Karl Liebknecht
The Future Belongs to the People

In Defence of Rosa Luxeburg

Dr. Rosa Luxemburg, with whom the following speech of Dr. Liebknecht deals, was tried in 1914 because at a public meeting she attacked militarism and the tragedies which were happening in the German barracks: brutal treatments, abuses and suicides of German soldiers. At her trial nine hundred and twenty-two men from all parts of Germany were ready to testify to something like thirty thousand separate instances of brutal treatment of soldiem.

Dr. Rosa Luxemburg was born in Russian Poland, of Jewish parents, and studied in Switzerland. She went later to Germany in order to become active in Social-Democratic propaganda. Being a foreigner, she would have been immediately exiled by the authorities, had she not married a Mr. Luxemburg – with whom she never lived – and in that way became a German citizen.

Dr. Rosa Luxemburg, or "Die Rote Rosa" (The Red Rose) as the Junkers call her, is one of the very brilliant speakers of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany and very few in the party equal her in debate. She has written various books on scientific socialism.


Assembly Session, March 9, 1915.

Third reading of the Budget for the fiscal year 1915, with the proposed law regarding the determination of the budget, with a special chapter in reference to the administration of justice. Taking part in the discussion of this special chapter, Dr. K. Liebknecht, Minister of Justice Dr. Beseler and v. Pappenheim (Conservative), who by his motion that the discussion on this chapter should be closed, made it impossible for Liebknecht to answer the Secretary of Justice.


DR. LIEBKNECHT: Gentlemen, a few days ago, continuing an old tradition of this house, which remained true to itself, even in this respect, you deprived me of the floor; to-day you will have to endure what I shall tell you, – what I really think.

As is known to you, my party friend, Rosa Luxemburg, was condemned to one year in prison for an alleged appeal to the soldiers for insubordination. This decision was approved a few months ago by the Supreme Court. In January of this year the execution of the sentence was postponed until March 31st on account of her illness. She spent a few weeks in a hospital at Schöneberg and was dismissed from it not cured, on condition that she follow a certain course of treatment. On February 18th she was suddenly arrested at Südende by two officers of the Criminal Department, brought to the Berlin Police Department, and then to Division 7, that is, to the political division, and not to the criminal division. Thence she was transported in the green wagon, together with common criminals, to the women's prison in the Barminstrasse, for the fulfillment of her one year's prison sentence.

This incident unmasks with the precision of physical experiment the real nature of the so-called Burgfrieden (civil truce). ("Very true.") Because this fundamentally political, this party political sentence is executed now, we do not complain. Let those complain who believe in the civil truce. (Stroebel, "Very true.") I know that my friend Luxemberg will see in the execution of this sentence a proof that she has fulfilled her duty, even in these times, of working for the interest of the people in the socialistic way. But gentlemen, this is remarkable, and this fact I wish most to emphasize – she was arested for the execution of the sentence, in spite of the fact that the execution of the sentence was postponed until March 31, without giving her an opportunity voluntarily to begin her term after the authorities thought that the reasons for the postponement of the execution of the sentence did not exist any longer. She was taken away without being given an opportunity voluntarily to begin her sentence. The method of this execution is open to much criticism. This transportation in the green wagon and the details which I have just mentioned deserve the severest reproach against those officials who are responsible for this action. ("Very true" by the Soc.-Dem.)

Of special political significance is the reason for this execution. The Deutsche Tageszeitung brought out a notice, even before there appeared any communication in our party press, of the arrest of my party friend, which was surely inspired, and probably originated from a well-informed source, and in which it was said in unmistakable language, that this trial was started because Madame Dr. Luxemburg arranged political meetings ("Hear, hear!" from the Socialists), because she was active politically ("Hear, hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.). Surely the arrest was not really a military measure, surely it was an execution of a sentence; but the means described were used, and put in execution from motives which put on it the seal of partisan political persecution in the most objectionable form. Very remarkable it is, as I know, that this happened after the Berlin secret police told the Commander of the Province of the appearance of Madame Luxemburg at a few meetings. ("Hear, hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.) The Commander in the Province, as the highest military authority in the province of Brandenburg, advised the District Attorney, who is in these days subordinate to him, to begin action against Madame Luxemburg, to begin action against her on account of holding meetings, on account of her political activity. ("Hear, hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Now let me give an illustration of how promptly the espionage system, which was in this case at the service of the Justice officials and so in confidential cooperation with the military dictatorship, functions. On February l0th, Madame Luxemburg spoke at a party meeting in Charlottenburg. On the 13th of February the order was given at Frankfort-on-the-Main to arrest her. During this interval of three days, or rather of two days, because the meeting took place on the evening of February l0th, the spy who must have been present at the meeting (and in whose behalf, as an officer of the Department of Justice, you will now approve the Budget), reported the meeting to the Police Headquarters, which reported to the Supreme Command, and from the Supreme Command the report was forwarded to Frankfort-on-the-Main, from which the order for arrest was given. So promptly does the machinery of the Prussian State function for the political suppression of the people, even in these days of the party truce. In this field the mechanism of the Prussian State did prove itself remarkable.

It should not be said that Madame Dr. Luxemburg was arrested because after she held meetings she could not be located. Gentlemen, I know that only by using all her strength, ill as she was, could she fulfill her duty to the interests of the German people, to the interests of the entire international proletariat. But, gentlemen, who wants to make us believe that this action was taken without any connection with what she did? ("Very true," from the Soc.-Dem.) The political aspect of what she said was the determining factor for the authorities which "do not recognize parties any longer." If she had only joined in buying the usual market commodity labeled "Patriotism," then not only would she have been spared from this remarkable attack but probably amnesty would have been forced upon her. ("Very true," from the Soc.-Dem.) But, gentlemen, she tried by summoning all her strength, to act in the proletarian and socialistic cause against the frenzied slaughter of peoples. This does not suit the dominant power, and that is why the arrest took place.

But the worst feature is that it was not sufficient to arrest my friend Luxemburg in this way, but that they also tried to stigmatize her honor by stating that she had shown intentions of flight.

Gentlemen, Madame Dr. Luxemburg wanted to travel to a friend in Holland, and for this purpose she asked for a foreign passport from the police in her district, who were naturally informed about her sentence, and then she addressed herself to the Berlin police headquarters, also well informed about her sentence, before the permission for a passport could be had; as suspicion was aroused at the Berlin police headquarters, she addressed herself, one day before she was arrested, with my help, to the District Attorney of Frankfort-on-the-Main, – the official who was to have executed the sentence, and had asked from him permission to take the trip to Holland. The order to make this motion to the District Attorney was given to her lawyer in Frankfort on the afternoon of February 17th. Gentlemen, I do not need to tell you that a woman such as Madame Dr. Luxemburg does not belong to the class who try to escape from a sentence, – that a woman such as Madame Dr. Luxemburg is brave enough to look her enemies in the eye and would not think of leaving Germany in times like these, where there is being waged such an important part of the struggle against international reaction, – against imperialism. It is necessary to be a real Prussian police spirit in order not to understand that.

Considering the facts of which I just spoke, considering the possibilities of passing the frontier in these times without the will of the authorities, the talk about escaping can be characterized only as an attempt to stigmatize the honor of this really persecuted woman, exactly after the Russian method, which is not satisfied to punish politically disagreeable subjects, but tries also to insult their honor as much as possible. In fact, it happened that the military authorities arranged that Madame Luxemburg should not be able to be active outside of Germany in a manner not to the liking of the German ruling powers. Why don't you say so openly and honestly, instead of hiding behind such obscure phrases? Just as we have only one counterpart for your denial of the suffrage reform, for the continuance of the exceptional laws, for your refusal of any interior reform, namely the political ignorance and animosity against the people of the Government of the Czar, so this action against my friend Luxemburg is a counterpart to the arrest of the Russian Duma Deputies, our admired and excellent friends in the struggle for the freedom of the people and for the restoration of the peoples' peace, trying in common with us to serve, – each in his own country, – in universal opposition against its own government, for the benefit of its own people and the good of the other people, the good of the international proletariat, the good of humanity. And so sure as it is that the arrest of the Duma deputies in Russia opened the eyes of hundreds of thousands of blind ones, so sure are we that the action against our comrade Luxemburg will awaken many a dreamer ("Very true" from Soc.-Dem.), and that they will demand a struggle for a free Prussia and a struggle for the ending of the mass murder of the people. ("Bravo!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

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