'Future victories will spring from this “defeat”'—Rosa Luxemburg before her death on this day, 1919

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Rosa Luxemburg was tortured and executed on this day 96 years ago, on January 15 1919.
The last letter contained in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is dated January 11 1919, following the crushed Spartacist Uprising, and is reproduced in full below. In her last known piece of writing, 'Order prevails in Berlin', Luxemburg writes about the reasons contributing to the failure of the rebellion and the future of the movement:

A new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”


Peter Hudis introduces the turbulent historical context for the New Left Project:

This letter was written in the immediate aftermath of the abortive "Spartakusbund Uprising" of January 4-10, which attempted to overthrow the SPD government of Ebert and Scheidemann and install a revolutionary government representing the German working classes' demand for genuine socialism ... Although Karl Liebknecht and others were carried away by these events to see them as a demand to overthrow the regime, Luxemburg saw them as a defensive reaction and held that calls for a seizure of power were premature. However, she decided she could not stand in the way of the uprising given the course of events on the ground that were taking on a life of their own ...

She here tries to put the best face possible on the defeat, arguing that the elections might not be held ... Luxemburg works to keep the spirits of her longtime friend and comrade up by reminding her that no defeat is ever permanent since such "events are a tremendous school for the masses." It is fitting for this letter to end the collection of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, given that it expresses her long-held view was that the most important aspect of social struggle is the "intellectual sediment" that it leaves for future generations to continue the struggle for freedom.



Here is the letter in full:

TO CLARA ZETKIN

                                                                 [Berlin,] January 11 [1919]

Dearest Klara,

Today I received your detailed letter, finally got around to reading it in peace and quiet, and what’s still more incredible, to answering it. It is impossible to describe the way of life that I—and all of us—have been living for weeks, the tumult and turmoil, the constant changing of living quarters, the never-ending reports filled with alarm, and in between, the tense strain of work, conferences, etc., etc. I literally could not find time to write you. I’ve only seen my own place now and then for a couple of hours at night. Perhaps tonight I will succeed in writing this letter. Only I really don’t know how to begin, I have so much to tell you.

Well then, first of all, as far as nonparticipation in the elections is concerned you overestimate enormously the scope and consequences of this decision. There are no “Rühle-ites,” and Rühle was by no means a “leader” at the conference. Our “defeat” was only the triumph of a rather childish, half-baked, one-dimensional radicalism. But that was only at the beginning of the conference. In its later course the feeling between us (of the central leadership) and the delegates was restored to a sound basis, and when I returned briefly to the question of participation in the elections during my report I already felt quite a different resonance than at the beginning. Don’t forget that the “Spartacists” are for the most part a fresh new generation, free of the stupefying traditions of the “grand old party, tried and true.”—And that must be viewed in both its aspects, of light and shade. We all decided unanimously not to make too big an issue of this point and not to take it too tragically. In reality the question of the National Assembly [and the elections to it] will be shoved into the background by the storm of events, and if the course of events continues as it has so far, it will prove to be highly  questionable whether things will even reach the point of elections and a National Assembly. Your judgment of the matter (and by this I mean [what you consider] the tragic nature of the decision) is quite different from ours, because unfortunately you now have no feeling for the details, as we do, and moreover, a feeling for the particular situation, for which one would require the experience of direct observation. My first impulse, when I read your letter and your telegram about the elections question, was to send you a telegram: Come here, quick as you can. I am certain that one week’s stay here and direct participation in our activities and consultations would be enough to establish complete conformity between you and us in each and every respect. Now, however, I see myself obliged to say the opposite to you: Wait a little while about coming here, until we have quieter times again, to some extent. To live in the present turmoil and hourly danger, the constant changing of living quarters, the strain and the rushing around, is not for you, and in particular there would be no possibility at all of working or even consulting in an orderly manner. I hope in a week or so the situation will have clarified itself in one way or another and regular work will again be possible. Then your relocating here would be the beginning of a systematic collaboration, in the course of which mutual agreement and a commonly shared understanding will come about automatically.

Nota bene: We have not taken any “Borchhardtians”[1] into the organization. On the contrary, Borchardt was expelled from the “International Communists”[2] and indeed that was done on our demand. For the most part the “Communists” were from Hamburg and Bremen. Certainly this acquisition [Erwerbung] has its thorny aspects, but in any case these are secondary matters, which one has to get past and which will be straightened out as the movement progresses.—On the whole our movement is developing splendidly, and throughout all of Germany at that. The split from the USPD had become absolutely unavoidable for political reasons, because even if the people were still the same as at Gotha,[3] nevertheless the situation has become totally different. The severe political crises that we’ve experienced here in Berlin during all of the past two weeks or even longer have blocked the way to the systematic organizational work of training our recruits, but at the same time these events are a tremendous school for the masses. And finally, one must take history as it comes, whatever course it takes. —The fact that you are receiving Rote Fahne so infrequently is disastrous! I will see to it that I personally send it to you every day. —At this moment in Berlin the battles are continuing.[4] Many of our brave lads have fallen. Meyer, Ledebour, and (we fear) Leo [Jogiches] have been arrested.

For today, I have to close.

I embrace you a thousand times, your R.

[1] A reference to Julian Borchardt.

[2] In November 1918 the name “International Communists” was adopted, first of all by left groups in Hamburg and Bremen, and also by a group in Dresden. They joined the KPD at its founding congress.

[3] The USPD held its founding congress at Gotha on April 6–8, 1917.

[4] On January 4, 1919, the Social Democratic government announced the dismissal of Emil Eichhorn as head of the Berlin police. Eichhorn belonged to the left wing of the USPD. The revolutionary workers and soldiers responded to this with a massive rally in Berlin, and proceeded to arm themselves for  and Karl Liebknecht were tracked down by counterrevolutionary, protofascist military groups (the so-called Volunteer Corps, or Freikorps ), and on January 15 they were arrested and assassinated.