6/4/1919 The red tide sweeps into Bavaria

Revolution is on the march. In Berlin Ebert‘s government has suppressed two uprisings by the Spartacists, but since then a Bolshevik-allied government has taken power in Hungary. And now news of a further revolutionary advance arrives: the declaration of a Soviet Republic in Bavaria. Following the assassination of the Bavarian republic’s first premier, Kurt Eisner, the German state has seen an upsurge of revolutionary activity. With the declaration of the Soviet Republic, the parliamentary government of Johannes Hoffmann flees Munich, leaving the capital in the hands of the radicals.

The Soviet leaders of Bavaria are drawn from the ranks of the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD, a far left splinter from the mainstream Social Democrats) as well as Bavaria’s anarchists; their leader is Ernst Toller, formerly a playwright. The Soviet government announces a programme of ambitious reforms (some might say ambitious and unrealistic reforms), as well as declaring a dictatorship of the proletariat against counter-revolutionary elements.

Perhaps the dominos are now falling and in a matter of weeks or months all of Europe will be under Soviet control. For some this is a nightmare, to others their earnest hope.

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Ernst Toller (Literaturportal Bayern: Süddeutscher König)

12/3/1919 The Freikorps crush the Spartacists again

A second Spartacist uprising has erupted in Berlin and Ebert‘s government has once more called on the services of the Freikorps, paramilitary volunteers who like nothing more than having a go at socialist malcontents. They have successfully cleared the Spartacists and their supporters from central Berlin, after which the rebels retreated to the working class neighbourhood of Lichtenberg, preparing to make a last stand.

As the Spartacists consolidate in Lichtenberg, a local police station is stormed and a number of policemen killed. This incenses respectable opinion. Noske, the war minister, orders that anyone bearing arms against the government is to be shot on sight. The Freikorps are happy to oblige. Today they complete the pacification of Lichtenberg, crushing the Spartacists and violently suppressing the People’s Naval Division. The Berlin Workers’ Council is also closed down. Calm returns to Berlin’s streets, but the cost is high, with over a thousand killed (including a handful of Freikorps members), perhaps as many as 1,500, and many more wounded.

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Freikorps (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War – Berlin March 1919: the second Spartacist uprising)

Summarily executed revolutionaries (Wikipedia: German Revolution of 1918–19)

6/3/1919 More clashes in Berlin between the Spartacists and Freikorps

The recent Spartacist uprising in Berlin was violently suppressed. Since then a certain calm has descended on Germany’s capital, with Lettow-Vorbeck (recently returned from Africa) even being treated to a parade through the city. But the calm is deceptive. Discontent still haunts the working class areas of the city, where life is still hard and the gains of peace and the transition to democracy are slow to materialise. And despite their recent defeat, the Spartacists retain considerable influence in these quarters.

Spartacist leaders Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered after the recent failed uprising, but the party’s organisation remains intact. Spartacist leaders now decide to call a general strike in the city, demanding formal recognition of workers’ councils, the release of political prisoners and the disbandment of the Freikorps militias.
The strike soon assumes the character of another uprising against the government. Noske, the war minister, takes a characteristically hard line, sending the Freikorps back into Berlin to restore order. But the task proves tougher initially than in January, with the radical sailors of the People’s Naval Division choosing this time to join the fight against the Freikorps. Bloody street fighting erupts and the rebels besiege the city’s police headquarters.
Today though the Freikorps manage to restore order in central Berlin, clearing Spartacist strongpoints from the city centre. Eventually, with the aid of a tank and air strikes they storm the former royal police in which the People’s Naval Division had based themselves.

But the fighting is not yet over. The Spartacists and their allies withdraw to the working class neighbourhood of Lichtenberg. Here they erect barricades and prepare for the final showdown with the Freikorps.
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Police headquarters, Freikorps with tank, and fighting aftermath (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Berlin March 1919 – the second Spartacist uprising)

21/2/1919 The gun speaks: right wing fanatic kills Bavaria’s ousted prime minister

Although the Spartacist uprising has been defeated in Berlin, Germany’s capital remains restive. The city is deemed too unsafe for the recently elected national assembly, which instead meets in the quieter city of Weimar. There the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party. The assembly begins work on a new constitution. Ebert is chosen as Germany’s first president and Scheidemann succeeds him as chancellor.
Meanwhile in Bavaria it had appeared as though the local political scene was stabilising after voters decisively rejected the radical left government of Kurt Eisner in state elections. Eisner has remained temporarily in power since the election, but today he finally bows to the inevitable and prepares to offer his resignation to Bavaria’s parliament. However, he is unable to do, as on the way to parliament he is shot and killed by Anton Arco-Valley, a reactionary aristocrat. The assassination triggers disturbances in Munich, with clashes erupting between supporters and opponents of the late premier.

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Kurt Eisner on his Way to the Bavarian State Parliament (GHDI – German History in Documents and Images)

11/1/1919 Freikorps militiamen crush the Spartacist revolt in Berlin

Street fighting has erupted in Berlin between supporters of Ebert‘s Social Democrat government and the Spartacists, who wish to reorganise Germany on the model of Soviet Russia. The Spartacists have occupied buildings in central Berlin and their supporters are staging strikes and demonstrations.

The Spartacists’ efforts are curiously ineffectual, hovering between demonstration and insurrection, with their various cadres operating without much coordination. The Spartacists also appear not to be making any direct attempt to seize Ebert’s government and remove him from power, perhaps hoping that he will simply go away. They have been unsuccessful in their attempts to persuade army units to join them; soldiers are largely opting to remain neutral, with even the radical marines of the People’s Naval Division staying out of the conflict. And across Germany workers are largely failing to rally to their cause.

Nevertheless, Ebert fears that without a decisive response his government will fall and Germany go the way of Russia. He has therefore resolved that the Spartacists must be crushed. The army proved unreliable in the Christmas Eve clashes with the People’s Naval Division, so Ebert is wary of relying on it to suppress the Spartacists. Instead he instructs Noske, his war minister, to make use of the Freikorps, paramilitary militia units of demobilised army veterans, many of whom have brought their weapons with them into civilian life. Many members of the Freikorps hold political views that could be characterised as reactionary; they are only too happy to have a crack at the socialist Spartacists.
The Freikorps march into Berlin today and soon overwhelm the Spartacists, clearing their street barricades and evicting them from occupied buildings. Order is restored to Berlin, but at some cost: 200 people die in the fighting, some of them Spartacists shot while trying to surrender, others civilians killed in the crossfire. A very small number of Freikorps members are also killed. Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and other Spartacist leaders go into hiding while Noske leads a victory parade through the city.

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Noske inspects a Freikorps unit (Wikipedia: Freikorps)

Freikorps unit with flamethrower in Berlin (Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) on Twitter)

Freikorps victims (Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) on Twitter)

Patrick Chovanec‘s Twitter account is worth following. You’ll come for the interesting nuggets of historical detail from a 100 years ago and stay for the insight into the current thinking of anti-Trump conservatives.

6/1/1919 The Spartacists revolt: an October Revolution for Germany?

Germany’s Social Democrats (the SPD), led by Chancellor Ebert, want Germany to develop on a progressive and reformist path, but to their left the Spartacists of Liebknecht and Luxemburg want a second German revolution, akin to the October Revolution in Russia. The Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) hover in between, more radical than Ebert but not as fulsome in their support of Bolshevism as the Spartacists.

On Christmas Eve Ebert attempted to suppress the People’s Naval Division, a unit of radical marines that had established itself in a former royal palace. The attempt failed, partly because the army proved unreliable in its support for Ebert’s crackdown. Nevertheless, the USPD left the governing coalition in protest at Ebert’s action, leaving the SPD alone in government.

To the Spartacists, it begins to look as though one push might overthrow Ebert, much as Lenin‘s coup removed Kerensky‘s provisional government. They call for mass demonstrations in Berlin, which take place today. Many of the Spartacists’ supporters are armed and they occupy buildings around the city, including the offices of the SPD’s newspaper. More demonstrations are called for the coming days and Spartacist agitators call for soldiers in the city to desert Ebert’s government. Are the Spartacists about to seize power? So their supporters hope, but Ebert is determined not to be Germany’s Kerensky. Together with Gustav Noske, his war minister, he prepares to strike back.

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Spartacists in Berlin (Wikipedia: German Revolution of 1918–19)

Holding the line

I am a bit tied up with Important Things right now and so am falling a bit behind in this important Great War endeavour. These are some of the things that happened since the my last post, which I hope to return to shortly.

29/12/1918 The Independent Social Democrats leave Ebert‘s coalition in protest at the German Chancellor’s decision to send troops against the People’s Navy Division on Christmas Eve.

31/12/1918 In less than two months flu has claimed the lives of 20% of Western Samoa‘s population.

2/1/1919 Criminal investigations open into atrocities ordered by Turkey’s leaders during the war.

3/1/1919 Emir Faisal reaches an agreement with Zionist leader Chaim Weizman to support Jewish immigration into Palestine.

3/1/1919 The Red Army occupies Riga. In response to the Bolshevik invasion, Latvia’s government seeks to form an armed force of German volunteers.

4/1/1919 A bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by an American officer to kidnap the Kaiser.

5/1/1919 Demonstrations in Berlin by the far left Spartacists escalate into an armed uprising against Ebert’s government.

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Spartacists (Wikipedia: Spartacist uprising)