February 11, 1919: Ebert appointed
When it became clear that the war was lost, a new government was
formed by Prince
Maximilian of Baden which included Ebert and other members of the
SPD in October 1918. Following the outbreak of the German
Revolution, Prince Max resigned on 9 November, and handed his office
over to Ebert. Prince Max also declared that the Kaiser
had abdicated. Ebert favoured retaining the monarchy under a different
ruler ("If the Kaiser does not abdicate, the social revolution is
inevitable. But I do not want it, I even hate it like sin"
he had said to Max von Baden on 7 November). On the same day, however,
Scheidemann proclaimed the German Republic, in response to the unrest in
Berlin and in order to counter a declaration of the "Free Socialist
Republic" by Karl
Liebknecht later that day. Ebert reproached him: "You have no
right to proclaim the Republic!" By this he meant that the decision
was to be made by an elected national assembly, even if that decision
might be the restoration of the monarchy.
however thought that - despite the defeat in January - a continuation of
the revolution would be possible. On 3 March 1919 the plenary assembly of
the workers council of Berlin decided with a overwhelming majority on a
political general strike to protect the revolution. They demanded the
recognition of the worker and soldier councils, the release of political
prisoners, the abolition of the military court martial, the foundation of
a revolutionary workers resistance, the abolition of the right-wing
extremists volunteer federations, etc.
declared a state of siege in the city and gave the order for the Freikorps
to enter Berlin on 4 March. That afternoon, crowds gathered outside
the police headquarters on Alexanderplatz and, having roughly handled a
Freikorps detachment, promptly found themselves on the receiving end of
armoured car machine guns.
March 4, 1919
On the next day the
People's Naval Division received news that they had been 'disbanded' after
the government issued an official announcement of the fact.
Disgruntled, a group of sailors approached the Berlin Police HQ to voice
their protest. Jumpy from the previous day, one of the Freikorps
soldiers shot and mortally wounded a sailor. Enraged and wanting
revenge, the People's Naval Division threw their lot in with the
revolutionaries. That night angry mobs, including sailors,
surrounded the police station and were only kept at bay by sustained rifle
March 6 saw the climax to the fighting. Colonel Reinhard arrived near the Alexanderplatz with his Freikorps and even a tank. The infantry split into small groups and began to slash a path through the revolutionaries, rapidly taking over their key strong-points.
defenders in a neighbouring building named the 'People's Marine House'
offered stiffer resistance. To help crush these revolutionaries an
air strike was called in – yet the sailors continued fight on.
Reinhard ordered an outright assault, but it took three attacking waves
before victory was secured.
March 9-12, 1919
The Spartacists and
their allies were then slowly beaten back to working-class tenements of
East Berlin. Here they threw up barricades and turned the entire
suburb of Lichtenberg into an armed fortress. An estimated 10,000
revolutionaries prepared for the final showdown.
For the next four days the Freikorps ripped into East Berlin. Thirty sailors from the People's Naval Division were gunned down in a courtyard for having the audacity to turn up to a government office demanding back pay. In one case a father and a son were dragged into the street and shot. T heir crime: possessing the handle of a stick grenade.
By 12 March, the
Freikorps burst into the building housing the Workers' Council of Berlin,
the Spartacist nerve centre. The Council was forcibly dissolved and
peace slowly returned to Berlin's streets. Noske had destroyed the
Spartacists and seen the sailors crushed, yet the price had been high:
between 1,200 and 1,500 were dead and roughly 12,000 wounded, although
with negligible losses to the Freikorps.
March 9, 1919
March 12, 1919
Many of those involved in smashing the Berlin uprisings sincerely believed that that they were saving lives in the long run by stopping Germany from descending into a Red Terror as experienced by millions in Lenin's Russia.
In this their fears were well grounded. Liebknecht certainly had no bones about calling for the blood of his enemies, and the Spartacists and the People's Naval Division had a propensity for using fighting methods equally as brutal as those favoured by the Freikorps.
But regardless of
the threat Germany faced, it is difficult to excuse much of the suffering
the Freikorps inflicted on Berliners, particularly in March 1919.
The freehand given to them in the capital, the lessons they had learnt
there, and the official recognition they subsequently received would
critically weaken the new Weimar Republic.