Clara Zetkin

Karl Liebknecht

(September 1919)

From The Communist International, No.5, 1 September 1919, p.66.
Thanks to John Partington.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We should never forget that in Germany, Karl Liebknecht was the first Social Democrat, and that for long he was the only Social Democrat who dared to throw off the disastrous yoke of party discipline -– hat party discipline which had ceased to be a mere secondary means for the furtherance of practical activities, and had become an end in itself, a great Huitzilopochtli, an idol to which everything was sacrificed. We should never forget that he was the first, and for a long time the only Social Democrat to speak and to act in the German Reichstag as an international Socialist, thus in very truth defending “German honour,” the honour of German Socialism. The majority of the Social Democratic Parliamentary group voted war credits for the murder of their brothers; they darkened and poisoned the judgment of the masses through their repudiation of Socialist ideals and their adoption of bourgeois watchwords. The dissentient minority discreetly submitted and held their peace. Karl Liebknecht alone, every inch a man, had the courage to hurl his invincible “No!” in the face of Parliament and the world.

Scorched by the indignation of the bourgeois parties, reviled and calumniated by the Social Democratic majority, forsaken by the Social Democratic minority, he none the less made of the Reichstag a battlefield against Imperialism and capitalism, missing no chance of unmasking these deadly enemies of the proletariat, and seizing every opportunity of arousing the exploited masses against them. Thus did he continue at work, until the day when the Reichstag, to its everlasting disgrace, surrendering its own privileges, suspended Liebknecht’s Parliamentary immunity, delivering over to the venomous bourgeois class-justice this man alleged to be guilty of high treason. New life sprang from the brave and unceasing struggle. Through Liebknecht’s example popular confidence in Socialism flamed up vigorously once more, and the proletarians, their courage revivified, made ready for battle. Karl Liebknecht transferred the venue of the fight to the place where it has to be decided, among the masses. By word and deed he wrestled with Imperialism for the soul of the masses. This continued down to the day when bourgeois society wreaked vengeance on the dreaded and detested foe – until the prison, swallowed him. Why was he immured? Because he, soldier of the revolution, had in the open street urged the workers to make the First of May festival a formidable demonstration, to repudate the “truce of parties” in the name of international Socialism, to put an end to the slaughter of the peoples, to sweep away the government of malefactors. The masses made no move to follow their far-sighted and trusty leader. But this disappointment availed just as little as danger and persecution had availed to shake Karl Liebknecht’s convictions or to daunt his fighting spirit. This is evidenced by the brilliant and defiant speech he made at the court-martial, a speech that was a classical example of self-defence on the part of a political champion. Our conviction that his courage was unabated was reinforced by all his subsequent activities.

Last updated on 29.12.2008