By Ben Chacko
Thousands marched through Berlin on January 13 to pay their respects 100 years after the brutal murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on January 15, 1919.
Socialists from all corners of Germany and many foreign countries laid red flowers at the tombs of Luxemburg, Liebknecht and other revolutionaries in the Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery in east Berlin on the Sunday preceding the centenary of their deaths, which falls on Tuesday.
The German communist leaders were assassinated in 1919 as the Spartacist revolt was crushed by the “Freikorps,” a far-right grouping of demobbed German soldiers who had refused to give up their weapons after the German surrender in World War I, on the orders of Social Democrat Party leaders Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske.
Marchers sang the Internationale and chants echoed from the myriad socialist groups who came together to honour the martyred revolutionaries, calling for solidarity with the Kurdish people oppressed by Turkey’s Erdogan regime, with the workers struggling against repressive governments in Sudan and Iran and for an end to neoliberalism and warmongering in the EU and Nato.
Demonstrators included the last prime minister of the German Democratic Republic and honorary Left party chairman Hans Modrow, numerous Left MPs, many members of the German Communist Party and international guests including Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament general secretary Kate Hudson and Communist Party of Britain leader Robert Griffiths.
The huge demonstration came a day after the largest yet annual Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Berlin, hosted by the Morning Star’s German sister newspaper Junge Welt. Over 3,500 socialists came together for a day of discussion on themes including the next crisis of capitalism, the changing nature of imperialist war and the prospects for socialist revolution.
Talks and panel discussions were interspersed with cultural content including a theatre piece on Rosa Luxemburg and the Perfect Revolution, songs and rallies.
Enthusiasm rose to a crescendo in the session devoted to the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, with Culture Minister Abel Prieto and Cuban Communist Party central committee member Iliana Hernandez.
Pointing to the rise of the far right in many parts of Europe, Junge Welt warned that “we are slipping back into barbarism, to which socialism is the only alternative. That’s why we must honour Rosa and Karl, not just this year, but every year.”
One hundred years ago, as the last days of 1918 became the early days of 1919, the newly founded German Communist Party (KPD), with 50,000 members, held a crucial congress. Inspired by the success of Lenin and his 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, they voted to oppose both the councils and the Constituent Assembly that were ruling a defeated, demoralised and almost destroyed country and organise an armed uprising to take power and establish a truly socialist Germany.
Communist Party founder and Spartacus League leader and theoretician, 47 year old Rosa Luxemburg was far from convinced that such a move could be successful, but she decided reluctantly to join the fight. This German revolution, with inadequate forces, fizzled out rather as Luxemburg had so sadly predicted.
She stayed in the capital, and in January, she was seized, along with her chief ally Karl Liebknecht. In 1914 he had been the only member of the Reichstag to vote against German involvement in the war. The pair were arrested by members of the Freikorps — a private army led by extreme right-wing proto-fascist officers in charge of ex-soldiers who had defied the Treaty of Versailles and held on to their weapons after the war.
The Freikorps blamed Social Democrats and Jews for Germany’s plight and called for the elimination of what they saw as traitors to the Fatherland. They took Liebknecht to the Tiergarten park in the west of the city, where he was murdered with a bullet in the head.
Luxemburg, meanwhile, was held and tortured in the Eden Berlin Hotel which was being used as army headquarters. She was led out of the building where two blows from a rifle butt smashed her skull. Her almost lifeless body was flung into a car where a further blow and a bullet in the head finished her off. Her beaten and bloody body was dumped in the Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg, not to be found until months later.
Luxemburg may have been dead but her ideas and her beliefs could not be extinguished as easily as her frail body. When he heard of her death, Lenin, with whom Luxemburg had many discussions, arguments and disagreements, said: “Rosa Luxemburg was and remains for us an eagle and not only will communists all over the world cherish her memory, but her biography and her complete works will serve as useful manuals for training many generations of communists all over the world.” (IPA Service)