Karl Liebknecht

Dafato Team | Jun 28, 2022

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Karl Paul August Friedrich Liebknecht († January 15, 1919 in Berlin) was a prominent socialist and anti-militarist during the German Empire. A member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany since 1900, he was one of its deputies in the Reichstag from 1912 to 1916, where he represented the left-revolutionary wing of the SPD. From 1915, together with Rosa Luxemburg, he essentially determined the line of the Gruppe Internationale. In 1916, he was expelled from the SPD parliamentary group for his opposition to the Burgfrieden policy, and shortly thereafter was sentenced to four years in prison for "war treason." After about two years in prison, he was released barely three weeks before the end of the First World War.

During the November Revolution, Liebknecht proclaimed the "Free Socialist Republic of Germany" from Berlin Castle on November 9, 1918. On November 11, together with Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Ernst Meyer, Wilhelm Pieck, Hugo Eberlein and others, he refounded the Gruppe Internationale as the Spartakusbund. In December, his concept of a soviet republic was rejected by the majority in the Reichsrätekongress. At the turn of the year 1918


Karl Liebknecht was born in Leipzig in 1871. He was the second of five sons of Wilhelm Liebknecht and his second wife Natalie (née Reh). His older brother was Theodor Liebknecht, his younger Otto Liebknecht. From the 1860s, his father was one of the founders and most important leaders of the SPD and its precursor parties, along with August Bebel. Liebknecht was baptized a Protestant in St. Thomas Church. His godparents included Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - although they were not present in person, they were documented with written declarations of sponsorship.

In the 1880s, Liebknecht spent part of his childhood in Borsdorf, now located on the eastern outskirts of Leipzig. There, his father had moved into a suburban villa with August Bebel after they had been expelled from Leipzig under the petty state of siege, a provision of the Socialist Law directed against Social Democracy between 1878 and 1890.


In 1890 he graduated from the Alte Nikolaischule in Leipzig and began studying law and cameral sciences at the University of Leipzig on August 16, 1890. He studied under Bernhard Windscheid, Rudolph Sohm, Lujo Brentano, Wilhelm Wundt and Anton Springer. When the family moved to Berlin, he continued his studies there at the Friedrich Wilhelms University on October 17, 1890. Here he attended lectures by Heinrich von Treitschke and Gustav Schmoller, among others. His leaving certificate was dated March 7, 1893, and on May 29, 1893, he passed his bar exam.

Liebknecht then did his military service as a one-year volunteer with the Guard Pioneer Battalion in Berlin from 1893 to 1894.

After a long search for a trainee lawyer position, he wrote his doctoral thesis "Compensationsvollzug und Compensationsvorbringen nach gemeinem Rechte" ("Compensation Execution and Compensation Submission under Common Law"), which was awarded magna cum laude by the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in 1897. On April 5, 1899, he passed his assessor's examination with "good".

Activity as a lawyer

Together with his brother Theodor and Oskar Cohn, he opened a law office at 121 Chausseestraße in Berlin in 1899.

In May 1900 he married Julia Paradies, with whom he had two sons (Wilhelm and Robert Liebknecht) and a daughter (Vera).

In 1904, together with his colleague Hugo Haase, he also became known abroad as a political lawyer when he defended nine Social Democrats (among them Franciszek Trąbalski) in the Königsberg Secret Society Trial. In other sensational criminal trials, he denounced the class justice of the Empire and the brutal treatment of recruits in the military.

Commitment to socialism

In 1900 Liebknecht became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and in 1902 a Social Democratic city councilor in Berlin. He retained this mandate until 1913.

He was an active member of the Second International and also one of the founders of the Socialist Youth International. He was elected chairman of the Liaison Office at the first International Conference of Socialist Youth Organizations in 1907.

Treason trial

In 1907, he published Militarismus und Antimilitarismus (Militarism and Anti-Militarism) for the youth work of the SPD, for which he was convicted of high treason in the same year. In this paper, he argued that external militarism needed chauvinistic stubbornness against the external enemy and that internal militarism needed a lack of understanding or hatred of any progressive movement against the internal enemy. Militarism also needs the obtuseness of the people so that it can drive the masses like a herd of cattle. Anti-militarist agitation, he said, must educate about the dangers of militarism, but it must do so within the framework of the law. The Reichsgericht later did not accept this last remark in the treason trial. Liebknecht characterized the spirit of militarism in this writing with a reference to a remark by the Prussian Minister of War at the time, General Karl von Einem, according to whom a soldier loyal to the king and who shoots badly is preferable to an accurate soldier whose political convictions are questionable or questionable. On April 17, 1907, von Einem applied to the Reich Prosecutor's Office to initiate criminal proceedings against Liebknecht on account of the pamphlet Militarism and Anti-Militarism.

On October 9, October 10, and October 12, 1907, the treason trial against Liebknecht took place before the Reichsgericht, presided over by Judge Ludwig Treplin, with a large audience. On the first day of the trial, Liebknecht said that imperial orders were null and void if their purpose was to break the constitution. In contrast, the Reichsgericht later emphasized in its ruling that soldiers' unconditional duty of obedience to the emperor was a central provision of the empire's constitution. When Liebknecht responded to a question from the presiding judge that various newspapers as well as the ultra-conservative politician Elard von Oldenburg-Januschau were calling for a violent breach of the constitution, the latter cut him off with the remark that the Reichsgericht could imply that statements had been made that he had understood as an incitement to break the constitution. On the third day of the trial, he was sentenced to one and a half years' imprisonment for preparation of high treason.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, who owned a copy of Militarismus und Antimilitarismus, was informed about this trial several times by telegraph. A detailed report of the trial was sent to the emperor after the verdict was pronounced, but Liebknecht was not sent the written verdict until November 7, 1907. His self-defense at the trial earned him great popularity among the Berlin workers, so that he was escorted in a throng to the prison.

In order to hit Karl Liebknecht in his economic livelihood, an application was made to the Lawyers' Court of the Province of Brandenburg in Berlin to exclude him from the legal profession on the basis of his conviction for preparation for high treason by the Reichsgericht. On April 29, 1908, the Lawyers' Court under its chairman Dr. Krause rejected this application. Among other reasons, he stated that although the factual findings of the Reichsgericht in the high treason trial were binding, this did not necessarily entail punishment by the honorary court.The Oberreichsanwalt appealed against this ruling on May 7, 1908. On October 10, 1908, the Honorary Court in Lawyers' Cases, chaired by the President of the Reich Court, Rudolf von Seckendorff, then refused to exclude Liebknecht from the legal profession. The reason given was that the Reichsgericht had already denied the defendant's dishonorable conduct in this criminal judgment.

Member of the Prussian Parliament and the Reichstag

In 1908 he became a member of the Prussian House of Representatives, although he had not yet been released from the fortress of Glatz in Silesia. He was one of the first eight Social Democrats ever to become a member of the Prussian state parliament, despite the three-class electoral law. Liebknecht remained a member of the state parliament until 1916.

His first wife Julia died on August 22, 1911, after a gall bladder operation. Liebknecht married Sophie Ryss (1884-1964) in October 1912.

In January 1912, he entered the Reichstag as one of the youngest SPD deputies. Liebknecht won - after two unsuccessful attempts in 1903 and 1907 - the "imperial constituency" of Potsdam-Spandau-Osthavelland, which until then had been the safe domain of the German Conservative Party. In the Reichstag, he immediately emerged as a staunch opponent of an army bill that would grant the emperor tax funds for army and fleet armaments. He was also able to prove that the Krupp company had obtained economically relevant information without authorization by bribing employees of the War Ministry (the so-called Kornwalzer scandal).

World War I

In the first half of July 1914, Liebknecht had traveled to Belgium and France, met with Jean Longuet and Jean Jaurès, and spoken at several events. He spent the French national holiday in Paris. He only became fully aware of the immediate danger of a major European war on July 23 - after the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia became known (see July Crisis). At the end of July, he returned to Germany via Switzerland.

When the Reichstag was convened on August 1, the day the mobilization was announced and war declared on Russia, there was still no question in Liebknecht's mind that "the rejection of the war credits was self-evident and unquestionable for the majority of the Reichstag faction." On the afternoon of August 4, however, the Social Democratic faction - after there had been "disgusting scenes of noise" at the preparatory faction meeting the previous day, according to Wolfgang Heine, because Liebknecht and 13 other deputies spoke out firmly against this step - voted unanimously in favor of approving the war credits, which enabled the government to finance the war effort for the time being. Before the parliamentary group meeting on August 3, the supporters of the approval had not expected such a success and were by no means sure of obtaining a majority in the group at all; even during the break in the meeting after the Reich Chancellor's speech - immediately before the vote on August 4 - there were tumults in the group because Frank, David, Südekum, Cohen and some others had demonstratively applauded Bethmann Hollweg's remarks. Liebknecht, who in previous years had repeatedly defended the (unwritten) rules of party and faction discipline against representatives of the party's right-wing, bowed to the majority's decision and also approved the government bill in the plenary session of the Reichstag. Hugo Haase, who like Liebknecht had opposed the grant in the parliamentary group, even agreed to read out the statement of the parliamentary group majority, which was received with jubilation by the bourgeois parties, for similar reasons. Liebknecht repeatedly addressed and thought through August 4, which he perceived as a catastrophic political and personal break, both privately and publicly. In 1916, he noted:

Liebknecht expressly did not endorse a statement by Luxemburg and Franz Mehring (the complete wording of which is thought to have been lost) in which they threatened to leave the party because of the behavior of the parliamentary group, because he felt it "was half-measures: Then one should already have resigned." Luxemburg formed the Internationale group on August 5, 1914, of which Liebknecht was a member along with ten other SPD leftists, and which attempted to form an inner-party opposition to the SPD policy of the Burgfrieden. In the summer and fall of 1914, Liebknecht traveled throughout Germany with Luxemburg to persuade - largely unsuccessfully - opponents of the war to reject the financial approval for the war. He also contacted other European workers' parties to signal to them that not all German Social Democrats were in favor of the war.

Liebknecht's first major conflict with the new party line, which attracted wider public attention, came when he traveled to Belgium between September 4 and 12, met with local socialists there and was informed - in Liège and Andenne, among other places - about the mass reprisals ordered by the German military. Liebknecht was then accused in the press - including the Social Democratic press - of "treason against the fatherland" and "party treason" and had to justify himself before the party executive committee on October 2.

He was thereafter all the more determined to vote against the new loan bill at the next relevant vote and to make this demonstrative statement against the "unity phrase high tide" the basis of a rallying of the opponents of the war. In the run-up to this session, for which the Reichstag convened on December 2, 1914, he tried to win over other opposition deputies to this position in hours of talks, but failed. Otto Rühle, who had previously assured Liebknecht that he would also openly vote no, did not withstand the pressure and stayed away from the plenum, while Fritz Kunert - who, it is little known, had also acted in this way on August 4 - left the chamber shortly before the vote. Liebknecht was finally the only deputy not to stand when Reichstag President Kaempf called on the House to approve the supplementary budget by rising from the seats. At the next vote - on March 20, 1915 - Rühle voted together with Liebknecht. Both had previously refused a request from about 30 other faction members to leave the chamber together with them during the vote.

In April 1915, Mehring and Luxemburg published the journal Die Internationale, which appeared only once and was immediately confiscated by the authorities. Liebknecht was no longer able to participate in this push. After December 2, 1914, police and military authorities had been considering how to "put a stop" to Liebknecht. The high command in the Marches called him to serve in an armored battalion in early February 1915. Liebknecht was thus subject to the military laws that forbade him any political activity outside the Reichstag or the Prussian Landtag. He experienced the war on the Western and Eastern fronts as an armored soldier, on leave of absence for sessions of the Reichstag and the Landtag.

He nevertheless succeeded in expanding the Internationale group and organizing the staunch opponents of the war in the SPD throughout the Reich. This gave rise to the Spartacus Group on January 1, 1916 (renamed the Spartakusbund after its final break from Social Democracy in November 1918). On January 12, 1916, the SPD Reichstag faction expelled Liebknecht from its ranks by 60 votes to 25. In solidarity with him, Rühle also resigned from the parliamentary group two days later. In March 1916, another 18 opposition deputies were expelled and subsequently formed the Social Democratic Working Group, which Liebknecht and Rühle did not join, however.

Liebknecht had hardly any opportunity during the war to make himself heard in the plenum of the Reichstag. Contrary to customary practice, the Reichstag president did not record in the official minutes the reasons he had submitted in writing for his vote on December 2, 1914, and subsequently refused to give Liebknecht the floor under various pretexts. It was not until April 8, 1916, that Liebknecht was able to speak from the rostrum on a subordinate budget issue. This led to what deputy Wilhelm Dittmann called a "wild scandalous scene" never before seen in the Reichstag: Liebknecht was shouted down by liberal and conservative deputies raging "as if possessed," insulted as a "rascal" and an "English agent," and told to "shut up"; Deputy Hubrich snatched his written notes from him and threw the sheets into the hall; Deputy Ernst Müller-Meiningen had to be prevented from physically attacking Liebknecht by members of the SAG faction.

At the "Easter Conference of Youth" in Jena, Liebknecht spoke to 60 young people on anti-militarism and changing social conditions in Germany. On May 1, 1916, he appeared as the leader of an anti-war demonstration surrounded by police on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. He took the floor with the words "Down with the war! Down with the government!". He was then arrested and charged with treason. The first day of the trial, actually intended as an example against the socialist left, turned into a fiasco for the imperial justice system: organized by the Revolutionary Obleute, a spontaneous solidarity strike took place in Berlin with over 50,000 participants. Instead of weakening the opposition, Liebknecht's arrest gave new impetus to opposition to the war. On August 23, 1916, Liebknecht was sentenced to four years and one month in prison, which he served from mid-November 1916 until his amnesty and release on October 23, 1918, in Luckau, Brandenburg. Hugo Haase, SPD chairman until March 1916, campaigned in vain for his release. Liebknecht's imprisonment coincided with the split in the SPD and the founding of the USPD in April 1917, which the Spartacus group now joined in order to work toward revolutionary goals there as well.

Apart from Eduard Bernstein and the Catholic Reichstag deputy Matthias Erzberger of the Center, who, like Liebknecht, was later murdered by right-wing extremists, Liebknecht was the only German parliamentarian to publicly denounce the massive human rights violations of the Turkish-Ottoman allies in the Middle East, especially the Armenian genocide and the brutal crackdown on other non-Turkish minorities, particularly in Syria and Lebanon. This practice was tacitly approved by the majority SPD (which was politically allied with the Young Turk party CUP) and the liberal parties, and in some cases even publicly justified on the grounds of Germany's strategic interests and the alleged existential threat to Turkey from Armenian and Arab terrorism (Lensch-Cunow-Haenisch group (SPD), Ernst Jäckh, Friedrich Naumann (DDP)).

November Revolution 1918

Liebknecht was released from prison on October 23, 1918, in the course of a general amnesty, which the Reich government hoped would have a ventilating effect in view of the pre-revolutionary mood in the country. This hope proved illusory, for in Berlin, where Liebknecht had immediately traveled, he was greeted by a cheering crowd at Anhalter Station. A demonstration march followed in the direction of the Reichstag building, but was pushed eastward by the Berlin police. In front of the Russian Embassy, Liebknecht gave a speech in which he proclaimed: "Down with the Hohenzollerns! Long live the social republic of Germany!" When he arrived, the legation of Russia, which had been under communist leadership since the end of 1917 after the October Revolution, gave a reception in his honor.

Liebknecht now set about reorganizing the Spartacus League, which now emerged as a political organization in its own right. He urged that the Revolutionary Obleute, which had organized the January strike, the USPD rank and file and the Spartacus League jointly coordinate preparations for a nationwide revolution. They planned a simultaneous general strike in all major cities and parades of armed strikers in front of the barracks of army regiments to persuade them to join or lay down their arms. The Obleute, guided by workers' sentiment in the factories and fearing an armed confrontation with army troops, postponed the set date for this several times, most recently to November 11, 1918. Liebknecht was unable to gain acceptance in his party with these plans. On October 30, 1918, the central executive committee of the USPD, which was thinking more of a peaceful revolution, rejected his revolutionary concept, as did a meeting between independents and Obleute on November 1.

On November 8, the revolution sparked by the sailors' uprising in Kiel, independently of Liebknecht's plans, spread to the Reich. As a result, the Berlin Obleute and USPD representatives called their supporters to the planned processions for the following day.

On November 9, 1918, masses of people flocked from all sides to the center of Berlin. There, Liebknecht proclaimed the "Free Socialist Republic of Germany" from Portal IV of the Berlin Palace, standing at the large window of the second floor. The SPD politician Philipp Scheidemann had already proclaimed the "German Republic" from the Reichstag building.

Liebknecht now became the spokesman for the revolutionary left. In order to push the November Revolution in the direction of a socialist soviet republic, he and Luxemburg published a daily newspaper, Die Rote Fahne. In the ensuing disputes, however, it soon became apparent that most workers' representatives in Germany were pursuing social-democratic rather than socialist goals. A majority advocated early parliamentary elections and thus self-dissolution at the Reichsrätekongress of December 16-20, 1918. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were excluded from participation in the congress.

Since December 1918, Friedrich Ebert had been trying to disempower the council movement with the help of the army, in accordance with his secret agreement with OHL General Wilhelm Groener, and had more and more troops assembled in and around Berlin for this purpose. On December 6, 1918, he tried to prevent the Reichsrätekongress from taking place militarily and, after this failed, to defuse resolutions to disempower the military at the congress. On December 24, 1918, in the Berlin Christmas battles, he used military force for the first time against the Volksmarine Division, which was close to the revolutionary Kiel sailors and was supposed to protect the Reich Chancellery and was not prepared to leave without pay. As a result, the three USPD representatives resigned from the Council of People's Deputies on December 29, and five SPD representatives continued to lead it.

As a result, the Spartacists, who were gaining popularity throughout the Reich, planned the founding of a new, left-wing revolutionary party and invited their supporters to its founding congress in Berlin at the end of December 1918. On January 1, 1919, the Communist Party of Germany presented itself to the public.

Beginning on January 8, Liebknecht and other KPD representatives took part in the Spartacus Uprising, with which the Revolutionary Obleute reacted to the dismissal of Berlin police president Emil Eichhorn (USPD). They attempted to overthrow Ebert's interim government with a general strike, occupying several Berlin newspaper buildings. Liebknecht joined the strike leadership and, against the advice of Rosa Luxemburg, called together with the USPD for the arming of the people. KPD delegates tried unsuccessfully to persuade some regiments stationed in Berlin to defect. After two days of inconclusive deliberations, the KPD resigned from the leadership body, then the USPD representatives broke off parallel negotiations with Ebert. The latter then used the military against the strikers. Bloody street fighting and mass executions of hundreds of people ensued.


The leading figures of the young KPD were intensively sought through "numerous informer services of various 'state-supporting associations. As early as December, numerous large-format red posters directed against the Spartacus League had been posted in Berlin, culminating in the call to "Beat their leaders to death! Kill Liebknecht!" Handbills with the same content were distributed hundreds of thousands of times. Among others, Eduard Stadtler's Anti-Bolshevik League was responsible for this. In the Vorwärts, Liebknecht was repeatedly portrayed as "mentally ill." On January 8, the entire Council of People's Deputies signed a leaflet announcing that "the hour of reckoning is approaching." The following day, this text appeared as official news in the German Reichsanzeiger. On January 13, the Vorwärts printed a poem by Artur Zickler that included the verse lines "Many hundred dead in a row -.

Liebknecht and Luxemburg - since their lives were now obviously in danger - initially hid in Neukölln after Gustav Noske's troops marched in, but after two days they moved to new quarters on Mannheimer Strasse in Wilmersdorf. The owner of the apartment, the merchant Siegfried Marcusson, was a member of the USPD and belonged to the Wilmersdorf Workers' and Soldiers' Council; his wife was a friend of Luxemburg. It was in this apartment that Liebknecht wrote his article Trotz alledem! on January 14, which appeared in the Red Banner the next day. In the early evening of January 15, five members of the Wilmersdorfer Bürgerwehr - a bourgeois militia formed by civilians - entered the apartment and arrested Liebknecht and Luxemburg. It is still unclear who gave the vigilantes the relevant order or tip-off. What is certain is that this was not a more or less random search, but a targeted raid. Around 9 p.m., Wilhelm Pieck, who had entered the apartment unsuspectingly, was also arrested.

Liebknecht was first transported to the Wilmersdorf Cecilienschule. From there, a member of the Bürgerwehr called the Reich Chancellery directly and informed its deputy press chief Robert Breuer ("coincidentally" a member of the Wilmersdorf SPD) of Liebknecht's capture. Breuer announced a recall, which allegedly did not take place. Members of the Bürgerwehr delivered Liebknecht by automobile to their superior office - the headquarters of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division (GKSD) in the Eden Hotel on the corner of Budapester Strasse - at around 9:30 p.m.

Pabst commissioned a group of selected naval officers under the command of Captain Lieutenant Horst von Pflugk-Harttung to assassinate Liebknecht. They left the hotel with Liebknecht - dressed in crew uniforms for camouflage - around 10:45 p.m. On leaving the building, Liebknecht was spat on, insulted and beaten by hotel guests. The hunter Otto Runge, who had been promised money for this by an uninitiated GKSD officer, gave the prisoner, who had just been placed in the car, a blow with the butt of his rifle. The automobile, to which Lieutenant Rudolf Liepmann, who had also not been informed by Pabst of the intention to murder, jumped on, drove to the nearby Tiergarten. There, the driver feigned a breakdown at a spot "where a completely unlit footpath led off." Liebknecht was led out of the car and shot from behind "at close range" after a few meters on the shore of the Neuer See. Shots were fired by Kapitänleutnant Horst von Pflugk-Harttung, Leutnant zur See Heinrich Stiege, Oberleutnant zur See Ulrich von Ritgen and also Liepmann - who "instinctively joined in". Also present were Captain Heinz von Pflugk-Harttung, Second Lieutenant Bruno Schulze and the hunter Clemens Friedrich, the only crew rank involved in the crime.

The perpetrators delivered the dead man at 11:15 p.m. as an "unknown body" to the rescue station opposite the Eden Hotel and then reported to Pabst. Half an hour later, Luxembourg, who had been taken away in an open car, was shot about 40 meters from the entrance to the Eden Hotel, presumably by Leutnant zur See Hermann Souchon. Her body was thrown into the Landwehr Canal between the Lichtenstein and Cornelius bridges. Pabst's press officer Friedrich Grabowski subsequently circulated a communiqué claiming that Liebknecht had been "shot while fleeing" and Luxemburg had been "killed by the crowd."

Pabst spoke about the background of the murders in a private letter in 1969:

Liebknecht was buried on January 25 along with 31 other dead of the January days. The burial initially planned by the KPD at the Cemetery of the March Fallen in Friedrichshain was forbidden by both the government and the Berlin magistrate. Instead, the burial commission was referred to the cemetery for the poor in Friedrichsfelde, located on the (then) urban periphery (see Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde). The funeral procession developed into a mass demonstration in which several tens of thousands of people took part despite a massive military presence. Paul Levi for the KPD and Luise Zietz and Rudolf Breitscheid for the USPD spoke at the graves.

In January 1935, the Nazi authorities had the Revolutionary Monument, inaugurated in 1926, demolished. The graves were leveled in the summer of 1941, but the bones of the dead were not - as is often claimed - deliberately removed. One of the cemetery workers was able to hide some of the grave slabs - including those of Liebknecht and Luxemburg - and gave them to the Museum of German History years later. A reburial of Liebknecht's remains failed in 1950, when a search for them at the former revolutionary monument commissioned by Wilhelm Pieck was unsuccessful.

In December 1967, Paul Celan traveled to West Berlin, where he visited the Plötzensee memorial and also a Christmas market. For this purpose, he wrote the poem DU LIEGST im großen Gelausche, which commemorates the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

The officers Horst von Pflugk-Harttung, Heinrich Stiege, Ulrich von Ritgen and Rudolf Liepmann are to be regarded as the murderers of Karl Liebknecht. The officers Heinz von Pflugk-Harttung, Bruno Schulze and the soldier Clemens Friedrich were also involved.

A civilian murder trial against the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg did not take place, and an investigation into the background was not initiated. Only after the KPD, through its own investigations led by Leo Jogiches, had revealed the whereabouts of some of the perpetrators, did the GKSD open court-martial proceedings against them. The prosecutor Kriegsgerichtsrat Paul Jorns covered up the murders in the investigations, and in the main trial only Runge and Horst von Pflugk-Harttung were sentenced to light prison terms, which the convicts did not have to serve. At the appeal hearing, a Prussian court-martial acquitted them. The verdict bore Noske's signature. The latter also arranged for the subsequent appeal proceedings to be discontinued. The perpetrators later received prison compensation from the National Socialists.

Pabst was neither prosecuted nor charged. Runge, already recognized and beaten up by workers in 1925 and 1931, was tracked down by members of the KPD in Berlin in May 1945 and handed over to the Soviet commandant's office in Prenzlauer Allee on the instructions of senior public prosecutor Max Berger. There Runge was presumably shot.

Liebknecht dealt with questions of political theory and practice throughout his political activity, as is shown by the genesis of his posthumously published "Studies on the Laws of Motion of Social Development," which began in 1891. Since he was mainly active in agitation, he had rarely expressed himself in public on political theory and hardly participated in the theory-related disputes within the SPD (debate on imperialism, etc.). He found leisure and rest for his studies only during his prison stays. With his philosophically oriented "Studies" consisting of the parts "Basic Concepts and Classification," "Contexts and Laws," and "Individual Cultural Phenomena," he wanted to revise and further develop Marx's theory of scientific socialism with a more constitutive-constructive theory.

In his opinion, Marx had limited his theory too much to the epoch of capitalism and therefore had not been able to grasp the complexity of social development. He considered Marx's philosophical and economic foundations to be wrong, since they were limited to the materialistic conception of history. Only through the spiritual-psychic essence of economic relations would a relation to human development be possible, through which alone they were social phenomena. He rejected the theory of value because, in his view, labor power could not create surplus value beyond its own value as the product of an economic primordial generation. The value of goods, including labor power, was rather determined by the average social conditions of production. For him, exploitation was purely a problem of distribution and not of production, as Marx had claimed. Value, he argued, was not a capitalist-social fact because it existed before and after capitalist development. His system would better show that the exploitation of the proletariat would take place through the rape and deprivation in the distribution of the total social product.

His universal approach was based - unlike Marx's - on natural philosophical ideas. He saw human society as a unified organism following a higher instinct of development, with the goal of a new, all-encompassing humanism. For him, the history of mankind was not determined by class struggles, but by struggles for the distribution of social and political functions within a society. It was not a dialectical process, but an evolutionary process determined by objective and subjective factors. Objective factors would be the gradual alignment of the various interest groups in a society because they were driven by insight into the nature and needs of society - which would increasingly coincide with individual ones. Subjective factors would be the conscious political action of politicians in the sense of a higher development. The higher development would be triggered by the social movement of the proletariat, as a form of emergence and struggle of the new humanism, because all other social groups would have to give up a part of their privileges.

For Liebknecht, the evolutionary process included not only further education but also cultural and social setbacks. The revolution would be only one particularly intense stage within the evolutionary process. Liebknecht's utopian and vague goal of a new humanism could not exert any attraction on the masses during the November Revolution.

For Klaus Gietinger, Liebknecht was not a Marxist. For him, it is not entirely clear how Liebknecht received Marx at all, i.e. whether he read him himself or took note of him through secondary opinions. Gietinger describes Liebknecht's fragmentary writing as an "anti-Marx.

Liebknecht-Luxemburg commemoration

The annual Liebknecht-Luxemburg commemorations marking the anniversary of the assassinations of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on the second Sunday in January in Berlin are now attended by a broad spectrum of left-wing groups, parties and individuals.

Berlin monument

At the site of the 1916 anti-war demonstration, Friedrich Ebert junior, Lord Mayor of Greater Berlin (East) and member of the Politburo of the SED, unveiled the cornerstone of a monument to Karl Liebknecht on August 13, 1951. The occasion was his 80th birthday. The tribute took place within the framework of the III.  World Festival of Youth and Students and was part of a campaign against the rearmament of the Federal Republic of Germany. But the memorial on Potsdamer Platz was not completed for the next ten years.

The sealing off of the sector border to West Berlin began on August 13, 1961. After the barrier walls were removed, the memorial pedestal stood in the border strip at the front wall until 1990. When planning for the new Potsdamer Platz began with German reunification on October 3, 1990, the memorial pedestal was removed and put into storage in 1995. In 2002, the district council of Berlin's Mitte district advocated for the pedestal's reinstallation - as a document of the city's history and of how Germany's socialist and anti-militarist traditions were dealt with.

Luckau monument

To mark the 50th anniversary of Karl Liebknecht's death, a Karl Liebknecht monument created by Theo Balden was inaugurated in Luckau (Niederlausitz) in 1969. The larger-than-life statue was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture of the GDR. One of the main local initiators for the erection of the monument was Siegfried Kühnast, the then director of Luckau's Erweiterte Oberschule, which bore Karl Liebknecht's name.

The artist thought that the best location for the bronze sculpture would be on the city wall in front of the former penitentiary where Liebknecht was incarcerated. However, on the initiative of the clients, after consultation with Theo Balden, the memorial was placed on the market square. In 1992, after the German reunification, the sculpture finally came to the place that the artist had originally intended for it.

More monuments

In the Soviet Union there was a Karl Liebknecht School in Moscow, a school for German emigrant children. The Russian warship Karl Liebknecht (1905) bore his name, as did several places in Russia (see Imeni Karla Libknechta and Libknechtiwka).

In the GDR, Liebknecht was honored as a "mastermind of socialism. This led to the erection of numerous monuments in his honor and to the naming of streets and schools after him. Some of these were renamed after the reunification of Germany in 1990, while others retained their names.

Also named after Karl Liebknecht were:

Sophie Liebknecht and Karl Liebknecht's sons received an honorary grave in the GDR in the Pergolenweg grave complex of the Socialists' Memorial at Berlin's Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery.

On the occasion of the commemoration of the beginning of the First World War 100 years ago, the party Die Linke demanded a commemorative plaque for Liebknecht at the Reichstag building.


Contemporary History




  1. Karl Liebknecht
  2. Karl Liebknecht

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