On the second Sunday in January every year there is a march to the Friedrichsfelde Cemetery in Berlin to commemorate Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The memorial to them at the cemetery entrance was put up by the East German government in 1951. When I got there, two men were handing out leaflets calling for a five-hour working week. Just outside the cemetery a speaker was urging unity. Newspaper sellers from a variety of tiny Leninist groups wandered through the crowd.
I was meeting my friend Frank, who has been active in the German (originally West German) left since the late 1980s. The march used to attract thousands of anti-fascists and autonomists, he told me, but in recent years has been dominated by ‘lame and boring old-school Leninists and authoritarian groups’, and the ‘old-school social democrats’ of Die Linke. In this fracturing, each group commemorates its own version of Luxemburg.
Frank was ten minutes’ walk inside the cemetery, at the site of Mies Van Der Rohe’s 1926 memorial. There were around thirty people – almost all men – standing round in the soft rain. One man, carrying the black and red flag of Antifaschistische Aktion, was talking about Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s murder, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei leadership’s responsibility for it.
Bernd Langer, an anti-fascist originally from Göttingen, led a smaller group around the cemetery, pointing out the graves and memorials of other, less well-known communists and trade unionists. Some were killed in 1919, some by fascists in the early 1920s, others by the Nazis in power. In some sections the gravestones are identical slabs of plain granite, as in a military cemetery.
Van Der Rohe’s memorial was torn down by the Nazis and never rebuilt. The East German government was suspicious of modernism, but it also associated the memorial with the Kommunistische Partei and the interwar split between the communists and social democrats. For the Sozialistische Einheitspartei (Socialist Unity Party) this fatal split was never to be repeated. What stands there now is a much smaller structure, a memorial to the memorial.