Rosa Luxemburg was the most important revolutionary Marxist leader in the history of the German workers’ movement. She was, as Lenin described her, an eagle. And she was so dangerous from the point of view of the ruling classes that during the 1918/1919 revolution she was arrested, tortured and then killed by proto-fascist Freikorp soldiers acting politically on behalf of the then counter-revolutionary leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The British historian E.H. Carr wrote that the official statement that she was “shot while trying to escape” was “apparently the first use of this consecrated formula for official assassination.” Her dead body was thrown into Berlin’s Landwehr canal and only found weeks later. Since then, and up to today, every year – interrupted by the dark years of fascist rule in Germany – tens and hundreds of thousands march to commemorate Rosa Luxemburg and her comrade Karl Liebknecht – who was also murdered on the same day, January 15, 1919. To this day, Luxemburg remains not only an inspirational figure for socialist workers, women and youth, but also regularly features in opinion surveys as one of the most respected women in German history.
Now it seems that Rosa’s dead body may never have been buried but was instead taken to Berlin’s Charité university hospital for reasons of science. There are not many water corpses in this hospital, where it seems Luxemburg’s body was kept for 90 years. Only now a scientist new to the institution has revealed obvious contradictions in the official accounts of what happened to Luxemborg’s body.
Rosa was very short and had a hip problem which led to one leg being shorter than the other. The doctors who made the official report on the corpse which was buried in 1919 made an unusual comment: they wrote that the dead body did not have two legs of different length – as if they wanted to say: this is not Rosa! The corpse in the Charité has no head, hands and feet but the age, size and hip and leg structure fits those of Rosa Luxemburg.
Much can be speculated and discussed about the reasons for this only coming out after 90 years – especially as there had been rumours that it was not Rosa Luxemburg’s body in her grave and especially as after the Second World War both the Charité hospital and her graveyard were situated in the former German Democratic Republic – the self-proclaimed “socialist” half of Germany. But it seems that both the Stalinist leaders in the GDR, as much as the capitalist leaders before and after the GDR’s existence, had no interest in a public debate about Rosa Luxemburg. Why? Because her ideas are not compatible either with capitalism or with Stalinism. Rosa stood against the idea of reforming capitalism and for real workers’ power, socialist democracy, internationalism and the freedom of critique!
An honourable burial
This was underlined in a statement by Carsten Becker, CWI member and currently Chair of the ver.di trade union group in the Charité, demanding an honourable burial for Rosa. This was taken up by SAV spokesperson Lucy Redler who explained that such a burial must not be put in the hands of the national or regional government, in which there are representatives of those parties who stand in the tradition of the forces which are politically responsible for the killing of Luxemburg. Lucy Redler demands a burial – paid for by the state – but organised by the workers’ movement – the trade unions, the Left party and other socialist and left-wing organisations.
It will take some time for final proof – if ever – can be confirmed that the corpse in the hospital really is that of Rosa Luxemburg. If in all probability it is decided that the corpse is that of the revolutionary, a subsequent honourable burial could lead to a mass demonstration of workers and youth during these times of deep capitalist crisis, of anti-capitalist and pro-socialist sentiments, and as the desire for change in the interests of the working masses becomes more popular – something Rosa stood and fought for her whole adult life.
It is therefore possible that a journey to Berlin could be on the agenda for socialists and internationalists from around the world who want to participate in the funeral of one of the greatest thinkers and fighters the international Marxist movement ever had.
Also see 90th anniversary of murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on this site