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Rosa Luxemburg

John Simkin

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On 1st May, 1916, the Spartacus League decided to come out into the open and organized a demonstration against the First World War in Berlin. Several of its leaders, including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested and imprisoned. While in prison Luxemburg wrote The Russian Revolution, where she criticized Vladimir Lenin and the dictatorial and terrorist methods being used by the Bolsheviks in Russia. The book included the following quotation: "Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently."

Morgan Philips Price, interviewed Rosa Luxemburg while she was in prison:

Karl Radek had furnished me in Moscow with introductions to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the famous Spartakist leaders in Germany. So I began to search for them and, after a while, I found the headquarters of the Spartakusbund, the most revolutionary of all the German Left parties. After my credentials had been carefully inspected, I was taken to see Rosa Luxemburg.

A slight little woman, she showed at once a powerful intellect and a quiet grasp of any given situation. She had heard about me and of the fact that I had taken up a strong stand against the Allied intervention in Russia. She proceeded to question me about the situation in Russia. I told her how the White Counter-Revolution had been beaten on the Volga and thrown back to Siberia, but that Lenin had spoken to me not long before with some apprehension of the possibility of Allied military support for the Russian Whites in South Russia, now that the Dardanelles and Black Sea were open to British and French warships. Then she asked me a question, the significance of which I did not appreciate at the time. She asked me if the Soviets were working entirely satisfactorily. I replied, with some surprise, that of course they were. She looked at me for a moment, and I remember an indication of slight doubt on her face, but she said nothing more. Then we talked about something else and soon after that I left.

Though at the moment when she asked me that question I was a little taken aback, I soon forgot about it. I was still so dedicated to the Russian Revolution, which I had been defending against the Western Allies' war of intervention, that I had had no time for anything else. But a week or two later I began to hear that Rosa Luxemburg differed from Lenin on several matters of revolutionary policy, and especially about the role of the Communist Party in the Workers' and Peasants' Councils, or Soviets. She did not like the Russian Communist Party monopolizing all power in the Soviets and expelling anyone who disagreed with it. She feared that Lenin's policy had brought about, not the dictatorship of the working classes over the middle classes, which she approved of but the dictatorship of the Communist Party over the working classes. The dictatorship of a class - yes, she said, but not the dictatorship of a party over a class. Later, I began to see that Luxemburg had much wisdom in her attitude, though it was not apparent to me at the time. Looking back, it seems that she was not so critical of Lenin's tactics for Russia. She did not want them applied to Germany. Alas, she never lived to use her influence on her colleagues in the Spartakusbund for more than a few weeks after I saw her.

Luxemburg was not released until October, 1918, when Max von Baden granted an amnesty to all political prisoners. Two months later Luxemburg joined with Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin to establish the German Communist Party (KPD).

In January, 1919, Luxemburg helped organize the Spartakist Rising in Berlin. Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democrat Party and Germany's new chancellor, called in the German Army and the Freikorps to bring an end to the rebellion. By 13th January the rebellion had been crushed and most of its leaders were arrested.

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were executed without trial on 15th January, 1919. Leo Jogiches was later murdered while trying to track down her killers.


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