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)

19/1/1919 Germany goes to the polls, rejecting the extremes of right and left

Today Germans vote in their country’s first ever fully free elections. Voters are choosing the members of an assembly that will write a new constitution for the country. Proportional representation has been introduced to prevent the overrepresentation of rural areas seen in elections to the imperial Reichstag, while for the first time women are voting on the same basis as men. All men and women aged 20 or over are entitled to vote, with property qualifications and various Wilhelmine-era chicaneries used to minimise the vote of unsound elements eliminated.

The results show strong support for the parties of the current status quo. The Social Democrats (the SPD) win 38% of the vote, the Centre Party (mainly representing Catholics) wins 20%, and the liberal German Democratic Party wins 19%. The reactionary conservative German National People’s Party wins just 10% of the vote. To the left of the SPD, the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) gains less than 8% of the vote. The Spartacists meanwhile boycott the election, a decision taken by them before their failed uprising.

The constituent assembly will meet soon to begin its work. Because Berlin is still in a somewhat restive state, the new parliament will assemble in the quieter Thuringian city of Weimar.

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“Women! Same rights, same responsibilities. Vote Social Democrat!” (DW: Weimar, 1919: Birth of Germany’s first democracy)

15/1/1919 Liebknecht and Luxemburg murdered by the Freikorps

The paramilitary Freikorps have crushed the Spartacist revolt that had threatened Ebert‘s government. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg went into hiding, as did other Spartacist leaders.

Today Liebknecht and Luxemburg are captured by a Freikorps unit. Under the direction of Captain Waldemar Pabst, the two are interrogated and tortured. Both are clubbed in the face with rifle butts before Pabst orders them shot. Luxemburg’s body is dumped in a canal while Liebknecht is deposited in a morgue with other unidentified corpses.

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Rosa Luxemburg in 1915 (Wikipedia)

Karl Liebknecht (Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) on Twitter)

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)

9/11/1918 Germany overthrows the Kaiser #1918Live

A revolutionary wind is blowing through Germany but the Kaiser is facing increasing calls to abdicate but remains determined to hold onto his throne. Nevertheless even in conservative circles some are now thinking that the Kaiser must go in order to take the sting out of the revolution. At military headquarters in Spa the Kaiser is joined by his son, the Crown Prince, and he meets with senior military leaders to make plans for the future. He talks of leading the army back to Germany to restore order, but Groener, the army’s quartermaster-general, administers the death blow: he informs the Kaiser that he no longer enjoys the confidence of the army. “The army,” he says, “will march back to Germany peacefully and orderly under its commanders and commanding generals, but not at the command of your majesty, because it no longer supports your majesty”.

To support Groener’s proposition, the views of a group of officers who have just arrived at Spa are canvassed. Of the thirty-nine, just one is in favour of marching behind the Kaiser. Even without the Kaiser they see an armistice as a vital precondition before any attempt to restore order in Germany can be attempted.

The Kaiser is shocked. He resolves to resign as Emperor of Germany but remain as King of Prussia. Then he goes for lunch while this news is cabled to Berlin. But disturbing reports soon arrive from Berlin. Prince Max, the Chancellor, has announced the Kaiser’s complete abdication as both emperor and king. And Scheidemann, a leading Social Democrat, has gone further: to cheering crowds gathered outside the Chancellery he announces the abolition of the monarchy. Germany is now a republic.
The Kaiser attempts to send messages to Berlin informing them that he his only abdicating as Emperor and not as King of Prussia, but no one is listening. Rumours begin to spread that the Kaiser’s personal safety cannot be guaranteed and that the soldiers making up his personal guard are no longer reliable. He finally bows to the inevitable and agrees to go into exile in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile in Berlin the situation remains chaotic. Prince Max has resigned as Chancellor, handing power to Ebert, but Ebert is furious with Scheidemann for declaring a republic, feeling that only a constituent assembly could make this change. Scheidemann is unrepentant. His spontaneous declaration has taken the wind out of the sails of Karl Liebknecht, the Spartacist leader, who had planned to proclaim a socialist republic on the Bolshevik model.

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Philipp Scheidemann declares the Republic (Wikipedia: Philipp Scheidemann)