Karl Liebknecht’s 1914 speech in Germany denouncing World War I
Workers World has periodically covered events connected with the outbreak of World War I, which opened in August 100 years ago. This conflict among the imperialist ruling classes of the different European powers over who would exploit and oppress most of the world, was to turn into a slaughter of 20-40 million workers. One of the few members of a European parliament to stand up publicly against the war was the German Social Democrat and future leader of the revolutionary Spartacist League, Karl Liebknecht. His name is honored among communists and anti-imperialists for his courageous stand, which he explained in a letter to the Reichstag. Not one paper in the imperialist press in Germany published it.
Liebknecht was jailed during the war for his anti-imperialist agitation, and he and fellow communist leader Rosa Luxemburg were executed by the military in January 1919, two months after a German sailors’ uprising in the North Sea Fleet caused the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm III and the end of the Empire. To honor those revolutionaries who stood strong for the concept that “the main enemy of the workers is the ruling class at home,” we reproduce here Liebknecht’s letter justifying his vote at the Second War Session of the Reichstag on Dec. 2, 1914.
My vote against the War Credit Bill of to-day is based on the following considerations. This War, desired by none of the people concerned, has not broken out in behalf of the welfare of the German people or any other. It is an imperialist war, a war over important territories of exploitation for capitalists and financiers. From the point of view of rivalry in armaments, it is a war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties together, in the obscurity of semi-feudalism and of secret diplomacy, to gain an advantage over their opponents. At the same time the war is a Bonapartist effort to disrupt and split the growing movement of the working class.
The German cry: “Against Czarism!” is invented for the occasion — just as the present British and French watchwords are invented — to exploit the noblest inclinations and the revolutionary traditions and ideals of the people in stirring up hatred of other peoples.
Germany, the accomplice of Czarism, the model of reaction until this very day, has no standing as the liberator of the peoples. The liberation of both the Russian and the German people must be their own work.
The war is no war of German defense. Its historical basis and its course at the start make unacceptable the pretense of the capitalist government that the purpose for which it demands credits is the defense of the fatherland.
A speedy peace, a peace without conquests, this is what we must demand. Every effort in this direction must be supported. Only by strengthening jointly and continuously the currents in all the belligerent countries which have such a peace as their object can this bloody slaughter be brought to an end. Only a peace based upon the international solidarity of the working class and on the liberty of all the peoples can be a lasting peace. Therefore, it is the duty of the proletariat of all countries to carry on during the war a common socialist work in favor of peace.
I support the relief credits with this reservation: I vote willingly for everything which may relieve the hard fate of our brothers on the battlefield as well as that of the wounded and sick, for whom I feel the deepest compassion. But as a protest against the war, against those who are responsible for it and who have caused it, against those who direct it, against the capitalist purposes for which it is being used, against plans of annexation, against the violation of the neutrality of Belgium and Luxemburg, against unlimited rule of martial law, against the total oblivion of social and political duties of which the Government and classes are still guilty, I vote against the requested war credits.
Berlin, Dec. 2, 1914