Three of the delegates: Jean Jaurès (France), Keir Hardie (Great Britain) and Angelica Balabanov (Italy)
On 29 July 1914, socialist leaders from across Europe gathered in Brussels for a meeting of the International Socialist Bureau, the permanent bureau of the Socialist International (commonly known as the Second International).
Those present included Jean Jaurès (France), Keir Hardie (Great Britain), Karl Kautsky, Hugo Haase and Rosa Luxemburg (Germany), Pavel Axelrod (Russia), Victor Adler (Austria), Angelica Balabanov (Italy) and Emile Vandervelde (Belgium). Faced with the prospect of a world war (Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia on 28 July and on the 29th Russia mobilised its troops), the assembled leaders debated what they could do avert war.
The meeting was a depressing one. Adler told the other delegates that there was nothing to be done to stop the war in Austria-Hungary. The Hungarian and Czech leaders agreed. That evening, thousands of Belgians attended a rally which was addressed by the socialist leaders. The French leader Jaurès gave a his speech with his arm symbolically around the German Haase’s shoulder. He said that the French government wanted peace and won loud applause. Jaurès left Brussels on 30 July, hopeful that war could be avoided. The next day he was assassinated in Paris by a fanatical nationalist.
The Italian delegate Balabanov wrote that those at the meeting on 29 July felt ‘hopelessness and despair’ and that ‘In retrospect, Jean Jaurès and Rosa Luxemburg seem to me the only delegates who, like Adler, fully realized the inevitability of the war’. Rosa Luxemburg was devastated by the prospect of a world war and by the failure of the socialist movement to prevent it. On 31 July, she left Brussels and returned to Berlin and the following day Germany declared war on Russia. On 3 August, Germany declared war on France and on the 4th, Britain declared war on Germany. The world war had begun.
Leo Jogiches (1867- 1919)
Jogiches was born in Wilna (Vilnius) in the Russian Empire, the son of a wealthy Jewish family. He was forced to flee into exile in the early 1890s as a result of his involvement in the revolutionary movement. As a student at Zurich University, he met Rosa Luxemburg, with whom he formed a romantic relationship which lasted for many years and a political and ideological partnership which continued until their deaths.
A co-founder of the Social Democracy of Kingdom of Poland (SDKP), which later merged with the Lithuanian organisation to become the SDKPiL, Jogiches remained a leader of the Party until 1918, when it merged to form the Polish Communist Party.
During the First World War, Jogiches became involved in German politics for the first time as a member of the Spartacus League, established by Rosa Luxemburg and others in opposition to the war. While its prominent leaders languished in prison for their anti-war activities, Jogiches became the group’s leader, operating underground.
A somewhat reluctant co-founder of the German Communist Party (KPD) in December 1918, Jogiches argued against the so-called ‘Spartacist Rising’ in January 1919. After the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on 15 January, Jogiches became the leader of the KPD and in that role campaigned for the punishment of the murderers. On 10 March, Jogiches was arrested by government Freikorps in the working-class Berlin suburb of Neukolln. After interrogation and torture, he was murdered. His killers, like those who murdered Luxemburg and Liebknecht, escaped punishment.
A short film about Rosa Luxemburg’s 1914 trial in Frankfurt for an anti-war speech in which she called on German workers to refuse to shoot their French brothers. From Hessischer Rundfunk. She was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.
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Rosa Luxemburg was born on 5 March 1871 in the small Polish city of Zamosc and grew up in Warsaw. She earned a doctorate from Zurich University in 1897 and co-founded the Polish social-democratic party (SDKPiL). Living in Germany from 1898, she joined the German social-democratic party (SPD) and rose to prominence as a left-wing journalist, speaker and theorist. Imprisoned several times in Germany, she was active in the 1905 Revolution in Poland before returning to exile in Berlin. Luxemburg was a leading figure in the Second Socialist International and a campaigner against imperialism, war and dictatorship. She believed in socialism and democracy and called for the overthrow of the capitalist system.
During the First World War, Luxemburg was imprisoned for her anti-war activities and expelled from the SPD. She co-founded the Spartakusbund, which sought to end the war and overthrow the Kaiser and capitalism. During the German Revolution, which ushered in the Weimar Republic, Luxemburg was a co-founder of the German Communist Party (KPD). On 15 January 1919, she was arrested by government soldiers and murdered.
Nearly one hundred years later, her life and ideas continue to be an inspiration to people all over the world. To read some of her works online go to: marxists.org/archive/luxemburg.
Happy 143rd Birthday Rosa Luxemburg!
Rosa Luxemburg at a family gathering (Berlin, c. 1902)
Rosa Luxemburg addresses crowds at the International Socialist Congress, held in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1907.