Spartacist uprising

January 1919: Barricade in Berlin during the uprising.

The Spartacist uprising (German: Spartakusaufstand), also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike (and the armed battles accompanying it) in Germany from January 5 to January 12, 1919. Its suppression is considered to mark the end of the German Revolution. The name Spartacist uprising is generally used for the event even though neither the Spartakusbund nor the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) initiated or led the uprising and only participated after it had already begun. It was only one of a number of reasons contributing to disillusionment within Germany towards the Weimar Government.

The uprising began after the January 4 discharge of the Berlin Chief of Police Emil Eichhorn, a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) by the "Council of the People's Deputies" (Rat der Volksbeauftragten), whose politics were mainly controlled by Friedrich Ebert from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) since the USPD left the committee December 29, 1918. Eichhorn had refused to take up arms against striking workers in the Christmas turmoils on December 24, so that Ebert considered him to be unreliable.

Several workers then spontaneously seized the editorial office of a newspaper in the Kochstrae in Berlin and erected barricades on the streets. They were soon joined by more workers and blocked several streets in the newspaper quarter, including the office of the SPD organ "Forward" (Vorwrts). The newspaper had printed articles hostile to the Spartacists since the beginning of September.

The leaders of the USPD and the KPD soon decided to support the actions of the workers. They appealed for a general strike in Berlin on January 7, which was followed by about 500,000 people, who surged into downtown Berlin on that weekend. In the following two days, however, the strike leadership, the so-called Revolution Committee, was not able to agree on how to proceed. Some called for armed insurgency, others advocated deliberations with Ebert. The workers still squatting in the buildings obtained weapons.

Even within the Communist Party there was dissent on what to do. Karl Liebknecht, unlike Rosa Luxemburg, advocated violently overthrowing the Ebert government, because otherwise the KPD could become too distant from the workers who were planning to do just this. At the same time several KPD leaders tried to persuade the regiments stationed in Berlin, especially the Volksmarinedivision, to their side. Their armed presence was supposed to prevent fighting. This was, however, unsuccessful, because most of the soldiers had already gone home or because of their loyalty to the Rat der Volksbeauftragten.

On January 8, the KPD left the Revolution Committee after USPD representatives had invited Friedrich Ebert for talks. While these took place, the workers found out about a flyer published by Vorwrts titled "Die Stunde der Abrechnung naht!" (The hour of vengeance is coming soon!) and about the Freikorps (anti-Republican paramilitary organizations, who fought the Weimar Republic and the November Revolution), whom the SPD administration had hired to suppress the workers. Ebert had ordered defense minister Gustav Noske, also a member of the SPD, to do so on January 6. Then the Revolution Committee stopped talks with the SPD. The Spartacist League then called for its members to take part in armed combat.

On the same day, Ebert ordered the Freikorps to attack the workers. The former soldiers still had weapons and military equipment from World War I, which gave them a formidable advantage. They quickly re-conquered the blocked streets and buildings; many of the workers surrendered, which did not prevent the soldiers from shooting hundreds of them. An unknown number of civilians also died during the fighting. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by Freikorps and killed.

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This article incorporates information from the revision as of October 18, 2006 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

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