Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by the SPD, which Jacobin magazine whitewashes

Jacobin, leading neo-Kautskyite magazine, whitewashes SPD, erasing murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

Benjamin Norton


Jacobin, the globe’s leading neo-Kautskyite magazine, published an article on the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution that explicitly whitewashes the counter-revolutionaries in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) who have the blood of renowned Marxist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on their hands.

This piece, more than any other, exemplifies the pro-imperialist, social chauvinist, and historical revisionist editorial line of Jacobin. This reprehensible propaganda embodies the ideology of the entire Jacobin-DSA Momentum project.

The clear intention of the essay, entitled “When Social Democracy Was Vibrant,” is to rehabilitate the image of the SPD, the social-chauvinist party that supported the inter-imperialist mass slaughter of World War I and that violently crushed the 1918–1919 German Revolution by allying with proto-fascist forces against communists.

The 2,100-word essay, by Brown University PhD Adam J. Sacks, does not once mention Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Like all opportunists, Jacobin magazine loves name-dropping Rosa Luxemburg when it is convenient, while it defends and whitewashes her killers.

When the Spartacist uprising erupted in 1919, the administration of SPD President Friedrich Ebert (who is also not named in Sacks’ article) employed proto-fascist forces to kill the revolutionaries of the newly created Communist Party of Germany, which was under the leadership of Luxemburg and Liebknecht. SPD Defense Minister Gustav Noske directed right-wing nationalist Freikorps to drown the German Revolution in blood.

SPD-backed Freikorps troops tortured and murdered Luxemburg and Liebknecht. They threw Rosa’s corpse into a canal, like a piece of garbage. The Social Democratic Party of Germany’s Ebert and Noske oversaw it all. Noske in fact proudly dubbed himself “the bloodhound” for so bloodily preventing the creation of a Soviet state in Germany.

None of this is mentioned in Jacobin’s pro-SPD propaganda. There is not even an attempt to acknowledge it.

This is not surprising. Social democrats have spent decades desperately trying to erase this basic, undeniable history. Today, socdems insist that bringing it up is “sectarian.”

But the split in the international socialist movement 100 years ago was not about “sectarianism”; it was very clearly a political split on the questions of revolution and imperialism: social democrats supported the imperialist bloodbath of World War I, which led to tens of million of deaths; while communists like Luxemburg, Liebknecht, and Lenin ardently opposed it.

Instead of grappling with any of this history, the Jacobin article portrays the SPD as a positive “example” for the US today, which ostensibly “showed that coupling political and economic organizing with cultural élan can yield socialist rewards — and improve the immediate lives of workers in the process.”

It is only at the end of his article, in the final section, that Sacks acknowledges the SPD’s historic betrayal of the international socialist movement and willingness to send millions of workers to die for capitalist empire in World War I. Even then, Sacks only mentions it in passing, as if it is an inconvenient duty, before rushing back to defend the SPD’s legacy (hey, at least they had choirs and gymnastics clubs and theaters!):

By 1912, the SPD was the largest party faction in the German Reichstag and the largest socialist party in Europe. Its sprawling public sphere was the envy of socialists around the world. Its electoral support, despite occasional setbacks, climbed ever higher.

World War I ended all of that. Succumbing to the militarism sweeping the continent, SPD parliamentarians voted for war credits to fund the barbaric conflict. Though they initially tried to justify the war as an act of humanitarian intervention on behalf of the oppressed peoples of the tsarist regime — and an antiwar faction soon declared independence from the party — the decision signaled the death knell of the Second International. The leading light of socialism had turned its back on the bedrock principle of proletarian internationalism.

But the tragic demise of the Second International-era SPD shouldn’t obscure what the party was able to accomplish. In the midst of an intensely hostile society, they formed, as party theoretician Karl Kautsky memorably put it, an island onto which they could flee together — a “spiritually socialist community spirit,” in the parlance of others.

The Social Democrats’ choirs and gymnastics clubs and theaters weren’t diversions from the socialist movement. They provided the tools of self-determination, filling in the many gaps where bourgeois society had failed workers and the poor. Kautsky and others in the party knew that greater suffering wouldn’t bolster support for socialism. They saw the need, both practically and ethically, to make immediate interventions to ameliorate the evils of an unjust society.

In order to do this, the Jacobin article cites none other than anti-Bolshevik stalwart Karl Kautsky.

The fact that Kautsky is named (twice), but not Luxemberg or Liebknecht, really says it all.

Jacobin has gleefully wished a happy birthday to “the Pope of Marxism” — or “the Renegade Kautsky,” as Lenin famously referred to him.

Lenin excoriated Kautsky for his social chauvinism and for his having “turned Marx into a common liberal.”

Editor Shawn Gude has light-heartedly joked that Jacobin’s Slack channel has a Kautsky emoji.

Jacobin has even had the gall to exploit Rosa Luxemburg’s legacy to rehabilitate Kautsky, while writing propaganda on behalf of her murderers.

Jacobin has made its avowedly anti-Leninist political project very clear: reviving Kautskyite, chauvinist, right-wing social democracy. It is expressly devoted to rewriting history in order to absolve imperialist collaborators, class traitors, and butchers of communists.

And if history is any indication, the closely Jacobin-affiliated DSA Momentum slate will follow in the footsteps of its counter-revolutionary heroes.

Originally published at on November 30, 2017.



Benjamin Norton

Benjamin Norton is an independent journalist reporting on geopolitics. // Benjamín Norton es un periodista independiente informando sobre la geopolítica.