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The Strikes of January 1918

The events in Russia in 1917 had signaled a turning point for the German Left. The Independent Socialists (USPD) accommodated both “Centrists,” who called for an immediate end to the war as a prelude to political reform, and the radical Left, which gathered in the “Spartacus League” and advocated political revolution as a means to stop the war. The most dramatic sign of the USPD’s importance was the massive anti-war strike that began late in January 1918. Its epicenter lay in the munitions and metal plants of Berlin, where some 400,000 workers went on strike at the end of the month. Within days, the strike had spread to other industrial centers, from Kiel and Hamburg to Mannheim and Augsburg. The army arrested the strike’s leaders and dispatched many of them to the front.

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Berlin, January 25, 1918

On Monday, the 28th of January, the mass strike begins.


Onward to the mass strike! Onward to battle! The Austro-Hungarian proletariat has just spoken powerfully. For five days work came to a halt in all the factories in Vienna, Budapest, etc., – in the whole empire. In Vienna the workers shut down the tram system; even the railway system was partly shut down; not a single newspaper appeared. In many places it came to an open uprising of the people and to battle with the government’s power. In Prague and Budapest, the republic was proclaimed. In Vienna the workers occupied the bridges in order to prevent the police from invading working-class districts.

In trembling fear of the threatening revolution, the central government was forced to recognize the Viennese workers’ council, which was elected on the model of the Russian revolution, and to negotiate with it. The government hurried to make concessions in order to bring the movement under control – an effort naturally in which it was freely abetted by the governmental Socialists and trade-union leaders.

The repeal of laws that had militarized the factories, the repeal of the law that had legalized forced labor, the fulfillment of the workers’ demands for food provision, equal and universal suffrage for men and women in communal elections, and the promise to abstain from all annexations in the peace negotiations with Russia – these are the immediate concessions. The historical significance of the workers’ uprising in Austria-Hungary does not lie, however, in these concessions, but instead in the very fact of the uprising. The movement has admittedly stopped halfway, but this is only the first step, which others will follow. The aid of the German worker – our mass strike – will whip up the flame of revolution in the Dual Monarchy into a new, mighty blaze.

Workers! We must complete what our Austro-Hungarian brothers have begun!

The resolution of the issue of peace lies with the German proletariat!

Our mass strike will be no powerless “protest,” no empty demonstrative strike of limited duration, but a struggle for power. We will fight until our minimal demands are fully realized: lifting of the state of siege, of censorship, of all restrictions on the right to organize, to strike, and to assemble, the freeing of all political prisoners – these are the conditions that are necessary to let loose our struggle for power, for the people’s republic in Germany, and an immediate general peace.

Any kind of separate peace will lead only to the prolongation and intensification of collective murder. We must at all costs transform the separate peace into a general peace. This is our goal.

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