The Fight for the Republic continues!
In the wake of the failed Spartacist Uprising, the Far-Right smells blood in the water. While the leading figures of the Far-Left assure their supporters that the World Revolution is gonna win out, the federal government is determined to stomp out any resistance inside and outside the Capitol.
► Twitter: https://twitter.com/IronDicePod
► Dan's Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dan_Arrows
► Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dan.arrows/
Hello everyone and welcome to the Iron Dice. This is Dan Arrows and you are about to listen to part 6 of our series on the early Weimar Republic. If you’re new or don’t remember what happened in the last episode, worry not, we’ll catch you up to speed and with that take care and enjoy.
The date is January 15th 1919, and the hunt is on in Berlin. Heavily armed soldiers patrol the streets. Stopping random citizens, demanding papers. They bust down doors and turn over every stone, in their search for the leaders of the Spartacists.
Merely ten days ago, Berlin’s revolutionaries grabbed their rifles and rose up against what they called a coup by the social democrats. In an attempt to secure the achievments of the revolution in November a group of radicals had seized a number of buildings in Berlins newspaper district. Armed fights broke out throughout the city but shortly after, Freikorps units, on behalf of the government stomped out the uprising and here is where we get back into our story. And now its not just the Freikorp units who are looking for Spartacists but a number of citizen militias have formed. In the lead up to this point in the story, people who had no affiliation to the military but became increasingly terrified of a communist takeover got together throughout the country to form these milities. Sometimes these were even paid by local business or banks to protect their property. In Berlin, the Freikorps and these citizen militias are determined to make sure the far-left never rises up again. And while some of these groups might be claiming to you know, act on behest of democracy or whatever, a lot of them really are just living out their desire to beat the crap out of everyone from communist to mild social democrats.
As soon as the Uprising got violently shut down, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the two leading-figures among the revolutionaries knew that if they fall in the hands of these Freikorps units, lifelong prison would be the best possible outcome. The what one historian calls “boundless hatred” these volunteer units have for these two is not to be underestimated. The government has come out and said their determined to put the leaders of the Spartacists on trial. At the same time the city is still littered with leaflets calling for the straight up killing of the two. Its a very dangerous time for them without a doubt. That does not mean Rosa and Karl have been scared into silence though. While they cant go out and hold speeches to the workers as they usually do, they still have their outlets through which they can reach their remaining supporters. We read a text by Rosa Luxemburg in the last episode that was published in the Red Flag, the communist newspaper and Karl Liebknecht also releases a very powerful essay on the same day. Its called “Despite it all”, and this is interesting because unlike Luxemburg, Liebknecht is not much of a political writer but in this text, he just unloads all the anger and frustation he has felt since 1914, when the German Left began to fracture. The passage I’m gonna quote to you is a bit long but I think its crucial to understand the sense of betrayal that he feels and part of the German left feel to this day even.
On January 15th 1919, Karl Liebknecht writes:
“Spartacus crushed!” they celebrate from Post to Vorwärts.
“Spartacus crushed!” And the sabres, the revolvers and carbines of the re-established Old-Germanic police and the disarmament of the revolutionary workers will seal its defeat. “Spartacus crushed!” Under the bayonets of Lieutenant Reinhardt, under the machine guns and canons of General Lüttwitz, the election of the national assembly is to be carried out – a plebiscite for Napoleon-Ebert.”, referencing Friedrich Ebert, leader of the social democrats here.
Indeed! They were defeated. Because they were abandoned by the sailors, the soldiers, the security forces, the army, on whose help they had relied. And their force was paralyzed by the indecisiveness and weakness of their leaders. And the monstrous counter-revolutionary mudslide of reactionaries and the propertied classes drowned them.
Indeed! Berlin’s revolutionary workers were defeated!
And Ebert-Scheidemann-Noske have won. They have won, because the generals, the bureaucracy, the robber barons and country squires, the clerics and the money-bags, and all who are narrow-minded, stunted and reactionary stand with them. And won for them with ammunition, gas bombs, and mortars. But there are defeats, which are victories; and victories more pernicious than defeats.
But what about the victors of today?
For a nefarious cause they perform their nefarious blood-soaked work. For the powers of the past, for the mortal enemies of the proletariat.
And even today they are inferior! For already today they are the hostages of those they sought to use as their tools and whose tools they have always been.
Still they give the firm its name. But only a short reprieve remains for them.
Already they stand in the pillory of history. Never have there been such Judases as them in the world, who not only betrayed their Holy of Holies, but also nailed it to the cross with their own hands. Just as official German Social-Democracy sank deeper than all others in August 1914, now, at the dawn of social revolution, it offers the most loathsome spectacle.
The ringing of bells called to the slaughter, music and banner waving, cheers of victory for the capitalists rescued from the “Bolshevik terror” celebrate their mercenary rescuers. The gunpowder is still smoking, the fire of the slaughter of workers is still smouldering, the murdered are still lying on the ground, the wounded proletarians are still moaning, as they hold a parade for the murderous troops, bloated in victorious pride – Ebert, Schneiderman and Noske.
Dragon’s teeth sown!
Steady! We have not fled, we are not beaten. And even if they throw us in shackles – we are there, and shall remain! And victory shall be ours.
The Road to Calvary of the German working class is not yet completed – but their Day of Redemption is near. The Day of Judgement for the Ebert–Scheidemann–Noske and for the capitalist rulers, who still to this day hide behind them. The tide of events mount into the heavens – we are accustomed to being catapulted down from the peak into the depths. But our ship continues on its straight course proudly sailing to its goal.
And whether we will still be alive when it is reached – our programme will live; it will rule the world of humanity redeemed. In spite of everything! Under the roar of the approaching economic crash the still sleeping hordes of proletarians will awaken as if summoned by the trumpets of the Last Judgement, and the corpses of the murdered fighters will rise and demand a reckoning from the damned. Today, still the subterranean rumbling of the volcano – will erupt tomorrow and bury them all in glowing ash and lava flows.”
There is one part of this text that always stuck with me and is a little chilling, reading it now. That is the sentence “For already today they are the hostages of those they sought to use as their tools and whose tools they have always been.”. Think of Liebknecht what you want. I kinda like him for his tenacity. That sentence is spot on. The social democrats using people who couldn’t care less, for democracy or republicanism to win the fight against the far-left, that is them riding the Tiger. And another thing from this text is true, that Karl and Rosa haven’t fled. Despite being urged by their friends and allies, the two are still holding out in Berlin. Because Liebknecht really was someone who had a vision and felt a sense of historical responsibility. He had, what people of the Left today often lack and that is belief. Not in a religious sense but that what he was fighting for was inevitably gonna win out. Allegedly when his father, Wilhelm Liebknecht was on his death bed the last thing he told his son was “Power to the workers” and ever since that was Karl’s Credo. Especially after world war one because he was convinced that if there was no German Revolution, the Russian revolution would dither away and capitalism would “devour the world” as he put it. Preventing this was more important than anything else. More important than his wife, more important than his own children or even himself. So you can see why this guy doesn’t just run away with his tail between his legs after the failed uprising. Same goes for Rosa.
And the people looking for them know this too. They know he’s not gonna cut and run. “Despite it All!” is published on the morning of January 15th and throughout the day, a rumor makes the rounds of where Liebknecht might be hiding. Some people suspect that the day his essay is published, he will be transfered from another hideout to an apartment in the Wilmersdorf district, which lies south-west of central Berlin. A group of locals in Wilmersdorf have formed a citizen militia and keeps an eye on a couple living there that is allegedly friends with Liebknecht.
At roughly 9PM men of the citizen militia kick down the door, storm into the apartment and find three people, who fit the description of Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and another leading communist figure named Wilhelm Pieck. The man they suspect to be Liebknecht insists they’re mistaking him for someone else. He says his name is Marcusson, who is the tenant of the apartment. As the militia pull out drawers and search the apartment they strip this guy down and notice that his shirt has some initials stitched on it. And these initials read K.L. This seals the deal and the citizen militia realizes they have made a big catch. They have caught the most vilified, most wanted people, in the entire country. Karl is arrested on the spot, they drag him out of the building and throw him into a car and where they are gonna take him might be unexpected at first. Their destination is the Hotel Eden, one of Berlins most luxurious hotels. Marble floors, chandeliers, servants to fulfill every request and even and a minigolf course on the roof. So Karl might have been a bit surprised when instead of stopping in front of a grey prison block, the car stops in front of Hotel Eden. Upon entering, it dawned on Karl that this building, usually a place for the upper ten thousand now served a much different purpose. Hotel Eden, is crawling with Freikorps members. Since the Spartakus Uprising, Hotel Eden has been made into the headquarters of the Garde-Kavallerie Schützen-Division. In our story we have come in contact with these guys before, namely during the battle for Berlin Palace, on Christmas Eve three weeks ago. These were the men who got humiliated by rebel sailors and afterwards were crucial in crushing the Spartacist Uprising. Under shouts and insults they push Liebknecht through the lobby and up the stairs. After a while they reach a private suite on an upper floor of the hotel. In this suite, Liebknecht is tied to a chair and gets to meet the man that now controls his fate. There is probably no greater gift in the world for this man, to be delivered the leader of the Spartacist, the demon of the revolution himself who now sits in front of him, completely helpless. This man is the leader of the Garde-Kavallerie Schützen division and a fanatic anti-communist. It is General Staff Officer Waldemar Pabst. Probably one of the most ruthless men, in the entire country who up until this point got his orders directly from the social democrats in the form of Gustav Noske. And he shows his ruthlessness during his talk with Karl Liebknecht who at this point still maintains that he is not who they are looking for. Its of no use though. Officially Pabst and his men want to question Liebknecht because there are still plenty of armed spartacists in Berlin. Its not completly out of the question that they could even try to free him and Rosa. So Pabst wants to know where they are hiding out, where their weapons depots are and so on. It ends up being much more of a torture session than a questioning. While Karl is tied down, they scream in his face, beat him repeatedly, spit on him. At one point Pabst picks up the phone from his heavy wooden desk. He only talks for a couple of minutes before hanging up again, turning around telling Karl that he is gonna be taken to Moabit prison in central Berlin. So they untie him, again drag him through the hotel under an avalanche of verbal abuse by the soldiers present. And by now the news has made the round so there are even more people outside the hotel and pushing into the lobby. As they reach the exit of the building, one of the soldiers pushes through the crowd and deals Liebknecht a massive blow to the head with his rifle butt. Karl collapses onto the hotel floor with blood rushing from his head. He is still conscious though and his handlers manage to get him outside and throw him onto the truck bed of a car waiting. Before they’re able to take off, another guy jumps onto the truck and punches Liebknecht in the face only to run back into the hotel lobby showing his bloody fist to the cheering soldiers.
The car takes off, driving through the night. At some point though, the driver makes a turn where he shouldn’t if his goal was Moabit Prison. Shortly after they reach the Tiergarten, which is a big park, right in the center of Berlin. The car stops close to a lake in that park and at this hour, the area is just pitch black. No light from street lights, no restaurants nothing. One of the soldiers gets up, opens the back door, and tells Liebknecht “alright, get out, be on your way”. And its like “Huh?” Are these guys Spartacists in disguise or something? Or was there someone higher up who called Pabst at the Hotel and ordered them to release Liebknecht?
Either way, Karl gets out of the truck and before he is even able to turn around and run, his handlers raise their rifles and shoot him in the chest three times. The bullets burst out of his back and he falls to the ground, dead.
“Shot while trying to escape” it will say in the official report.
Meanwhile Rosa Luxemburg is awaiting her interrogation in Waldemar Pabsts private suite. Reports from the time suggest she is pretty unfazed by all of this, or at least acts that way. While sitting in the suite she mends the hem of her skirt, which had been ripped up on the way there. She’s also reads a bit of Goethe’s Faust to pass the time. When Pabst shows up, the interrogation doesn’t last very long. He asks her if she is Rosa Luxemburg to which she responds with “Decide for yourself”. Pabst doesn’t have any further questions and gives two men the order to escort her outside to the transport vehicle in front of the hotel. Again they lead her through the lobby, which is now cramped with people with the intention to harass and hurt her. Shouting “Kill her! Kill her!”. Just no scruples whatsoever. In the lobby they push her through the revolving door and as she exits the building one of the men nearby smashes her in the head with his rifle but. Blood shooting from her nose and mouth she collapses on the sidewalk. We don’t know a hundred percent but it seems the blow to her head was so severe that she immediately loses consciousness. Instantly a couple of men plunge at her almost lifeless body to pick up a “trophy” so to say. They steal one of her shoes and handbag. And as she is lying there, an unconscious almost fifty year old woman, already covered in blood, the guy smashes her in the head with his rifle butt as hard as he can again. Only now it is that the soldiers who are supposed to escort her intervene and drag her to the car. They put her in the middle of the backseat, one soldier to her left and one to her right. The car begins to roll forward but not too fast as to prevent an officer named Herman Souchon to jump onto on of the foot pegs of the car, draw his pistol and shoot Rosa in the head. After a short drive the car stops at a bridge over a canal close to Hotel Eden. The men pull Rosa’s body out of the car and throw her over the bridge railing, down into the muddy water.
Later that night, these guys would boast about what they had done to their colleagues. Proudly proclaiming that “the old bitch is already swimming”.
“Lynched by the mob”, is the official statement given to the press afterwards. The third man, who got arrested with Liebknecht and Luxemburg is set free, or escapes depending on the account. Pabst will later say that guy was willing to name a bunch of hideouts and weapon depots of the Spartacists which might’ve saved his life that day. The exact details of how the decision was made to kill Karl and Rosa are very contentious and the reason for that is who Pabst talked with on the phone, while interrogating Liebknecht. That man, according to Pabst was, Gustav Noske of the Social Democrats. The man they sent to Kiel at the very beginning of the Revolution. The man employing the Freikorps against the Spartacists. The content of this phone call is so explosive because in it lies the question: Did the social democrats order the execution of Karl and Rosa or did Pabst act on his own? Because whats clear is that Pabst, made the decision to have them killed and would even say so in later interviews. In his memoirs he would later claim that the social democrats explicitly approved the murder of the two but his claims of how this approval was communicated are contradictory here and there. When it comes to the phone call between him and Noske, Pabst said that Noske wasn’t willing to give him the “official” approval and told Pabst to ask his military superior. And when Pabst responded that we wasn’t gonna get this approval, from his superior, Noske responded “Then you have to decide for yourself what is to be done”. Allegedly, Pabst might very well be lying. We probably won’t ever know for certain. What we do know for certain is that at the least, the social democrats in their rhetoric and in their party newspaper “forward” contributed to the vilification that resulted in more than two cold blooded murders. Much more. Not that the rhetoric in the red flag was in any way less radical but, it wasn’t the social democrats who got hunted down and executed by right-wing death squads. And even if we can’t know if Pabst acted on behalf of the social democrats, its clear that a number of them are pretty happy about what happened to Karl and Rosa. On the night of the killing, Pabst passes on a description of the events to the press that is almost completely fabricated and this is how the public learns of Karl and Rosa’s death.
Not even a full 24 hours later, Philip Scheidemann speaks at a rally. He was the man who proclaimed the republic from the window of the Reichstag and is second to Ebert among the social democratic leadership. Here is what he says at this rally about the just murdered Spartacist leadership:
“Everyday they had called the people to arms and demanded that they violently overthrow the government. They had travelled through Berlin with machine guns ready which they set in front of the Reichstag many times; on a daily basis they incited their followers to the boiling point; after streams of workers and soldiers’ blood was spilled because of them, they then accused us of being murderers and bloodhounds in their newspapers and at their rallies. Thus they have fallen victim to their own bloody terror tactics. With Frau Luxemburg, a highly gifted Russian, I can understand the fanaticism. But not with Karl Liebknecht, the son of Wilhelm Liebknecht, a man who we all still respect and honour. His son, the deceased Karl Liebknecht, sadly got completely caught up with the Russian-terrorist tactics.
He goes on for a little bit and then uses a metaphor to explain how Rosa and Karl had it coming essentially, that is very telling:
“If my mad brother aims his shotgun at me, if I am the only person he targets, I can allow him to shoot me in order to spare his blood. But when I am in the situation where I am rushing into a burning house to save my wife and children and my crazy brother then attacks me, then that argument doesn’t help anymore, then I must use my weapon against him because then it is not just about me but about the lives of many others.”
Scheidemann is not the only one who sees the killings this way and the opinions expressed in the press range from weak condemnations of the murder but also kinda shrugging their shoulders in the liberal press to openly celebrating on the right. Friedrich Ebert will never publicly speak about his opinion on this although allegedly he was very shook, hearing of the news and considered resigning.
“Freedom”, the party newspaper of the independants is the lone public voice who calls Pabsts version of the events into question and demands an investigation. Not only do they publish eye-witness testimony that undercuts the official version but also the fact that Karl Liebknechts autopsy shows him being shot in the chest, not the back. So how do you shoot someone in the chest while he’s running away? Makes no sense. They also put the blame at the feet of the newspaper “Forward” specifically and attribute the murder to the “Ebert-Scheidemann politics of violence”.
Initially the government promises an investigation and to judge these crimes just as hard as the crimes of the spartacist. That didn’t happen though. And this is a great showcase of the moderates somewhat digging their own graves. Because the old military structures were left untouched after the revolution in 1918, the case of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg will be left to a military court. In 1919 this court sentences two fall guys to minor prison but people like Pabst will never be brought to justice for this. In fact Pabst, will serve as an adviser to the court in this case and even into the 1960s will openly talk about how he “judged” Rosa Luxemburg in interviews.
This set a dangerous precedent of the government basically sanctioning violence against communists and when we look at the entire system of government during the Weimar era, it goes much much further than just the case of Rosa and Karl. Most officials in the court system after world war 1 had undergone a so called “monarchist partiotic education” and justices in particular often saw it as their foremost duty to fight communism, rather than interpret the law. Let me show your two cases so that you know what I mean.
Case number one. In 1924 a barber in east Germany wanted to report an arms robbery committed by a couple of communists. Shortly after, four men jumped him in front of his apartment and shot him down. When this was brought before the courts, three of the four men got the death penalty with one getting sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Compare this to another high profile case from the other side of the political spectrum.
In 1920 there was a case surrounding a 19 year old girl, who worked as a maid in southern Germany. This girl went to the authorities to report an illegal weapons depot she found belonging to far-right extremists. A couple of days later police found her strangled to death in a public park in Munich with a note on her chest calling her a traitor to the fatherland. This one did not even reach a court room.
And this trend continues all throughout the Weimar era. Even someone like Friedrich Ebert will feel the sting of a fanatically right-wing judiciary in 1924 in a case that some historians suggest completely broke his spirit. An editor in a well-known newspaper had published an article that called Ebert a traitor to his country for his role in organizing strikes during the First World War and this was just one of many, many attacks Ebert had do endure after 1918. He tried to sue this editor, for libel and while the court did fine this editor, they also wrote in the courts opinion, legally speaking, Friedrich Ebert was a traitor to his country. So you can see the murderes of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht getting off scot-free wasn’t a fluke at all, it really was just the beginning of the end, in a way. And while later on there will be a vote in parliament that fails, to re-examine the case against those guilty of the murders, that Ebert votes in favor of by the way, by that point it will be too late.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings, the social democrats are too preoccupied with defending themselves of any accusations of wrong doing to exert any pressure because they’re thinking about the upcoming election.
Four days after the Rosa and Karl met their end, the Weimar Republic holds its very first federal election. Also the first election in which women can participate.
Its a big win for the social democratic party, which receives the largest vote share with a bit under thirty eight percent. Coming in second is the center party with roughly 20% representing the countries catholics, especially in the south. The left-liberal German Democratic Party comes in at 18% and the far-right nationalist German National People’s Party gets 10%. And of course there are a bunch of smaller parties getting some votes but nothing of consequence there. Except that one of the losers of this election, argueably, are the independants who come in at roughly 7%. Which is not a great result but following this election, there will be a big exodus from the social democrats to the independents and they remain an important player among the left. The reasons for this exodus from the social democrats are numerous but we can get a sense of why people might not want to be members of that party when we take a look at the 25th of January, 1919. Its the day that Karl Liebknecht, along with those that died in the Spartacsst uprising earlier this month is supposed to be put to rest. For Rosa Luxemburg they’re gonna carry an empty coffin, since her body only gets found months later. The plan is to have a big funeral cortège, led by the families of those who died, move through Berlin. Whats important here is that this cortège is not just made up of Liebknechts most ardent followers but all across Germany people travel to Berlin for this. Its relatives, factory organizers, the unemployed and even social democrats who knew Liebknecht and despite their differences wanted to pay respect to their old party colleague and friend.
The social democratic government wants non of this. They’re afraid that this, funeral could spiral into something potentially destabilizing and enacts a ban on all demonstrations and assemblies in central Berlin. They make an exception for the cemetery on which Liebknecht is supposed to be buried and some of the surrounding areas. Apart from this being a pretty bold move, banning a funeral procession there is also hardly enough time for the information about this ban to circulate. Obviously there is no social media in 1919 so this information has to be handed to the press, the press has to write it up and print it, then those newspapers have to be distributed. This stuff takes time. So when the day of the funeral procession comes, there is a ton of confusion around coupled with military checkpoints throughout the city. The military acting on behalf of the government has put up machine gun nests, artillery and large signs reading “Anyone past this point will be shot”. Despite that, those organizing the procession are mostly able to rearrange and control the flow of the massive amount of people. And this really might be, the biggest funeral procession Berlin had ever seen for someone like Liebknecht with over a hundred thousand attendees. For the most part its people who just want to pay their respect to Liebknecht who, lets not forget, went to jail for his repeated organizing against the mass slaughter of the war. Its not a huge outpouring of the Sparatcist masses but rather people acknowledging the good that he did and what he stood for even before the revolution. But that makes the conduct of the government even worse right? The independents newspaper “Freedom” among other insults levels the following question at the government in the wake of this:
“Are they afraid, that the wounds of the victims will start to bleed again, if they are carried through the Wilhelmstraße? Or is it just the brutal instinct of power that belongs to the victor, that drives them, to also subject the working class of Berlin to this humiliation?”
If you are one of the people at this procession, the mourners or bereaved family members of those killed and you are met with machine guns and soldiers threatening to kill you, how can you not ask the question? What was this revolution really for?
It does show the fear of the current government that, even though they hold power right now, it might slip from their hands if they are not extra careful. They are willing to go to great lengths to demonstrate their authority. Because versions of what we have talked about in these last few episodes, the power struggle in Berlin, are happening all over the country. Berlin might be the center of power but its hard to establish government control over an entire country when the capital is that unstable. One of the cities that have been creating headaches for the government in Berlin is the port-city of Bremen in northern Germany. And port cities during this time were, lets say prone to revolution because of the two groups of people that emerge. On the one half, you have the people making bank from the trade, the merchants. On the other half you have the workers of the shipyards and factories actually creating the basis of wealth, in the city. This leads to Bremen, among other cities having a more radical, more organized workforce than average and that could even be seen during the war. When Karl Liebknecht got arrested in 1916 for organizing against the war, workers in Bremen left their factories to strike, defying the government and the trade union leadership. In November of 1918 while the revolution spreads across the country, the workers and sailors in Bremen are quick to join the cause and on November 14th, a leading figure of the local independents declares the dissolution of the city senate of the floor of the Bremen stock exchange.
The council that from now on runs things in Bremen is a broad leftist coalition made up of social democrats, independents and more radical communists and when you read about this council, it almost seems like your leftist twitter feed come to life. There is constant infighting and back and forth. The communists want to disarm and kick the social democrats out of the councils. The independents while supporting a revolution don’t want to do that. They want to maintain a united front against the right. Shortly after the communists hold a big rally in the city, declare the socialist republic, remove all social democrats from the councils and start to arm the workers. They also publish two telegrams, one demanding the government of Friedrich Ebert to resign and another one proclaiming solidarity with soviet Russia. Next thing they try is banning participation in the federal elections on which they get outvoted by the independents sitting on the councils. And when the federal election takes place, the social democrats after being kicked out of the councils in Bremen, receives a stunning 42% of the votes in the city. Coming in second are the left-liberals, the DDP with 33% who weren’t even part of the councils to begin with. They were a bourgeois party.
And this shows the dilemma at the heart of all of this infighting and why people are still arguing about the German revolution more than a hundred years later. In Bremen and Germany as a whole, the radicals simply did not have the numbers. That is the cold hard truth. If there ever was a revolutionary spirit in the country that could’ve carried on the world revolution, it simply wasn’t there at this crucial juncture. The rule in Bremen and the rule in Berlin if the January Uprising had been successful, was and would’ve been the rule of a radical minority.
After the federal elections take place, the situation for the city government in Bremen changes from bad to worse when the banks say they wont give any further loans to them. After negotiations brake down, a group of radicals arm themselves and briefly occupy the banks. The communists also call for a strike in reaction to the banks denying further loans but the majority of workers don’t even show up. What signals the end of the “Bremen Soviet Republic” as its called, is the failure of the Spartacus Uprising in Berlin. Because right after the revolution reaches Bremen in November, the other interest group in the city, bankers, local industrialists and so on reaches out to the federal government and begs them to put an end to the revolution in Bremen. As you know though, the government in Berlin is involved in their own struggle for power but when the Spartacus Uprising fails and the radical left is violently suppressed, it frees up units to deploy somewhere else. And these units, have been slowly amassing outside of Bremen. Bringing their usual tools like machine guns and artillery but also armored vehicles which can be devastating in an urban environment. At the same time Gustav Noske, the social democrat in charge of military affairs sends a secret telegram to members of the Bremen upper class and right wing circles which simply reads “Aunt Dora has passed away”. That is the codeword signalling the imminent attack on the city. In addition to the government forces, 600 volunteers form a freikorps unit and these guys for the most part are not your typical world war 1 veterans like we’ve seen before. A lot of them are young people and the sons of Bremen business owners. They are led by an officer who got his spurs clamping down on the Boxer Rebellion in China. The Bremen government is well aware that their days are numbered and are willing to negotiate them handing over the reigns of power. Gustav Noske doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t just wanna retake the city but make an example for anyone trying to defy the federal government so before the negotiations even come to a close, he gives the order to march on the city. Those defending the city are hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned and lack any military experience. To make matters worse, while government forces are already making their way into the city, the local government is fighting over the best way to defend the city. When they realize what is happening, wanting to prevent a slaughter they publish leaflets telling their men to surrender and hand over their weapons. Not everyone adheres to this and some revolutionaries even set those leaflets on fire. The troops entering face some fierce, but very uncoordinated resistance. After a couple of hours of intense fighting throughout the city, the city bells are rung to welcome to government forces and the red flag on the city hall is replaced by a red, white and black one. The colors of the old Kaiserreich. The battle for Bremen leaves eighty-three people dead. Twenty-eight of those belonging to the defenders of the city, twenty-six to government forces and twenty-nine civilians, including three children.
What you might be wondering, hearing about this is why the federal government is so willing to violently crack down on a city, whose leadership was probably gonna collapse anyway soon. The truth is that its not just Bremen. This is happening all through out the country. After the January uprising in Berlin fails, workers in the big industrial hubs in western and central Germany, rise up and demand the immediate socialization of large companies. Because while there might not be a majority in Germany for a quote on quote “world revolution” there is one to fundamentally alter the relationship between the workers and the means of production. When miners in the West call for a general strike over three-hundred thousand people join in. The amount of workers mobilizing despite all odds at this point is absolutely massive. In many places these workers clash with Freekorp units that leave numerous people dead. For the federal government the situation is far from stable. It almost looks like the revolution is about to enter a new, more radical phase. Even in Berlin protests brake out demanding more power for the workers, which is why the government sees itself forced to hold the National Assembly that is supposed to create a constitution and proper government somewhere else. Because the capital is simply to dangerous
They decide on a city in southern Germany. Mainly known for its association with the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Its the city of Weimar. So even the very name “Weimar Republic” stems from the political instability rampart throughout the country. At this assembly, the republic gets its first real government, stemming from the results of the election. Social democrats, the center party and the left-liberal DDP form the so-called “Weimar Coalition” that is now supposed to create the basis for a new, democratic Germany. They really can’t do that though, without dealing with all these internal pressures going on. The strikes, the effort of some regions to maybe split off from Germany proper and maybe the biggest thorn in their side right now, the People’s State of Bavaria, that is about to become the Bavarian Soviet Republic. And the battle for Bremen is nothing to what is about to erupt in the south of the country.
On top of all that, the Weimar coalition is about to get immense pressure from the outside too. Because while Germany has signed an armistice with its enemies, there’s no peace treaty yet. And this is what is about to hit the government and the German public like a freight train, when the Entente presents them, almost literally at gunpoint, with the treaty of Versailles.