Kapp-Putsch and Red Ruhr Army

Putsch in Berlin, 1920
Putsch in Berlin, 1920

[Germany, March 1920] The first years of the young republic were civil war like. The deep political rift, the hatred and willingness to use violence troubled Kathi und Max. They both were mourning Hugo Haase, chairman of the Independent SPD, who had been badly injured in an assassination attempt and had died as a result. In the Independent SPD, the left-wing got its way closer to the Communist Party. Max had withdrawn, that was not his way.

Biased legal authorities

“How damned biased our justice is,” thought Max, “they do turn a blind to the activities of the radical Right.” The murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had gotten away with lenient sentences. Leo Jogiches, Rosa’s love who got the prosecution on track, was arrested and shot in the back. Even the murderer of the Bavarian Prime Minister Eisner (Independents) was granted “glowing love for the fatherland”. All this would encourage the anti-Republican militarists in their determination to take up the fight against the republic.

Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch

According to the treaty of Versailles, the Reichswehr (the German troops) had to be reduced in the first months of 1920, and that meant the dissolution of all Free Corps. It caused great embitterment among the Free Corps who had fought for the Weimar Republic in the Baltic region and suppressed the January uprising in Berlin on orders of the government. The highest ranking general, Walther von Lüttwitz, refused to comply. On March 13, 1920, the right-wing naval brigade Ehrhardt led by von Lüttwitz marched into Berlin, occupied the government buildings and installed the staunch right-wing politician Wolfgang Kapp as new chancellor.
Defense minister Noske ordered Reichswehr General Hans von Seeckt to suppress the putsch. Von Seeckt refused: “There can be no question of sending the Reichwehr to fight these people.” The government was forced to flee from Berlin to Dresden. The SPD members of the government and Otto Wels, head of the SPD, called for a general strike throughout the country.

Demonstration against Kapp and Lüttwitz in Bonn

On 15 March in Bonn, Kathi and Max demonstrated with 50,000 people against the putsch. “So many people are here,” Kathi marveled, and she looked happy in spite of all the tension around her. It had not been so easy to get here, for there was no train, no tram, and also the ships participated in the strike. “I’d love to see Kapp’s face,” she said, “they have neither electricity nor water in Berlin, nothing is going on, it is great that so many people defend our republic. You can no longer just putsch against a democratic government!”

Max stood beside her. “Yes,” he said, “it gives me new courage too. Yet, many military leaders have joined forces with Kapp and Lüttwitz, and General von Seeckt has refused to protect the government! As a soldier, I can feel with him, I would not want to fire at comrades either, but his actions were entirely illegal, Ebert is the Supreme Commander in Chief, and Seeckt has sworn the Reichswehr oath to defend the republic. And yet he gets away with it. The government has fled. We are not lacking democrats, but democrats in the leading positions of the military and civil service. They won’t stand up for our republic.”

The civil servants in Berlin refused to take orders from Kapp, and the general strike of around 12 million workers helped bring about the putsch’s collapse after only four days, on 17 March 1920, a rare unity. Defence minister Noske had to go, at the end of March, the entire cabinet retreated; Hermann Müller became new chancellor.

Red Ruhr Army

For all the satisfaction and happiness about the failed coup, Kathi felt that something was troubling Max. At last he came out with it. “In the Ruhr area,” he said gravely, “they fire at the workers.”
In the Ruhr area, civil unrest and general strikes against the Kapp putsch had escalated into almost a civil war. The same day, a “Red Ruhr Army” of between 50,000 and 80,000 left wing workers had been formed. Supported by a strike of more than 300,000 miners, they had conquered the whole area. In vain Minister of Interior Severing, a brave democrat, had struggled for a non-violent settlement. Now government troops and even Free Corps that had supported the putsch were sent to the Ruhr area.

Kathi was shaken. “Max!” It was only a year ago that the Free Corps had bloodily suppressed uprisings in Berlin and other parts of the country, ordered by Defense Minister Noske on behalf of the SPD government. Fear brought a lump to her throat, her heart was pounding. “I must, Kathi, I must,” said Max, “the government has given orders to fire at workers whose general strike has saved them, who defended our republic with their lives, now they are shot by the very same putschists. I’ll go there as medic, nothing will happen to me.” Kathi hugged him tightly. “Take good care of yourself!”

Hard weeks for Kathi passed. It was the greatest armed insurrection Germany had known. Reichswehr troops and Free Corps bloodily crushed it, shooting even wounded persons according to martial law until Reichspräsident Ebert stopped the court-martials. Thousands of fighting workers, as well as women and innocent bystanders, were killed. The Reichswehr stopped itself only at the river Ruhr, as the British occupation forces were threatening to occupy the Bergisches Land due to the breach of the Versailles Treaty.

Finally Max returned, emaciated, pale and distraught. “They’ve fired at everyone who came in front of their guns,” he said, “even the injured, the prisoners, and the nurses. Ebert had finally banned the court-martials, but they went on. That is terror, Kathi, terror against our own people.”

The Weimar coalition loses its majority

The traumatic experiences left their marks. In the first regular elections in June 1920, the “Weimar Coalition” lost its majority. In the following years, many short lived administrations followed.

References
The photo is from the German Wikipedia. Das folgende Bild stammt aus der freien Enzyklopädie Wikipedia und steht unter der Creative Commons Lizenz 3.0. Es wurde im Rahmen einer Kooperation zwischen dem Bundesarchiv und Wikimedia Deutschland aus dem Bundesarchiv für Wikimedia Commons zur Verfügung gestellt: Kapp Putsch

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