Oskar Hippe

Selected Chapters From

...And Red Is The Colour Of Our Flag

Revolution In Russia,
Upheaval In Germany

Chapter 3

The Spartacus League appeared irregularly throughout 1917 and 1918. These Letters gave us news of national and international developments. They were a great help to us in our anti-war agitation. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had both been in prison for a long time, were able, with the help of warders or of comrades who visited them, to smuggle out political documents, and were, in their turn, supplied with material from outside. The outbreak of the February Revolution in Russia was an event which gave new impetus to our struggle. We were particularly inspired by one of Rosa Luxemburg’s articles which she wrote in Wronke prison:

‘The outbreak of the Russian Revolution has broken the deadlock in the historical situation which was caused by the continuation of the world war and the simultaneous failure of the proletarian class struggle ... The anxious expectation with which Germany receives every speech by Chkheidze or by the workers’ and soldiers’ council regarding questions of war and peace is tangible confirmation of the fact that . . . only the revolutionary actions of the proletariat offer a way out of this impasse of the world war . . . In any event, even with the greatest heroism, no proletariat of any single country can sever this noose. The Russian Revolution will grow unaided into an international problem . .

‘But now to the German bourgeoisie! . . . German imperialism, which is in dire straits, in a tight corner on the western front and in Asia Minor and unable even to start dealing with the food crisis at home, would like to extricate itself from the whole business as quickly and cleanly as possible, so that it can patch itself up and arm itself for another war. Imperialism would like to make use of the Russian Revolution, and its proletarian-socialist pacifism . . . But to have a republic on their flank, more particularly a republic newly built and governed by the revolutionary socialist proletariat, is too much for the police and military east of the Elbe to put up with

‘Who can guarantee that tomorrow, after peace has been signed, and German militarism has its claws out of manacles again, it will not strike the Russian proletariat in the flank in order to cushion a dangerous shock to German semi-absolutism? . . . The Russian proletariat would truly be politically naive indeed if it did not ask itself this question: this German cannon fodder, which allows itself to be led to the slaughter by imperialism on all the fronts—how will it avoid being ordered against the Russian Revolution tomorrow?

‘There is only one real guarantee against these understandable worries about the future of the Russian Revolution: the awakening of the German proletariat, the coming to power of the German workers and soldiers in their own country, a revolutionary action by the German people to win peace.’ (’The Old Mole’, Collected Works, Volume 4, pp.258-264.)

This article was discussed not only in the ranks of the Spartacus League. The USPD comrades accorded it great importance as well, especially the lines: ‘In any event, even with the greatest heroism, no proletariat of any single country can sever this noose. The Russian Revolution will grow unaided into an international problem.’

The wild frenzy of victory which had gripped large parts of the German working class in 1914 and had persisted through to 1917 were countered by the effect of the February Revolution in Russia, the experiences of war and the bad situation at home, and led to a new consciousness in the more advanced sections of the workers. The other sections adopted anti-war stances because of the decline in the standard of living and individual experiences at the front. And then we in Leipzig received the exciting news that the Russian working class in alliance with the peasants had proclaimed a Soviet republic and had consolidated its power. The effects of the October Revolution were visible throughout the whole working class. The workers were impressed by the formation of workers’ and soldiers’ committees, and even many social-democratic workers welcomed the victory of the Russian proletariat.

The workers of Leipzig had not forgotten their opposition to the war and their great demonstration of July 1914. The October Revolution was the topic of the day and I too was greatly inspired by it. The peace negotiations between the German empire and Soviet Russia at Brest-

Litovsk following on from the October Revolution were conducted by General Hoffmann on behalf of the military staff of the German armed forces and by Secretary of State von Kühlmann, representing the government. For the German military, ‘peace through victory’ was still at the top of the agenda.

They demanded the evacuation of the Baltic states and of the Ukraine, and an indefinite armistice. Their goal was to be able to transfer to the western front the greater part of the troops then tied up at the eastern front, in order to bring about a change in fortunes there. As People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Trotsky led the Soviet delegation. The negotiations dragged on for several weeks, principally because the German delegates could not agree amongst themselves. There were always disagreements between Kühlmann and General Hoffmann. After one attack which Trotsky launched agaiiist the German government, Hoffmann explained: ‘I do not represent the German government here, but rather the German High Command.’

While the government attempted to prise the Baltic states and the Ukraine from the Soviet Republic by a proclamation of ‘the right of self-determination’, General Hoffmann strove for a charter allowing him to occupy the Baltic states and Ukraine with his troops. In Germany there were major demonstrations against Hoffmann’s demands. Workers sympathising with social democracy put up the opposition slogan: ‘We do not want a Hoffmann peace, we want a Scheidemann peace!’ The workers behind Spartacus and the USPD demonstrated for the defence and inviolability of the Soviet state.

I did not work in Leipzig much longer. It was becoming increasingly—apart from that I had to work very long difficult to get the basics to eatl hours each day. Together, these two factors persuaded me to return home.

No further action had been taken by the police as a result of my leafleting in the Berlin factory. I went home in January 1918. I could find no work as a lathe worker, since there were scarcely any metalworks in the Geisel valley. But there was no difficulty in finding other work: a new plant for producing tar and oil from coal had been set up in our village, the LUtzkendorf fuel plant. It was supposed to help overcome the growing lack of fuel in industry and at the front. Forty-eight retorts had been installed for the coal-liquefaction equipment. Two fitters worked there along with four French prisoners of war. I was taken on immediately. Imagine my joy to find that the fitters were socialists and opponents of the war. I had made political contacts again. There was not much happening politically in the coalfield, since only very young or elderly workers were employed there, and most of the work was performed by prisoners of war.

There was a prisoner-of-war camp inside our works. This consisted of primitive huts surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. The guards were members of the veteran reserve, together with some auxiliary conscripts. Among them was a man of about 25 years of age, small and crippled, whom we considered a sadist. At midday and in the evening the prisoners had to form two lines, and he made sure that the Russian prisoners in particular were formed up with Prussian exactness. Armed with two sticks, he used to go along the line and rain blows upon the prisoners at the slightest fault. The commander, a sergeant, was rarely in the camp. In civilian life he was an agricultural inspector on a nearby manor.

When we left the works at midday to eat, we advised both the commandant and the guard that their treatment of the prisoners contra-vened the Geneva Convention. It did no good. On one occasion the guard treated the prisoners especially badly. We took his sticks away from him and beat him up, because we considered that people of his sort could only understand that kind of argument. The commander, who was actually in the camp that particular day, threatened to report us to the police. We told him that if he did not ensure that the maltreatment stopped, he could expect a beating as well. Both my colleagues were in a ‘reserved occupation’ (and therefore exempt from military service because their employers needed them); only a few weeks later they were both conscripted.

For a few days I worked alone with the prisoners, until the firm sent a new fitter. He was quite the opposite of my previous colleagues. You could hardly even discuss social problems with him. I myself had been inspected for service only a few weeks before, and received the medical classification ‘fit for garrison duty at the front’. The reason for this limitation was that I had lost the sight of one eye in an accident. I only—I was conscripted seven weeks stayed a short while longer at that factoryl before the rest of my age group, as a punishment for my intervention on behalf of the POWs.

Along with a troop of other conscripts, I was dispatched by the Näumburg regional command to Bernburg in the Anhalt area. We were quartered in a school there, our unit belonged to Reinforcement Battalion No.66, and the company comprised three squads. Because there was a shortage of drill instructors, each squad had more than 30 men. The first days were taken up with drill and practising parade marches and salutes—great value was set on these. Then off we went to the firing ranges, where a company drill was arranged on a large meadow.

Our squad leader—I reckoned him to be about 35 years old—ordered us to march in groups wheeling left and right, in the pouring rain. Enormous puddles formed on the meadow. He then proceeded to the next exercise, during which we had to ‘lie down!’and’jump up, march, march!’ all over the field. The order to lie down always came when we reached the largest puddles. Together with another comrade, I ran in front of the unit. On the next command of ‘lie down!’—naturally just at another puddle—we did not budge. The sergeant stormed over the field in a rage: this was disobeying an order. We claimed not to have heard the order. He sent the unit off, and conducted the exercise with us alone. Now it was alternately ‘jump up!’ and ‘lie down!’, and crawling every so often, all over the field, always into the biggest puddles, until it was all too much for me and I really disobeyed the command.

At the next ‘jump up, march, march!’, I stayed lying down and said that I could not go on. Despite all the curses, I did not move a muscle. Four weeks of army life with all its bullying had been enough for me.

Now the company commander appeared on horseback. The rain had eased off. The sergeant told me to get up and then reported, but nothing happened. We had to fall back into the squad, and then the company drill began. Finally, we marched in a parade past the company commander who took the salute mounted on his horse. After we had been drilled hard for more than three hours, it was back to our quarters—naturally with a ‘fresh, joyful song’.

Once we had arrived in the schoolyard, my comrade and I had to step in front of the company, where we were informed that, because of our bad 1conduct at the training area, we were to report to the NC0s’ mess after we had eaten. While our friends could go into town—it was Saturday—we were ordered by our sergeant to report back in an hour with polished rifle and bayonet. Naturally, our arms were then found to be in a ‘filthy condition’—or at least that is what the NCOs said.

So we were set to work to clean the boots, belt buckles and side-arms of the NC0s, and some even gave us their tunics to clean. I said that I had neither polish nor shoe polish. But every soldier—came the reply—had to have those. I replied that I did indeed have a cleaning kit, but only for myself, not for the NC0s, sir. With a daily allowance of 22 pfennig I could not afford to buy shoe polish for the officers. So they gave us cleaning things. We really took some trouble, for we still hoped to get into town. But when we returned to the mess, they told us that it all looked ‘filthy’ and had to be done again.

My comrade and I agreed not to lift another finger and to return all the things exactly as they were. When we went back up, they decided it was all satisfactory and took their belongings back: but at the door stood a bucket and a basin, both filled right to the brim. We were told to carry them down two steps: naturally the water slopped over. Their purpose wasachieved: they had an excuse to bully us all over again. We had to wash the room, the hall and the steps right down to the yard. By then it was almost nine o’clock. Filled with anger, we went back to our room and to bed.

Fortunately the six weeks’ basic training was soon at an end and we were handed over to the watch battalion. A few days later, the class of 1900 turned up at the school, amongst them many acquaintances from my village and district. Service in the watch battalion consisted mainly in guard duty and fatigue duty.

Twice a week we had either drill or target practice at the firing range. When the shooting was finished, we were sometimes met outside town by the company commander on his horse and led back to the barracks. Then he ordered us to sing a song. But the company did not always feel like singing, especially after four hours’ drill. One day, we simply did not respond. He turned us round, and made us do a punishment exercise on the road. Then off towards town we went. ‘A song!’ came the order again. The company struck up with ‘I was born in Hamburg’. We knew the commander could not stand that one. He shouted for us to stop, but the song was sung right to the end. At least he did not ask us to sing any more that day.

There were older soldiers in the watch battalion too, people who had been wounded at the front: having been signed off as ‘fit for garrison duty’, they were completing their service here. In my room there was a comrade, born in 1897, and I struck up a friendship with him. I helped him when he was called for a medical examination, by wrestling with him a few days beforehand. As a result, his wound opened up again and he was not certified as fit for the front. He was extremely interested in politics, and was, as I later discovered, a member of the Spartacus League. It was not at all difficult to discuss the situation at the front and at home with the older soldiers, but it was more difficult with the comrades who belonged to my age group.

There was one occasion when the musketry NCO in charge of the firing range and guard duty must have overheard something of our discussions and put us on fatigues.

Now, after this had been going on for several weeks, my comrade asked: ‘Do you want to help us teach Berger a lesson? He goes down to the river Saale every evening with his girlfriend. After curfew we can get over the wall and come back by the river.’

I was in. After curfew, when the corporal on duty had left the mess, we went down and pretended we wanted to use the latrines in the yard. We had put on our belts under our shirts, and our side-arms—a kind of bayonet—were hidden in our trousers. We waited until the guard who did the rounds inside the barracks had reached the furthest point.

In a flash we were over the wall, and ten minutes later we were down at the river Saale. There we found our victim. Without saying a word, we slapped him with the flat of the bayonets. We calmed his girlfriend, who began to shout, by telling her that she would not be harmed, that we only wanted to teach this tyrant a lesson.

In less than an hour we were back inside the barracks. The next morning, when the company reported for guard duty, our man was absent. He was unpopular even with his fellow NCOs.

The company sergeant who asked for him was told that Berger was still in his room. When the company sergeant ordered someone to fetch him, he eventually appeared. He was somewhat embarrassed, but did not say anything about what had happened, only explained that he had fallen and did not feel well. We never discovered whether he knew who had beaten him. In any case, we were not given so much fatigue duty after that, except in the Solvay works, a chemical factory producing artificial manure. There we had to work ten hours, but were paid five marks a day.

One day, as we reported for guard duty, I could not believe my eyes. In a group of NCOs there stood a man with whom I had worked in Berlin at the German Weapons and Munitions factory, in the lathe section, and who was also a member of the Spartacus League. I introduced him to the comrade who shared my room. One evening, at the start of September 1918, he suggested that we smuggle some weapons out of the barracks to help the organisation. They were to be picked up in a certain cemetery by a civilian who was also a comrade. We managed to achieve this twice without being discovered in the investigations which followed. In all, eight rifles were smuggled out.

At the end of September we were invested. It was said we would be deployed behind the front. We got three days’ leave, and then, only a few days later, a long transport train with several garrisons—around 2,000 men—was rolling towards occupied Belgium. On the way we were fed several times, the last time in the town of Düren. Whereas in the garrison we were usually fed with ‘barbed wire’ which is what we called the terrible food—at the refreshment points we received good portions, with a lot of meat.

Antwerp was the first intermediate station, and we stayed there a week. We were housed in part of a convent which was crawling with lice. The other wing of the nunnery was still occupied. A lot of coming and going soon developed between the two wings of the building, until the commandant felt obliged to place a guard at every connecting door. But that had little effect. One evening it was my turn for guard duty, and the traffic was very heavy that evening. But I was really plagued by the lice, who were gnawing away at my skin. I put my rifle down, stripped down to my waist and began to hunt down the lice; I squashed lots of them. The comrades who were passing through were of less interest to me.

During the day we were busy on the slopes outside the town. Entire trench systems were laid out there, with barbed-wire entanglements, which we had to work our way through.

There was also practice for gas alerts. For these, a low-lying building had been constructed, and we were led through it in groups to test whether our gas masks were working. Then one morning we were queueing up for our food, and we wondered why there was more than usual—there was even an ‘iron ration’ with it. Then came the order to march out. After 30 minutes we fell in for roll call. Only about half of the men who belonged to our transport were there. A few days before, doctors had inspected us for our suitability for deployment. A lieutenant-colonel made a short speech and told us that we were going to defend bridges behind the front line. We marched through the town to the station; it was more like a demonstration. From the train came continuous shouts against the war: ‘Equal rations, equal pay, then the war can stay away!’ Or, if an officer threatened us: ‘Out with the light, out with the knife, let him have it within an inch of his life!’

Marching in front of us was a division from the garrison at Aschersleben in the Harz. Most of them were comrades who had already been at the front. The transport train stood ready at the goods station. At the end of the train stood a group of soldiers handing out ammunition to the division in front of us. When these comrades had received their ammunition, they seized the remaining ammunition boxes and refused to climb aboard. The officer, after several unsuccessful demands, ordered them to be disarmed and taken before a court-martial. The comrades—around 100 men—then retreated to a small hill opposite the station. The rest of us were ordered aboard the train without any ammunition. When the train was ready to leave, it was shot at from above, until the steam boiler and the tender looked like sieves. We stayed there until after dark. We did not know what happened to our mutinous comrades. Our train finally left the station with a new locomotive and reached Mons on the Belgian-French border with no further delay.

Telling us that we were to be guarding bridges was only a ‘sedative’. Two days later we were sent to the front, although none of our unit was fit for field service. In my case, the medical check, because of my missing eye, had pronounced me only fit for garrison duty.

At the part of the front where we were deployed, we faced British troops. There was only sporadic fighting during the day. At night, we retreated to occupy makeshift positions. We suffered many casualties, and were rarely stood down. We were outside Mons again. That day, the British launched an attack to encircle us. The mood among the troops was anything but a fighting one. Everyone knew that the war was lost. In this situation, we called for a retreat, so that we should not be captured. This was on our own initiative. We called on the two companies lying to the right and left to join us. It was not far to the station, where a train stood with steam up. We climbed aboard and forced the driver to leave immediately. If we had remained in position, we would certainly have been captured. The British had put their cavalry into the field as well, which the older comrades told us had not happened for two years.

We reached Brussels with great difficulty and after many stops. Since our food had run out, we tried to get more there. It was a few days before the armistice. People refused to give us anything since we had no valid papers. When we threatened to go and get the food ourselves, they decided that they would supply it after all. Our train had open goods wagons, with no side walls, and it was already bitterly cold. We warmed ourselves around small field stoves. We were often shunted on to side lines, since closed trains transporting military units were given precedence.

Later we discovered the reason for this: in Berlin, the government of Prince Max of Baden had resigned. The Government of People’s Represen-tatives had been formed as the provisional government by leaders of the SPD and USPD. But the general staff remained unchanged. Ludendorif and Hindenburg had announced that they would lead their troops through the Brandenburg Gate as an army unbeaten in war. They did not succeed, but that was not thanks to the effort of the provisional government, and especially not of the Social-Democratic leadership.

Hundreds of thousands of Berlin workers demonstrated their deter-mination not to let the butchers of the German people march through Berlin as unbeaten army commanders. Soldiers’ committees were formed in all the units, companies and regiments, in ours too. Our chairman was the comrade with whom I had worked in Berlin and who had left for the front from Bernburg. It was he who had also kept the troop together from the first days of mutiny all the way back to Halle. In the regiments where the Spartacus League and the USPD had little influence, the soldiers’ committee was often composed of officers and NCOs. Again and again at the stations—even in Halle—we received the order to report to our regiment in the barracks. But our intention was to travel on to Berlin.

The Halle soldiers’ committee and the station authorities informed us that we could travel no further as a single transport, since the wagons were required in the central German industrial area. In reality, they simply wanted to prevent us from staying together as a unit. The soldiers’ committee in Cologne had already tried to prevent us from travelling any further until we had surrendered our weapons. On the platforms lay mountains of rifles, carbines and machine-guns. Since we did not wish to come to a confrontation with comrades, we readily surrendered our weapons.

In Halle, we told our comrades not to report to barracks on any account, but rather to try to reach Berlin individually and then to meet up again at a prearranged spot. My parents lived not far from Halle. I decided to travel home first before starting on the journey to Berlin. I took the first-shift train in the morning into the industrial area. Apart from my mother and sister, no one was there. My father was in hospital in Halle as a result of an accident at his work. My mother sent me off to the nearest pit because of my lice, so that I could have a bath and get on some civilian clothes.

My uniform and underwear were stuck in a vat and boiled. But even after a short time, the itching began again. That day my brother came for his midday meal, since he too had not travelled back to his garrison at Stendal. Together with another comrade, he had spent the last six weeks making forced marches from one place to another in order to avoid a ‘hero’s death’ at the last moment.

Thousands had done the same. If they were stopped by the military police, they explained that they were looking for their regiment. In the towns, hundreds and thousands of deserters were hiding; as I have mentioned in Berlin alone there were more than 30,000 of them.

I told my brother that I still had lice even after bathing and boiling my clothes. He asked whether I had changed my braces. Indeed I had not. When we looked, we saw that the new invasion had come from there. After another bath, I finally got rid of the lice.

In the evening my father turned up as well. Nothing remained of his confidence in victory. His loyalty to the Kaiser had given way to a great disappointment. He still rejected our point of view, that a socialist society should replace the bourgeois-capitalist one. When we argued that the bourgeois-democratic republic in place of a monarchy was not enough, that it was now time to clear away social inequality, or else the cost of the war would come down on the backs of workers ‘ my father countered with the bogey of Soviet Russia, where, it was claimed, all freedoms had been abolished. That was the way it had been explained to him by the Generalanzeiger.

My brother wanted me to stay at home, for there was enough political work to do there. But I was drawn to Berlin, partly because I felt that other tasks needed to be done there, partly because I had promised my friends and comrades to meet them in Berlin. I stayed in Berlin with my sister. Through my brother-in-law I contacted the Spartacus League again. Immediately, I participated in agitation: leaflets had to be distributed, meetings guarded; I took part in demonstrations and especially in discussions on the streets and squares.

There was little work available. Industry had been crippled by the end of the war, and had to readjust to peacetime production. I had to try to earn my daily crust by casual work. On the days when no work was available or when I did not have much political work to do, I spent my time reading. The Spartacus Letters still appeared at intervals. As a soldier I had had little opportunity to examine these. Now I tried to broaden my political horizons. There was an article by Leo Jogiches which interested me, written as early as August 1917. It read:

‘After several mighty struggles, the Russian working class has succeeded in making the Provisional Government adopt the following as the official formula for the war policy: no annexations, no reparations, peace on the basis of the self-determination of nations. At first sight, this proletarian policy has won a complete and emphatic victory.

‘But a general peace cannot be brought about by Russia alone. The Russian proletariat can put down the resistance of its own ruling class, but it cannot exercise any crucial influence on the imperialist governments of Britain, France and Italy, since there, naturally, the decisive pressure can only come, as in Russia itself, from within, only from the British, French and Italian proletariat

‘The apparent weak point of true socialist war policy lies in the fact that revolutions cannot be made “on command” . . . But this is certainly not the duty of the socialist party. The only duty is always and unflinchingly “to tell it like it is”, that is, to present to the masses clearly and sharply their responsibilities at the given historical moment, to proclaim the political programme of action and the slogans .

‘Today, like three years ago, there is only one alternative: War or revolution! Imperialism or socialism! To proclaim this loud and clear, so that each in his own land can draw the revolutionary conclusions—this is the only proletarian-socialist peace work which is possible today.’ (Spartacus Letters, published by the Communist Party of Germany-Spartacus League. No.6, August 1917.)

Leo Jogiches pointed the way for the German working class. It could not continue as a kind of feudal estate, without winning class rights, and

acting as a kind of jailer for capitalism. He called on the German workers to follow the Russian example. But he also demonstrated how critically people were following developments in Russia. The slogan of the Spartacus League—socialism or war—was opposed by the majority Social Democrats with: ‘Socialism is on the march!’ On the advertising pillars of Berlin and throughout the empire appeared posters announcing that we were ‘on the road’ to socialism:

‘Only adventurers chatter about revolution. We Social Democrats know that the power of capitalism is broken. The republic is our passport on the road to socialism.’

The German people did not fight for the republic; it fell victim to it. Scheidemann declared openly—and also wrote in his memoirs—that Ebert had reproached him for proclaiming the republic. ‘I hate revolution like sin’, is what Ebert was supposed to have said to the last chancellor of the empire, Max von Baden. In the Spartacus League, we knew that a revolution had not really taken place on 9 November, although even we spoke of the ‘November Revolution’. For us ‘ the collapse of the monarchy was only the first step in a social movement leading to revolution.

We knew that a revolution was not a single act, but rather a chain of collisions and conflicts with the ruling class, which is never ready to submit itself to the will of a democratic majority, but rather defends its predominant position with all means at its disposal, with the help of the powers which the state has built up—the army, the police, the courts and the church. On 6 December, we saw how strong the counter-revolutionary forces, including the majority Social Democrats, considered themselves, only four weeks after 9 November.

Spartacus, together with the Red Soldiers’ League, had organised several meetings and marches in support of its policies; these had been authorised by the police. One demonstration moved from the Wedding district through the Chaussee Strasse to the city centre.

In front of the Maikäfer Barracks (the headquarters of a regiment of guards), the street was blocked by several machine-guns. The soldiers of the counter-revolution shot without warning into the crowd; eighteen people were killed, 30 wounded. A second demonstration, which came from Charlottenburg and was also heading for the city centre, almost collided with a demonstration by the SPD, at the Grosse Stern; the latter included republican army soldiers who were armed. A participant in the Wedding march arrived and reported the events in the Chaussee Strasse.

The leaders of the demonstration managed to divert it in time, so that there was no conflict. Some time later it became known that the future chairman of the SPD, Wels, who was city commander of Berlin at that time, had issued orders to shoot in an emergency. Those killed in this cowardly attack in the Chaussee Strasse were buried, after many argu-ments, in the cemetery of the martyrs of March 1848, in Friedrichshain.

We saw how strong the counter-revolutionary forces considered them-selves to be in the last days of 1918. The right-wing parties openly called for the dissolution of the workers’ and soldiers’ committees, on the grounds that they constituted a parallel government to the Government of People’s Representatives. The majority Social Democrats did nothing to stop this agitation from the right; on the contrary, in conferences of the workers’ and soldiers’ committees, they tried to weaken the influence of the committees.

In reality, the highest ranks of the army, which still remained unchallenged and whose job it was to demobilise the army, had become the parallel government. Major Schleichmann was allowed to take part in the sessions of the Government of People’s Representatives, as link man for the High Command. There he was permitted to demand the death penalty for those who carried weapons without permission. He did not succeed, but even without the death penalty on the statute books, the military still went out and murdered.

Since the overthrow of the monarchy in November, the People’s Marine Division had been quartered in Berlin, elite troops of the socialist-democratic forces. The majority were members of the High Seas Fleet, which had been moored in harbour for almost the entire course of the war. When the marine commanders tried in desperation to send the fleet against the British fleet shortly before the end of the war, the crews refused the order. Reichpietsch and Köbis, two sailors, were condemned to death as ‘ringleaders’ and shot.

From that point onwards, the sailors were always in close contact with representatives of the USPD. After the collapse, they came to Berlin as the People’s Marine Division. At Christmas 1918 there was a bloody battle in which the Marine Division also participated. The Spartacus League did not take part. Sixty-seven people lost their lives. The order to shoot at the Marstall, in which the People’s Marine Division were quartered, came again from the city commander, Wels. He gave it without the knowledge of the three USPD members of government, who resigned forthwith.

Immediately after the November collapse, the Spartacus League took over the Scherl publishing house, which for years had printed the Lokal Anzeiger, the organ of the Conservative Party, and brought out the Lokal Anzeiger under the title of Rote Fahne (Red Flag). From that day onwards; it became the organ of the revolutionary workers, and was soon distributed everywhere.

Numerically, the Spartacus League was a small organisation, but hundreds of thousands demonstrated under its slogans.

The plenary committee of the workers’ and soldiers’ committees had its headquarters in Berlin. Its meetings took place in the Busch Circus, next to the Lustgarten. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were not members of the plenary committee, and the Spartacus League was only weakly represented among the delegates. Nevertheless, we regarded the committees as the most important instrument for working towards a socialist republic. Liebknecht tried to gain support within the plenary committee. He was quite clear that we had to win the majority in the committees if we were to reach the stage of the socialist revolution.

From the very first days after the collapse of the monarchy, the SPD had supported the bourge.ois-democratic republic and the republican army which had attracted many workers to its ranks. But the workers did not allow the republican army to be used against either the revolutionary workers or the People’s Marine Division. That task was therefore given to the Lüttwitz Freikorps, which was then just being set up, and to Maercker, the Guards and Cavalry Protection Division and others.

Just as the SPD had supported a pacifist policy from 1914 until the end of the war, so now they hung on to the old state apparatus for dear life. The Freikorps served them as an instrument against the revolutionary working class. Even after the fall of the monarchy, they led the fight against the left wing. They came out with a whole series of slanders, especially against the Spartacus League. They described the leadership and members of Spartacus as agents of the Bolsheviks wishing to destroy freedom.

In the last days of December, the Spartacus League issued a call to a conference in Berlin; this took place on 30-31 December 1918 and 1 January 1919. The conference was supposed to decide on the tactics of the Spartacists, and particularly whether the struggle within the USPD was to be continued or whether the left should unite in a new, revolutionary party. Liebknecht argued before the delegates the necessity of splitting from the centrist USPD in the interests of the revolution.

On the basis of the national conference of the workers’ and soldiers’ committees, held between 16 and 21 December 1918, which voted to hand over power to a parliament yet to be elected, the leading comrades of the Spartacus League argued for participation in the elections to the National Assembly. But the majority of the conference opposed the leadership. This was the same majority which later, in October 1919 at the Heidelberg party conference, rejected a united front with other workers’ parties, and which refused to work inside the General German Trade Union Federation—ADGB—and instead demanded the construction of its own, separate, trade unions. Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches also suggested to the conference, on the basis of the weakness of the revolutionary workers’ movement, that the new organisation be called the ‘Socialist Party’; the majority, however, decided on the name ‘Communist Party of Germany—Spartacus League’—KPD.

The activities of the members of the new Communist Party increased after the founding conference. The People’s Marine Division still occupied the Marstall; the printing district was in the hands of the revolutionary workers. The Rote Fahne, now the central organ of the KPD, continued to be printed at the Scherl works. The owners were demanding the return of their presses.

The Government of People’s Representatives also wanted to weaken the KPD and drive it out of the printing district. There were provocations almost daily on the part of the armed bodies of government. When the Berlin President of Police, the USPD member Emil Eichhorn, was sacked, the workers spontaneously occupied the newspaper offices. This was the signal for the ‘Noske Gangs’, as the revolutionary workers called the Freikorps. There was a short but bloody fight, which the workers could not win. They were armed only with rifles and a few machine-guns, while the Freikorps went out with heavy artillery and fired shells into the printing works.

On this occasion again, the republican army refused to go in against the defenders of the printing works. Many of the fighting workers were arrested. The leaders of the action, continuing their work even after the defeat, advised those who managed to escape arrest not to return to their homes, but to seek shelter in illegality. Workers’ districts were subject to house-to-house searches; the fighting workers of Berlin had suffered a grievous defeat.