Karl Liebknecht

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Karl Liebknecht (circa 1911)

Karl Paul August Friedrich Liebknecht (13 August 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a German socialist politician and co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany. He had been expelled from the Social Democratic Party for opposing World War I. He and Rosa Luxemburg were executed after leading the Spartacist rebellion of 1919.


  • The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists.
  • Lay down your weapons, you soldiers at the front. Lay down your tools, you workers at home. Do not let yourselves be deceived any longer by your rulers, the lip patriots, and the munitions profiteers. Rise with power and seize the reins of government. Yours is the force. To you belongs the right to rule. Answer the call for freedom and win your own war for liberty.
  • From every drop of this blood, from these dragon’s teeth sown for the victors of today, shall rise the avengers of the fallen – from every tattered fibre new soldiers shall rise for the great cause, which is eternal and unwithering like the firmament.
  • Those who are defeated today shall be the victors of tomorrow. Because defeat serves as a lesson. The German proletariat still lacks revolutionary experience. And only through tentative attempts, adolescent errors and painful setbacks can it obtain practical education, which will ensure future victory. For the living forces of the social revolution, whose unstoppable growth is the natural law of societal development, a defeat means stimulus. And through defeat after defeat, their road leads to victory.
  • The defeated of today, they will have learned. They will be cured of the delusion of being able to find their salvation in the help of masses of confused soldiers; cured of the delusion of being able to trust in leaders who prove themselves to be feeble and impotent; cured of the belief in independent social democracy, which disdainfully abandoned them. Left only to their own devices, they will fight their coming battles, gain their coming victories. And the watchword, that the liberation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself, will have gained for them a new, deeper meaning.
  • The tide of events mount into the heavens – we are accustomed to being catapulted down from the peak into the depths. But our ship continues on its straight course proudly sailing to its goal. And whether we will still be alive when it is reached – our programme will live; it will rule the world of humanity redeemed. In spite of everything!

Quotes about Karl Liebknecht

  • The Communist challenge to the capitalist world system also started with the Great War. The war split Social Democratic parties everywhere into prowar and antiwar camps. Some Social Democrats supported the war efforts out of a sense of obligation to the nation. But in Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, minority socialists, including the Russian Bolsheviks, condemned the fighting as a conflict between different groups of capitalists. Karl Liebknecht, the only socialist who voted against the war in the German parliament, bravely argued that “this war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of world markets and for the political domination of important colonies in the interest of industrial and financial capital.” Revolutionaries such as Liebknecht and Lenin contended that soldiers, workers, and peasants had more in common with their brothers on the other side than with their superior officers and the capitalists behind the lines. The war was between robbers and thieves, for which ordinary people had to suffer. Capitalism itself produced war and would produce more wars if it was not abolished. The answer, the ultra-Left proclaimed, was a transnational form of revolution, in which soldiers turned their weapons on their own officers and embraced their comrades across the trenches.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (2017)
  • No one would claim that the revolt of a few hundred insurgents in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943 influenced the course of the war in any way. The immense importance of this event was in another dimension: a symbol, as is often said, the manifestation par excellence of the will to attest by struggle 'despite everything' - the famous trotz alledem of Heinrich Heine, found also from the pens of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and again in the famous song of Wolf Biermann. It embodied the will and capacity of human resistance in the face of adversity, despite the extreme disproportion of forces.
    • Alain Brossat and Sylvia Klingberg, Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism (2016)
  • If Theodore Roosevelt is the great champion of democracy —the arch foe of autocracy , what business had he as the guest of honor of the Prussian Kaiser? And when he met the Kaiser, and did honor to the Kaiser, under the terms imputed to him, wasn't it pretty strong proof that he himself was a Kaiser at heart? Now, after being the guest of Emperor Wilhelm, the Beast of Berlin, he comes back to this country, and wants you to send ten million men over there to kill the Kaiser; to murder his former friend and pal. Rather queer, isn't it? And yet, he is the patriot, and we are the traitors. I challenge you to find a Socialist anywhere on the face of the earth who was ever the guest of the Beast of Berlin, except as an inmate of his prison—the elder Liebknecht and the younger Liebknecht, the heroic son of his immortal sire.
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