Guy A. Aldred Archive

Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism
Chapter 17
Liebknecht's Mock Trials

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

October, 1907

In February, 1907, Karl Liebknecht published, in book form, an enlargement of a paper which he had read on the 28th of the previous November before the Mannheim Conference of the German Young Socialist Organizations. This work was entitled, Militarism and Anti-Militarism. On the 9th August following, this writing, together with its author, was indicted by order of the Imperial State Attorney in accordance with paragraph 138 of the law concerning the judicial procedure of the Imperial Courts. The indictment stated that:--

(1) Karl Paul August Freidrich Liebnecht, lawyer, of Berlin, is suspected of having set on foot a treasonable undertaking in the years 1906 and 1907 within the country: that of effecting a change in the constitution of the German Empire by violence.

(2) The accused urges the abolition of the standing army by means of the military strike, if needs be, conjointly with the incitement of the troops to take part in the revolution.

(3) He forwards his conspiracy by writing the work, Militarism and Anti-Militarism, and causing it to be printed and disseminated.

(4) He advocated the organization of special Anti-Militarist propaganda, which is to extend throughout the German Empire, and is to be controlled and conducted by a Central Committee, working through the Social Democratic Young People's Organization for the purpose of organically disintegrating and demoralizing the militarist spirit.

(5) The necessary consequence of Liebknecht's activity would be, in the case of an unpopular war as between Germany or France, or intervention in Russia, the military strike followed by social revolution.

(6) Liebknecht not only points out the ways and means which appear to be destined and suited to further the aforesaid treasonable undertaking and to ensure its success, but he also demands the speedy application of these methods.

(7) These offenses constitute a crime against paragraph 86 of the Criminal Code in connection with paragraph 81. No. 2 par. 82 of the Criminal Code.

Some time previous to the date of this indictment, Liebknecht's book had been confiscated. The order for their confiscation remained in full force, but it was stated that the accused was not to be subjected to preliminary confinement, pending the public trial.

The trial opened on October 9th before the fifteen judges of 2nd and 3nd criminal chambers of the Imperial Court, at Leipzig, Saxony. It lasted three days. Liebknecht conducted his own defense and assumed full responsibility for the contents of his book. He denied that his book was a treasonable conspiracy, but added that his conviction was a foregone conclusion.

The public prosecutor asked the court to pass a sentence of two years imprisonment and the loss of civil rights for five years. The court deliberated for half-an-hour and then found Liebknecht guilty of having set on foot a treasonable undertaking. It condemned him to incarceration in a fortress for eighteen months, and ordered him to pay the costs of the prosecution. The court also directed that all copies of the work, Militarism and Anti-Militarism should be destroyed, and all the plates and forms used in its production.

May 1916

Karl Liebknecht again threw down the gantlet to Prussian Militarism on May 1st, 1916. At this great labor demonstration in the Potsdamerplatz, in Berlin, he delivered the speech which became famous in consequence of his immediate arrest. The gathering was a huge one and the most remarkable circumstance attending it was its almost complete silence. Women and children predominated: whilst the men present were mostly of advanced age. Liebknecht said :--

"Comrades, some time ago a witty Social Democrat observed: 'We Prussia's are a privileged people.' We have the right to serve as soldiers, we are entitled to bear upon our shoulders the entire burden of taxation, and we are expected to hold our tongues. So it is. The authorities never cease to call upon us to keep silent. Quite a simple thing--hold your tongue, that's all. Don't talk! If you are hungry, don't talk! If your children starve, don't talk! They ask for milk--hold your tongue! They ask for bread--don't say a word!

"Comrades, we are starving, but no one must know it--least of all the soldiers. Such news would weaken the warlike spirit of the fighters, therefore, don't complain. Women, hide away the truth from your own men! Lie; don't tell the truth, lest the soldiers in the trenches learn how things stand. Prussian censorship takes good care that this does not happen. Poor German soldier, he really deserved pity. Under the compulsion of a warlike Government he has invaded a foreign country, and is doing his bloody work, suffering untold horrors. Death reigns on the battlefield and his children at home are succumbing to hunger and want. The poor mother in is distress and cannot share her grief with her husband.

"The workers of Germany have to bleed because such is the will of the capitalists, of the super-patriots, of the cannon-makers. The people have to make blood-sacrifices without a murmur in order that these robbers may mint gold out of their valuable lives. The war was ushered in with a lie, so that the workers would rush to the battlefields, and now the lie still presides over the continuance of this awful carnage."

Liebknecht had scarcely completed the last sentence when the police broke through the crowd and, throwing many of the crowd and trampling others underfoot, arrested him. In the days which immediately followed he addressed his famous letters to the Royal Court-Martial in Berlin. There were circulated in leaflet form and are dated the 3rd and 8th of May, respectively. Liebknecht boldly indicts the German Government for its reckless championship of expansion and junkerism in world politics, and its activity as an agent of world war. He denounces its suppression of the working people, its war on their liberty of speech and writing. He indicts its system of specious legality and sham nationality as a system of actual force, of genuine hostility to the people, and of guilty conscience as regards to the masses. And he adds that struggle of the most strenuous character, class struggle against the Government is the duty of every champion of the welfare of the proletariat.

Liebknecht's trial and condemnation followed in July. The public prosecutor demanded that the public be excluded. Liebknecht protested against this demand in the following strenuous terms :--

“Gentlemen, you are powerful, but you are afraid. You tremble at the effect my poor words might have on the public and on the prudently chosen Journalists. You who have at your disposal a force of police, an army, cannon, everything! It is cowardice, on your part, gentlemen. Yes, I repeat that you are cowards If you close the doors. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

When the court excluded the public, Liebknecht shouted to his wife and to Rosa Luxemburg who were among the audience:—

“Leave this comedy, where everything, including even the judgment, has been prepared beforehand! Go away!"

The sentence passed upon Liebknecht at this trial was one of live years penal servitude. He was released on October 24th, 1918, together with other political prisoners.