Gloomy German left remembers murdered Rosa Luxemburg
Germany’s sharply divided left-wing parties, deep in a period of historic weakness, on Sunday commemorated the larger-than-life revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg on the 100th anniversary of her murder.
Organisers said thousands turned out in memory of “Red Rosa” and prominent fellow leftist Karl Liebknecht at the Socialist Memorial in Berlin, built by the communist government of the former East Germany.
Leading figures of the radical Left party attended, as well as Gregor Gysi, president of the European Left Party.
Meanwhile police reported thousands of demonstrators at a march “against the disappearance of democratic rights and the growth of fascist danger”.
A whole week of events is planned for the commemoration, although local conservative politicians have tried to ban demonstrations honouring “enemies of democracy and free society”.
– ‘Pop icon’ –
“The fact that Rosa Luxemburg was killed so early” — before Stalinism tainted the communist dream for good for many in western Europe — “made her an icon whose aura and influence remain intact,” said Free University of Berlin political scientist Stefan Heinz.
Left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung also dubbed her a “pop icon” on Saturday.
But the centenary of her death comes as German left parties face hard times.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Left (Die Linke) — together boast less than 25 percent support in the polls after years of crisis.
The malaise is shared by their counterparts around Europe and elsewhere in the world, as many working-class people are increasingly attracted by nationalist or populist movements instead.
In Germany, the left has borne the brunt of voter departures from the political mainstream to far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), especially in the country’s formerly communist eastern states.
A journalist and talented public speaker, Luxemburg was born in Lublin, in Russian-controlled Poland, to a family of liberal Jewish traders.
Admired by Lenin, she was a tireless interpreter of Marx.
She travelled around Germany stirring up crowds, often perching precariously on a stool to speak.
For his part, Liebknecht was a social-democratic member of parliament who went down in history for declaring a “socialist republic” the day of the Kaiser’s abdication.
Together, the two leftists created the Spartacist league, referring to gladiator slave Spartacus who led an uprising against Rome.
Two weeks before the pair were murdered they founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
The double killing on January 15, 1919, was the apogee of a “bloody week” in the uprising of tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and workers around Germany’s World War I defeat in November 1918.
Demobilised former soldiers organised in so-called “Freikorps” killed Luxemburg and Liebknecht and hurled their bodies into a Berlin canal.
A shaky SPD government that took power after the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II had turned to the Freikorps and their brutal methods to restore order in the fledgling Weimar Republic.
– ‘Gulf’ on the left –
The violent repression and double murder slammed the door on cooperation between the social democrats and the communists, giving the Nazi party an opening on its march towards taking power in 1933.
Even today the division persists, with the SPD operating as junior coalition partner to centre-right Chancellor Angela Merkel while the Left — the successor to the official communist party of East Germany — battles both from the opposition benches.
In November, SPD leader Andrea Nahles admitted it was “likely” that Gustav Noske, the SPD defence minister at the time, played a role in the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
“The murders created a gulf between the radical left and the social democrats that still exists, even if it had appeared as soon as World War I broke out,” said political scientist Heinz.