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)

28/3/1919 Tense negotiations in Paris over Germany’s western frontiers

In an effort to streamline decision making at the Paris Conference, Allied leaders have replaced the Supreme Council with the Council of Four, containing just Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Orlando (and not their foreign ministers). The exclusion of the Japanese from the top table is justified on the basis that negotiations are now dealing primarily with European concerns, about which they have little to contribute.

Negotiations between the Allies have become increasingly tense, reflecting a fundamental divide in the approach of Clemenceau from that of Lloyd George and Wilson. Clemenceau wants punitive terms imposed on Germany, to prevent it ever threatening France again. The British and American leaders however fear so alienating Germany that it either refuses to sign the peace treaty or else reneges on it as soon afterwards as it can. Their further fear is that if Germany is treated too harshly it will follow Hungary into communism. And Lloyd George worries that if Germany is excessively weakened then France will become too powerful.

This divide affects Allied discussions on Poland’s frontiers, where Clemenceau is supporting proposals to give the country a wide corridor to the sea containing large numbers of Germans. But it is in the west that the difficulties are most acute. Clemenceau supports the separation of the Rhineland from the rest of Germany, something his French and British counterparts regard as a recipe for disaster. The French are also seeking the annexation of the Saar, a heavily industrialised border region rich in coal.

Clemenceau once more states France’s claim to the Saar today, leading to a major row between him and Wilson. Lloyd George and Orlando manage to smooth things over and a possible compromise is agreed: perhaps the Saar could remain autonomous and demilitarised. The French and American leaders ostensibly renew their friendship, but in private each comments on the other’s intransigence.

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David Lloyd George, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Georges Clemenceau & Woodrow Wilson enjoy a moment of levity (Wikipedia: The Big Four (World War I))

26/3/1919 The first food shipment arrives in Germany

Germany has been on short rations since 1914, when Britain’s naval blockade cut the country off from overseas food sources. That blockade has continued since the armistice, leading to increasing food insecurity and creating a humanitarian crisis. The Allies, particularly the French, are wary of lifting the blockade, fearing that Germany will re-provision itself and then renew the war, but reports of civilian suffering are increasingly preying on the consciences of Allied leaders. Steps have been taken to allow a partial lifting of the blockade, but difficulties have arisen over how Germany is to pay for food imports and how they are to be transported. Nevertheless, the first shipment of food finally arrives in Hamburg today, but Germany is still only receiving a trickle of supplies, not nearly enough to chase hunger away from the country.

14/3/1919 Keeping Germany weak and France strong

President Wilson is now back in Paris after his brief trip back home, so the conference can once more engage with its more difficult problems, chief among which is how to prevent Germany threatening European peace in the future. To the French, this particularly means their protection from a revived Germany. Foch has argued that Germany should effectively be permanently demilitarised, allowed to maintain only a tiny army of conscripts with no tanks, aircraft or general staff. The British however think it better that Germany instead maintain a small army of longer-serving volunteers. Their argument is that even a small conscript army would mean that Germany would over time have a considerable body of trained men available for war; Foch however fears that a professional force could provide the nucleus around which the German army could be greatly expanded.

The French are also seeking to reduce Germany in size. Unlike the British, they look favourably on the more grandiose claims Poland is advancing on German territory. They also support neutral Denmark’s claims to ownership of Schleswig-Holstein, absorbed into Germany in the last century. And Foch is arguing that the Rhineland (German territories on the west bank of the Rhine) should be either permanently occupied by the Allies or even detached from Germany and turned into a French client state.

Wilson and Lloyd George are particularly wary of French plans regarding the Rhineland. Wilson fears that a permanent occupation there will make the peace treaty harder to sell domestically. They reckon that plans to turn the Rhineland into a buffer state are doomed to failure, given the Rhinelanders’ signal lack of interest in independence from Germany. They also fear that detaching the Rhineland will simply create another Alsace-Lorraine, poisoning relations between France and Germany and laying the seeds for future conflict. So now they make an alternative proposal to Clemenceau. Instead of a Rhineland occupation, they offer France security guarantees, promising that Britain and the United States will come to its aid in the event of a German attack. The proposal intrigues Clemenceau, who is recovering well after the recent attempt on his life. He retreats to consider the matter with his closest advisors.

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)

7/3/1919 Germany continues to go hungry

The British naval blockade of Germany played a major part in its defeat, creating a food crisis in the country by preventing it from importing grain and other foodstuffs from overseas. Germany’s food situation has not improved since the armistice; if anything it has got worse. The British are still preventing Germany’s importation of food, pending a final peace settlement, and they are now also blocking German fishing boats from operating in the Baltic. As a result great suffering continues in Germany. Today Plumer, the commander of British occupation forces in western Germany, reports to Lloyd George that his men are increasingly shocked by the sight of malnourished children begging for food and combing the soldiers’ rubbish for edible scraps; many of his soldiers are sharing their rations with the children, thereby going hungry themselves.

Plumer fears that the food shortages in Germany are driving the country into the hands of the Spartacists. Plumer’s fears are shared by Herbert Hoover, the head of the American Relief Administration, an organisation tasked with providing food aid to Europe. Hoover sees the Allied blockade as the main obstacle to ensuring that Germans are adequately fed and is not afraid to say so. However, the French in particular object to the blockade being lifted before peace is concluded, fearing that Germany may build up its food stocks and then renew the war if food becomes available. For now at least the Germans will continue to go hungry.

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Deutschlands Kindern Hungern (Germany’s Children Are Starving), by Kathe Kollwitz (Wikiart)

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)