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The 'Spartacist Uprising'
In Berlin in early January, there existed a state of crisis. The three USPD ministers had
just resigned from the government. Fears of a coup had begun to circulate, the
campaign by the extreme right against the Spartacists was in full swing, and an
anxious and frustrated mood began to develop amongst the advanced workers. After
its formation, the Communist Party of Germany began to conduct a relentless
campaign against the Social Democratic Government and for the need to extend and
complete the socialist revolution. Reaction, in league with the right wing ministers,
was preparing a bloody showdown with the Spartacists and the ranks of the
Independents in order to strike a decisive blow against the revolution and prepare the
way for the restoration of the old order.
In 1925 General Groener, at a trial in Munich, described the plot hatched between the
general staff and Ebert and Noske: 'On 29 December Ebert summoned Noske to lead
the troops against the Spartacists. On that same day the volunteer corps assembled,
and everything was now ready for the opening of hostilities.' Again, General Georg
Maercker's memoirs recorded: 'In the very first days of January a meeting attended by
Noske, who had just returned from Kiel, took place at General Staff Headquarters in
Berlin with the Freikorps leaders concerning the details of the march (into Berlin).'
Gustav Noske, who, on 6 January, had assumed the title of 'People's Commissar of
Defence', answered the call to deal with the Berlin workers with the words: 'One of us
has to be the bloodhound'. Noske was to relish this new-found role.
At the end of December a price of 10,000 German marks had been put on the head of
Karl Radek, the Bolshevik representative in Germany, by the Anti-Bolshevik League. At
the same time a campaign of denigration was carried out against Emil Eichhorn, the
police president of Berlin and a member of the USPD. He had organised a new 'left'
police force of 2000 workers and soldiers. The action against this man was to be used
as the provocation to force the Spartacists, the ranks of the USPD and the Berlin
workers into premature action. On 3 January, after a series of false charges, Eichhorn
was called upon by the Ministry of the Interior to resign. The right-wing Social
Democrat, Eugen Ernst, was to be appointed in his place. As expected, Eichhorn
refused to budge.
At the time of this provocation, the Berlin Executive of the USPD, which was in
discussions with the Revolutionary Shop Stewards, immediately adopted a resolution
supporting Eichhorn. They then met with KPD leaders to discuss joint action. With the
refusal of the government to back down, the USPD Executive in Berlin, together with
the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the KPD, called for a mass demonstration on 5
January. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of workers marching to police
headquarters. A 'Revolutionary Committee' was established representing the Berlin
USPD, the KPD and the Revolutionary Shop Stewards. They were informed that the
Berlin garrison was supporting their stand and that they could rely on military
assistance from Spandau and Frankfurt. The Committee therefore decided, given their
apparent support, to resist the dismissal and use the opportunity to attempt the
overthrow of the Ebert-Noske-Scheidemann government.
In December groups of revolutionary workers had occupied the editorial offices of
Vorwaerts, the journal of the SPD. They had been persuaded to leave, but now, once
again, the suggestion was made of a further occupation. After accomplishing this,
other important news printing offices were also occupied. The next day, 500,000
workers took to the streets, as many large factories went on strike. Further
demonstrations were called by the Revolutionary Committee, which then went into
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The workers not only occupied the Vorwaerts and the press quarters, but also the Reich
printing office, the railway headquarters, food warehouses and other buildings. Even
the Reichstag was occupied for a brief period. Noske later wrote:
"Great masses of workers...answered the call to struggle. Their favourite slogan 'Down, down, down'
(with the government) resounded once more. I had to cross the procession at the Brandenburg Gate, in
the Tiergarten, and again in front of general staff headquarters. Many marchers were armed.…read more
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The Revolution Committee
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 garnered about 500,000 people, who
surged into downtown Berlin that weekend. In the following two days, however, the strike
leadership, the socalled 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.…read more