German film director Margarethe von Trotta gets award

This video, in German with English subtitles, says about itself:

Margarethe von Trotta Interview: A Group of Rebels

Award-winning film director Margarethe von Trotta – who has worked closely with the legendary directors Fassbinder and Schlöndorff – here shares the story of her winding road to becoming one of the leading contemporary German filmmakers.

Growing up, von Trotta didn’t go to the cinema very often, but rather to operas, concerts and plays: “Films weren’t really “art” for us. In Germany, films were sentimental with a regional background… you’d watch those on rainy Sundays, when there was nothing else to do.” This changed in the early 1960s, when she was studying in Paris and was introduced to the Nouvelle Vague by fellow students. This sparked an interest in going to the cinema, where she came across ‘The Seventh Seal’ by Ingmar Bergman, whose movies she developed a great fascination of “because his films combined everything. Art, painting, music, acting… Everything I had seen or heard before to a small degree, here and there.” Moreover ‘The Seventh Seal’ was the first of its kind to explore the concept of death: “Young girls think about death a lot. Especially those girls who were born in Berlin, like I was.”

Living in France in the 1960s, and being “attacked” for being German, she was also forced to confront her country’s past: “That’s why the 1968 movement took place. The young people took a stance against their parents’ generation.” Moreover, it was a time with hardly any female film directors, so her way into the industry became through acting in movies by e.g. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, where she absorbed all she could without revealing her true aspirations: “I realised deep down that I had the desire to direct. But I never would have dared to say it out loud. People would have laughed.”

Touching on the political environment in which they found themselves, von Trotta continues to argue that her generation of filmmakers – which she describes as “a group of rebels” – had finally begun to understand some things about their country and its past, which their movies reflected: “You can’t live in the world and observe it without letting anything in. But it wasn’t the primary reason we made films.”

Margarethe von Trotta (b. 1942) is a German film director who is often mentioned as a “leading force” of the New German Cinema movement. Her films mostly evolve around the relationships between and among women. Among her vast body of films are ‘Sisters, or the Balance of Happiness’ (Schwestern oder die Balance des Glücks) (1979), ‘Marianne and Juliane’ (Die bleierne Zeit) (1981), ‘Rosa Luxemburg’ (1986), ‘The Long Silence (Zeit des Zorns) (1993), ‘Rosenstrasse’ (2003) and ‘Hannah Arendt’ (2012). She has received numerous awards for her movies, including a Golden Lion and the FIPRESCI awards at the Venice Film Festival (1981), Guild Film Award-Gold (1983), Bavarian Film Award (1995), Golden Globe Award at the Golden Globes Italy (2003) and Taormina Arte Award (2004).

Margarethe von Trotta was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at Grand Teatret in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 2015.

By Bernd Reinhardt in Germany:

German film prize goes to Margarethe von Trotta, director of Rosa Luxemburg (1986) and Rosenstrasse (2003)

19 August 2019

Film director Margarethe von Trotta was awarded an honorary lifetime prize at this year’s German Film Awards ceremony in May. The filmmaker is best known for The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975, with Volker Schlöndorff), Marianne & Julianne (1981), Rosa Luxemburg (1986), The Promise (1994), Rosenstrasse (2003) and Hannah Arendt (2012). …

Margarethe von Trotta is one of the most important postwar German filmmakers. Born in Berlin in 1942, she belongs to a generation—born in the shadow of fascism and the Holocaust—that made a conscious decision to oppose the social and political conditions that prevailed in the 1960s. She was part of a generation that also demonstrated against the continuing presence of former Nazis in German politics and opposed the US war in Vietnam. Like many others of her generation, she placed much of her hope in the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Von Trotta spent her childhood and youth in Düsseldorf before becoming an actress. In Klaus Lemke’s television film Brandstifter (1969) she plays a young woman, Anka, who sets a department store on fire as part of a political protest. The role was modelled on the Frankfurt department store fires of 1968 carried out by individuals who were later to become the Red Army Faction (RAF, better known in the US as the Baader–Meinhof Group) terrorists, such as Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader. Von Trotta collaborated with other directors of the New German Cinema movement, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff, whom she married in 1971.

She began directing in the mid-1970s, influenced by French New Wave films, among others. A number of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s films were also important to her, especially The Seventh Seal (1957), a work that, like some of Bergman’s other films, reflected doubt and pessimism regarding post-World War II conditions of life. Another important inspiration for her work was Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel (1953). The film about the aging director of a travelling circus and his young mistress raises the question: can one be more than a mere victim of circumstances? Last year, von Trotta released her own cinematic homage to Bergman.

Like many of her generation, Trotta despised the hypocrisy, self-pity and repression of the past expounded by former Nazis or their apologists. Instead, she wanted to create a new, democratic society through enlightened, and often radical criticism.

She is drawn to vibrant, resilient personalities with a sense of social justice who seek to understand and change their environment, in both the private and social sphere. A number of her films closely explore intimate relationships. A recurring theme is the conflict between sisters, as in her films Sisters, or The Balance of Happiness (1979), Marianne & Juliane (1981) and the television movie Die Schwester [“The Sister”] (2010).

The first film for which von Trotta is credited as co-director is The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, based on a story by the German author Heinrich Böll, who also worked on the script. The theme of the film is the hysterically charged atmosphere of the 1970s when Baader-Meinhof members were hunted down by the state and many intellectuals—including Böll—were denounced as “terrorist” sympathisers.

One night, Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler), a young woman, takes home a young man, Ludwig (Jürgen Prochnow), who is being watched by the authorities. When police attempt to arrest Ludwig the next morning, he has already given them the slip. Thereupon Katharina is immediately accused of being his accomplice. Entirely innocent, she is helplessly exposed to a massive media campaign of hatred and lies. In utter despair, she shoots the tabloid journalist leading the campaign. At the subsequent funeral, her desperate act is cynically condemned by the journalist’s editor as an attack on freedom of the press. The film, which warned against a conspiracy of police, judiciary, big business and the press, was a great success at home and abroad. (Certain similar themes appear in Fassbinder’s Mother Küsters’ Trip to Heaven, also 1975).

The Schlöndorff-von Trotta effort demonstrated the fragility of Germany’s postwar democracy and the persistence of authoritarian ideas and practice. This was true not only of the 1960s, when student leader Rudi Dutschke was shot amidst a frenetic anti-communist media campaign, but also of the so-called “social democratic” decade, which witnessed a series of attacks on democratic rights in the name of fighting terrorism.

Von Trotta’s first film as sole director was The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978). Christa (Tina Engel) is an impulsive young woman with both a big heart and mouth, who seeks social retribution and raids a bank to save her children’s daycare center from financial disaster. In the course of her flight from police, she realises that “expropriation” on a small scale cannot result in fundamental change. Being branded a criminal who risks the lives of the innocent cannot advance progressive aims. “Be patient,” she writes finally on the wall of her room.

Marianne & Juliane

One of von Trotta’s most significant films is Marianne & Juliane, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 1981. The film features two very different sisters, Marianne and Juliane, and is based on the story of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist Gudrun Ensslin and her sister Christiane.

Born—like the filmmaker—during the Second World War, Marianne (Barbara Sukowa) and Juliane (Jutta Lampe) grow up in a pastor’s family and experience the bigoted and conservative atmosphere of the 1950s. Their father shows a film to his young parishioners. It is the first documentary on the Holocaust to be screened in West Germany, Night and Fog (1956, directed by Alain Resnais).

The film strikes the sisters to the core and becomes a key experience for both of them. The Nazi crimes must never happen again. At a later point, they are both alarmed by similarly horrifying images of the US invasion of Vietnam, which is supported by the German government. Internationally, fascist movements are gaining ground, a development the sisters resolve to oppose with all their might.

Juliane consciously chooses the arduous path of politics of small steps and rejects Marianne’s anarchist-based radicalism. Juliane is the stronger personality in the movie. She is more down-to-earth than her sister who has more in common with a Christian martyr. Juliane realises that the struggle for a just society requires the patience to win over the majority of the population.

Marianne, who was such a gentle child, takes up arms. Juliane becomes a journalist, joins the women’s movement and fights against the existing ban on abortion. When Marianne is arrested, her sister visits her in prison. At first Marianne refuses to talk to her, but Juliane persists and recollections of their childhood bring them closer together. During the prison visits, Marianne accuses her sister of wasting her time on trivial matters. Juliane replies that Marianne romanticises revolutionary action in an arrogant manner. Nevertheless, she remains loyal to her sister and acknowledges the energy with which Marianne endeavours to resolve the problems that drove both of them into politics, even if their political methods differ entirely.

After Marianne dies in prison Juliane demonstrates with the tenacity and energy of her sister that her death could not have been a suicide, thereby going far beyond the narrow horizons of the middle class women’s movement. The death of the three RAF prisoners (Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe) in Stuttgart’s Stammheim Prison in October 1977 was hotly debated at the time and remains unclear until today. There are certainly indications that the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof group were in fact murdered while in Stammheim prison. It is also possible that the RAF trio did commit suicide in a desperate protest against what they alleged was a fascist state.

Journalist Christiane Ensslin, sister of Gudrun Ensslin, met von Trotta personally in 1977, at the funeral of Gudrun and other members of the RAF.

Alarmed about the development of society, but full of political prejudices against so-called “bourgeoisified” workers, many intellectuals not only sympathised with the armed struggle of national liberation movements, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Middle East, but also expressed some sympathy for the actions carried out by the Red Army Faction. Von Trotta temporarily hid a suitcase belonging to someone associated with the RAF and became involved in a campaign for improved prison conditions for RAF members.

In an interview with the Tagesspiegel she said about this period of time: “I may have been too intent on following an ideology, instead of thinking things through to the end. Today I think I got carried away, although I do not reject everything that we believed in back then.”

In common with Fassbinder, who shot the television series Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day about young workers in the early 1970s (and in three of whose films she acted early on in her career), von Trotta demonstrates a sensibility towards the plight of ordinary people. As the offspring of immigrants (her mother was a former German Baltic noblewoman who fled Moscow), von Trotta learnt about the hardships of life as a child. She remained stateless until the mid-1960s and only received full German citizenship following her marriage to Schlöndorff.

This video is Trotta’s 1986 film Rosa Luxemburg, with English subtitles.

Trotta’s film Rosa Luxemburg emerged at a time when a broad anti-war movement was actively opposing Germany’s intensified efforts at military rearmament in the 1980s. Based on actual texts, the film deals with the last 20 years in the life of the outstanding socialist and revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg was murdered together with Karl Liebknecht by mercenary soldiers in 1919 during the counterrevolution sanctioned by the Social Democratic Party-led government of the time.

The movie features key political and personal episodes from the life of the revolutionist, demonstrating her enormous courage and political determination.

In 1905 revolution breaks out in Russia. A wave of spontaneous mass strikes spreads across the country. The German SPD leadership, dominated by its conservative trade union wing, reacts defensively. Returning to Berlin from Russia in 1906, Luxemburg (outstandingly played by Sukowa) salutes the revolution. Leading figures in the SPD argue that the situation in Germany is not ripe for the type of mass actions associated with the 1905 Russian revolution. Even aging party leader August Bebel (Jan Biczycki) declares, “You cannot compare the Russian situation with Germany.”

Luxemburg recognises that the Russian Revolution is an expression of a new historical era ending the relatively peaceful period that had lasted for 40 years. The issue is not one of manipulating mass actions from above, as one of her critics claims, but rather of “consciously participating in the historical epoch.” Restricting political work to trade unionism and parliamentary manoeuvres is isolating the party from its real, international workers’ base, Luxemburg argues. The new development of world capitalism requires that the SPD embrace the mass movement in Russia as its own.

Shortly afterwards, at the Mannheim Party Congress in 1906, Luxemburg criticises Bebel’s restraint regarding the stance of the SPD in the event of a German military assault on Russia. His contribution at the congress suggests that nothing can be done. She welcomes the stand taken by the French Socialist Party at that time, which has declared in the event of an outbreak of war, “Rather a popular uprising than war!”

Luxemburg’s passionate speech at a workers’ assembly in Frankfurt am Main in 1913 would be highly topical even today: “The delusion of a gradual trend towards peace has dissipated. Those who point to 40 years of peace in Europe, forget the wars that took place outside of Europe and in which Europe played a role. Those responsible for the war danger hovering over the cultural world are the classes who supported the rearmament mania at sea and on land under the pretext of securing the peace. But also sharing responsibility are the liberal parties that have given up any opposition to militarism. (…) The rulers believe they have the right to decide on such a vital question over the heads of the entire people. (…) When we are asked to raise the weapons of murder against our French and other brothers, we declare: No, we refuse!” [1]

The granting of war credits to the German government by the SPD parliamentary faction in August 1914 is a gigantic blow for Luxemburg and the entire socialist workers’ movement. At a stroke it annuls the educational work patiently carried out by the party during the previous 40 years. Justifying the SPD’s treachery, new party leader Hugo Haase declares on behalf of its parliamentary group, “In this new hour of need, we must not concede patriotism to the right.”

Karl Liebknecht (Otto Sander) and Luxemburg found a left opposition inside the SPD, which shortly afterward adopts the name “Spartacus” (Spartakusbund). In a second vote, Liebknecht rejects awarding any further war credits. In August 1914 he voted in favour of credits to maintain party factional discipline.

The barbaric experience of World War I leads to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and political turmoil in Germany in 1918. Von Trotta’s film features Liebknecht’s electrifying speech in Berlin’s Tiergarten. “The revolution in Germany has come! (…) We call for revolutionary readiness and the utilisation of all our energy in order to undertake the rebuilding of the world. Either we slide back into the swamp of the past or we continue the struggle until the freeing of all humanity from the curse of bondage. Long live the world revolution! Long live Spartacus!” [2]

Liebknecht fiercely criticises all those inside the SPD who denounce the minority of socialist opponents of war as traitors in 1914 and are now agitating against Spartacus. The SPD is openly defending the “swamp of the past”. Shortly before the collapse of the monarchy, the SPD joins the imperial government in 1918. A few weeks later, Liebknecht and Luxemburg are victims of the counterrevolution unleashed by the new Social Democratic government headed by Friedrich Ebert.

The figure of Rosa Luxemburg remained a red rag for the West German establishment in the late 20th century. In the 1970s, a stamp with the portrait of Luxemburg triggered hysterical reactions. Von Trotta bravely challenged the anti-Communist propaganda against “bloody Rosa” and refrained from turning the ardent revolutionist into a pacifist. The director made clear that in January 1919 Luxemburg did not oppose the Spartakusbund uprising because workers had taken up arms, but rather because the movement was completely isolated. The socialist revolution advocated by Luxemburg had nothing in common with political adventurism, Stalinist bureaucratism or the “revolutionary” terror of the RAF. The revolutionary “utilisation of all our energy” for which she fought was only possible with the support of the working class, the majority of the population.

The director’s respect for Luxemburg’s struggle against capitalist militarism pervades the film. The speeches in the film were drawn directly from original sources and the scenes of everyday life are based on Luxemburg’s letters. The latter deal with her personal relationships, and her unfulfilled yearning for children and family. At times, the film’s concentration on Luxemburg’s “softer” character traits appears to be somewhat overdone. The letters she wrote while in prison provide insight into Luxemburg’s mental state under the harsh conditions of her detention and it would be wrong to draw more general conclusions about her character and development simply based on that phase of her life.

To its credit, von Trotta’s film, in the end, does not do this. Luxemburg’s great sensitivity to her immediate environment and her compassion for the weak and defenceless are driving forces for her intransigent struggle for socialism. Deeply shaken by the fact that the Second International did not prevent the world war, she briefly contemplates suicide. But then “who else will do our work,” she asks Clara Zetkin (Doris Schade) in the film. At the same time, she wrote her famous “Junius pamphlet” in prison. “The Crisis of Social Democracy”, its actual title, appeared in 1916, a year before a second “thunderbolt”, Lenin’s own analysis of the imperialist epoch.

The response to von Trotta’s Rosa Luxemburg in 1986 was in no small part due to its continuing political relevance—and threat. German society had begun to shift after the collapse of the student movement of 1968; a new layer of socially critical young people began to make their presence felt. The year 1969 was marked by a series of strikes by workers. The government of the time passed emergency laws in response, and the SPD reacted with increasing hostility to this leftist development. In 1972 the government led by SPD leader Willy Brandt passed a Radical Decree, banning leftists from employment in the public sector.

Under the pretext of combating sympathisers of the RAF, Brandt’s successor as SPD Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, provided the police with new powers. For the first time technology was used for mass surveillance. As noted above, artists and writers such as Heinrich Böll were vilified in the press as the intellectual mentors of “red terror”. When mass protests took place against the deployment of US medium-range nuclear missiles in West Germany, Schmidt … lined up demonstratively behind the German army (Bundeswehr).

Germany’s leading weekly at the time, Der Spiegel, lashed out at von Trotta’s film because it pointed to the links between the counterrevolutionary soldiers who murdered Luxemburg and Liebknecht, and the SPD. Margarethe von Trotta and Christiane Ensslin, who jointly published a book on the film, printed part of a 1962 interview with Captain Waldemar Pabst (also in Der Spiegel!), who ordered the executions in January 1919. In the interview, Pabst made clear that the murders of Liebknecht and Luxemburg would not have taken place without a green light from the SPD government. The SPD continues until today to defend the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

Margarethe von Trotta remained associated with the SPD for years, but this did not prevent her from criticising both the role of former Nazis, their rise to political office in postwar German society and the SPD’s political lurch to the right in the 1970s. In a television documentary screened last year, she denounced the thoroughly right-wing tradition of German “democracy.” The use of violence to achieve political ends, which characterised German politics, she said, was aimed primarily at left-wing critics, and commenced with the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht.

In von Trotta’s films, the German state apparatus never appears in its favoured role as a paternal, caring “father state”, but always as a dangerous power base, ready and willing to collaborate with right-wing dictatorships to ensure the maintenance of law and order. At the start of her movie The Promise (1994), about a couple who were separated for 40 years during the Cold War, the point is made that the barbed wire for the construction of the Berlin Wall was supplied by companies from the West.

The film Rosa Luxemburg makes the case that genuine democracy is only made possible by people like Rosa. It must be based on the independent mass movement of the working-class population politically enlightened by an international socialist movement. Accused by a prosecutor of being a public enemy, Luxemburg defends herself in one scene by stating that only the people, not the government, can decide on the question of war or peace: “No war against our will.”

Von Trotta also pays tribute to the powerful resolve of ordinary people in her film Rosenstrasse (2003), which deals with the struggle of courageous women to obtain the release of their husbands who had been arrested by the Nazis during World War II.

Rosa Luxemburg is undoubtedly von Trotta’s most important film. Luxembourg’s life and writings confirm that humanity is not predestined to remain trapped in time or at its present stage of social development. This is an issue von Trotta has followed ever since her first film. Knowledge and science are the preconditions for progress. Von Trotta remains fascinated by enlightened, courageous personalities. Her films, with whatever limitations, are always serious engagements with history and the social process.

[1] Speech by Rosa Luxemburg in Frankfurt, 1913, in Rosa Luxemburg—Das Buch zum Film by Margarethe von Trotta und Christiane Ensslin, Greno Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 1986, 59

[2] Speech by Karl Liebknecht in Tiergarten, Berlin, Winter 1918, ibid 93

The author also recommends:

Some of Hitler’s unwilling victims: Rosenstrasse, directed by Margarethe von Trotta
[13 October 2004]

“To show the courage of those who resisted the Nazis”: An interview with Margarethe von Trotta, director of Rosenstrasse
[31 May 2005]

Hannah Arendt: Margarethe von Trotta’s film revisits debate over Eichmann trial
[20 June 2013]

German politician justifies murdering Rosa Luxemburg

This 15 January 2019 video says about itself:

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht inspire the left to this day. They both founded the Spartakusbund (which eventually became the Communist Party) in 1916 calling for the overthrow of the German government [of Emperor Wilhelm II] and the end of the war.

By Peter Schwarz in Germany:

German SPD politician justifies murder of Rosa Luxemburg

18 January 2019

Although the SPD

The social democrat party in Germany.

Recently, United States sociologist Stephanie Mudge said there were three phases in the ideas of social democrat leaders: first, aiming to replace capitalism with socialism. Second, trying to improve things for the working class within capitalism with Keynesian economic policies and a welfare state. Third, giving up on Keynesianism and the welfare state, replacing it with Thatcherism-Reaganism-Clintonism-Blairism. That third phase, Ms Mudge said, may prove fatal for these parties.

About 1900, in the German SPD there was a ‘reformist’ right wing, thinking socialism might gradually and smoothly replace capitalism by legislation. Maybe a few capitalist individuals would grumble a bit, but that would be all. The revolutionary left wing in the SPD, represented by, eg, Rosa Luxemburg, thought things would go less smoothly. At least a general strike would be needed to reach socialism.

The Socialist International, including socialist parties all over the world, decided at its 2007 and 2012 congresses that, if war would threaten, the working class should stop it by a general strike.

In 2014, World War I threatened. Hundreds of thousands of peace demonstrators in Germany and elsewhere tried to prevent it.

Nevertheless, the right-wing leadership of the SPD decided to support Emperor Wilhelm II’s war; similar to right-wing social democrats in other countries. While Emperor Wilhelm’s government jailed anti-war socialists like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Jailed them; not killing them yet. That would happen after the war, in 1919 when Emperor Wilhelm’s government had been replaced by an SPD government.

continues to officially dispute its complicity in the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht a century ago, Wolfgang Thierse, former president of the federal parliament, recently explicitly declared: We would do it again. The two revolutionary socialists and co-founders of the German Communist Party were brutally murdered one hundred years ago, on January 15, 1919, by Freikorps soldiers who were in close contact with the SPD Reichswehr Minister Gustav Noske.

Thierse gave an interview to the Leipziger Volkszeitung on January 14 about the commemoration of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, which he described as a “dishonest honour.”

Asked whether the Social Democrats bore a portion of the blame in January 1919, Thierse answered, “There were radicalised elements among the workers. They had to be defeated by force of arms. It remains a painful episode, also in retrospect, but we know that the path that was then taken was the better one.”

According to Thierse, Germany after the November Revolution was divided between “radical forces who wanted something like the Bolsheviks in Russia, a revolution, and the moderate Majority Social Democrats, who said, we first need to win peace, we must ensure that the people don’t starve, that some sort of orderly relations exist.” In retrospect, one can say “that the moderate forces were right in not relying on a brutal revolution that would have resulted in a dictatorship, but instead working for democracy, the rule of law, and the social state.”

In summary, Thierse is saying that the suppression of uprisings by revolutionary workers, which claimed thousands of victims, and the execution of their leaders were necessary steps to secure democracy, the rule of law, and the social state. This is an incredible falsification of history, which can only lead one to conclude that Thierse and the SPD, confronted with similar conditions, would do exactly the same today as they did then.

The SPD government of Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, and Gustav Noske from 1918–19 did not defend democracy, but rather the authoritarian state, militarism and capitalist private property. They protected from the raging revolution all of the social forces that would assist Hitler to power 14 years later—the military caste, the big landowners, the industrialists Stinnes, Flick and Krupp, the Deutsche Bank, and the authoritarian judiciary and police apparatus. To this end, they organized the Freikorps, which carried out several coup attempts in subsequent years and went on to serve as the basis for Hitler’s paramilitary Stormabteilung (Storm Detachment, SA).

The concessions the SPD was forced to make in the process—a bourgeois constitution, universal suffrage, the eight-hour day, etc.—were purely tactical and were withdrawn at the first opportunity. The Weimar democracy was never more than an empty shell, which collapsed at the first signs of social unrest. Numerous serious historians, including those who oppose a socialist perspective, therefore explicitly describe the policies of the Ebert government as counter-revolutionary.

As the well-known publicist Sebastian Haffner wrote in his book on the November Revolution published in 1979, “The German revolution was a Social Democratic revolution that was put down by the Social Democratic leaders; an episode that is virtually unparalleled in world history.”

In his new book on the 1918 revolution, Joachim Käppner comments on this remark: “Had the Ebert SPD used the mass movement instead of fearing it, driven the old military to the devil instead of allying with it, the Republic probably wouldn’t have collapsed in 1933, or at least wouldn’t have fallen into the hands of the Nazis—according to Haffner’s train of thought, and it is difficult to disagree with his logic.”

Leon Trotsky summed up the character of the November Revolution in the concise formula, “As to the German Revolution of 1918, it was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was a proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat.”

In the founding programme of the German Communist Party, Luxemburg noted that the Hohenzollerns [imperial dynasty] overthrown on November 9, 1918, were “no more than the front men of the imperialist bourgeoisie and of the Junkers. The class rule of the bourgeoisie is the real criminal responsible for the World War,” she continued. “The capitalists of all nations are the real instigators of the mass murder.”

On this basis, she concluded that the world war had confronted society with two alternatives: socialism or barbarism. She went on, “The World War confronts society with the choice: either continuation of capitalism, new wars, and imminent decline into chaos and anarchy, or abolition of capitalist exploitation.” Her warning was to be tragically confirmed by Nazi rule, the Holocaust, and the Second World War.

The 75-year-old Thierse is a powerful voice in the SPD. He grew up in East Germany, and began his political career as a civil rights activist during German reunification with the New Forum. Shortly before reunification, in the summer of 1990, Thierse became leader of the SPD in East Germany. He was subsequently deputy leader of the German SPD until 2005, and a member of its commission on basic values until 2013.

Between 1998 and 2005, Thierse played an important role as president of parliament in enforcing the agenda of the SPD-Green Party government, including foreign military interventions, the Hartz social welfare reforms, and the Agenda 2010. The bearded Catholic and spokesman for the Christian Working Group within the SPD was capable of bestowing a lofty moral aura on the reactionary policies of the Schröder-Fischer government.

The fact that Thierse has now openly attacked Luxemburg, instead of trying to distort or co-opt her as others have done, is an unmistakable sign of the SPD’s further shift to the right. Despised by workers and reduced to 14 percent in the polls, the SPD is preparing once again to brutally suppress social opposition in alliance with the most reactionary forces.

Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht murdered, 100 years ago

This video from Germany says about itself (translated):

Active leftists of various groups demonstrated peacefully against fascism, exploitation, imperialism and war on January 13, 2019 in Berlin. 100 years ago, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht fought this fight and died. A big thank you to all active leftists who continue this fight.

This video is the sequel.

By Peter Schwarz in Germany:

One hundred years since the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

15 January 2019

Today marks the centenary of one of the most horrific and consequential crimes in world history. In Berlin on 15 January, 1919, Freikorps soldiers of the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen Division arrested Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the two leaders of the German Communist Party (KPD), which had been founded just two weeks earlier. Soldiers transported them to the Hotel Eden, where they were tortured before being taken away and murdered.

The 48-year-old Rosa Luxemburg was among the most outstanding Marxist revolutionaries of her epoch. She gained notoriety for her sharp polemics against Eduard Bernstein’s revisionism and the Social Democrats’ pro-war policies in the First World War, and was the undisputed theoretical leader of the SPD’s revolutionary wing and later of the Spartacus League.

Karl Liebknecht, who was the son of SPD founder Wilhelm Liebknecht and the same age as Luxemburg, embodied irreconcilable opposition to militarism and war. The bravery and determination with which he rebelled as an SPD parliamentary deputy against his own party, rejected war credits, and, despite persecution and suppression, fought and agitated against the war, won him the respect of millions of workers. In the November Revolution of 1918, he fought for the overthrow of capitalism. At a mass rally on 9 November he proclaimed the Free Socialist Republic of Germany.

The frail Rosa Luxemburg was struck down with the butt of a rifle in the Hotel Eden foyer and brought to a car where she was shot. Her body was thrown into the Landwehr canal, where it was recovered only months later. Karl Liebknecht was executed by three shots from close range in the Tiergarten. The press subsequently reported that Liebknecht was shot while trying to flee and that Luxemburg was lynched by an outraged mob.

The brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht marked a new stage of counter-revolutionary violence. Prior to this, the bourgeois state had ruthlessly cracked down on socialist opponents, and, as in the aftermath of the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 in France, took bloody revenge against revolutionary workers with mass executions. But the murder of the leaders of a revolutionary party by state organs without a trial or court judgment was a new phenomenon and set a precedent followed by others. Even the autocratic Tsarist regime generally banished socialist opponents to Siberia.

The German ruling class thereby drew the lessons from the Russian Revolution, where the subjective factor, the role of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik party, was decisive in leading the proletarian revolution to victory. In the days prior to the murders, leaflets were distributed in Berlin with the slogan “Kill their leaders!” The murders proceeded with the approval of the highest levels of the state.

Gustav Noske, the minister responsible for the Reichswehr and a leading SPD member, had ordered the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen Division, which was notorious for its ruthless violence, to Berlin to be deployed against revolutionary workers. During the Bloody Christmas of 1918, they fired artillery at sailors in revolt who had occupied the Berlin castle and brutally suppressed the Spartacus uprising.

When a court martial acquitted those officers directly involved in Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s murder in May 1919, Noske personally signed the acquittal. Waldemar Pabst, who as head of the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen Division issued the order to murder Luxemburg and Liebknecht, was never charged. He was able to continue his career under the Nazis and in the post-war Federal Republic and died a wealthy arms trader in 1970.

To this day, the SPD disputes its responsibility for Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s murder. But it is certain that Pabst spoke with Noske by telephone immediately prior to the killings. Pabst later confirmed on several occasions that he received the go-ahead from Noske. As he wrote in a 1969 letter which was found after his death, “It is obvious that there was no way I could have carried out the action without Noske’s support—with Ebert in the background—and that I had to protect my officers. But very few people have understood why I was never called to testify or charged with an offence. As a cavalier, I acknowledged the SPD’s behaviour at the time by keeping my mouth shut for fifty years about our cooperation.”

The ruling class had to kill Luxemburg and Liebknecht to prevent the revolution, which spread like wildfire throughout Germany during November, from overthrowing capitalism as it had done in Russia. The Hohenzollern regime, which capitulated in the first days of the revolution, could not be saved. But this only made its base of support—industrial and finance capital, the big landowners, the military caste, and the reactionary judiciary, police, and administrative apparatus—all the more determined to defend their social position.

To this end they called upon Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the SPD, to form a new government on 9 November, 1918. Over the preceding four years, the SPD had demonstrated its unconditional loyalty to bourgeois rule with its support for the First World War. Ebert immediately aligned himself with the general staff of the army to suppress the revolution.

Thus, the first revolutionary wave was bloodily suppressed, but this by no means resolved the question of which class would rule. …

In addition, with the founding of the KPD at the turn of the year 1918-19, a crucial step forward in overcoming the SPD’s betrayal and the Independent Social Democrats’ (USPD) centrist policies was taken. The USPD had been founded at the beginning of 1917 by deputies expelled by the SPD for their refusal to back war credits. Nonetheless, the USPD entered Ebert’s government in 1918 and served as a left fig leaf.

The KPD’s founding programme, authored by Rosa Luxemburg, made unmistakably clear that the KPD was not striving to replace the Hohenzollern regime with a bourgeois parliamentary democracy but to overthrow bourgeois rule.

On 9 November the Hohenzollern regime had been driven out of power and workers’ and soldiers’ councils had been elected, the programme stated. “But the Hohenzollerns were no more than the front men of the imperialist bourgeoisie and of the Junkers. The class rule of the bourgeoisie is the real criminal responsible for the World War, in Germany as in France, in Russia as in England, in Europe as in America. The capitalists of all nations are the real instigators of the mass murder. International capital is the insatiable god Baal, into whose bloody maw millions upon millions of steaming human sacrifices are thrown.”

The programme stressed that the alternatives were not reform or revolution, but socialism or barbarism. “The World War confronts society with the choice: either continuation of capitalism, new wars, and imminent decline into chaos and anarchy, or abolition of capitalist exploitation. … The words of the Communist Manifesto are the fiery writing on the wall above the crumbling bastions of capitalist society: Socialism or barbarism.”

Luxemburg’s warning was to be confirmed fourteen years later. The Weimar Republic was not the product of a victorious democratic revolution, but of counter-revolutionary violence. The murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht set into motion a development that ultimately led to the coming to power of the Nazis. They rested on the same social forces that the Ebert regime had rescued and strengthened. Hitler’s paramilitary SA emerged out of the Freikorps.

Part of the tragedy of Luxemburg and Liebknecht is that they underestimated the counter-revolutionary determination of their opponents. Otherwise they would have adopted better procedures and security measures to avoid falling into the hands of their captors.

The death of its two most important leaders was a disastrous blow to the KPD. …

Had Luxemburg and Liebknecht survived in 1919, not only German history, but also world history would have turned out differently. A victorious socialist revolution in Germany would have freed the Soviet Union from its isolation and thereby removed the most important factor for the growth of the bureaucracy and the rise of Stalin.

It is also inconceivable that the KPD, under the leadership of the uncompromising internationalist Rosa Luxemburg, would have bowed to Stalin’s nationalist course, or supported his policy of [depicting the SPD as] social fascism, which paved the way for Hitler to come to power in 1933. The refusal of Stalin, and his German proxy Thälmann, to fight for a united front with the “social fascist” SPD against the Nazis divided and paralysed the working class. Based on a correct policy by the KPD, which had hundreds of thousands of members and millions of voters, the working class could have prevented Hitler from coming to power. …

For Luxemburg, the overcoming of all forms of oppression was inseparably bound up with the overthrow of the capitalist system.

One hundred years after Luxemburg’s death, all of the contradictions of the capitalist system that made the period 1914-45 the most violent in human history are erupting once again. Nationalism, trade war and war dominate international relations. Far-right and fascist forces are on the offensive in many countries, with the explicit or concealed support of the state. In Germany, refugee policy is being dictated by the far-right AfD, in whose ranks Waldemar Pabst would feel at home. In the army, the police and intelligence agencies, right-wing extremist networks are active and are being supported and trivialised by the highest echelons of the state.

This gives to the legacy of Liebknecht and Luxemburg a burning actuality. As Luxemburg formulated it in 1918, society once again confronts “either continuation of capitalism, new wars, and imminent decline into chaos and anarchy, or abolition of capitalist exploitation.”

Flowers at 2019 Berlin Luxemburg-Liebknecht commemoration

Rosa Luxemburg, new graphic biography

Rosa deLuxemburg

By Michal Boncza in Britain:

Book Review: Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg, by Kate Evans

Thursday 19th October 2015

Kate Evans’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg does full justice to one of the most inspiring revolutionaries of the last century, says MICHAL BONCZA

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg
by Kate Evans
(Verso £9.99)

IN A recent Morning Star interview with Kate Evans about Red Rosa, her sense of revelation at the richness and topicality of Luxemburg’s political thought and discourse was crystal clear.

That sense of sisterhood grew with the design of each page and Evans’s no-holds-barred approach has resulted in a gripping narrative that’s nigh on impossible to put down.

The story of a Polish-Jewish sickly young girl who from early on developed not only one of the most formidable political minds of early 20th-century Europe, but also became a hugely effective revolutionary agitator and organiser, is put to paper with sumptuous drawing.
The characterisation of individuals and ambiance is rendered with rare graphic panache.

Sequences of exquisitely composed frames engage with the sheer inventiveness of sudden switches of angles, close-ups and dynamic motion.

Although rendered in black and white, the textures are admirably rich in tonality and balanced by the superlative fine-line drawing.
Impressively scholarly, brimming with forensic detail, each frame is a picture of the times and events that shaped Luxemburg and explain her principled and uncompromising responses.

Evans charts her rapid progression as a revolutionary and articulates the threat she represented to the established capitalist order.

Included here are her first speech at a Socialist International conference —standing on a chair because of her diminutive size (top) — the triumphant address in Polish to the devoutly Catholic miners in Upper Silesia in 1898 and the sky falling in on her when German Social Democrats, many her supposed comrades, vote in favour of WWI in parliament.

Her brutal arrest in 1916 is brought graphically to life, along with the foundation of the Communist Party of Germany in 1918 and the exhilaration of the November workers’ uprisings throughout the country the same year.

As Evans reminds us, Luxemburg was also a passionate and emotional woman.

The intimate bedroom scenes delight with the tenderness of the fallings-in and fallings-out and they’re unexpectedly laced with endearing humour.

Evans shrewdly highlights issues of the day that continue to plague modern societies, including hostile attitudes towards disability — Luxemburg had congenial hip dysplasia — domestic abuse and violence against women, which she experienced in her relations with Leo Jogiches, fascism and xenophobia.

The book has an infectious quality and an embracing enthusiasm for revolutionary ideas. It’s a perfect historic complement to the ongoing radicalisation of the Labour Party.

An empowering read for would-be revolutionaries as much as for “old hands.”

Red Rosa is published today.

German president defends alliance against November 1918 Revolution between Social Democrats and right-wing reaction: here.

New graphic novel about Rosa Luxemburg, interview

This video is the film Rosa Luxemburg, by Margaretha von Trotta.

By Michal Boncza in Britain:

Drawing inspiration

Saturday 16th May 2015

KATE EVANS has just completed a graphic novel about the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Here she tells Michal Boncza about a challenging but rewarding creative process

How did the project come about?

The US radical writer Paul Buhle has commissioned an incredible series of graphic novels on important historical figures of the left, including Che Guevara, Emma Goldman and the Wobblies — the Industrial Workers of the World. He lined up support for a graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg and asked around to find a female comic artist to take it on. I’d submitted work to WW3 magazine in the US and a friend there recommended me.

Did you have to originate the entire story?

Paul would have been happy to supply the text but I wouldn’t let him! I insisted on tackling everything from primary sources. I went right back to Das Kapital — the student edition, I confess — and that helped put my understanding of Rosa’s academic writings on a firm footing. Once I read her letters, though, I knew we had a story. Her letters are incredible, well worth a read even if you’re not already a fan.

What was the most challenging task you faced before getting down to work?

It seems like 19th-century intellectual Marxists were paid by the word. There are so many of them — how different to today’s soundbite, 140-character culture. Rosa wrote 8,500 pages of prose and I felt I had to tackle a representative sample of that.
My eyes just used to slide off the page and I ended up reading tricky passages aloud two or three times and then making myself summarise them so I’d actually taken in what I’d read. But then I’d find a passage that really grabbed me, literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was worth it for that.

It was fun picking out and piecing together all the most pithy quotes for dramatic effect. The best one I unearthed was: “Capitalism is prepared to set the world on fire,” although that’s a slight misquotation.

Are there particular images you’ve based your characterisation on?

I have all the photos of Rosa. I’d stare at them every time I drew her, which added up to 1,600 images. Sometimes I was unable to tell whether any of them looked like her, I’d been staring at them so long.

But there is one photo that holds the key to making Rosa look like Rosa. She’s arguing with the Socialist Party leader August Bebel during a conference and it’s such a funny picture, so full of life.

The reason this photo is so important is because of her cheekbones. Getting that bone structure into her face is what makes pictures of Rosa really look like Rosa.

What was the hardest part of the actual drawing process?

I drew rough versions of the entire book before I set about inking it. I thought it would take two months and it took six. Because it’s a historical graphic novel I researched everything — did they have celery in 19th-century Warsaw? Did they have a public library? What would the synagogue look like? How would they dress? Including their underwear?

I hate drawing buildings and had to draw lots of them and it’s the same with drawing crowds and hats. So having to draw street scenes of the German revolution didn’t fill me with joy but I’ve now become much better at it and I have a whole new appreciation of any complex, crenellated 19th-century buildings that I see on the street. I look at them and think: “Thank God I don’t have to draw that one.”

As a woman have you brought out aspects of Rosa that might otherwise have been omitted or neglected?

I certainly think aspects of her story have been neglected by her biographers up until now. Except for A Rebel’s Guide to Rosa Luxemburg, all the official biographies are really dull. It takes some skill to make her story boring, because she led a fascinating life.

There’s a love story at the centre of the book — but there are maybe three or four love stories, in succession and sometimes overlapping. I certainly identified with Rosa in her romance with Leo Jogiches — meeting the man of your dreams and then discovering he has feet of clay. There was domestic violence and I’ve experienced that, too.

Unlike Rosa, though, I have never copped off with my best friend’s son.

What’s impressed you most about her personality?

It’s hard to find just one aspect to single out. The poetry of her writing is astounding and most of it comes out in the personal letters that she wrote to friends. They’re incredibly powerful pieces and it was an absolute joy to find the pictures to go with them. I hope that her literary talents become more widely known. What impresses me too is her sense of humour, her irrepressible ability to find joy even in the blackest times and her incredible self-confidence, so rare to find in another woman.

What have you learned about Rosa as a politician and activist?

The Accumulation of Capital is an incredible leap of economic understanding. Rosa mathematically extracted a proof of the link between capitalism, imperialism/globalisation and the military-industrial complex. It was way ahead of its time and deserves to be more widely known.

Anyone attempting her work for the first time might start with her Anti-Critique of the Accumulation of Capital because she makes the same arguments in a far more entertaining manner.

Her unswerving opposition to capitalism and her vision of revolution is wonderfully democratic: never take over governmental power except with the clear and explicit will of the great majority of the proletarian masses. There are places where I disagree with her vision for the future but, as the author, I can just ignore those bits!

What do you hope the book will achieve?

Writing a book is a bit like giving birth to a child and then shoving it out into the world. It takes on a life of its own, in relation to multiple readers that I’ve never met.

I hope it gets reviewed, appreciated and enjoyed. I wonder though if it will be, partly because I’m a woman and also because comics aren’t taken seriously in our culture.

I’d love this book to achieve mainstream success, and it deserves to, but I’m not holding my breath.

It all boils down to capitalism fundamentally being a really bad idea. Rosa was banging on about it a hundred years ago. I’ve been saying it for 20. But does anyone listen? Do they (insert expletive here!)

Red Rosa will be published by Verso Press in the autumn. If you’d like to pre-order a signed copy by Kate Evans, visit

Poetess Henriette Roland Holst, documentary film

This video is the trailer of the Dutch documentary film Droom & Daad, about the life of poetess Henriette Roland Holst.

It says about itself (translated by me):

Droom & Daad – documentary by Annette Apon

Henriette Roland Holst (1869 – 1952) organized political meetings with Lenin and Trotsky, and corresponded with Rosa Luxemburg. Her letters, poems and speeches give insight into her deepest dilemmas. Old film footage takes us to those turbulent years.

The title of the film is from a line in Ms Roland Holst‘s poetry book De Nieuwe Geboort‘ from 1902.

On 30 December, two days before the end of the Roland Holst Year, I went to see this film.

The film basically limits itself to the years 1891-1927. Turbulent years for Ms Roland Holst and the world indeed. In themselves, hard enough to fit in this 74 minute movie, without additional attention for prequel and sequel.

Still, these limits are a bit problematic. The poetess’ youth in Noordwijk village flashes past in a few seconds. She was born in a liberal Christian family. She was in the liberal Christian Remonstrant church all her life; not mentioned in the film.

Henriette Roland Holst in a garden in Noordwijk in 1893, portrait by her husband Richard

The last twenty-five years of her life get a few sentences at the end of the film. As we will see, 1927 as the end of the film leaves the impression of Roland Holst’s life and, more generally, attempts to make the world better, being failures. While on the contrary the title of Henriette Roland Holst’s autobiography is Het vuur brandde voort; The fire kept burning. She published it in 1949, three years before her death. During these last three years, she still campaigned against nuclear weapons and the Korean war.

In Henriette Roland Holst’s life there were many highs and lows from 1891-1927.

1891 was a high. She had started to write sonnets and other poems. Willem Kloos, leader of the Dutch 1880s avant-garde poetic movement, reacted to them by calling this woman, his junior, “the greatest poet living at the moment”.

1896 was a high again. She married visual artist Richard Roland Holst. William Morris from England was his inspiration. Together with Richard, Henriette wrote a book about English pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Also in 1896, the newly married couple decided to join the young Dutch Social Democratic Workers Party, the SDAP. Together with Herman Gorter. In 1891, the sonnets by avant-garde poet Gorter had inspired Ms Roland Holst’s own work. Gorter in winter skated all the way to meet her in Noordwijk. He advised her to read Italian poet Dante; very good advice, she found out. Gorter advised her to read philosopher Spinoza. Though she considered Spinoza valuable, his writings did not really click with her.

Then, Gorter advised her to read Das Kapital by Karl Marx. He said that book would help her to understand how world economics and politics work. That, in turn, would help her to improve her poetry.

Together with Richard, Henriette read the first volume of Das Kapital. Richard then stopped reading this complex work. But Henriette continued with volumes two and three. She would apply Marxism in her writings on Dutch history and other subjects. In 1947, Amsterdam university would award her a honorary degree for her history books. Being a woman, in her youth she had been unable to go to university.

Like in 1891 a new poetic world had opened for Ms Roland Holst, in 1896 a new political world opened for her. It gave her strength and optimism.

In 1900, she met Rosa Luxemburg who would become her life long friend. Rosa Luxemburg called Henriette “my blonde Madonna”. She predicted a great future for Roland Holst in the international labour movement.

Dutch socialist Vliegen, though, as a right-winger within the party, critical of left winger Ms Roland Holst, still thought: “She certainly is the most talented woman ever in the international social democrat movement”.

Gradually, Richard would find himself on the reformist right wing of socialism. While Henriette was on the revolutionary left wing. This contributed to tension within the marriage.

It was not easy for director Apon to make the film, as there are no film images of Henriette Roland Holst. Nor are there film images of SDAP congresses while she was a member. Ms Apon solved this with other early twentieth century movie clips, giving an idea of Roland Holst’s times.

Henriette’s strength and optimism were sorely tested in 1903.

The Dutch railway workers went on strike. They won. The vengeful rightist government reacted by banning strikes. The socialists tried to stop these anti-democratic anti-strike laws with a general strike. However, that failed to achieve its aim. A bitter pill for Henriette Roland Holst. She tended to interpret political setbacks as her personal failures.

1909 was another low. The right wing of the Dutch social democrats excluded the left wing from the party. Henriette sympathized with the left wing. It included her poet friend Herman Gorter. But she did not want to break with the party majority. After two years she resigned from the Social Democrat Workers Party after all, without joining Gorter’s new Social Democrat Party. Rosa Luxemburg was opposed to that. She wrote to her friend that a bad workers party was still better than no party at all.

A new low in August 1914. World War I broke out. Like with German anti-war socialist artist Käthe Kollwitz, the bloodshed devastated her.

In 1915, new hope and optimism. In Zimmerwald in Switzerland, she was the only Dutch representative at a congress of socialists which wanted to end the war. She discussed this with Lenin, Trotsky and others. The snowy Swiss mountains contributed to inspiration.

Then, in 1917, still more hope and optimism. The czarist regime in Russia, which she detested, fell. Lenin and Trotsky, her fellow Zimmerwald congressists, became more and more prominent.

In 1918, yet more hope and optimism. The world war stopped. The German emperor fled across the Dutch border. Troelstra, leader of the relatively moderate Social Democrat Workers Party, called for revolution. So did the Social Democrat Party, which Ms Roland Holst had joined meanwhile.

She organized a big meeting in an overflowing hall in Amsterdam. Someone in the audience proposed spontaneously to go outside, to demonstrate in the streets. Let us go to the army barracks. Let us ask the soldiers to stop violence benefiting the rich. In Russia and Germany, many soldiers took the side of the revolution. That made the regimes collapse.

Some Dutch soldiers sympathized with the labour movement as well. Unfortunately, that did not include the soldiers at the gate of the Oranje-Nassau barracks in the Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam. They fired at the workers’ demonstration which came to convince them to break with the government. The soldiers’ guns killed four demonstrators, and wounded many more.

So, immediately after the high a new low for Henriette. Next morning she went to the hospital to speak to surviving victims of the bloodbath at the barracks. A wounded nurse told her the military had killed her fiancé and fellow demonstrator. Both were pacifists.

Again a low shortly after this. In early 1919 a German extreme right death squad murdered Henriette´s friend Rosa Luxemburg and many others, dealing a blow to revolutionary perspectives in Germany. Gustav Noske, interior minister and leader of the right wing of the social democrats, condoned the murders.

In 1921, Ms Roland Holst went to Soviet Russia. She found both high and low points there. The international communist women’s congress in Moscow was really inspiring. But the new Bolshevik government also did many things wrong. She met fellow author Maxim Gorky. Gorky told her about the famine in the Wolga region, in the wake of the czarist vs. communist civil war and invasion by British, United States, German, Japanese and other foreign armies. Gorky asked her to organize a relief campaign for the Wolga region people in western Europe. “Don’t wait till the communist party has set up an organizational framework for relief. Start organizing yourself”. Henriette Roland Holst managed to organize a succesful campaign.

Here, I have to criticize Annette Apon’s otherwise good film. The documentary leaves the impression that Ms Roland Holst broke with the Soviet Union and all of Marxism after her 1921 voyage disappointments. However, things were not so simple. From 1921-1927 she kept leaving and rejoining the Dutch communist party. For a time, the film notes in passing, she was a member of the BKSP. The film does not say what the BKSP was. It was a split from the communist party, as the BKSP founders thought that the Communist Party of the Netherlands was too critical of the Russian sister party, and “real” communists should supposedly be uncritical of whatever happened in Russia. The BKSP was a failure. And Henriette rejoined the communist party, becoming editor of its magazine. Until in 1927 she stopped at last with her see-saw membership. She would never join any leftist political party again, though retaining some sympathy for all of them. Very differently from Jacques de Kadt, in the mid 1920s briefly a fellow BKSP member. De Kadt in the 1920s attacked the Dutch Communist Party for not being sufficiently pro-Moscow. During the Korean war he had become a Cold Warrior McCarthyist member of the far right wing of the Dutch labour party, advocating to imprison thousands of Dutch communists in concentration camps.

Henriette Roland Holst kept fighting against Dutch colonialism, fascism and war. The film briefly mentions that when the nazis occupied the Netherlands, she hid Jewish refugees from Hitler’s murder gangs at her nature reserve Oude Buisse Heide.

The film does not mention that during the nazi occupation she wrote in the illegal socialist paper De Vonk, later called De Vlam.

The film does mention her support for Indonesian independence.

It does not mention that Indonesian independence fighters asked her advice while they were in the Netherlands, negotiating about ending the 1945-1949 Indonesian war of independence.

Neither does the film mention her anti nuclear weapons and anti Korean war views of her last three years.

Nevertheless, the many things about this poetess’ life which the film does mention leave a positive impression.

Marjan de Haan in a review thinks that Ms Apon missed the chance for the film to link 1891-1927 to today. I can add that the only real mentions of 2012 in the film are images showing that Henriette´s Oude Buisse Heide is still a beautiful nature reserve. And a mention that postal services now are less efficient than when Ms Roland Holst lived.

Marjan de Haan writes (translated):

Old-fashioned partisanship. Really? Did Ms Holst’s voice really sound that different from the protesters in Tahrir Square now?

August Bebel and the political awakening of the working class: here.

Rosa Luxemburg in New York, USA

The Life, Legacy and Letters of Rosa Luxemberg – Deborah Eisenberg from N Alexander Benford on Vimeo.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Rosa Luxemburg was celebrated in New York at NYU’s Tishman Auditorium where actress and writer Deborah Eisenberg brought Rosa’s remarkable correspondence to life on stage. Eisenberg joined a distinguished panel of Luxemburg scholars who reminded us of the continuing importance of Luxemburg’s work today: Paul Le Blanc, Anthony Arnove, Peter Hudis and Annelies Laschitza.

DEBORAH EISENBERG, an American short-story writer, actor and teacher who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009, is the author of several collections of stories including The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg which has just been named a finalist for this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award.

See also here.

Rosa Luxemburg’s letters

This video says about itself:

Rosa Luxemburg was one of the most prominent revolutionary socialist theorists, after Marx and Engels. In 1914, in opposition to the SPD’s support of German involvement in World War I, she, together with Karl Liebknecht, founded the revolutionary Spartakusbund (Spartacist League), that in 1919 became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In November 1918, during the German Revolution she founded the Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), the central organ of the left wing revolutionaries. She regarded the Spartacist uprising of January 1919 in Berlin as a mistake, but supported it after it had begun. When the revolt was crushed by the rightwing Freikorps, Luxemburg, Liebknecht and hundreds of their supporters were captured, manhandled and killed. Since their deaths, Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht have achieved great symbolic status amongst both social democrats and Marxists.

By John Green in Britain:

The Letters Of Rosa Luxemburg

Edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis & Annelies Laschitza (Verso, £25)

Tuesday 15 February 2011

This volume of 230 of Rosa Luxemburg‘s letters was published to commemorate the [1]40th anniversary of her birth in March 1871.

That edition was based largely on the German selection Herzlichst, Ihre Rosa and published by Dietz Verlag in the GDR in 1989.

These letters are the first volume in English of what is hoped will eventually be Luxemburg‘s complete works in 14 volumes.

Verso is once again to be congratulated for this publishing inititiative, in an excellent translation by George Shriver.

What is also invaluable is a glossary of personalities mentioned in the letters and very informative footnotes.

Luxemburg has always been a controversial figure on the left, but was revered in her day and was undoubtedly one of the all-time leading thinkers of the socialist and communist movements.

She famously clashed with Lenin on the tactics adopted by the Bolsheviks and was always clear that socialism at the expense of democracy was not a road she was willing to take.

Like all collections of letters not originally intended for a wider readership or publication, much here is concerned with the daily trials and tribulations of friends, comrades and lovers and observations of a purely personal nature.

Yet they give a unique insight into her character, her deep humanity as well as her passionate commitment to the struggle for socialism.

Her unsuccessful attempts to reconcile her need for personal love, stability and homely pleasures with the enormous demands of the struggle would be ideal material for a dramatist.

She was often imprisoned by the German authorities who feared her fiery rhetoric and popularity and included here are some of her prison letters.

Despite the harsh conditions and frustration at her incarceration, she always dismisses her own deprivations to enquire about the health and well-being of friends outside, attempting to cheer them up and reignite their commitment to the cause.

She can be severely critical, uncompromisingly militant but also warm and compassionate.

Her resilience in the face of great odds, her thirst for knowledge and breadth of interests, as well as her self-sacrifice and sense of humour, are still inspirations for us today.

The odd quirky Americanisms grate a little but are minor – “Kuchen” is not really “Cookie” and “Titmice” will sound archaic to an English readership.

See also here. And here.

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Sick games with Rosa Luxemburg’s dead body exposed

From British daily The Independent:

Why ‘Red Rosa‘s’ fans got the wrong grave

Pathologist says headless body in mortuary belongs to Luxemburg

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

Saturday, 30 May 2009

She was nicknamed “Red Rosa” and millions of Germans still make the pilgrimage to an unremarkable suburb of east Berlin to pay their respects at her grave. But now it has emerged that the body of the assassinated revolutionary heroine, Rosa Luxemburg, may never have been buried at all.

Pathologists at Berlin’s main Charité hospital claimed yesterday that a headless, handless and footless “mystery corpse” that had been lying unidentified deep in its mortuary for decades was almost certainly that of the early 20th century leftist leader who was shot in the head in 1919. “The corpse reveals evidence which bears a striking similarity to the body of the real Rosa Luxemburg,” said Dr Michael Tsokos, head of the hospital’s pathology department. “I doubt that she was ever buried.”

Polish–born Luxemburg was one of Germany’s foremost Marxist theorists and founded the German Communist Party, the DKP, on 1 January, 1919.

No: the German communist party then founded was the KPD, not the DKP. After the Second World War, in 1956, West Germany (the Federal Republic) banned the KPD. The DKP was founded later, in 1968, in West Germany; and is active today throughout re-unified Germany.

But just a fortnight later, the 47-year-old was captured, allegedly tortured, and finally shot in the head by right-wing militiamen. Her body was dumped in the city’s Landwehr canal, but later retrieved, with records showing that she was buried in Friedrichsfelde cemetery five months after her death.

However, the post-mortem carried out on the body before it was interred did not show evidence of her being hit by rifle butts or shot in the head, according to Dr Tsokos. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the corpse was exhumed to allow a second autopsy and that raised more doubts. Hospital records showed that Luxemburg was born with a hip deformation that resulted in her legs being different lengths, but the buried corpse showed no such limb variation.

The body discovered in the Charité’s vault was only discovered by chance as Dr Tsokos was working on putting together an exhibit. A computer scan has revealed the body of a woman aged between 40 and 50, who had suffered from arthritis and had one leg slightly longer than the other. Dr Tsokos said he was now hoping to obtain a personal item of Luxemburg in order to do a DNA test and definitively confirm the body was hers. “A hat would be nice,” he said, as it could contain strands of her hair.

Luxemburg was assassinated along with fellow revolutionary Karl Liebknecht. She died at the height of a post World War One leftist uprising in Berlin at the hands of German soldiers [rather, ex soldier privateers] still supporting the exiled and defeated Kaiser Wilhelm II. The historian Isaac Deutscher described her murder as “Nazi Germany’s first triumph”, the celebrated playwright Berthold Brecht wrote a poem in her honour and Communist East Germany named a central Berlin square after her.

Most of the German left – ranging from Social Democrats to hard-line former East German Communists – have a special place in their heart for “Red Rosa”. The notion that millions of her fans have been duped for 90 years by going on pilgrimages each January to a grave that does not contain her body was greeted with shock and consternation yesterday.

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation said that it was “deeply dismayed” to learn that the body of an unknown woman appeared to have been passed off as Luxemburg. It blamed Germany’s then Minister for the Army, Gustav Noske, for playing a “disgusting game with the dead” and urged the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to “clear up the mystery and finally lay Rosa Luxemburg’s corpse to rest”.

See also here. And here.

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