W. Liebknecht



Written: 17 April 1898.
Published: Justice Mayday Special, 1st May, 1898, p.4 & 5.
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford.
Markup: H. Antonn.


Just now I returned from the Friedrichshain. In this park, nominated after the old Hohenzollern despot, Frederick the Second, alias the “Great”, like other crowned criminals, the heroes of the 18th of March 1848 lie buried. I looked at the neglected graves – neglected not by the people, but systematically and deliberately neglected by order of the Government, which hates the memory of these dumb accusers – the victims of the most cowardly treachery committed by those at the head of Government.

When the throne of Louis Philippe, the French “Burgher” King, was swept away by the Revolution of February, the Holy Alliance broke down, and the German people rose to ask for the fulfilment of old promises – liberty of the press, the right of meeting, and constitutional government. The thirty-eight Governments of Germany did not dare to resist. Metternich, the Bismarck of the Holy Alliance, fled ignominiously, and the Prussian King, frightened and at his wits’ end, promised everything, but in such vague terms that it might have been recalled any moment without open perjury. However, the people of Berlin, politically uneducated, and confiding like children, were frantic with joy, and at noon on the 18th of March they went in solemn procession, clad in their holiday dress, to the Palace of the King to thank him fervently.

The King seemed happy; in glowing words he expressed his pride and joy, promised, promised when all of a sudden a column of infantry and a column of cavalry rushed from two points upon the people, bayonetting, and cutting and slashirig men, women, children.

That was too much even for German patience – fury soon took the place of terror – barricades were built, the battle engaged, and after thirteen hours of fierce fighting the army, with its mailed fist, was beaten. That was our glorious 18th of March, which elevated the popular rising of 1848 to the rank of a Revolution. Without the 18th March of Berlin, the German “March Revolution” would have been a farce. The blow was decisive. The soldiers had to be withdrawn, and King Frederick William IV. had to bow before the gory, ghastly bodies of his beloved subjects, killed in his name. The King promised and promised – the heroes of the 18th of March were buried in state and pomp. Before the bodies were rotten, reaction was victorious again, all royal promises were broken, and sixteen months after the glorious 18th March the last soldier and Freischärler (franc tireur) of the Revolutionary Army in South-Western Germany had crossed the Swiss frontier. Those fighters for German liberty and unity who fell into the hands of the Prussian Army under the command of the Prince of Prussia, the Kaiser to be of the new, Borusso-German Empire, were placed before Courts Martial and shot at the order of men, who twenty-two years later had the cynic impudence to call themselves the founders of German unity and liberty. Yes; liberty! The liberty of the prison and the unity of military drill.

Reaction was victorious then, and reaction is victorious now. Yet it is farther from its ends than ever. The heroes of the 18th of March have done good work, and sure work. They have smashed old Prussia, this model state of Junker, Soldier, and Police Absolutism. And no man, and no group of men in the world, have been able, and will ever be able, to put the pieces together.

They have not died in vain, those heroes, who lie there in the Friedrichshain in their graves, shamefully, insultingly neglected. The People have not forgotten them. On the 18th of March last hundreds of thousands visited these graves, and hundreds of thousands have visited them since. And today, while I was there, though it is a week day, and though it was an hour of work, dozens and dozens flocked to the narrow abode of the dead – men, women, and children: the men and women telling the children what the heroes sleeping in these ivy-covered beds have done for the people, and what they left undone. On one of the 189 graves – and from them I have plucked an ivy leaf, which I enclose for you – there is this inscription:

42 Jahre. Schlosser.
Die Freiheit war’s wofür er sollte enden,
Die Freiheit, die dereinstens wir vollenden.

42 Years. blacksmith.
For Liberty he died,
For Liberty which we shall have to accomplish.

Here the dead speak to the living. We have to accomplish what they died for. And this is the inmost feeling and thought of the hundreds of thousands who have been visiting these graves for the last month, and of the hundreds of thousands who will visit them still in this jubilee year of the March Revolution. For it is not a common year. It is a great memorial year for the German people. On the last 18th of March we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the greatest national deed of modern Germany, and this whole year, and the following, till the end of summer, will be dedicated to the memory of our national revolution.

It did not succeed. The champions of Liberty were not strong enough to crush their enemies, our enemies. But what the fathers were not strong enough to accomplish the sons shall be. Social Democracy has to accomplish the work which Democracy could not do; the working class will found that liberty and equality which for the middle-class was a sham or an impossible ideal.

The memory of 1848 has given the 18th of March of 1898 a power and a splendour which this national holy day of German Social-Democracy, and this international holy day of the united proletarians of all countries has never had before. And the memory of 1848 will give the same power and splendour to this year’s First of May. Everywhere in Germany our comrades are eagerly preparing for the grand world festival of Labour and Peace, which this year, being on a Sunday, will not entail any loss or other disadvantage on its participators.

The importance of this year’s First of May in Germany is increased by the fact that, like our French brethren, we are on the threshold of a General Election – an election in which we shall have to combat all other parties, who in a great number of electoral districts will be united against us. Well “Many enemies much honour!” says the German proverb ; and there is not one in our ranks who is not firinly determined to do his duty in the impending struggle that will decide the future of Germany for the next five years, and who knows for how many years more! Well, we are ready for the campaign. Organisation is the best organiser of victory. Victories are not won on the battlefield; battles are in most cases won and lost before the fighting begins. Our organisation is such that we are always in fighting order and trim. Our candidates have been fixed upon long ago, and we have as many candidates as there are electoral districts in the German Empire, that is 397. We go in for the whole. Our manifesto to the electors was published last Sunday. All other parties are lagging behind. We are the only party in Germany that has a programme. None of the other parties know what to do, none dare to tell the electors the truth, to unveil them its real aims. And the Government – but have we a Government? It is euphemism to speak of a German Government. Such a “Government” the world has not seen yet. A monarchy, whose name nobody can pronounce without fear of being sent to gaol for lèse-majesté; a Chancellor of the Empire who does not know what others are doing in his name; a baker’s dozen of Ministers and State Secretaries, none of whom has an opinion or a will – none except one, and this one – Miguel, my old brother and fellow conspirator of the Kommunistenbund – has only the opinion, that principles are folly, and the will to remain in power long as possible. No man at the helm, “Zigzag-Course” – Anarchy dressed in the uniform of a Prussian corporal, and with the brain of a Prussian corporal.

We know whom to strike and we know where to strike. Our English brethren shall be satisfied with us. And when on this First of May you meet in Hyde Park - where our brave Eleanor Marx will be missing - and in a thousand other places: think of the millions of German Socialists who on that same day are in communion of thought and feeling with you, and with the proletarians of all other countries - who on that day this year are thinking of the great battle before them, and are strengthening themselves and one another in the resolution of dealing a stunning blow to our enemies, of delivering Germany from her oppressors, and of gaining a Socialist victory.

First of May in Germany this year the review before the battle. I am sure you envy us,

Fraternal greetings to all English friends and comrades!


Berlin, April 17


Last updated on 9.2.2005