100 Years Ago Today: Rosa Luxemburg Imprisoned for Anti-War Speech

Rosa Luxemburg, Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, 1915

On 18 February 1915, Rosa Luxemburg began a twelve month sentence in Berlin’s Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison for an anti-war speech delivered to workers at Fechenheim, near Frankfurt.

In her Fechenheim speech (delivered before the war, in September 1913) Luxemburg had called on German workers to refuse to shoot their French brothers in the event of war. As a result, she was charged with ‘inciting public disobedience’ and put on trial in Frankfurt in February 1914. Declared a flight risk by the public prosecutor, Luxemburg famously replied:

‘Sir, I do believe that you would run away. A Social Democrat never does. A Social Democrat stands by his deeds and laughs at your judgements. Now sentence me.’

The judge did indeed sentence her- to twelve months in prison, but the trial was a propaganda success and made Luxemburg a hero of the anti-war left and villain of the right-wing press. The implementation of her sentence was delayed while Luxemburg underwent hospital treatment, but on 18 February 1915 she was suddenly arrested and informed that her sentence would begin immediately.

Luxemburg served her entire twelve months in Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison and was released on 18 February 1916. As a result of her continued anti-war work, she was arrested again on 10 July 1916 and placed under ‘protective custody’ (ie. imprisonment) for the rest of the war, held first in Wronke Fortress and then Breslau Prison. During her incarceration, Luxemburg produced some of her most important works, including the anti-war Junius Pamphlet (1915), the economic work The Accumulation of Capital: An Anti-Critique (1915) and her analysis of events in Russia, The Russian Revolution (1918).

The Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, Berlin



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96 Years Ago Today: Rosa Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin

1907 or 1908 maybe- rosa luxemburg- rls

96 years ago today, on 15 January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was detained, interrogated and murdered by right-wing soldiers under the command of socialist Defence Minister Gustav Noske. Today she is remembered around the world for her life and ideas.

Born in Russian-Poland in a middle-class Jewish family in 1873, Rosa Luxemburg emigrated to Switzerland after completing High School and enrolled at Zurich University. Whilst still a student she co-founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP, later SDKPiL), with Leo Jogiches, Adolf Warszawski and Julian Marchlewski, before being awarded a doctorate in 1897.

The following year, she moved to Berlin and joined the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD), then the largest and most powerful socialist organisation in the world. She rose to prominence on the left-wing of the SPD as a firebrand speaker, journalist and theoretician, writing works on economics, nationalism, imperialism, war, socialism and democracy.

Luxemburg taught at the SPD party school, wrote for party newspapers and represented the Poles and Germans at meetings of the Socialist International before 1914. When Revolution came to her homeland in 1905, she returned to Warsaw and endured imprisonment for her revolutionary activities, before returning to exile in Germany.

In the years preceding 1914, Luxemburg warned frequently of the oncoming crisis of imperialism and the dangers of a catastrophic war. She called on European workers to refuse to take up arms against eachother.

When war broke out in August 1914, the European socialist parties, who had long declared their hostility to war and determination to resist it by all means, crumbled and supported their respective governments. When the SPD voted in favour of war credits in the Reichstag (thus demonstrating support for the Kaiser’s government and the war), Luxemburg contemplated suicide for the only time in her life.

Luxemburg co-founded the anti-war, socialist group ‘The Spartacus League’, named after the Roman rebel slave, with other German socialists. Her anti-war activities soon led to her arrest and she spent the majority of the four years of the war in the Kaiser’s prisons. From her cell, she produced the anti-war ‘Junius Pamphlet’ as well as other works, whilst also leading the underground Spartacus League. Her own party, the SPD, disowned and expelled her and other anti-war activists.

In November 1918, sailors mutineered and began the German November Revolution. The Kaiser was deposed, workers and soldiers councils established and a new government, led by the SPD, took control of Germany. Rosa Luxemburg was released from prison and returned to Berlin, where she co-founded the German Communist Party (KPD) on New Year’s Eve.

Tensions between the SPD government (headed by Friedrich Ebert and Phillip Scheidemann) and the more radical socialist parties, namely the Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD) and the KPD, boiled over on 5 January 1919. The spark was the government dismissal of Berlin’s police chief, Emil Eichhorn, a USPD member who had been appointed during the November Revolution. In response, strikes and demonstrations erupted across the city, led by the USPD, KPD and Revolutionary Shop Stewards- who formed a ‘Revolutionary Committee’.

Armed workers and soldiers occupied the newspaper district and other key buildings in central Berlin, while the leaders of the Revolutionary Committee argued, dithered and fractured. Meanwhile, the government moved in well organised regiments of ‘Freikorps’ (right-wing soldiers formed out of demobilised soldiers and led by reactionary officers), positioned outside the city by Defence Minister Gustav Noske, who called himself ‘the Bloodhound of the Revolution’.

The ‘Spartacist Rising’, as the government labelled it, was crushed with hundreds of casualties among armed revolutionaries and civilian workers, and acts of barbarism by the Freikorps. Leading Communists and left socialists were arrested, beaten up and hounded.

On 15 January, Rosa Luxemburg and fellow KPD leader Karl Liebknecht were discovered by the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division Freikorps. at a house in a middle-class suburb of Berlin. They were taken for interrogation at the Hotel Eden, before being murdered, their bodies dumped in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

The murderers escaped punishment.

Every year since 1919, people have gathered at the graves in the Friedrichsfelde Cemetery to mark the anniversary and remember Luxemburg and Liebknecht (except during the Nazi era, when the graves were desecrated).

For a range of Rosa Luxemburg’s works and letters available free and online, visit the Marxists Internet Archive at: http://marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/index.htm

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On This Day: 15 January 1919: Rosa Luxemburg Murdered

Originally posted on rosaluxemburgblog:

rosa luxemburg older- rls

On 15 January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was arrested by government forces and taken to the Hotel Eden, where she was interrogated and then murdered.

Since then, demonstrators have marched to commemorate the murders annually (except during the Nazi era) on 15 January, or more recently on the Sunday beforehand.

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‘Condolence Card from Rosa Luxemburg': Germans, Frenchmen and Offenburgers in the First World War’

SPD politician Adolf Geck (1854-1942)

An article in the Offenburger Zeitung about Rosa Luxemburg’s friends Adolf and Marie Geck, residents of Offenburg, and the death of their son Brandel on 23 October 1918.


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‘Hannah Arendt und die falsche Rosa Luxemburg’ by Tobias Dorfer in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, 14 October 2014


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New and upcoming books on Rosa Luxemburg…

Women in Dark Times

Jacqueline Rose, Women in Dark Times (London: Bloomsbury, 2014)

Rosemary H. T. O’Kane, Rosa Luxemburg in Action: For Revolution and Democracy (UK: Routledge, due for publication in December 2014)

Rosa Luxemburg, Peter Hudis & Paul LeBlanc (eds.), The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, vol. 2 Economic Writings II (London & New York: Verso, due for publication on 19 May 2015)

Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg (London: Verso, due for re-publication 16 June 2015) (first published in 1976)

Rosa Luxemburg, Jack Ralite (preface), Gilbert Badia (trans.), Lettres et textes choisis (France: Le Temps des Cerises, September 2014)

Anne Blanchard, Rosa Luxemburg: Non aux Frontières (France: Actes Sud Junior, September 2014)

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New ‘On This Day’ WW1 Rosa Luxemburg twitter account

Please see here or follow @RosaLuxWW1 on Twitter for ‘On This Day in WW1′ tweets from the letters and life of Rosa Luxemburg.

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