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World War 1
History of Germany

What happened during the Spartacus Week?


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November 10, 2008 5:35PM

The 'Spartacus Week' (uprising) ran from 5-12 January 1919 in Berlin. Since about 9 November 1918 Germany had been run by a coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Independent Socialists (USPD). At the turn of the year 1918-19 the left wing of the USPD split off to form the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Relations between the SPD and the other socialists became increasingly difficult - among the leaders, anyway. On 4 January 1919 the Social Democrats dismissed the Berlin police chief (a member of the USPD), claiming that he was arming the radical left. The USPD called a protest strike and demonstration against the dismissal. The KPD, after much hesitation, decided to support the USPD. The turnout on 5 January was much bigger than expected, and the crowd seized newspaper district of Berlin the next day. (In the days before radio broadcating the press was by far the most important means of spreading news and influencing opinion). The action lacked adequate leadership and organization. The SPD leadership gave Gustav Noske the authority to suppress the uprising. An assortment of volunteers and mercenaries ('Freikorps') put down the rebellion with the utmost savagery and massacred some of the rebels who were taken prisoner. On 15 January 1919 they captured Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg - both leading members of the KPD - and shot them both that evening. In March 1919 there was a second Spartakist uprising in Berlin. Working-class areas of the city were shelled, and the remnants of the German air force bombed some of these districts from the air. This time the number of casualties was even higher. After these two uprisings it was extremely hard for the SPD to co-operate with any party to the left of it again. There was too much bitterness. Joncey