Liebknecht, Karl

(1871-1919)
   political activist; a founder of the Spar-tacus League* and the KPD. Born in Leipzig, he was, as the son of an SPD founder, steeped in socialist ideology. During 1890-1893 he studied law and economics. In 1897 he took a doctorate and launched a legal practice in Berlin* with his older brother, Theodor, in which he chiefly represented workers and socialists. He joined the SPD in 1900 and was elected to the city assembly in 1901; he retained his seat until 1913. He was first elected to the Prussian Abgeordnetenhaus in 1908 and entered the Reichstag* in 1912.
   Liebknecht was among the SPD's outspoken radicals and was also a pacifist who organized and presided over the Socialist Youth International in 1907-1910. His book Militarismus und Antimilitarismus (Militarism and antimilitar-ism) brought arrest and incarceration during 1907-1909. Once he was in the Reichstag, he assailed the armaments industry while advocating disarmament and international conciliation. Unsuccessful in August 1914 at convincing his faction to vote against war credits—he submitted to SPD discipline when the vote was taken—he broke ranks in December 1914 by casting the lone vote against a second round of credits.
   Before the war Liebknecht was not in the circle centered on Rosa Luxem-burg*; this changed after his December 1914 vote. A symbol for those opposed to the war, he was the bane of militarists. An attempt to draft him in February 1915 failed due to his parliamentary status. Despite a gag order, he published the provocative Der Hauptfeind steht im eigenen Land (The main enemy is at home) in May 1915 and then helped organize the Gruppe Internationale. Com-posed of radical socialists who took the name Spartakusgruppe in 1916, Gruppe Internationale soon initiated Die Spartakusbriefe (Spartacus letters).
   In April 1916 Liebknecht attended an illegal assembly in Jena and then or-ganized a May Day demonstration on Potsdamer Platz. Arrested, he was con-victed of high treason in June and sentenced to thirty months hard labor (the sentence was increased by a higher court to four years). The SPD expelled him first from its Reichstag delegation and then, late in 1916, from the Party. Lieb-knecht used imprisonment to refine his philosophy. Wishing to retain Marxism as the basis for socialism, he nonetheless rejected its rigid linkage to economics and historical laws.
   On 23 October 1918 Liebknecht profited from a general political amnesty. Joining Luxemburg in the thick of Berlin s revolutionary ferment, he heralded a "free socialist Republic from the Imperial Palace on 9 November (Philipp Scheidemann* had already proclaimed "the German Republic ) and two days later helped found the Spartacus League. Declining Friedrich Ebert s* invitation to join the Council of People s Representatives,* he mobilized the masses against Ebert and in support of a Raterepublik. At what became the KPD's founding convention in late December, he demanded—against Luxemburg s ad-vice—separation from the USPD and formation of a new party. With Luxem-burg, he became cochairman.
   Ever impatient, Liebknecht refused to admit that the masses sought little more than peace and order. On 5 January he proclaimed Ebert s ouster and launched the Spartacist Uprising.* But he was unequal to the event he helped generate. Facing a coalition of Freikorps* and army troops, the revolt collapsed on 12 January. Arrested with Luxemburg, Liebknecht was brutally murdered on 15 January.
   REFERENCES:Angress, Stillborn Revolution; Bassler, "Communist Movement ; Trot-now, Karl Liebknecht; Waldman, Spartacist Uprising.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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  • Liebknecht, Karl — born Aug. 13, 1871, Leipzig, Ger. died Jan. 15, 1919, Berlin German socialist leader. Son of Wilhelm Liebknecht, he became a lawyer and a Marxist. In 1912 he entered the Reichstag and led the opposition to Germany s pre World War I policy. In… …   Universalium

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