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Top: Jewish Leaders Folder: Rosa Luxemberg (Luxembourg) (Luxemburg)


History of Spartacists & Rosa Luxemberg(1871-1919)

About the Spartacist uprisings:

Luxemburg, Rosa (1871-1919), German socialist leader and revolutionary, prominent in the international socialist movements in the early years of the 20th century.

She was born on March 5, 1871, in Zamoßç, Poland (then a part of Russia), and was educated in Warsaw, where she became active in political societies. In 1889 she fled Poland to avoid imprisonment for her activities and settled in Switzerland; she studied natural science and political economy at the University of Zürich, writing a doctoral dissertation entitled The Industrial Development of Poland (1898). In 1898 she migrated to Germany, acquiring citizenship by marriage to a German worker, and affiliated herself with the German Social Democratic party (SPD), the leading organization of international socialism. During the Russian Revolution of 1905 Luxemburg went to Warsaw to participate in the struggle and was imprisoned. After her release she taught in the SPD school in Berlin (1907-14) and wrote The Accumulation of Capital (1913; trans. 1951).

At the outbreak of World War I, she and the German socialist Karl Liebknecht formed a revolutionary faction within the SPD that became known as the Spartacists. Because of her vociferous opposition to the war, she was imprisoned; after her release in November 1918 she helped to transform the Spartacists into the Communist party of Germany. Luxemburg reluctantly took part in the unsuccessful Spartacist uprising against the government in January 1919, and both she and Liebknecht were arrested and murdered by German troops on the 15th of that month.

"The War and the Workers" The Junius Pamphlet (1916) Written in April 1915. Published Zurich in February 1916 and illegally distributed in Germany

[ ... ]

" Thrice handicapped -- a woman, a Pole, and a Jew -- Luxemburg was the most eloquent voice of the left wing of German Social Democracy, the defender of Marxist purity against all comers, and a constant advocate of radical action."



D.3. The Republic Besieged, 1918-1923

The Spartacist uprising: On the far left of the USPD a radical revolutionary group had been waiting for increasing chaos in order to provoke an allegedly "true," socialist revolution according to the Bolshevist model. This was the Spartacist League, originally a part of the USDP, but calling itself Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on 1 January 1919. Its leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, had opposed the war and had spent several years in prison for their pacifist activity. Although they admired the success of Lenin's revolution in 1917, they had reservations about the undemocratic style in which Lenin consolidated his power.

Shortly before the elections to the National Assembly, on 5 January, the most radical workers in Berlin got out of control and started an armed uprising. Liebknecht and Luxemburg considered the moment too early for a revolution but felt compelled to go along. Out of a sense of loyalty, the leaders followed the masses into catastrophe. The radical workers occupied newspaper offices and public buildings and called for a socialist revolution in Germany. In some other cities similar uprisings occurred. The government, now led exclusively by the SPD, called Free Corps into Berlin to repress the rebellion. For several days fighting occurred in the center of Berlin. On 15 January the uprising broke down. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were brutally murdered by Free Corps officers. Their corpses were thrown into the central canal of Berlin. Although the USPD and many of the workers who mistrusted the SPD had not supported the Spartakist uprising, the bloody intervention by the Free Corps, which were called and directed by an SPD minister, did irreparable damage to working-class unity. Even many moderate workers without sympathies for the Spartacists' cause now deeply resented the SPD.

Revolution in Munich: As if there had not been enough trouble already, a turbulent and bloody episode seized Munich. On 21 February a rightist student shot the Bavarian Minister President, Kurt Eisner, a USPD member. Eisner, whose party had only received two percent of the vote at the Bavarian state elections, was on his way to the Bavarian parliament in order to submit his resignation. The senseless act of terror against him triggered more violence. Shootings occurred in the parliament building in Munich, and the USPD called a general strike in Bavaria. For several months Bavaria remained unstable. On 7 April some Independents seized power in Munich and proclaimed a soviet republic for all of Bavaria. The regular government, led by an SPD member, fled to another city. Journalists and writers formed an insurrectionary Bavarian government (among them the author Ernst Toller). After standing aloof for a while the Communists entered the revolutionary government and became the dominant force, further radicalizing the government. The Communists took and murdered several hostages. In early May 1919 a Free Corps and regular army units repressed the Bavarian revolution with utmost and often blind brutality incommensurate to the real danger.

Right-wing putschism: Free corps and a vast number of paramilitary units formed out of some remainders of the old army, partly drawing younger people who had not been old enough to be drafted into the army duiring the war. They were on the one hand radically anti-democratic, on the other hand passionately nationalist and opposed to every clause of the peace treaty. They secretly hoarded arms to fight Communists and participate in a war of liberation against France and Poland. Increasingly, they became a serious threat to the Republic. In March 1920, some Free Corps attempted a putsch. They occupied Berlin (without encountering any resistance) and proclaimed the rightist Wolfgang Kapp (formerly a close political associate of Tirpitz) new chancellor (Kapp Putsch).

When Germany's rump army refused to fight the putschists and declared itself "neutral," the legitimate government under SPD leadership fled to the south of Germany. The state administration in Berlin, however, did not cooperate with the putschists (because they doubted the success of the Kapp Putsch, not because they feared the destruction of democracy). The working-class parties, moreover, proclaimed a general strike. This brought down the Kapp government within a few days, even though the war hero Ludendorff joined it. The putsch showed dramatically how little the German army cared for the Weimar Republic; it was not adverse to fighting leftist putschists with great brutality but "neutral" toward rightist putschists. The same was true for the justice system, as the mild punishments of the putschists revealed. The success of the general strike, proclaimed by the KPD, USPD, and the SPD strengthened worker confidence in socialist action, but the strike turned into communist uprisings in many industrialized areas and thus brought further trouble and chaos to the Republic.

In the aftermath of Kapp's failure radical rightists resorted to terrorism. The murder of Kurt Eisner had set a bloody precedent, and Matthias Erzberger (former Minister of Finance and Center Party leader) and Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau were killed by rightist terrorists in 1921 and 1922.

[Note: Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Kurt Eisner, and Matthias Erzberger were all radical leftist Jews. Tavish]

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"The Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution of the early 20th century will overthrow the Czarist government and it will be led by a disproportionate number of Jews." JewishAmerica.COM


( Magill's Survey of Cinema )


ROSA LUXEMBURG focuses on the life of Rosa Luxemberg (Barbara Sukowa) and political events
in Germany between 1906 and 1919. Luxemburg's love affairs and personal relationships are highlighted
against a background of an approaching world war and revolutionary upheavals. In addition to Rosa
Luxemburg, there are carefully etched portraits of Clara Zetkin (Doris Schade), Karl Liebknecht (Otto
Sander), Karl Kautsky (Jurgen Holtz), August Bebel (Jan-Paul Biczycki) and Leo Jogiches (Daniel


ROSA LUXEMBURG takes as its subject the most prominent female Marxist of the twentieth century.
The setting is Berlin of the 1910's when the twin specters of revolution and world war hang over the
nations of Europe. A major question is whether the mammoth Social Democratic Party of Germany
(SPD) will refuse participation in a war effort on ideological grounds or will agree to war on the basis of
nationalism. At the center of the dispute is writer and orator Rosa Luxemburg (Barbara Sukowa), an
internationalist who stridently opposes wars that pit workers against workers.``Red'' Rosa becomes a
leading figure in an organizational schism that ultimately leads to the formation of the Communist Party
Germany. Although she argues that a revolutionary bid for power in 1919 is premature, her activism and
prominence lead to her execution by the German military.

The tempestuous Luxemburg, a kind of socialist Joan of Arc, has long intrigued German filmmakers. At
the time of his death in 1982, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was working with a script about Luxemburg
written by Peter Martescheimer, whose previous credits include Fassbinder' s DIE EHE DER MARIA
BRAUN (1978; THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN). Fassbinder' s producer offered the project
to Margarethe von Trotta for completion on the basis of her experience as an actress under Fassbinder's
direction, three scripts she had written for her husband, Volker Schlondorff, and her direction of films
AND JULIANNE), and HELLER WAHN (1983; SHEER MADNESS). Von Trotta accepted the
project but soon discarded the Martescheimer script for not offering the portrait of Luxemburg she

Von Trotta proceeded to devote approximately eighteen months to reading Luxemburg's twenty-five
hundred personal letters some four or five times each. She was seeking the individual motivation that
would humanize a woman who had become a historic icon. As she pursued her reading and conferred
with Luxemburg experts, the director became convinced that Luxemburg's private life should eclipse the
public events with which she was so clearly associated. After spending another six months writing, von
Trotta produced a script that focused on a narrow span of time and kept historical events in the

The decision to accent the personal has been the basis of most criticism of the film. For anyone not
familiar with German political history, many of the scenes will lose their potential impact or will be
perceived on a superficial level. In one ballroom sequence, for example, all the leading figures of the
SPD are presented. The dialogue and camera work are very clever, but they will be lost on viewers
unfamiliar with the personalities being depicted. This dependency on knowledge not contained within the
film is characteristic of the entire script.

The problems generated by this cinematic study become acute when world war actually erupts. There is
virtually nothing in the film to delineate the genuine turmoil within party ranks as the SPD opts to vote
war credits, much less the general crisis of the entire European Socialist movement. The subsequent
formation of the Third International, the impact of the Russian Revolution, and the theories of
are barely alluded to. Even the rebellion that leads to the execution of Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht
(Otto Sander) receives abbreviated screen time.

Further weakening the political dimension of the film is the absence of mass public rallies or scenes to
show the popular base of the various factions. The film offers little sense of why the German government
would consider Luxemburg dangerous. She appears to operate on a Chautauqua- type speaking circuit
rather than threatening the stability of the state. Von Trotta's consistent assumption of detailed
knowledge on the part of a popular audience lessens the tragic dimensions of Luxemburg' s fate.

The emphasis on the subjective Luxemburg, however, does have its rewards. If the viewer loses
something of the fiery revolutionary, he gains a woman with a remarkable sense of ethics, a person who
is harder on herself than on others. Luxemburg is utterly fanatical about truthfulness in private
relationships. She rejects Leo Jogiches (Daniel Olbrychski), her lover, not because he has had occasion
to sleep with other women, but because he has lied to her about his behavior. The Jogiches love affair
haunts the film and it is understood that unlike other female revolutionaries such as Emma Goldman,
Luxemburg retained a romantic conception of love that was essentially monogamous.

Another side of Luxemburg brought out clearly is her friendships with women. The viewer sees
Luxemburg working closely with Clara Zetkin (Doris Schade) in the women's section of the SPD, but
unlike Zetkin, Luxemburg refuses to be confined to the role of leader of women only. Zetkin joins
Luxemburg, Liebknecht, and Jogiches in creating the Spartacist League, and in 1919 she will write the
first work on the martyred leaders. The film treats effectively the comradeship of the two revolutionaries
and sensitively explores a brief affair Luxemburg has with Kostia Zetkin (Hannes Jaenickhe), Clara's

Some attention is also given to Luise Kautsky (Adelheid Arndt), the wife of one of the SPD's leaders.
Even after Luxemburg breaks with Karl Kautsky on political grounds, the women continue to see each
other, as their relationship is not mere political courtesy. In 1929, Luise Kautsky would write an
appreciative memoir of these years in her ROSA LUXEMBURG.

Considerable screen time takes place in prison or in scenes where Luxemburg is alone. These scenes
often explore her genuine love for animals and flowers. Luxemburg's aesthetic sentiments fuse naturally
with her political convictions. A woman so enthralled with the world of nature has to be outraged by the
exploitation of human beings. The viewer understands that she could never feel the kind of intellectual
arrogance common to recent German revolutionaries, nor would she address workers in a
condescending tone.

Important as these insights are, essential objective data is blurred. In 1916, Luxemburg returned to
Germany from Warsaw, which was then part of the czarist empire. She thought that much could be
learned from the experience of Russian revolutionaries. This placed her in the left wing of the SPD.
Despite her admiration for Russian revolutionaries, Luxemburg raised objections to some of the views of
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and her theoretical positions have become touchstones in Marxist debate. None of
this is evident in the film, however. Lenin is virtually a nonperson, and Luxemburg the brilliant essayist is
discussed but never convincingly revealed. This failure to capture Luxemburg's intellectual stature is a
surprising defect in a film so devoted to feminist issues.

Another point that is downplayed is that Luxemburg was a Polish Jew. Given the subsequent rise of
Nazism in Germany, one looks for what the situation might have been in the 1910's. The director has
stated that ethnic and religious issues were not critical in that period, but the issue demands more
attention than is given in the film.

Additional difficulties stem from the nonchronological narration which has intricate backward and
forward leaps in time. While not meant to be deconstructive, the film avoids the socialist-thriller style of
Constantin Costa-Gavras and the kind of political spectacle Bernardo Bertolucci created in 1900
(1976). The major effort is to locate the human dynamic at the core of revolutionary commitment. In this
sense, the film concerns the modern business of showing that the personal is political and the political is
personal. While the director intends Luxemburg's life to be a reflection on the problems of contemporary
times, she does not want that life to be seen as a rigid catechism of dos and don'ts.

The film's images can be deceptively simple. In the opening shot, Luxemburg, who has a slight limp, is
seen walking in a prison yard accompanied by a one-legged black crow. Hanging on her office wall as
she edits the newspaper of the ill-fated Sparticist League is Vincent Van Gogh's ``Crows over the White
Field.'' Bringing considerable verve to such scenes is Sukowa, who manages a slight Polish accent within
otherwise impeccable German, exactly as the historical Luxemburg spoke. Von Trotta fans will note
how different the humanist Luxemburg is from the self-vindicating narcissistic Marianne played by

Given its subject matter and cinematic approach, ROSA LUXEMBURG was destined to have mixed
reviews. Perhaps because it emphasized antiwar and feminist concerns rather than revolutionary
socialism, the film fared decently at the box office. Nevertheless, many critics took the film to task on
historical grounds, wanting a textbook biography rather than the interpretive work that von Trotta had
created. The director has stated that the film may have been premature for her talents, but that it was
politically on time, particularly for German radicals.


Country of Origin: West Germany

West Germany

Release Date: 1986


Production Line:
Eberhard Junkersdorf; released by New Yorker Films

Director: Margarethe von Trotta

Cinematographer: Franz Rath

File Editor: Dagmar Hirtz

Additional Credits:
ART DIRECTION - Bernd Lepel and Karel Vacek
SOUND - Christian Moldt
MUSIC - Nicholas Economou

MPAA Rating: no listing

Run Time: 122 minutes

Rosa Luxemburg - Barbara Sukowa
Leo Jogiches - Daniel Olbrychski
Karl Liebknecht - Otto Sander
Luise Kautsky - Adelheid Arndt
Karl Kautsky - Jurgen Holtz
Clara Zetkin - Doris Schade
Kostia Zetkin - Hannes Jaenickhe

Review Sources:
Cineaste. XV, No.4, 1987, p.24
Films and Filming. Number 383, August, 1986, p.39
Films in Review. XXXVIII, November, 1987, p.549
Los Angeles Times. June 5, 1987, VI, p.10
Ms. XV, May, 1987, p.22
The Nation. CCXLIV, April 25, 1987, p.546
The New Republic. CXCVI, May 18, 1987, p.24
New Statesman. CXII, September 5, 1986, p.24
New York. XX, June 1, 1987, p.96
The New York Times. May 1, 1987, p. C10

Named persons in Production Credits:
Eberhard Junkersdorf

Studios named in Production Credits:
New Yorker Films

Screenplay (Author):
Margarethe von Trotta

Video Available.
Biography, Drama

Award Citations:
Golden Palm (Cannes International Film Festival) - Winner - Best Actress - Barbara Sukowa (tie)

ROSA LUXEMBURG., Magill's Survey of Cinema, 06-15-1995.

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