Spartacist uprising

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Spartacist Uprising
Part of German Revolution of 1918–1919
Soldiers the Brandenburger Tor during the Spartacist uprising Jan 7 1919.jpg
Soldiers on the Brandenburger Tor during the Spartacist uprising
Date5–12 January 1919
Result Government victory

Flag of Germany.svg Council of the People's Deputies

Flag of the Communist Party of Germany.svg Communist Party of Germany

Socialist red flag.svg Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Germany.svg Friedrich Ebert
Flag of Germany.svg Gustav Noske
Flag of the Communist Party of Germany.svg Karl Liebknecht   Skull and Crossbones.svg
Flag of the Communist Party of Germany.svg Rosa Luxemburg   Skull and Crossbones.svg
3,000 Freikorps
Casualties and losses
17 killed
20 wounded
156–196 insurgents and civilians killed

The Spartacist uprising (German : Spartakusaufstand), also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike (and the armed battles accompanying it) in Berlin from 5 to 12 January 1919. Germany was in the middle of a post-war revolution, and two of the perceived paths forward were social democracy and a council republic similar to the one which had been established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. The uprising was primarily a power struggle between the moderate Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) led by Friedrich Ebert, and the radical communists of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had previously founded and led the Spartacist League (Spartakusbund).

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

General strike strike action in which a substantial proportion of the total labour force in a city, region, or country participates

A general strike is a strike action in which a substantial proportion of the total labour force in a city, region, or country participates. General strikes are characterised by the participation of workers in a multitude of workplaces, and tend to involve entire communities. General strikes first occurred in the mid-19th century, and have characterised many historically important strikes.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with Potsdam, Brandenburg's capital. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.


The revolt was improvised and small-scale and was quickly crushed by the superior firepower of government troops. [1] Berlin was largely undisturbed. [1] Long-distance trains continued to run on time and newspapers remained on sale, as the rebels passively confined themselves to only a few select locations. [1]

Similar uprisings occurred and were suppressed in Bremen, the Ruhr, Rhineland, Saxony, Hamburg, Thuringia and Bavaria, and a round of bloodier street battles occurred in Berlin in March.

Bremen Soviet Republic

The Bremen Soviet Republic was an unrecognised, short-lived state, existing for 25 days in 1919. It consisted of the state of Bremen, Germany. The republic was established amid the German Revolution.

Soviet Republic of Saxony

The Soviet Republic of Saxony was a short-lived, unrecognised socialist state during the German Revolution of 1918–19.

Peoples State of Bavaria

The People's State of Bavaria was a short-lived socialist state in Bavaria from 1918 to 1919. The People's State of Bavaria was established on 8 November 1918 during the German Revolution, as an attempt at a socialist state to replace the Kingdom of Bavaria within the Weimar Republic. The state was led by Kurt Eisner until his assassination in February 1919, and co-existed with the rival Bavarian Soviet Republic from 6 April 1919, with its government under Johannes Hoffmann exiled in Bamberg. The People's State of Bavaria was dissolved upon the establishment of the Free State of Bavaria on 14 August 1919.


After their experiences with the SPD and the USPD, the Spartacists concluded that their goals could be met only in a party of their own, and they founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) at the end of 1918. Because of the unhappiness of many workers with the course of the revolution, they were joined by other left-socialist groups. After deliberations with the Spartacists, the Revolutionary Stewards decided to remain in the USPD.

Communist Party of Germany former political party in Germany

The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956.

During the First World War (1914–1918), the Revolutionary Stewards were shop stewards who were independent from the official unions and freely chosen by workers in various German industries. They rejected the war policies of the German Empire and the support which parliamentary representatives of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) gave to these policies. They also played a role during the German Revolution of 1918–19.

Rosa Luxemburg drew up her founding programme and presented it on 31 December 1918. In this programme, she pointed out that the communists could never take power without the clear support of the majority of the people. On 1 January she again demanded that the KPD participate in the planned elections, but she was outvoted. The majority hoped to gain power by continued agitation in the factories and by "pressure from the streets".

Strikes and uprising

Spartacist League poster of 1919, showing a worker fighting the Hydra of capitalism, the nobility, and "new militarism" Was will Spartakus%3F.jpg
Spartacist League poster of 1919, showing a worker fighting the Hydra of capitalism, the nobility, and "new militarism"

As in November 1918, a second revolutionary wave developed on 4 January 1919 when the government dismissed the Police Chief of Berlin, Emil Eichhorn, who was a member of the USPD and who had refused to act against the demonstrating workers during the Christmas Crisis. The USPD, the Revolutionary Stewards and KPD took up Eichhorn's call for a demonstration to take place on the following day. [2] To the surprise of the organizers, the demonstration turned into a huge, mass demonstration which also attracted the support of many Socialist Party members. On Sunday 5 January, as on 9 November 1918, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the centre of Berlin, many of them armed. In the afternoon the train stations and the newspaper district with the offices of the middle-class press and the SPD's "Vorwärts", which had been printing articles hostile to the Spartacists since the beginning of September, were occupied. Some of the middle-class papers in the previous days had called not only for the raising of more Freikorps but also for the murder of the Spartacists.

Emil Eichhorn was a USPD politician and Chief of the Berlin Police during the 1918–1919 German Revolution.

<i>Vorwärts</i> periodical literature

Vorwärts is a newspaper published by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Founded in 1876, it was the central organ of the SPD for many decades. Following the party's Halle Congress (1891), it was published daily as the successor of Berliner Volksblatt, founded in 1884. Today it is published monthly, mailed to all SPD members.

The leaders of the movement assembled at Police Headquarters and elected a 53-member "Interim Revolutionary Committee" (Provisorischer Revolutionsausschuss), which failed to make use of its power and was unable to agree on any clear direction. Liebknecht demanded the overthrow of the government. Rosa Luxemburg, as well as the majority of KPD leaders, considered a revolt at this moment to be a catastrophe and explicitly spoke out against it.

Group photograph of Spartacist militia during the fighting in Berlin in January 1919 Cpartakovtsy-2.png
Group photograph of Spartacist militia during the fighting in Berlin in January 1919

The leaders of the USPD and KPD called for a general strike in Berlin on 7 January, and the subsequent strike attracted about 500,000 participants who surged into downtown Berlin. Within the strike, some of the participants organized a plan to oust the more moderate social democrat government and launch a communist revolution. Insurgents seized key buildings, which led to a standoff with the government. During the following two days, however, the strike leadership (known as the ad-hoc "Revolution Committee") failed to resolve the classic dichotomy between militarized revolutionaries committed to a genuinely new society and reformists advocating deliberations with the government. Meanwhile, the strikers in the occupied quarter obtained weapons.

At the same time, some KPD leaders tried to persuade military regiments in Berlin, especially the People's Navy Division, the Volksmarinedivision, to join their side, however they mostly failed in this endeavour. The navy unit was not willing to support the armed revolt and declared themselves neutral, and the other regiments stationed in Berlin mostly remained loyal to the government.

On 8 January, the KPD resigned from the Revolutionary Committee after USPD representatives invited Ebert for talks. While these talks were taking place, the workers discovered a flyer published by Vorwärts entitled "Die Stunde der Abrechnung naht!" (The hour of reckoning is coming soon!) and about the Freikorps (anti-Communist paramilitary organizations) being hired to suppress the workers. Ebert had ordered his defense minister, Gustav Noske, to do so on 6 January. When the talks broke off, the Spartacist League then called on its members to engage in armed combat.

<i>Freikorps</i> German volunteer military units

Freikorps were German military volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, which effectively fought as mercenary or private armies, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry, sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.

Gustav Noske German politician

Gustav Noske was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). He served as the first Minister of Defence (Reichswehrminister) of the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1920. Noske has been a controversial figure because although he was a member of the socialist movement, he used army and paramilitary forces to bloodily suppress the socialist/communist uprisings of 1919.

Attack by the Freikorps

German troops with a heavy mortar during the January uprising. Berlin Strassenkampfe.jpg
German troops with a heavy mortar during the January uprising.

On the same day, Ebert ordered 3,000 Freikorps soldiers to attack the Spartacists. These 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 and many of the insurgents surrendered. Between 156 and 196 insurgents [3] and 17 Freikorps soldiers died during the fighting.

Execution of Luxemburg and Liebknecht

At 21:00 on 15 January, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were discovered in a Berlin-Wilmersdorf apartment by a citizen militia, arrested and brought over by car to the headquarters of the largest Freikorps unit, the heavily armed Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division, at the Eden-Hotel. [4] The division's first staff officer, Major Waldemar Pabst, had them questioned. [5] He then called over the Marine-Squadron-Pflugk of torpedo boat captain Horst von Pflugk-Harttung, whom he ordered to transfer Liebknecht from the hotel to Moabit prison. [6] Liebknecht was beaten up, driven to Tiergarten Park and executed at close range with three shots. [7] The body was delivered as an unidentified man to a morgue. [7]

Thirty minutes later, Luxemburg was brought through the hotel lobby, where a guard hit her twice in the head with his rifle butt. [7] More soldiers and officers joined in beating her up. [7] Luxemburg may already have been dead at this point. [7] She was moved to a truck and shot once in the back of the head. [7] Her body was thrown into the Landwehr Canal, where, despite searches by fire-brigade divers, it was found only on 1 June. [8]

Spartacist irregulars holding a street in Berlin AlzadosEspartaquistas..png
Spartacist irregulars holding a street in Berlin

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Jones 2016, p. 183.
  2. "1919: The Spartacist Uprising". Weimar and Nazi Germany. September 29, 2013.
  3. Jones 2016, p. 197.
  4. Jones 2016, p. 234.
  5. Jones 2016, pp. 234–235.
  6. Jones 2016, p. 235.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jones 2016, p. 236.
  8. Jones 2016, pp. 236–237.


Further reading

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