In January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, critical figures in the German socialist movement, were killed by the government after a failed revolution post-World War I.
Here, I will explore one of Berlin’s memorials for Luxemburg, located at the Landwehr Canal in the Tiergarten, where her body was discovered after the murder.
Rosa Luxemburg: A Revolutionary Force
Rosa Luxemburg, born Rozalia Luksenburg (March 5, 1871 – January 15, 1919), was a Polish and naturalized German revolutionary socialist, Marxist, and anti-war activist.
A key figure in the socialist movements of Poland and Germany, she played a pivotal role in various political parties, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Spartacus League, and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
Luxemburg’s strong opposition to German involvement in World War I led to the formation of the Spartacus League since her party decided to support German participation in World War I in 1915. She co-founded Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) newspaper with Karl Liebknecht during the November Revolution. She endorsed the attempted overthrow of the SPD-ruled Weimar Republic.
Unfortunately, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht met a tragic end when the SPD Cabinet crushed the Spartacist uprising using the Freikorps, leading to their capture, torture, and execution.
The Revolution’s Unfulfilled Dream
The aftermath of the German Revolution saw the Spartacist leaders dreaming of a full-scale transformation akin to the one in the Soviet Union. However, internal divisions in bringing about this change, with Luxemburg favoring parliamentary democracy and Liebknecht advocating for direct action, hindered their unified vision. The Spartacists, betrayed by the SPD’s support for the war, engaged in a violent struggle, culminating in their leaders’ tragic deaths on January 15, 1919.
Luxemburg’s critical stance on both Leninist and moderate social democratic schools of Marxism yielded ambivalence among scholars. Yet, her and Liebknecht’s status as communist martyrs in East Germany attests to their enduring significance.
A Grim Discovery at Landwehr Canal
On a fateful day in January 1919, paramilitaries seized Luxemburg and Liebknecht from an apartment in Berlin. Rosa Luxemburg was tortured and killed, and her body was disposed of in the Landwehr Canal. Karl Liebknecht faced a similar fate in the Tiergarten Park.
Within hours, the leading figures of German revolutionary socialism were extrajudicially murdered.
Hermann Souchon, a GKSD (Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division) officer, was identified as Luxemburg’s killer. Otto Runge struck her on the head, and Souchon shot her at point-blank range. The murder, ordered by Waldemar Pabst, marked a dark chapter in German history.
Rosa Luxemburg: Legacy and Unanswered Questions
The deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were tragic, and their vision for revolution seemed far from realization in 1919. Luxemburg’s criticism of Lenin’s centralization of power and the lack of a transparent model for communist transformation reflected the complexities of the time.
But the unanswered questions linger: What if the Spartacists had given her more time? What if Germany had splintered into diverse political systems? Her murder predicted the atrocities that led to Nazi rule, with the Freikorps collaborating with Hitler.
Despite her untimely death, Rosa Luxemburg remains one of the 20th century’s most influential thinkers. Her commitment to justice and compassion reverberates in the quest for social justice today. As she wrote in 1913, ‘History will do its work; see that you, too, do your work.’
The urgency of her call persists today.
In the summer of 2019, I visited the memorial at Tiergarten, the site where Rosa Luxemburg’s body was discovered. The pictures captured during that visit are a testament to a woman whose legacy endures, inspiring the ongoing struggle for a more just and equitable world.
The Tragic End of Rosa Luxemburg: A Berlin Memorial in the Tiergarten
Lichtensteinbrücke, 10787 Berlin