On the Ninetieth Anniversary of the Assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

Rosa Luxemburg in the Works of Brecht

Tr. fowpe sharma

Sometimes an eagle can fly lower than a chicken, but a chicken can never fly as high as an eagle. Rosa Luxemburg made many mistakes like… (during her imprisonment, till 1918, though after leaving the prison at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, she recognised and corrected her mistakes), but despite all these mistakes she was an eagle and would remain an eagle. She will remain dear to all the future generations of socialists of the world and her complete works will be useful to all of them.’ V. I. Lenin, 1922.

The Pike in a carp pond.’ – August Bebel1

We are used to getting dropped from high heights to low depths. We will steer on course, till our goal is reached. Whether we are alive or dead, the destined end will be reached and the rule of a free humanity will prevail.’ – Karl Liebknecht, January 1919.

The Zimmerwald conference of the workers’ parties decided that in the event of war workers will not shoot at each other. This was ignored by the socialist parties of the warring nations and indeed the socialist party of Germany voted for the war credits. Karl Liebknecht was the only one in the parliament to cast a dissenting vote. For this he was conscripted and later, imprisoned. Outside Rosa Luxemburg carried on the struggle and was likewise imprisoned. At the end of the war they were released and became active in bringing about a revolution in Germany. They were arrested by the Socialist Party-army set up and murdered. Rosa Luxemburg’s corpse was thrown in the Landwehr canal and – as Karl Liebknecht was buried – an empty grave was left for her. She was buried there when the decomposed remains of her body were found. In 1929, Brecht wrote a poem ‘Epitaph’:

And now red Rosa has disappeared,
Where she lies nobody knows.
To the poor the truth she taught
The rich hunted and out of this world she was brought.

A 1919 poem ‘The ballad of red Rosa’ has been lost. In 1920, Brecht wrote a poem, ‘About the drowned girl’. It is about the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, but it is also influenced by Rimbaud’s poem ‘Ophelia’ (See Penguin bilingual edition, p. 81.).

As she drowned, she swam downwards and was borne,
From the smaller streams to the larger rivers,
In wonder the opal of the heavens shone,
As if wishing to placate the body that was hers.

Catching hold of her were the seaweed, the algae,
Slowly she became heavy as downwards she went,
Cool fish swam around her legs, freely,
Animals and plants weight to her body lent.

Dark light smoke in the evenings the heavens grew,
But early in the morning the stars dangled, there was light,
So that for her, there remained too,
Morning and evening, day and night.

Her cold body rotted in the water there,
Slowly, step by step, god too forgot,
First her face, then her hands, and finally her hair
She became carrion of which the rivers have a lot.

In 1928, he also wrote an apolitical poem influenced by Rosa:

The young girl Johanna Beck, here she dies,
The men caused in her life a break,
So her sweet life she had to forsake.

About Karl Liebknecht Brecht wrote in 1931:

And then came comrade Liebknecht,
He went to the people there,
And they killed comrade Liebknecht,
But the day of freedom came near.

A memorial had been built in Berlin in 1925 for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa which was destroyed by the Nazis. After the war Brecht enquired whether the memorial was being rebuilt, he got a negative reply and he wrote angrily to a friend, ‘because the Germans have no history.’ However, a memorial was rebuilt for the socialist martyrs and Karl and Rosa’s names were inscribed on it. Brecht wrote two epitaphs in 1948:

‘Epitaph for Karl Liebknecht’

Here lies
Karl Liebknecht
Against war he carried on a fight
As he was killed
Our city continued still standing there on the site.

‘Epitaph for Luxemburg’

Here lies, buried
Rosa Luxemburg
A jewess from Poland,
A pioneer of the German working class
Killed on the orders of
The German oppressors. You, the oppressed ones,
Bury your discord.

Besides being a poet, Brecht was a very successful playwright. The first version of his play ‘The Mother’ was premiered on 15th January 1932 – the anniversary of Rosa and Karl’s murder. He also wrote to the American producers in 1935 that ‘The Mother’ be premiered in mid January. Vol. 10 of his collected works consists of projects for plays. There are two projects about Rosa which are as follows:

A play-project (May 1926)

‘The Last Weeks of Rosa Luxemburg’

B 1

From: The Last Weeks of Rosa Luxemburg

The leaf of each and every tree
Door, wall and window glass
We take in possession for you
At this hour of their ceasing to be.
Work and lodging
Food and drink of this world
We now take in possession.


Speech about the mass man
The MM has no head etc.


What there roars in us? What there remains unsatisfied, what there takes off, that is us! Us! Us! Us!


Here is a world.
It is in
Who is then ready
To put it in order?


Without a name


Therefore your fate
Is decided. You
Will die.
Will you whimper, when
They kill you?




When you, however, recognise
Those who are killing you, are
Those for whom you will die
Will you be terrified?



The following poem (1927) in the poetry volumes should have been a part of the above project:

Still stands the bush with its yellow leaves,
Certain and hopeful there it stays,
High its head each flower heaves,
For another seven days.

A second play-project (1948) is as follows:



A group of refugees near the Finnish border – among them Rosa Luxemburg. They carry handbags, trot in dirty overcoats, it is cold. 1906.

Most of them complain about the lost revolution, Rosa analyses the causes. She returns with a lot of things, but lacks a good hat for the border guards. The future of the proletariat is certain, the next half hour is unsure. The bourgeoisie will be conquered, only the border guards are dangerous.



1. Part
Till the outburst of the world war, failure of S P D (Erfurt/The experiences of 1905/Stuttgart/1914)

2. Part
Till the revolution
(During the war/Betrayal/Death)

The Beginning
After the defeat in Warsaw – consolidation.


The mysterious hussar toast that she can prepare
‘Live in danger and live dangerously’
Her motto.


‘Mrs. Lübeck’2

Little woman, grown a bit fat, wobbly walk, small eyes, appraising look, inert mouth, lips not quite closed, tastelessly dressed. Ribbons and stripes. Not quite simple.
An energetic housewife with free sexuality (St. Grossman)

On the day before her murder she rang up Rosenberg, to make better the conditions of the guards (make them easier). She had promised this to the guards before her release.


She is unable to participate in the spiritual renewal of the people in 1914, crippled, foreign, jewish, crazy in her make up. (The proletariat leaves her.)

1919: the great wait of the proletariat. Betrayal.


The sight of the face of a man who is being helped, is a view in lovely region, friend.

The pike in a carp pond (Bebel)

I am stone rich.

And let limp/ wobble

To me, now in this fiery hangover
As if we had champagne in blood

‘To the thick ham,’ I wrote when drunk,

I, the one ‘who rode over the economy on a broom’

She sends Liebknecht forward, so that it is not just a woman who says so.


LUXEMBURG (in the epic mode)

And the riders of the king carried out a blood bath in the city and the state and then dispersed. The henchmen searched for the rebels, seized Rachel and threw her in prison. But in the same night the ambassadors came to the prison, persuaded the guards, gave them money and led Rachel away – brought her to the border. And there were others around her who had fought in the rebellion and as they crossed the frontier they were defeated and said: Everything is lost. And Rachel asked them: What have you seen?




As I was twenty I would have gladly studied mathematics and astronomy
In numbers we wash the unclean
From events and bodies. Even the accidental, that
Worries us so much n the struggle, appears
Tamed in the probability calculations
Of mathematics. The great movements of the stars allow.
Good predictions. Also there
Are spheres in the space not fully round, the curves
Not quite continuous, but seen over the star years
And space distances satisfy
The ordering spirit.


And studying mathematics and astronomy instead of politics and economy3 you would have come across less deception. The orbits of the stars are not kept so secret as the ways of the cartels. The moon does not complain about the business damages.



In paper tanks the radicalists
Storming the moon and hoisting on the rubble heap
The red flags.

Translated from the German by fowpe sharma


(1) August Bebel, the German socialist leader. The German proverb refers to an activist who makes life miserable about him/her.

(2) Rosa married Herr Gustav Lübeck in 1898 for namesake only, in order to become a German national. Soon thereafter the marriage was dissolved.

(3) Rosa started as a student of mathematics and astronomy but changed over to economics – in which she got a doctorate with magnum cum laude – the highest praise.

Click here to return to the April-September 2009 index.