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A proper top red

Submitted by on May 31, 2013 – 3:22 pmNo Comment
Karl Liebknecht

Karl Liebknecht

By Christian Bunke
‘Don’t mention the war’. How often did I hear this remark during my 10-year stay in Manchester?

It was usually followed by people talking to me about the war. Some would tell me how ‘all that’ was long in the past. Others advised me that the time had long come for Germany to play a ‘more active role’ in the world’s new battlefields, helping the fight for freedom against the ‘terrorists’.

Tonight (May 31), FC United will play Babelsberg in the Karl Liebknecht stadium. Liebknecht would have had a few things to say about the sentiments above. If there ever was a rebel red, it was this man.

He lived a life fighting against imperialist war and for socialist revolution. He got murdered on the night of the 15th of January 1919 alongside his long time collaborator Rosa Luxemburg.

He was born in 1871 in Leipzig into a social democratic household. His father was a founding member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Germany’s version of the Labour Party. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were witnesses at Karl Liebknecht’s christening.

Maybe this was a sign of things to come, I always wondered about die hard socialists involving themselves in christian rituals though…

Karl was born into tumultous times. War drums were beating the world over. The major European powers were preparing to fight each other for global wealth, colonies and resources. Social democratic parties the world over had sworn to each other to call for an international general strike, should a world war break out.

As it happened, all social democratic parties voted in the various national parliaments for war, together with the political parties of the bosses. In Germany, all social democratic deputies approved the war credits, giving more money to the Kaiser’s war chest. To a large extent, this can be explained by the outlook of these MP’s.

They got used to a life of parliamentary privilege. They were very much removed from working class life. To them, revolution was something to pay lip service to, only to throw all the rhetoric overboard at the most opportune moment.
Only Liebknecht, who was by then a social democratic MP well liked by working class people for his principled socialist stance, voted against the war credits. For this he got punished by the German imperial state. He got stripped of his parliamentary priviliges and sent straight to the trenches. He still carried on agitating against the war.

He was apparently very successful in winning over fellow soldiers to his cause. Thus the army chucked him out and he got charged for high treason. It was around this time that he developed his famous slogan: ‘The main enemy is in our own country’.

By that he meant the imperial war-mongers and their big business backers. He actively fought for international working class solidarity, against small minded nationalism that only served to keep working people in their chains.

In 1918 German soldiers and workers rose up against the war and the Kaiser. Liebknecht, just out of prison due to an amnesty for political prisoners, tried to seize the time. At a mass rally in Berlin he proclaimed the ‘free socialist republic of Germany’.

However, the same forces that had supported the war credits years earliers already worked to derail the revolution. Liebknecht’s former comrades in the SPD worked together with the general staff in the military and major business owners to prevent Germany turning socialist by any means.

Liebknecht, on the other hand, soon got frustrated with ongoing delays in the revolutionary struggle. On the 8th of January 1919 he organised an isolated uprising in Berlin. This got crushed by right wing paramilitary formations. Liebknecht, alongside Rosa Luxemburg, had to go into hiding.

The drag net closed in on both of them, though. Paramilitaries stormed the house Liebknecht and Luxemburg were hiding in. They got dragged to a nearby hotel, questioned, tortured and executed. Liebknecht and Luxemburg are symbols for the radical socialist left in Germany to this day.

Babelsberg fans use Karl Liebknecht’s face on many of their banners, as travelling FC fans will surely find out. Everyone who can only think about war jokes when thinking about Germany should look up the story of this courageous individual.

- This article originally appeared in AFLM:SPG issue 10. To buy a copy, visit our online stall.

- For more on FC United’s game against 03 Babelsberg visit fc-utd-co.uk.

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