Notwithstanding their conviction that the moderate social democrats were betraying the socialist cause, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht opposed the Spartacist League’s revolutionary insurrection in Berlin early in 1919, on the grounds that it was premature and lacked sufficient popular support. Yet they endorsed the uprising when the League, against their counsel, decided to carry it out. The effort was crushed by the social democratic government, through the intervention of police and military forces. The paramilitary Freikorps murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg in January 1919. The brutality of the response to the uprising was condemned by many social democrats, including Eduard Bernstein.
Liebknecht had been revered by many as an indefatigable and principled defender of the working class, and Kollwitz represents him as a fallen saint or Christ. In her homage to Liebknecht, Kollwitz expresses grief and profound respect, without providing any explicit political message. Although Kollwitz didn’t share all of Liebknecht’s political views, she knew the Liebknecht family personally and was deeply affected by his murder. (One of her own sons had been killed in the war a few years earlier.)
The deaths of Luxemburg and Liebknecht drove an even deeper wedge into the ranks of social democrats:
Revolutionary perspective — If ever humanity had the opportunity to build a truly democratic, classless society, then Germany in December 1918 and January 1919 was such an historical moment. But that opportunity was squandered when short-sighted, career-seeking politicians allied with the forces of reaction to violently halt the on-going transformation.
Evolutionary perspective — The revolution succeeded! Taking a peaceful path, we established a constitutional republic, with the possibility of advancing toward democratic socialism. Had the far left been willing to work with us, we might have achieved that aim. Instead, their refusal to collaborate led to fascism.
The November Revolution and its aftermath influenced the work of many “second generation” German expressionist artists, including Conrad Felixmuller.