Clara Zetkin

In Defence of Rosa Luxemburg


Source: The Communist International, Vol. 1, No.2, 1919.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for in August, 2002.

The article written by comrade Louisa Kautsky in commemoration of Rosa Luxemburg (see the Freiheit of January 20, No.36) challenges to energetic opposition all those who intimately knew the greatness of soul of our so foully assassinated comrade. It goes against my inclination to dispute about the deceased as it were before her open grave. Yet truth and friendship prompt me to refute some of the assertions made by Louise Kautsky. I believe I owe it not only to the departed, but also to the living to prevent the caricature of Rosa Luxemburg, as drawn and spread by her numerous enemies, from being any further coarsened and distorted by ill-drawn lines from the hand of a friend.

Louisa Kautsky is right when she says of Rosa Luxemburg as a fighter that “she did not spare even her best friends, on the contrary”. Yet as a friend thoroughly understanding the deceased comrade L. Kautsky ought to have laid stress on some other points besides. The tenacious, thoughtful patience with which she fought for the soul of her oldest friends before setting out top combat them! The sincerity of her grief when she had to take arms against a former confederate, the bitterness of her disappointment when his way of fighting and wielding arms made he recognize that he did not come up to the high ideal she had formed of him. To be sure, Rosa Luxemburg did not spare even her oldest friend if she was honestly convinced that he was detrimental to and wronging the proletarian class-struggle. The cause in her eyes always stood above the person. Once she considered it her duty to combat even her dearest friend she did so with all the weapons at her disposal. With the heavy artillery; of serious scholarly methods and mature theoretical training, with the weighty blows of brilliant dialectics, the dainty foil of irony, wit and derision. Yet at no time did she make use of unchivalrous methods. Here was a thoroughly noble character, incapable of retaliating upon anyone, of weilding the weapons of baseness, even if such were used against herself.

Louisa Kautsky is therefore wrong when she characterizes Rosa Luxemburg thus: “I am sorry to say that in such cases she acted like Lenin, much admired by her, who having once been brought up before a party-tribunal for libelling a party-comrade declared: ‘A political opponent, in particular if he be of our own socialist camp, ought to be fought with poisoned weapons by seeking to arouse the worst possible suspicion against him’.” By the way, I strongly doubt whether the above-mentioned utterance ought really to be taken as characteristic of the great bolshevik leader. I know from the history of the Russian revolution as also from my own experience what a relentless and fear-inspiring opponent comrade Lenin was. Yet libel I did not find among his weapons. Before granting conclusive force to that alleged statement of his I ought to know all the details of the context and the circumstances in which it is said to have been made.

According to my knowledge and feelings Louisa Kautsky ought to have guarded against passing at the end of her commemorative essay, from the purely personal ground to the political one and here insinuating a change – incomprehensible to her – in the ideas and attitude of Rosa Luxemburg. I fully and with heartiest sympathy appreciate what Louisa Kautsky is endeavoring to do for socialism within the limits of her circle and her nature. By no means do I question her right to hold her own opinion on the events and phenomenon that occur in the camp of international socialism. But all this does not alter the fact that in the struggle for socialism she only partakes of the experience of others but has no experience of her own. In consequence, notwithstanding her striving after objectivity, she lacks the true independent attitude towards those phenomena. She regards them from the point of view of her entourage, of a wife trying to understand, closely taking part in the struggle of her husband, but herself not standing in the midst of the fray. Rosa Luxemburg, on the other and, was in the thickest of the fighting and kept a sharp lookout from the high watch-tower she had erected for herself.

Thus it is easily understood, that while the one, scrutinizing and weighing, fought for the historical appreciation of the Russian revolution, the other in lofty self-confidence sat in preconceived judgement upon the “bolshevik heresies” which, “contrary to all reasons have so dazzled and deluded the clear mind of Rosa Luxemburg that she desired to repeat in Germany the experience that had miscarried in Russia.” No need for me to further pursue this crushing verdict, for I am certain that the “experiments that miscarried in Russia” will still have a creative role assigned to them in future history wen what the socialist compromisers have written against them will no longer be able to harm even a mouse. Rosa Luxemburg’s attitude towards the Russian November revolution was consistent and clear. It has not to be judged by incidental utterances about persons and events, utterances that are pardonable with high-spirited persons of subtly differentiated and high-strung sensitiveness, influenced by impressions and things. Rosa Luxemburg valued bolshevism as a whole by its prominent historical importance, and she did not fail to criticize those detail inclinations and her tact forbade her to act as Louisa Kautsky’s demand for consistency in political action obviously seems to have required. That means, to unearth old feuds and antiquated judgement just at the moment when the spies and hangmen of Ebert and Noske were dogging the footsteps of Radek.

I do not desire to argue within the limits of these lines with Louise Kautsky on the question as to which really are the “bolshevik methods that Rosa Luxemburg not only confessed, but unfortunately, even began to practice herself”. All I wish to say is that those “methods” do not correspond to the figure that, for the benefit of the unprincipled and faint-hearted policy of the right wing of the Independent Socialist Party is being drawn on the wall, – a counterfeit that comes very close to the “bolshevik” and “Spartacus” bogey of the government socialists. However, let us mention the “bolshevik methods” no more. With this catchword to explain the miscarriage of the January revolt of Berlin is just as foolish as to attribute the failure of the Paris Commune to its having anticipated the “bolshevik heresies” and “methods”. Rosa Luxemburg did not take her methods of combat from the Russian conditions. She rather deduced them by means of deep research of insight into international development. For Germany she based them on the German conditions, yet not on the conditions of the past period of slack evolution, but on those of the stormy chapter of revolution that began after the rise and unfolding of imperialism.

My friend, Louisa Kautsky, will not be offended if I say what I think, i.e. that the commemoration article was begun by the grateful friend of Rosa Luxemburg and finished by the wife of Karl Kautsky. Rosa Luxemburg would have been the last person to reproach her for it. Out of her consciousness of her own freedom there grew up a leniency towards the inner constraint and dependence of others. It is not the patronage of Louisa Kautsky that will have spoken the last word on Rosa Luxemburg “delusion” and “bolshevik methods”. The final word will be uttered by history. We all who take pride in having been Rosa Luxemburg’s friends and comrades in arms await this verdict.

Clara Zetkin (Germany)


Last updated on 28.2.2004