Workers Vanguard No. 928
16 January 2009
For the Communism of Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg!
In the tradition of the early Communist International, this month we commemorate the “Three L’s”: Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, who died on 21 January 1924, and revolutionary Marxists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were assassinated 90 years ago on 15 January 1919 by the reactionary Freikorps as part of the Social Democratic government’s suppression of the Spartakist uprising. Lenin’s determined struggle to forge a revolutionary vanguard party was key to the victory of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. In contrast, the German Communist Party was founded only over New Year’s 1919—two weeks before its principal cadres were murdered—with slim roots within the proletariat. The murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht deprived the young, inexperienced Communist Party of its authoritative revolutionary leadership, helping to shipwreck the 1918-19 German Revolution and weakening the party when it faced later upheavals, such as the aborted 1923 German Revolution.
We reprint below a 13 January 1945 article from the Militant, newspaper of the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, titled: “Liebknecht and Luxemburg—Heroic Martyrs in the Workers Struggle for Socialism.” The mention of the burial of the Third International at the end of the article refers to its formal dissolution by Stalin in 1943; it had become an agency for promoting the Stalinist bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist treachery long before.
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On January 15, 1919—twenty five years ago—the German proletariat was robbed of two of its greatest revolutionary fighters, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. They were assassinated in the streets of Berlin by Junker hirelings of the Social-Democracy. But neither the ideas nor the tradition of personal heroism bequeathed by these Marxists of the First World War could be slain. Their names will be inscribed in flaming letters when the mighty German working class again rises against its oppressors to find the path to peace and security under the red banner of international socialism.
Intransigent opponents of capitalist war, both Liebknecht and Luxemburg fought persecution and imprisonment to lead the workers of Germany in the struggle for socialist liberation. Son of the founder of the German Social-Democracy, Karl Liebknecht first proved his stature as early as 1906 when he delivered a series of lectures against capitalist militarism to a Socialist Youth organization. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for their subsequent publication.
When World War I broke out, Liebknecht was a member of the Reichstag. The Social-Democratic party to which he belonged opportunistically swung over to support of the war. But Liebknecht adhered to the principles of Marxism. At the December 2, 1914 session he broke the discipline of the Social-Democratic Reichstag group and voted against war credits, thereby taking his place amongst the leaders of international socialism. With Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin and Franz Mehring, he founded “Die Internationale,” first illegal organ of the German revolutionists.
At the magnificent May Day demonstration he organized in Berlin in 1916, Liebknecht denounced the imperialists and called upon the German working class to intensify the fight against its main enemy—the capitalist class—at home. He was arrested, secretly tried, and sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment.
Rosa Luxemburg, fiery orator, gifted writer, theoretician and activist, conquered physical frailty to become one of the most eminent of revolutionists. Born in Czarist Poland, a political refugee at the age of 18, she devoted all her tremendous talents to the cause of socialism. She secured German citizenship and fought the growing reformist tendencies and the revision of Marxism promoted by the Bernsteinists in the German Social-Democracy. Understanding the problems and strategy of the workers’ movement, she saw in the Russian revolution of 1905 the vitality and strength of the masses. She met the outbreak of war in 1914 by calling upon the German workers to refuse to shoot down their French brothers. Like Liebknecht, she was imprisoned.
Tireless and undaunted, Rosa was able even in prison to smuggle out articles for “Die Internationale.” She also wrote the famous “Junius” pamphlet, circulated throughout Germany, explaining that the victory of either side—German or Allied—would necessarily lead to another world slaughter, and urging the masses to end the scourge of war by taking power from the plutocrats and organizing a workers’ republic.
In prison Rosa received the great news of the Russian Revolution. She burned with indignation over the Brest-Litovsk peace forced by Germany upon the Bolsheviks. She accused the pro-war “socialists” of responsibility for this crime because of their degrading submission to the Junkers. The Russian Revolution deeply inspired her. Enemies of the October Revolution have tried to construe her criticism of the Bolsheviks as an opposition to the Russian Revolution. This is false. It was as one of them that she criticized some of their tactics.
In 1918 came the revolt of the Kiel sailors and soldiers of Berlin. One of the very first acts of the revolutionary workers and soldiers was to throw open the prison gates to free Liebknecht and Luxemburg. The Social-Democratic traitors strove to persuade the Kaiser to remain. Failing to save the monarchy, hating and fearing Bolshevism above everything else, they then strained all their efforts to establish a bourgeois republic and prevent the workers from taking power. The Social-Democracy particularly feared the Spartakus Bund, organized in 1918 by Liebknecht and Luxemburg, which came out as an independent party with the slogan “All Power to the Workers’ Councils.”
Organize for Power
Conscious of their tasks and the pressure of time, Liebknecht and Luxemburg began to organize the German Communist Party with haste. Rosa edited “Rote Fahne” (Red Banner) and wrote the program for the party in complete agreement with the program of Lenin and Trotsky. But events moved too rapidly. The advanced workers were pressing forward. The German Communist Party, just emerging from the Spartakus group, was still too weak to take power.
The leadership of the Social-Democracy, holding the reins of government, did everything in its power to crush the revolution in its infancy. Leaflets were circulated demanding the death of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. Large rewards were offered for their capture. On Jan. 15, 1919, they were arrested and murdered.
In his call for the formation of the Third International to carry out the socialist tasks betrayed by the Social-Democracy (April 23, 1917), Lenin singled out for praise the handful of internationalists who upheld the banner of Marxism through the storm of the First World War.
“The most outstanding representatives of this trend in Germany,” wrote Lenin, “is the Spartakus Group or the Group of the International to which Karl Liebknecht belongs. Karl Liebknecht is one of the most celebrated representatives of this trend and of the new and genuine proletarian international...Liebknecht alone represents socialism, the proletarian cause, the proletarian revolution. All the rest of German Social-Democracy, to quote the apt words of Rosa Luxemburg (also a member and one of the leaders of the Spartakus Group) is a ‘stinking corpse’.” After their martyrdom Lenin acclaimed Liebknecht and Luxemburg as “the best representatives of the Third International.”
Last year the Third International which had likewise degenerated into “a stinking corpse” was formally buried by its executioner, the counterrevolutionary Stalin. Today only the Fourth International founded by Trotsky carries on the struggle for international socialism in the revolutionary spirit of Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg.