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Joseph Carter

Our Martyrs

Liebknecht and Luxemburg

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 2 (Whole No. 98), 9 January 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On January 15th 1919, the leaders of the revolutionary German working class, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were murdered in the streets of Berlin. The ruling class of Germany, fearing these two heroic and dauntless fighters, their ability to mobilize the proletariat for the proletarian dictatorship and socialism, called upon the lackeys of the capitalist class, the social democrats, Noske, Schiedeman, Ebert, to stem the revolutionary tide, to murder its outstanding leaders and fighters. The official social democracy carried out these instructions; murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg, destroyed the Spartacus movement. For the time being it saved Germany – for wage slavery and exploitation. Luxemburg and Liebknecht remain the symbol of proletarian struggle for emancipation; the German and international social democracy continue as the active henchmen of capitalism.

Both Rosa and Karl had, long before 1919, fought the treacherous policies of the social democracy within the official movement. Luxemburg took up the struggle against both the revisionism and opportunism of Bernstein, David, Legien, and Noske, and the academic centrism of Karl Kautsky. Previous to this she had been active in the Polish movement where she fought tooth and nail against the nationalist position of the leaders. Closely in contact with the Russian social democracy she followed the revolution of 1905 with the greatest interest. She recognized the importance of the leading role of the proletariat in the democratic revolution. She wrote a brochure in which she drew some lessons on mass political strikes, trade unions, relations between trade unions and for the German party and international working class from the Russian events.

Luxemburg not only popularised the writings of Marx, especially on economics but wrote a theoretical work which attempts to apply the economic laws discovered by Marx to the stage of the imperialist capitalism (Accumulation of Capital). Her knowledge and treatment of Marxism, not as a dogma but a revolutionary method of penetrating, knowing and transforming social reality, made Rosa one of the few original thinkers the revolutionary movement has produced since Marx and Engels. She actively participated in all phases of the social-democratic movement, women’s work, practical politics, theoretical discussions, anti-militarist and youth work.

It was in the latter two fields that she worked arm in arm with Karl Liebknecht. Both stressed the importance of work within the armed forces – a proposal which sounded Blanquist to the pacifist and ultra-legalistic social democratic leaders. Karl and Rosa fought for the organization of special youth leagues which would attract young workers and students to the socialist movement, educate them in Marxism, struggle against capitalist militarism. Liebknecht in Militarism and Anti-Militarism analyzed the class nature of present day militarism showing its twofold character: against the enemy capitalist nation and colonial peoples; to suppress the working class at home. Luxemburg exposed the sham and hypocrisy of the proposals for disarmament and pacifism under capitalism, and castigated them as “pacifist utopias”. The activity of Rosa and Karl prepared them for the war period role.

The coming of the World War, which like all deep social crises poses the questions of class struggle sharply, found social democratic opportunism develop logically into social chauvinism, social imperialism. The policy of class collaboration during peace time led to support of the bourgeoisie during the war. On the other hand, the advocacy of class struggle, a relentless fight against the capitalist class during “peace” time, found Liebknecht and Luxemburg during as prior to the war in the vanguard of the proletariat struggling against the capitalist conflagration and for proletarian revolution.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht aided by such fighters as Jogisches, Mehring, Levine, organized the Spartacus Bund, unfurled the banner of revolutionary Marxism and proclaimed the struggle against the war, the social democrats, the mainstay of capitalism, and for socialism, Karl hurled the defiant voice of the militant working class in the Reichstag when voting against war credits; in the Kaiser’s army he agitated the soldiers for socialism; in the streets of Berlin at the height of the war in May 1916, he echoed the class interests of the German proletariat. For these actions Liebknecht was arrested and thrown into jail.

Luxemburg had also been incarcerated by the Kaiser’s government; the other Spartacans were issuing illegal literature and conducting other forms of propaganda under the able leadership of Leo Jogisches. Rosa, while in prison, wrote her now famous brochure on The Crises in the German Social Democracy explaining in a scientific manner the reasons for the degeneration of the official social democratic movement, for its war position and the road the Marxists should take.

When the Russian workers overthrew capitalism and established a proletarian dictatorship, Liebknecht and Luxemburg unhesitatingly supported the Bolshevik Revolution. Rosa, while criticizing some of the policies of the Bolsheviks, stressed (in contrast to Kautsky) that they were in the main conditioned on factors independent of their (the Bolsheviks) will and on that basis were justified.

The German revolution of 1918 released Luxemburg and Liebknecht from prison. The Spartacus Bund, which had been part of the Independent Social Democratic Party (the Centrist party of Kautsky, Hilferding, etc.) withdrew and on December 31, 1919, founded the Communist Party of German (Spartacus Bund). The questions of armed insurrection, barricade fighting, the proletarian dictatorship and socialism, in a word, precisely those matters which put horror and fear in the hearts of the capitalists and their labor lieutenants, were illuminated with a lucidity which only a brillant Marxian like Rosa Luxemburg could use. Not fearing to struggle against the stream though only a handful, Rosa and her Spartacan comrades, with faith in the working masses, intransigent in their Marxist principles, with a heroic will to struggle for socialism, launched the organization which will lead the German proletariat to power.

The German Communist Party was founded at a time when street fighting took place in Berlin. In a few days, on January 15th, 1919, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested and shamefully murdered by the social democratic henchmen of the German bourgeoisie. A short time later, Leo Jogisches was brutally killed while in prison. The traitorous social democracy established “order” in Germany. But “order”, “peace”, “stabilization”, cannot be permanently established under capitalism. The class struggle leads inevitably to revolution as shown by Germany today.

* * * *

The Left Opposition considers itself the rightful inheritors of the traditions of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Rosa more than once was at logger-heads with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. She undoubtedly made mistakes. But in spite of this she remains one of the few Marxist leaders of our times. Her works are almost unknown to the American comrades; most of her critics have never studied them. It is the task of the Left Opposition to publish and make known the writings of Luxemburg so that we will not only be able to judge wherein she erred, but learn a great deal from one of the most brilliant Marxist teachers.

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