Berlin, january 1919

the first Spartacist uprising

At the beginning of January 1919 the state was in a crisis. A part of the working class began to get impatient, especially in Berlin. But there was a great danger that if the Berlin workers tried to take power alone they could end up isolated & endash; the same happened in Russia in July 1917.

But the ruling class was getting impatient as well and wanted action. Ebert and the army officers planned an attack on the Spartacists. On December 29 Ebert asked Noske, along with the Freikorps, a voluntary anti-Bolshevik part of the army, to lead the attack. Noske had become the People's Commissar of Defence on January 6. A vicious campaign against the Spartacists (especially Luxemburg and Liebknecht) was executed by the bourgeois press, assisted by the Social Democratic paper. At the same time the SPD government also opened a campaign against the police chairman in Berlin, Emil Eichorn, because he was a member of the USPD and publicly known to be a revolutionary. The SPD attacked Eichorn to provoke the Spartacists, the USPD and the Berlin workers into premature action. Many workers saw Eichorn as the last bulwark for their defence in the city. On January 3 Eichorn was asked to resign, but refused to do so. The Berlin executive of the USPD, which was in discussions with the revolutionary shop stewards, adopted a resolution supporting Eichorn and met with the leaders of the KPD.

January 5, 1919

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Advance of armed Spartacist 'troops' Spartacists in advance to the 'Vorwärts'

January 7, 1919

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On top of the Brandenburger Tor:
government loyal troops (Freikorps), armed with machineguns and handgranates,
ready to fight the Spartacists. 

Together the USPD, KPD and revolutionary shop stewards called for a mass demonstration on January 5, 1919. Hundred of thousands of workers marched to the police headquarters. A revolutionary committee was established with representatives from the USPD, the KPD and the revolutionary shop stewards. They were informed that the Berlin garrison was supporting them and that they could rely on military assistance. With this apparent support they decided to use the opportunity to try and overthrow the SPD government. The next day 500,000 workers were on strike and a massive demonstration took place. Several places were occupied by the workers: the SPD paper Vorwärts, along with the railway headquarters, food warehouses, etc.

January 11, 1919

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Spartacist barricades in defense of the Vorwärts building

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Spartacists defending the Vorwärts building

Freikorps troops in front of the Vorwärts building

On January 10 and during the following days, the Freikorps and the other troops gathered by Noske moved into the city. The government was determined to take back the Vorwärts building, and attacked it with heavy artillery. The 300 workers occupying it had to surrender. In a week 156 had been killed.


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Freikorps artillery firing
upon the Vorwärts
The damaged Vorwärts building after the shelling

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The damaged Vorwärts building after the shelling

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The damaged buildings of the Berliner Tageblatt after the shelling

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Captured and disarmed Spatacists are taken away

Various scenes in Berlin January 1919

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Machineguns at the
Brandenburger Tor

Freikorps troops and civilians
guard the
Brandenburger Tor

Barricades of the Spartacists

Barbed wire entanglement
at the Spittelmarkt

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