for their faith. But the executioners came and went, and Christianity, the Protestant Reformation and freedom of thought triumphed. And today’s murderers will also pass, giving way to new, free, equal people in fraternal bond around the world. In each hour of their lives, finally become a happy life of love, they will be moved to think, in memory and gratitude, of the two great figures whose sacrifice prepared their happiness – Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.



1. A bulletin from Zurich by the Stefani news agency dated 16 January had reported the shooting of Liebknecht. News of the murder was confirmed by Avanti! on 18 January.

2. The passage is taken from Liebknecht’s last article before his death, Trotz Alledem, published by Die Rote Fahne on 15 January. Bordiga’s text, here retranslated into English [English version here], contains inaccuracies not present in the Milan Avanti! translation which appeared on the same day as this article (26 January): the German says “will and deed” not “violent action” and in the second sentence cited refers to the “class-conscious proletariat” and its “fighting resolve”.

Last updated on 14 January 2021