On the Eightieth Anniversary of the Martyrdom
of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
Eighty years ago on 15th January, 1919 the leadership of the Communist Party of Germany, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were brutally assassinated. It was a momentous loss for the German and international working class movement and it had widespread and long-term repercussions. The two leaders adhered to the revolutionary trend within the German Social-Democratic Party which had developed shortly after the turn of the century.
For the first time in Marxist literature Karl Liebknecht took up the question of militarism in the imperialist period in his book Militarism and Anti-Militarism which came out in 1907 and which led him to being sentenced to imprisonment. As a member of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies and the Reichstag he exposed the bosses of the military industries headed by Krupp for their warmongering policies and called for international proletarian solidarity as the decisive weapon in the struggle against militarism. Liebknecht welcomed the 1905 Revolution in Russia and came into a sharp political clash with the revisionists, defending the general mass strike as a special proletarian means of struggle. He denounced the assistance given by the German government to tsarism which was engaged in the suppression of the revolution and called upon the German proletariat to emulate the struggle of the Russian workers.
At the beginning of the First World War he did not initially break with the discipline of the Social-Democratic Party, voting for war credits on August 4th, 1914. Liebknecht soon corrected his position and on 2nd December, 1914 he cast the sole vote against war credits. In a statement which was submitted to the Chairman of the Reichstag he characterised the war as one of annexation. This document was later circulated as an illegal leaflet. Even when drafted to the front, Liebknecht skilfully utilised his membership of the Prussian and Reichstag Chambers to continue the struggle. He adopted the Bolshevik slogan of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war. Together with Rosa Luxemburg he established the Spartacus group. From the rostrum of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies he called upon the Berlin proletariat to join the Mayday demonstration of 1916. In the course of this Liebknecht called for the overthrow of the government which was conducting an imperialist war : for this action he was arrested and sentenced by a military court to jail for four years. It was there that he learnt the news of the October Revolution.
Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland in 1871 and lived and worked in Germany from 1898. She was an early opponent of the revisionist E. Bernstein, actively opposing the ministerialism of Millerand and the opportunist compromises with bourgeois parties. Her writings on these questions were collected in 1899 in Social Reform or Revolution? With regard to the split in the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Rosa Luxemburg did not accept the Leninist views on the need to construct a proletarian party. Stalin noted that Luxemburg had declared for the Mensheviks, arguing that the Bolsheviks had tendencies to Blanquism and ultra-centralism. During the Russian Revolution of 1905-07 she drew closer to the Bolsheviks on many questions of the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary struggle. Rosa Luxemburg correctly understood the role of the working class as the decisive force of the revolution, recognised the need for an armed uprising against tsarism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Luxemburg expressed complete agreement with the Bolshevik view that the liberal bourgeoisie was a counter-revolutionary force and that the peasantry constituted a revolutionary class. Drawing on the experience of the 1905 revolution she supported the greatest possible development of the extra-parliamentary struggle of the masses and stressed the need to use the mass political strike. For her anti-militarist struggle she was imprisoned during the First World War.
In her major theoretical works on political economy Rosa Luxemburg presented a critique of capitalism and imperialism where the aggressive colonial policies were described; she upheld the view, however, that the accumulation of capital under capitalism was possible through the expansion of the sphere of exploitation of the non-capitalist sectors so that imperialism was defined as the struggle of the capitalist states for the non-capitalist environment. Despite her important theoretical contribution Rosa Luxemburg deviated from Marxism on a number of questions: to wit, on the denial of the right of national self-determination and an underestimation of the revolutionary potentialities of the peasantry.
From the beginning of the First World War she criticised the imperialist character of the war and the betrayal of the social-democratic leadership. As a founder and leader of the Spartacus League she authored a number of anti-war tracts. Luxemburg greeted the October revolution, commended the role of the Bolsheviks while incorrectly evaluating the Bolshevik tactics on the agrarian and national question, and the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. Her critiques of Bolshevik tactics have been widely advertised by the spokesmen of U.S. imperialism notwithstanding the fact that she retraced her steps on a number of questions relating to the Bolshevik revolution and made a turn towards Leninism defending the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviets in Germany.
Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were among the founders of the Communist Party of Germany which held its constituent congress from 30th December, 1918 to January 1, 1919. After the suppression of the Berlin workers’ uprising of January 1919, the ruling classes organised the brutal killings of the two communists on 15th January 1919. The roots of the murders lay in the secret accommodation reached between the right-wing socialist leader Chancellor Friedrich Ebert and General Groener which was established in November, 1918 ‘in order to prevent the spread of terroristic Bolshevism in Germany’. Bourgeois and socialist organs competed to hunt down the two revolutionaries. The spy office of the Reichstag Regiment founded by the Social-Democratic Party set a bounty of 100,000 marks on the heads of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. On the 13th January, 1919 two days before the murders the Social-Democratic Party paper Vorwärts carried a poem calling for the assassination of the two communists.The last verse of this ended:
Many hundred corpses in a row—
Karl, Radek, Rosa and Co —
Not one of them is there, not one of them is there!
It was not without foundation that John Heartfield was to craft the photomontage entitled ‘Fraternal greetings of the SDP’ in which the deathhead of Karl Liebknecht was depicted below the masthead of the SDP paper Vorwärts which was shown dripping with blood.
After the liberation of Berlin by the heroic Red Army in 1945 a participant of the murders was arrested and interrogated. His testimony sheds light on the final hours of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
4 October 1945,
From the Deputy Chairman of the Council of the People’s Commissars of the USSR,
To Comrade V.M. Molotov,
I am forwarding for you an intimation of the military prosecutor of the Berlin garrison about the arrest and testimony of a participant to the murder of Rosa Luxemburg.
The Military Prosecutor of the Berlin Garrison
13 September 1945
To the Chief Military Prosecutor of the Red Army Lt. General of Law
Comrade N.P. Afanasiev,
On 13 June 1945 the Berlin operative group of the NKVD arrested a participant of the murder of Rosa Luxemberg — Otto Runge (living under the documents of Rudolf Wilhelm), born 1875, hailing from Gestebize (on Oder), by nationality a German and by (class — trans.) origin a peasant, educated up to 8th class, member of the NSDP since 1933, living in Berlin at 22 Greifen-Gagenerstrasse. Since 1941 was living in retirement on pension and was not working anywhere.
The investigations revealed the following:
Unter officer of a cavalry division Otto Runge, on the orders of the commander of his battalion, on the 13th of January 1919, was sent along with 15 other soldiers of his battalion to hotel Eden (Berlin, Nurembergenstrasse No.30) to guard the regiment’s headquarter.
On the 15th of January, Captain Pabst, an officer of the Staff of the regiment gave Runge the order to personally stand guard, along with soldier Drager, at the main entrance of hotel Eden from 18.00 hours (Berlin time) onwards. At 20.00 Runge and Drager were not replaced at the post and on orders of General Hofman, who at that time was present at the headquarters of the regiment, they were left to guard the headquarters for an unspecified period of time.
At 20.45 a car stopped at the main entrance of hotel Eden with four officers and Rosa Luxemburg. The latter was led by the officers into the regimental headquarters. Approximately 10 minutes later a second car also stopped at the main entrance with three officers and Karl Liebknecht, who was led by these officers into the regimental headquarters.
At this time, having come to know about the arrest of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, people started to gather near hotel Eden.
After K.Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg were led into the regimental Pflugk-Hartung headquarters, captain Pflugk-Hartung approached Runge and asked : did he know who the man and the woman in civilian clothes brought in just then were, and when Runge answered in the negative, Pflugk-Hartung told Runge that they were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, that they were pernicious revolutionaries and bandits who wanted to overthrow the rulers and seize power for themselves. Pflugk-Hartung then ordered Runge that when K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg come out of the hotel he must shoot them. Runge supposedly refused to do so on the pretext that a large number of people had gathered and he might slip and hurt some one else too. Subsequently Pflugk-Hartung went inside the headquarters and captain Pabst came out and gave the order to kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg by hitting them with the butt of the rifle, which Runge agreed to do. After Pabst left, lieutenant Kanaris came out and told Runge that if he did not carry out the orders i.e. kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg he himself would be shot. Kanaris also went inside the headquarters.
When Runge and Drager were left alone at the post, the latter told Runge that if he (Runge — trans.) did not carry out the orders then Drager himself will kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg with his bayonet. To which Runge replied that ‘the order has been given and I will carry it out’.
After a few minutes the director (his name is not established) of the hotel walked out of the main entrance. He was on the right, in the middle was R. Luxemburg and to the left was lieutenant Vogel, who pushed R. Luxemburg out of the hotel directly towards the guard Runge. Runge was prepared for the murder and with the full swing of the hand struck Luxemburg with the butt of the rifle on the left side of her face and shoulder, under the impact of which the latter fell to the ground, but was still alive and attempted to stand up. At this moment 4 soldiers came out of the hotel, and along with lieutenant Vogel dragged R. Luxemburg into the same car in which she had been brought to the hotel. They themselves got into the car. Vogel took out a pistol and in that very place shot Luxemburg in the head. Her corpse was carried away.
Subsequently, the following persons walked out of the hotel: captain-lieutenant Pflugk-Hartung, his brother, captain Pflugk-Hartung, Oberlieutenant Rithin, oberlieutenant (illegible in the original document), lieutenant Shultz, lieutenant Liepmann soldier Friedrich and among them was K. Liebknecht who was taken away by them in a car parked on the other side of the road.
After a whole Lieutenant Krul came to Runge at the post and ordered him to go immediately to the 2nd floor of the hotel and kill Wilhelm Pieck, the Editor of the Communist newspaper ‘Rote-Fahne’.
Krul brought Runge to the 2nd floor, where Wilhelm Pieck was standing in the corridor, and told Runge to shoot Wilhelm Pieck if he made a move. They wanted to fake a killing while attempting to escape while under detention.
When Runge and Pieck were left alone in the corridor, the latter turned to Runge and said ‘soldier do not shoot me, I have something more to convey to your command’, after which Runge led Wilhelm Pieck to the room of captain Pabst. After a few minutes Pabst led Pieck out into the corridor and ordered Runge to accompany the latter to the commandant’s office. On the way, supposedly, Runge let Wilhelm Pieck go, and returned to the headquarters and reported to Lieutenant Hervitz, that he, Runge, fell ill and had let Pieck go, as he could not accompany him any further.
Approximately at 22.30 Lieutenant Vogel came to the headquarters and declared that they had dumped the corpse of R. Luxemburg into the river Spree.
The second car returned approximately at 23.00 with the officers who had taken away K.Liebknecht, and they said that they took the latter along the road towards the Zoological Park and faked a breakdown in the car. They stopped the car and got out of it. Then lieutenant Shultz took a pen-knife out of Liebknecht’s pocket, cut himself on the arm and then shot Karl Liebknecht, thereby trying to depict that Liebknecht was killed while attempting to escape during which he injured Shultz.
On 16th January Runge was summoned to the regimental headquarters where Captain Pabst gave Runge the order: stay, without leaving at the apartment of Lieutenant Liepmann till he received the necessary documents for departure.
After a gap of 8 days Lieutenants Kanaris and Liepmann gave Runge false documents in the name of Krankenwerter Dinwald and suggested to him to proceed to Fletsburg and also handed Runge a sum of 1000 Marks.
Runge lived in Fletsburg till 11th April 1919 and then two officers from the crime police came to him and asked Runge to come along with them to Berlin.
On the way to Berlin on the train, these officers of the crime police explained to Runge that he was being taken to the court in a case regarding the murder of K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg. He must deny his involvement in the killing, declaring that at the time he, Runge, was living in Fletsburg.
On reaching Berlin Runge was put in jail on 13th April, and on 8th May the legal process started and continued till 14th of May.
On 9th June 1945 during interrogation Otto Runge gave the following evidence:
‘During the time when I was in jail prior to the trial, advocate Grinsbach and judge Hentz came to my cell and gave me instructions as to how I should conduct myself during the trial. They told me to take all the blame on myself and not to involve any of the officers. I was supposed to declare that the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht was carried out by me on my own initiative in a state of insanity’.
During the interrogation of 14.IX.1945 Otto Runge said:
‘After I answered the question put to me by judge Hentz that I had killed Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebknecht on my own initiative and in a state of insanity, no more questions were posed to me’.
‘In reality I was not insane, I was a normal person and was answerable for my acts as a person in full control of his mental abilities.
‘Before the trial I was thrice sent for medical examination and the legal medical consultants doctors Leipmann and Shtrasmon gave the report about my insanity’.
After the officers, who really were involved in the killing of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, when asked by the court replied that they had never issued any orders regarding the killing, indignant and angry shouts were heard in the courtroom from the general public to the effect that the officers were giving false testimony as they were the real perpetrators of the killing and Runge had served only as a tool in their hands. Judge Hentz stopped the trial and removed the public from the courtroom and the session continued in camera.
Runge was sentenced to 25 months in jail by this trial court and all the officers were acquitted.
While serving time in jail, some time in the month of November 1919, one colonel Apshtet, who was then told the whole truth by Runge about the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, visited Runge. Colonel Apshtet made a written record of the interrogation of Runge and told the latter that this record would be placed before the Chairman of the Supreme Military Court for a second inquiry into the case for Runge’s acquittal.
On the 31st of January 1920 by a decision of the Supreme Military Court Runge was released and continued to stay at his home waiting for the second trial.
On the 5th of February 1920 Runge was visited at his home by 3 officers of the police and Heppert, the Head of the administration of the jails. The latter told Runge that new court proceedings were going to be initiated regarding the case of the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and Runge would appear in these proceedings as a witness and the officers involved in the killing as the accused. However, due to political compulsions Runge would have to be put in jail again. Heppert took away the certificate of release by the Supreme Court’ (Vishii Verkhovnii Sud — trans.) from Runge and he was taken to the jail by the policemen where he stayed till 24th March still waiting for the trial to begin.
In connection with the publication of an article in one of the journals by its editor, one Bornstein, regarding the wrong sentence passed by Judge Hentz in 1919 in the case regarding the killing of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, a new trial was initiated in which Runge appeared as a witness.
During the interrogation of 8th August of this year Otto Runge said:
‘About 8 days before the beginning of the trial of Judge Hentz I was approached by two persons who offered me 10,000 marks so that I would give the same evidence in this trial regarding the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht as I gave in the earlier trial of 1919. These people did not mention their names but did mention that they had come on the personal request of Judge Hentz. I refused to accept their offer’.
During this interrogation Runge also said:
‘At the trial of Judge Hentz I told the entire truth, how the killing was really carried out and also about the attempt to kill Wilhelm Pieck’.
At the trial of Judge Hentz Wilhelm Pieck was also present as a witness.
For fraudulently passing the judgement in the case regarding the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919, Judge Hentz, supposedly, was dismissed from the post of the Chief Prosecutor of Germany after a trial in 1929.
It was not possible to investigate the matter of the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in greater detail, despite my written directive, in view of the fact that no more witnesses or direct participants of the killing could be found, and Runge’s health sharply deteriorated in the second half of August. On 1st September Runge died due to deteriorating symptoms of old age (Runge was born in 1875).
Military Prosecutor of the Berlin garrison
Colonel of Law
Courtesy: ‘Vestnik’ No.1, 1995. Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar.
Epitaphs For Karl Liebknecht and
Red Rosa has also now disappeared
Where she lies is unknown
Because she told the truth to the poor
The rich have hunted her out of the world.
Epitaph for Karl Liebknecht
The fighter against war
When he was struck down
Our city still continued to stand.
Epitaph for Rosa Luxemburg
Here lies buried
A Jewess from Poland
Champion of the German workers Murdered on the orders of
The German oppressors. Oppressed;
Bury your differences!
Translated from the German by V.P. Sharma
In Memory of Karl Liebknecht, 1919-20, Käthe Kollwitz