“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Aug 30, 2021
Karl Liebknecht, German revolutionary, was born 150 years ago to a political family. His father helped to found the German Social Democratic Party in 1863. Liebknecht was radicalized while a university student of law and political science, studying Marxist ideas.
Germany was expanding in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, in part due to huge military spending, as Germany tried to compete with Britain’s enormous empire. Factories were growing, banks were profiting, mining flourished.
Liebknecht chose to help push forward a party of the working class. He was among those opposing the likelihood of a war of imperialist competitors.
In 1912 he entered the German parliament as a representative of the German Social Democratic Party, but he was among its left-wing minority that spoke out against the German military/industrial complex led by Krupp, the weapons manufacturer.
When Germany and England’s leaders went to war in 1914. Liebknecht bravely declared himself against it and was the only member in the parliament not to vote for the war funding.
With Rosa Luxemburg and a number of others in the left-wing of German Social Democracy, Liebknecht left the party to organize a new party called the Spartacist League. He helped organize a newspaper appealing to the thousands of workers opposed to going to war.
Despite his position in the parliament he was twice arrested and threatened with being sent to one of the fronts of the war in 1915. He was sentenced and began to serve four years in prison.
Released in 1918, he went on to form the German Communist Party, along with Rosa Luxemburg in December 1919, following the example of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Liebknecht helped lead an uprising in Berlin and other parts of Germany in January 1919.
His former comrades of the German Social Democratic Party, then leading the German government, brutally put down workers’ uprisings all over the country and then arrested Liebknecht and Luxemburg, tortured and murdered them.
His comrade Clara Zetkin organized an enormous funeral for them in September 1919, a demonstration that still draws thousands every year in September in Germany to this day.