Rosa Luxemburg (1986)




Director:     Margarethe von Trotta.

Starring:     Barbara Sukowa (Rosa Luxemburg), Daniel Olbrychski (Leo Jogiches), Otto Sander (Karl Liebknecht), Adelheid Arndt (Luise Kautsky), Jurgen Holtz (Karl Kautsky), Doris Schade (Clara Zetkin), Hannes Jaenicke (Kostja Zetkin), Jan(Paul Biczycki (August Bebel), Karin Baal (Mathilde Jacob), Winifred Glatzeder (Paul Levi), Regina Lemnitz (Gertrud), Barbara Lass (Rosa's Mother), Dagna Drozdek (Rosa at Age 6).

The story of Jewish German political activist Rosa Luxemburg.



Spoiler Warning:

Rosa Luxemburg is in prison.  She writes a letter to a friend named Sonja.  She writes her not worry.  Things will turn out better.  She says to say hello to Karl.  Wronke Prison, 7th December 1916. 

The women pass back and forth in the cell.  They hear the command:  "Firing Squad! Attention!"  The women try to get to the window to see.  Five men are to be shot: Kaminski, Kozinski and three others.  The women call the prison staff "murderers".  One of the women screams her head off after the execution.  The guards come in and call for Anna Matschke.  Anna is taken out blindfolded.  She is put up against a wall.  The command to fire is given, but there is no shooting. They just wanted to mess with her head.

The interrogator says they know Rosa's name in not Anna Matschke.  He reads from her file:  "Rosa Luxemburg is a leading figure in the German social democratic and international socialist movements.  She stirs up her listeners to carry out acts of propaganda whose aim is to overthrow the present social order by means of revolution, using the most contemptible methods."   What the interrogator wants to know is the name of the man Rosa was arrested with.

Flashback.  Anna walks with a man.  She tells him to call her Anna Matschke, but tell the comrades who she really is.  They walk past a room with lots of weapons.  Rosa asks why are there so many weapons when their main aim is agitation?  The man says they have to defend themselves at times. 

She listens as Leo Jogiches reads off what the main aims of the movement are.  He is told that Rosa is here and Leo gets up to go speak with her in private. He tells her that he told her not to come to Poland.  She is more useful in Berlin than in Poland. Rosa asks him how can she stay in Germany when the revolution is happening in Russia?  She adds:  "I'm no longer the little student you once ordered around.  Now embrace me.  I've missed you terribly."   They hug and kiss. 

A publisher won't publish an article by Rosa about What Should We Do?  He says he simply won't publish it.  So now two gunmen train their pistol on the publisher.  He suddenly has a change of heart and tells one of the workers to typeset the article. 

One night the police burst into the apartment of Leo and Rosa.  They are asked if they are the publishers of the radical article?  Leo says there's been a mistake.  They are just two journalists from Germany. 

Rosa is in jail.  She tells her brother Josef to follow her instructions.  She wants no appeals for clemency.  And she wants to be put in a single cell.  She wants to write about all she has seen and heard about while in prison.  Her brother asks her why she writes about a hopeless cause?  She says it only seems hopeless. 

Josef gets Rosa out of jail.  At dinner she asks for the news about Leo?  He has been denounced by the German press and will be tried for trying to overthrow the Russian government by force.  Josef says they will arrest Rosa too, if she doesn't leave Warsaw. 

Rosa tells her niece that she has to go back to Berlin because she works for German Social Democracy. 

In Germany Leo reunites with Rosa.  She tells him they should marry.  What she is asking for is much like a bourgeois lifestyle. 

The couple go out to celebrate with other socialists.  Rosa introduces Leo to Karl Kautsky, her mentor in Germany, and Ignaz Auer.  Rosa snubs comrade Bernstein once again.  She goes and gets Leo to dance with her.  A big applause goes up when the sign for the year 1900 appears. 

Rosa goes to see one of her best friends. Luise.  The woman asks her about Leo and Rosa tells her that the Russians are going to give him a long stint in prison at hard labor.  Luise says that's what would have happed to Rosa, if not for the bail.  Rosa, however, didn't know that she got out on bail.  She gets upset and says she can't stand having to depend on someone else.

At a socialist meeting the female speaker introduces Rosa to the audience. She says Rosa has recently retuned from Warsaw.  Her speech is well received by the audience. 

Rosa denounces the Germans trying once again to go to war.  She urges her comrades to oppose any push toward war.  She urges the workers to stop work to stop the march to war.  This time the audience is more disapproving of Rosa's anti-war speech.  She definitely has her supporters, but it seems they were drowned out by Rosa's opponents. 

Luise and Rosa have a little celebration at a fancy restaurant because of her acquittal in Weimar.  They go row boating on the lake. 

Leo escapes from the clutches of the Russians and now is back at home with Rosa, but Rosa is a little too possessive of Leo.  She demands to know if a woman was involved in his escape?  He asks her stop to this line of interrogation of him, but she can't stop herself.  She goes on asking a multitude of questions until Leo admits that he slept with a woman that he didn't love.  This makes Rosa furious at him and she gets a little crazy demanding to know why would he does such things?  She cries.  He starts agreeing with whatever she says just to get her off his back.  He agrees to her statement that Leo must have been in love with her because he worked with the woman and with Leo love and work are the same thing.  But that only makes it worse for Rosa.  Then he says he won't discuss the matter any further. 

Now Rosa says she doesn't want to live with him anymore.  She wants to throw him out.  Leo says she's crazy to throw him out over such a trifle.  But Leo, nevertheless, has to go.

At a socialist get-together, Rosa is outspoken as usual.  And she is very impatient.  She says people are tiring of the socialist's parliamentary tactics.  She feels that they should call for a massive strike.  The older men, however, say it's not the right time to call for a general strike.  They are pleased with their recent increases of the vote in elections. 

Rosa lets Leo use one of her apartment rooms as an office in which to work.  One day he reads her some excerpts from her love letters to him.  She tells him to throw the letters away because now they mean nothing to her.  Rosa tells him that his letters were always about party work.  "Not the least mention of a normal life. . . . All we did was talk."  He raises his voice and she tells him not to shout because Costia is asleep in the next room.  Leo rushes into the bedroom and says hello to the young fellow.  He then asks Rosa if the young man is in love with her?  She says that's none of his business.  All she wants is for him to leave her in peace.  Leo says he will never leave her in peace. 

Costia and Rosa are lovers.  Costia is the son of Rosa's close friend Clara Zetkin.  Clara is not happy about the relationship, but she does say:  "He should be happy to have met such a woman as you." 

Karl Kautsky won't publish Rosa's article saying that:  "We mustn't endanger our chance to become the biggest single party."  Rosa replies:  "What danger?  The party will become powerful in the mass struggle."  But Karl doesn't believe the masses are ready for revolution.  Rosa says that Germany is like Russia in 1905 with constant labor strikes.  She wants the party to lead the people, not follow the people reluctantly.  She even suggests that the older party leaders are merely vegetating. 

Rosa takes the position:  "If the party executive muzzles me, I shall appeal directly to the masses."  She says she will make a tour of twelve cities and speak to a hundred thousand socialists. 

Rosa goes on tour and delivers her anti-war message.  Her anti-war attitude gets her in trouble with the government.  They want her punished for her anti-war talk.  The prosecutor says she is so vitriolic that people have come to call her "Red Rosa". 

Now that Rosa is being prosecuted, she's even more popular as a speaker.  She continues on with her anti-war, anti-military tirades. 

Rosa and Leo meet with Karl Liebknecht and Paul Levi.   Karl says the right-wing press is saying that someone ought to put a stop to the "impudent hussy" Red Rosa.

Rosa attends another big socialist meeting.  She is introduced to the crowd and praised as the person who is so inspiring the German proletariat with here speeches.  They want her to come to the podium and say something, but this time Rosa says she can't get up and speak.  She is a bit overcome by her fear that nationalism is going to win out over socialism and Germany will be at war once again.   And then the socialists will join the war fever.  She tells Leo and her private secretary this and she cries:  "I have never felt such despair in all my life."  She grabs Leo's arm for some emotional comfort. 

And how right Rosa is.  Even the socialists vote to support the war fever.  One of the politicians says:  "We'll show you that socialists also know how to die for the Fatherland!"  Another politician tells Rosa that they were forced to vote pro-military, otherwise they would have all been branded as traitors. 

Costia cries saying that he'll never see Rosa again.  He's been called up to fight.  Rosa tries to reassure him saying that the war won't last long. 

Clara is deeply saddened by the start of war.  She says they have lost their socialist party and that she and Rosa should resign from the party.  Rosa says no, they must go on working to change things. 

Rosa is arrested and sent to prison.  Karl Liebknecht comes to visit her in prison.  He says he has been called up to go fight on the French front.

Karl asks Rosa for a name for their group.  Rosa says: "Spartacus."   Karl tells Rosa that the authorities are closely watching Clara.  They open her letters and any male that visits her is called up into the military no matter how ill or old they are. 

Luisa visits Rosa in prison.  Luisa is a bit dejected. She tells Rosa that she was right all along. The Social Democrats have let them down.  Rosa shows Luisa her garden that she has grown.  When the two women hug, the male monitor says that hugging is forbidden.  Rosa yells at him and throws her book at him.  He writes in his notebook that Rosa threw her book at him. 

Rosa is put in a different prison.  She starts pressing plants and labeling them as botanists do.  On her desk is a photograph of Costia.  She receives a letter that Costia has died at the front.  She goes into a depression.  At night, Rosa cries. 

The women prisoners are brought together.  The warden says that from today, Germany is a parliamentary democracy.  There will be no more Kaisers.  The Social Democrats have a mandate to govern the country.  The new government has asked the Americans for an armistice.  "For Germany this means defeat and capitulation."  The women are happy about the news. 

The warden asks Rosa if she is happy that her party is now in power?  She says:  "I fear Chancellor Ebert will abuse his powers and betray the workers again."

Rosa comes to speak with the warden.  She says a general amnesty has been issued and she should have been released three weeks ago.  The warden explains that applies to only the convicted political prisoners.  Rosa has not been convicted and she is here only under protective security.  He then says he can 't release her until he gets an order to release her.  She pleads with him to get her released.

Back to the present.  Rosa is released.  Her private secretary takes her to see some of her colleagues, Karl, Levi and Leo.  They are all happy to see her free.  Leo says:  "Breslau was your ninth prison."  Karl says that Rosa will be the editor of their newspaper, The Red Flag.  Rosa goes back to her apartment with Leo. 

Karl speaks about socialism and revolution.  He says up with world revolution!  And up with Spartacus!

Fighting breaks out in the streets.  The socialists join in the fight.  Rosa is upset, telling Karl that she sees no majority in support of a revolution. 

At work, Rosa faints twice in one day. 

Karl and Rosa are under the gun again and have to hide out.  Leo comes in and tells them:  "Someone has betrayed us. You must leave."  Karl and Rosa get in a car. 

Karl and Rosa are brought to a hotel where the soldiers rough them up a bit.  They call Rosa "Red Rosa".   They put Rosa in a hotel room.  And interrogator tells her:  "We are in power, not you and your miserable comrades."

A guard smashes Karl in the back of the head with his rifle butt.  Now Rosa is taken out and the guard smashes her in the back of her head too.  She is thrown into a car.  The car speeds off and a soldier now shoots Rosa in the head with his pistol.  They throw her dead body in the river. 


Good film.  It tells about the life of a very active and important socialist of her day.  She was Polish, but worked mostly in Germany to help the German Social Democrats because she thought Germany was ripe for a socialist revolution.    Barbara Sukowa as Rosa Luxemburg, was the winner of the Best Actress Award at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

1871  --  born in Zamoßç, Poland (then a part of Russia).  Educated in Warsaw.

1889 --  flees Poland and lives in Switzerland in order to avoid imprisonment for her political activities.

1898  --   writes a doctoral dissertation at the University of Zürich entitled The Industrial Development of Poland. Migrates to Germany and marries a German worker.  She becomes involved with the German Social Democratic party (SPD), then the leading organization of international socialism.

1905  --  during the revolutionary struggles in Russia, she goes to Warsaw to join in and gets herself imprisoned.

1907-1914  --  teaches in the SPD school in Berlin.

1913  --  writes The Accumulation of Capital.

World War I  --  with German socialist Karl Liebknecht she forms a revolutionary faction within the SPD (known as the Spartacists). Is imprisoned because of her opposition to the war.

1918  -- is released from prison.  She helps turn the Spartacists into the Communist party of Germany.

1919  --  reluctantly takes part in the Spartacist uprising against the government, is arrested and, along with Liebknecht, murdered by German troops.

"Two months later, Jogiches was beaten to death in an army barracks on the edge of the city. The men who killed all of them—with the blessing of the government—were members of the Freikorps, the illegal paramilitary organization that, fourteen years later, would form the nucleus of Hitler’s Brownshirts." 

History and Heartbreak: The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, from The Nation,





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