Karl Liebknecht — The Proletarian Youth In The Revolution

In this article, Karl Liebknecht, set ablaze with the passion of international socialism, condemns the traitorous social-chauvinists who replaced class war with class harmony and sings an ode to one of the last defenders Marxist honor — the youth.

Karl Liebknecht with his wife and children

Originally written for the Berlin youth newspaper “The Young Guard,” №1, November 27, 1918. Taken from “Karl Liebknecht — Collected Speeches and Writings,” Volume IX, pp. 626–629 (in German)

Karl Liebknecht — The Proletarian Youth In The Revolution

The proletarian youth movement counts more than 14 years in Germany. It isn’t an artifact of party bureaucracy, but a creation of the revolutionary spirit that arose from the doubly oppressed and exhausted working class youth. Her birth, her ascent was accompanied by lightning and thunder. The ruling classes were foaming with rage; the thunderbolt of the official Social-Democracy and the trade union bureaucracy jumped on them, mistrust and narrow-mindedness was out to gag, muzzle and pacify them. In vain! It was the same calculated shrewdness that now tries to undermine the revolution of November 9th that tried to get a hold of and emasculate them. In vain! Even if some people — consciously or not — let themselves be led astray, into the swamp of petty government bills and frail dependency [Liebknecht has in mind the Dependent Social-Democracy, USPD — ed.], they prevailed.

And in August 1914 began the era of the proletarian youth movement in Germany, of our and all other young workers in the world.

When the Second International collapsed in shame, when the official organizations of the working class were almost entirely transformed from the propagators of international solidarity to inciters of national hatred, from the defenders of international peace to the agitators of dividing the peoples, from stormtroopers of the class war to the salvation army of class harmony, it was the proletarian youth, alongside women, who saved the honor of socialism. On the first day of the war, they raised the flag of international class struggle that had been trampled on and bravely flew it in front of the world again. They declared fearlessly and tirelessly that there was only one salvation for the international proletariat from the horrors of the world war: the social revolution, which would end not only world war but the root of all wars — capitalism and imperialism.

During the 50 months of war, the free German youth held onto these goals, worked on their realization, and threw themselves passionately against the treacherous leaders of the majority Socialists [the SPD — ed.].

Wherever the revolutionary, struggling spirit of the German proletariat awoke, in rallies and deeds, demonstrations and strikes, in propaganda and action, the free youth was at the helm, running ahead of the adults, helping them with devotion with the most difficult posts, which pushed them forward with stormy enthusiasm during the most important and decisive acts. Their crowds were made thinner, their pioneers were thrown into trenches, put in protective custody, in prison and penitentiary, the class justice raging through them more mercilessly than through the adults, carrying them off to hecatombs in which many fresh, young lives perished. But the free youth remained undaunted and mocked the enemy.

They closed their ranks tighter than ever, finally shattering the old and restrictive forms and chains at Easter of 1916, standing entirely on their own feet and creating their own program and their own organization in order to develop the highest possible power of action.

At the end of October 1918 they gathered for the last time — in the ultimate preparation for the revolutionary uprising. At the end of October it was their brave ones who stood up against the overwhelming force of Berlin’s police and snatched an incarcerated friend from their claws, without counting the blows from the saber that wounded them. [1] It was the free spirit of the youth first and foremost which incited an outrage in the German fleet and army and broke with the force of German militarism. The spirit of the free youth flowed throughout Germany, ahead of the revolutionary uprisings of the workers’ and soldiers’. And when the proletariat of Berlin overthrew the deeply undermined Hohenzollern glory on November 9th, the red flag of free youth fluttered ahead of them. The most dear blood sacrifice of that day was of the young comrade Habersaath. [2]

Thus the blood bond was formed and sealed, the blood bond between the revolution and the proletarian youth.

And the blood oath continues; it is above all what gives us the confidence and trust in the weeks of disappointment that followed November 9th. The free youth, whose flesh and soul was most relentlessly torn apart by the war machine, which sighed bitterly due to a lack of political rights, social oppression and economic exploitation, now sees more clearly than the adults how the revolution from the 9th of November only changed the political surface of the societal status quo, whereas the cadres of the political class hegemony still remain untouched and most of the achievements of the revolution have been lost. They know that lawlessness, oppression and exploitation can only be eliminated by exterminating the capitalist system. They know that a peace such as the present government is ready to make today will only result in preparations for a new war and that a lasting peace between nations can only be achieved through the solidarity of the working masses of all countries, erected on the rubbles of world imperialism. They have recognized that the Scheidemann-Ebert-Haase government will not utilize the only remedy for all social ailments, but protect and maintain the capitalist order; They have recognized that the development must step beyond this government of half-heartedness and depravity. They saw through the deception of the National Assembly and recognized that the work of liberating the working class can only be accomplished by the working class itself, that all political power must be firmly in the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils if the hopes of the working class are not to be disgraced.

The revolutionary youth of the proletariat was the hottest, purest flame of the previous German revolution; it will be the most passionate, sacred, inextinguishable flame of the new German revolution that must and will follow: the social revolution of the German, of the world proletariat.


[1] The Reich conference of the Free Socialist Youth of Germany on October 26th and 27th, 1918 in Berlin, in which Karl Liebknecht also took part.

[2] Erich Habersaath (1893–1918) — leading functionary of the Berlin revolutionary youth movement, who was shot dead by counterrevolutionary officers while attacking the Garde-Füsilier-Regiment barracks (Maikäferkaserne) on November 9th in 1918.



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