Social and economic division

Many people resented the Weimar Government for signing the Treaty of Versailles. It faced opposition from both the left and right.

The Spartacist Revolt

In January 1919, the Weimar Government led by President Friedrich Ebert and his Social Democratic Party, was challenged by a group of revolutionaries called the Spartacists.

The aims of the Spartacists

The Spartacists were communists, who wanted Germany to be run by the working classes. They believed that power and wealth should be shared equally among the population.

They wanted to replicate the Russian Revolution of 1917 by:

  • overthrowing the central government
  • establishing soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ councils) in place of central government in German towns and cities
  • using violent methods

The Spartacists were led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

The revolt

In January 1919, 50,000 workers went on strike and demonstrated in the centre of Berlin. This demonstration was taken over by the Spartacist leadership. Newspaper and communication buildings were seized and the demonstrators armed themselves. However, many protesters returned home frustrated at the lack of planning by the Spartacists.

The Government, which had moved to Weimar to avoid the violence, employed the Freikorps to put down the rising. The Freikorps were ex-army soldiers who hated the communists. Over 100 workers were killed during what became known as ‘Bloody Week’.

The aftermath

  • Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were arrested and executed.
  • The communists and many of Germany’s working class developed a hatred of the Social Democrats.

The Spartacist Revolt had serious repercussions for the Weimar Government. When its power was threatened by a growing Nazi Party, the Communist and Social Democrat parties could not set aside their differences. 

Nationalist opposition

In March 1920, the right-wing nationalist Dr Wolfgang Kapp took over Berlin. The army refused to attack him. He was only defeated when the workers of Berlin went on strike.

Nationalist terrorists assassinated 356 government politicians, including Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister, and Matthias Erzberger who had been finance minister.

The judges, many of whom preferred the Kaiser's government, consistently gave these terrorists light sentences, or let them go free.

Both left and right were deeply suspicious of each other. Such was their opposition that it was difficult for them to take part in coalition politics.