|People's Chancellor of the People's Republic of Germany|
15 January 1919 – 27 March 1950
|Preceded by||Position created|
|Succeeded by||Wilhelm Pieck|
|Born|| August 13, 1871|
Leipzig, Saxony, Germany
|Died|| March 27, 1950 (aged 78)|
Berlin, People's Republic of Germany
|Resting place||Volksfriedhof, Berlin, Germany|
|Political party||Communist Party of Germany|
|Spouse(s)|| Julia Paradies (1900-1911)|
Sophie Ryss (1912-1950)
|Alma mater||Humboldt University of Berlin|
Karl Liebknecht (13 August 1871 - 27 March 1950) was a German socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Sparticist League and the Communist Party of Germany. He served as the first People's Chancellor of the People's Republic of Germany from 1919 until his death. Under his administration, all wealth including land, industry, and business was nationalized.
Liebknecht, along with co-founder of the People's Republic of Germany Rosa Luxemburg, remain controversial and highly divisive world figures. Liebknecht had a significant influence on the international Communist movement and was one of the most influential and controversial figures of the 20th century. Admirers view him as a champion of working people's rights and welfare whilst critics see him as a dictator who carried out multiple human rights abuses. Time magazine named Liebknecht one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, and one of their top 25 political icons of all time. In 1939 Liebknecht and Luxemburg were selected as Time magazine's "People of the Year".
Liebknecht was born in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany, the son of Wilhelm Martin Philipp Christian Ludwig Liebknecht and his second wife Natalie (née Reh), who also came from a family with a strong political background; her father, Karl, was a member of the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848. Liebknecht's parents were second cousins; his maternal great-grandmother was the sister of one of his paternal great-grandfathers.
His father was a co-founder with August Bebel of the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany. Karl Liebknecht became an exponent of Marxist ideas during his study of law and political economy in Leipzig and Humboldt University of Berlin. After serving with the Imperial Pioneer Guards in Potsdam from 1893 to 1894 and internships in Arnsberg and Paderborn from 1894 to 1898, he earned his doctorate at Würzburg in 1897 and moved to Berlin in 1899, where he opened a lawyer's office with his brother, Theodor. Liebknecht married Julia Paradies on 8 May 1900; the couple had two sons and a daughter before Liebknecht's wife died in 1911.
As a lawyer, Liebknecht often defended other left wing socalists who were tried for offenses such as smuggling socialist propaganda, a task in which he was also involved. He became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1900 and was president of the Socialist youth International from 1907 to 1910. Liebknecht also wrote extensively against militarism, and one of his papers, Militarismus und Antimilitarismus ("militarism and antimilitarism") led to his being arrested in 1907 and imprisoned for 19 months in Glatz, Prussian Silesia. In the next year he was elected to the Prussian parliament, despite still being in prison.
Liebknecht was an active member of the Second International and a founder of the Socialist Youth International. In 1912 Liebknecht was elected to the Reichstag as a Social-Democrat, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany's left wing. He opposed Germany's participation in World War I, but in order not to infringe the party's unity he abstained from the vote on war loans on 4 August 1914. On 2 December 1914 he was the only member of the Reichstag to vote against further loans, the supporters of which included 110 of his own Party members. He continued to be a major critic of the Social-Democratic leadership under Karl Kautsky and its decision to acquiesce in going to war. In October that year, he also married his second wife, art historian Sophie Ryss.
At the end of 1914, Liebknecht, together with Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Paul Lebi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin formed the so-called Sparticus League (Spartakusbund); the leage publicised its views in a newspaper titled Spartakusbriefe ("Spartacus Letters") which was soon declared illegal. Liebknecht was arrested and sent to the eastern front during World War I despite his immunity as a member of parliament; refusing to fight, he served burying the dead, and due to his rapidly deteriorating health was allowed to return to Germany in October 1915.
Liebknecht was arrested again following a demonstration against the war in Berlin on 1 May 1916 that was organized by the Spartacus League, and sentenced to two and a half years in jail for high treason, which was later increased to four years and one month.
While Liebknecht was in prison, a communist revolt in Russia failed. The surviving revolutionaries fled to Germany.
|It is fitting that they return to the birthplace of communism. There is no doubt in my mind that revolution will succeed in Germany, and then will spread to the rest of the world! |
—Karl Liebknecht, 1917
On Liebknecht's return to Berlin he was met by Luxemburg and a small group of the exiled Russian Bolsheviks. Together with the far left wing of the Social Democratic Party, they formed the Communist Party of Germany. Devoting themselves to a successful revolution in Germany, they began to plan a general workers' strike in the newspaper quarter of Berlin.
On 7 January 1919, the strike began. With the help of their new Russian allies, the communists were able to extend the peaceful strike into a full-scale revolt. On 15 January the KPD stormed the Reichstag with weapons smuggled into Germany by the Bolsheviks. This effectively ended the rule of the German Republic. The remaining Republikaner fled to Bonn and formed a government-in-exile. Liebknecht and Luxemburg declared themselves the People's Republic of Germany. Even though Liebknecht did not approve of the violent means, he was quickly outvoted and loyal members of the German Army were sent to other cities in Germany to cement control for the Communists. On 11 August 1919, the remainder of Germany was finally under communist control.
Leadership of Germany
= the Double-Leader Policy
Liebknecht realized that he could not realistically consider himself a fighter for true equality if he did not allow Rosa Luxemburg to have a leadership role just because she was a woman. In February and March of 1919, Liebknecht and Luxemburg worked together to form the Double-Leader Policy (German: Doppelführer Politik). A revolutionary idea at the time, it guaranteed two leaders of the nation -- each one equal in power and simultaneously holding the offices of Head of Government and Head of State. Liebknecht became the first People's Chancellor, while Luxemburg was the first People's President. While never actually specified in law, tradition maintained that the two leaders consist of one man and one woman. Since the terms were for life and the officeholders died at different times, in actuality the Chancellorship was always held by a man and the Presidency was always held by a woman.
Changes to German Society
Working together with Luxemburg, Liebknecht successfully argued that the People's Republic of Germany was not, in fact, the German Republic, and thus the Treaty of Versailles no longer applied. With the assistance of an exiled Russian communist named Vyacheslav Molotov, a new Treaty of Berlin was penned and finally ratified by all five Allied powers in 1920. This allowed the Liebknecht to implement a series of economic and military reforms designed to bring Germany back from the brink of ruin. Liebknecht created the Volksmark and instituted broad economic centralization, and reorganized the military and implemented mandatory conscription for both genders.