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Rosa Luxemburg’s struggle and the parallels with today

STEVE JOHNSON highlights an opportunity to learn more about the life of the great Marxist theorist and activist

ON THE 100th anniversary year of the murders of the outstanding German revolutionaries Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg it is fitting that the London Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group should be having its relaunch with a screening of Margarethe von Trotha’s classic film The Patience of Rosa Luxemburg. 

Morning Star editor Ben Chacko will introduce the film at a showing tomorrow at 7pm at the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell, London, and it will be followed by a question and answer session with Professor Mary Davis.

Born in 1871 to a Polish Jewish family Rosa Luxemburg — or Red Rosa as she became known — became involved in revolutionary activity at an early age and went on to become one of the most outstanding Marxist theoreticians and agitators of the 20th century. 

In 1900, Luxemburg wrote her most crucial contribution to Marxist theory Reform or Revolution where she polemicised against a series of articles by Eduard Bernstein who had attempted to revise Marxism by stating that reforming capitalism was more important than abolishing it. 

Von Trotha’s film portrays the arguments and battles Luxemburg had within the ranks of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany but also shows her human side with her often difficult relationships with friends and lovers.

It has become fashionable for some sections of the new left from the 1960s onwards to emphasise some disagreements Luxemburg had with Lenin and to portray her as somehow representing an alternative view to Leninism.  

However, this is to ignore the areas they had in common and the fact that, despite some criticisms, Luxemburg was a supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution.  

There were also some areas of disagreement, such as on the national question, where it could be said Luxemburg was more on the rigidly dogmatic side of the argument with her dismissive attitude to the right of self-determination. 

But given the turmoil of events at that time, such disagreements were inevitable and debate was not unhealthy. 

After the outbreak of World War I the leaders of the German SPD took a sharp turn to the right and, after serving time in prison for opposition to the war, Liebknecht and Luxemburg founded the German Communist Party in 1918 during a revolutionary upsurge violently suppressed by the now right-wing Social Democrats in government. 

Liebknecht and Luxemburg were brutally murdered by the paramilitary Freikorps, which was later to become part of the development of German fascism. 

But the orders were given by the right wing of German the SPD and the murders were condoned by the New Statesman in Britain at the time. 

One can clearly see parallels today with right-wing elements of the Labour Party and “liberal” columnists in the Guardian lining up with Donald Trump and US imperialism’s threats against Venezuela and the left in Latin America.

However, whatever setbacks may occur in the process of struggle, Luxemburg’s last words can still serve as a guide and inspiration: “The revolution will come back and announce: I was, am, I shall be.” 

Von Trotha’s film provides an understanding of Luxemburg’s life and hopefully will encourage people to explore her writings more.

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