by Daphna Whitmore

Last Sunday ten thousand people marched to the graves of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Berlin.


Since the late 1920s Luxemburg and Liebknecht have been commemorated on the second Sunday of January to mark their deaths on 15 January 1919. In the former East Germany it was an official state event but since the country’s unification in 1990 the tradition has continued without state support.

Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland in 1871 but lived most of her adult life in Germany.

She was an outstanding revolutionary who foresaw World War 1 looming as early as 1900. A leading figure in the left wing of the German Social Democratic Party Rosa was an early critic of the party’s move away from revolutionary politics. She was imprisoned many times from 1904 to 1906 for leading campaigns against German imperialism and militarism.

When the Social Democratic Party, in government in 1914, voted in favour of participating in the war she left the party as did Karl Liebknecht and Clara Zetkin. Rosa famously declared Social Democracy a stinking corpse.

She continued organising anti-war demonstrations and was imprisoned for two years in 1916.

When an uprising began in January 1919 in Berlin, Rosa was at the forefront. The SDP leader Ebert ordered the Freikorps, a mercenary armed force, to put down the revolution and Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested, tortured and shot.

That Luxemburg and Liebknecht remain celebrated figures in Europe suggests these two revolutionaries are symbols of hope for a different world.

Rosa Luxemburg’s writings are available here:

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