Guy A. Aldred Archive

Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism
Chapter 16
Liebknecht's Apology

Written: 1940.
Source: PDF Scans from; OCR'ing and editing from
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

Liebknecht defended his opposition to the war in two trenchant letters addressed to the President of the Royal Court-Martial at Berlin. The first one, dated May 3rd, 1916, declared that:

"The present war is not a war for the protection of national integrity, nor for the freeing of oppressed people, nor for the welfare of the masses.

"It signifies from the standpoint of the proletariat the most extreme concentration and extension of political oppression, of economic exploitation, of militaristic slaughtering of the working classes, body and soul, for the advantage of capitalism and despotism.

Liebknecht's Apology

"To all this the working classes of all countries can give only one answer: intensified struggle--international class struggle against the capitalistic regime and the ruling classes of all countries for the abolition of every species of oppression and exploitation, for the termination of war through the institution of a peace consistent with the spirit of Socialism. In this class struggle the Socialist, who knows no country but the International, must come to the defense of everything which he as a Socialist is bound to defend.

"The cry 'down with war' signifies that I must stand opposed to the present war, condemning and hating it on principle, in its historical character, in its general social causes and specific origin, in the method of its conduct or the purposes for which it is waged. That cry signifies that it is a study incumbent upon every defender of proletarian interests to participate in the international class struggle for the ending of the war."

The second letter, dated five days later, warned the Socialists of all countries against the danger of playing into the hands of rival militarisms. Here are his historic words:--

"If the German Socialists, for instance, were to combat the English Government, and the English Socialists the German Government, it would be a farce or something worse. He who does not attack the enemy, Imperialism, represented by those who stand opposed to him face to face, but attacks those from who he is far away and who are not within his shooting range, and that even with the help and approbation of his own Government (i.e., those representatives of Imperialism who alone are directly opposed to him) is no Socialist, but a miserable hack of the ruling class. Such a policy is not class war, but its opposite--inciting to war."