Karl Liebknecht

Karl Liebknecht was born in August 1871 and died in January 1919. Liebknecht achieved fame immediately after the war by leading, with Rosa Luxemburg, the Spartacists in the so-called German Revolution against the government of Friedrich Ebert.

Liebknecht came from a political background in that his father was a leading socialist in Germany and his ideas could not have failed to influence Karl.

Liebknecht became a communist while studying at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin. However, he was a member of the Social Democratic Party and was elected to the Reichstag (German Parliament) in 1912. Liebknecht was very opposed to Germany fighting in World War One though he was essentially a lone voice in Germany as few shared his belief. One who did was Rosa Luxemburg and they formed an underground organisation called the ‘Spartacus League’ which printed an illegal newspaper called the “Spartacus Letters”. They got the name Spartacus after the slave who lead a failed revolt against the mighty Roman Army.

Liebknecht was arrested and conscripted into the German Army. After refusing to fight, he was made to bury the dead on the Eastern Front. In October 1915, he was allowed back to Germany as his health had become so poor. The military success of the German Army in Russia had fuelled the support for the war in Germany so support for Liebknecht and the Spartacists was relatively limited.

In May 1916, the Spartacists went public and called for an end to the war. Liebknecht was arrested and spent the rest of the war in prison only being released in October 1918 when Prince Max von Baden granted an amnesty to all political prisoners.

Liebknecht lead the ‘German Revolution’ which started in January 1919. Like the slave after whom they named their group, the Spartacists were defeated with some ease by the Freikorps and the army. Liebknecht was killed on January 15th, 1919. He and Luxemburg were being held at a hotel in Berlin. From here they were to be moved to a prison but at sometime during that journey, or possibly before it began, both were murdered.

“The day of the revolution has come. We have enforced peace. Peace has been concluded in this moment. The old has gone. The rule of the Hohenzollern, who have resided in this palace for centuries, is over. In this very hour we proclaim the Free Socialist Republic of Germany. We greet our Russian brethren, which has been ignominiously chased out four days ago…….The day of liberty has begun. Never again a Hohenzollern will enter this place. 70 years ago at this place, Friedrich Wilhelm IV was standing, and he had to take off his cap to honour the 50 corpses, covered in blood, of those who had died fighting at the barricades in the defence of the cause of liberty. Another defile passes here today. It is the spirits of the millions who have given their lives for the sacred cause of the proletariat. With a split skull, soaked in blood, these victims of the rule of force totter along, followed by the spirits of the millions of women and children who were depraved in the cause of the proletariat. And further millions of blood victims of this very world war follow them. Today an incalculable mass of inspired proletarians stands in this very place, to pay homage to the liberty newly gained. Party comrades, I proclaim the Free Socialist Republic of Germany, which we shall include all tribes, where there are no servants, where every honest worker will receive his honest pay. The rule of capitalism, which has turned Europe into a cemetery, is broken.

We have to collect all our force to establish a government of workers and soldiers, to create a new stately order of the proletariat, an order of peace, of fortune, of liberty or our German brethren and of our brethren all over the world. We stretch out our hands to them and call on them to complete the world revolution.” 

Karl Liebknecht, November 9th, 1918.