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New Left Review I/238, November-December 1999

David Fernbach

Rosa Luxemburg’s Political Heir: An Appreciation of Paul Levi

Seventy years after his death in 1930, a full biography of Paul Levi is still awaited. In English, the material available on him is scant indeed. Yet the most basic facts of his life, cut short in middle years, suggest an individual whose contribution to the socialist cause was significant, and whose personality has a certain fascination. Levi led the German Communist Party [1] The party that grew out of the Spartakus group was called originally the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund). After the merger with the left Independents in November 1920, it was known as the Vereinigte Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, then, from April 1921, as the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Sektion der Kommunistischen Internationale). It is referred to throughout here as the kpd. in its first two years, after the deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on 15 January 1919, and of Leo Jogiches on 10 March. The party he inherited, orphaned within weeks of its birth, suffered further defeats in the next few months. Yet, by the end of 1920, Levi presided over a buoyant party with a third of a million members—this dramatic turnaround due chiefly to his adept tactical decisions. His dispute with the Comintern, however, was already incipient: he resigned from the leadership in February 1921, and was expelled from the party after denouncing the disastrous ‘March Action’ instigated by Moscow’s emissaries. Though both Lenin and Levi sought for a while to repair the breach, the parting of the ways became final in 1922 when Levi published Rosa Luxemburg’s pamphlet on the Russian Revolution, and Lenin countered by compiling the list of heresies shortly to be known as ‘Luxemburgism’.

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David Fernbach, ‘Rosa Luxemburg’s Political Heir: An Appreciation of Paul Levi’, NLR I/238: £3

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