On This Day: 3 Sept 1918: Rosa Luxemburg on the Russian Revolution, Polish Socialism and the Germans

Rosa Luxemburg (around 1918) (Source: Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung)

Rosa Luxemburg (around 1918) (Source: Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung)

On 3 September 1918, Rosa Luxemburg wrote from her cell in Breslau Prison (present day Wrocław, Poland) to her Polish comrade, Stephan Bratman-Brodowski (1880- 1937) about the Russian Revolution, Polish socialism and the Germans.

In her letter, Luxemburg expressed her unease at the activites of their comrade Feliks Dzerzhinsky (1877- 1926), who had joined the Bolsheviks and would go on to become head of the repressive and savage Cheka, the Bolshevik Secret Police. She wrote of the ‘disastrous situtation of the entire history’ of Russia, which ‘very much restricts criticism’ of the Bolsheviks’ actions. A month later, on 7 November (Julian calendar), the Bolsheviks would go on to overthrow the Provisional Government, seize power and establish their ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. Despite believing it was important to limit her criticism of the Bolsheviks, Luxemburg told Bratman-Brodowski that she found it ‘impossible to remain completely silent’, and hoped that he and their comrades in the Polish social-democratic party (SDKPiL) felt the same way.

Above all, Luxemburg craved information about what was really happening in Russia. From her prison cell in Germany, her knowledge of Russian events was patchy, based as it was on censored newspapers and second or third hard reports smuggled in to her. ‘Rather than food,’ she wrote to Bratman-Brodowski, ‘it would be better if you regularly sent me news- of all kinds, about the Bolsheviks, about our people [the Poles], as well as about conditions in Switzerland, things one cannot learn from the newspapers’. Luxemburg wrote that she was ‘determined to have as vital a contact with life as possible’ from her prison cell, although this was ‘extremely difficult’ because her German comrades in the anti-war Spartacus League,  which she co-founded in 1914, were ‘dreadfully busy’ and few in number, but also because, ‘for the most part’, they were ‘idiots and sleepyheads’.

Luxemburg ended her letter to Bratman-Brodowski with enquiries about the merger of their Polish party (the SDKPiL) with the left-wing of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), which was working towards. ‘It seems to me’, she wrote, that ‘there were no disagreements (between us and them)’ and encouraged a ‘rapprochement’ between the two radical left-wing parties.

Two months after writing the letter, Rosa Luxemburg was released from prison as the German Revolution swept away the Kaiser, the German Empire and, it seemed, the old order. In mid-December, the SKDPiL and the PPS-Left merged to form the Polish Communist Party, followed two weeks later by the formation of the German Communist Party in Berlin by Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and others. Two weeks later, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered, the German Revolution stopped well short of the radical ideas proposed by the Communists and the Polish Communist Party was doomed to peripheral role as an extreme, unpopular fringe-party in the newly independent Polish Republic.

Stephan Bratman Brodowski, like many of Luxemburg’s Polish comrades, joined the Bolsheviks, suppressing his previous anxieties about Lenin’s rule. He served as a Soviet functionary, whilst remaining a member of the leadership of the (illegal) Polish Communist Party, and supported Soviet Russia in its war against his native Poland in 1920. Bratman-Brodowski served as a Soviet diplomat in Berlin and Bern, later working in Latvia and the Ukraine, where Stalin was enforcing murderous collectivisation and famine. In 1937, he and his wife Helena were arrested during the Purge of the Polish Communist Party and both were executed.

Sources and Further Reading:

For the letter, see Georg Adler, Peter Hudis & Annelies Laschitza (eds.), ‘The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg’ (London & New York: Verso, 2011), p. 468- 470

For biographical information of Bratman-Brodowski, see Słownik biograficzny działaczy polskiego ruchu robotniczego t. [Biographical Dictionary of Polish labour movement activists] vol. 1, (Warszaw,  1978)


About rosaluxemburgblog

I was awarded a PhD in History by Swansea University for a thesis on Rosa Luxemburg (2016). I am currently co-editing the fourth volume of 'The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg' and am a member of the Advisory Board of the International Rosa Luxemburg Society.
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