Primary Documents - Karl Liebknecht's Call for Revolution, 1 November 1918

Dr Karl Liebknecht In the wake of the Allied resurgence in the summer and autumn of 1918 - with the breaking of the Hindenburg Line in Flanders and in the Argonne - and with the sudden collapse of its own allies - the German High Command came to the conclusion that the war could not be won.

Consequently it recommended to a stunned Reichstag on 2 October 1918 that a peace with the Entente powers be negotiated, a message that was reiterated by Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg on the following day Kaiser Wilhelm II, sensing defeat, appealed on 6 October to the army to maintain their resolve in their "grave" hour, a call he subsequently repeated with greater urgency four days later.

As the month drew to a close and with the German public growing increasingly restless - revolution was less than two weeks away - the Kaiser appointed a new, reformist Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, along with a more representative government.  He also freed numerous political prisoners, including Dr Karl Liebknecht who promptly called for a revolution.

Hindenburg - now without Erich Ludendorff who had resigned his position - contacted the Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch to open armistice negotiations on 7 November; the armistice was agreed four days later, by which time the Kaiser had been obliged to abdicate.

Reproduced below is the text of Karl Liebknecht's address of 1 November 1918 in which he called for immediate revolution.

Dr Karl Liebknecht's Call for Revolution, 1 November 1918

Dear Comrades:

For more than four years our rulers have been engaged in a robber war for the oppression of our neighbours.

During the last ten or twelve years these same rulers have preached the bad doctrine of "Slavic danger."  They sowed in our hearts fear of the Slays.  But this was merely camouflage for further imperialistic aggression.  As if the way to St. Petersburg lay through Belgium and northern France, they gave orders to let the armies loose.

During these four years the peoples of the world have bled until they can bleed no more.  And what have we won?  Have we won one hundredth part of what we and our rulers started out to get?  Instead of this, we have lost until we have nothing more to lose.  One thing we have won - the hatred of mankind.

And now we have, through the President of America, asked our enemies for peace.  Comrades, now comes for you a fitting opportunity.  Unite.  Hold together under the banner of the "International."

You should not hold yourselves as discouraged.  It was never your war.  You were driven by your rulers into the world slaughter.  You have got what you deserved.  It now lies with you to dismiss your rulers.

Act at once.  It is your only prospect.  Stretch the tyrant at your feet with a mighty blow.  He now wavers.  A well-aimed blow will at this time win your freedom, and will to some extent recompense you for all the blood that has been shed during the last four sad years.

Lay down your weapons, you soldiers at the front.  Lay down your tools, you workers at home.  Do not let yourselves be deceived any longer by your rulers, the lip patriots, and the munitions profiteers.  Rise with power and seize the reins of government.  Yours is the force.  To you belongs the right to rule.  Answer the call for freedom and win your own war for liberty.

For more than four years have your oppressors used you as the tools with which to fill their pockets.  More than four years have they offered your sons, fathers, brothers, as victims and have starved millions, so that they might coin profits out of your blood.

Had you won the war you would have remained helpless slaves; you are beaten.  Victory is within your grasp.  It lies with you to seize it.

Comrades! Soldiers! Sailors! And you workers! Arise by regiments and arise by factories.  Disarm your officers, whose sympathies and ideas are those of the ruling classes.  Conquer your foremen, who are on the side of the present order.  Announce the fall of your masters and demonstrate your solidarity.

Do not heed the advice of the Kaiser Social Democrats.  Do not let yourselves be led any longer by unworthy politicians, who play you false and deliver you into the hands of the enemy.

Stand fast like many of the genuine Social Democrats in your companies and regiments.  Seize the quarters of your officers; disarm them immediately.  Make sure that your officers sympathize with you.  In case they do so, let them lead you.  Shoot them immediately in case they betray you after they have declared themselves supporters of your cause.

Soldiers and marines! Fraternize! Take possession of your ships.  Overpower first your officers. Place yourselves in communication with your comrades on land and seize all harbours and open fire, if necessary, on loyal groups.

Workers in munition factories: You are the masters of the situation.  Stop work immediately.  From this moment on you are only making bullets which will be used against you and yours.  The bullets which you now make will never reach the front.

Stop making bayonets which will be thrust into your entrails by the knights of the Government.  Arise, organize, seize weapons and use them against those who plan to make slaves of you after they have made their own peace.  End the war yourselves and use your weapons against the rulers.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

An "incendiary shell" is an artillery shell packed with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.

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