Spartacist uprising

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This article is about the 1919 uprising in Germany. For the slave revolt in the Roman Republic led by Spartacus, see Third Servile War.
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 4 to 15 January 1919. Its suppression marked the end of the German Revolution. The name "Spartacist uprising" is generally used for the event even though neither the Spartacist League of Rosa Luxemburg fame (the Spartakusbund) nor the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) planned, initiated or led this uprising; each participated only after popular resistance had begun. This uprising contributed to German disillusionment with the Weimar Government. Their leaders were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.


Several workers spontaneously seized the editorial office of one newspaper in the Kochstraße in Berlin and erected barricades on the streets. This attracted more workers who blocked further streets in the newspaper quarter- including the office of Germany's Social Democrat SPD organ "Forward" (Vorwärts). This Social Democrat paper had printed articles hostile to the Spartacists since the beginning of September.

The Revolution Committee[edit]

The leaders of the USPD and the KPD/Communist Party decided to support this worker-action, appealing for a general strike in Berlin on 7 January. The strike garnered about 500,000 participants, who surged into downtown Berlin that weekend. 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 then head of government, Friedrich Ebert. Meanwhile, the strikers in the occupied quarter obtained weapons.

Internal disagreement[edit]

Within the Communist Party there was further dissent. Karl Liebknecht, unlike Rosa Luxemburg, supported a militant coup over Ebert's government, else the KPD would be alienated from worker elements planning the coup. At the same time some KPD leaders tried persuading state military regiments in Berlin, especially the Volksmarinedivision, to their side. Their armed presence was supposed to instigate fighting. This was unsuccessful because most soldiers had either gone home or because their loyalty was to the post-war republican government, known as the Council of People's Deputies ("Rat der Volksbeauftragten", ie., the flag of the regiment).

On 8 January 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 Vorwärts titled "Die Stunde der Abrechnung naht!" (The hour of reckoning 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 6 January. Then the Revolution Committee stopped talks with the SPD. The Spartacist League then called for its members to take part in armed combat.

Attack by the Freikorps[edit]

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. Around 100 civilians and 17 Freikorps soldiers died during the fighting. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by the Freikorps and murdered.

See also[edit]