Julian Marchlewski

Julian Marchlewski

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Julian Marchlewski was born in Włocławek on 17th May, 1866. As a young man he became involved in left-wing politics and in 1889 he co-founded the Polish Workers' Union.

In an attempt to escape the authoritarian government of Alexander III, he emigrated to Zurich where he studied law and political economy. A fellow student was Rosa Luxemburg. According to their friend, Paul Frölich: "Marchlewski has described in his memoirs(unfortunately unpublished) how the satire of the young students made life difficult for Professor Wolf. They used to hatch little plots before the seminar classes. Predetermined questions were submitted to the master in all innocence. Then when Wolf had hopelessly entangled himself, Rosa Luxemburg would get up and demonstrate his professional incompetence point by point. Apparently Julius Wolf took the malicious game with the necessary sense of humour; in an autobiographical sketch he paid great tribute to his best pupil."

In 1903 Marchlewski joined with Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches to establish the Social Democratic Party of Poland. As it was an illegal organization, he spent a great deal of time in Paris , where he helped to edit the party's newspaper, Sprawa Robotnicza (Workers' Cause). By 1905 the party had a membership of 25,000.

During the 1905 Revolution Marchlewski returned to Warsaw where he was soon arrested. On his release he moved to Russia where he became a supporter of Lenin. He later emigrated to Germany where he became a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the First World War. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."

Clara Zetkin later recalled: "The struggle was supposed to begin with a protest against the voting of war credits by the social-democratic Reichstag deputies, but it had to be conducted in such a way that it would be throttled by the cunning tricks of the military authorities and the censorship. Moreover, and above all, the significance of such a protest would doubtless be enhanced, if it was supported from the outset by a goodly number of well-known social-democratic militants."

Immediately after the vote on war credits in the Reichstag, a group of SDP anti-militarist activists, including Marchlewski, Franz Mehring, Wilhelm Pieck, Ernest Meyer, Hermann Duncker and Hugo Eberlein met at the home of Rosa Luxemburg to discuss future action. They agreed to campaign against the war but decided against forming a new party and agreed to continue working within the SPD.

Over the next few months members of this group were arrested and spent several short spells in prison. On the release of Rosa Luxemburg in February 1916, it was decided to establish an underground political organization called Spartakusbund (Spartacus League). The Spartacus League publicized its views in its illegal newspaper, Spartacus Letters. Like the Bolsheviks in Russia, they began to argue that socialists should turn this nationalist conflict into a revolutionary war.

Dick Howard has argued: "Agitation continued throughout the war; yet the Spartacus League was never very strong. All agitation had to be carried out in strict secrecy, and the leaders were more often than not in jail." Members included Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, Wilhelm Pieck, Hermann Duncker and Hugo Eberlein.

On 1st May, 1916, the Spartacus League decided to come out into the open and organized a demonstration against the First World War in the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. One of those who attended reported: "It was a great success. At eight o'clock in the morning a dense throng of workers - almost ten thousand - assembled in the square, which the police had already occupied well ahead of time. Karl Liebknecht, in uniform, and Rosa Luxemburg were in the midst of the demonstrators and greeted with cheers from all sides." Several of its leaders, including Marchlewski , Liebknecht and Luxemburg were arrested and imprisoned.

After the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik government arranged for Marchlewski to be exchanged for a German spy. He then became the leader of the Polish Provisional Revolutionary Committee in Białystok in 1920, which planned to declare the Polish Soviet Socialist Republic. Marchlewski later returned to Moscow where he helped with the government plans for agriculture.

Julian Marchlewski died near Nervi, during a vacation, on 22nd March, 1925.

Letters from prison

Written: August to December 1918.
Source: See end of each letter.
Translated: Dave Hollis and Mike Jones.
Online Version: Revolutionary History, marx.org 1996, marxists.org 1999.
Transcribed: Revolutionary History, Al Richardson.
HTML Markup: Brian Baggins and Dave Hollis.


The first three letters were first presented by Feliks Tych in the Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, 27. Jahrgang, September 1996, No.3. The fourth and fifth letters were published in the 6th volume of Rosa Luxemburg’s Letters in German, i.e. Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Briefe, Vol.6, Dietz Verlag 1993. Detailed source information follows each letter.

The first three letters were written at the same time as her article, The Russian Revolution, and can be understood as an extension of and commentary on it. The letters were written while Rosa Luxemburg was in prison in Breslau. The prison regime was such that she was able to her correspondence and articles smuggled out. Nevertheless, it is apparent from their style, i.e. conspirative nature, that she reckoned with them being intercepted or being read by the Soviet legation, who forwarded her letters to their recipients. In fact, Rosa Luxemburg asks directly in one of her letters whether she could write openly express her opinion on what was going on in Russia. Tych comments in his introduction to the letters that this was a dramatic example of how early on revolutionaries began to censure themselves, and that on the basis of a political “control” of their own comrades.

One of the main aspects of the first three letters was her critical attitude to the politics of the Bolsheviks, to the Brest Litovsk Peace treaty and to “revolutionary terror”, i.e. to everything that contradicted the democratic concept of the revolution and Rosa Luxemburg’s own expectations of it. The most important historical point of these letters, however, is that it destroys the legend first put out by Clara Zetkin, most probably in good faith, that Rosa Luxemburg had not planned to publish her article, The Russian Revolution.

Another interesting aspect of these letters is Rosa Luxemburg’s rather deferential attitude to her comrades in the Spartacus group. Interesting information on the group and on Rosa Luxemburg by Mathilde Jacob, Rosa Luxemburg’s secretary and assistant to the Spatacus leadership and later to the KPD centre, was published in December 1988 Issue of the IWK in 1988. A further report based on material made available after 1989 from the central party archive of the SED, published in the IWK December 1993, also makes an excellent read.

For the sake of historical completeness, the remaining two letters provide an interesting background to the activities or Rosa Luxemburg and show how difficult it sometimes is to provide an accurate picture of someone’s views. The fourth letter to Adolf Warski, was first published by Warski in Hamburg in 1922 in a book entitled Rosa Luxemburg’s Position on the Tactical Problems of the Revolution. The content is somewhat problematic because the letter was only related by Warski and not directly translated from the original, and therefore it is not verifiable. The fifth letter expresses Rosa Luxemburg’s greetings to Lenin and expresses her wish that all their wishes for the coming year be fulfilled.

A few words to the translations. The first three letters and the fifth were translated by Dave Hollis, the fourth by Mike Jones. The translations of the first three and the fifth letter were not easy because they all had been translated once already, i.e. from Polish or Russian. I therefore erred on the side of caution and tried to keep as far as people to the original German translation, even if that meant being at the cost of readability. In two cases I saw myself forced to explain why I had translated the way I had. In comparison to the original publication in English I have made a few minor changes to correct mistakes or explain certain aspects more fully.

To Julian Marchlewski

Prison in Breslau, end of July or beginning of August 1918

Many thanks for the note. I would be immensely happy to receive news regularly. For my part, of course, I can only give you opinions and impressions: because the real state of affairs [in Soviet Russia] only reaches me at third hand, but do you think that I can convey my views to you in this way without constraint? [1] Because I do not know, I do not know the people well enough . The impression of the latest turn of events is in general abysmal. [2] One would like to abuse the Beki [Bolsheviks] enormously but naturally Rücksichten [3] do not allow that. Perhaps these events do not make such a fatal impression on you over there, in the midst of turmoil, as they do here – perhaps. Inform me with as much detail as possible about what is happening. The spectre of an ‘alliance’ with the ‘Middle Kingdom’ [Germany] seems more and more imminent and that really would be the most terrible disgrace, [in that case] really better to end it all now.

Now an urgent matter: Leo must be got out [4] and they could help tremendously here. The lawyer [5] has in fact filed a formal petition to your people there, so that they can claim L[eo] as their [citizen]. The local representative [Adolf Joffe, the Soviet envoy in Berlin] agrees but the request must come directly from the town where you live [Moscow]. Therefore work on whoever you have to (Jozef [Pseudonym for Feliks Dzierzynski (1877-1926)] should also do this) so that L[eo] is claimed immediately and spare no effort. Leo knows [about it] and is happy. It would be a help to you all!! Please let me know immediately that you have received [my letter] and do what is necessary. See to this matter and with great haste. Enough for today. A warm handshake to you, Bronka and Zoska. [6]

Original in Polish.
RZBSDNG, Moscow.
Published by Feliks Tych in
Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (IWK), September 1991, II.3, p.360.

Notes to this letter

[1] Rosa is asking whether she could convey her fears without problems via the Soviet Legation in Berlin.

[2] Rosa is referring to the terror and stifling of democracy, in particular the arrest and execution of hundreds of Left SRs as “sacrifices to atone” for the attempted coup against Soviet power that began with the murder of the German ambassador, Wilhelm Graf von Mirbach-Harff (6.7.1918) in Moscow. (See Rosa Luxemburg, On the Russian Revolution, Gesammelte Werke, Vol.4, Berlin 1990 Rosa Luxemburg to Luise Kautsky, 25.7.1918 in Gesammelte Briefe, Vol.5, pp.402-404.)

[3] The German word, ‘Rücksichten’, i.e. considerations, was used in the original text

[4] Leo Jogiches was arrested in March 1918 and was in Moabit prison. He was imprisoned for his leading role in printing and circulating appeals against the war amongst the soldiers and organising strikes in munitions factories for which the penalty was death. Like Julian Marchlewski, freed from internment at Havelberg camp through an exchange of prisoners, an attempt was made to free Jogiches in the same way. Jogiches had had Swiss citizenship since 1901 but still held Russian citizenship which was a pre-condition for an exchange. The exchange did not occur.

[5] Oskar Cohn (1869-1934) in Berlin

[6] Bronka is Bronislawa, wife of Julian Marchlewski, Zoska is Sophia, his daughter.

To Stefan Bratman-Brodowski

Prison in Breslau, 3.9.1918

Your note pleased me very much. At last we are gradually beginning to communicate with each other again. When will we, God willing, speak and work with each other again?! . I see that you also are not wholly enthusiastic about Joz[ef’s] activity. [1] However to ‘advise’ him in the current situation is rather difficult. Firstly, because he has, as one can see, already committed himself very heavily, as is apparently also the case with all our people yonder, [2] and secondly since there is no easy way. [3] Because you understand that it is somewhat disadvantageous in this way, and one must confine oneself to the bare essentials . Incidentally, I must admit that so far I have not received a single word from Joz[ef] directly and also still not written to him. I am currently writing to all of them in detail, in fact formulating general views. At present one must, alas, constantly show consideration for the desperate situation of the whole affair over there, and that impairs the critique v[ery much]. However, as you will certainly see soon, it is impossible to remain completely silent. [4] Julek [Marchlewski] wrote to me that he is quite fully immersed in the question of food supplies, which is, of course, the most vital matter – in the short term. Neither he nor any other of our people there can change the general political course, they are swimming with the stream which others are controlling, but in reality control is in the hands of fate after the direction taken at Brest . [5] Thank you for the presents. I am not really badly off for food, think of Leo [Jogiches] instead who needs it very badly. It seems to me that you could now get in touch with him, [6] which would certainly please him a lot. I would prefer regular news rather than food – all kinds: about the Beki, about our people and their work (what you hear about) and also about the situation in Switzerland [everything] which one cannot find out from the press. I am very interested in as lively as possible contact with what is going on and it is sometimes most difficult to get information from the (geographically) nearest sources, [7] partly because there are only a few people and they are terribly busy, but mostly because they are fools and day-dreamers (I am referring to the Germans).

On what terms are our people now with the left PPS? [8] Something surprises me: at the beginning of the war inasmuch as I spoke to Walecki, [9] it seemed to me that there were almost no differences (between us and them), I thought that the war situation would even hasten a convergence. Meanwhile comrades from Poland (or also from Russia) write to me that they have drifted apart from the Left [PPS] who are completely disorientated. What do you know about it.[?] In any case, give my greetings to Walecki.

Stand your ground, till we meet again at work! A warm handshake.

It would also interest me if you could supply me with interesting items being published in Switzerland when it is convenient.

I would like to know what role Robert Grimm, [10] the Nationalrat, [11] is playing at present. Can one still count on him? How do the Swiss (lefts like Platten & Co) view the politics of the Beki?

Original in Polish.
RZBSDNG, Moscow.
Published by Feliks Tych in Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeitebewegung (IWK), September 1991, II.3, p.360.

Notes to this letter

[1] In 1930 Brodowski indicated in a note that “by ‘Joz’ Rosa Luxemburg referred not just to Jozef [Dzierzynski] but to all the Polish comrades [in Russia] and the whole Bolshevik Party.”

[2] Rosa refers to the Polish Social Democrats who were in Russia and who had supported the revolution. They were mostly political prisoners freed by the February Revolution but cut off from Poland by the German front line. Many of them took important positions in the government, party, army and diplomacy.

[3] The only means of contact was through the Soviet Legation in Berlin. When Rosa Luxemburg refers to contact “in this way” she indicates that she does not feel free to speak as openly as she would wish. See Note 2 in the first letter.

[4] RL was working at that time on the manuscript of On the Russian Revolution. (see Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Vol.4, pp.332-65.)

[5] In Brest-Litovsk a peace treaty dictated by the central powers was signed on 3 March 1918 by their representatives and those of the Soviet government. The treaty laid down the cession of Lithuania, Courland, Poland, Batum and Kars from Soviet Russia the recognition of Finland and the Ukraine as independent states the maintenance of German military government in the occupied areas until a general peace the recognition of the peace treaty between the Central Powers and the Ukrainian Rada by Soviet Russia the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the Ukraine, Estonia, Livonia and Finland and a return to the diplomatic and commercial relationships established by the Russo-German Treaty of 1904. Soviet Russia lost a million square kilometres of territory and a population of 46 million, its most valuable source of grain, almost all its oil resources, 90% of its coal and 54% of its industry. When the Central Powers were defeated seven months later, Russia regained the territory. (See The Russian Tragedy in Gesammelte Werke, Vol.4, pp.385-392)

[6] Probably via Mathilde Jacob, RL’s secretary.

[7] Probably a reference to the Berlin Spartacus group comrades.

[8] The Left PPS originated when the PPS in Russian Poland split in 1906. The right-wing of the PPS then set up its own party under Jozef Pilsudski. Shortly before the outbreak of war fusion negotiations between the two groups were well advanced. Bratman-Brodowski led the negotiations on behalf of Social Democracy. The fusion finally came about in mid-December 1918 when both founded the Communist Party of Poland.

[9] Maksymilian Horwitz-Walecki (1877-1937) a key left PPS leader who discussed with RL the fusion of the two Polish Parties at Berlin in 1914 and 1915.

[10] Robert Grimm (1881-1958) Chairman of the Swiss Social Democracy and from 1911 a deputy in the National Assembly. During WW1 he led the International Socialist Commission in Berne (i.e. the Zimmerwald movement.)

[11] ‘Nationalrat’ is the German word for a Swiss National Deputy. Why Rosa Luxemburg wished to stress this is unknown.

To Julian Marchlewski

Prison in Breslau, 30.9.1918

Many thanks for the note, greetings and information. I know that Leo’s [Jogiches] case is difficult [1] but every effort must be made. I am counting on you and Joz[ef]. – NB: I have learnt from Bronka’s [Marchlewska] letter to someone else that some malicious rumours about L[eo] have even penetrated as far as your place of residence. At the time, L[eo] wrote to me about it, I sent an appropriate letter to that crazy fool Led[er], [2] who is the source [of the rumours], in which I demanded either proof or a public retraction (i.e. in front of witnesses). L[eo], as you know him, of course confiscated the letter he did not want to “wallow in filth”. It turns out that one should not allow such things to go unpunished. I can now formally demand a tribunal from Led[er] in which I would choose the ambassador [3] as arbiter so that Led[er] provides an explanation or solemnly withdraws [the accusations]. Inform me immediately to what extent you think that suitable or what else could be done.

Your situation as you describe it appears just the same to me from afar. A dire situation. It is clear that under such conditions, i.e. on every side gripped by the imp[erialists], neither soc[ialism] nor the dictatorship of the prol[etariat] can be achieved but at most a caricature of both. However, I fear that these things are only clear to you, me and a few others. On the other hand, I fear that Jozef has been carried away [if he believes] that one can fill the economic and political void by vigorously tracking down ‘conspiracies’ and by murdering ‘conspirators’. The idea of Radek e.g. of “slaughtering the bourgeoisie” or even just a threat in this sense, [4] is certainly idiocy summo grado only a compromising of soc[ialism], nothing more. Then the official articles in Izvestia [5] and Vechernia Izv[estia] on the occasion of the ‘codicil’ to [the] Brest[-Litovsk Peace Treaty], were already a downright scandal. That is not incompetence and sloppiness, as you say, but misleading public opinion. Schünfürberei trotz eines Norddeutschen! [6] For me it is a symptom of how far the Beki government has been thrown off course since Brest. Their whole foreign policy since Brest makes a most equivocal impression. For example, Jozef’s latest ‘masterpiece’: the constant discovery of Anglo-French conspiracies [7] and his appeal to the ‘civilised world’, only give rise to an ironic shrug of the shoulders in view of the question: well, what about the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic States? [8] On account of this crazy behaviour, [9] in comparison with which the Anglo-French conspiracies are a trifle, did you not then manage to open your gobs, did you not then appeal to the civilised world? This one-sidedness of the policy since Brest – the boundless submissiveness regarding the atrocities of one side and the loud cries over the crazy behaviour [10] of the other – undermines any moral authority of the policy and makes it nolens volens into a tool of one of the two camps. I know the reason for this is the complete military helplessness, but in that case just be passive towards both sides. Or if one after all must takes sides then at least not for the wrong one! .

Here the work has gone to the dogs since L[eo’s] illness. [11] They are all sissies [12] and, in addition, still have no ‘time’, particularly if the work is not paid for in cash. They have time for the ‘work’ in the embassy [13] – sheer silliness, nothing more – since it is well paid. But the paper and the leaflets, for which a tumultuous demand exists, must be written solely by Maciej Rozga, [14] no one else wants to lift a finger. Neither is there time for writing reasonable information about the situation for Maciej, one has to make it up off the top of one’s head or get it from the cables of the WTB. [15] But what can one say, you know these people. No doubt dreadful things have to happen before these people stir themselves. However, slowly it looks that way. The scandal of the soc[ialists] is complete if again guns – this time American – [and] not the action of the proletariat dictate the peace. Nevertheless, perhaps something will move under the influence of events. Four week[s] ago [16] it looked like great events in the Rhineland but naturally our fools achieved nothing politically and the strike fell apart.

Do write often, we really must stay in contact. I also had a message from Florian. [17] Do write to me about Wesoly, [18] how his health is, how he looks and what he is doing. Kindest regards to Bronka and a request for news. A thousand greetings to all our brave Polish lads. Keep well! Always put letters to me in a sealed envelope!

What is the matter with Adolf? [19] Where is he? Have you any contact with him?

Original in Polish.
RZBSDNG, Moscow.
Published by Feliks Tych in Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeitebewegung (IWK), September 1991, II. 3, p.363-66.

Notes to this letter

[1] The direct cause of Jogiches imprisonment in March 1918 was his leading role in printing and distributing anti-war material amongst the troops and the organising of strikes in January 1918 in various armaments factories for which the death penalty could be imposed. The German authorities were probably not keen to allow his departure for the Soviet Russia in an exchange of prisoners.

[2] Wladyslaw Leder (1880-1938). A leading figure in the SDKPiL. The nature of these accusations is unknown.

[4] A reference to Radek’s article The Red Terror in Izvestia, no.192, 6.9.1918, p.1. On 2.9.1918 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee had announced that the government would respond to any attack upon a Soviet representative with “red terror against the native bourgeoisie and its agents”, and would take hostages from “among the bourgeoisie” to be shot as a reprisal for any murdered Soviet representative.

[5] Report of the People Commissar for Foreign Affairs, G.V. Chicherin, at the session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee about the Russo-German supplementary treaty of 2.9.1918, published in Izvestia, no.190, 4.9.1918. Three supplements to the original treaty were agreed in Berlin between Russia and Germany on 27.8.1918, the last of which pledged Russia to pay out 6 million marks in various forms to Germany, a heavy burden considering the state of the country. Soviet organs particularly Izvestia embellished the circumstances.

[6] In English, “Embellishment in spite of a North German.” The significance of this reference is unknown.

[7] This refers not just to Dzierzynski personally but to the whole Soviet Government. The so-called ‘Lockhart conspiracy’ was one example.

[8] Rosa’s criticism regarding the territories abandoned by Soviet Russia is taken up in her critical essay written in 1918 and reflects her position on the National Question.

[9] The word used in the German text, Fatzkereien, is a derivative that is not usually to be found in a German dictionary. The word stems from Fatzke, Berlin dialect for a stuck-up twit. Literally, Fatkereien would be the activities of stuck-up twits. In the Berlin region the word is synonymous with Spinnereien, i.e. crazy behaviour.

[10] See the previous footnote.

[11] She refers here to the imprisonment of Jogiches from March 1918.

[12] The German word used,Waschlappen, can be translated a number of ways. The word also means softies or cowards. Each of these possibilities could be correct in this context.

[13] The Soviet Embassy in Berlin.

[14] One of RL’s Polish pseudonyms. The reference is to the Spartacus-Briefe and leaflets.

[16] In the summer of 1918, not only in the Ruhr region but in other industrial regions of Germany, a great strike wave broke out in protest against the drastic deterioration in living standards and the continuation of the war.

[17] Stefan Bratman-Brodowski’s pseudonym in the SDKPiL.

[18] Bronislaw Wesolowski (1870-1919) a cofounder with Rosa Luxemburg and Marchlewski of Polish Social-Democracy. In tsarist prisons (1894-1903) and (1908-1917). Liberated by the February Revolution. 1917-1918 a member of the Bolshevik Party secretariat. Led the Soviet Red Cross mission to Warsaw in late 1918 to negotiate POW exchanges. Murdered by the Polish Military Police on the return journey.

[19] Adolf Warski (1868-1937). Together with Rosa Luxemburg and Marchlewski he belonged to secret socialist circles in Warsaw in the latter 1880s. A cofounder of Polish Social Democracy of which he was a leader. A leader of the CP of Poland. Murdered in 1937 on Stalin’s orders along with the rest of the CPP leadership

To Adolf Warski

Berlin, end of November, start of December

When our party (in Poland) is full of enthusiasm for Bolshevism and at the same time (in a secretly printed pamphlet) has come out against both the Bolsheviks’ Brest peace and their agitation with the slogan of ‘national self-determination’ then it is enthusiasm coupled with a critical spirit – what more could we desire! I too shared all your reservations and doubts but on the most important questions have dropped them and in many cases have not gone as far as you. Terrorism certainly indicates weakness but it is aimed at internal enemies who build their hopes on the existence of capitalism outside Russia and receive support and encouragement from there. If a European revolution comes, then the Russian counter-revolutionaries will not only lose their support but – what is more important – their courage too. In other words the Bolshevik terror is, above all, an expression of the weakness of the European proletariat. Indeed the agrarian relationships [in Russia] which have been established are the most dangerous, the sorest point of the Russian revolution. But here too the truth holds good – that even the greatest revolution can only accomplish what development has ripened. This sore point too can only be healed through the European revolution. And this is coming! .

Original in Polish.
Related by Adolf Warski in Rosa Luxemburg’s Position on the Tactical Problems of the Revolution, Hamburg 1922, pp.6/7.

To Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

[Berlin] 20 December 1920

I am making use of the journey of uncle [1] to send you all warmest greetings from our family, [The Spartakusbund] from Karl [Liebnecht], Franz [Mehring] and the others. May God grant that the coming year will fulfil all our wishes.

Uncle will tell you about our circumstances and activities. In the meantime I press your hands and send you my greetings.

Original in Russian.
RZBSDNG, Moscow (copy).
Published in Pravda, 2 February 1919.

Note to this letter

[1] Eduard Fuchs (1870-1940) was instructed by the headquarters of the Spartakusbund to get directly in touch with Lenin and other influential representatives of the RCP(B) and the Soviet state. He offered his services because during the war he had met Lenin several times in Switzerland, had his confidence and had been entrusted by the Soviet government with the function of Civil Commissioner for the Russian prisoners of war in Germany. Using this mission he travelled to Soviet Russia where he spoke with Lenin between the 26th & 28th December in Moscow. Edward Fuchs handed over the letter and draft programme written by Rosa Luxembourg entitled What does the Spartacusbund Want?


Julian Marchlewski war Sohn eines katholischen polnischen Vaters und einer evangelischen adeligen Mutter deutscher Herkunft, Augusta Rückersfeldt. [1] Er war Färber. Von 1888 an gehörte er der sozialistischen Arbeiterbewegung an und gründete 1888/89 den Verband Polnischer Arbeiter (Związek Robotników Polskich, ZRP), 1893 war er mit Rosa Luxemburg und Leo Jogiches Gründer der Sozialdemokratie des Königreichs Polen (SDKP).

Marchlewski musste in die Schweiz fliehen und studierte dort Jura und Staatswissenschaften in Zürich bis zur Promotion. 1896 ging er nach Deutschland und beteiligte sich an der Herausgabe verschiedener sozialdemokratischer Zeitungen. An der Revolution in Russland persönlich beteiligt, wurde Marchlewski 1905 in der Festung Modlin inhaftiert. Im Jahr 1908 zog er nach Berlin. Marchlewski gehörte 1916 zu den Mitgründern des Spartakusbundes und war von 1916 an bis 1918 zu seiner Ausweisung nach Russland für seine politischen Ansichten inhaftiert. Er lebte ein Jahr in Moskau, kehrte anschließend illegal nach Deutschland zurück, wo ihn die Zentrale der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands kooptierte. Von 1922 bis zu seinem Tod 1925 war er Vorsitzender der Internationalen Roten Hilfe.

Marchlewski starb während eines Kuraufenthalts im italienischen Nervi. Mit Hilfe der Regierung der Sowjetunion wurde seine Asche nach Berlin gebracht und am 5. April 1925 nach seinem letzten Willen auf dem Friedhof der Sozialisten neben den Gräbern seiner Freunde Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg und Franz Mehring beigesetzt. Von dort im Mai 1950 nach Polen überführt, fand Marchlewski seine letzte Ruhe auf dem Warschauer Militärfriedhof.

Seine Tochter Sonja war die zweite Ehefrau von Heinrich Vogeler. Sein jüngerer Bruder Leon Pawel Teodor Marchlewski war Chemiker.

In Moskau war die Kommunistische Universität der nationalen Minderheiten des Westens nach ihm benannt. In der Ukraine hieß die heutige Ortschaft Dowbysch von 1927 bis 1939 Marchelwsk. In Ost-Berlin erhielt am 16. März 1950 die Memeler Straße den neuen Namen Marchlewskistraße. [2] Ein in Potsdam aufgestellter Gedenkstein für Marchlewski wurde nach 1990 beseitigt.

Narodil se u hranic s Německým císařstvím. V roce 1889 spoluzaložil Unii polsk࿜h dělníků. V roce 1893 spoluzaložil s Rosou Luxemburgovou Sociálně demokratickou stranu království Polského a Litvy.



Po porá𗻎 se stal prvním rektorem Komunistické univerzity národnostnໜh menšin Západu. Jako ekonom byl odborníkem na zemᆽělství a podílel se na přípravě bolᘞvického programu s ohledem na rolnictvo. Publikoval 𕦭u v�k࿜h a ideologick࿜h prací. Zemᖞl v Itálii během dovolené. Jeho dcera Sonja byla druhou man៮lkou umělce Heinricha Vogelera.

Ⓘ Julian Marchlewski was born in Wloclawek into a Polish family. In 1889 he co-founded the Polish Workers Union. In 1893 he co-founded the Social Democratic Party ..

Julian Marchlewski was born in Wloclawek into a Polish family. In 1889 he co-founded the Polish Workers Union. In 1893 he co-founded the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania with Rosa Luxemburg.

He took part in the Russian Revolution of 1905 in the Polish territories. In 1906, he joined the Bolsheviks. After the failure of the revolution he emigrated to Germany. During World War I, he participated in the German social democratic movement and was a co-founder of its left-wing. He was arrested and later exchanged with Russia for a German spy. In 1919, during the Polish-Soviet War, he took part in the negotiations with Poland. During the Red Army counterattack under Mikhail Tukhachevsky, he headed the Polish Provisional Revolutionary Committee Tymczasowy Komitet Rewolucyjny Polski in Bialystok in 1920, which planned to declare the Polish Soviet Socialist Republic.

He was the first rector of the Communist University of the National Minorities of the West. As an economist, he was an expert in agriculture and took part in the preparation of the Bolshevik program with respect to the peasantry. He published a number of scientific and ideological works. He died near Nervi, Italy in 1925 during a vacation. His body was returned to Poland, where he was interred at Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw. His daughter Sonja was the second wife of the artist Heinrich Vogeler.

Julian Marchlewski - History

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Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919)

Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Marxist theorist, revolutionary leader, and upon her assassination in 1919, an idolized martyr to the international socialist movement. Born in a Poland divided under Russian and German influence, Luxemburg became significant in the revolutionary struggles in both countries. According to those who knew her, Luxemburg was a woman of great warmth, knowledge, and empathy for all walks of life. Despite her criticism of Russian communist revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), both still held her in high regard for her vast intellect and revolutionary credentials.

Luxemburg was born in March 1871 to a Jewish family in Zamość in the Russian occupied region of Poland. She was the fifth and youngest child of the timber trader Eliasz Luxemburg and his wife Line Löwenstein. Luxemburg later stated that her father imparted an interest in liberal ideas in her, while her mother was religious, but well-read and instilled a love for reading in her. Growing up, Luxemburg and her other four siblings always knew economic security, as their father was a well-to-do merchant, who provided his children a good education. At home, they spoke Polish, German and Yiddish, later Luxemburg learned Russian too. At the age of 18, in 1889, Luxemburg enrolled at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where women were allowed to study. She received her doctorate from the university in 1897 in economics with a doctoral thesis titled “The Industrial Development of Poland.”

In Zurich she became increasingly interested in Marxist theory and got involved in the socialist movement. In 1893, with Leo Jogiches (1867-1919) and Julian Marchlewski (alias Julius Karski) (1866-1925), Luxemburg founded the newspaper Sprawa Robotnicza (The Workers’ Cause), which opposed the nationalist policies of the Polish Socialist Party. She and Leo Jogiches co-founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania party, after merging Congress Poland’s and Lithuania’s social democratic organizations, but they struggled to convince Polish socialists living in an occupied nation from their internationalist approach.

In the fall of 1897, Luxemburg obtained German citizenship through a marriage with a family friend in order to be able to move to legally to Germany and become an active member of the in Social Democratic Party of German (SPD). She wanted to devout her efforts towards the German worker’s movement and impact the German proletariat through her persuasive speech and writing. She first moved to Berlin and since 1898 lived in Dresden, where she became the editor of the Sächsischen Arbeiterzeitung (Workers Newspaper of Saxony). In 1907 she became a teacher at the Party-School of the SPD in Berlin. In the beginning of her political career, Luxemburg did not identify with the women’s movement because she didn’t want to limit her work to women’s rights. Luxemburg believed that only through the liberation of working class men and women would the class struggle succeed.

In 1904, Luxemburg was imprisoned for mocking the indifference of Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) to the living and working condition of the working class. When after the turn to the twentieth century mass working-class insurgencies spread across central and eastern Europe, culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1905, Luxemburg supported the view that capitalism would spontaneously encourage these insurrections and that they should be supported and organized by the socialist movement as its leading organizer. In her book Mass Strike, Political Party, and Trade Unions, published in 1906, Luxemburg insisted that cautious trade union and electoral tactics would never lead to sustained growth of the labor movement. Only through revolutionary socialist acts would permanent gains be secured for the working class.

In 1912, Luxemburg wrote the Accumulation of Capital (Akkumulation des Kapitals), which came out one year later in German. The expansive piece served as an economic analysis of imperialism and described capitalism as an every-growing system or what we now call ‘globalization.’ She saw it intertwined with the rise of militarism and war, which would grow with increasing velocity and violence. As she put it in her work Crisis in the German Social Democracy from 1915, Europe’s dissension into the First World War would force humanity to choose between socialism or barbarism. In the years before World War I, Luxemburg was an ardent agitator for the SPD who warned against militarism, imperialism and war and appealed to the internationalism of the working class, who had no interest in any conflict.

During World War I, Luxemburg was next to her friend Clara Zetkin (1857-1933), the leader of the German and international social democratic women’s movement, one of the most outspoken critics of the SPD leadership’s policy of a war support. Both worked for the growth of the opposition against the war inside and outside the party. In August 1914, Luxemburg, along with Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), Clara Zetkin and Franz Mehring (1846-1919), founded the group Die Internationale, which was renamed Spartakus Gruppe (Spartacus League) in January 1916. They wrote illegal, anti-war pamphlets pseudonymously signed “Spartacus” (after the slave-liberating gladiator who had opposed the Romans). The Spartacus League vehemently rejected the SPD’s war policy and supported the growing number of riots and strikes against the war all over Germany. The Spartacus leaders, including Luxemburg, were imprisoned several times during the war. In April 1917, the Spartacus League joined the newly founded Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) under the leadership of Hugo Haase (1863-1919), to give the anti-war position in the workers movement a broader voice. In the Novemberrevolution of 1918, the USPD and the SPD assumed power in the newly created republic upon the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II. During the revolution, at the age of 48, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were assassinated in Berlin, as the revolt of the workers lead by the Spartacus League, which wanted to push for a socialist revolution, was being suppressed, by right-wing paramilitary groups Freikorps, which collaborated with the MSPD in the suppressions of the more left-wing revolutionaries to keep “peace and order” in the newly founded republic. The Freikorps, systematically rounded up and murdered left-wing activists, including Haase, Jogiches, Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

During her life, Rosa Luxemburg drew respect from those who met her for her eloquent writing, great intellect, views on socialism, and personal warmth. A fatality of revolutionary tides in Germany, she has become idolized in socialist circles. Today, socialists continue to reference her library of works for her detailed commentaries on socialism, capitalism, and imperialism. As the world becomes increasingly globalized through the internet and faster travel, Luxemburg’s beliefs on the spread of capitalism, militarism and imperialism become especially pertinent.

Chloe Gruesbeck, Political Science and Contemporary European Studies, Class of 2020

Literature and Websites

  • Odekon, Mehmet. “Luxemburg, Rosa.” The SAGE Encyclopedia of World Poverty. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc. 2015
  • Le Blanc, Paul. “Luxemburg, Rosa.” Encyclopedia of Modern Political Thought. Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, Ltd. 2013.


Rose Luxemburg in her Berlin apartment, 1907

Rosa Luxemburg as s speaker on a meeting of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), 1907 Graves of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, Berlin 1919 Rosa Luxemburg memorial at the site where she was thrown—either dead or alive—into the Landwehr Canal, Berlin


Soviet Polish Socialist Republic of Councils

The Soviet Polish Socialist Republic of Councils was established by Polish members of the Russian Bolshevik party on 24 July 1920 as the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee (Polish: Tymczasowy Komitet Rewolucyjny Polski, Polrewkom Russian: Польревком) in Smolensk. It was chaired by Julian Marchlewski, while Felix Dzerzhinsky also held a great deal of influence in the committee. The goal was to provide administration of the Polish areas captured during the Polish-Soviet War, with the intention of transferring power to the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (Komunistyczna Partia Robotnicza Polski, KPRP) after the war. It was relocated to Białystok by 30 July. It set up its headquarters in the Branicki Palace, and received over 2 billion rubles from the Russian SFSR.

Polrewkom was responsible for the northwestern front of the Polish-Soviet War.

Galician Soviet Socialist Republic

The Galician Soviet Socialist Republic was established on 15 July 1920 by the declaration of the Galician Revolutionary Committee (Halrevkom), which had been founded in 8 July in Kiev under the auspices of the Communist Party of Ukraine. It was led by Volodymyr Zatonsky. It relocated to Tarnopol on 1 August, and then to Lwów on 4 September, shortly after the fall of both Lwów and Warsaw.

Halrevkom was responsible for the southwestern front of the Polish-Soviet War.

Julian was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of a railway mail clerk and the grandson of enslaved people. In an era when African Americans faced prejudice in virtually all aspects of life, not least in the scientific world, he succeeded against the odds. Inadequately prepared by his high school, he was accepted at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, as a sub-freshman, meaning that he had to take high-school courses concurrently with his freshman courses. Majoring in chemistry, he graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1920. After graduation he taught chemistry at Fisk University for two years before winning an Austin Fellowship to Harvard University, where he completed a master’s degree in organic chemistry. After Harvard he returned to teaching at West Virginia State College and Howard University.

In 1929 Julian traveled to the University of Vienna, Austria, to begin doctoral studies on the chemistry of medicinal plants. Two years later, with degree in hand, he and a Viennese colleague, Josef Pikl, took positions back in the United States at Howard and two years later moved to DePauw. There they accomplished the first total synthesis of physostigmine, the active principle of the Calabar bean, used since the end of the 19th century to treat glaucoma. Physostigmine, an alkaloid, eases the constriction of outflow channels from the eye’s aqueous humor to relieve high pressure there, which, if left untreated, damages the retina and eventually causes blindness.

The Polish Revolution

Sources relating to the Polrevkom are scarce. Many first-hand accounts, such as newspapers or notes, were lost during the Second World War. The official paper of Soviet Poland, Goniec Czerwony, is also a rarity, and regardless had a very agitational character. The origin of the committee itself goes way back to recruitment and training of Polish Bolsheviks who played key roles in the revolution – Grzelszczak, Krolikowski, Budzynski or Bitner, to name a few.

The close communication between Polish Communists in Russia and Poland acknowledged a sense of urgency, with the formation of multiple organisations aiming to agitate among the workers and soldiers. Divisions led and manned by Polish workers were taking part in the civil war as an embryonic Polish Red Army. Its development never reached a mass character due to its isolation from the important sections of the workers in Poland. For this very reason it also faced many issues with morale. It was opposed to the appointment of former tsarist officers and also to fighting against the Polish White Guards. The Bolshevik propaganda, both from the outside and the inside, of the Polish army was not too fruitful. The consciousness in Poland was on a different level. This was understood by the Polish Red Army, representing the cadres of the working-class, who were eventually moved to the south of Russia to fight Wrangel’s armies instead.

In any case, the Polish Revolutionary Committee was chaired by Julian Marchlewski, who also fulfilled duties of a propagandist and agitator. The reason behind his appointment, as opposed to the better-known Felix Dzerzhinsky, was because Felix had by this point been given a complete slating by the Polish bourgeois press, as a leader of the Soviet Cheka. The committee first started assembling a week before its arrival in Bialystok, where they based themselves at the expropriated Palace of Labour. Its aims, as stated in its first printed appeal, were: “To lay the foundations of the future Polish Soviet Republic, up until a worker-peasant government has taken power in Poland definitely”. The bulletin also contained announcements of the future policies of the new government, which would be the establishment of worker and peasant soviets, nationalising the main branches of industry, the land, forests, etc. In essence, despite doing pioneering work in unknown circumstances, it was building the subjective factor in time for the revolutionary events which were just around the corner.

The Polish Revolutionary Committee in August 1920. Among others, in the centre: Felix Dzerzhinsky, Julian Marchlewski, Feliks Kon. / Public Domain

A mass rally in support of the new revolutionary government took place on 2 August 1920. Marchlewski, Tukhachevsky and Stepanov made speeches representing accordingly the Polrevkom, the Red Army and the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. The rally was succeeded by a demonstration of the railway workers, which supported the committee with the biggest enthusiasm. The propaganda work in the immediate period was carried out through the production of a paper, edited by Feliks Kon, reporting news from the front, the international labour movement, as well as local stories and announcements. The committee also produced leaflets and posters, inspired by an internationalist spirit, highlighting messages of support from the British, French and German workers towards a Polish revolution. The strike by the English dockworkers of Dover, blocking British supply lines to Pilsudski’s army, was an example of international solidarity. The paper played a key role as a point of reference that helped transform the consciousness of the workers in Bialystok and Eastern Poland in support of the revolution.

Nevertheless, the necessity of peasant support was noticed by the committee and even by Lenin himself. However, the demand of immediate redistribution of the land sparked a debate. It concluded that the Committee would appeal to the peasants, explaining that the land will be redistributed, but first Warsaw must be taken by the workers, so that collectivisation may take place without the pressure from the proximity of a war front. This was a key factor in the scepticism of the local peasants.

In one of the issues of the Goniec Czerwony, the inevitability of the victory of the Polish masses was announced, and the soldiers were called on to turn their guns towards their officers. Although Marchlewski was busy visiting newly liberated towns, on 8 August, a mass rally was organised in Bialystok once more for the first celebrations of the “Workers Liberation of Poland Day”, which surpassed the numbers of the first rally and was concluded with the singing of the Internationale in Polish, Yiddish and Russian. The committee had its base of support among the workers, and especially the Jewish and Belorussian minorities.

The peaceful character of the takeover indicated that, with time, the revolution would gain significant support from the peasants and the better-off workers. On the other hand, the workers to the west of the borders of Soviet Poland were familiar only with the slanders of the Nationalists and the Reformists, in one chorus accusing the committee of an unlawful coup, and creating an instrument for the Russian annexation of Poland. The objective situation was not yet in favour of the Polish Communist Party. The workers of Western Poland did not rise up, and the revolutionary development was dealt a crushing blow after the Battle of Warsaw was won by Pilsudski’s White Guards.

As Pilsudski’s armies were getting close to Bialystok, one last issue of Czerwony Goniec was released, in which the editorial board announced the inevitability of a Polish and worldwide socialist revolution. Once the troops entered the city, there were riots between the local Bolshevik sympathisers and citizens supported by the army and the police. These were later incited into a series of anti-Semitic pogroms in the short term, and mass murder of Red Army prisoners of war (POWs) in the longer term, resulting in 17,000 deaths in three years in the concentration camps, the biggest one being in Strzalkowo.

The committee, which curiously was never formally dissolved, was evacuated into Soviet Russia. All but one of the members of the Polrevkom, (that is, all those who didn’t die earlier from natural causes), were among the first victims of the Stalinist Great Purge in 1937. This was also the fate of most of the cadres of the Polish Communist Party. In Moscow alone there were 3,817 Polish Communists, many of them veterans of the October Revolution, who had sought refuge from the Polish bonapartist dictatorship. Of these 3,817, only around 100 survived the Purges. By 1938, the Stalinist Comintern dissolved the Polish Communist Party.

The complete destruction of the most advanced Polish workers, both by hand of the Stalinists and by the Nazis, meant that by 1945 Moscow had to orchestrate a new Polish Communist Party out of thin air. This had further implications for the inability of the Polish “Communist” bureaucracy to connect and understand the mood of the working-class. Excessive reliance on the faithful secret police led to mercilessly antagonising the Polish workers. All these factors hardened the Polish workers, but without a revolutionary point of reference, which had been physically purged, they were left with little more but scepticism. Now, after more than two decades since the collapse of so-called Communism, the present scepticism is wearing off on the basis of experiencing capitalism. The necessity to defend the genuine ideas of Marxism without any distortions, the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg, Julian Marchlewski and Trotsky, is of vital importance.

The 1920 war continues to exert an enormous effect on Polish consciousness to this day. Trotsky and others were right to notice that the offensive presented significant risks, as the consciousness of significant layers of Polish workers’ had not yet caught up with the events to resonate with the Red Army’s advance. The Left Bolsheviks of the time, such as Bukharin, had a schematic view of a revolutionary war, not taking into account fully the specific circumstances of the Polish national question. They got drunk with the early success in Ukraine and planned a raid as far as Paris and London, to which Warsaw would have been only a first step. The gears of the war did not correlate with the gears of proletarian consciousness, which in Trotsky’s words, cannot be measured by the same yardsticks. He also said:

“The error in the strategic calculations in the Polish war had great historical consequences. The Poland of Pilsudski came out of the war unexpectedly strengthened. On the contrary, the development of the Polish revolution received a crushing blow. The frontier established by the Riga treaty cut off the Soviet Republic from Germany, a fact that later was of great importance in the lives of both countries. Lenin, of course, understood better than anyone else the significance of the ‘Warsaw’ mistake, and returned to it more than once in thought and word.” (Leon Trotsky, My Life, Chapter 37.)

A series of misjudgements, from the local level of the Communist Parties in Poznan and Warsaw, to the highest levels of the Bolshevik Party, opened up a crisis of leadership. Despite unseen heroism and unity of action between Polish and Russian Bolsheviks, the political development of the subjective factor (the revolutionary leadership) was not evenly distributed. The Polish revolution fell, but the sacrifice of thousands of Polish workers for the dream of a Polish Soviet Republic, as part of a World Soviet Federation, free from the horrors of Capitalism, is part of the history of the Polish working-class and will be rediscovered.

The Polish workers did not deserve the bureaucratic caricature of Socialism built by the Stalinists after the Second World War. The Stalinist bureaucrats, who immediately expropriated from the working-class of Poland any semblance of political power, showed soon enough that their commitment to socialism was but a smokescreen to hide their own petty interests and privileges. Many of these same bureaucrats turned into the best managers of capitalism as soon as Stalinism collapsed. A few decades of a capitalist regime in Poland are undermining the illusions that so-called democracy (i.e. capitalism) is be more beneficial to the mass of the Polish people than so-called communism (i.e. Stalinism).

Direct experience of capitalism is part of the necessary learning process for the working-class. In the conditions unfolding before our very own eyes, a genuine Marxist organisation, based on a serious political development in the theory of Marxism, could begin developing, starting from a few educated Marxist cadres and soon turning quality into quantity. An organisation, through which the Polish workers might liberate themselves from the yoke of foreign and domestic capital, could finally emerge on the basis of the great revolutionary history and ideas, whose time has now come.

A poster of the Bialystok Soviet. “Long has, in the claws of the white eagle, moaned the proletariat of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. Today, the workers of villages and cities are freeing themselves from the chains of oppression and exploitation. Under the blows of proletarian hammers, the Poland of the Capitalist and the gendarme is falling apart, the white eagle is dying. Under the red banner, a new one is being born – SOVIET SOCIALIST POLAND. LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!” / Public Domain

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