Inspired by this question on Movie&TV.SE, I am looking for the origin of the phrase/slogan

Wer hat uns verraten? Sozialdemokraten!

Who betrayed us? Social democrats!

It is still used in modern political discussions, which makes it hard to find the origin via web search.

The phrase is usually attributed to the political far left. However, I found conflicting information, when and why exactly the phrase was used the first time:

  • at 1914 by the USPD as response to the "Burgfriedenspolitik" of the SPD and their agreement to war credits or
  • at 1918/19 by the KPD as response to the role of the SPD and/or some of their politicians during the German Revolution of 1918–19.

This Wikipedia entry about the MSPD, for example, mentions the slogan without explicitly saying that the slogan was coined exactly at this time and circumstances:

Die Rolle Eberts, Noskes und Scheidemanns während der Monate der Novemberrevolution und ihrer Niederschlagung führte zum Vorwurf verschiedener parlamentarisch und vor allem außerparlamentarisch aktiver linker Gruppen und Parteien an die SPD, die Revolution und damit zu einem großen Teil gerade ihre eigenen Anhänger verraten zu haben („Wer hat uns verraten? - Sozialdemokraten!“).

Eberts, Noskes and Scheidemann's role during the months of the November Revolution and its suppression led to accusations by various left-wing groups and parties active both in and outside parliament that the SPD had betrayed the revolution and, to a large extent, its own supporters ("Who betrayed us? - Social Democrats!").

I also found this page that claimed, that the slogan was used (around 1933?) by the NSDAP as well, but again without linking to the actual references. (or I didn't find it):

Und damit auch der einfache Bürger, der noch nicht bis ins letzte Tüpfelchen rechtspolitisiert war, begriff, wer die Schuld an allem hatte, was jetzt geschah, veranstaltete die BTZ im Verbreitungsgebiet Braunschweig-Hannover ein großes Preisausschreiben. [...] Die Auflösung bestand aus einem Wahlslogan der NSDAP: "Wer hat uns verraten - Die Sozialdemokraten. Wer macht uns frei - Die Hitlerpartei!"

And so that even the ordinary citizen, who had not yet been right-politicised to the last dot, understood who was to blame for everything that was happening now, the BTZ organised a large competition in the Braunschweig-Hannover area of distribution. [...] The solution consisted of an election slogan of the NSDAP: "Who betrayed us - The Social Democrats. Who makes us free - The Hitler Party!

Is it possible, to trace back this slogan to a specific date and author, and to its first usage by left-wings and right-wings?



Members of the radical left started to speak of "betrayal" by the Social-Democrats in 1914, as a workers' party wasn't supposed to vote for financing a war. The conservatives as war-mongers were very pleased by that "betrayal", seeing it as "finally, they can behave as patriots". The USPD came into existence during 1916. This is the original frame of reference for that slogan: 1914.

Conspiring in 1918–1923 with the bourgeois and far-right groups ("to save democracy"?) and ordering the shooting down of workers uprisings was then just another slew of the instances of treachery the SPD was accused of. The complete slogan was apparently not ever used by Liebknecht himself. For the SPD this slogan seems to have been somehow 'new' in 1928.

Parts of the KPD used precursors and variations of it from 1924 onwards. The conservatives and fascists adopted the slogan as well during the 1920s towards the end, but alluded solely to the Landesverrat-aspects of the SPD (and their leftish comrades, like the "despicable democrats") being ultimately "responsible for loosing the war". After 1928 the complete slogan became solidified and used throughout by nazis and communists alike. The communists even being directly, and secretly, ordered from Moscow to repeat that slogan "forever and at every opportunity".

As Karl Liebknecht made it very clear:

the Social-Democrats were already betraying the international and the workers in 1914. On a practical level. That accusation was first coming into somewhat widespread parlance on certain circles since 1890 already with Bernstein's revision theory gaining acceptance within that party.

They enabled the military to continue the war by approving the necessary financing of the war, becoming a pro-war party on 4.8.1914. And continued to be that for the rest of the war, with all voting hands, except one member in December 1914 (now guess who). In his view the war-guilt clause in Versailles treaty should be read as "Germany's Social-Democracy made the World War possible":

Vereinigung wesensgleicher, in Ziel und Weg übereinstimmender Kreise ist das Gebot. Verschwommene äußerliche Schein-Einigkeit innerlich verschiedenartiger, in Ziel und Weg abweichender Elemente ist vom Uebel.
Durch Klarheit und innere Uebereinstimmung zur Einigkeit. Unmöglich ist ein Zusammenarbeiten mit den Regierungssozialisten, die Mitschuldige am Krieg sind, die Internationale und den Klassenkampf verraten und ab* geschworen haben, auch heute noch eine Politik der Interessenharmonie von Kapital und Arbeit treiben, der Revolution bis zum letzten Augenblick geifernd und gehässig entgegengewirkt haben und nach der Revolution den Schutz des kapitalistischen Privateigentums, die Verhinderung der sozialen Revolution und den Raub der politischen Errungenschaften der Revolution betrieben haben.

Noch sitzen in der Regierung alle jene Sozialisten, die im August 1914 unser kostbarstes Gut, die Internationale, preisgegeben, die vier Jahre lang die deutsche Arbeiterklasse und die Internationale zugleich verraten haben.

Source: "Aufruf an die Proletarier aller Länder, Leitsätze vom 28. November 1918", p325 & 327, in: Julian Gumperz (Ed): "Karl Liebknecht: Reden und Aufsätze", Verlag der kommunistischen Internationale: Hamburg, 1921.

Also compare standard university introductions to that topic:

Die Zweite Internationale war von den sich etablierenden sozialistischen Parteien geprägt. Sie zerbrach 1914 infolge der nationalistischen Politik ihrer großen Mitgliedsorganisationen, insbesondere der deutschen SPD, der mächtigsten Organisation der Arbeiterbewegung zu dieser Zeit (der heute noch geläufige Spruch: „Wer hat uns verraten? Sozialdemokraten!“ bezieht sich auf die nationalistische Wende der SPD, die, nachdem sie 1913 noch gemeinsam mit anderen Sozialistischen Parteien für den Fall eines Krieges zwischen den europäischen Staaten einen Bürgerkrieg angekündigt hatte, 1914 den „Burgfrieden“ verkündete und den Kriegskrediten zustimmte).

Jan Weyand: "Klasse, Klassenkampf, Geschichte", p71, in: Ingrid Artus et al. (Eds) "Marx für SozialwissenschaftlerInnen. Eine Einführung", Springer: Wiesbaden, 2014.

This is of course a statement made when the Social-Democrats (Noske: self-styled: "bloodhound") teamed up with the reactionary (army) and proto-fascist (Freikorps) elements to shoot Liebknecht and Luxemburg. So the treacherous behaviour of SPD-"socialists" in the face of the worker's socialist "revolution" is obviously not something the then dead Liebknecht could have reacted to. His followers obviously did.

The actual rhyming slogan is not to be found in that book with Liebknecht's speeches. As it is quite poignant it should be expected there. When is this slogan coined in its complete form?

It must be some time before 1931. As in the proceedings for the Landtag of Saxony we find the following:

Breitenborn: Wenn man sich jetzt hier die Rede, die der Abgeordnete Liebmann jetzt hier vom Stapel gelassen hat, angehört hat, möchte man annehmen, es gäbe gar keinen sozialdemokratischen Polizeipräsidenten (Sehr gut! b. d. Komm.), sondern es gäbe nur bürgerliche Polizeipräsidenten, und die Sozialdemokratie stünde da wie so ein unschuldiges Mädchen Rühr-mich-nicht-an.
Aber wie ist es denn in Wirklichkeit?
Warum sind denn diese Übergriffe seitens der Polizei da? Man kann nicht nur von Übergriffen der Polizei sprechen, von Demonstrationsverboten und Bannnmeile usw., sondern man muß überhaupt von dieser unerhörten Unterdrückungsmethode gegen die Arbeiterklasse sprechen.
Wer is schuld daran, daß diese Sache so gemacht wird? (Abg. Liebmann: Natürlich die Sozialdemokraten!) Natürlich muß man das sagen. (Abg. Liebmann: Natürlich! Wer hat uns verraten? Natürlich: die Sozialdemokraten sind schuld daran!) Natürlich!
Denn wer sorgt dafür, daß überhaupt dieses System noch bestehen kann? Wer ist schuld daran, daß solche faschistischen Offiziere in der Polizei sind?

Verhandlungen des sächsischen Landtages, 5 Wahlperiode, 1931, Zweiter Band, Nummer 35–58, p 1449.

This dialogue is remarkable insofar as a Social-Democrat fills in the missing parts for the communist speaker. But this is not really surprising. As by then, the KPD election campaigns featured the slogan regularly.

Again: witness a Social-Democrat lamenting that virtually all other parties had adopted it by 1930:

enter image description here GBooks: "Verhandlungen des sächsischen Landtages 1930", p 194

So it seems important to note that the SPD was 'a party of traitors' to all sides. For the pacifists and internationalists, they betrayed all in 1914. For the anarchist, communist and socialist revolutionaries of 1918 the SPD betrayed them by ordering the killings of all "socialist" or worker's party competitors. These allegations are both true, in every bit of detail.*

And all right-wingers accused the SPD of loosing the war, via their own Dolchstoßlegende, except that that was of course a quite fabricated lie.

Nach Küchenthal sprach der Abgeordnete Alpers, der am 11. März die ersten große Beschmierung und Zerstörung von Schaufenstern und Inventar "jüdischer Geschäfte" in Braunschweig organisiert hatte. Er meinte, in der Tat müsse gegen politisches Verbrechertum gehandelt werden: "Seit man 1918 Landesverrat und Treuebruch zur Grundlage eines neuen Staates und einen Landesverräter zum Präsidenten gemacht habe, seien Verbrechen über Verbrechen begangen worden.

NS-Spurensuche im Lande Braunschweig “Machtübergabe“

Apart from these big issues: After 1918, all parties to the left and right of the SPD (DDP and Zentrum are neither, but tried to occupy the same spot) found that slogan to come in handy for even the most minor expression of disapproval to SPD policies or mere positions. But nevertheless, as early as by the end of 1918 the SPD had not many friends left, if they ever had any in other parties, and the idea for the slogan was available for all.

The site Mundmische gives as the source for the complete slogan the organisation Roter Frontkämpferbund which indeed adopted a precursor as their oath in 1927 and by 1930 had the exact slogan:

‚Wer hat uns verraten? — Die Sozialdemokraten!’

This may not be the final word on it, but the timeframe seems about right.

The SPD itself talks about this slogan for the first time in their own newspaper the *Vorwärts" on Mai, 2, 1928, presenting this to their members as something 'new':

enter image description here

Eine andere blöde, in ihrer Absicht niederträchtige und in ihrer Wirkung vollständig lächerliche Schaustellung bot ein Lastwagenaufzug, in dem Kinder von vier bis acht Jahren einen eingeleierten Vers blökten, der als Dokument für die nächsten Jahre bei den Maifeiern erhalten bleiben soll:

"Wer hat uns verraten,
Die So-zi-al-de-mo-kra-ten!"

__Translation: Another stupid and completely ridiculous showcase was a truck convoy in which children from four to eight years old were bleating a rehearsed verse, which is to be preserved as a document for the next years at the May celebrations:

Who betrayed us?
The So-zi-al-de-mo-kra-ten!"

Just in case anyone wants to follow up assertions, Orders from Moscow for example found in: "Anweisungen des Politsekretariats der Komintern zur Vorbereitung des Internationalen Tages gegen den imperialistischen Krieg" –– Moskau, 2.4.1929 –– Typoskript in deutscher Sprache. Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Bern J.II 94, 751.41 Erstveröffentlichung. In: Hermann Weber, Jakov Drabkin, Bernhard H. Bayerlein (Eds): "Deutschland, Russland, Komintern II. Dokumente (1918–1943). Nach der Archivrevolution: Neuerschlossene Quellen zu der Geschichte der KPD und den deutsch-russischen Beziehungen", Archive des Kommunismus – Pfade des XX. Jahrhunderts, deGruyter: Berlin, 2015, p676.

* Note to pundits prone to comment: "true" is not the same as 'good' or 'desirable'. Please ponder that for just one second before venting an opinion.


A very quick search indicates that the most likely author of the claim of betrayal was Karl Liebknecht, but the catchy rhyme then was a "logical" leap during a party convention.

Der Spiegel Der Spiegel on Nov 4, 1968 states

Für die Ultra-Linken, die sich wirklich Revolution wünschten, war die SPD solcherart stets eine Enttäuschung -- 1918 für Karl Liebknecht und Rosa Luxemburg, 1968 für SDS und Apo. Damals sprach Karl Liebknecht: "Die SPD hat uns verraten." Heute rufen deutsche Studenten: "Wer hat uns verraten? -- Sozialdemokraten. Wer hat recht? -- Karl Liebknecht."


For the extreme left who truly wanted a revolution, the SPD was always a disappointment in that way - in 1918 for Karl Liebknect and Rosa Luxemburg, in 1968 for the SDS and the Apo. Back then Karl Liebknecht said: "The SPD betrayed us". Today German students cry "Who betrayed us? The social democrats! Who's right? Karl Liebknecht!"

However, an article from Aug 8, 2014 on a site called Neopresse, which advertises itself as "uncensored, alternative and serious journalism" for what that's worth, states that is may have been a spontaneous chorus at a party and trade union meeting:

Am 4. August 1914 stimmte die SPD-Fraktion geschlossen für die Kriegskredite, die dem Kaiserreich nach dessen Kriegserklärung an Russland vom 2. August die totale Mobilmachung ermöglichten.“ Es sind diese Abstimmungen die den linken Flügel der Partei und Gewerkschaftsanhänger zum Singen bringen: „Wer hat uns verraten? Die Sozialdemokraten!“


On August 4, 1914 the entire SPD parliamentary fraction voted for the war loans which allowed the German Empire, after its declaration of war against Russia on August 2, to conduct a total mobilisation. It's these votes which made the left wing of the party and the trade unionists sing "Who betrayed us? The social democrats!"

What this indicates is that Karl Liebknecht was the one who declared that the social democrats had betrayed the worker's movement, but it was a somewhat obvious leap to arrive at the catchy rhyme during a convention.

  • 2
    This is confusing: which "party convention" (and when) made the catchy rhyme? [Also the Spiegel article makes it read here that the 68er students did that; which would be clearly much too late. // Sidenote: a better source than "Neopresse" and a link to the better source would be appreciated.] – LаngLаngС Jan 9 '19 at 11:20
  • @LangLangC I know. This was one of those “huh I’d like to know as well” resulting in a 5 minute google search at work with the intention of more research and follow up when I had some more time. – Marakai Jan 9 '19 at 21:09
  • Among other things n this thread: The "exact author" (if there is any) is still missing ;) – LаngLаngС Jan 9 '19 at 22:40

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