Karl Liebknecht
The Future Belongs to the People

Liebknecht's Reply to his Judges

WHILE in prison Dr. Liebknecht sent two letters to the military court handling his case, in which he explained his position. It was Dr. Liebknecht's hope that these letters would be read to the Reichstag and in that way reach the German people. But this was not the case. The letters were put before the Parliamentary Committee, which investigated Liebknecht's case and on whose recommendation the Reichstag, by a vote of 229 to 111, refused to ask for his release. A copy of one of these letters was smuggled out of prison and sent out of Germany.


Berlin, May 3rd, 1916.

To the Royal Military Court, Berlin:

In the investigation of the case against me, the records of remarks need the following elucidation:

I. The German Government is in its social and historical character an instrument for the crushing down and exploitation of the laboring classes; at home and abroad it serves the interests of junkerism, of capitalism, and of imperialism.

The German Government is a reckless champion of expansion in world politics, the most ardent promoter in the competition of armaments, and accordingly one of the most powerful influences in developing the causes of the present war.

In partnership with the Austrian Government the German Government contrived to bring about this war and so burdened itself with the greatest responsibility for the immediate outbreak of the war.

The German Government started the war under cover of deception practiced upon the common people and even upon the Reichstag (compare, among other things, the concealment of the ultimatum to Belgium, the make-up of the German White Book, the elimination of the Czar's dispatch of July 29, 1914) , and it tries by reprehensible means to keep up the war spirit among the people.

It carries on the war with methods that, judged even by standards hitherto conventional, are monstrous. The invasion of Belgium and Luxemburg, poisonous gases, which in the meantime have become of common use by all the belligerents, and then. look at the Zeppelin bombs, which outdo everything and which are intended to kill all that live, combatants or non-combatants, within a wide region; submarine commerce warfare; the torpedoing of the Lusitania, etc.; the system of hostages and forced contributions at the beginning, especially in Belgium; the systematic entrapping of Ukrainian, Georgian, Baltic Provincials, Polish, Irish, Mohammedan, and other prisoners of war in the German prison camps for the purpose of having them do treasonable war service and treasonable spying for the Central Powers; Under-Secretary Zimmerman's agreement with Sir Roger Casement in December, 1914, regarding the organization, equipment, and training in the German prison camps of the "Irish Brigade," composed of captured British soldiers; the attempts by means of threats of forcible interment to compel Christians of a hostile nationality found in Germany to do treasonable war service against their countries, and so forth. (Necessity knows no law!)

The German Government has, through the establishment of martial law, enormously increased the political lawlessness and economic exploitations of the people; it refuses all serious political and social reforms, while at the same time it tries to hold the people docile for the imperialistic war policy, by means of rhetorical phrases about equal rights accorded to all parties, about alleged discontinuation of discriminations in social and political matters, about an alleged readjustment and new direction of political matters, and so on.

The German Government because of its consideration for agrarian and capitalists' interests has completely failed to care for the economic welfare of the people during the war, to guard against misery and the practice of revolting extortion upon the people.

The German Government is still holding fast to its war aims and so constitutes the chief obstacle in the way of immediate peace negotiations upon the basis of renunciation of annexations and oppressions of all sorts: Through the maintenance – in itself illegal – of martial law (censorship, etc.) it prevents the public from learning unpleasant facts and prevents Socialist criticism of its measures. The German Government thereby reveals its system of seeming legality and sham popularity as a system of actual force, of genuine hostility to the people and bad faith as regards the masses.

The cry of "Down with the Government!" is meant to brand this entire policy of the Government as fatal to the masses of the people.

This cry also indicates that it is the duty of every representative of the welfare of the proletariat to wage a struggle of the most strenuous character – the class struggle – against the Government.

II. The present war is not a war for the defense of the national integrity, not for the liberation of oppressed peoples, not for the welfare of the masses.

From the standpoint of the proletariat this war only signifies the most extreme concentration and extension of political suppression, of economic exploitation, and of military slaughtering of the working-class body and soul for the benefit of capitalism and of absolutism.

To all this the working-class of all countries can give but one answer: a harder struggle, the international class struggle against the capitalist Governments and the ruling classes of all countries for the abolition of all oppression and exploitation by the institution of a peace conceived in the Socialist spirit. In this class struggle the Socialist, whose Fatherland is the International, finds included the defense of everything that he, as a Socialist, is bound to defend. The cry of "Down with war" signifies that I thoroughly condemn and oppose the present war because of its historical nature, because of its general social causes and specific way in which it originated (developed), and because of the way it is being carried on and the objects for which it is being waged. That cry signifies that it is the duty of every representative of proletarian interests to take part in the international class struggle for the purpose of ending the war.

III. As a Socialist I am fundamentally opposed to the existing military system as well as of this war, and I always supported with all my power the fight against Militarism as an especially important task and a matter of life and death for the working-class of all countries. (Compare my book "Militarism & Anti-Militarism" and my reports to the International Young People's Conferences at Stuttgart, 1907, and Copenhagen, 1910.) The war demands that we carry on the struggle against Militarism with redoubled energy.

IV. Since 1889 May 1st has been consecrated to manifestations and propaganda in favor of the great basic principles of Socialism, against all exploitation, oppression, and violence; dedicated to propaganda for the solidarity of workers of all countries – a solidarity which the war has not abolished, but strengthened – against the workers' fratricidal strife, for peace and against war.

During the war the manifestation and propaganda of these principles is a doubly sacred duty imposed upon every Socialist.

V. The policy advocated by me was outlined in the resolution adopted by the International Socialist Congress held in Stuttgart (1907), which pledged Socialists of all countries – after they should have failed to prevent a war – to work with all their energies towards its quick ending, and to take advantage of the conditions created by the war for hastening the abolition of the capitalist order of society.

This Socialist policy is meant to be international, even in its ultimate consequences. It imposes upon the Socialists of other countries the same obligation with reference to their Governments and ruling classes that I with others in Germany followed against the Government and ruling classes of Germany.

This Socialist policy has an international effect, by spreading reciprocal encouragement from nation to nation; it promotes the international class struggle against war.

Since the beginning of the war I, together with others, have defended in every possible way and upheld in the most public manner this Socialist policy, and besides, so far as possible, have entered into connections with those who shared my sentiments in other countries.

(I may mention, for example, my journey to Belgium and Holland in September, 1914; my Christmas letter in 1914 to the Labor Leader; the International Socialist Meetings in Switzerland, in which, I regret to say, I was unable to participate personally, being prevented by superior powers, etc.)

VI. This policy to which, cost it what it may, I shall hold fast, is not mine alone, but it is also the policy of an ever-increasing proportion of the people in Germany and of the other belligerent and neutral States. It will soon become, as I hope – and to this end I am resolved to toil on – the policy of the working-class of all countries, which will then possess the power to break the imperialistic will of the ruling classes, and to shape as may seem best the mutual relations and conditions of the people for the benefit of all mankind.


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