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Rosa Luxemburg: "The Revolution Will "Raise Itself up Again Clashing,' and to Your Horror It Will Proclaim to the Sound

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The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing...
Albert Einstein

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.


For the worker committed to justice and revolutionary change, desks in private spaces are hard to come by.   Work is dome in cramped apartments or in a prison cell. It is done on the run, sometimes underground. For Marxist theorist and activist Rosa Luxemburg, it is done in spite of the bourgeoisie's interests in maintaining its relationship to the privileged power because it is the work that articulates the demands of the poor and working class that, to this day--represents a subversive activity.

Consequently, when the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) dismissed Rosa Luxemburg's work, the SPD did so because, as Luxemburg documented in "Social Reform or Revolution" and in "Theory and Practice," (The Rosa Luxemburg Reader), its leadership had already begun to "revise" Marxism in such a way as to inform the working class that its demands and strategies for protest were either inappropriate or illogical. It is not inappropriate or illogical for the SPD to endorse an imperialist war, however.

The imperialist war and the SPD leadership's support for it nearly broke Luxemburg. In Germany, conditions for workers and soldiers are grim. Working class families spent 52 percent of their income on food and 33 percent on necessities such as housing, heating, lights and clothing. Whatever was left went to school fees for the children, church, social and intellectual life, health, insurance, debt, and savings" ("Economic and Social Development," Imperial Germany 1871-1918). [1] By May, 1916, Luxemburg receives word that her friend and comrade Karl Liebknecht has been arrested:: "I tried with all the might of my fist to "free" him [when he was seized] and I pulled at him and at the policemen all the way to the police station, from which I was unceremoniously expelled" (Letter to Clara Zetkin, [Sudende,] May 12, 1916, The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg). [2]   By August 1916, she is on the verge of suicide (The Reader).

That same month, she decides to organize a meeting in her apartment in opposition to the socialist "capitulation to imperialist war" and worsening conditions for citizens in Germany. Karl Liebknecht, who also opposed the war, (The Reader), joins the group.   For this meeting on the evening on August 4th, Luxemburg had one goal:   to think about how to disassociate socialism from "the betrayal" of the SPD.

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By the end of this meeting, Luxemburg and Liebknecht and others had formed the Die Gruppe Internationale and the Die Internationale journal. It was this crucial event that "helped galvanize antiwar sentiment and led a year later to the formation of Spartacus Group." Luxemburg breaks from "the political legacy" of the SPD and the editors of Vorwarts and New Zeit.   She and Karl Liebknecht, are arrested and imprisoned, but the Die Gruppe Internationale, now the Spartacus League, moves underground and continues to find creative ways in which to wage an "illegal campaign" against the war, distributing pamphlets, many of which were written by an imprisoned Luxemburg.  

What I am in favor of, in general, is that things should proceed slowly and thoroughly rather than hastily and superficially. It is an entire process of political schooling that must be gone through by the masses of our people, and that requires time. In such times of transition, patience is the duty of a political person and a leader, even if it is not a pleasant duty. Letter to Clara Zetkin, [Sudende,] March 9, 1916, The Letters)


With the German Revolution now in full swing by November 1918, enlisted soldiers and masses of workers take to the streets, for the soldiers and workers knew, writes historian Gordon Craig, that "the war had been lost" (Germany 1866-1945). Radical workers' groups emerge in the manufacturing centers of Berlin, Bremen, Braunschweig, Stuttgart, and Hamburg (The Reader); these groups are inspired by the Spartacus Group. While the war continues to drain the country's resources, more workers form workers' councils.

In the streets, 300 workers in the Maybach motor construction plant in Friedrichshafen, Wurttemberg chant ""The Kaiser is a scoundrel'" (Germany). At Kiel and in the capital of Bavaria, enlisted men form "sailors' councils" at the navel base (Germany).   As they re-act to the "crisis," their uprising spreads throughout Germany. Prince Max dispatches Majority Socialist Gustav Noske to Kiel with orders to restore order!

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And he does! Noske becomes the workers' savior by proclaiming himself chairman of the sailors' council at Kiel! Of course, Noske fulfills the workers most immediate demand: he releases their "imprisoned comrades" (Germany). Cheers to Noske! At the Imperial Palace, Noske is a hero too! Outmaneuvering "the most radical elements in the sailors' movement," (Germany)--how could he not be a hero to the New Order in Berlin!

But other workers persisted. "Within days there were the red flags of communism all over German cities. Revolutionary councils formed and radical slogans, displayed, all inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, historian Michael Strurmer writes in The German Empire).

On November 5, 1918, workers at Germany's largest navel base at Wilhelmshaven formed a sailors' council and marched on the Rathaus in Hamburg. In Bavaria, Socialist journalist Kurt Eisner (previously the editor of Vorwarts--1898-1905) overthrows the monarchy and occupies the seat of "power."

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Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, Black Commentator, Editorial Board and Columnist, Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory

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