Was Rosa Luxemburg in support of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919?

IBDP History Extended Essay Example   Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacist Uprising
Research question: Was Rosa Luxemburg in support of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919?

Section A.

    This investigation deals with the question Was Rosa Luxemburg in support of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919? To conclude a valid answer the role of the Spartacists in the November Revolution (the events leading up to the revolts in January 1919) will be at the focus. Thereby the aims of the Spartacus League and the overall revolution should be identified, as well as Rosa Luxemburg’s personal engagement and expectations. The sources Der Spartakusaufstand im Januar by the history academic Holger Lucas and Gesammelte Werke are being evaluated, as they are crucial in determining Luxemburg’s role and standpoint in the Spartacist Uprising. For reconstructing the events of the winter 1918/19 and compiling Luxemburg’s profile the first source is essential. Also the latter is vital in this process; it is a collection of Luxemburg’s writings and thus the most important source for understanding her ideology.

Word count: 146
Section B.

In 1916 the Spartacus League had developed out of the Spartacus Group, having first began as the Group Internationale in 1914. Rosa Luxemburg was the initiator of this left-wing opposition organisation, and, alongside Karl Liebknecht, emerged as the leadership of the KPD  until their murders on January 15, 1919.

In October 1918, towards the end of World War I, the Hohenzollern monarchy was collapsing; consequently a parliamentary government of USDP and SPD,  dominated by the latter, was set up. Friedrich Ebert, SPD, led this provisional government. The SPD rejected a revolution, nonetheless political prisoners were granted amnesty October 20, 1918. Liebknecht was released from jail October 23; he promptly returned to the Spartacist leadership. At this point, Germany was already in a revolutionary state.

November 4, a mutiny by 80,000 sailors in Kiel stimulated the so-called November Revolution. Soon workers, who went on strike for better working conditions and the removal of the monarchy, joined them. Under increasing pressure Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9. The Democratic Republic of Germany was proclaimed.

By this time the Spartacists had gained significant influence in all major cities. Almost everywhere workers’ and soldiers’ councils had been established. In order to provide these proletarian institutions with political power, the Spartacus League demanded to be given seats in the governmental council. However, bound by an agreement with the OHL, President Ebert had to resist a Bolshevik-style revolution completely in return for the army’s support. Consequently, the Spartacists recalled their request and categorised the SPD as an enemy of the revolution.

Luxemburg, released from jail November 8, immediately joined the revolution in Berlin, working for the Spartacist newspaper Die Rote Fahne. She outlined the League’s manifesto demanding the “dictatorship of the proletariat” replacing the “bourgeois” government with democratically elected workers’ and soldiers’ councils and, adding to this, large reforms to remove the conservative military, judiciary and police, without the recourse to violence. The SPD responded with a counter-revolution whilst Luxemburg continuously spoke out, repeatedly demanding the proletarian masses carry on the revolution to peacefully unite and use the power of the mass strike against the government. She denounced both the idea of an all-powerful central committee as well as the existence of a national assembly. Instead all power must be provided to the councils.

On December 16, state police killed Spartacists demonstrators upon which Luxemburg suggested setting up a “workers-militia” . That same month the constituent assembly was officially handed over all power within Germany, with workers’ and soldiers’ councils serving only as advisory bodies. As a consequence the USDP left the coalition government and united with the Spartacus League; on December 29 they set up a Revolutionary Committee aiming to boycott the proposed national elections on January 19 and overthrow the government. Liebknecht was part of its leadership and only one of two Spartacists. Moreover, the Spartacists came together simultaneously to form the KPD, December 30. Unlike the majority of her Party, Luxemburg emphasised the need to join the elections in order to pursue proletarian rule.

When the provisional government removed police-president Emil Eichhorn - USPD member and KPD sympathiser - on January 4, the left wing called for protests. On January 5-12, 1919, the Spartacus League launched a socialist revolutionary attempt to overthrow the provisional government. 500,000 workers in Berlin followed the Revolutionary Committee, yet the Kiel sailors stayed uncommitted. The main communication centres, railway stations, the police department and other buildings were beleaguered. The revolutionaries were equipped with weapons, such as machineguns; up to about one-thousand Freikorps and other governmental forces intervened on December 11/12, raids and violence broke out. In bloody battles, around 150 revolutionaries and 13 militaries were killed, also civilians. Luxemburg and her KPD comrade Leo Jogiches had already officially retreated from the revolts January 8.

Words: 685 Section C.

    Gesammelte Werke by Rosa Luxemburg is a collection of her works in four volumes published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. It includes articles, transcripts of speeches, pamphlets or the like in German, the language Luxemburg wrote in. She used these media to present her political ideas, in particular the concept of social freedom and how it may be achieved. Thus, by reading these primary sources a historian receives direct access to Luxemburg’s thoughts and political maxims without any bias from translation. This enables us to evaluate what kind of socialist Rosa Luxemburg was and thus how she must have felt about the January revolts. However, one must consider her articles were published in Die Rote Fahne, the Spartacist’s newspaper, where she was only one of six publishers; disagreement was on the daily routine, thus her articles may not fully represent her personal opinion . Moreover, the international Bolshevik organisation exerted noteworthy influence on the newspaper and the League (later KPD) as a whole.  Consequently, when referring to Gesammelte Werke, one must account for external influence and possible restrictions imposed on Luxemburg’s writings and speeches by other Spartacists and the Comintern.


    The analytical essay Der Spartakusaufstand im Januar und der staatlich gelenkte Einsatz von Freiwilligenverbänden by the history academic Holger Lucas is equally important. Its purpose is to investigate how the government intervened in the Spartacist Uprisings in 1919 by reconstructing a timeline of events and analysing Libknecht’s and Luxemburg’s role. Lucas, as a German academic producing a research study in 2004, enjoys the privilege that all public as well as most private or institutional archives are open to him. This enables him to access large numbers of official statistics and primary sources. However, collections of, for example, Eastern German documents are still not completed. And, because Lucas is writing from hindsight, he is prone to reproduce a false image of the early years of the Weimar Republic. Though, he can discuss the situation openly and make judgements based on a wide range of information. Since the essay focuses on giving facts and numbers rather than convincing the reader of a specific argument, it is a very valuable secondary source to help understand the individual events that constituted the Spartacist Uprisings. At the same time it provides information about Luxemburg and Liebknecht in one separate chapter. The historian studying the source can get a well-rounded idea of the revolts themselves and Luxemburg’s involvement.
Word count: 405 Section D.

    „By Karl Liebknecht we have sworn it, with Rosa Luxembrug we shake hands,“ lyrics every primary-school pupil in the DDR had to memorise; a testament it gave to the importance of Luxemburg and Liebknecht in the DDR. Annually, the SED celebrated them as national heroes with a march to their memorial at Friedrichsfeld, Berlin as national martyrs for standing up against the right-wing politics in the Spartacist Uprising. Socialists continue to honour them, now as front-fighters against fascism. The received wisdom is that both were in favour of the uprising. However, analysing of the material suggests this to be a simplification.

    Lucas clearly identifies Liebknecht as the prime mover of the Spartacist uprising: “In particular the communist leader Karl Liebknecht rooted for revolutionary action”. Focus online supports his argument: “Liebknecht proclaimed the armed struggle against the government,” focussing on Liebknecht’s antagonism towards the SPD government which he dismissed as a “democracy that socialism has never demanded.” The majority of the KPD welcomed his call for an armed coup to anticipate the planned elections on January 19; it became KPD prority.

Seemingly, Luxemburg was in clear opposition to Liebknecht and the new KPD policy. Lucas writes: They “were at odds about the new course. While he was forcing the uprising, she was objected to it.” Instead of rearing up against the national elections on January 19, Luxemburg had advocated the KPD’s participation at its founding party congress. Waldman supports this interpretation, arguing Luxemburg solely engaged with the Spartacist Uprisings because she believed in the power of spontaneous mass strikes.

Altogether, Luxemburg pleaded for more moderate action; a pacifist in her principles. This is still disputed by those wishing to stress her Marxist credentials:

They were revolutionaries and Marxists, and it was their convictions, their belief that a better, socialist world could be created, that drove them to follow the path they did.

Such claims transform both individuals into a monolith, claiming Luxemburg clearly favoured the uprising and, moreover, indifferently tolerated the use of violence as it happened during the January revolts. This idea is contradicted by what is conveyed by her writings. In the Spartacist Program she wrote, “a proletarian revolution does not require violence to succeed in its aims… as it is not fighting against individuals but institutions.” Furthermore, in her manuscript The Russian Revolution, composed during the German November Revolution, she rejected “the use of terror” completely, referring negatively to Lenin’s use of the Red Terror. However, one must wonder why she advocated a workers-militia. Fritz Schlegel argues that it was a response after the murder of sixteen Spartacists in order to protect the workers and their will, and was to be separated from the KPD completely to prevent it from deviating from democratic policies.

    Dr Helmut Trotnow further suggests that Luxemburg would not have supported the protest given the organisation of the uprising, feeling those behind a revolution must solely give an impulse to the masses. This argument is supported by her writings. As early as 1904 she criticised Lenin’s idea of an ultra-centralist party concept, believing that such a system would provide a small elite circle with dictatorship-like power, while neglecting the proletarian masses. Moreover, in the League’s manifesto she denounces the use of the masses as merely a tool for a minority in a revolution and reemphasises that a truly socialist revolution must be a revolution by the proletariat. However, the Revolutionary Committee, from which she was absent, resembles such an elite minority with Liebknecht functioning as the ‘German Lenin.’ This contradicts with her idea of a truly socialist revolution and social democracy.
Word Count: 712
Section E.

    The January Revolts have been referred to as a „revolutionary legend” although it is doubtful that Rosa Luxemburg would have agreed with this description. The German November Revolution and the Spartacist Uprising 1918/19 stand diametrically opposed to her principles which consistently called for a peaceful revolution driven by well-educated proletarian masses and conducted by socialist leaders to establish a socialist democracy. The actual revolution was dominated by an elitist minority which relied on violence as a means of revolution. Adding to this, the revolution was missing the widespread mass support, and those who supported the demonstrations were not fully educated in socialist studies from Luxemburg’s perspective. Lastly, the Revolutionary Committee did not define its goal to establish a lasting socialist democracy but simply wanted to remove the current government.
   
    Concluding, Rosa Luxemburg could not have been in support of the Spartacist Uprsings in January 1919. Yet, she did not want to destroy the socialist spirit that had developed, and therefore, she half-heartedly supported the revolts.
   
Words: 178

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