Liebknecht’s Call to the People

9 November 1918

From 4 p.m. onward, crowds began to fill the area surrounding the palace. The access roads and the square underneath the balcony were packed with people. A number of cars with red flags stopped among the crowd. Accompanied by deafening cheers, a small truck, on the platform of which Karl Liebknecht was standing under a large red flag, cut its way through the crowd and stopped in front of the palace’s main entrance.

     In a brief statement, Liebknecht announced that the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council of Berlin had placed the palace under its protection. It was no longer a random item of private property, but the people’s property. The guard, he continued, was formed from the telegraph battalion and it had strict orders to prevent any attempted attacks on the building by use of deadly force. Next, a corporal from the telegraph battalion addressed the crowd and also called for calm. He urged people not to risk what had been achieved thus far through reckless actions; the guard would comply to its utmost ability with its duties as issued by the Council. Then Liebknecht stepped forward to speak once more:

     «The day of the revolution has come. We have forced the peace. In this moment, peace has been made. The old regime is gone. The rule of the Hohenzollern dynasty, who resided in this palace for centuries, is over. In this hour, we proclaim the Free Socialist Republic of Germany. We salute our Russian brothers, who were disgracefully sent away just a few days ago.» Liebknecht pointed to the main entrance of the palace and called out loudly: «The new socialist freedom of workers and soldiers will enter through these very gates. We will raise the red flag of the Free Republic of Germany in place of the Emperor’s Standard!»

     The palace guard soldiers who appeared on the roof waved their helmets and greeted the crowds below who were pushing towards the gates. They were slowly opened to grant Liebknecht’s car entry. The crowd was prevented from following behind. A few minutes later, the soldiers of the palace guard appeared outside without their weapons and gear, welcomed by frenetic cheers. After a little while, Liebknecht and his entourage stepped out onto the balcony, the grey appearance of which was draped in a huge red blanket.

     «Party comrades», Liebknecht started, «the days of freedom have begun. Never again will a member of the Hohenzollern family set foot on this square. Some 70 years ago, Friedrich Wilhem IV stood at this very spot and had to bow to the march carrying the 50 bloodied bodies of those who had lost their lives fighting for freedom on the barricades of Berlin. Today, a different procession is coming through. It is a procession of the souls of the millions who died for the sacred cause of the proletariat. Their shattered skulls drenched in blood, these victims of the reign of violence are passing by, followed by the ghosts of millions of women and children who drowned in grief and misery for the cause of the proletariat. They are joined by this World War’s countless millions of blood sacrifices. Today, a vast crowd of proletarians has gathered in this square to pay homage to the new freedom. Party comrades, I hereby proclaim the Free Socialist Republic of Germany, which shall include all tribes, in which there shall be no more servants, in which every honest worker shall receive honest pay for his or her work. The reign of capitalism, which turned Europe into a killing field, has been broken. We call on our Russian brothers to return. When they departed, they said to us: ‘Should you not accomplish what we did within the next month, we will turn our backs on you.’ And now it has hardly taken four days.»

     «Even though the old order has been destroyed”, Liebknecht continued, «we must not think our work is done yet. We need to exert all our force towards building the workers’ and soldiers’ government and creating the new proletarian state, an order of peace, happiness and freedom for our brothers in Germany and all over the world. We extend our hands and call on them to carry the world revolution to its end. Those of you who want to see the Free Socialist Republic of Germany brought to realisation, raise your hands for the pledge.» (All hands go up and cries ring out, «Long live the Republic!”).

     After the cheering died down, a soldier standing next to Liebknecht waved the red flag in his hands and called out: «Long live its first president Liebknecht!»

     Liebknecht concluded his speech: «We are not at that stage yet. Whether president or not, we must all stand together in order to turn the ideal of the republic into a reality. Here is to freedom and happiness and peace!»

     Shortly thereafter, the red flag was raised on the flagpole of the Emperor’s Standard.

From: Vossische Zeitung, No. 576, 10 November 1918.

Translated by Zachary Murphy King and Jan-Peter Herrmann.