Mother of Revolution
a play by
Breslau Prison. November, 1917. The cell contains a bed, chair and desk, on which there are books, manuscripts, writing materials and two framed photographs. There are plants in flowerpots distributed throughout the cell. Rosa, age 48, is seated at her desk writing, when a prison guard appears at the door.
GUARD: You have a visitor this morning,
ROSA: Thank you so much, Johann.
Please show them in…
(Clara Zetkin, a handsome woman of 50, enters. They pause to look at each other, then Rosa rises from her desk and they embrace. Rosa walks with a slight limp.)
CLARA: (Noticing the potted plants, she slowly tours the cell examining them.)
Even in prison you make things
Bloom – have the gift of life –
My dearest Rosa…
(She sees the two framed photographs on the desk.)
A new photo of Karl, is it?
ROSA: Yes, a birthday present sent me
By Sonja. A fine likeness, is it not?
CLARA: (She picks it up to admire it.)
Splendid…And one of Mimi,
ROSA: Yes, my little pussycat. I miss her so.
Her picture makes me smile; I can
Almost hear her meow. When I was
Free, and wrote each morning, I
Often walked back and forth across
My study. She observed me closely,
As she lay on the tablecloth with
Her paws crossed, her green eyes
Followed me back and forth. After
Lunch, I’d take a crystal prism from
My desk, where it served as a
Paperweight, and place it in the
Sunlight. Rays burst into rainbows
Scattered across the walls and the
Ceiling. Mimi was fascinated by
The colors that danced before her.
At first, she attempted to leap up
And catch them. Then, realizing
Their insubstantiality, she followed
Them wide-eyed and motionless.
CLARA: She’s unusually affectionate for
A cat. Most of them are cool and
Egotistical, unlike dogs, with their
ROSA: Yes, Mimi is a cat with the soul
Of a dog. Nonetheless, Lenin
Found her rather imposing: “…a
Lordly cat…” he called her. It was
An heroic decision for me not to
Bring her here with me. Surely she
Would have found it melancholy
In prison…Clara, have you
Heard from your sons at the front?
CLARA: Kostia’s letters describe the
Aerial bombardment and
Warfare in the trenches. Stuck
In evil-smelling dug-ours some
Twenty feet below ground,
They’ve little sleep, live on iron
Rations. For seven days and
Nights, he wrote me, they sat
On benches or wire beds. The
Shock waves and thunder of
Howitzers and giant mortars
Crashed into the trenches,
Sending masses of earth
Tumbling in. the land was
Turned into burnt out craters
Like the surface of the moon.
And the winds carried chlorine
Gas across no-man’s-land;
Its dense fumes crept like
Monsters down the trenches’
Steps. During the afternoons, he
Said, torpedoes were launched
From heavy mortars. Coming
Perpendicularly from great heights,
They bore deep into the eath and
Burst. Tons of soil and blocks of
Chalk and rock were hurled into
The air, leaving craters twelve feet
Deep. Kostia’s comrades in the
Trenches somehow endured this
Inferno. With every nerve strained,
They’d wait for next exploding
Shell. Their concussion extinguished
The acetylene torches that lit the
Deep trenches. The noise drove
Them nearly hysterical in the
Darkness filled with smoke
Of this endless war of attrition…
Of course, when I heard of
Poor Han’s death, I had to
Come and see you right away.
ROSA: Thank you so much for your
Moving letter of condolence.
If, in anguish such as this, there
Can be comfort at all, then your
Letter provided it, Clara. I can
Barely get used to the thought
That he is gone. I have lost my
Dearest friend. He was unique,
Like no other. He read my every
Thought, shared my values and
Tastes. My last letter to him was
Written to one already dead…
CLARA: My Stephen, too, has written to
Me of the life on the Western
Front. Long gone is the euphoria,
The patriotic parades. Today there
Sounds a different chorus: cries
Of vultures and hyenas of the
Battefield. Cities decimated;
Villages turned into cemeteries.
Mass slaughter has become the
Order of the day.
ROSA: Bloody capitalism stands before
Us: the thing itself. One matter
Is certain; the world is at a
Turning point. It’s begun the
Organization of the world conflict
Between capital and labor for
Power. And we are at the crossroads,
CLARA: Yes, and the only compensation
For all the misery and death is
The Russian Revolution, surely
The mightiest event of the war.
Its broad sweep and transformation
Of class society has reduced the
Fall of Czardom to a minor episode.
Born of the world war, it was created
Under the most try of conditions.
ROSA: Yes, the Bolsheviks have proven
That, with their own organization,
The workers can take state power.
From the very first moment the
Driving force was the proletariat;
The burning question: immediate
CLARA: At the same time the revolution
Embraced the soldiers and the
Peasants, which pushed the
“Agrarian Question” to the fore.
Since 1905, it had been the very
Axis upon which the revolution
Turned. From these two questions
The split between capital and labor
ROSA: The liberal bourgeoisie evaded
Both crucial issues. But the masses
Pressed forward ever more impetuously.
On the first wave of revolution,
The liberals were carried away;
But next came the counter-revolution.
CLARA: Realizing the nature of the liberals
From the beginning, the Bolsheviks
Proclaimed all power to the soviets
Supported by the peasantry. The
Party of Lenin was the only one that
Could stand at the head of the masses.
It was confronted with a simple dilemma:
Victory of the revolution or of the
Counter-revolution. The burning questions
Peace and land had no answers under
Capitalist society. The Bolsheviks knes
This from the beginning. Their uprising
Was not only the salvation of the Russian
Revolution: it was the defense of the
Honor of international socialism, itself.
ROSA: Out of the killing fields of world
War has come the revolution
In Russia. It affects me like an
Elixir of life, Clara! I’m convinced
That a brand new epoch is about
To begin, that the war cannot last
Too much longer. Hopefully, it will
Give birth to revolutions beyond
The borders of Russia.
CLARA: I visited Karl last week. He’s
In good spirits, as usual. And
Leo continues the underground
Work with gusto. And I’ve saved
Every one of your beautiful letters,
ROSA: Yes, I could easily have written
A monograph on “The Prisons
I Have Known”.
CLARA: And how many visits I’ve made
To you in each of them.
ROSA: How precious your visits have
Been to me…I remember the first
Of my prisons: the dreadful Pavilion
X of the Warsaw Citadel, back
In Poland. That was before I
Had the honor of your friendship.
Tyshka visited me on one occasion.
There you were exhibited in a
Double-wire cage: one stood
Within another, so that prisoner
And visitor conversed through a
Glinting wire net. I had to hold
Onto the wire like a wild animal
In a zoo. Leo pressed his face close
To the wire in the darkness, saying:
“Where are you?” as he wiped tears
From his pince-nez which prevented
Him from seeing me.
CLARA: I remember your telling me about
ROSA: Yes, there days when gallows
Were erected in the courtyard
Of the fortress, and an agonizing
Silence fell upon the prison. Then
The steps of prisoners and the execution
Commandos could be heard, and a
Funeral march echoed through the cells.
And the cells, themselves, were packed
Together like herring; they had to sleep
In shifts. Then one night we were joined
By a raving-mad Jewess, who kept
Us up twenty-four-hours-a-day with
Her endless shrieking. Fortunately the
Next day we were rid of that “myschuggene”.
CLARA: I remember your first incarceration
In Barninstrasse Prison in Berlin.
ROSA: Yes, pure hell in eleven cubic meters.
Filthy, vermin-ridden, furnished in the
Most primitive fashion. The month and
A half spent there left gray hairs on my head.
Then there was my one month stopover at
Alexanderplatz. Nothing much to do, and a
Hell’s music of thundering trains, which
Shook the cell and struck reflections of light
On the rattling windowpanes. Only after
Ten o’clock would the diabolical concert
Of trains finally end.
CLARA: From there you were transferred to Wronke,
Where you at least had a yard with flowers
ROSA: Did you know my mother believed King Solomon
Knew the language of birds? As a child I viewed her
Skeptically with my “scientific” education. Now,
I myself, feel like him, seem to understand their song.
CLARA: Along with all your other talents, Rosa, you’ve
Become a diviner of the language of birds!...
I remember your letter about your
Study of their curious migrations.
ROSA: Yes, during their flight south the cranes
Carry small birds on their backs. On these
Expeditions, species that would otherwise
Be predator and prey form a truce. It’s
Strange, but only in prison have I learned
To appreciate such wondrous things.
CLARA: Rosa, I know how you feel for each
ROSA: This morning, before your visit, I took a
Stroll through the prison yard, and found
A bumble bee lying on its back. It lay as if
Dead with its legs tucked in and its fur
Covered with frost. Only when the sun
Warmed it, did its legs begin to stir and stretch.
Its body rolled over clumsily and rose into the
Air with a buzz. I always make it my duty to
Kneel down, and with my warm breath
Bring them back to life.
CLARA: I remember your letters about the birds
You’ve grown to know in each prison.
You wrote of the Titmouse who’d accompany
You on your walks. How it would skip along
Beside you from shrub to shrub. And, though
It appeared wet and scruffy, your stroll
Together in the sunshine brought
You both back to life.
ROSA: But the most moving of all was something I
Witnessed in the prison yard last week. There,
Military wagons often arrive, packed with sacks
Of uniforms and shirts stained with the blood
Of the dead and wounded. These were drawn
By water buffaloes. They’re entirely black with
Huge, soft eyes. Coming from Romania, they’re
Trophies of the war. They’re difficult to catch,
Being wild things, and even more difficult to
Break into beasts of burden. Used to luxuriant
Pastures, they receive miserable fodder here.
They’re beaten fearfully and mercilessly
Exploited, so they perish in no time at all.
A wagon had driven in with the cargo piled
So high that the poor creature couldn’t manage
To drag it over the gateway’s step. The attending
Soldier beat him so savagely with his whip that
His officer shouted: “Don’t you have any pity for
The creature?” “And who, may I ask, has any
Pity for us?” the soldier answered with a sneer.
Finally, the wagon got over the threshold, but
The creature was bleeding badly. I gaze at its
Face: its soft black eyes shone like a weeping child’s.
It had the expression of a punished child who
Doesn’t know why it’s being beaten, no how to
Escape its torment. I stood facing it, and it looked
Into my eyes: tears were running down my face;
They were his tears. How far away are the green
Pastures of Romania, the shinning sun, birdsong
And the fresh breeze. Now you’re imprisoned in a
Stable with moldy hay and putrid straw. And all
The blows and the blood and the running sores…
Oh my brother, I thought, only in pity are we united.
Berlin. November 9, 1918. A General Strike and the largest demonstration in German history.
In the center of the stage are demonstrators holding red banner and placards. On stage left stand a small group of workers. On the balcony of the Imperial Palace, above the, are government officials, among them Friedrich Ebert and Karl Leibnecht. Leibnecht is in his mid-forties and has a moustache and spectacles. Ebert, who has just finished speaking, leaves the podium and is seated on the platform.
WORKER 1: (Speaking to WORKER 2 and WORKER 3)
So Kaiser Wilhelm has abdicated!
WORKER 2: Yes. Prince Max of Baden met
With Ebert earlier in the day,
Where he accepted the post of
Chancellor of the Reich.
WORKER 3: And now he’s proclaimed the
WORKER 1: I never thought I’d see the day!
WORKER 2: Leibnecht is about to speak.
WORKER 3: I heard him this morning proclaim
The Socialist Republic from the
Roof of a motor car!
WORKER 1: Now he’s approaching the podium.
LEIBNECHT: (He stands and approaches the podium to address the crowd.)
Anyone who is witness to this
General Strike, surely the largest
Mass demonstration in our entire
History, must conclude that you,
The workers of Berlin, have
Grown enormously from your
Experience of the last few
Weeks. Why, from the Roland
Statue to the Siegesalle, I see
Armed workers and soldiers
Marching rank upon rank. I
Glimpse marchers as far away
As the Tiergarten wielding
Weapons and red banners.
It’s an army such as even
Ludendorf has never seen!...
To understand what is to be
Done, we must review the
Origins of this cruel war. A
Catastrophe of world-historical
Proportions took place on the
4th of August, 1914: the Social
Democratic Party of Germany
Failed the great historic test. It
Voted for the war credits:
Capitulating to imperialism.
Never had the organization of the
Working class been so completely
Yoked to its rulers. Never had the
Press been so hobbled, public
Opinion been so stifled, the class
Struggle so totally surrendered
As it was here in Germany. Then
The vanguard of the European
Proletariat was led to slaughter.
And, as the flower of our youth
Fell upon the battlefield, our
Population was reduced to women,
The elderly and the crippled.
The only compensation for the
Horrors of this war is the Russian
Revolution. Its outbreak constitutes
The clearest condemnation of the
Failure of the SPD. In the midst of
Imperialist slaughter, caught in the
Coils of the most reactionary of
European powers, the October
Revolution, nevertheless, emerged:
The very first workers’ state in history!...
And we, the German working class,
Must learn from their example,
Must learn to seize mastery of
Our destiny and cease to be
A mere tool of the bourgeoisie…
Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, has
Handed over his power to the SPD
Chairman, Freidrich Ebert, marking
This the grand finale of the German Empire!...
The workers of Berlin have learned
Much since the ninth of November.
You must learn to fight, and there is
No better place to learn than in the
School of class struggle. You know
What is to be done. But your leaders
Have failed to keep pace with you.
Though you seek direction from them,
They fritter away your time with endless
(‘Hear, hear!’ from the crowd.)
Furthermore, they are quietly preparing –
With the usual circumspection – for the
Next act: the counter-revolution…
There is no time to lose. The wavering
Elements among the troops and the
Provinces must be won over. To arm
The revolution and to disarm the
Counter-revolution: this is the
Watchword of the hour!...
(Sustained applause. As the demonstrators disperse, the three WORKERS remain.)
WORKER 2: Leibnecht’s the only one who
Voted against the war credits, brother.
WORKER 3: Yes, and he did time in prison
For his efforts when all the
Other politicians went along.
WORKER 1: He’s on our side. One of the
Few that we can trust.
WORKER 2: That’s for sure.
Berlin apartment. Rosa, Clara, Leo and Karl. In his late forties, Leo has a full beard. The two men are seated on a couch before a coffee table on which there are refreshments.
LEO: Her hair’s turned grey. She’s
In dire need of rest.
KARL: Yes, the years in prison have
Taken their toll on our Rosa.
LEO: She’s always suffered from a
Delicate stomach. I can’t tell
You what an effort it was to
Provide her with rice, what
With war and blockade…
KARL: And Clara tells me she’s
Been troubled with constant
Headaches in the last few weeks.
(Rosa and Clara enter and are seated in chairs around the coffee table.)
It’s so good to have you back
Among us, dearest Rosa.
ROSA: Yes, to smell the odor of
(She inhales deeply.)
With me, the ‘nose’ comes
Before everything else…
CLARA: Ever the Jewish joker, my darling schnoz.
ROSA: Seeing you after so long, Karl,
Reminds me of that spring when
We visited the botanical gardens
Together with Sonja. How you
Enjoyed yourself – like a child –
Looking at the birch trees with
Their fresh catkins dangling.
KARL: And the time when we hiked
Across the fields of Marienfelde.
Do you remember?
ROSA: Of course, we took the trip in
Autumn and walked over the
Stubble of the fields. And in spring
They were laden with a fresh
Green crop. A mild wind chased
The clouds across the sky, fields
Shone with sunlight, later
Darkening into emerald. Then
You stopped suddenly and
Made strange leaps into the
Air, while keeping a solemn look
On your face. “What’s wrong
With you?” I asked.
KARL: Yes, and I anwered: “I’m just
So blissfully happy!” And then
We broke into wild fits of laughter,
Rolling on the ground!
ROSA: I never experienced a
Spring so intensely.
CLARA: Wasn’t that the time you
Through yourself into the
Study of botany?
ROSA: Yes, and I did it the way I
Do everything, with all the
Fervor I possess. The world
Of party and politics suddenly
Vanished, as night and day I
Was filled with a single passion:
Roving the meadows, gathering
Specimens; then returning home
To classify them and mount them
In books. I lived that spring in a
Fever! Felt myself lost in a green
(Pause. She sighs.)
But, to get back to business, how
Many comrades have we now in
Berlin, and in the Workers’ and
LEO: When the revolution began, we
Had no more than fifty organized
In Berlin. In Bremen, we managed
To capture a good portion of the
Council under the command of Knief.
In Chemnitz, Brandler is at work.
ROSA: Then, in fact, we have
No organization, no party.
KARL: Frankly, we must admit it.
ROSA: Then we must remain within
The USPD for the moment;
Attempt to gather our forces
Within it. Our immediate
Preoccupation is the growth
Of our influence upon the
Masses and within the USPD.
LEO: I have been working to gain
Support within it, and Karl
Has been engaged in tireless
Agitation among the workers.
KARL: On public squares, in factories
And barracks – explaining our
Aims and the tasks of the day.
CLARA: It’s been a struggle just to get
Our paper printed.
LEO: Like in Poland, in 1905, we
Forced to make raids on
Other papers. A small group,
Headed by Karl, occupied the
Offices of one, which issued
The Red Flag at once.
KARL: But the loyalty of the printers
To their managers prevented
Any further issues.
LEO: Then we attempted to make a
More commercial arrangement,
But the management refused to
KARL: We finally made a contract, at
Great expense, but this and the
Small ration of paper allocated
To us, greatly hampered the
Range of distribution.
ROSA: Then, with the limited means
At our disposal, we cannot hope
To influence the government,
Itself. Our propaganda must be
Focused on the workers, alone.
KARL: But the time’s ripe, Rosa! The
Workers have taken to the
Streets in strikes and mass
Demonstrations. The movement
Surges forward with ever-
ROSA: But spontaneous action’s not
Enough: there’s crucial need for
Leadership; for a party! While
The Ebert regime coddles the
Capitalists – and plans for the
Counter-revolution – the workers
Need to defend themselves.
KARL: You must see it for yourself, Rosa.
The recent strikes are not just trade
Union fights, but are the beginning
Of a full-scale war between capital
And labor that will lead, as it did
In Russia, to revolution!
A large auditorium. The First Congress of the German Communist Party. On a raised platform Clara chairs, flanked by Rosa, Leo, Karl and others. Seated before them are the delegates.
CLARA: I now call on comrade Jogishes
To deliver the address on our party
(He rises and walks up to the podium.)
LEO: Comrades, our present task is to
Discuss and adopt our party’s program.
Today, matters have reached a
Point at which mankind is faced
With a dilemma: either socialism
Or barbarism. The war makes it
Impossible for the capitalists to
Find a way out of this dilemma
While maintaining their own
Class rule. Not only is socialism
Necessary because the working
Class is no longer willing to live
Under such conditions, but because
If it fails to overthrow capitalism,
The horrors of the war will only
After the events of the last few days,
The curtain has fallen upon the first
Act of the German Revolution. Let us
Now review those events. The movement
Begun on November 9th followed four
Long years of war, in which the Social
Democrats and the trade unions betrayed
The working class. But, having witnessed
The terrible spectacle of August 4th, with
The vote for the war credits, we could
Hardly expect to be inspired by a clear
Class consciousness and socialist aim.
What occurred was the collapse of the
Empire, defeat of the monarchy – not
The victory of the working class. The
Single source of unity, the saving grace,
Was formation of Workers’ and Soldiers’
Councils: the embryo of the future
Socialist state. This was surely the stamp
Of proletarian revolution, which we
Learned from the Bolshevik’s mighty
Example: the great Russian Revolution
In whatever country socialist revolution
May next break out, its first step will be
The formation of Workers’ and Solders’
Councils. And what are our prospects
Now that the first act is complete?
Indications are given by the latest
Declarations of the Ebert regime.
When you read these you will realize
The next act will be the counter-revolution.
The first act of our revolution remained
Strictly political. It’s only in the last two
Weeks that spontaneous strikes have
Broken out. It’s the very essence of
Revolution that strikes become more
Extensive, general, that they’re transformed
From a political into an economic, and
Therefore, into a socialist revolution…
Now it’s one of the fundamental laws of
Revolution that it never stands still, that
It never becomes passive at any stage,
Once the first step’s been taken. But let
Remind you that we are far from having
Reached the point of overthrowing the
Government. Thus far our movement has
Been confined to the cities: the country
Remains practically untouched. We must
Carry the struggle into the countryside and
Mobilize the landless workers and peasants…
And we must extend the system of Workers’
And Soldiers’ Councils. We must help the workers
Appreciate these levers of the socialist state.
Only by wielding the power will we lean to use it.
There is simply no other way!
(Sustained applause. Leo returns to his seat on the podium.)
CLARA: I now call on comrade Luxemburg
To speak of her experience of the
Russian Revolution – of it Mass Strikes
And workers’ councils – and of what
We, the workers of Germany, can learn
(Rosa rises and appears behind the podium.)
ROSA: Comrades of the German Communist
Part. The great Russian Revolution of
1917 is an event I’ve only read about.
But the Revolution of 1905 is one I
Witnessed with my very own eyes.
And at its heart is the Mass Strike –
Which is not, as some suggest –
Something specific to Russia. No, it’s
The very method of motion of the
Worker mass, its own phenomenal
Form. It’s essential for German workers
To learn the lessons of the Russian
Revolution, so as to apply them to
Our own fight here!...
The mass strike flows like a river
Throughout the land, then divides
Into a network of streams. Like a
Spring, it bubbles forth from beneath
The ground, then suddenly disappears.
In a panoply of forms it appears: in general
Strikes; demonstrations; street fighting; and
Even massacres. All forms run side-by-side,
Or crisscross and combine in a ceaseless sea
Phenomena. And its law of motion is clear:
Lying in the balance of forces in each stage
Of the struggle. Allow me to sketch the
History of the mass strike in Russia in a few
Its prologue was the general strike in Batum
In the Caucasus in March of 1902. And this
Was only the most powerful of a series of
Events, which shook the whole of southern
Russia. Its outbreak was due to a crisis of
The economy, resulting in mass unemployment
That nourished agitation among the workers.
In response, the regime transported hundreds
Of workers to their respective home districts.
This, in turn, called forth a demonstration by
Batum’s petroleum workers, which was followed
By arrests, massacre and, finally, a political trial.
The results of the events in Batum were new
Struggles in Nizi-Novgorod and Saratov, a mighty
Surge forward of the revolutionary movement.
Then a general strike broke out in Rostov-on-the-
Don. Monster meetings were held, inflammatory
Speeches delivered – and these were often
Surrounded by cordons of Cossacks. Once again,
The strike was followed by street battles, massacre
And political trial. But, after the defeat at Rostov,
The south rose up in flames. In Odessa, the
Movement began with a struggle for wages, in
The course of which a legal union was founded
Whose ground had been laid by the notorious
Czarist spy, Zubatov. However, in this case, the
Historical dialectic played one of its mischievous
Pranks on the czar. The very unions inspired by
Zubatov’s demagogy gave the signal for a general
Strike. On the first day twenty-five-hundred dockers
Struck. Then seamen and transit staff joined in. A
Meeting of over eight thousand workers occurred,
Formed a procession that moved from factory to
Factory, growing; And these crowds brought Odessa
To a standstill! Next, a strike broke out in Kiev, in the
Railway yards. On the following day, foundry men
Joined them. Then, during the night, two worker
Delegates were arrested. The strikers demanded
Their immediate release; and, when this was refused,
They brought all trains to a halt. At the station, strikers
With their wives and children sat down on the railroad
Tracks. And, when they were threatened with rifles,
The workers bared their chests and cried: “Shoot!” A
Salvo was fired: forty dead lay lifeless on the tracks.
Later that day, the corpses were raised high in the air,
And carried in a funeral procession through the streets
Finally, the mass strike broke out in St. Petersburg;
And, as usual, the immediate cause was seemingly
Trivial: two workers were sacked at the Putilov Works.
Thousands went out on strike. And, in days, it grew
To two-hundred-thousand, who, led by Father Gapon,
Marched upon the palace of the czar. A bloodbath
Ensued, known as “Blood Sunday”, resulting in a
General strike throughout all of Russia. The mass
Strike reached its climax: everywhere ending
But, most of all, I wish to convey to you the
Self-sacrifice and solidarity of your Russian
Brothers and sisters. In every crisis they’d
Help each other out. The employed gave up
A day of wages for the unemployed. And
When employment was reduced, they
Arranged it so no one was laid off; Each
Worked a few hours less..
Once united and fighting – and conscious
Of themselves as a class – there’s nothing
Of which workers aren’t capable. There’s
Nothing which workers can’t win!
(Prolonged applause, as the delegates rise to their feet.)
Jan. 5th. A Large office. Evening. Meeting of the revolutionary committee, composed of representatives of the KPD (German Communist Party), Independents and the Shop Stewards. Kark and other delegates are seated around a table. Delegate 2 raises her hand and is recognized.
CHAIR: Comrade Ernst.
DELEGATE 2: Today’s demonstration of hundreds
Of thousands of Berlin’s workers
Is living proof that Eichhorn will
Not be dismissed! Why, the worker
Delegates implored that he remain,
Declaring they’d defend Police
Headquarters as the stronghold
Of the revolution!
(Karl raises his hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Leibnecht.
KARL: I propose we call for a general
Strike to protest Eichhorn’s
Proposed dismissal as chief
Of police; why, it’s provoked
An explosion among the city’s
Workers! Surely, he and his
Police force are our last hope
(Delegate raises his hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Wolfe.
DLEGATE 1: I second the proposal. However,
Anything more – such as an
Attempt to seize power – would
Be senseless at this time. Such a
Coup would not last a fortnight!
(Delegate 2 raises her hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Ernst.
DELEGATE 2: I thoroughly disagree. The Peoples’
Naval Division stands behind us:
It’s armed to the teeth. What’s more,
The Berlin garrison and those of
Spandau and Frankfort can surely
Be persuaded. Why, the workers
Are itching for a fight! Now is the
Time to overthrow the Ebert regime!
(Delegate 1 raised his hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Wolf.
DELEGATE 2: Absolutely not! We must avoid
Slogans that even suggest such a
Thing. Even if we could take power,
The provinces are clearly not yet with us.
(Delegate 3 raises his hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Schmidt.
DELEGATE 3: I propose we vote on whether
To call for the general strike
(Delegate 2 raises her hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Ernst.
DELEGATE 2: I second the proposal.
CHAIR: Then we must vote, comrades…
(Chair counts hands.)
(Chair counts hands.)
It’s close, but the proposal
(A group of delegates react with groans and expressions of dismay. Delegate 3 raises his hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Schmidt.
DELEGATE 3: I suggest we create a joint leaflet
Calling for a two o’clock rally at
The Siegesallee. Slogans like
“Your Freedom is at Stake!”, “Long
Live International Socialism!” and
“Cancel Eichhorn’s Dismissal!”
Would all be appropriate.
(Delegate 2 raises her hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Ernst.
DELEGATE 2: And I’d add the slogan: “Arm the
Workers! Disarm the Counter-Revolution!”
Our aim must be to revive the revolutionary
Spirit of the November Days.
(Karl raises his hand and is recognized.)
CHAIR: Comrade Liebnecht.
KARL: We must not allow the Ebert
Regime to stifle the revolution.
The attack on Eichhorn must be
(‘Hear, hear! And applause from the delegates.)
Berlin apartment. Rosa and Leo enter hurriedly. They remove their coats, set down their valises and are seated on a couch before which is a coffee table.
LEO: How could Karl have voted
For the rising, knowing we
Rejected any such a thing?
ROSA: He’s a hothead, impetuous.
Karl’s never been much of a
LEO: No, Rosa, it’s unforgiveable:
A clear violation of party
ROSA: Surely, he was carried away
By the wave of events,
Believed the Peoples’ Naval
Division was behind us.
LEO: But he was wrong! They’re the
Only armed group – and they’ve
Refused to come out on our side.
What’s more, the Shop Stewards,
Who were the most active in
Bringing the workers into the
Streets, also voted against it.
Why, the only effective action
Was by the workers themselves,
When they occupied the
ROSA: Of course, you’re right; but once
The workers take to the streets,
We must be there with them.
LEO: No, we’ve been forced to
Support an action we didn’t
Innitiate, and whose aim we
Could never support. The
Time’s not yet ripe! Surely,
The balance of forces is
Overwelmingly against us.
It would be suicide to attempt
To seize power now.
ROSA: But we can’t let ourselves be
Cut off from the workers!
Our policy should at least give
Them critical support. We must
Emphasize the defensive nature
Of our demands: to disarm the
Counter-revolution; arm the
Workers; and hold new elections
For the Workers’ and Soldiers’
LEO: You’re far to generous, Rosa.
This could be a disaster in the
Making. Why, this so-called
“Executive Committee” has
Proved itself incapable of
Leadership. While Ebert and
Noske prepare the counter-
Revolution, they spend days
And nights in fruitless talk.
ROSA: But you can’t encourage the
Workers’ hopes, then suddenly
Dash them, reversing course.
LEO: No, I can’t agree. Sometimes
There’s a need for a strategic
Retreat. Our party doesn’t
Begin to have the support of
The workers of Berlin; much
Less can we claim to be their
Leaders. And this so-called
Even proposes that we
Negotiate directly with Ebert,
ROSA: That’s surely a trap: a betrayal
Of the workers. Ebert will break
His promise, renounce his truce
And then viciously attack us. To
Negotiate, while the workers have
Taken to the streets, would be to do
It brazenly behind their backs.
Berlin. General Staff Headquarters. Office of Chancellor Friedrich Ebert. He is seated behind his desk, on which is a stack of newspapers. Before him are seated Gustave Noske, Lieutenant Pabst and Captain Vogel.
EBERT: (To Lieutenant Pabst and Captain Vogel.)
You must monitor their telephones
Day and night. Report all of their
Movements to me.
PABST/VOGEL: Of course, Herr Chancellor.
PABST: We’ve has poster plastered on
Walls in towns and villages
Throughout the country warning
Against their treacherous plots.
NOSKE: The Anti-Bolshevik League has
Been well supplied with funds,
And our agents have been
Trained to infiltrate and harass
EBERT: The press has followed through
With its campaign against them.
Let me read to you an editorial:
(He takes a newspaper from the stack on his desk and reads to them.)
“Workers of Germany, the
Fatherland is on the brink of
Disaster. It is threatened from
Within: By the Spartacists. Beat
Them, Kill them, both Luxemburg
And Leibnecht. Only then will you
Have peace, bread and work.
Workers of Berlin, you have
Surely been warned!”
NOSKE: We must hunt them down. A
Price of 10,000 Marks has been
Placed on Liebnecht’s head. It’s
Been published in newspapers
And displayed on our posters
Throughout the city.
EBERT: Yes, we must keep them on the
Run, prevent their agitation. I
Was much encouraged by our
Tour of your Freikorps encamped
At Zossea, Colonel Noske.
NOSKE: Yes, Herr Chncellor. They’re our
Weapon to ferret them out and
Destroy them. After all, the army
Can’t be trusted: it’s infested with
Bolsheviks. But I assure you that
Our Freikorps will fulfill their duty
To the Fatherland. They’re armed
And trained to fight civil war, to
Combat the Communist Menace.
Composed of four-thousand
Recruits, they’re trained to clear
The streets of reds and riff-raff,
To attack occupied building
EBERT: Unfortunately, time is on their side.
We must strike immediately: provoke
An uprising in order to crush it. And
We’ll blame it on Leibnecht and that
Red prima dona, Luxemburg. I hate
Their so-called ‘revolution’ like the
NOSKE: As I do, chancellor. Yes. Someone
Must play the role of executioner.
Voerwarts Building. Exterior. Armed units of Freikorps troops stand in formation before it. Commander Noske enters and stand before them, as they come to attention.
NOSKE: Now remember, you’re not
To fire until their delegation
Have all emerged from the
Building. Then I’ll give you
The order and we’ll show
Them what it costs to be
Traitors to the Fatherland!...
(A delegation of workers, who have earlier occupied the building, emerge with white flags of truce before them to mediate its surrender.)
WORKER 1: Don’t shoot, we’re all unarmed !
WORKER 2: We only mean to surrender,
To all leave the building!
WORKER 3: Please respect out white
Flags of truce!
NOSKE: Now fire – mow them down!
(The Freikorps troops open fire with rifles and machine guns, and beat those who have fallen to the ground with rifle-butts and bayonet the workers who attempt to flee.)
Wilmersdorf. A worker’s apartment. January 15, 1918. Evening. Rosa and Karl are seated on a couch before a coffee table with manuscripts and writing materials.
ROSA: Atop smoking ruins and workers’
Corpses the Ebert regime
Consolidates its power. Hence,
It will rule by bayonet, alone.
KARL: Military law has been proclaimed
On the streets of Berlin. Superior
Commander Noske directs
Massacres by his brown shirts.
ROSA: Such counter-revolution has been
Erected on the ruins of “Spartacus
Week”. Although Ebert now rules
By force, in time the class struggle
Will put an end to him.
KARL: (Picking up a newspaper from the coffee table and reading from it.)
“Order prevails in Berlin!”,
Proclaims the bourgeois press,
Along with Ebert, Noske and his
Murderous Freikorps. Having butchered
Hundred of workers, they beat them
Beyond recognition: walls splattered
Red with blood, bone and brains.
ROSA: They even massacred the Mediators
Who attempted to negotiate
(Picking up another newspaper and reading from it.)
The bourgeois press continues its
Campaign of slander against us.
“Crucify them!” cry the press, the
Bigots and the anti-Semites.
United in hatred are all the
Dangerous elements. This alone
Shows that the heart of the
Revolution beats within our movement.
KARL: Although victory can’t be expected
At the present time, “Spartacus Week”
Couldn’t have been avoided. After all,
It was triggered by the Ebert regime’s
Brutal provocation: a bloodbath against
Demonstrators in Chausseestrasse; and
The assault on Berlin Police Headquarters.
ROSA: The workers were forced to take up arms;
Indeed, the honor of the proletariat
Depended on their repelling such an
Attack. Even in the midst of battle we
Must take stock of our defeat. What
Has “Spartacus Week” finally taught us?
KARL: Surely, that the weakest link in the chain
Was the political immaturity of the soldiers,
Who allowed their officers to use them
Against us. The revolution has hardly
Reached the countryside, from which
Most of our soldiers come.
ROSA: Yes, but above all, it’s our leadership
That’s failed. For the workers were up
To the task. Without its own party,
Rooted in the workplace, the proletariat
Will never take power. We’ve much to
Learn from the Bolsheviks. It’s a sure
Demonstration of the true instinct of the
Workers that they weren’t appeased by
Eichhorn’s reinstatement; rather, they
Instantly occupied the Command-post
Of the enemy, its official press ageny,
From the silk weavers of Lyon to the
Chartists of Britain to the Paris Commune,
Itself, the history of class struggle teaches us
That the road is paved with defeat.
KARL: Although we now know defeat, the Russian
Example still lies triumphantly before us. Our
Primary task is to build a party like the Bolsheviks
Here in Germany. But, whatever the outcome,
We have absolutely nothing to repent-
(A loud knocking is heard offstage. Captain Pabst, Lieutenant Vogel and Friekorps troops burst through the door into the room. The aim their weapons at Rosa and Karl.)
PABST: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht, I presume.
ROSA: You’re surely mistaken. I am Frau Hornweg
And this is my husband, Thomas.
VOGEL: (He opens a dossier containing their photographs and shows it to them.)
This dossier contains both your
Photographs. There cannot be any doubt.
PABST: You must accompany us to the police
ROSA: You are mistaken, but we shall comly. If
You’d allow me to pack a few personal items.
PABST: Do so, but do it quickly.
(Rosa exits, and a few moments later, returns with a small suitcase. Rosa and Karl are led out of the apartment under military escort.)
Eden Hotel. Interior. Rosa and Karl enter under the escort of Captain Pasbst, Lieutenant Vogel and Freikorps troops. They are angrily shove into the room.
FREIKORP 1: Move it, bitch!
FREIKORP 2: So this is “Red Rosa”.
FREIKORP 3: No much to look at, is she?
ROSA: (To Karl.)
So this is the Eden Hotel.
It hardly resembles that
Biblical garden. Far more
Like the gates of Hell.
FREIKORP 1: Shut up, bitch!
FRIEKORP 2: You communist cunt!
PABST: (To Lieutenant Vogel.)
Take Leibnecht into the next room.
(Karl is escorted roughly by two Freikorps out of the room. Pabst addresses Rosa.)
The prisoner may be seated.
(Rosa is seated in a chair in the center of the room. Bright lights are focused on her. Captain Pabst paces back and forth before her with the dossier in his hands.)
Are you Frau Rosa Luxemburg?
ROSA: Certainly, you can make up
Your own mind about that.
PABST: (Examining the contents of the dossier.)
To judge by you photographs,
You must be.
ROSA: If you say so.
PABST: Frau Luxemburg, we need to
Know the whereabouts of your
Fellow Spartcists, Zetkin and Jogishes.
ROSA: I haven’t the slightest idea who
You are talking about.
PABST: Frau Luxemburg, thus far I’ve treated
You gently; but I intend to obtain this
Information, whatever that requires.
ROSA: Do what you must, “Captain”.
PABST: (Angered by her taunting tone, he shouts into the next room.)
Lieutenant Vogel, come in here!
(Lieutenant Vogel enters and comes to attention.)
Take the prisoner into the next room
And do whatever you have to find out
Zetkin and Jogishes whereabouts. And
Bring Liebnecht back I here.
(Lieutenant Vogel grabs Rosa roughly by the arm and escorts her out of the hotel room. Then he returns with Karl.)
The prisoner will be seated.
(Karl is seated.)
We need to know where your
Newspapers is being printed.
KARL: Our printing equipment was
Confiscated weeks ago. We
Haven’t issued the Red Flag
For some time, now.
(Periodically we hear slaps and Rosa’s groans as they interrogate her in the next room.)
PABST: And we must learn the whereabouts
Of Clara Zetkin and Leo Jogishes. Are
Going to tell us or do we have to beat
It out of you?
KARL: Like ourselves, they have gone into
Hiding. I’m unaware where they might be.
PABST: It seems I’ll have to turn you over to
Lieutenant Vogel after he’s worked over
Your sharp-tongued “comrade”.
KARL: I have nothing more to say to you…
PABST: Lieutenant Vogel, come in here!...
(Lieutenant Vogel enters and comes to attention.)
It would seem Liebnecht also requires
(Lieutenant Vogel takes Karl roughly by the arm and escorts him into the next room. After a moment, we again hear slaps and Rosa and Karl’s groans. BLACK-OUT.)
Eden Hotel. Exterior. Vogel and Freikorp troops. Karl and Rosa are dragged outside the hotel. Before it stands a black automobile.
FREIKORP 1: (Shoving Rosa.)
Move it, bitch!
FREIKORP 2: (Shoving Karl.)
You too, red scum!
FREIKORP 3: Both you traitors, down
On your knees!
(They’re shoved down on their knees and Lieutenant Vogel strikes them in the back of their head with his rifle butt. The Freikorp troops pick them up and throw them in the backof the automobile.BLACK-OUT. The sound of the car driving away is heard.)Scene Twelve.
The car stops by the roadside. Karl and Rosa are dragged out of the back seat bleeding and thrown to the ground. Lieutenant Vogel exits the car and proceeds to shoot each of them in the back of the head with a pistol. They’re thrown back into the automobile. BLACK-OUT. The sound of the care driving away is heard.
A modest Berlin worker’s flat. Leo and Clara are seated on a couch before a coffee table on which manuscripts are piled. They are sorting through Rosa’s final papers.
LEO: For more than twenty years we
Were unite in comradeship and
Love: she, the theorist; I, as the
CLARA: And Karl…Alone, he voted against
The war credits. His name instantly
Became the symbol of the opposition.
With Rosa still behind bars, he was a
One-man campaign against the war.
LEO: Throughout the fighting he was always
With the workers: in constant danger,
At the risk of his life, he rushed from
Position to position, giving advice and
CLARA: I can still see him, with his spectacles
And bristling moustache. Under the
Most trying circumstances, he’s have
A playful smile on his face.
LEO: She often teased me – what a
Kibitzer – for my devotion to
‘Politics alone’. “Above all, you
Must live life fully, be a ‘mensch’.
That’s the main thing.” She would
Say. “It means to act with compassion,
Cheerfully, even when all the odds
Are against you.”
CLARA: She once confessed to me, when I
Visited her in prison, that she felt
More at home in a garden, with
Flowers and birds, than at our
All-too-lengthy party meetings.
Shyly, she confided this secret to me,
Knowing that I, above all others, knew
She would always do her duty.
LEO: They were the symbols of our movement.
To have murdered them was to behead it.
They were the expert witnesses that had
To die because their testimony was beyond
CLARA: I remember the merciless pace of the last
Few months, in which she exhausted herself
Each day. After the destruction of her health
During the long years in prison, she’d barely
Recovered when she was once again pressed
To the limit. Subject to fainting fits, her doctors
Insisted she rest, but she rejected this out of hand.
LEO: In Russia, war – the mother of revolution – gave
Birth to the first workers’ state. But, here in
Germany – for lack of a party – it produced an
CLARA: Nevertheless, they died in the firm belief that
Our movement would finally prevail. And that
The emancipation of the working class can only
Be the act of the working class, itself.
For my comrades of the International Socialist Organization.