‘Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht’ by Clara Zetkin from Communist International. No 5. September, 1919.
Rosa Luxemburg was a woman of indomitable will. Severe self-control put a curb upon the mettlesome ardour of her temperament, veiling it beneath an outwardly reserved and calm demeanour. Mistress of herself; she was able to lead others. Her delicate sensitiveness had to be shielded from external influences. Her apparent coldness and strict reserve were the screen behind which was hidden a life of tender and deep feeling; a wealth of sympathy which did not stop short at man, but embraced all living things, and encircled the world as one united whole. Once in a while Red Rosa, weary and worn with work, would turn out of her way to pick up a stray caterpillar and replace it upon its appropriate leaf. Her compassionate heart warmed to human suffering and grew more tender as the years went by. Always did she find time to lend a willing ear to those who needed advice and help; often did she joyfully give up her own pleasure in order to succour those who came to her in their need. A severe task-mistress to herself, she treated her friends with an instinctive indulgence; their woes and their troubles were more poignant to her than her own. As a friend she was a model of both loyalty and love, of self-effacement and gentle solicitude. With what rare qualities was she endowed, this “resolute fanatic”! How pregnant with thought and vivacity was her intercourse with intimates! Her natural reserve and dignity had taught her to suffer in silence. Nothing unworthy had any existence for her. Small and delicate in body, Rosa was, nevertheless, consumed with an energy which was unrivalled. She made the most remorseless demands upon her own powers of work, and she achieved positively astounding results. When it seemed that she must succumb to the exhaustion consequent upon her labours, she would embark upon another task demanding yet greater expenditure of vitality. Such endeavours were undertaken “in order to give myself a rest.” Rarely was heard on her lips the phrase, “I cannot”; more frequently were heard the words, “I must.” Her frail health and the unfavourable circumstances of her life did not lessen her vigour. Sorely tried by bodily infirmities, encompassed with difficulties, she remained true to herself. Her inward sense of freedom smoothed every obstacle from her path.
Comrade Mehring was right in affirming that Rosa Luxemburg was one of Marx’s most perspicuous and intelligent followers. Gifted with shrewdness and with complete independence of thought, she refused to accept any traditional formula on trust; she probed every idea, every fact, which thus acquired a special and personal value for her. She combined to a rare degree the power of logical deduction with an acute understanding of everyday life and its development. Her dauntless mind was not content merely to know Marx’s teaching and to elucidate the master’s doctrines. She undertook independent researches, and continued the work of creation which is the very essence of Marx’s spirit. She possessed a remarkable capacity for lucid exposition, and could always find the aptest words wherewith to express her thoughts in all their plentitude. Rosa Luxemburg was never satisfied with the insipid and dry theoretical disquisitions so dear to the heart of our erudite Socialists. Her speech was brilliantly simple; it sparkled with wit and was full of mordant humour; it seemed to be the incarnation of enthusiasm, and revealed the breadth of her culture and the superabundant wealth of her inner life. She was a splendid theoretician of scientific Socialism, but had nothing in common with the paltry pedants who cull their wisdom from a few scientific works. Her thirst for knowledge was insatiable. Her receptive mind, her intuitive understanding, turned to nature and to art as to a wellspring of happiness and moral perfection.
Socialism was for Rosa Luxemburg a dominating passion which absorbed her whole life, a passion at once intellectual and ethical. The passion consumed her and was transformed into creative work. This rare woman had but one ambition, one task in life – to prepare for the revolution which was to open the way to Socialism. Her greatest joy, her dream, was to live to see the revolution, to take her share in its struggles. Rosa Luxemburg gave to Socialism all she had to give; no words can ever express the strength of will, the disinterestedness, and the devotion, with which she served the cause. She offered up her life on the altar of Socialism, not alone in death, but in the long days of her labours, in the hours, the weeks and the years consecrated to the fight. Thus has she acquired the right to demand of others that they, too, shall sacrifice their all for Socialism – everything, life not excepted. She was the sword, she was the fire, of the revolution. Rosa Luxemburg will remain one of the greatest figures in the history of international Socialism.
We should never forget that in Germany, Karl Liebknecht was the first Social Democrat, and that for long he was the only Social Democrat who dared to throw off the disastrous yoke of party discipline -– hat party discipline which had ceased to be a mere secondary means for the furtherance of practical activities, and had become an end in itself, a great Huitzilopochtli, an idol to which everything was sacrificed. We should never forget that he was the first, and for a long time the only Social Democrat to speak and to act in the German Reichstag as an international Socialist, thus in very truth defending “German honour,” the honour of German Socialism. The majority of the Social Democratic Parliamentary group voted war credits for the murder of their brothers; they darkened and poisoned the judgment of the masses through their repudiation of Socialist ideals and their adoption of bourgeois watchwords. The dissentient minority discreetly submitted and held their peace. Karl Liebknecht alone, every inch a man, had the courage to hurl his invincible “No!” in the face of Parliament and the world.
Scorched by the indignation of the bourgeois parties, reviled and calumniated by the Social Democratic majority, forsaken by the Social Democratic minority, he none the less made of the Reichstag a battlefield against Imperialism and capitalism, missing no chance of unmasking these deadly enemies of the proletariat, and seizing every opportunity of arousing the exploited masses against them. Thus did he continue at work, until the day when the Reichstag, to its everlasting disgrace, surrendering its own privileges, suspended Liebknecht’s Parliamentary immunity, delivering over to the venomous bourgeois class-justice this man alleged to be guilty of high treason. New life sprang from the brave and unceasing struggle. Through Liebknecht’s example popular confidence in Socialism flamed up vigorously once more, and the proletarians, their courage revivified, made ready for battle. Karl Liebknecht transferred the venue of the fight to the place where it has to be decided, among the masses. By word and deed he wrestled with Imperialism for the soul of the masses. This continued down to the day when bourgeois society wreaked vengeance on the dreaded and detested foe – until the prison, swallowed him. Why was he immured? Because he, soldier of the revolution, had in the open street urged the workers to make the First of May festival a formidable demonstration, to repudate the “truce of parties” in the name of international Socialism, to put an end to the slaughter of the peoples, to sweep away the government of malefactors. The masses made no move to follow their far-sighted and trusty leader. But this disappointment availed just as little as danger and persecution had availed to shake Karl Liebknecht’s convictions or to daunt his fighting spirit. This is evidenced by the brilliant and defiant speech he made at the court-martial, a speech that was a classical example of self-defence on the part of a political champion. Our conviction that his courage was unabated was reinforced by all his subsequent activities.
The ECCI published the magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 irregularly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecorr, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecorr are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.
Access to full issue: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/pst.000066988748?urlappend=%3Bseq%3D451%3Bownerid%3D13510798902841735-515