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Karl Liebknecht

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Karl Liebknecht (August 13, 1871 - January 15, 1919) was a German socialist and a co-founder of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany.

Born in Leipzig, he was the son of Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. However, Karl Liebknecht was more radical than his father; he became an exponent of Marxist ideas during his study of law and political economy in Leipzig and Berlin, and after serving with the Imperial Pioneer Guards in Potsdam from 1893 to 1894 and internships in Arnsberg and Paderborn from 1894 to 1898, he earned his doctorate in 1897 and moved to Berlin in 1899 where he opened a lawyer's office with his brother, Theodor Liebknecht.

Liebknecht married Julia Paradies on May 8 1900; the couple had two sons and a daughter before Liebknecht's wife died in 1911.

As a lawyer, Karl Liebknecht often defended other left-wing socialists who were tried for offences such as smuggling socialist propaganda into Russia, a task in which he was involved himself as well. He became a member of the SPD in 1900 and was president of the Socialist Youth International from 1907 to 1910; Liebknecht also wrote extensively against militarism, and one of his papers, "Militarismus und Antimilitarismus" ("militarism and antimilitarism") led to him being arrested in 1907 and imprisoned for eighteen months in Glatz, Silesia. In the next year he was elected to the Prussian parliament, despite still being in prison.

Karl Liebknecht was an active member of the Second International and a founder of the "Socialist Youth International". In 1912 Liebknecht was elected to the Reichstag as a Social-Democrat, a member of the SPD's left wing. He opposed Germany's participation in World War I, but following the party line he voted to authorise the necessary war loans on 4th August 1914. On 2nd December 1914 he was the only member of the Reichstag to vote against the war. He continued to be a major critic of the Social-Democratic leadership under Karl Kautsky and its decision to acquiesce in going to war. In October that year, he also married his second wife, art historian Sophie Ryss.

At the end of 1914, Liebknecht, together with Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin formed the so-called Spartacist League (Spartakusbund); the league publicizied its views in a newspaper titled Spartakusbriefe ("Spartacus Letters") which was soon declared illegal. Liebknecht was arrested and sent to the eastern front during World War I for the group's echoing of Russian Bolsheviks' arguments for a Proletarian Revolution; refusing to fight, he served burying the dead, and due to his rapidly deteriorating health was allowed to return to Germany in October 1915.

Liebknecht was arrested again following a demonstration against the war in Berlin on May 1st 1916 that was organized by the Spartacus League, and sentenced to two and a half years in jail for high treason, which was later increased to four years and one month. However, he was released again in October 1918, when Max von Baden granted an amnesty to all political prisoners. Following the outbreak of the German Revolution, Liebknecht carried on his activities in the Spartacist League; he resumed leadership of the group together with Rosa Luxemburg and published its party organ, the Rote Fahne ("red flag").

On November 9, Liebknecht declared the formation of a "freie sozialistische Republik" (free socialist republic) from a balcony of the Berlin City Palace, two hours after Philipp Scheidemann's declaration of the Weimar Republic from a balcony of the Reichstag.

On December 31 1918 / January 1 1919, he was involved in the founding of the KPD. Together with Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches and Clara Zetkin, Liebknecht was also instrumental in the January 1919 Spartacist uprising in Berlin. The uprising was brutally opposed by the new German government under Friedrich Ebert with the help of the remnants of the Imperial German Army and freelance right-wing militias called the Freikorps; by January 13, the rising had been extinguished. Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were abducted by Freikorps soldiers, brought to the Eden Hotel in Berlin where they were tortured and interrogated for several hours before being executed and dumped into the canal on January 15, 1919.

External links

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