John Reed Internet Archive

Karl Liebknecht’s Words

First Published: February 1, 1919 in The Revolutionary Age
Transcribed: Sally Ryan January, 2001

WHEN I was in Berlin in December, 1915, I went to see Karl Liebknecht. He had an office in a district Social Democratic headquarters, in the poorer section of the city—on a street, I remember, which looked very like Washington Street in Boston. It was a large, bare room, the walls hung with picturer of Bebel and the elder Liebknecht, and memorials of historic events in the great history of the German Social Democracy.

Liebknecht sat at it table in the middle of the room, the lower half of his face faintly illuminated by a green-shaded lamp. He wore a semi-military coat buttoned up to the neck. There were dark circles ender his eyes, but that was all the evidence of fatigue about him. His hand played nervously with a paper-cutter as he talked; his eyes never left mine. His face was dark and full—almost round—with a gentle expression.

The door to the inner hall had been left open. It was empty, except for two or three forlorn-looking women in widows’ weeds, who were sitting sadly and motionless on chairs along the wall, waiting for some official of the branch on business connected with death-benefits....

“The war?” I asked, pointing toward them. Liebknecht nodded. “The best of us—” he said slowly, in halting English interlarded with German words.

I had not seen the statement which Liebknecht had sent out to Holland, and which was even then being published all over the world, especially by the Allied capitalist press—then calling him “the bravest of the brave.” So it was more or less natural that I should ask him whether his attitude of extreme hostility to the War and the Government was still the same.

“There is no other attitude for a Social Democrat to take.” he said, with a faint smile of amusement. “As each problem of capitalist aggression arises, it must be met fully and squarely. In spite of the prodigious influence brought to bear in all countries of the world upon their peoples, the international working class is still not convinced that this War is their War. An representative of the workers, I voice this sentiment.”

“And the chances of world Revolution?”

’’To my mind,” he answered serenely, “nothing else can come out of the War.”

This is practically all of our conversation. Other questions which I asked him, which if he had answered, might have revealed the plans and projects of the movement, or the work then being done, he refused to answer. After all, he did not know me....

Rosa Luxemburg I never knew, but from talks about her with comrades who did, I have come to think of her as one of the great constructive brains of the Left Wing movement in Europe-an intellect which, like Lenin’s in Russia, would have been of incalculable value in the establishment of the new order in Germany, of which Karl Liebknecht was the flaming prophet.

Liebknecht was arrested, and while being taken in an automobile to prison by a group of “armed volunteers,” (no doubt aristocratic young officers), was shot “while trying to escape” “when the automobile broke down” crossing the Tiergarten. In other words, he was taken to a quite spot and simply murdered. Rosa Luxemburg met a more terrible fate. She war beaten to death by a “white-collar mob,” and her body thrown into the canal.

It was the bourgeoisie of Berlin, of Germany, of the world—the bankers, business men, officers, “respectable people"—who actually did the killing.

But it was the Ebert-Scheidemann Government, the Raiser Socialists, so long detested by the Allied capitalist press—who by suppressing the revolt of the German working-class with the aid of the Kaiser’s troops, allowed that mob to shoot holes in Karl Liebknecht’s back and trample the life out of Rosa Luxemburg. And the Allied capitalist press applauds...

What the capitalist newspapers have to say about it is a matter of comparative indifference to us. We are occupied with a closer and more dangerous enemy in our own ranks—the moderate Socialists, who, to their other crimes against the workers, have now added the crime of murder.