Januarstreik - German strike of January 1918
Posted: 1 year 3 months ago (Wed Aug 28, 2019 5:55 pm)
By the outbreak of the November Revolution (Novemberrevolution; Nov. 1918 - Aug. 1919) there was no hope that Germany could become victorious in the First World War anymore. Germany suffered too much in the Hundred Days Offensive, and all of their allies had collapsed in quick succession, because Austria-Hungary broke after the Italian Vittorio Veneto offensive. That was before the armistice and revolution.
But another important detail, which is often overlooked, is that the Marxists had already orchestrated a strike in Germany of the ammunitions workers before the German Spring Offensive in January 1918 (Kaiserschlacht) which delayed the attack and damaged morale. The German strike of January 1918, known as the Januarstreik, was overwhelmingly pushed by Communist Jews. The strike lasted from 25 January to 1 February 1918.
A Marxist organization known as The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) had been calling for the war to end to promote political reform. The "Spartacus League" were also advocating political revolution as a way to stop the war. The USPD and Spartacus League, along with the "Revolutionary Stewards" (Revolutionäre Obleute) were the Marxist groups that pushed for the strike. The January Strike started in the munitions and metal plants of Berlin, but in a matter of days had spread to other industrial centers such as Kiel, Hamburg, Danzig (now Gdansk), Magdeburg, Nuremberg, the Ruhr, Munich, Cologne, Mannheim and Kassel. As a result of the strike, many of the protesters were conscripted to fight in the war. Kurt Eisner, a Jew who has been called the mastermind of the strike, and other members of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) were arrested during the night of February 1, 1918 and taken to the police headquarters in Ettstraße.
Prominent Jewish members of the USPD and/or Jews involved in the January strike:
- Eduard Bernstein
- Emil Eichhorn
- Kurt Eisner
- Hugo Haase
- Karl Kautsky
- Betty Landauer
- Sonja Lerch
- Paul Levi
- Kurt Löwenstein
- Rosa Luxemburg
- Anna Niedermeier
- Toni Sender
- Ernst Toller
- Kurt Tucholsky
- Lorenz Winkler
- Clara Zetkin
- Georg Ledebour (probably a gentile but his wife was accused of being Jewish)
Here is an excerpt from Chris Harman's book "The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918 to 1923"
Full book: https://archive.is/LKpyR
Code: Select all
The January strikes
The growing discontent with the war received a political
focus in November 1917. The Bolsheviks established a new
power in Russia, based on Soviets - councils of workers and
soldiers. They offered an immediate armistice to the powers
that had been at war with Russia, pending a permanent peace
on the basis of 'no annexations and indemnities', exposed the
secret treaties that had led to the war, and renounced Czarist
Russia's colonial posessions.
13. Daniel Horn, Muliny on lhe High Seas (London 1973), page 33. For a different acoounl, see Ill. Gesch ..
4 AUGUST 1914 • 31
The new government in Russia desperately needed peace.
But it did not believe that the rulers of imperial Germany or
imperial Austro-Hungary could accept on such terms - they
had entered the war because they were economically driven to
seize ever greater chunks of the world. What the Bolsheviks did
believe, however, was that the appeal for peace would tum
people throughout the world - especially in Germany -
against their old capitalist governments. Revolution abroad
would produce the peace and international assistance needed
to secure the rule of the Soviets in backward Russia.
Hardly had the revolution been completed in Russia
than the Bolsheviks took the first steps towards spreading it
abroad. They began producing The Torch, a paper for distribu
tion to German soldiers in the trenches on the Eastern Front.
Half a million copies of each issue were printed.
The German military establishment saw the Russian offer
of peace as a chance to expand the German Empire still further.
They sent representatives to negotiate with the Bolsheviks at
the town of Brest Litovsk-and there demanded that a huge
area of the former Czarist empire be conve.rted into nominally
independent states which would, in effect, be German
But the Russian negotiators were appealing as much to the
German workers as the High Command. When Trotsky
arrived at Brest Litovsk in late December 1917 he was accom
panied by a Polish-Austrian who had been an active revolutio
nary in Germany before the war-Karl Radek. 'Radek, before
the eyes of the diplomats and officials assembled on the plat
form to greet them, began to distribute pamphlets among the
German soldiers.' 14
The negotiations at Brest Litovsk broke down in face of
the German demands for annexations and revolutionary
Russia had to sit back helpless as German troops advanced.
But news of the Bolshevik declarations began to filter through
to those discontented with the war in Germany and Austro
Hungary. Karl Liebknecht wrote from his prison cell: 'Thanks
to the Russian delegates, Brest has become a revolutionary
tribune. It has denounced the Central European powers, the
brigandage, the lies and the hypocrisy of Germany' .15
In the first fortnight of January the members of a small
revolutionary group in Germany, the Spartakus League (for
merly the Internationale group) issued leaflets calling for a
14. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Anned (London 1954), page 360.
15. Quoted in Pierre Broue, Revolution en Allemagne (Paris 1971), page !09.
TLR - 0
32 • THE LOST REVOLUTION
general strike over the question of peace. More 'moderate'
opponents of the war, such as the dissident Social Democrat
leader Haase, called for a three-day strike.
But just as these preparations were under way, news came
of momentous events in the neighbouring Austro-Hungarian
empire. On 14 January the workers at the Daimler Works in
the Austrian town of Wiener Neustadt struck against a cut in
the food ration. At about the same time the workers in the
Csepsel munitions works in Budapest walked out. Within two
days factories throughout both cities were paralysed. The Aus
trian social democrats estimated that a quarter of a million
workers were on strike in the Vienna region alone. 16
Nor was that all. In Vienna workers' councils were elected
which demanded the aboliton of censorship, the end of martial
law, the eight-hour working day and the release of the impri
soned anti-war socialist Friedrich Adler.
The strike petered out within a week. But it was the biggest
protest anywhere yet against the effects of the war. It did not
take long for what had happened in German-speaking Austria
to find an echo in Berlin.
The Spartakus League there put out a leaflet telling how
'the Viennese workers elected councils on the Russian model'
and proclaiming 'Monday 28 January the beginning of the
General Strike' .17 This call was taken up by an assembly of
members of the turners' branch of the metal workers' union.
One of the branch officials was the anti-war socialist Richard
Muller and, on his proposal, they voted to strike on the Mon
day and to run the strike through delegates elected at mass
The German strike had a resoundingly successful begin
ning. 400,000 workers struck on the first day and were joined
the next day by 100,000 more. The movement stretched well
beyond the confines of the capital and involved Kiel, Ham
burg, Danzig (now Gdansk), Magdeburg, Nuremberg, the
Ruhr, Munich, Cologne, Mannheim and Kassel. 18 At first too
the organisation of the strike seemed perfect. Four hundred
and fourteen factory delegates met in Berlin and appointed an
action committee of 11.
But the authorities did not sit back. They broke up the
next meeting of the delegates, forbade mass meetings in the
16. There are various accounts of the Austrian strikes which differ somewhat in detail. See for example. Broue,
17. [n Dokumenten und Materialen zur Geschichte der Deufschen Arbeiterbewegung. Ruhe 11 ( 1914-45). vol 2
(Easr Berlin 1957). Furore reference will state simply Dok. und Mat.
18. For an account of the Berlin strike by one of its leaders. see Richard MOiler, Vom Kaiserreich zur Republik
(Berlin 1924), vol I, pages I00-110.
4 AUGUST 1914 • 33
factories and occupied trade union buildings. By the Thursday
Berlin was plastered with official posters reinforcing the state
of siege and announcing extraordinary military courts. There
were clashes between strikers and the police, who were joined
by 5,000 reinforcements from outside the city. Even the offi
cial, pro-war, Social Democrat paperVorwiirts was banned by
the authorities for 'spreading false information' - they printed
the number of strikers.
The clashes left the workers bitter. One of the Spartakist
leaders, Jogiches, described how 'after each clash with the
police you heard: "Comrades, tomorrow it will be a matter of
But there were basic weaknesses within the strike move
ment. The militants leading it had not given much thought as to
what to do once it was successful. As Jogisches wrote, shortly
afterwards, they 'did not know what to do with the revolutio
nary energy'. 20
In order to establish the unity of the whole working class
in the strike, the action committee had insisted, against some
opposition, on three representatives of the pro-war Social
Democratic Party joining the committee. But these leaders
were only prepared to join for one reason, as they explained
several years later. Ebert insisted: 'I joined the strike leadership
with the clear intention of bringing the strike to a speedy end to
prevent damage to the country'. 21 His colleague Scheidemann
added: 'If we had not joined the strike committee, law and
order would not now exist here'.22
Ebert and Scheidemann went out of their way to introduce
confusion into the strike. Ebert, for instance, even defied the
law by speaking at a banned meeting- but only to damage the
movement in a way the military authorities could never have
done themselves by saying: 'It is the duty of workers to back up
their brothers and fathers at the Front and to manufacture the
best arms ... Victory is the dearest goal of all Germans.'23
For speaking at this meeting the left socialist Dittman
received a four-year prison sentence. Ebert, of course, was not
The Social Democrat leaders took confusion into the heart
of the action committee itself. They offered to mediate with the
government over the strikers' purely economic demands - as if
19. Reprinred in Dok. und Mat., vol 2.
20. As above.
21. Quored in Ill. Gesch .. page 152. Also MOiler, page 110.
22. Ill. Gesch., page 162.
23. As above.
34 • THE LOST REVOLUTION
the strikers did not have political motives, however confused
these might be. The strike leadership were unhappy with this
social democrat suggestion, but had no clear alternative. They
recognised the war as the crucial issue, even though they had
used economic questions to mobilise workers. Yet to end the
war they needed revolutionary action as well as strikes - and
they had not prepared themselves for this. In the end they
found themselves with little choice but to recommend a return
to work, despite the massive numbers who had joined the
The government seized the opportunity presented by the
resulting demoralisation to decapitate the working-class move
ment. Many strike leaders were arrested, and in Berlin one
worker in every ten was sent to the Front. The vanguard of the
anti-war movement was physically removed from Berlin's
Like the Kiel sailors the previous summer, the strike was
smashed because it attempted to use purely trade union tactics
to deal with a question of political and military power. As
Jogiches summed it up: 'Because they could not imagine the
strike wave as more than a simple protest movement, the
committee, under the influence of the Reichstag deputies, tried
to enter into negotiations with the government, instead of
refusing all negotiations and directing the energy of the·
24. Dok. und Mat .. vol 2.
Also check out:
Revolutionary and State Premier – Kurt Eisner (1867-1919): https://archive.is/M7dy9
German Wikipedia article (translated): https://archive.is/cKcqE
The Jews behind the 1919 Spartacist Uprising in Berlin
The Jews behind the Bavarian Soviet Republic of 1919
The Jewish Influence behind the Soviet Republic of Alsace-Lorraine of November 1918
Sources on Jews and Communism