Liverpool Left Film Club screens
Rosa Luxemburg (1986)
Dir. Margarethe von Trotta
Rosa Luxemburg was a towering figure on the revolutionary left of the German and Polish socialist movements. Born into a Jewish middle-class family, she had, by the age of 18 already been involved the organising of a general strike in Warsaw, for which four leading figures were later executed. She fled to Switzerland in 1889 where she quickly became immersed in left émigré circles, distinguishing herself as a brilliant exponent of Marxist theory and revolutionary strategy.
By 1897 she had moved to Germany and had become deeply involved in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a party with a massive popular base. Again, her brilliance brought her into prominence on the far left of the party, where she formed a close and lifelong friendship with the German revolutionary Clara Zetkin, and became aquainted with Vladimir Lenin and Nadezhda Krupskaya.
At that time the ‘evolutionary socialism’ of Eduard Bernstein was influential on the right of the SPD. Rosa Luxemburg was vehemently opposed to the idea that socialism might be achieved by any type of collaboration with ‘progressive’ sections of capital, calling always for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state.
But it was over the question of inter-imperialist war that she was to break decisively with the SPD. On 4 August 1914 the SPD deputies in the German Reishtag voted to pay war credits, effectively ending their opposition to war. Rosa Luxemburg, despairing of this complete surrender to patriotic war frenzy, broke away to form the anti-war Marxist Spartacus League. The Spartacus League, forerunner of the German Communist Party, promoted an internationalist socialist message through the dark years of the First World War.
With Germany’s defeat in 1918, revolutionary stirrings were evident in the working-class districts, and by 1919 things came to a head in a rising that was violently supressed. Rosa Luxemburg and her close collaborator Karl Leibnicht were arrested by soldiers of the Friekorps, brutalised war veterans. Both were murdered on 15 January 1919.
Von Trotta’s film covers the years of 1900-1919, during which we see Rosa Luxemburg in and out of prison for her activities, developing Marxist economic and political theory, and working tirelessly for international socialist revolution.
But von Trotta does something else. She shows us Rosa Luxemburg, the woman: sometimes euphoric with the hope of socialism; sometimes in dark and lonely despair at the injustice of capitalism and the horrors of war; in love, and out of love; dealing with the infighting of the German SPD; and also dealing with the men in her life.
Von Trotta’s film is a masterpiece of political and personal biography.
Something not to be missed!