1919: The Spartacist Uprising

Weimar Germany

In January 1919 a left wing uprising occurred in Berlin. Originating in a General Strike of some half a million workers, this demonstration soon turned into a short but bloody uprising that we now call the Spartacist Uprising (Also spelt Spartakist).

Spartacist Uprising


The newly formed German Republic was governed by the relatively left wing SDP, led by Chancellor Ebert. Ebert and his government formulated policies that some left wing politicians believed were too generous to the demands of the right wing and conservative elements of German society. A number of things led to this dissatisfaction turning from relatively peaceful, pacisfist rmublings about the government, into a bloody uprising.

The trigger for the uprising was the dismissal of Berlin’s police chief,¬†Emil Eichhorn, on 4th January 1919. Eichorn himself protested, claiming that only the soviet style committee of Berlin could oust him legitimately. The following day, Shop stewards, the KPD (Communist Party) and USPD met. They agreed to work together to oust the Ebert Government. They mobilised their supporters and quickly took control of communication centres and important locations within Berlin.

The government briefly negotiated with the revolutionaries. However neither side were willing to make significant concessions in their demands. As the negotiations faltered, the protests became violent. Ebert moved his government to the safety of the town of Weimar and called in a combination of German soldiers and members of the Freicorps (A right wing group comprised mainly of former soldiers). Fully armed and having received training and experience of fighting in the First World War, they were more than a match for the Spartacists.

By January 8th 1919 several key locations had been recaptured including the Government Printing Office. The opposition began to fragment, with the KPD dismissing Karl Liebnecht and withdrawing its support for the uprising. On the 11th January 1919 the Freicorps surrounded the Police Headquarters, which was the stronghold of the left wing revolutionaries. It was captured on the 13th January, effectively ending the uprising.

In the following days a number of leading left wing politicians, notably Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were arrested by the Freikorps. Liebnecht and Luxemburg were unceremoniously executed upon their capture.

The Spartacist Uprising was quite probably doomed to failure from the start. They lacked military training and equipment, were a coalition of groups with differing visions for the future of Germany and had no clear chain of command. Against the German army and the Freikorps there was probably little doubt of the outcome. However, as fear of Bolshevism was already at fever pitch amongst the centre and right of German society, such an uprising in Berlin significantly increased anti-communist sentiment and fears of a Russian style revolution during the forthcoming elections.

Footage filmed during the Spartacist Uprising.

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