Karl Liebknecht
The Future Belongs to the People

The Man Liebknecht

KARL LIEBKNECHT is a worthy son of a great sire. His father, Wilhelm Liebknecht, for years a member of the Reichstag, was the author of numerous pamphlets on Socialism and economics and was one of the first founders of the Socialist Party in Germany. Karl Liebknecht was born in Leipzig on August 13th, 1871, the same year in which his father was arrested on the charge of high treason. His mother was wont to say that she bequeathed to her son all the sorrow that was hers during that period, all the courage and all the strength which she had to summon to her aid to live through those days; and with her bequest went all the sorrow for the sufferings of humanity, and all the courage and the strength to battle for the cause of the people, which were back of the father's trial.

And thirty-five years later, Karl Liebknecht underwent the same ordeal as his father – himself faced the accusation of high treason in the highest courts of his native land.

Liebknecht studied first at Leipzig and then in Berlin, attending the university in each city. As a student he began his career of social enlightenment by organizing literary societies for the study of social problems. Liebknecht got his doctor's degree in Political Economy and Law at the University of Würzburg. From 1889 he practised law in Berlin. Later he became active in the Socialist movement in Berlin. In 1902 he was elected Councilman to the Stadverordneten Versammlung (Common Council) of Berlin. In October, 1907, he was tried for high treason before the Imperial Court of Germany at Leipzig for his book on "Militarism & Anti-Militarism." The substance of this book which aroused the ire of the German authorities was first set forth in a lecture before a group of young people in 1906, for it is Liebknecht's belief that in the hands of the younger generation of Germany lies the hope of salvation; let them be impregnated, he would say, with the right social ideals before militaristic training has an opportunity to do its work, and there will be little danger of domination by the war lords, or of the fruition of the war lords' aims.

His trial was most interesting. It was said upon excellent authority that the Kaiser himself was connected by secret wire with the court room. Liebknecht bore himself triumphantly throughout; there was never a moment of wavering, never any evidence of any quality contrary to the gigantic and fearless strength which characterizes the man. Liebknecht is himself a very able lawyer, and though he had noted lawyers to represent him (including Hugo Haase, at present a leader of the Minority Socialist Party in the Reichstag), he supplemented their speeches with additional analyses of his own.

Liebknecht took up the question, "What is high treason?" He turned the tables upon Olshausen, who was conducting the trial against him, by a quotation from a work of Olshausen himself which contradicted the stand the latter was taking in the Liebknecht trial. The Socialist leader's address to the judges was one of the boldest attacks ever made, either up to that time or up to the present, against German militarism. "The aim of my life," he declared, "is the overthrow of monarchy. As my father, who appeared before this court exactly thirty-five years ago to defend himself against the charge of treason, was ultimately pronounced victor, so I believe the day is not far distant when the principles which I represent will be recognized as patriotic, as honorable, as true."

Liebknecht's brave stand on this occasion was rewarded by a sentence of a year and a half in a military prison. While serving his sentence he was elected by the people of Berlin to represent them in the assembly of Prussia. In the Landtag Liebknecht recommenced his fight against militarism. It was there that he prophetically pronounced the word "Republic" for the first time. On one occasion there was a debate upon the building of a new opera house. "The opera house for which we are asked to vote the necessary funds," he exclaimed, "should last for many generations. We trust that it will last long after it has lost its character as a Royal Opera House."

In 1910 Liebknecht visited America to give a series of lectures, and the United States made a strong impression upon him. He used to tell me that he felt truly homesick for America and had a genuine desire to repeat the visit.

In 1912 he was elected representative to the Reichstag by the people of Potsdam-Osthavelland, under the very window of the Kaiser. The announcement of his success was met with wild demonstrations of delight. The sentiments of the surging crowds before the office of the Berlin Vorwärts when the result of the election was made public were voiced by a young workingman, when he exclaimed, "The new voice of freedom will be heard from now on in the Reichstag." In the Reichstag Liebknecht hurled with renewed zeal his invectives against the huge armaments and militarism of Germany.

Liebknecht the man is of the kindest nature and frankest personality. There is to be seen in his make-up no grain of pretentiousness, of false pride – indeed, he usually lunches quite happily upon a sandwich in the train, too busy to find any other time for his meal. His home life is ideal. His present wife – his first died in 1912 – is a Russian by birth, a graduate of the University of Heidelberg, and an ideal companion and helpmate.

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