Nothing to Lose but Your Chains! / a German Revolution TL

Introduction New
Nothing to Lose but Your Chains!
This is the reboot of my previous timeline The Communist International Becomes the Communist Interstellar? Like the previous timeline this will be inspired by the HOI4 Spartakus mod, where the point of divergence is the newly founded Communist Party of Germany participating in the first parliamentary elections and from there the German Revolution spirals into a socialist Germany. However, this timeline will be written in a format similar to my Islam timeline where events will be recounted in a mostly chronological matter. Part of the reason for the reboot is so that I can craft a unique world without relying on the lore for Spartakus though there will undoubtedly be some overlap in the early years.

I hope you enjoy, and feel free to comment.
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Prologue New

The Great War had driven the people of Europe to breaking point. Shortages in food and goods, authoritarian or undemocratic governance, competing ethnic and religious aspirations, and fatigue with the war all exerted pressure upon the population of Europe and elsewhere. The monarchy of the Russian Empire was overthrown in the February Revolution of 1917 which ushered in the period of ‘dual power’; the Provisional Government was a self-appointed cabinet of liberal and moderate socialist ministers deriving their legitimacy from the State Duma, from parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party (Konstitutsionno-Demokraticheskaya Partiya/Kadet), the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (Partiya Sotsialisty Revolyutsionery/SR), and the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Rossiyskaya Sotsial-Demokraticheskaya Rabochaya Partiya/RSDRP). The Provisional Government coexisted with a multitude of soviets (councils) which were comprised of elected representatives, arguably the most important of which was the Petrograd Soviet. The Provisional Government’s continued support for the unpopular war, combined with the worsening economic situation and the perceived collusion between some members of the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government, further radicalised the working-classes of the former Russian Empire and increased support for the Bolshevik faction of the RSDRP and a newly emergent left-wing split from the SRs. In early November (late October in the Old Style/Julian calendar) the Bolsheviks and Left-SRs believed that they had the support of the proletariat to overthrow both the Provisional Government and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies; the latter had last been elected in early June and so was unrepresentative of the leftward shift of the electorate. The Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic was founded and soon afterwards a civil war erupted, complicated further by national minorities seizing the opportunity for independence and then by the government of the RSFSR agreeing on a peace with the Central Powers in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The German Empire suffered from much the same problems as Russia did. The Entente naval blockade continued unabated after the indecisive Battle of Jutland in 1916 resulted in the German High Seas Fleet being confined to port for the remainder of the war. Severe shortages in food and raw materials for the war effort drastically reduced the people’s support for the war as well as their ability to sustain it. Meanwhile the working class’ primary representative, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands/SPD), split in 1917 over the party leadership’s support for the war; the anti-war centrists and leftists, somewhat reluctantly, founded the Independent Social Democratic Party (Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands/USPD). Among the USPD was the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund), the revolutionary leftist members of the SPD. After the split, the ultra-leftists rejected the USPD and formed their own group, the International Socialists of Germany (Internationale Sozialisten Deutschlands/ISD).

Following a number of military failures the German military high command, who had become the de facto government, agreed to allow the civilian government to explore options for an armistice from late September 1918 onward. Arguably the intent of generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff was to transfer the blame of the country’s upcoming loss in the war onto the politicians, preferably those on the left. Kaiser Wilhelm II appointed Prince Maximilian of Baden to be the new Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) on 3rd October; his cabinet included Gustav Bauer and Philipp Scheidemann from the SPD. To combat the rising militancy of the working class, the new government released hundreds of political prisoners in late October, including the leading Spartacist Karl Liebknecht. Demonstrations and strikes were carried out in support of the release of the political prisoners, and some workers’ councils were even established in Berlin, Stuttgart, and Friedrichshafen, but the police efficiently suppressed most of the unrest. The naval command disagreed with the new government’s desire for peace however, and instead on 24th October ordered the fleet to prepare for battle. The crews of the ships docked at Wilhelmshaven mutinied though, and the fleet was dispatched to Kiel. On 3rd November a demonstration of thousands of sailors and soldiers led by USPD member Karl Artelt was fired upon by loyalist soldiers. In the following days, the mutineers formed a council, seized control of the port, and called for a general strike with the support of the local SPD and USPD members. The prominent SPD politician Gustav Noske was appointed Governor of Kiel in order to halt the revolutionary outburst, a duty in which he believed himself to be successful. Over the next week or so however, mutinies and demonstrations spread first to the coastal cities, and then to the interior; councils of workers, soldiers, and sailors were formed, often with the aid of local SPD, USPD, and ISD members, and in some cases socialist republics were declared. The German Revolution had begun.

The mutinous sailors at Kiel
Electoralism and Anti-Electoralism Among the German Left, Part 1 New
Electoralism and Anti-Electoralism Among the German Left, Part 1

The USPD leadership dithered in the face of the revolution. On 2nd November, just before the Kiel mutiny, a meeting of the USPD leadership voted in support of an armed insurrection; Georg Ledebour’s date of 4th November was rejected in favour of Hugo Haase’s proposal for the 11th. Karl Liebknecht opposed the idea of any armed insurrection until the working class had been sufficiently mobilised and were ready to support a military action. As workers’ councils were formed across the country, the USPD leadership continued to hold out for their planned insurrection, much to the chagrin of Liebknecht. The SPD ministers, more cognisant of the increasing revolutionary fervour than their left-wing rivals, informed the emperor that they would be unable to control the masses if he didn’t abdicate. On 8th November the military leader of the USPD’s planned insurrection was arrested, as was USPD member Ernst Däumig who possessed the plans for the insurrection. The leadership of the USPD hesitated before deciding to bring the insurrection forward to the 9th; separately Liebknecht and the Spartacists did the same. Even the SPD leadership were dragged by their members into supporting the imminent insurrection.

The next day tens of thousands marched through the streets of Berlin, calling for a general strike and demanding the establishment of a republic. The SPD leaders scrambled to make sure that loyalist soldiers didn’t fire on the revolutionaries, and thus tip the balance toward the radicals. At the headquarters of the SPD’s newspaper, Vorwärts, a council was assembled consisting of twelve factory workers, and the politicians: Friedrich Ebert, Otto Braun, Otto Wels, and Eugen Ernst. The politicians from the council presented the revolutionary demands to Chancellor Maximilian of Baden, who in turn announced the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and the appointment of Ebert as the new Chancellor. In order to calm down the crowd outside of the Reichstag, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the founding of a new republic (an act for which Ebert criticised him); at about the same time Liebknecht declared a socialist republic at the Imperial Palace. An assembly of USPD members, as well as soldiers and workers, began the debate on whether to collaborate with the SPD government. Ledebour opposed any form of collaboration, but Liebknecht, Däumig, and Richard Müller proposed six prerequisites for collaboration:
  1. Proclamation of a socialist republic.
  2. Legislative, executive, and judicial power transferred to elected councils.
  3. No bourgeois ministers.
  4. Collaboration to last only for the time needed to negotiate an armistice.
  5. Technical ministries to be under the control of a purely political departmental staff.
  6. Equal representation of the socialist parties in the cabinet.
The assembly supported these conditions and sent their offer to the SPD cabinet. The new government agreed only to the latter two conditions and stated its support for a universally-elected constituent assembly over any form of “class dictatorship”.

Philipp Scheidemann declaring a republic at the Reichstag

The USPD response was, as was often the case, confused. Emil Barth and his allies organised the convocation of a congress of workers’ and soldiers’ councils of Berlin at Busch Circus for 10th November: one delegate elected per one thousand workers and one delegate per battalion. The congress would elect a new revolutionary government. However, Hugo Haase returned from Kiel and began negotiations for a compromise agreement with the SPD. The latter appeared to agree to the transfer of power to the councils and the postponement of a constituent assembly, but behind the scenes Otto Wels used his previous contacts with the soldiers of the Berlin garrison to ensure their loyalty to the SPD in the upcoming congress. Over 1,500 delegates were present at the congress, with Barth presiding as Chairman, Lieutenant Waltz (the leader of the USPD’s planned insurrection) as Vice-Chairman, and the SPD-supporting soldier Brutus Molkenbuhr as Secretary. Ebert and Haase presented their negotiated agreement to the delegates; Liebknecht criticised the agreement and charged the SPD with being counter-revolutionaries, for which the pro-SPD soldiers shouted him down and threatened him. The composition of this joint Executive Committee proved to be highly contentious. Emil Barth’s first proposal was for a committee of nine workers and nine soldiers. The soldiers and the SPD strongly demanded that there should be parity between the two parties, with the soldiers even threatening to leave and form their own Executive Committee. Because the SPD had less representation among the factory workers than the USPD, Barth proposed a compromise where the where the worker delegation was increased to twelve, three of those being from the SPD.[1] The soldiers however continued their obstruction, causing Barth to give in and propose a new configuration: twelve soldiers, all of whom would be pro-SPD, and twelve workers, six USPD and six SPD. Liebknecht and his fellow Spartacists Wilhelm Pieck and Rosa Luxemburg refused their places on the Executive Committee due to the coercive politicking the SPD and their armed soldiers had engaged in. The SPD had seemingly won this battle and now controlled both the official government and the revolutionary one.

Throughout Germany similar scenes to those which occurred in Berlin played out in other city councils. Where SPD delegates were a minority, they demanded parity; when they were a majority, they did not. In some cities, there were even delegates from openly bourgeois parties and organisations; invariably they allied with the SPD delegates. Sometimes the SPD were successful in arguing for parity, but in other cases they weren’t. In the more revolutionary councils, such as the industrialised coastal cities, the councils went beyond political reorganisation (establishing workers’ militias, abolishing previous governmental structures, etc.) and began the process of seizing the means of production. The councils which were under SPD control though were considered to be merely transitional structures until the election of a constituent assembly. After the armistice was agreed with the Entente for the morning of the 11th November, the government(s) turned their attention to organising the election of the constituent assembly. On 16th November Ernst Däumig forwarded a motion in the Executive Committee of Berlin councils condemning the rapid convention of a constituent assembly and instead proposed the convention of an all-German congress of councils to act as a constituent assembly. The motion was narrowly defeated and Hermann Müller, an SPD delegate, amended the motion so that the constituent assembly would be established by this new all-German congress. In the confused atmosphere of the debate, the amended motion was narrowly passed because some USPD delegates believed it to be a compromise. Vorwärts and aligned newspapers immediately seized on the Executive Committee’s confused decision and began to publish various dates for the election to the constituent assembly. Two days later the congress of Berlin councils were recalled to Busch Circus to clarify the resolution that had been passed by the Executive Committee, and the USPD members reaffirmed their commitment to rule by the councils. The resolution was not put to a vote for the congress however, and the SPD-controlled government prevented telegraph companies from publicising the USPD’s proclamations.

Discontent among the Spartacus League and other left-wing members of the USPD towards the ineffective leadership of the party was gradually increasing. The official government, which included the three USPD ministers Hugo Haase, Wilhelm Dittmann, and Emil Barth, set the 16th February as the date for the constituent assembly election. On 23rd November the revolutionary members of the USPD and their representatives from the factories in Berlin convened, and agreed on a program to demand the resignation of the three USPD ministers from the government and for an anti-parliamentarian electoral campaign to be organised. The need for a special party congress was overwhelmingly supported but the question of when was in debate, for the government had confirmed the convention of the First All-German Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils to take place on 16th December. Luxemburg, who still supported the position of the Spartacists remaining in the party, argued for the special congress to be held as soon as possible. Many others supported Luxemburg’s call for an immediate special party congress and voted in favour of the motion.[2] The meeting ended with the election of an action committee comprised of Georg Ledebour, Ernst Däumig, Karl Liebknecht, Wilhelm Pieck, and Paul Scholze. The alliance between the Spartacists and the non-Spartacist left of the USPD proved to be a potent one. The latter had a strong connection with the revolutionary shop stewards (minor trade union officials) and the factory workers, while the Spartacists were popular with the youth and the recently politicised.

[1] So altogether that’s 13 for the SPD (including the soldiers’ delegates) and 9 for the USPD.
[2] Finally the first PoD (everything up until this point has been the same as OTL). In OTL this meeting occurred on the 21st December.
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Electoralism and Anti-Electoralism Among the German Left, Part 2 New
Electoralism and Anti-Electoralism Among the German Left, Part 2

The actions of the government continued to drive a wedge between the factions of the USPD. The Socialisation Commission, established by the government to advance economic reform, had achieved no tangible results. The support for ‘freedom of the press’ in reality meant support for corporations and anti-socialist organisations to incite violence against revolutionaries, and the censoring of the Berlin councils’ Executive Committee. The Executive Committee had previously attempted to establish a red guard; the pro-SPD soldiers’ delegates voted down the motion however. Friedrich Ebert’s cabinet criticised the Executive Committee for acting beyond its remit, but soon afterwards he approved Emil Barth’s proposition to create the government’s own militia unit, which Otto Wels named a ‘republican defence force’.

At the next USPD conference in Berlin, held on the 27th November, Hugo Haase spoke in defence of both the party’s collaboration with the SPD in government and the convening of the constituent assembly, arguing that it was the democratic thing to do. Rosa Luxemburg predictably retorted that if Haase and the leadership supported democracy, they should call for a special party congress to decide the party’s future. Before the right could respond, the non-Spartacists Georg Ledebour and Richard Müller spoke in support of Luxemburg’s argument. Emboldened by the revolt of the party’s centre and left, many who were on the fence over the collaboration with the SPD jumped ship to the left. Emil Barth, though a minister in the government, had traditionally been on the left of the party; he remained curiously silent throughout the proceedings. In the end though the effort wasn’t enough, as Luxemburg’s motion for a special party congress was defeated. The vote was painfully close however; 329 in favour and 341 against. It is arguable that if Barth had spoken in favour of his erstwhile comrades, the motion would have carried and a split in the party may have been avoided. As it were, the left and centre departed the conference determined to establish a new revolutionary party. Upon hearing the news of the split the ultra-left ISD, since renamed International Communists, expressed interest in re-joining the Spartacists until they learned that they were still in league with the old ‘reformists’ of the USPD.[1] The USPD membership however were electrified by the developments in the capital. Many USPD-controlled councils throughout the country declared their support for the Spartacists and their allies.

On the 2nd December, the splitters convened for what would become known as the Founding Congress of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands/KPD). The congress hosted 83 Spartacists and 42 non-Spartacists. Even at this stage there was still some concern over leaving the USPD from figures like Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches, who preferred to return the old party back to its revolutionary values. The presence of the fellow (non-Spartacist) revolutionaries quelled most of the opposition however and the vote to found a new party passed almost unanimously; Jogiches and Werner Hirsch abstained.[2] There was more debate over the name of the new party itself. The Zentrale, the central leadership, of the Spartacus League had already voted for ‘communist’ over ‘socialist’, but the debate was reopened at the insistence of some non-Spartacists. Luxemburg had argued that the new party should act as a bridge between the Bolsheviks and the western European socialists, so the name should remain ‘socialist’ so as to ease the process. Other Spartacists argued that naming themselves ‘communist’ would plainly state their intentions to establish a socialist republic of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. The non-Spartacists were more concerned with removing the exclusionary name of ‘Spartacus’ and its derivatives. The congress comfortably settled on Communist Party of Germany as its name.[3]

The question of participation in the election for the constituent assembly was the most controversial topic of debate. All the delegates agreed that the bourgeois institution of the constituent assembly was incapable of delivering victory to the proletariat. Despite that caveat, leading Spartacist Paul Levi introduced the motion for the party standing in the election. This position was supported by the other members of the Spartacist leadership, but many of the newer members of the League held ultra-left views and so opposed the motion. The latter attempted to interrupt and shout down Levi’s speech, only to be responded to by the non-Spartacists. After a much-heated debate, Levi’s motion was put to a vote: 81 for and 33 against.[4] The rest of the congress was relatively sedate; trade union bureaucracies were condemned but, through the arguments of the non-Spartacists, activism in the unions was encouraged. The congress concluded by endorsing the party programme and electing a provisional Central Committee (Zentralausschuss) of: Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Paul Levi, Georg Ledebour, Ernst Däumig, and Richard Müller.

In the weeks between the KPD’s Founding Congress on 2nd December and the First All-German Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils on the 16th, it is estimated that over half of the USPD membership joined the KPD. The rump USPD comprised the rightists, who were indistinguishable from SPD left, the idealists who still believed that a socialist republic was possible through the constituent assembly, and those who remained ignorant or uninterested in internal party politics. The USPD retained its control of the party newspaper, Freiheit, but the Spartacist newspaper Die Rote Fahne was now able to compete due to the dramatic increase in readership and the resultant sales. Furthermore, the new party had its own paramilitary; the League of Red Soldiers had been established by the Spartacists on 15th November to combat the SPD’s overwhelming influence among soldiers. The League of Red Soldiers played an important role in the events of the 6th December which proved damaging to the Ebert government. The previous day, a delegation of soldiers marched to the Chancellery and announced their support for Ebert. The next day the garrison’s activities escalated: one unit occupied the headquarters of the Berlin councils’ Executive Committee and arrested its members; another went back to the Chancellery and declared Ebert to be President. The League of Red Soldiers led a demonstration against the apparent coup attempt and were fired upon. On the 7th, Liebknecht was arrested by soldiers while at the offices of Die Rote Fahne, leading to a demonstration of 100,000 workers the next day. Ebert was pressured by Paul von Hindenburg into accepting the movement of ten divisions from the front to Berlin in order to suppress the Revolution. Meanwhile Emil Eichhorn, left USPD member and Berlin chief of police, ordered an inquiry which uncovered evidence of a number of Ebert’s associates being involved in the planning of the abortive coup attempt. The right’s hopes were further dashed when the arriving divisions dispersed and returned home.

The day of the First All-German Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils arrived: 489 delegates in all, 405 workers and 84 soldiers. The birth of the KPD had uprooted the USPD’s position in the councils, but the SPD were unaffected. As such, the SPD held a majority of 288 delegates against the KPD’s 77 and the USPD’s 13. Additionally there were 11 ‘united revolutionaries’ (the IKD), 25 liberals, and 75 independents. The KPD had expected the SPD to have a majority and so organised a demonstration of 250,000 workers outside the Congress. Due to the electoral process of the Berlin councils, Liebknecht and Luxemburg were not elected because they were neither factory workers nor soldiers. Ironically the councils of other cities not having such stringent rules is what allowed the SPD to have such a large delegation of intellectuals and other professionals.[5] Attempts to allow Liebknecht and Luxemburg to attend the Congress as consultative members were rejected out of hand. It is unsurprising then that Ebert’s directives were approved by a majority. The decision to hold elections for the constituent assembly were overwhelmingly approved, though the KPD abstained on the vote. The date of the elections were opened up for debate. The ‘united revolutionaries’ argued for 16th March but only won 50 votes. Ebert, cognisant of his lack of military control of Berlin and eager to keep the USPD on side after their split, had instructed his associates to support the original date of 16th February; this motion won an overwhelming majority of delegates, with the KPD once again abstaining. Afterwards Däumig pushed a motion calling for the councils to remain the supreme organ of legislative and executive authority, and to recall the Congress before a constitution was ratified. This last gasp for the councils was handily defeated. The only upset to Ebert’s agenda concerned the military. A number of measures aimed at reducing reactionary influence in the military, including the election of officers and transfer of military command to the soldiers’ councils, was approved by a majority which included pro-SPD soldiers. With the KPD’s defeat at the Congress, they began to focus on mobilising the working class in the councils and organising an anti-parliamentary election campaign.

% of delegates
Social Democratic Party​
Communist Party​
Independent Social Democratic Party​
United Revolutionaries​

[1] OTL, the IKD merged with the Spartacists and together a majority voted in favour of ultra-left positions such as boycotting the constituent assembly elections. This in turn caused negotiations between the Spartacists and the other leftists of the USPD (including the shop stewards) to breakdown.
[2] OTL, those two plus another voted against leaving the USPD.
[3] The name adopted IOTL was Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus).
[4] OTL there were 112 delegates (83 Spartacists, 29 IKD). The OTL vote was 23 for and 62 against. With the ultra-left IKD being replaced with the pro-electoral non-Spartacist USPD members, I reckon there would be a majority for participation in the election (with some abstentions also taken in to account).
[5] There were 179 factory and office workers versus 71 intellectuals and 164 professionals, that is, journalists, career politicians, and party and trade union officials.
Ebert was pressured by Paul von Hindenburg into accepting the movement of ten divisions from the front to Berlin in order to suppress the Revolution. Meanwhile Emil Eichhorn, left USPD member and Berlin chief of police, ordered an inquiry which uncovered evidence of a number of Ebert’s associates being involved in the planning of the abortive coup attempt. The right’s hopes were further dashed when the arriving divisions dispersed and returned home.
So, this time the divisions didn't vanish into thin air when the soldiers thew away their uniforms and went home...
I assume that the rump USPD will probably fold back into the SPD soon because there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for them to remain independent at this juncture.
I've not fully decided yet, but the rightists like Haase and Dittmann will be inclined to rejoin, while those on the left like Barth will probably join the KPD. Of course, the SPD's rightward shift and reliance on the freikorps may just push all of the USPD to the left.
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Political Violence in the Early German Republic, Part 1 New
Political Violence in the Early German Republic, Part 1

The state of the Revolution outside of Berlin varied. In Munich a People’s State of Bavaria had been declared on 8th November by Kurt Eisner, a strongly pacifist USPD member. After the Founding Congress of the KPD, Eisner remained with the USPD but expressed support for the new party. Socialist rule was precarious in Bavaria though because Munich and other cities were an archipelago of urban, proletarian islands in a sea of rural, Catholic conservatives. Because of this, Eisner’s government attempted to maintain a balancing act between left and right which was doomed to fail: Eisner’s economic policies didn’t go far enough for the KPD and USPD; and his status as a Jewish non-Bavarian literary critic, who released official documents demonstrating Germany’s support for the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, enflamed the right’s hatred against him. Eisner attempted to mitigate his diminishing support by supporting the convening of a Bavarian constituent assembly scheduled for 12th January.

The consistent endorsements emanating from Berlin of an election to a federal constituent assembly encouraged other states to establish their own constituent assemblies. Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Strelitz elected their own constituent assemblies on 15th December. The local KPD members in Anhalt stood for election, but were more concerned about the local councils and the All-German Congress in Berlin. The KPD won 3 of the assembly’s 36 seats, against the SPD’s 19 and the 12 for the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei/DDP).[1] On the other hand, the KPD in Mecklenburg-Strelitz boycotted the election in the traditionally conservative state. The election in Brunswick was important for the KPD however: on 8th November the Spartacists had taken the lead in forming the councils and had declared the state to be a ‘socialist republic’; the SPD had been defeated in its attempt to force equal representation on the councils’ executive committee. The SPD and their right-wing allies forged ahead with organising a constituent assembly election for the 22nd December. In response the local KPD campaigned for victory in a parliamentary body with a vigour which surprised even themselves; their campaign was bolstered with the arrival of Karl Artelt, famous leader of the Kiel mutiny who had since joined the new party. The KPD surged to victory with 18 of the assembly’s 60 seats; the SPD achieved 13, the DDP 13, and the German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei/DVP) with 16.[2] The SPD leadership preferred a coalition government with the DDP and DVP, hoping to exploit the bourgeois fear of revolution into gaining seniority in the coalition. This tactic backfired however when this discussion was leaked and the party’s membership threatened to go on strike if a socialist coalition government wasn’t formed; the leaders caved in to the members’ demand. The KPD-SPD coalition of Brunswick was a promising consolation for the party’s loss at the All-German Congress.[3]

The ‘Christmas crisis’ opened a new chapter in the direct confrontation between revolutionaries and the government. The People’s Navy Division, formed on 11th November from the sailors at Kiel, were stationed in Berlin at the order of Otto Wels, the SPD commander of the city’s military. Due to the Division’s revolutionary nature (they had refused to participate in the attempted coup of 6th December), they were mistrusted by the government and so Wels sought to reduce their influence by reducing their strength (1,000 men) by nearly half and moving them out of Berlin. To encourage the Division to comply, their pay was withheld; negotiations between them and the government apparently succeeded. On 23rd December the Division went to the Chancellery to turn over the keys to the Royal Stables (their barracks) in return for their payment. Emil Barth, still with the USPD, acted as a mediator but was referred by Wels to Chancellor Friedrich Ebert, who was conspicuously absent. Having had enough, the People’s Navy Division occupied the Chancellery, cut the telephone lines, and went to demand their wages whereupon they were attacked by loyalist soldiers. Three of the sailors died, and the rest, convinced that they had been drawn into a trap, arrested Wels and two of his associates. Ebert used a secret phone line to call the military high command for help, while the People’s Navy Division retreated to the Stables.

The remnants of the ten divisions that were dispatched to Berlin prior to the First All-German Congress answered Ebert’s plea for aid and occupied the Chancellery in the evening. Following tense negotiations, the People’s Navy Division released the hostages, except for Wels, in the early hours of the next morning. A few hours later the loyalist soldiers, under the command of Captain Waldemar Pabst,[4] began their attack on the Royal Stables with a two-hour artillery barrage. A crowd of civilians, and later Emil Eichhorn’s police force, mobbed the rear guard of the army, disrupting the soldiers and giving time for the People’s Navy Division to successfully counterattack. Altogether there were eleven dead sailors and twenty-three dead soldiers. During the chaos of the battle, a group of pro-Spartacist workers seized control of the headquarters of Vorwärts and began printing their own issues of the newspaper demanding the Ebert government’s replacement with a Communist government; the non-Spartacists in the KPD criticised what they regarded as ‘adventurist’ behaviour.[5] As a result of the battle the army divisions were withdrawn from Berlin, the sailors received their pay, and Wels was forced to resign as Stadtkommandant. On 29th December the funerals for the sailors drew a large demonstration which declared the Ebert government to be murders, while a counter-demonstration organised by the SPD fulminated against a “bloody dictatorship of the Communists!” The rump USPD was struck with a crisis; Emil Barth resigned from the cabinet and urged Hugo Haase and Wilhelm Dittmann to do the same. The latter two were disgusted by the SPD’s repressive use of the military, but were also loath to lose their ostensibly mediating influence in the government. The party had been slowly haemorrhaging members to the KPD, so that the remainder still supported collaboration with the SPD government. Thus there was no immediate impetus from below for Haase and Dittmann to resign.[6]

Sailors of the People's Navy Division

The ‘Christmas crisis’ had clearly demonstrated that the government could no longer rely on the official military; Ebert would have to look elsewhere for protection against the Revolution. Fortunately for him, the military high command had been working on a new project, the Freikorps: volunteer soldiers recruited for their ideological beliefs, and receiving special pay and training for urban warfare. The generals had been building up the Freikorps since early December and by Christmas, the force numbered 4,000. Barth’s replacement in the cabinet, SPD parliamentarian Gustav Noske, was intimately involved in the creation of the Freikorps and took Ebert to a review of the force, where both men were impressed by the appearance of ‘real soldiers’ whose sole purpose was to defend the government from the Revolution. At the time of this review (4th January), the Freikorps numbered 80,000.

Amidst the contortions that were afflicting the rest of Germany, there was also revolution in the Polish provinces. Workers’ and peasants’ councils materialised across the region while in Ostrów a Polish republic was declared on 10th November which narrowly avoided conflict with the local German soldiers’ council. The republic was formally disestablished on the 26th by the Supreme People’s Council (Naczelna Rada Ludowa/NRL), the premier Polish nationalist organisation, in favour of the Warsaw-based Republic of Poland. Around the same time as the establishment of the republic in Ostrów, the NRL and the underground Polish Military Organisation emerged and gradually took control of Posen/Poznań with the acquiescence of the German military. Following these events, the Polish government in Warsaw announced its intention to unify with Greater (or German) Poland, and on 15th December diplomatic relations between Poland and Germany were terminated. From the 27th the Polish Military Organisation launched a coordinated series of uprisings across the region, starting in Poznań. By the 4th January Polish forces had been so successful that the NRL were confident enough to elect Wojciech Trąmpczyński as governor of Greater Poland.

[1] OTL, the USPD didn’t run but still managed to get 1 seat (likely a joint-list with the SPD) against the SPD’s 21.
[2] OTL it was: SPD 17 versus USPD 14.
[3] The OTL election resulted in a SPD-USPD coalition government led by USPD member Joseph Örter. The government did transition to a parliamentary system; Örter was later forced to resign and expelled from the party for embezzlement and may afterwards have joined the Nazis.
[4] This was the man who OTL proudly ordered the execution of Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
[5] OTL they published a declaration against the occupation in Die Rote Fahne, but as they’re all in the same party ITTL they don’t air their grievances in public as much.
[6] OTL, all three resigned.