Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/564/6836

From The Socialist newspaper, 28 January 2009

Historical feature

Germany 1919 The Spartacist uprising

NINETY YEARS ago this month the German workers rose in the 'Spartacist uprising' - a turning point in the German revolution of 1917-1923 which led to the tragic deaths of revolutionary socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. To mark this event, we reproduce below an article by Tony Aitman from Militant (the forerunner of The Socialist) written in January 1989.

THE REVOLUTIONARY wave of 1918 and the overthrow of the monarchy had led to a state of 'dual power' - the imaginary power of the government and the real power of the thousands in the workers', soldiers' and sailors' councils (equivalent of the Russian soviets).

Thousands more workers were coming into activity for the first time. If they had been conscious of their power, they could have built a new workers' state. But they looked for a lead first from the organisations they had built, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Independent Socialists (USPD).

On 10 November 1918 the provisional executive of the Berlin workers' and soldiers' councils appointed a government of three from the SPD and three from the USPD. Immediately this government tried to stem the tide of revolution by rallying the scattered forces behind the capitalists into a loyal army. And it called for a constituent assembly as a counterweight to the workers' councils.

The question of leadership was crucial. The USPD had split from the SPD in 1917 with widespread support. It hovered between reform and revolution, using the language of Marxism but failing to act.

It contained both reformists like Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein and revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the revolutionary Spartacists, who could have played a vital role in leading the movement to victory.

The capitalists now relied only on the SPD to save the day. Government soldiers attacked the Spartacists. The High Command, in compliance with SPD leader Friedrich Ebert, brought ten divisions into Berlin to take power from the workers' councils - only to see them go over to the workers!

Monarchists, counter-revolutionaries and SPD leaders called openly for the murder of the Spartacist leaders. SPD minister Gustav Noske organised the notorious Freikorps, military units from the dregs of the old imperial forces and right-wing groups, forerunners of Hitler's Nazis.

On 29 December, in a baptism of fire, the Spartacists founded the Communist Party (KPD). Berlin was in crisis. The three USPD ministers had resigned. There was fear of a coup and growing clashes between Freikorps and workers.

Noske, the right-wing Social Democrat who had assumed the title of People's Commissar of Defence on 6 January 1919, showed whom he was 'defending' when he told a meeting of Freikorps leaders that "one of us has to be the bloodhound".

Provocation

The government provoked a bloody show-down by trying to remove USPD member Eichorn as Berlin police president. The USPD and KPD, with the revolutionary shop stewards' movement, set up a revolutionary committee and called a demonstration for 5 January.

Thousands marched to the police headquarters to support Eichorn. Believing that military garrisons in Berlin, Spandau and Frankfurt were supporting them, the committee called for the overthrow of the Ebert-Noske-Scheidemann government.

Next day 500,000 workers took to the streets. Newspaper offices, railway headquarters and food warehouses were occupied. The leadership of the revolutionary committee, including KPD leaders Liebknecht and Piek, called for insurrection.

But this had not been discussed with the KPD leadership and, despite the tension, it was also premature. As in Petrograd, Russia, in July 1917, Berlin workers were in advance of the rest of Germany.

These wrong tactics, just when the counter-revolution was preparing for confrontation, were to prove catastrophic. On 10 January Noske sent reactionary troops against the KPD. Within a week, 158 had been killed and hundreds wounded. The terror continued unabated. KPD leaders were arrested. One, Jogiches, was later murdered 'trying to escape'.

Then on 15 January, Liebknecht and Luxemburg were brutally murdered by Freikorps officers. Their killers got away virtually scot-free. As the Freikorps attempted to 'restore order', thousands of workers were killed.

At the end of February, the general assembly of Berlin councils called a general strike. 30,000 Freikorps troops under Noske entered the city. When the fighting ended, 2,000-3,000 workers were dead and at least 10,000 wounded.

The capitalists were back in power. The working class had lost their most able leaders. However, this counter-revolution was temporary. The organised working class recovered its political strength and the KPD grew rapidly as the crisis in capitalism deepened, culminating in a new revolutionary opportunity in 1923.


Further reading

The German Revolution and the Debate on Soviet Power
The Communist International in Lenin's Time: Documents: 1918-1919 - Preparing the founding congress.
Edited by John Riddell (various authors)

The documents in this book, most of them never published before, record the first months of the 1918-1919 German revolution.

Published 2003 by Pathfinder. 687 pages paperback. 24
1917: the year that changed the world
Lessons of the Russian Revolution
Published November 2007.
48 pages paperback. 3.00

See also 90th anniversary of murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by Peter Taaffe in the February 2009 issue of Socialism Today. Details on page 8.

Order books and pamphlets from Socialist Books, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. 020 8988 8789

bookshop@socialistparty.org.uk

www.socialistbooks.org.uk

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 28 January 2009:

JOIN THE MARCH FOR JOBS

Defend jobs and services

Era of illusions in capitalism ending

The crisis in manufacturing: Fighting for jobs and living standards

No pay discrimination against young people

Ferengi dealers


Slaughter in Gaza

Coventry protest over Gaza onslaught

Israel: Thousands march in Jaffa against Gaza massacre

Students' angry sit-ins


Anti-racism

Stop the racist BNP

Stop the deportation of Yahya Al-Faifi


Socialist Party campaigns

Socialist councillor opposes Tory plans for education privatisation

Labour's abandoning of the working class

Croydon: Striking against academies

Scotland: Step up opposition to cuts

Fast News


Socialist Party workplace news

Fighting council cuts

Say 'no' to the Metro privateers

Amicus Unity Gazette left with egg on its face

Unison right wing exposed

Victory for left in Glasgow Unison

Solid support for Glasgow strike

Building a fighting Unison leadership


Education

Build a mass movement for free education

Save our school!


Marxist analysis: history

Germany 1919 The Spartacist uprising


International socialist news and analysis

Russia: Bosses sack auto-factory union leader

Courageous socialist activist, campaigning journalist and human rights activist


Socialist Party news

Obituary - Barry Malone


Socialist Party reviews

A People's History of Sports in the United States

The Reader


 

Home   |   The Socialist 28 January 2009   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Germany:

triangleSwansea Socialist Party1919: When Germany was on the brink of socialism

triangleGermany: School student walkouts reject Coal Commission proposals

triangleEurope: school students strike against climate change

triangleCardiff Socialist Party: 1919 - When Germany was on the brink of socialism

triangleHeroic martyrs of German Revolution

Germany 1919:

triangleWirral & Chester Socialist Party: The Spartacist uprising in Germany 1919

Revolution:

triangleWest London Socialist Party: 60 years since the Cuban revolution

triangle40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Reform or Revolution?

Socialist:

triangleLiverpool John Moores Socialist Students: International women's day - Women's Lives Matter

The Socialist:

triangleManchester Socialist Party: The record of the Socialist Party

Rosa Luxemburg:

triangleBristol North Socialist Party: Rosa Luxemburg and the German Revolution

Militant:

triangleTheatre: Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

Karl Liebknecht:

triangleThe Corbyn insurgency 2.0: Now let's finish the job

Historic events

Historic events

6/2/19

Iran

40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles

23/1/19

Cuba

Cuban revolution at 60: defend the gains and fight for workers' democracy

16/1/19

Winter of Discontent

The 1979 'Winter of Discontent'

9/1/19

Rosa Luxemburg

Heroic martyrs of German Revolution

12/12/18

Scotland

John Maclean - revolutionary fighter of the working class

14/11/18

War

1918: revolution ends World War One

7/11/18

Mexico

Mexico: The movement of 68 and the massacre of Tlatelolco

31/10/18

Peterloo

Peterloo: "If the people were to rise and smite their enemies, was not this the time?" Samuel Bamford, demonstrator

24/10/18

Shropshire

1821 Cinderloo uprising: "The crowd thought it had nothing else to lose"

10/10/18

Far-right

25 years since 50,000 marched against the far-right threat

12/9/18

Capitalism

10 years since the financial crash - the socialist answer to capitalist crisis

29/8/18

Police

100 years since police went on strike: "never nearer to Bolshevism"

6/6/18

Dagenham

'Made in Dagenham' Ford machinists pay strike 50 years on

23/5/18

Section 28

30 years on from Section 28: the legacy of fighting LGBT+ attacks must continue

23/5/18

France 1968

May 1968: 'Communist' leaders hand power back to defeated bosses

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999