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The foregoing constitutes but a brief and inadequate sketch of the activities of Liebknecht by a personal friend who believes that in him the world will recognize one of the most heroic figures of the present crisis and that the day is near when all Germany will proclaim him the man above all others who "sowed the seed that freedom men might reap," and that not only in Germany.<blockquote>A PERSONAL FRIEND OF KARL LIEBKNECHT</blockquote>
The foregoing constitutes but a brief and inadequate sketch of the activities of Liebknecht by a personal friend who believes that in him the world will recognize one of the most heroic figures of the present crisis and that the day is near when all Germany will proclaim him the man above all others who "sowed the seed that freedom men might reap," and that not only in Germany.<blockquote>A PERSONAL FRIEND OF KARL LIEBKNECHT</blockquote>
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Latest revision as of 23:18, 7 July 2009

WWI Document Archive > 1917 Documents > Militarism



Karl Liebknecht

New York, B.W. Huebsch, MCMXVII; Copyright, 1917, by B.W. Huebsch First printing, October, 1917; Second printing, October, 1917


Origin and Foundation of Forms of Social Domination

Some Facts from the History of Militarism

Preliminary Remarks
"Militarism for Abroad," Navalism and Colonial Militarism. Possibilities of War and Disarmament
The Proletariat and War
Fundamental Features of "Militarism for Home" and its Purpose
Army Systems of Some Foreign Countries

Conclusions. Russia

The Immediate Goal
Military Pedagogy. Training Soldiers
Semi-Official and Semi-Military Organization of the Civil Population
Other ways of influencing the Civilian Population in a Military Direction

Militarism as Machiavellism and as a Political Regulator

Maltreatment of Soldiers or Militarism as a Repentant, Yet Unreformed Sinner. Two Dilemmas
The Costs of Militarism or La douloureuse
The Army as a Weapon Against the Proletariat in the Economic Struggle.
Soldiers as the Competitors of Free Workers
The Army and Strike-Breaking
The Rule of the Sabre and Gun in Strikes
United States of America
Veterans' Associations and Strikes
The Army as a Weapon Against the Proletariat in the Political Struggle, or the Rule of the Cannon
Veterans' Associations in the Political Struggle
Militarism, a Menace to Peace

The Obstacles of the Proletarian Revolution

"He sowed the seed that freedom men might reap."

This book, which is now presented to American readers for the first time, has a unique history, and forms a vital part of Liebknecht's long struggle against militarism. In September, 1906, Dr. Karl Liebknecht, the author, delivered a lecture on "Militarism" at a conference of young people Germany. The revised lecture was published in book form and the most important portions appear in the following pages. For some time, the German authorities paid little heed to it, and it was not until April 23, 1907, that the book was confiscated and the author charged with treason.

Liebknecht's trial began on the ninth of October, 1907, and lasted three days. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to a year and a half of imprisonment. In sentencing him, the Imperial Court declared that Liebknecht aimed at the abolition of the standing army, and that this army was an integral part of the nation's constitution. In one statement, made in the latter part of his lecture, he had theorized concerning the possible future activities of the troops in behalf of the coming revolution, asserting that these activities might be regarded as the logical result of the demoralization of the military spirit. From this statement, which was a purely theoretical hypothesis, the Imperial Court concluded that Liebknecht's intention was to injure the morale of the army. The destruction of this morale, it declared, could be brought about only by forcible means, and the use of such means was but the first step in the destruction of the constitution. The court paid absolutely no attention to the statement of the author that only lawful means should be used in bringing about the change, and that no agitation should be conducted which would incite the soldiers directly or indirectly to disobedience. The Socialist Party, Liebknecht had maintained, as in the past, should energetically defend the private soldiers and the non-commissioned officers, should represent their material and professional interests in the press and in parliament and should endeavor tactfully to win the sympathies of these circles. In such remarks a German Imperial Court discovered high treason!

The trial was one of the most sensational ever held in Europe. The Kaiser, it was afterwards learned, was kept constantly in touch with the progress of the trial by a special wire. The attorney general urged the accused to plead guilty and promised, if this were done, to ask the court for clemency. To this plea, Liebknecht quickly retorted, "I take entire responsibility for every word~I have written." On the second day of the trial, the defendant declared in open court that he was convinced that a verdict of guilty had already been decided on. His address to the judges was one of the clearest, most incisive and boldest attacks ever made against German militarism.

"The aim of my life," he declared, "is the overthrow of monarchy, as well as the emancipation of the exploited working class from political and economic bondage. As my father, who appeared before this court exactly thirty-five years ago to defend himself against the charge of treason; was ultimately pronounced victor, so I believe the day not far distant when the principles which I represent will be recognized as patriotic, as honorable, as true.

"Liebknecht's courageous stand on this occasion was rewarded by a sentence of a year and a half in a military prison, as before stated. As a sharp rebuke to this sentence, the working people of Berlin promptly nominated and elected him, while still in prison, as their representative for the Prussian Landtag. It was in the Landtag that Liebknecht started his real campaign against Prussian militarism. His attacks against the system were bitter. Time without number he was called to order by the chair; frequently he was removed from the floor of the chamber.

He represented the working people of Berlin, as well, in the Common Council, and in 1912, the citizens of Potsdam-Spandau who were employed for the most part in government ammunition works, selected him as their representative in the Reichstag. I saw Liebknecht during the great campaign preceding his election. He described the methods employed by the government to defeat him. The government endeavored to show that he was anti-patriotic, because he had failed to uphold its hands in the Morocco affair. To this the workers gave a deaf ear. The next move was an attempt to terrorize the state employees. The authorities even went so far as to make a ruling prohibiting them from voting for him on the ground that he was an enemy of the state. However, the dissatisfaction with the government was great. The campaign of intimidation failed and Liebknecht was elected by an overwhelming vote, to the intense joy of those who knew and loved him.

I saw the surging crowd before the office of the Berlin Vorwarts the night of the election, and heard the wild applause when announcement of his election was made. A young workingman exclaimed to those who were around him:"The new voice of freedom will be heard from now on in the Reichstag." The words were prophetic. This body never heard stronger protests against the domination of the civil mind by the military than those which this new apostle uttered. He issued his invectives against the armament trust, and showed its corrupting influence over government officials and press. He gave to the public the story of a late Prussian general, who lived by borrowing a not infrequent habit of these officers and by trading in government medals and positions and honorary titles. The general had been in the good graces of the Kaiser, and the story did little to increase the prestige of the latter or of the military caste. The man about to be selected by the Kaiser as war secretary was exposed by the anti-militarist member of Parliament as an ordinary swindler and the honesty of the military group was thereby further brought into question.

Liebknecht also raised his voice in behalf of a German Republic at a time when those who now declare that the only way to end the war is by making Germany a republic, supported and encouraged the German monarchy. On one memorable occasion, in a debate in the Prussian Landtag over the building of the new opera house, Liebknecht took the floor and declared: "The opera house for which we are asked to vote the necessary funds, should last for many generations. We trust that it will last long after it has lost its character as a Royal Opera House.

"This daring statement brought upon his head scathing denunciations from the majority of the members, who were unable to imagine how one could dare suggest a republic in a Prussian parliament. And this pronouncement was issued long before kings and presidents dreamed of fighting to make the world safe for democracy, for humanity.

When the European war broke out, a meeting was called of the Social-Democratic members of the Reichstag, for the purpose of deciding what stand the party should take on the war. Karl Kautsky, the theoretical leader of Socialism, was also invited. It was, perhaps, the stormiest meeting ever held by that group. The majority contended that this was a war of defense; that Germany was attacked by Russia; that, although there was little liberty in Germany, there was still less in Russia, and that Socialists should, therefore, vote for the war budget. Furthermore, some argued, by this action it will be possible for Socialists to secure further rights from the government. Should they take the opposite course, the funds of the labor unions will be confiscated, and the Socialist press and movement, built up through long years of painful endeavor, will be destroyed. Finally, as Socialists do not constitute the majority, the war budget will, in any case, be passed whether they support it or not.

A second group, represented by Kautsky, advised that the party abstain from voting altogether. A vote against the war budget might leave the country defenseless. The Socialist, it was understood, would defend the country in case of attack, especially should such attack come from such a country as Russia. Germany, this group believed, was then being attacked by the forces of the Czar. By taking the middle-of-the road position, and voting neither for nor against the budget, the Socialist would not be voting against the defence of his country, and on the other hand, would not be assuming responsibility for all of the acts committed by his government prior to the war. Since then, it may be said in passing, Kautsky has taken a more militant position against the war.

The third group was represented by Liebknecht. "This war," argued Liebknecht and his followers, "is an imperialist war for-domination of world markets, and for the benefit of bankers and manufacturers. It is also a war tending to destroy' the growing labor movement. It is not a war of' defense. It is therefore our plain duty to vote against the war budget.

"The first position won out, and according to the rules governing the organization of the group, the minority had to bow to the decision of the majority. It was for this reason that the entire Social Democratic delegation voted for the war budget at the first open meeting of the Reichstag after the outbreak of the war. At the second session in December Liebknecht was the only man who dared to stand up in the Reichstag. against the decision of all parties and vote against the budget.

He not only cast his vote, but he also dared- to state in an open meeting of the Reichstag to a Germany then apparently victorious, that the Germans were the aggressors in the war, and that it was an imperialistic war provoked by his country and Austria. He protested against the violation of Belgium and Luxembourg; against the military dictatorship; against Prussian and German autocracy. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his position, one cannot but admit the courageous character of the act, which is bound to be recorded as one of the most heroic of the world drama.

On May. 1, 1916, Liebknecht participated in a May Day Peace demonstration in Berlin. It was on this occasion that he delivered the peace address which brought- to him an imprisonment of four years and one month of hard labor.

"We Germans in Prussia," he declared, "have three cardinal rights: the right to be soldiers, to pay taxes, to keep our tongues between our teeth.

"Poverty and misery, need and starvation, are ruling in Germany. Belgium, Poland and Serbia, whose blood the vampire of imperialism is sucking, resemble vast cemeteries2 The entire world, the much praised European civilization, is falling into ruin through the anarchy which has been let loose by the world war.

"Those who profit from the war desire war with America. To-morrow, perhaps, they may order us to aim weapons against new groups of our brothers, against our fellow workers in America. Consider well the fact: as long as the German people do not rise and enforce their own will, the assassination of the people will continue. Let thousands of voices shout: 'Down with the shameless extermination of nations! Down with those who are responsible for these crimes !'

"Immediately after his anti-war address, Liebknecht was arrested. He claimed parliamentary immunity, but this claim was not allowed. While in prison awaiting trial, he sent two letters to the military court, containing the reasons why he opposed the German government, militarism and the war. These letters are powerful indictments against these institutions as well as against international capitalism the breeder of war.

"The cry of down with the war" is meant to give voice to the fact that I thoroughly condemn and oppose the present war because of its historical nature; because of its general social causes; the particular way in which it was brought about, the manner in which it is conducted and the object for which it is fought. I oppose it also in the belief that it is the duty of every representative of the proletariat to take part in the international class struggle for the purpose of putting an end thereto. As a Socialist, I am a thorough-going opponent of the existing military system as well as of this war. I have always supported with all my power the battle against militarism. Its overthrow is a particularly important task for the working class of all countries to perform; in fact, it is a matter of life and death to them.

"In partnership with the Austrian government," he declared, "it [the German government] plotted to bring about this war and thus burdened itself with the principal responsibility for its immediate outbreak. It began the war by misleading the masses of people, and even by misleading the Reichstag compare, among other things, the concealment of the ultimatum to Belgium, the make-up of the German White Book, the elimination therefrom of the dispatch of the Czar on July 29,1914, etc. and it continues to maintain war sentiment among the people by the use of reprehensible methods.

"Those letters show Liebknecht in his true light. He is not only, as some try to paint him, an opponent of this war, but is an opponent of all wars. He is not only committed to the fight against reaction at home, but to that against autocracy, wherever it exists.

On June 28, 1916, Karl Liebknecht was sentenced to thirty months' penal servitude. The trial was secret. When the public prosecutor asked for this secrecy Liebknecht exclaimed: "It is cowardice on your part, gentlemen. yes, I repeat, that you are cowards if you close these doors. You should be ashamed of yourself." Despite this protest the public was excluded.

When the news of the sentence was conveyed to the people crowding outside of the court room, a cry went forth, "Our Liebknecht has been condemned to two years and a half imprisonment. Long live Liebknecht!

"An appeal was made, but resulted only in an increase in the term of sentence to one of more than four years, and further appeal was denied. At present, Liebknecht is in prison making shoes, presumably, some one asserted, to help the Prussian government to stand on its feet. Sentenced, as he is to penal servitude, it is impossible for him to practice law again, and his legal career seems thus a thing of the past. The German ruling class has now accomplished. its object. It has Karl Liebknecht, one of the noblest and truest fighters for democracy and freedom, safely behind prison bars.

In all his agitation against war and militarism, and against political despotism, Karl Liebknecht has proved a worthy son of a great sire. Whenever he enters a fight which he deems a righteous one, he throws into it his whole being, regardless of personal consequences. His unfailing courtesy and hospitality are recognized by all who know him. "To meet him is to love him," is a phrase not inappropriately bestowed when applied to this fighter for democracy.

A brief sketch of Liebknecht may be of interest. He was born in Leipzig in August, 1871, the same year that his father was arrested on the charge of high treason. He studied first in Leipzig and then in Berlin, where he attended the University. From this institution he received his doctor's degree in political economy and law.

Liebknecht began his career of social enlightenment by organizing literary societies for the study of social problems. Later in Berlin he became active in the Socialist movement. His law office he had three partners, of whom two were his brothers was always a mecca for the oppressed. Almost any day, waiting in that office for Liebknecht who would reach there after his duties were over at the Reichstag, the Landtag or the Common Council, one would find audiences of many kinds. Some would be there to consult him on legal matters; some were students from home and abroad desiring personal advice and material help. Here was one looking for a position; another, desiring Liebknecht's help in getting articles published in the Socialist press; a third seeking information about entrance conditions at the university; still another anxious to be spared from police persecution. All were received with the utmost courtesy. All obtained a word of advice and help from "our Karl," as his friends call him.

In private life, Liebknecht has proved a fond husband and a loving father. His present wife his first is deceased is a Russian by birth, a graduate of the University of Heidelberg, and is an ideal life companion.

Liebknecht's vision has often proved prophetic. I remember well the conversation I had with him in 1912, just after the outbreak of the first Balkan, war when all Europe was on the qui vive, expecting momentarily that the Balkan war would spread throughout the continent. I arrived in Berlin rather late in the evening, immediately went to Liebknecht's office, and while traveling home with him discussed the political situation. Bethmann-Hollweg had delivered a speech in the Reichstag that very day.

"This speech," remarked Liebknecht, in a tone filled with seriousness, "has made it clear to me that Germany will back up Austria under all circumstances."

"How long would it take Germany to mobilize?" I asked him.

"About thirty-six hours," he declared. And from Liebknecht's tone one could see that he had the picture of the world tragedy before his eyes. I asked him what position the Socialists would take. He paused long and finally answered the question with a grave "It depends." There was something in the man's face and tone that haunted me, that now makes me certain that Liebknecht then had a very clear vision of the dark days ahead for the socialist movement and for the world.

What the future holds in store for Liebknecht, no one can tell. It may be predicted with some degree of assurance, however, that his activities are by no means over. The world, with justice, expects much from him in the days that are to come.

The foregoing constitutes but a brief and inadequate sketch of the activities of Liebknecht by a personal friend who believes that in him the world will recognize one of the most heroic figures of the present crisis and that the day is near when all Germany will proclaim him the man above all others who "sowed the seed that freedom men might reap," and that not only in Germany.

WWI Document Archive > 1917 Documents > Militarism