Spartacus League

On 4th August, 1914, Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the First World War. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy." (1)

Paul Frölich, a supporter of Liebknecht in the Social Democratic Party (SDP), argued: "On the day of the vote only one man was left: Karl Liebknecht. Perhaps that was a good thing. That only one man, one single person, let it be known on a rostrum being watched by the whole world that he was opposed to the general war madness and the omnipotence of the state - this was a luminous demonstration of what really mattered at the moment: the engagement of one's whole personality in the struggle. Liebknecht's name became a symbol, a battle-cry heard above the trenches, its echoes growing louder and louder above the world-wide clash of arms and arousing many thousands of fighters against the world slaughter." (2)

John Peter Nettl claims that two left-wing members of the SDP, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin, were horrified by these events. They had great hopes that the SDP, the largest socialist party in the world with over a million members, would oppose the war: "Both Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin suffered nervous prostration and were at one moment near to suicide. Together they tried on 2 and 3 August to plan an agitation against the war; they contacted 20 SPD members with known radical views, but they got the support of only Liebknecht and Mehring... Rosa sent 300 telegrams to local officials who were thought to be oppositional, asking their attitude to the vote in the Reichstag and inviting them to Berlin for an urgent conference. The results were pitiful." (3)

The Spartacus League

Rosa Luxemburg joined forces with Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring, Wilhelm Pieck, Julian Marchlewski, Hermann Duncker and Hugo Eberlein to campaign against the war but decided against forming a new party and agreed to continue working within the SPD. Clara Zetkin was initially reluctant to join the group. She argued: "We must ensure the broadest relationship with the masses. In the given situation the protest appears more as a personal beau geste than a political action... It is justified and nice to say that everything is lost, except one's honour. If I wanted to follow my feelings, then I would have telegraphed a yes with great pleasure. But now we must more than ever think and act coolly." (4)

However, by September, 1914, Zetkin was playing a significant role in the anti-war movement. She co-signed with Luxemburg, Liebknecht and Mehring, letters that appeared in socialist newspapers in neutral countries condemning the war. Above all Zetkin used her position as editor-in-chief of the Glieichheit and as Secretary of the Women's Secretariat of the Socialist International to propagate the positions of the anti-war movement. (5)

Clara Zetkin who later recalled: "The struggle was supposed to begin with a protest against the voting of war credits by the social-democratic Reichstag deputies, but it had to be conducted in such a way that it would be throttled by the cunning tricks of the military authorities and the censorship. Moreover, and above all, the significance of such a protest would doubtless be enhanced, if it was supported from the outset by a goodly number of well-known social-democratic militants." (6)

Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg

Karl Liebknecht continued to make speeches in public about the war: "The war is not being waged for the benefit of the German or any other peoples. It is an imperialist war, a war over the capitalist domination of the world market... The slogan 'against Tsarism' is being used - just as the French and British slogan 'against militarism' - to mobilise the noble sentiments, the revolutionary traditions and the hopes of the people for the national hatred of other peoples." (7)

In May 1915, Liebknecht published a pamphlet, The Main Enemy Is At Home! He argued that: "The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists. We think as one with the German people – we have nothing in common with the German Tirpitzes and Falkenhayns, with the German government of political oppression and social enslavement. Nothing for them, everything for the German people. Everything for the international proletariat, for the sake of the German proletariat and downtrodden humanity." (8)

In December, 1915, 19 other deputies joined Karl Liebknecht in voting against war credits. The following year a series of demonstrations took place. Some of these were "spontaneous outbursts by unorganised groups of people, usually women: anger would flare when a shop ran out of food, or put its prices up, or when rations were suddenly cut." These demonstrations often led to bitter clashes between workers and the police. (9)

Karl Liebknecht
Karl Liebknecht

Rosa Luxemburg continued to protest against Germany's involvement in the war and on the 19th February, 1915, she was arrested. In a letter to her friend, Mathilde Jacob, she described her first day in prison: "Incidentally, so that you don't get any exaggerated ideas about my heroism, I'll confess, repentantly, that when I had to strip to my chemise and submit to a frisking for the second time that day, I could barely hold back the tears. Of course, deep inside, I was furious with myself at such weakness, and I still am. Also on the first evening, what really dismayed me was not the prison cell any my sudden exclusion from the land of the living, but the fact that I had to go to bed without a night-dress and without having combed my hair." (10)

As a political prisoner she was allowed books and writing materials. With the help of Mathilde Jacob she was able to smuggle out articles and pamphlets she had written to Franz Mehring. In April 1915, Mehring published some of this material in a new journal, Die Internationale. Other contributors included Clara Zetkin, August Thalheimer, Bertha Thalheimer, Käte Duncker and Heinrich Ströbel. The journal included articles by Mehring on the attitude of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to the problem of war and Zetkin dealt with the position of women in wartime. The main objective of the journal was to criticise the official policy of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) towards the First World War. (11)

In the first edition Luxemburg contributed an article on the way the SDP reacted to the outbreak of the war. "Faced with this alternative, which it had been the first to recognize and bring to the masses’ consciousness, Social Democracy backed down without a struggle and conceded victory to imperialism. Never before in the history of class struggles, since there have been political parties, has there been a party that, in this way, after fifty years of uninterrupted growth, after achieving a first-rate position of power, after assembling millions around it, has so completely and ignominiously abdicated as a political force within twenty-four hours, as Social Democracy has done. Precisely because it was the best-organized and best-disciplined vanguard of the International, the present-day collapse of socialism can be demonstrated by Social Democracy’s example." (12)

Luxemburg also wrote a pamphlet entitled The Crisis of German Social Democracy during this period. She exposed the lies that were told to those men who willingly volunteered to fight in a war that would only last a few weeks: "Mass slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day and the end is no closer... Gone is the euphoria. Gone the patriotic noise in the streets... The trains full of reservists are no longer accompanied by virgins fainting from pure jubilation. They no longer greet the people from the windows of the train with joyous smiles.... The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It’s a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up. Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds." (13)

Over the next few months members of this group were arrested for their anti-war activities and spent several short spells in prison. This included Ernest Meyer, Wilhelm Pieck and Hugo Eberlein. Other activists included Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Franz Mehring, Julian Marchlewski and Hermann Duncker. On the release of Luxemburg in February 1916, it was decided to establish an underground political organization called Spartakusbund (Spartacus League). The Spartacus League publicized its views in its illegal newspaper, Spartakusbriefe. Like the Bolsheviks in Russia, they argued that socialists should turn this nationalist conflict into a revolutionary war. (14)

Spartacus League poster (1919)
Spartacus League poster (1919)

The group published an attack on all European socialist parties (except the Independent Labour Party): "By their vote for war credits and by their proclamation of national unity, the official leaderships of the socialist parties in Germany, France and England (with the exception of the Independent Labour Party) have reinforced imperialism, induced the masses of the people to suffer patiently the misery and horrors of the war, contributed to the unleashing, without restraint, of imperialist frenzy, to the prolongation of the massacre and the increase in the number of its victims, and assumed their share in the responsibility for the war itself and for its consequences." (15)

Eugen Levine was one of the first people to join the Spartacus League. He had been disturbed by the "new wave of national prejudice and chauvinism". His wife, Rosa Levine-Meyer, was shocked when he stated that the war would last "at least eighteen months or two years". This upset his mother who had been convinced by government propaganda that "the war would end by Christmas". Levine told Rosa that the "war would be accompanied by a severe world crisis and revolutionary shocks". He added that during a war "it is easier to convert thousands of workers than one single well-meaning intellectual". (16)

On 1st May, 1916, Rosa Luxemburg, organised a anti-war demonstration on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. It was a great success and by eight o'clock in the morning around 10,000 people assembled in the square. The police charged at Karl Liebknecht who was about to speak to the large crowd. "For two hours after Liebknecht's arrest masses of people swirled around Potsdamer Platz and the neighbouring streets, and there were many scuffles with the police. For the first time since the beginning of the war open resistance to it had appeared on the streets of the capital." (17)

As a member of the Reichstag, Liebknecht had parliamentary immunity from prosecution. When the military judicial authorities demanded that this immunity was removed, the Reichstag agreed and he was placed on trial. On 28th June 1916, Liebknecht was sentenced to two years and six months hard labour. The day Liebknecht was sentenced, 55,000 munitions workers went on strike. The government responded by arresting trade union leaders and having them conscripted into the German Army.

Luxemburg responded by publishing a handbill defending Liebknecht and accusing members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) who had removed his parliamentary immunity as being "political dogs". She claimed that: "A dog is someone who licks the boots of the master who has dealt him kicks for decades. A dog is someone who gaily wags his tail in the muzzle of martial law and looks straight into the eyes of the lords of the military dictatorship while softly whining for mercy... A dog is someone who, at his government's command, abjures, slobbers, and tramples down into the muck the whole history of his party and everything it has held sacred for a generation." (18)

Rosa Luxemburg was re-arrested on 10th July, 1916. So also was the seventy-year-old Franz Mehring, Ernest Meyer and Julian Marchlewski. Leo Jogiches now became the leader of the Spartacus League and the editor of its newspaper, Spartakusbriefe. Luxemburg, wrote regularly for each edition, sometimes writing three-quarters of a whole issue. She also worked on her book, Introduction to Economics. (19)

The Russian Revolution

As Nicholas II was supreme commander of the Russian Army he was linked to the country's military failures and there was a strong decline in his support in Russia during the First World War. In January 1917, General Aleksandr Krymov returned from the Eastern Front and sought a meeting with Michael Rodzianko, the President of the Duma. Krymov told Rodzianko that the officers and men no longer had faith in Nicholas II and the army was willing to support the Duma if it took control of the government of Russia. "A revolution is imminent and we at the front feel it to be so. If you decide on such an extreme step (the overthrow of the Tsar), we will support you. Clearly there is no other way." (20)

The Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich shared the views of Rodzianko and sent a letter to the Tsar: "The unrest grows; even the monarchist principle is beginning to totter; and those who defend the idea that Russia cannot exist without a Tsar lose the ground under their feet, since the facts of disorganization and lawlessness are manifest. A situation like this cannot last long. I repeat once more - it is impossible to rule the country without paying attention to the voice of the people, without meeting their needs, without a willingness to admit that the people themselves understand their own needs." (21)

On Friday 8th March, 1917, there was a massive demonstration against the Tsar. It was estimated that over 200,000 took part in the march. Arthur Ransome walked along with the crowd that were hemmed in by mounted Cossacks armed with whips and sabres. But no violent suppression was attempted. Ransome was struck, chiefly, by the good humour of these rioters, made up not simply of workers, but of men and women from every class. Ransome wrote: "Women and girls, mostly well-dressed, were enjoying the excitement. It was like a bank holiday, with thunder in the air." There were further demonstrations on Saturday and on Sunday soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators. According to Ransome: "Police agents opened fire on the soldiers, and shooting became general, though I believe the soldiers mostly used blank cartridges." (22)

Morgan Philips Price, a journalist working in Petrograd, with strong left-wing opinions, wrote to his aunt, Anna Maria Philips, claiming that the country was on the verge of revolution: "Most exciting times. I knew this was coming sooner or later but did not think it would come so quickly... Whole country is wild with joy, waving red flags and singing Marseillaise. It has surpassed my wildest dreams and I can hardly believe it is true. After two-and-half years of mental suffering and darkness I at last begin to see light. Long live Great Russia who has shown the world the road to freedom. May Germany and England follow in her steps." (23)

On 10th March, 1917, the Tsar had decreed the dissolution of the Duma. The High Command of the Russian Army now feared a violent revolution and on 12th March suggested that Nicholas II should abdicate in favour of a more popular member of the royal family. Attempts were now made to persuade Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to accept the throne. He refused and the Tsar recorded in his diary that the situation in "Petrograd is such that now the Ministers of the Duma would be helpless to do anything against the struggles the Social Democratic Party and members of the Workers Committee. My abdication is necessary... The judgement is that in the name of saving Russia and supporting the Army at the front in calmness it is necessary to decide on this step. I agreed." (24)

Prince George Lvov, was appointed the new head of the Provisional Government and a few days later announced that all political prisoners would be allowed to return to their homes. Rosa Luxemburg was delighted to hear about the overthrow of Nicholas II. She wrote to her close friend, Hans Diefenbach: "You can well imagine how deeply the news from Russia has stirred me. So many of my old friends who have been languishing in prison for years in Moscow, St Petersburg, Orel and Riga are now walking about free. How much easier that makes my own imprisonment here!" (25)

In her prison cell she wrote several articles on the overthrow of Nicholas II. "The revolution in Russia has been victorious over bureaucratic absolutism in the first phase. However, this victory is not the end of the struggle, but only a weak beginning." She also condemned the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries who had joined the government. "The coalition ministry is a half-measure which burdens socialism with all the responsibility, without even beginning to allow it the full possibility of developing its programme. It is a compromise which, like all compromises is finally doomed to fiasco." (26)

Luxemburg's fears were realised when Alexander Kerensky became the new prime minister and soon after taking office, he announced the July Offensive. In a long article in Spartakusbriefe she condemned Kerensky's strategy. "Although the Russian Republic professes to be fighting a purely defensive war, in reality it is participating in an imperialist one, and, while it appeals to the right of nations to self-determination, in practice it is aiding and abetting the rule of imperialism over foreign nations." (27)

On 24th October, 1917, Lenin wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee: "The situation is utterly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, already, putting off the insurrection is equivalent to its death. With all my strength I wish to convince my comrades that now everything is hanging by a hair, that on the agenda now are questions that are decided not by conferences, not by congresses (not even congresses of soviets), but exclusively by populations, by the mass, by the struggle of armed masses… No matter what may happen, this very evening, this very night, the government must be arrested, the junior officers guarding them must be disarmed, and so on… History will not forgive revolutionaries for delay, when they can win today (and probably will win today), but risk losing a great deal tomorrow, risk losing everything." (28)

Lenin speaking to a crowd in Petrograd in October, 1917.
Lenin speaking to a crowd in Petrograd in October, 1917.

Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev opposed this strategy. They argued that the Bolsheviks did not have the support of the majority of people in Russia or of the international proletariat and should wait for the elections of the proposed Constituent Assembly "where we will be such a strong opposition party that in a country of universal suffrage our opponents will be compelled to make concessions to us at every step, or we will form, together with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, non-party peasants, etc., a ruling bloc which will fundamentally have to carry out our programme." (29)

Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. On the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The Smolny Institute became the headquarters of the revolution and was transformed into a fortress. Trotsky reported that the "chief of the machine-gun company came to tell me that his men were all on the side of the Bolsheviks". (30)

The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Kerensky had managed to escape from the city. The palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. The Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace. (31)

On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Victor Nogin (Trade and Industry), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice), Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War), Nikolai Krylenko (War Affairs), Pavlo Dybenko (Navy Affairs), Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov (Finance), Vladimir Milyutin (Agriculture), Ivan Teodorovich (Food), Georgy Oppokov (Justice) and Nikolai Glebov-Avilov (Posts & Telegraphs). (32)

After Nicholas II abdicated, the new Provisional Government announced it would introduce a Constituent Assembly. Elections were due to take place in November. Some leading Bolsheviks believed that the election should be postponed as the Socialist Revolutionaries might well become the largest force in the assembly. When it seemed that the election was to be cancelled, five members of the Bolshevik Central Committee, Victor Nogin, Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov and Vladimir Milyutin submitted their resignations.

Kamenev believed it was better to allow the election to go ahead and although the Bolsheviks would be beaten it would give them to chance to expose the deficiencies of the Socialist Revolutionaries. "We (the Bolsheviks) shall be such a strong opposition party that in a country of universal suffrage our opponents will be compelled to make concessions to us at every step, or we will form, together with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, non-party peasants, etc., a ruling bloc which will fundamentally have to carry out our programme." (33)

Despite the prevailing disorders and confusion, thirty-six million cast their secret ballots in parts of the country normal enough to hold elections. In most of the large centers of population, the voting was conducted under Bolshevik auspices. Yet twenty-seven of the thirty-six million votes went to other parties. A total of 703 candidates were elected to the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917. This included Socialist Revolutionaries (299), Bolsheviks (168), Mensheviks (18) and Constitutional Democratic Party (17).

The Constituent Assembly opened on 18th January, 1918. "The Bolsheviks and Left Socialist Revolutionaries occupied the extreme left of the house; next to them sat the crowded Socialist Revolutionary majority, then the Mensheviks. The benches on the right were empty. A number of Cadet deputies had already been arrested; the rest stayed away. The entire Assembly was Socialist - but the Bolsheviks were only a minority." (34)

When the Assembly refused to support the programme of the new Soviet Government, the Bolsheviks walked out in protest. The following day, Lenin announced that the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved. "In all Parliaments there are two elements: exploiters and exploited; the former always manage to maintain class privileges by manoeuvres and compromise. Therefore the Constituent Assembly represents a stage of class coalition.
In the next stage of political consciousness the exploited class realises that only a class institution and not general national institutions can break the power of the exploiters. The Soviet, therefore, represents a higher form of political development than the Constituent Assembly." (35)

Soon afterwards all opposition political groups, including the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and the Constitutional Democratic Party, were banned in Russia. Maxim Gorky, a world famous Russian writer and active revolutionary, pointed out: "For a hundred years the best people of Russia lived with the hope of a Constituent Assembly. In this struggle for this idea thousands of the intelligentsia perished and tens of thousands of workers and peasants... The unarmed revolutionary democracy of Petersburg - workers, officials - were peacefully demonstrating in favour of the Constituent Assembly. Pravda lies when it writes that the demonstration was organized by the bourgeoisie and by the bankers.... Pravda knows that the workers of the Obukhavo, Patronnyi and other factories were taking part in the demonstrations. And these workers were fired upon. And Pravda may lie as much as it wants, but it cannot hide the shameful facts." (36)

Rosa Luxemburg agreed with Gorky about the closing down of the Constituent Assembly. In her book, Russian Revolution, written in 1918 but not published until 1922, she wrote: "We have always exposed the bitter kernel of social inequality and lack of freedom under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom - not in order to reject the latter, but to spur the working-class not to be satisfied with the shell, but rather to conquer political power and fill it with a new social content. It is the historic task of the proletariat, once it has attained power, to create socialist democracy in place of bourgeois democracy, not to do away with democracy altogether." (37)

Morgan Philips Price, a journalist working for the Manchester Guardian, went to interview Luxemburg while she was in prison in Germany. He later reported: "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." (38)

As Paul Frölich pointed out: "She (Rosa Luxemburg) was unwilling to see criticism suppressed, even hostile criticism. She regarded unrestricted criticism as the only means of preventing the ossification of the state apparatus into a downright bureaucracy. Permanent public control, and freedom of the press and of assembly were therefore necessary." (39) Luxemburg argued: "Freedom for supporters of the government only, for members of one party only - no matter how numerous they might be - is no freedom at all. Freedom is always freedom for those who think differently." (40)

Luxemburg then went on to make some predictions about the future of Russia. "But with the suppression of political life in the Soviets must become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of the press and of assembly, without the free struggle of opinion, life in every public institution dies down and becomes a mere semblance of itself in which the bureaucracy remains as the only active element. Public life gradually falls asleep. A few dozen party leaders with inexhaustible energy and boundless idealism direct and rule. Among these, a dozen outstanding minds manage things in reality, and an elite of the working class is summoned to meetings from time to time so that they can applaud the speeches of the leaders, and give unanimous approval to proposed resolutions, thus at bottom a cliquish set-up - a dictatorship, to be sure, but not the dictatorship rule.of the proletariat: rather the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, i.e., a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of a Jacobin rule... every long-lasting regime based on martial law leads without fail to arbitrariness, and all arbitrary power tends to deprave society." (41)

Brest-Litovsk Treaty

Leon Trotsky led the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. Trotsky had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before he had to sign the treaty. (42)

Lenin still argued for a peace agreement, whereas his opponents, including Nickolai Bukharin, Andrey Bubnov, Alexandra Kollontai, Yuri Piatakov, Karl Radek and Moisei Uritsky, were in favour of a "revolutionary war" against Germany. This belief had been encouraged by the German demands for the "annexations and dismemberment of Russia". In the ranks of the opposition was Lenin's close friend, Inessa Armand, who had surprisingly gone public with her demands for continuing the war with Germany. (43)

Rosa Luxemburg was also opposed to these negotiations as she feared a German victory in the war: "She realised that if the working class of the European Great Powers could not summon up sufficient strength to end the war by revolution, then Germany's defeat was the next best solution. A military victory for ravenous German imperialism under the barbarous regime of Prussian Junkerdom would only lead to the most wanton excesses of the mania for conquest, casting all of Europe and other continents as well into chains, and throwing humanity far back in the quest for progress." (44)

After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Lenin ordered Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.

Trotsky later admitted that he was totally against signing the agreement as he thought that by continuing the war with the Central Powers it would help encourage socialist revolutions in Germany and Austria: "Had we really wanted to obtain the most favourable peace, we would have agreed to it as early as last November. But no one raised his voice to do it. We were all in favour of agitation, of revolutionizing the working classes of Germany, Austria-Hungary and all of Europe." (45)

Rosa Luxemburg was furious when she discovered the terms of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. "Having failed to halt the storming chariot of imperialism, the German proletariat is now being dragged behind it to overpower socialism and democracy all over Europe. Over the bones of the Russian, Ukrainian, Baltic and Finnish proletarians; over the national existence of the Belgians, Poles, Lithuanians, Rumanians; over the economic ruin of France, the German worker is tramping, wading over knee-deep in blood, onward, to plant the victorious banner of German imperialism everywhere. (46)

Morgan Philips Price later recalled in My Three Revolutions (1969) that her opposition to the Brest-Litovsk was connected to her dislike of Lenin: "She (Rosa Luxemburg) 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." (47)

The German Revolution

The German government of Max von Baden asked President Woodrow Wilson for a cease-fire on 4th October, 1918. "It was made clear by both the Germans and Austrians that this was not a surrender, not even an offer of armistice terms, but an attempt to end the war without any preconditions that might be harmful to Germany or Austria." This was rejected and the fighting continued. On 6th October, it was announced that Karl Liebknecht, who was still in prison, demanded an end to the monarchy and the setting up of Soviets in Germany. (48)

Although defeat looked certain, Admiral Franz von Hipper and Admiral Reinhard Scheer began plans to dispatch the Imperial Fleet for a last battle against the Royal Navy in the southern North Sea. The two admirals sought to lead this military action on their own initiative, without authorization. They hoped to inflict as much damage as possible on the British navy, to achieve a better bargaining position for Germany regardless of the cost to the navy. Hipper wrote "As to a battle for the honor of the fleet in this war, even if it were a death battle, it would be the foundation for a new German fleet...such a fleet would be out of the question in the event of a dishonorable peace." (49)

The naval order of 24th October 1918, and the preparations to sail triggered a mutiny among the affected sailors. By the evening of 4th November, Kiel was firmly in the hands of about 40,000 rebellious sailors, soldiers and workers. "News of the events in Kiel soon travelled to other nearby ports. In the next 48 hours there were demonstrations and general strikes in Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven. Workers' and sailors' councils were elected and held effective power." (50)

Chancellor, Max von Baden, decided to hand over power over to Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the German Social Democrat Party. At a public meeting, one of Ebert's most loyal supporters, Philipp Scheidemann, finished his speech with the words: "Long live the German Republic!" He was immediately attacked by Ebert, who was still a strong believer in the monarchy: "You have no right to proclaim the republic." (51)

Karl Liebknecht, who had been released from prison on 23rd October, climbed to a balcony in the Imperial Palace and made a speech: "The day of Liberty has dawned. I proclaim the free socialist republic of all Germans. We extend our hand to them and ask them to complete the world revolution. Those of you who want the world revolution, raise your hands." It is claimed that thousands of hands rose up in support of Liebknecht. (52)

The Social Democratic Party press, fearing the opposition of the left-wing and anti-war Spartacus League, proudly trumpeted their achievements: "The revolution has been brilliantly carried through... the solidarity of proletarian action has smashed all opposition. Total victory all along the line. A victory made possible because of the unity and determination of all who wear the workers' shirt." (53)

Rosa Luxemburg was released from prison in Breslau on 8th November. She went to Cathedral Square, in the centre of the city, where she was cheered by a mass demonstration. Two days later she arrived in Berlin. Her appearance shocked her friends in the Spartacus League: "They now saw what the years in prison had done to her. She had aged, and was a sick woman. Her hair, once deep black, had now gone quite grey. Yet her eyes shone with the old fire and energy." (54)

Eugen Levine went on speaking tours in support of the Spartacus League and was encouraged by the response he received. According to his wife: "His first propaganda tour through the Ruhr and Rhineland was crowned with almost legendary success... They did not come to get acquainted with Communist ideas. At best they were driven by curiosity, or a certain restlessness characteristic of the time of revolutionary upheavels... Levine was regularly received with catcalls and outbursts of abuse but he never failed to calm the storm. He told me jokingly that he often had to play the part of a lion-tamer." (55)

Ebert became concerned about the growing support for the Spartacus League and gave permission for the publishing of a Social Democratic Party leaflet that attacked their activities: "The shameless doings of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg besmirch the revolution and endanger all its achievements. The masses cannot afford to wait a minute longer and quietly look on while these brutes and their hangers-on cripple the activity of the republican authorities, incite the people deeper and deeper into a civil war, and strangle the right of free speech with their dirty hands. With lies, slander, and violence they want to tear down everything that dares to stand in their way. With an insolence exceeding all bounds they act as though they were masters of Berlin." (56)

Heinrich Ströbel, a journalist based in Berlin believed that some leaders of the Spartacus League overestimated their support: "The Spartakist movement, which also influenced a section of the Independents, succeeded in attracting a fraction of the workers and soldiers and keeping them in a state of constant excitement, but it remained without a hold on the great mass of the German proletariat. The daily meetings, processions, and demonstrations which Berlin witnessed... deceived the public and the Spartakist leaders into believing in a following for this revolutionary section which did not exist." (57)

Friedrich Ebert established the Council of the People's Deputies, a provisional government consisting of three delegates from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and three from the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). Liebknecht was offered a place in the government but he refused, claiming that he would be a prisoner of the non-revolutionary majority. A few days later Ebert announced elections for a Constituent Assembly to take place on 19th January, 1918. Under the new constitution all men and women over the age of 20 had the vote. (58)

As a believer in democracy, Rosa Luxemburg assumed that her party, the Spartacus League, would contest these universal, democratic elections. However, other members were being influenced by the fact that Lenin had dispersed by force of arms a democratically elected Constituent Assembly in Russia. Luxemburg rejected this approach and wrote in the party newspaper: "The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power in any other way than through the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian masses in all Germany, never except by virtue of their conscious assent to the views, aims, and fighting methods of the Spartacus League." (59)

Luxemburg was aware that the Spartacus League only had 3,000 members and not in a position to start a successful revolution. The Spartacus League consisted chiefly of innumerable small and autonomous groups scattered all over the country. John Peter Nettl has argued that "organisationally Spartakus was slow to develop... In the most important cities it evolved an organised centre only in the course of December... and attempts to arrange caucus meetings of Spartakist sympathisers within the Berlin Workers' and Soldiers' Council did not produce satisfactory results." (60)

Pierre Broué suggests that the large meetings helped to convince Karl Liebknecht that a successful revolution was possible. "Liebknecht, an untiring agitator, spoke everywhere where revolutionary ideas could find an echo... These demonstrations, which the Spartakists had neither the force nor the desire to control, were often the occasion for violent, useless or even harmful incidents caused by the doubtful elements who became involved in them... Liebknecht could have the impression that he was master of the streets because of the crowds which acclaimed him, while without an authentic organisation he was not even the master of his own troops." (61)

A convention of the Spartacus League began on 30th December, 1918. Karl Radek, a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, argued that the the Soviet government should help the spread of world revolution. Radek was sent to Germany and at the convention he persuaded the delegates to change the name to the German Communist Party (KPD). The convention now discussed whether the KPD should take part in the forthcoming general election.

Rosa Luxemburg, Paul Levi and Leo Jogiches all recognised that a "successful revolution depended on more than temporary support for certain slogans by a disorganised mass of workers and soldiers". (62) As Rosa Levine-Mayer explained the election "had the advantage of bringing the Spartacists closer to the broader masses and acquainting them with Communist ideas. Nor could a set-back, followed by a period of illegality, even if only temporary, be altogether ruled out. A seat in the Parliament would then be the only means of conducting Communist propaganda openly.It could also be foreseen that the workers at large would not understand the idea of a boycott and would not be persuaded to stay aloof; they would only be forced to vote for other parties." (63)

Luxemburg, Levi and Jogiches and other members who wanted to take part in elections were outvoted on this issue. As Bertram D. Wolfe has pointed out: "In vain did she (Luxemburg) try to convince them that to oppose both the Councils and the Constituent Assembly with their tiny forces was madness and a breaking of their democratic faith. They voted to try to take power in the streets, that is by armed uprising." (64)

Emil Eichhorn had been appointed head of the Police Department in Berlin. One activist pointed out: "A member of the Independent Socialist Party and a close friend of the late August Bebel, he enjoyed great popularity among revolutionary workers of all shades for his personal integrity and genuine devotion to the working class. His position was regarded as a bulwark against counter-revolutionary conspiracy and was a thorn in the flesh of the reactionary forces." (65)

On 4th January, 1919, Friedrich Ebert, ordered the removal of Emil Eichhorn, as head of the Police Department. Chris Harman, the author of The Lost Revolution (1982), has argued: "The Berlin workers greeted the news that Eichhorn had been dismissed with a huge wave of anger. They felt he was being dismissed for siding with them against the attacks of right wing officers and employers. Eichhorn responded by refusing to vacate police headquarters. He insisted that he had been appointed by the Berlin working class and could only be removed by them. He would accept a decision of the Berlin Executive of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils, but no other." This marked the beginning of the Spartakist Rising. (66)

Anti-Spartacus League poster (1919)
Anti-Spartacus League poster (1919)

The Spartacus League published a leaflet that claimed: "The Ebert-Scheidemann government intends, not only to get rid of the last representative of the revolutionary Berlin workers, but to establish a regime of coercion against the revolutionary workers." It is estimated that over 100,000 workers demonstrated against the sacking of Eichhorn the following Sunday in "order to show that the spirit of November is not yet beaten." (67)

Paul Levi later reported that even with this provocation, the Spartacus League leadership still believed they should resist an open rebellion: "The members of the leadership were unanimous; a government of the proletariat would not last more than a fortnight... It was necessary to avoid all slogans that might lead to the overthrow of the government at this point. Our slogan had to be precise in the following sense: lifting of the dismissal of Eichhorn, disarming of the counter-revolutionary troops, arming of the proletariat." (68)

Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck published a leaflet calling for a revolution. "The Ebert-Scheidemann government has become intolerable. The undersigned revolutionary committee, representing the revolutionary workers and soldiers, proclaims its removal. The undersigned revolutionary committee assumes provisionally the functions of government." Karl Radek later commented that Rosa Luxemburg was furious with Liebknecht and Pieck for getting carried away with the idea of establishing a revolutionary government." (69)

Although massive demonstrations took place, no attempt was made to capture important buildings. On 7th January, Luxemburg wrote in the Die Rote Fahne: "Anyone who witnessed yesterday's mass demonstration in the Siegesalle, who felt the magnificent mood, the energy that the masses exude, must conclude that politically the proletariat has grown enormously through the experiences of recent weeks.... However, are their leaders, the executive organs of their will, well informed? Has their capacity for action kept pace with the growing energy of the masses?" (70)

General Kurt von Schleicher, was on the staff of Paul von Hindenburg. In December 1919 he helped organize the Freikorps, in an attempt to prevent a German Revolution. The group was composed of "former officers, demobilized soldiers, military adventurers, fanatical nationalists and unemployed youths". Holding extreme right-wing views, von Schleicher blamed left-wing political groups and Jews for Germany's problems and called for the elimination of "traitors to the Fatherland". (71)

Freikorps soldiers in Berlin
Freikorps soldiers in Berlin

The Freikorps appealed to thousands of officers who identified with the upper class and had nothing to gain from the revolution. There were also a number of privileged and highly trained troops, known as stormtroopers, who had not suffered from the same rigours of discipline, hardship and bad food as the mass of the army: "They were bound together by an array of privileges on the one hand, and a fighting camaraderie on the other. They stood to lose all this if demobilised - and leapt at the chance to gain a living by fighting the reds." (72)

Friedrich Ebert, Germany's new chancellor, was also in contact with General Wilhelm Groener, who as First Quartermaster General, had played an important role in the retreat and demobilization of the German armies. According to William L. Shirer, the SDP leader and the "second-in-command of the German Army made a pact which, though it would not be publicly known for many years, was to determine the nation's fate. Ebert agreed to put down anarchy and Bolshevism and maintain the Army in all its tradition. Groener thereupon pledged the support of the Army in helping the new government establish itself and carry out its aims." (73)

On the 5th January, Ebert called in the German Army and the Freikorps to bring an end to the rebellion. Groener later testified that his aim in reaching accommodation with Ebert was to "win a share of power in the new state for the army and the officer corps... to preserve the best and strongest elements of old Prussia". Ebert was motivated by his fear of the Spartacus League and was willing to use "the armed power of the far-right to impose the government's will upon recalcitrant workers, irrespective of the long-term effects of such a policy on the stability of parliamentary democracy". (74)

The soldiers who entered Berlin were armed with machine-guns and armoured cars and demonstrators were killed in their hundreds. Artillery was used to blow the front off the police headquarters before Eichhorn's men abandoned resistance. "Little quarter was given to its defenders, who were shot down where they were found. Only a few managed to escape across the roofs." (75)

Spartacus League members defending their positions using rolls of newsprint as barricades (January, 1919)
Spartacus League members defending their positions using
rolls of newsprint as barricades (January, 1919)

By 13th January, 1919 the rebellion had been crushed and most of its leaders were arrested. This included Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who refused to flee the city, and were captured on 16th January and taken to the Freikorps headquarters. "After questioning, Liebknecht was taken from the building, knocked half conscious with a rifle butt and then driven to the Tiergarten where he was killed. Rosa was taken out shortly afterwards, her skull smashed in and then she too was driven off, shot through the head and thrown into the canal." (76)

Primary Sources

(1) Karl Liebknecht, The Main Enemy Is At Home! (May 1915)

The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists.

We think as one with the German people – we have nothing in common with the German Tirpitzes and Falkenhayns, with the German government of political oppression and social enslavement. Nothing for them, everything for the German people. Everything for the international proletariat, for the sake of the German proletariat and downtrodden humanity.

The enemies of the working class are counting on the forgetfulness of the masses – provide that that be a grave miscalculation. They are betting on the forbearance of the masses – but we raise the vehement cry: "How long should the gamblers of imperialism abuse the patience of the people? Enough and more than enough slaughter! Down with the war instigators here and abroad!"

(2) Rosa Luxemburg, Die Internationale (April, 1915)

On August 4th, 1914, German Social Democracy abdicated politically, and at the same time the Socialist International collapsed. All attempts at denying or concealing this fact, regardless of the motives on which they are based, tend objectively to perpetuate, and to justify, the disastrous self-deception of the socialist parties, the inner malady of the movement, that led to the collapse, and in the long run to make the Socialist International a fiction, a hypocrisy.

To collapse itself is without precedent in the history of all times. Socialism or Imperialism – this alternative summarizes completely the political orientation of the labour parties in the past decade. For in Germany it was formulated in innumerable program speeches, mass meetings, brochures and newspaper articles as the slogan of Social Democracy, as the party’s interpretation of the tendencies of the present historical epoch.

With the outbreak of the world war, word has become substance, the alternative has grown from a historical tendency into the political situation. Faced with this alternative, which it had been the first to recognize and bring to the masses’ consciousness, Social Democracy backed down without a struggle and conceded victory to imperialism. Never before in the history of class struggles, since there have been political parties, has there been a party that, in this way, after fifty years of uninterrupted growth, after achieving a first-rate position of power, after assembling millions around it, has so completely and ignominiously abdicated as a political force within twenty-four hours, as Social Democracy has done. Precisely because it was the best-organized and best-disciplined vanguard of the International, the present-day collapse of socialism can be demonstrated by Social Democracy’s example.

Kautsky, as the representative of the so-called ‘Marxist Centre’, or, in political term, as the theoretician of the swamp, has for years degraded theory into the obliging hand-maiden of the official practice of the party bureaucrats and thus made his own sincere contribution to the present collapse of the party. Already he has thought out an opportune new theory to justify and explain the collapse. According to this theory, Social Democracy is an instrument for peace but not a means of combatting war. Or, as Kautsky’s faithful pupils in the Austrian ‘struggle’, sighing profusely at the present aberration of German Social Democracy, decree: the only policy befitting socialism during the war is ‘silence’; only when the bells of peace peal out can socialism again begin to function. [1] This theory of a voluntary assumed eunuch role, which says that socialism’s virtue can be upheld only if, at the crucial moments, it is eliminated as a factor in world history, suffer from the basic mistake of all account of political impotence: it overlooks the most vital factor.

Faced with the alternative of coming out for or against the war, Social Democracy, from the moment it abandoned its opposition, has been forced by the iron compulsion of history to throw its full weight behind the war. The same Kautsky who in the memorable meeting of the parliamentary party of August 3rd pleaded for its consent to the war credits, the same ‘Austro-Marxists’ (as they call themselves) who now see as self-evident the Social-Democratic parliamentary party’s consent to the war credits – even they now occasionally shed a few tears at the nationalistic excesses of the Social-Democratic party organs and at their inadequate theoretical training, particularly in the razor-thin separation of the concept of ‘nationality’ and of other ‘concepts’ allegedly guilty of those aberrations. But events have their own logic, even when human beings do not. Once Social Democracy’s parliamentary representative had decided in favour of supporting the war, everything else followed automatically with the inevitability of historical destiny.

On August 4th, German Social Democracy, far from being ‘silent’, assumed an extremely important historical function: the shield-bearer of imperialism in the present war. Napoleon ones said that two factors decide the outcome of a battle: the ‘earthly’ factor, consisting of the terrain, quality of the weapons, weather, etc,, and the ‘divine’ factor, that is, the moral constitution of the army, its morale, its belief in its own cause. The ‘earthly’ factor was taken care of on the German side largely by the Krupp firm of Essen; the ‘divine’ factor can be charged above all to Social Democracy’s account. The services since August 4th that it has rendered and it is rendering daily to the German war leaders are immeasurable: the trade unions that on the outbreak of war shelved their battle for higher wages and invested with the aura of ‘socialism’ all the military authorities’ security measures aimed at preventing popular uprisings; the Social-Democratic women who withdrew all their time and effort from Social-Democratic agitation and, arm in arm with bourgeois patriots, used these to assist the needy warriors’ families; the Social-Democratic press which, with a few exceptions, uses its daily papers and weekly and monthly periodicals to propagate the war as a national cause and the cause of the proletariat; that press which, depending on the turns the war takes, depicts the Russian peril and the horror of the Tsarist government, or abandons a perfidious Albion to the people’s hatred, or rejoices at the uprisings and revolutions in foreign colonies; or which prophesies the re-strengthening of Turkey after this war, which promises freedom to the Poles, the Ruthenians and all peoples, which imparts martial bravery and heroism to the proletarian youth – in short, completely manipulates public opinion and the masses for the ideology of war; the Social-Democratic parliamentarians and party leaders, finally, who not only consent to funds for the waging of war, but who attempt to suppress energetically any disquieting stirrings of doubt and criticism in the masses, calling these ‘intrigues’, and who for their part support the government with personal services of a discreet nature, such as brochures, speeches and articles displaying the most genuine German-national patriotism – when in world history was there a war in which anything like this happened?

(2) Rosa Luxemburg, Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (December, 1915)

A large number of comrades from different parts of Germany have adopted the following theses, which constitute an application of the Erfurt program to the contemporary problems of international socialism.

1. The world war has annihilated the work of 40 years of European socialism: by destroying the revolutionary proletariat as a political force; by destroying the moral prestige of socialism; by scattering the workers’ International; by setting its Sections one against the other in fratricidal massacre; and by tying the aspirations and hopes of the masses of the people of the main countries in which capitalism has developed to the destinies of imperialism.

2. By their vote for war credits and by their proclamation of national unity, the official leaderships of the socialist parties in Germany, France and England (with the exception of the Independent Labour Party) have reinforced imperialism, induced the masses of the people to suffer patiently the misery and horrors of the war, contributed to the unleashing, without restraint, of imperialist frenzy, to the prolongation of the massacre and the increase in the number of its victims, and assumed their share in the responsibility for the war itself and for its consequences.

3. This tactic of the official leaderships of the Parties in the belligerent countries, and in the first place in Germany, until recently at the head of the International, constitutes a betrayal of the elementary principles of international socialism, of the vital interests of the working class, and of all the democratic interests of the peoples. By this alone socialist policy is condemned to impotence even in those countries where the leaders have remained faithful to their principles: Russia, Serbia, Italy and – with hardly an exception – Bulgaria.

4. By this alone official social democracy in the principal countries has repudiated the class struggle in war time and adjourned it until after the war; it has guaranteed to the ruling classes of all countries a delay in which to strengthen, at the proletariat’s expense, and in a monstrous fashion, their economic, political and moral positions.

5. The world war serves neither the national defense nor the economic or political interests of the masses of the people whatever they may be. It is but the product of the imperialistic rivalries between the capitalist classes of the different countries for world hegemony and for the monopoly in the exploitation and oppression of areas still not under the heel of capital. In the era of the unleashing of this imperialism, national wars are no longer possible. National interests serve only as the pretext for putting the laboring masses of the people under the domination of their mortal enemy, imperialism.

6. The policy of the imperialist states and the imperialist war cannot give to a single oppressed nation its liberty and its independence. The small nations, the ruling classes of which are the accomplices of their partners in the big states, constitute only the pawns on the imperialist chessboard of the great powers, and are used by them, just like their own working masses, in wartime, as instruments, to be sacrificed to capitalist interests after the war.

7. The present world war signifies, under these conditions, either in the case of “defeat” or of “victory”, a defeat for socialism and democracy. It increases, whatever the outcome – excepting the revolutionary intervention of the international proletariat – and strengthens militarism, national antagonisms, and economic rivalries in the world market. It accentuates capitalist exploitation and reaction in the domain of internal policy, renders the influence of public opinion precarious and derisory, and reduces parliaments to tools more and more obedient to imperialism. The present world war carries within itself the seeds of new conflicts.

8. World peace cannot be assured by projects utopian or, at bottom, reactionary, such as tribunals of arbitration by capitalist diplomatists, diplomatic “disarmament” conventions, “the freedom of the seas,” abolition of the right of maritime arrest, “the United States of Europe,” a “customs union for central Europe,” buffer states, and other illusions. Imperialism, militarism and war can never be abolished nor attenuated so long as the capitalist class exercises, uncontested, its class hegemony. The sole means of successful resistance, and the only guarantee of the peace of the world, is the capacity for action and the revolutionary will of the international proletariat to hurl its full weight into the balance.

9. Imperialism, as the last phase in the life, and the highest point in the expansion, of the world hegemony of capital, is the mortal enemy of the proletariat of all countries. But under its rule, just as in the preceding stages of capitalism, the forces of its mortal enemy have increased in pace with its development. It accelerates the concentration of capital, the pauperisation of the middle classes, the numerical reinforcement of the proletariat; arouses more and more resistance from the masses; and leads thereby to an intensified sharpening of class antagonisms. In peace time as in war, the struggle of the proletariat as a class has to be concentrated first of all against imperialism. For the international proletariat, the struggle against imperialism is at the same time the struggle for power, the decisive settling of accounts between socialism and capitalism. The final goal of socialism will be realised by the international proletariat only if it opposes imperialism all along the line, and if it makes the issue: “war against war” the guiding line of its practical policy; and on condition that it deploys all its forces and shows itself ready, by its courage to the point of extreme sacrifice, to do this.

10. In this framework, socialism’s principal mission today is to regroup the proletariat of all countries into a living revolutionary force; to make it, through a powerful international organization which has only one conception of its tasks and interests, and only one universal tactic appropriate to political action in peace and war alike, the decisive factor in political life: so that it may fulfil its historic mission.

11. The war has smashed the Second International. Its inadequacy has been demonstrated by its incapacity to place an effective obstacle in the way of the segmentation of its forces behind national boundaries in time of war, and to carry through a common tactic and action by the proletariat in all countries.

12. In view of the betrayal, by the official representatives of the socialist parties in the principal countries, of the aims and interests of the working class; in view of their passage from the camp of the working-class International to the political camp of the imperialist bourgeoisie; it is vitally necessary for socialism to build a new workers’ International, which will take into its own hands the leadership and co-ordination of the revolutionary class struggle against world imperialism.

(3) Karl Liebknecht, speech (January, 1919)

Friends, Comrades, Brothers! From under the blows of the world war, amidst the ruin which has been created by Tzarist Imperialist society - the Russian Proletariat erected its State - the Socialist Republic of Workers, Peasants and Soldiers. This was created in spite of an attitude of misconception, hatred and calumny. This republic represents the greatest basis for that universal socialist order, the creation of which is at the present time the historic task of the International Proletariat. The Russian revolution was to an unprecedented degree the cause of the proletariat of the whole world becoming more revolutionary. Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary are already in the throes of revolution; revolution is awakening in Germany. But there are obstacles in the way of the victory of the German proletariat. The mass of the German people are with us, the power of the accused enemies of the working class has collapsed; but they are nevertheless making all attempts to deceive the people, with a view of protracting the hour of the liberation of the German people. The robbery and violence of German Imperialism in Russia, as well as the violent Brest-Litovsk peace and the Bucharest peace have consolidated and strengthened the Imperialists of the Allied countries; - and this is the reason why the German Government are endeavouring to utilize the Allied attack upon Socialist Russia for the purpose of retaining power. You have no doubt heard how Willhelm II, who, now that Tzarism has perished, is the representative of the basest form of reaction, - a few days ago made use of intervention in the affairs of proletarian Russia by the Allied Empires for the purpose of raising a new war agitation amongst the working masses. We must not permit our ignoble enemies to make use of any democratic means and institutions for their purpose; the proletariat of the Allied countries must allow no such thing to occur. We know that you have already raised your voice to protest against the machinations of your governments; but the danger is growing ever greater and greater. A united front of world Imperialism against the proletariat is being realised, in the first instance, in the struggle aga inst the Russian Soviet Republic. This is what I warn you against. The proletariat of the world must not allow the flame of the Socialist Revolution to be extinguished, or all its hopes and all its powers will perish. The failure of the Russian Socialist Republic will be the defeat of the proletariat of the whole world. Friends, comrades, brothers arise against your rulers! Long live the Russian workers, soldiers and peasants! Long live the Revolution of the French, English, American proletariat! Long live the liberation of the workers off all countries from the infernal chasm of war, exploitation and slavery!

(3) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)

In the third week of December, the masses, as represented in the First National Congress of the Councils of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, rejected by an overwhelming majority the Spartacan motion that the Councils should disrupt the Constituent Assembly and the Provisional Democratic Government and seize power themselves.

In the light of Rosa's public pledge, the duty of her movement seemed clear: to accept the decision, or to seek to have it reversed not by force but by persuasion. However, on the last two days of 1918 and the first of 1919, the Spartacans held a convention of their own where they outvoted their "leader" once more. In vain did she try to convince them that to oppose both the Councils and the Constituent Assembly with their tiny forces was madness and a breaking of their democratic faith. They voted to try to take power in the streets, that is by armed uprising. Almost alone in her party, Rosa Luxemburg decided with a heavy heart to lend her energy and her name to their effort.

The Putsch, wth inadequate forces and overwhelming mass disapproval except in Berlin, was as she had predicted, a fizzle. But neither she nor her close associates fled for safety as Lenin had done in July, 1917. They stayed in the capital, hiding carelessly in easily suspected hideouts, trying to direct an orderly retreat. On January 16, a little over two months after she had been released from prison, Rosa Luxemburg was seized, along with Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck. Reactionary officers murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg while "taking them to prison." Pieck was spared, to become, as the reader knows, one of the puppet rulers of Moscow-controlled East Germany.

(4) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940)

A short while after Liebknecht had been taken away, Rosa Luxemburg was led out of the hotel by a First Lieutenant Vogel. Awaiting her before the door was Runge, who had received an order from First Lieutenants Vogel and Pflugk-Hartung to strike her to the ground. With two blows of his rifle-butt he smashed her skull.

Her almost lifeless body was flung into a waiting car, and several officers jumped in. One of them struck Rosa on the head with a revolver-butt, and First Lieutenant Vogel finished her off with a shot in the head. The corpse was then driven to the Tiergarten and, on Vogel's orders, thrown from the Liechtenstein Bridge into the Landwehr Canal, where it was not washed up until 31 May 1919.

(5) What Does the Spartacus League Want? (14th December, 1918)

I. As immediate measures to protect the Revolution:

1. Disarmament of the entire police force and of all officers and non proletarian soldiers; disarmament of all members of the ruling classes.

2. Confiscation of all weapons and munitions stocks as well as armaments factories by workers' and soldiers' councils.

3. Arming of the entire adult male proletarian population as a workers' militia. Creation of a Red Guard of proletarians as an active part of the militia for the constant protection of the Revolution against counter-revolutionary attacks and subversions.

4. Abolition of the command authority of officers and non-commissioned officers. Replacement of the military cadaver discipline by voluntary discipline of the soldiers. Election of all officers by their units, with right of immediate recall at any time. Abolition of the system of military justice.

5. Expulsion of officers and capitulations from all soldiers' councils.

6. Replacement of all political organs and authorities of the former regime by delegates of the workers' and soldiers' councils.

7. Establishment of a revolutionary tribunal to try the chief criminals responsible for starting and prolonging the war, the Hohenzollerns, Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Tirpitz, and their accomplices, together with all the conspirators of counter-revolution.

8. Immediate confiscation of all foodstuffs to secure the feeding of the people.

II. In the political and social realm:

1. Abolition of all principalities; establishment of a united German Socialist Republic.

2. Elimination of all parliaments and municipal councils, and takeover of their functions by workers' and soldiers' councils, and of the latter's committees and organs.

3. Election of workers' councils in all Germany by the entire adult working population of both sexes, in the city and the countryside, by enterprises, as well as of soldiers' councils by the troops (officers and capitulations excluded). The right of workers and soldiers to recall their representatives at any time.

4. Election of delegates of the workers' and soldiers' councils in the entire country to the central council of the workers' and soldiers' councils, which is to elect the executive council as the highest organ of the legislative and executive power.

5. Meetings of the central council provisionally at least every three months - with new elections of delegates each time in order to maintain constant control over the activity of the executive council, and to create an active identification between the masses of workers' and soldiers' councils in the nation and the highest governmental organ. Right of immediate recall by the local workers' and soldiers' councils and replacement of their representatives in the central council, should these not act in the interests of their constituents. Right of the executive council to appoint and dismiss the people's commissioners as well as the central national authorities and officials.

6. Abolition of all differences of rank, all orders and titles. Complete legal and social equality of the sexes.

7. Radical social legislation. Shortening of the labor day to control unemployment and in consideration of the physical exhaustion of the working class by world war. Maximum working day of six hours.

8. Immediate basic transformation of the food, housing, health and educational systems in the spirit and meaning of the proletarian revolution.

III. Immediate economic demands:

1. Confiscation of all dynastic wealth and income for the collectivity.

2. Repudiation of the state and other public debt together with all war loans, with the exception of sums of certain level to be determined by the central council of the workers' and soldiers' councils.

3. Expropriation of the lands and fields of all large and medium agricultural enterprises; formation of socialist agricultural collectives under unified central direction in the entire nation. Small peasant holdings remain in the possession of their occupants until the latters' voluntary association with the socialist collectives.

4. Expropriation by the council Republic of all banks, mines, smelters, together with all large enterprises of industry and commerce.

5. Confiscation of all wealth above a level to be determined by the central council.

6. Takeover of the entire public transportation system by the councils Republic.

7. Election of enterprise councils in all enterprises, which, in coordination with the workers' councils, have the task of ordering the internal affairs of the enterprises, regulating working conditions, controlling production and finally taking over direction of the enterprise.

8. Establishment of a central strike commission which, in constant collaboration with the enterprise councils, will furnish the strike movement now beginning throughout the nation with a unified leadership, socialist direction and the strongest support by the political power of the workers' and soldiers' councils.

Student Activities

Who Set Fire to the Reichstag? (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the German Workers' Party (Answer Commentary)

Sturmabteilung (SA) (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler the Orator (Answer Commentary)

An Assessment of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (Answer Commentary)

British Newspapers and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)

The Hitler Youth (Answer Commentary)

German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)

Night of the Long Knives (Answer Commentary)

The Political Development of Sophie Scholl (Answer Commentary)

The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group (Answer Commentary)

Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)

Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)

Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)

Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)


(1) Karl Liebknecht, speech in the Reichstag (4th August, 1914)

(2) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 208

(3) John Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (1966) page 610

(4) Clara Zetkin, letter to Rosa Luxemburg (5th August, 1914)

(5) Mike Jones, Clara Zetkin: Letters and Writings (2015) pages 34-35

(6) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 208

(7) Karl Liebknecht, speech in Berlin (December, 1914)

(8) Karl Liebknecht, The Main Enemy Is At Home! (May 1915)

(9) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 28

(10) Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Mathilde Jacob (2nd March, 1915)

(11) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 210

(12) Rosa Luxemburg, Die Internationale (April, 1915)

(13) Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis of German Social Democracy (April, 1915)

(14) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 24

(15) Rosa Luxemburg, Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (December, 1915)

(16) Rosa Levine-Meyer, Levine: The Life of a Revolutionary (1973) page 18

(17) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 225

(18) Rosa Luxemburg, Dog Politics (June, 1916)

(19) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 227

(20) Frank Alfred Golder, The Russian Revolution (1918) page 251

(21) Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, letter to Nicholas II (January, 1917)

(22) Roland Chambers, The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome (2009) page 129

(23) Morgan Philips Price, letter to Anna Maria Philips (13th March 1917)

(24) Nicholas II, diary entry (15th March, 1917)

(25) Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Hans Diefenbach (27th May, 1917)

(26) Rosa Luxemburg, Spartakusbriefe (June, 1917)

(27) Rosa Luxemburg, Spartakusbriefe (August, 1917)

(28) Lenin, letter to the members of the Central Committee (24th October, 1917)

(29) Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (1970) page 272

(30) Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1970) page 333

(31) Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia's Revolutions 1905-1917 (1977) page 512

(32) David Shub, Lenin (1948) page 288

(33) Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (1970) page 272

(34) David Shub, Lenin (1948) page 322

(35) Lenin, speech (19th January, 1918)

(36) Maxim Gorky, New Life (9th January, 1918)

(37) Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (1922) page 78

(38) Morgan Philips Price, My Three Revolutions (1969) page 160

(39) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 249

(40) Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (1922) page 73

(41) Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (1922) page 75

(42) Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (1970) page 280

(43) Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia's Revolutions 1905-1917 (1977) page 556

(44) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 240

(45) Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1970) page 406

(46) Rosa Luxemburg, Spartakusbriefe (June, 1918)

(47) Morgan Philips Price, My Three Revolutions (1969) page 160

(48) Martin Gilbert, First World War (1994) page 474

(49) Tobias R. Philbin, Admiral von Hipper: The Inconvenient Hero (1982) page 155

(50) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918-1923 (1982) page 41

(51) Richard M. Watt, The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution (1973) page 221

(52) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 209

(53) Norddeutsches Volksblatt (15th November 1918)

(54) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 259

(55) Rosa Levine-Meyer, Levine: The Life of a Revolutionary (1973) page 56

(56) Social Democratic Party leaflet (29th December, 1918)

(57) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 46

(58) Heinrich Ströbel, The German Revolution and After (1923) page 88

(59) Rosa Luxemburg, Die Rote Fahne (18th November, 1918)

(60) John Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (1966) page 725

(61) Pierre Broué, German Revolution (1971) pages 207-208

(62) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 64

(63) Rosa Levine-Meyer, Levine: The Life of a Revolutionary (1973) page 65

(64) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966) page 18

(65) Rosa Levine-Meyer, Levine: The Life of a Revolutionary (1973) page 80

(66) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 73

(67) Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) page 274

(68) Paul Levi, Die Rote Fahne (5th September, 1920)

(69) John Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (1966) page 767

(70) Rosa Luxemburg, Die Rote Fahne (7th January, 1918)

(71) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 98

(72) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 60

(73) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964) page 77

(74) Simon Taylor, Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Rise of Hitler (1983) page 10

(75) Richard M. Watt, The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution (1973) page 299

(76) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 84

John Simkin