German Revolution 1918-23

Kino Eye: Rosa Luxemburg on film

The article on Paul Frölich (Solidarity 612) brought to mind the 1986 film Rosa Luxemburg, by Margarethe von Trotta. Despite some faults Rosa Luxemburg does justice to the “Eagle”, as Lenin once referred to her. Although she doesn’t resemble Rosa Luxemburg, Barbara Sukowa turns in a superb performance as we follow Rosa from her childhood in Poland to her death at the hands of the far-right Freikorps in the dying embers of the Spartacist revolution in Berlin in 1919. All the main elements of Rosa’s life are shown in the film: her fight against the revisionist Bernstein, her friendship with...

The early life of Paul Frölich

The German revolution, 1919 Paul Frölich deserves to be better known. He is chiefly credited for his valuable 1928 biography of Rosa Luxemburg. However Frölich was a significant figure on the German revolutionary left in his own right. A recent book, Paul Frölich, In the Radical Camp: A Political Autobiography 1890-1921, edited and introduced by Reiner Tosstorff, provides a window into his life. The book deserves the attention of contemporary socialists. Paul Frölich was born in Leipzig on 7 August 1884. Both his parents were active in the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), which...

Learning from the rich debates of the past

The Communist International (Comintern), founded in the aftermath of the October 1917 Russian revolution, was the greatest forum for Marxist strategic debate so far. The first five years of the Comintern, between 1919 and 1923 were a school for learning and discussing how revolutionary parties should be built, how to assess the situation and orientate, and how to win a majority of workers to socialism. The publication of The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923, edited by Mike Taber, is extremely valuable. This volume is...

Rosa Luxemburg on 1905

“The extent to which the party rises to the occasion [of a revolutionary upsurge] — that depends in the greatest degree on how widely [the Marxists have] known how to make their influence felt among the masses in the pre-revolutionary period...” It depends on “the extent to which [they were] already successful in putting together a solid central core of politically well-trained worker activists with clear goals, how large the sum of all their political and organisational work has been”. Volume 3 of the new Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, published this year, shows how false the idea is that...

Werner Scholem: Trotskyism, Zinovievism, antisemitism

The socialist life of Werner Scholem deserves to be better known. The publication of Ralf Hoffrogge’s exhaustive biography, A Jewish Communist in Weimar Germany (Haymarket 2018), means that English readers now have the opportunity to appreciate his contribution. Werner Scholem was born in Germany in December 1895. He joined the Socialist Workers’ Youth group as a teenager in 1912 and then the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on turning 18. Scholem opposed the First World War but was conscripted, wounded on the Eastern front and then imprisoned for anti-war activities. He was sent to the Western...

The Bavarian Soviet Republics of 1919

The Jewish community in Germany has been advised by their government not to wear the kippah in public in case they become targets of antisemitic attacks. Antisemitic hate crimes have risen 20% in the last year and nine out of ten cases have been blamed on the extreme right. Concerns have also been raised about the growth in support for the far right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) within the ranks of the German army and police force - traditional breeding grounds for right wing authoritarianism. Numerous Germans with Jewish backgrounds have made vital contributions to the cultural heritage...

Reading about Rosa Luxemburg

As we go to press on 15 January 2019, it is exactly the 100th anniversary of the murder of the Polish¬German revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg. She was killed by a right-wing militia operating under the Social¬Democratic government which was heading off the German workers’ revolution. We have a pamphlet in production on Luxemburg and the German revolution. Readers can also find a good summary of Luxemburg’s political work in two articles, from 1935 and 1938, by Max Shachtman. The 1938 article is in print as an item in our book In Defence of Bolshevism. Much more on Rosa Luxemburg on our...

Revolution in Germany, 1918

In November 1918, German workers overthrew the imperial government and ended the First World War. What began as a sailors’ revolt within weeks saw workers’ councils take charge of various German cities. A social democratic government took power amidst a situation of dual power. The revolution, however, would be defeated, or at least limited to the replacement of the old monarchist government by a parliamentary democracy, and a parliamentary democracy so flawed that it would within 15 years fall to the Nazis. At the end of October 1918, the German admirals decided on a last-gasp operation...

No party like the Bolshevik party

In Defence of Bolshevism, the new book from Workers' Liberty, had its launch at a lively meeting in central London on 12 October. Edited by Sean Matgamna, the collection of texts by American Trotskyist Max Shachtman represents one of the greatest polemics in the Marxist tradition. It is the defence of a revolutionary socialist consciousness being developed in the working class as the irreplaceable pre-condition for the self- emancipation of the working class. Crucially, it describes the only type of party fit for the purpose of seeding, nurturing and growing this consciousness in the working...

Glory o, glory o, to the bold Bolsheviks

The Russian Revolution has had all sorts of things grafted onto the image it projects to us. But what was it in reality? In the revolution, the workers and the farmers — and the soldiers who were mainly peasants — revolted against the ruling classes and the war. This was a tremendously democratic movement. It was a movement that created soviets, that is workers’ councils. No powerful state made the revolution. It was the people, the workers, the red guards in St Petersburg and Moscow, the factory militias. What they thought they were doing was liberating themselves from all future class rule...

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