Walter Ulbricht

The Hamburg Uprising under
the Leadership of Ernst Thälmann

Source: Zur Geschichte der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1954, German.
Translation: The Red Path.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On the dark background of the unprincipled compromise politics and the disgraceful capitulation of the Brandler clique the heroic struggle of the workers of Hamburg emerges. The KPD had in Hamburg around 18,000 members. The cadres of the Hamburg Communist Party were educated by comrade Thälmann with the spirit of Marxism-Leninism. By the irreconcilable struggle against all deviations, which was led by comrade Thälmann, in Hamburg a struggle organization was founded, which was political and militarily ready for the uprising.

When the Hamburg workers heard, that the Reichswehr should march to Saxony, the fighting spirit increased by a multiple. On 20 October 1923 there were many clashes between police and workers. In this tense atmosphere it showed, that also many from petty bourgeoisie and in some cases even the police sympathized with the demonstrating workers. When on 22 October the message arrived, that the Reichswehr steps into Saxony, the harbor and dock workers immediately stopped working. In the night of 22 to 23 October the call of the Reich’s Enterprise Council Committee, which was previously sent to the Hamburg Party organization, was being spread. The committee called the working class of Germany to general strike, to the uprising against the offensive of reaction and against the military dictatorship. In the call it was said,

“that any delay is equal to death and it is absolutely necessary to start the struggle in the whole country because the isolated struggle in Middle Germany can lead to defeat. It will not be the repeating of the November Revolution of 1918. The decisive hour has come. One of both: Either the working people save Middle Germany, turns Germany into a workers and peasants republic, which is allying with Soviet Union, or an enormous misery will come up.”

After just a few hours the most enterprises were standing still. The action was led by comrade Thälmann. Mass demonstrations took place in whole Hamburg. In the Hamburg workers quarter Barmbeck the situation was specially tense. Everything just waited on the command to strike out. In the main streets more and more people gathered together till late in the night. The police was powerless. Their tries, to strike down the workers by violence, failed on the closed action of the demonstrators.

The Hamburg Party organization had created a so called Ordnerdienst (OD), which was the military core of the proletarian groups of a hundred. The training of the Odnerdienst was role-model-like. Its members were familiar with the use of weapons and knew the basic rules in street battles. On 22 October in the night the district leadership of KPD Wasserkante decided to start the uprising on 23 October at 5 a.m. It was decided, to start with the declaration of railmen strikes, to prevent the transports to Saxony.

The decided uprising plan was by the explanation of a participant the following:

a) The uprising starts by a sudden attack of the armed workers detachments in the workers quarters of the city, by occupying primarily weapons stockpiles;

b) disarming of police and fascists in the workers quarters;

c) coincident contraction of the already armed workers detachments, who have to be covered by the mass demonstrations from the suburbs till the city center, and pushing away the enemy (police and fascists in the city center) towards South (to the river, whose bridges have to be occupied by the workers earlier) and here the final disarming of the enemies;

d) occupation of mail and telegraph office, the most important train stations of city and inter-city traffic, the airfield and other most important objects before the detachments from suburbs step into the city center, by the suburb forces of the Party;

e) to prevent the citation of reinforcements of the enemy from outside, it is needed, to ambush them on the main streets, which could be used for their supplies. With the organization of an attack from behind and the annihilation of their ways in a radius of 25 km the forces of the local organizations of the next close workers cities and settlements will be assigned. The organizations of Harburg, Wilhelmsburg, Ütersen and Stade should block the shipping traffic on the Elbe river.

In the history of the uprising the struggles in workers suburb Barmbeck were the most decisive. They stood under the leadership of comrade Thälmann. Because the workers here had only 19 rifles and 27 pistols, the question of arms was here the most important for victory. Comrade Thälmann drafted an action plan. At first the 20 police stations should be stormed to get their weapons. Equipped with one rifle and two pistols the single combat groups went to their objectives. After the disarming of the police station the Wandsbeker barracks, which was staffed with 600 policemen and had over six armed cars, should have been stormed.

At 5.30 a.m. the combat groups disarmed 17 police stations. Around 170 rifles and lots of ammunition were the result of the surprise attack by the workers. Three police stations could not be disarmed due to the failure and undisciplined behavior of some combat group leaders. The Wandsbeker barracks were alarmed, the police stations directly got help and the storm on the barracks was prevented.

A part of the comrades, who were not used for the disarming of the police stations, were sent by comrade Thälmann to the train stations, enterprises and docks to call out the general strike and to win the workers for the struggle. This action was successful. All means of travel stood still. Many workers trekked unified through Hamburg to support their fighting class brothers. At 7 a.m. comrade Thälmann commanded the build of barricades, which was directly seized by the workers. Big parts of the working people, specially women, participated. The working women and youth fulfilled great efforts and helped to uphold the heroic resistance by their activity.

The girls and boys of the Communist Youth League struggled determined. They were the connection people between the barricades and supplied the fighters with ammunition. On the top of these fighters stood comrade Willi Bredel. With immense courage the workers struggled side on side, indifferent if they were members of KPD, SPD or non-partisan. They knew how to use the few weapons to fight back the police.

The combat groups positioned on the roofs and in the apartments. So they were able to rule the whole breath of the streets with few weapons. The police had their main focus on the barricades, where they thought the masses of defenders would be, while in reality just a few snipers were there.

The combat groups executed sudden attacks. These sudden attacks of the combat groups played a decisive role in the Hamburg Struggles. The struggle in Barmbeck, in the North part of Hamburg, staid isolated, because the traitor Urbahns gave out the decision of the Chemnitz meeting “The struggle will be delayed” as a directive in Hamburg, although the struggle has already begun.

In the night of 23 to 24 October no bigger fighting happened. The policemen were not willed to to attack although their officers ordered it many times, because the workers have proven on day by their tactics, that the police was not even with armed cars able to storm the barricades. So in example one armed car was made unable to fight by the courageous mission of a sniper. In another case two armed cars drove towards a barricade. The workers quickly built up behind the cars another barricade. So the cars were locked and unable to fight for a while.

Despite the traitorous directive of Urbahns to stop struggling, the workers of Hamburg demonstrated and hunted the opportunist trade union leaders out of the house of trade union.

On the second day of struggle the police got reinforcements. 500 policemen from Lübeck, the cruiser Hamburg and two torpedo boats were sent. To the support of the reactionary hordes airplanes flew over Barmbeck. A detachment of sailors refused to fight against the workers.

Around 6,000 policemen and military, equipped with heavy arms, tried to storm Barmbeck. 300 determined workers with few ammunition resisted toughly against the reactionary hordes. When comrade Thälmann noticed, that he struggled isolated with the Hamburg workers, he gave order for organized retreat.

Three days and three nights the workers in Barmbeck delivered heroic resistance. The uprising was canceled by decision of the Party, because the Hamburg Struggle stood isolated due to the betrayal by the Brandler clique. The armed combat groups of the Hamburg proletariat retreated with role-model-like discipline. Comrade Thälmann continued his work; he stayed illegally in Hamburg.

The Hamburg Uprising has historical importance. It shows, that the readiness of the German workers to struggle under the leadership of KPD for the social and national liberation of the working people, was there. Comrade Thälmann and his fighters proved by deeds, that with correct military and political leadership the working class can fight successfully against enemies in superior numbers and equipment, when she uses the teachings and experiences of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The Hamburg Uprising belongs to the proudest traditions of the German workers movement, teaches us, that a united acting working class under the leadership of a Bolshevik Party can master all tasks.


Last updated: 28 October 2017