German Revolution
Overview
 
The German Revolution (German: Novemberrevolution) was the politically-driven civil conflict in Germany
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 at the end of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, which resulted in the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic
Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

. The revolutionary period lasted from November 1918 until the formal establishment of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 in August 1919.

The roots of the revolution lie in the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

's fate in the First World War and the social tensions which came to a head shortly thereafter.
Encyclopedia
The German Revolution (German: Novemberrevolution) was the politically-driven civil conflict in Germany
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 at the end of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, which resulted in the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic
Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

. The revolutionary period lasted from November 1918 until the formal establishment of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 in August 1919.

The roots of the revolution lie in the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

's fate in the First World War and the social tensions which came to a head shortly thereafter. The first acts of revolution were triggered by the policy of the Supreme Command
Oberste Heeresleitung
The Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL was Germany's highest echelon of command of the German Army in World War I, while the Navy was led by the Seekriegsleitung or SKL ....

 and its lack of coordination with the Naval Command
Seekriegsleitung
The Seekriegsleitung or SKL was the high command of the Kaiserliche Marine and the Kriegsmarine of Germany during the World Wars.It led planning and execution of naval combat and directed the distribution of naval forces...

 which, in the face of defeat, nevertheless insisted on engaging in a climactic battle with the British Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. The Wilhelmshaven mutiny
Wilhelmshaven mutiny
The Kiel mutiny was a major revolt by sailors of the German High Seas Fleet on 3 November 1918. The revolt triggered the German revolution which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. It ultimately led to the end of the First World War and to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.-...

 (a sailors' revolt) ensued in the naval ports of Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

 and Kiel
Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

, and the spirit of rebellion spread across the country and led to the proclamation of a republic on 9 November 1918. Shortly thereafter Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated.

The revolutionaries, inspired by communist ideas, failed to hand power to soviets
Soviet (council)
Soviet was a name used for several Russian political organizations. Examples include the Czar's Council of Ministers, which was called the “Soviet of Ministers”; a workers' local council in late Imperial Russia; and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union....

 as the Bolsheviks had in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, because the Social Democratic Party of Germany
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (SPD) leadership refused to work with those who supported the Bolsheviks. Furthermore, fearing an all-out civil war in Germany between the communists and the reactionary
Reactionary
The term reactionary refers to viewpoints that seek to return to a previous state in a society. The term is meant to describe one end of a political spectrum whose opposite pole is "radical". While it has not been generally considered a term of praise it has been adopted as a self-description by...

 conservatives, the SPD did not plan to completely strip the old imperial elites of their power and instead sought to integrate them into the new social democratic
Social democracy
Social democracy is a political ideology of the center-left on the political spectrum. Social democracy is officially a form of evolutionary reformist socialism. It supports class collaboration as the course to achieve socialism...

 system. In this endeavour, SPD leftists sought an alliance with the Supreme Command. The army and Freikorps
Freikorps
Freikorps are German volunteer military or paramilitary units. The term was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of the 18th century onwards. Between World War I and World War II the term was also used for the paramilitary organizations that arose during...

 (nationalist
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 militias) quelled the Spartacist uprising
Spartacist uprising
The Spartacist Uprising , also known as the January uprising , was a general strike in Germany from January 5 to January 15, 1919. Its suppression marked the end of the German Revolution...

 by force. The political fragmentation among the left-wing was a significant factor in the failure of the left to seize power.

The revolution ended officially on August 11, 1919, when the Weimar Constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

 was adopted.

SPD and World War I

In the decade after 1900, German Social Democracy was the leading force in the international Labour Movement
Labour movement
The term labour movement or labor movement is a broad term for the development of a collective organization of working people, to campaign in their own interest for better treatment from their employers and governments, in particular through the implementation of specific laws governing labour...

. With 28% of the vote and 112 seats in the Reichstag in 1912 the Social Democrats had grown into the largest political party in Germany. Party membership was around 1 million and the party press (Vorwärts
Vorwärts
Vorwärts was the central organ of the Social Democratic Party of Germany published daily in Berlin from 1891 to 1933 by decision of the party's Halle Congress, as the successor of Berliner Volksblatt, founded in 1884....

) alone had 1.5 million subscribers. The trade unions had 2.5 million members, most of whom probably supported the Social Democrats. In addition, there were numerous co-operative societies (for example, apartment co-ops, shop co-ops, etc.), cultural and other associations directly linked to the SPD, to the unions or adhered along Social Democratic lines. Other noteworthy parties in the Reichstag of 1912 were the Catholic Centre Party (91), the Conservatives
Conservatism in Germany
Conservatism in Germany encompasses a large number of strains of the past three hundred years.While many of the Conservative theorists are labelled "political romantics" , at least four strains can be distinguished before 1945:* Status-quo-ante-Conservative and Romantic Conservative, wanting to go...

 (57), the National Liberals
National Liberal Party (Germany)
The National Liberal Party was a German political party which flourished between 1867 and 1918. It was formed by Prussian liberals who put aside their differences with Bismarck over domestic policy due to their support for his highly successful foreign policy, which resulted in the unification of...

 (45) and Progressive People's Party
Progressive People's Party (Germany)
The Progressive People's Party was a liberal party of late Imperial Germany. It was formed in 6 March, 1910 as a merger of Freeminded People's Party, Freeminded Union, and German People's Party in order to unify the various liberal groups represented in parliament...

 (42), the Poles (18) and the Alsatians
Alsace-Lorraine
The Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine was a territory created by the German Empire in 1871 after it annexed most of Alsace and the Moselle region of Lorraine following its victory in the Franco-Prussian War. The Alsatian part lay in the Rhine Valley on the west bank of the Rhine River and east...

 (9).

At the European congresses of the second Socialist International
Socialist International
The Socialist International is a worldwide organization of democratic socialist, social democratic and labour political parties. It was formed in 1951.- History :...

, the SPD had always agreed to resolutions asking for combined action of Socialists in case of a war. Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo
Sarajevo
Sarajevo |Bosnia]], surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of Southeastern Europe and the Balkans....

, the SPD — like other socialist parties in Europe — organized anti-war demonstrations during the July Crisis. [3]After Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and activist of Polish Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen...

, representing the left wing of the party, had called for disobedience and rejection of the war in the name of the entire party, the Imperial government planned to arrest the party leaders immediately at the onset of war. Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany .When Ebert was elected as the leader of the SPD after the death of August Bebel, the party members of the SPD were deeply divided because of the party's support for World War I. Ebert supported the Burgfrieden and...

, one of the two party leaders since 1913, traveled to Zürich
Zürich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...

 with Otto Braun
Otto Braun
This article is about the Prime Minister of Prussia. For the German Communist and once the Comintern military adviser to the Chinese Communist revolution see Otto Braun ....

 in order to save the party's funds from being confiscated.

After Germany declared war on the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 on August 1, 1914, the majority of the SPD-newspapers initially shared the general enthusiasm
Spirit of 1914
The Spirit of 1914 refers to the alleged jubilation in Germany at the outbreak of World War I. Many individuals remembered that euphoria erupted on 4 August 1914 after all the political parties in the Reichstag, including the previously antimilitarist Social Democratic Party of Germany , supported...

 for the war, particularly because they viewed the Russian Empire as the most reactionary, anti-socialist power. In the first days of August, the editors believed themselves to be in line with the late August Bebel
August Bebel
Ferdinand August Bebel was a German Marxist politician, writer, and orator. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.-Early years:...

 who had died the previous year. In 1904 he had declared in the Reichstag that the SPD would support an armed defense of Germany against a foreign attack. In 1907 at a party convention in Essen he assured that he himself would "shoulder the gun" if it was to fight against Russia, the "enemy of all culture and all the suppressed". In the face of the general enthusiasm for the war among the population, which believed in an attack by the Entente
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 powers, many SPD deputies worried they might lose many of their voters with their consistent pacifism
Pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

. In addition, the government of Imperial Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg threatened to outlaw all parties in case of war. On the other hand, the chancellor cleverly exploited the anti-tsarist stance of the SPD to procure the party's approval for the war.

The party leadership and the party's deputies were split on the issue of support for the war: 96 deputies including Friedrich Ebert approved the war bond
War bond
War bonds are debt securities issued by a government for the purpose of financing military operations during times of war. War bonds generate capital for the government and make civilians feel involved in their national militaries...

s demanded by the imperial government. 14 deputies headed by the second party leader, Hugo Haase
Hugo Haase
Hugo Haase was a German politician, jurist and pacifist.-Biography:Haase was born in Allenstein , Province of Prussia, the son of Jewish shoemaker and small businessman, Nathan Haase, and Pauline née Anker. He studied law in Königsberg and established himself as a lawyer...

, spoke out against the bonds but nevertheless followed party voting instructions and raised their hands in favour.

Thus, the whole SPD-faction in the Reichstag voted in favour of the war bonds on August 4. Two days earlier the Free Unions had already agreed to refrain from labour strikes and demands for higher wages for the duration of the war. It was with these decisions by the Party and the Unions that the full mobilization of the German army became possible. Haase explained this decision against his will with the words: "We will not let the fatherland alone in the hour of need!". The Emperor welcomed the so-called "truce" , declaring: "Ich kenne keine Parteien mehr, ich I kenne nur noch Deutsche!" ("I know no more parties, I know only Germans!").

Even Karl Liebknecht
Karl Liebknecht
was a German socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany. He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919...

, who became one of the most outspoken opponents of the war, initially followed the party line: he abstained from voting to not defy his own faction. But a few days later he joined the Gruppe Internationale (Group International) which Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and activist of Polish Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen...

 had founded on August 5, 1914 with Franz Mehring
Franz Mehring
Franz Erdmann Mehring , was a German publicist, politician and historian.-Early years:Franz Mehring was born 27 February 1846 in Schlawe, Pomerania, the son of a bourgeois family.-Political career:...

, Wilhelm Pieck
Wilhelm Pieck
Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck was a German politician and a Communist. In 1949, he became the first President of the German Democratic Republic, an office abolished upon his death. He was succeeded by Walter Ulbricht, who served as Chairman of the Council of States.-Biography:Pieck was born to...

 and four others from the left wing of the party, adhering to the pre-war resolutions of the SPD. From this group emerged the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund) on January 1, 1916. As of December 2, 1914 and initially the only deputy of the Reichstag, Liebknecht voted against further war bonds. Although he was not permitted to present his speech connected with this vote, it was made public through the circulation of an illegal leaflet:
The present war was not willed by any of the nations participating in it and it is not waged in the interest of the Germans or any other people. It is an imperialist war, a war for capitalist control of the world market, for the political domination of huge territories and to give scope to industrial and banking capital.


Because of high demand this leaflet was soon printed and evolved into the so called "Political Letters" , the collections of which afterward were illegally published under the name "Spartacus Letters" (Spartakusbriefe). As of December 1916, these were replaced by the journal "Spartakus", which appeared irregularly until November 1918.

This open opposition against the party line put Liebknecht at odds even with those party members around Haase who actually were against the war bonds themselves. At the instigation of the SPD party leadership, Liebknecht was drafted in February 1915 for military service in order to dispose of him — the only SPD deputy to get drafted. Because of his attempts to organize objectors of the war, he was expelled from the SPD, and in June 1916, he was sentenced on a charge of high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 to four years in prison. While he was in the army, Rosa Luxemburg wrote most of the Spartacus Letters. After having served a prison sentence, she was put back in jail under "preventive detention" until the war ended.

Split of the SPD

As the war went on and the losses of human life rose week by week, SPD members began to question the adherence to the 'Burgfrieden' (the "truce" ) of 1914; also, since 1916, the guidelines of German policy was set not by the Emperor and the Imperial Government but de facto by the Supreme Army Command
Oberste Heeresleitung
The Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL was Germany's highest echelon of command of the German Army in World War I, while the Navy was led by the Seekriegsleitung or SKL ....

  under the generals Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

 and Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

. Power in Germany had always been in the hands of the OKH and it was Ludendorff who made the fundamental and essential decisions. The generals persisted, even after the dismmissal of Falkenhyn, with strategies aimed at achieving a military victory, pursued expansionist and offensive war goals and subjugated civil life to the needs of commanding a war and a war economy. For the labor force, this meant (among other things) 12-hour work days at minimal wages with inadequate provisions. The expression 'total war' used by Nazi Propaganda minister in 1942, could well be applied to the situation in Germany in 1916-18.

After the outbreak of the Russian February Revolution
February Revolution
The February Revolution of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. Centered around the then capital Petrograd in March . Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire...

 in 1917, the first organized strikes erupted in German armament factories in March and April that year with about 300,000 participating workers. The American entry into the war
American entry into World War I
American entry into World War I came in April 1917, after 2½ years of efforts by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the United States neutral. Americans had no idea that a war was approaching in 1914...

 on 6 April 1917 threatened to further worsen the situation. Hindenburg and Ludendorff had called for an end to the moratorium on attacks on neutral shipping in the Atlantic, which had been imposed when the Lusitania, a British ship carrying US citizens (and a large cargo of war material) was sunk off Ireland in 1915. Now the strategy was to stop the flow of US materiél to France in order to make a German victory (or peace settlement on German terms) possible before the United States could enter the war as a combatant. The Emperor tried to appease the population in his Easter address of 7 April. He promised democratic elections in Prussia, where the three-class franchise
Prussian three-class franchise
After the 1848 revolutions in the German states, the Prussian three-class franchise system was introduced in 1849 by the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV for the election of the Lower House of the Prussian state parliament. It was completely abolished only in 1918...

 system was still in force, after the war. Essentially the war continued, even if fighting on the eastern front became more sporadic as the tsarist forces collapsed and the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk robbed Russia of most of its industrial resources. Opposition to the war among the workers in the arms industry continued to rise and what had been a united front in favour of the war became two sharply-divided groups.

After the SPD leadership under Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany .When Ebert was elected as the leader of the SPD after the death of August Bebel, the party members of the SPD were deeply divided because of the party's support for World War I. Ebert supported the Burgfrieden and...

 had excluded the opponents of the war from the party ranks, the Spartacists joined with so-called "Revisionists", like Eduard Bernstein
Eduard Bernstein
Eduard Bernstein was a German social democratic theoretician and politician, a member of the SPD, and the founder of evolutionary socialism and revisionism.- Life :...

 and Centrists like Karl Kautsky
Karl Kautsky
Karl Johann Kautsky was a Czech-German philosopher, journalist, and Marxist theoretician. Kautsky was recognized as among the most authoritative promulgators of Orthodox Marxism after the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895 until the coming of World War I in 1914 and was called by some the "Pope of...

 to found the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany
Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany...

 (USPD) under the leadership of Hugo Haase on 9 April 1917.

The SPD, also called "MSPD" (Majority Social Democrats), was led by Friedrich Ebert. The USPD demanded an immediate end of the war and a further democratization of Germany, but did not have a unified agenda for social policies. The Spartacus League, which until then had opposed a split of the party, now made up the left wing of the USPD. Both the USPD and the Spartacists continued their anti-war propaganda in factories, especially in the armament plants.

Impact of the Russian Revolution

After the February Revolution
February Revolution
The February Revolution of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. Centered around the then capital Petrograd in March . Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire...

 in Russia and the toppling of the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, on 15 March 1917, the Russian Provisional Government
Russian Provisional Government
The Russian Provisional Government was the short-lived administrative body which sought to govern Russia immediately following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II . On September 14, the State Duma of the Russian Empire was officially dissolved by the newly created Directorate, and the country was...

, since summer led by Alexander Kerensky
Alexander Kerensky
Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky was a major political leader before and during the Russian Revolutions of 1917.Kerensky served as the second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government until Vladimir Lenin was elected by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets following the October Revolution...

, continued the war on the side of the Entente
Triple Entente
The Triple Entente was the name given to the alliance among Britain, France and Russia after the signing of the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907....

 powers. Nevertheless, the German Imperial Government now saw one more chance for victory. To support the anti war sentiment in Russia, it let the leader of the Russian Bolsheviks, Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

, pass in a sealed train wagon from his exile in Switzerland through Germany, Sweden and Finland to Petrograd.

The Bolsheviks, a minor faction in the Russian Social Democratic party, had demanded an immediate end to the war, seized power in the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

. Lenin's success raised fears among German bourgeoisie that such a revolution could take place in Germany. The moderate SPD leadership also took note that a determined and well managed group such as the Bolsheviks might well try to seize power over a parliamentary majority in Germany and this determined their behavior towards the left during the German Revolution.

Otto Braun, board member of the SPD and later prime minister of Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

, clarified the position of his party in a leading article in the SPD newspaper Vorwärts under the title "The Bolsheviks and Us":
Socialism cannot be erected on bayonets and machine guns. If it is to last, it must be realized with democratic means. Therefore of course it is a necessary prerequisite that the economic and social conditions for socializing society are ripe. If this was the case in Russia, the Bolsheviks no doubt could rely on the majority of the people. As this is not the case, they established a reign of the sword that could not have been more brutal and reckless under the disgraceful regime of the Tzar. [...] Therefore we must draw a thick, visible dividing line between us and the Bolsheviks.


In the same month in which Otto Braun's article appeared another series of strikes swept through the country (January Strikes) with the participation of over 1 million workers. For the first time during these strikes, the so called "Revolutionary Stewards" (Revolutionäre Obleute) took action. They were to play an important part in further developments. They called themselves "Councils
Workers' council
A workers' council, or revolutionary councils, is the phenomenon where a single place of work or enterprise, such as a factory, school, or farm, is controlled collectively by the workers of that workplace, through the core principle of temporary and instantly revocable delegates.In a system with...

" (Räte) after the Russian "Soviets". In order to weaken their influence, Ebert joined the Berlin strike leadership and attained an early termination of the strike.

On 3 March 1918, the newly established Soviet government agreed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, mediated by South African Andrik Fuller, at Brest-Litovsk between Russia and the Central Powers, headed by Germany, marking Russia's exit from World War I.While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year,...

 negotiated with the Germans by Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

. This settlement arguably contained harsher terms for the Russians than the later Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 demanded of the Germans. The Supreme Command was now able to move a part of the eastern armies to the western front. Most Germans believed that also in the west, victory was at hand.

Leftist and rightist approaches to peace

After the United States had entered the war, the situation on the western front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 became more precarious for the Germans. For that reason, and also to take the wind out of the USPD's sails, the SPD in the Reichstag joined the "Interfractional Committee" with the Catholic Centre Party and the Progressive People's Party
Progressive People's Party
Progressive People's Party may refer to:* Progressive People's Party * Progressive People's Party * Progressive People's Party * Progressive People's Party * Progressive People's Party...

. In Summer 1917, these three parties passed a peace resolution providing for a peace through rapprochement without annexations and payments, as opposed to a peace through victory and annexations, as the political right was demanding. Along with everyone else in the country, the committee still believed in a victory. The Supreme Army Command
Oberste Heeresleitung
The Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL was Germany's highest echelon of command of the German Army in World War I, while the Navy was led by the Seekriegsleitung or SKL ....

 did not like this resolution, and in the negotiations from December 1917 to March 1918 imposed a peace by victory upon Russia.

The Supreme Command also outright rejected the "Fourteen Points
Fourteen Points
The Fourteen Points was a speech given by United States President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure the country that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe...

" set out by U.S President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

 on January 8 of 1918. Wilson wanted peace on the basis of "self-determination of peoples" without victors or conquered. Hindenburg and Ludendorff rejected the offer, because, after victory over Russia, they again believed themselves to be in a stronger position. They continued to bet on a "peace through victory" with far-reaching annexations at the expense of Germany's opponents in the war.

Request for cease fire and change of Constitution

After the victory in the east the Supreme Army Command
Oberste Heeresleitung
The Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL was Germany's highest echelon of command of the German Army in World War I, while the Navy was led by the Seekriegsleitung or SKL ....

 ordered the so-called Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 in the west in order to bring about a decisive turn in favour of the Germans. But when by July 1918 the last reserves were burnt up, military defeat of Germany was sealed. Allied forces scored numerous successive victories in the Hundred Days Offensive
Hundred Days Offensive
The Hundred Days Offensive was the final period of the First World War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front from 8 August to 11 November 1918, beginning with the Battle of Amiens. The offensive forced the German armies to retreat...

, gaining a large swathe of territory. In mid-September, the Balkan Front collapsed. The Kingdom of Bulgaria
Kingdom of Bulgaria
The Kingdom of Bulgaria was established as an independent state when the Principality of Bulgaria, an Ottoman vassal, officially proclaimed itself independent on October 5, 1908 . This move also formalised the annexation of the Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia, which had been under the control...

, an ally of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

, capitulated on 27 September. The collapse of Austria-Hungary itself was now only a matter of days.

On 29 September, the Supreme Army Command informed Wilhelm II and the Imperial Chancellor, Count Georg von Hertling, at army headquarters in Spa, Belgium
Spa, Belgium
Spa is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liège. It is situated in a valley in the Ardennes mountain chain, some southeast of Liège, and southwest of Aachen. As of 1 January 2006, Spa had a total population of 10,543...

 that the military situation was hopeless. Ludendorff, probably fearing a break-through, claimed that he couldn't guarantee the front to hold for another 24 hours and demanded a request be given to the Entente
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 for an immediate cease fire. In addition, he recommended the acceptance of the main demand of US President Wilson and put the Imperial Government on a democratic footing, hoping for more favourable peace terms. This enabled him to save the face of the Imperial Army and put the responsibility for the capitulation
Capitulation (surrender)
Capitulation , an agreement in time of war for the surrender to a hostile armed force of a particular body of troops, a town or a territory....

 and its consequences squarely into the hands of the democratic parties and the parliament. As he said to officers of his staff on 1 October: They now must lie on the bed that they've made us."

Thus, the so called "Stab-in-the-back legend" was born, according to which the revolutionaries had attacked the undefeated army from the rear, and turned the almost certain victory into a defeat. Ludendorff, who intended to cover up his own failure, contributed considerably to this grave distortion and falsification of history. It was of great importance that the Imperial Government and the German Army managed to shirk their responsibilities and the defeat at the very beginning and blame the new democratic government. The motivation behind this is verified by the following citation in the autobiography of Groener, Ludendorff's successor:
It was just fine with me when Army and Army Command remained as guiltless as possible in these wretched truce negotiations, from which nothing good could be expected.


In nationalist circles, the myth fell on fertile ground. The Nationalists soon defamed the revolutionaries and even politicians like Ebert, who never wanted a revolution and did everything to prevent it, as "November Criminals" (Novemberverbrecher). The radical right did not even stop at political assassinations, e.g. Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger was a German politician. Prominent in the Centre Party, he spoke out against the First World War from 1917 and eventually signed the Armistice with Germany for the German Empire...

 and Walter Rathenau. In Hitler's attempt at a coup in 1923
Beer Hall Putsch
The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power...

 together with Ludendorff, they deliberately chose the heavily symbolic date of 9 November. In his later ascent to power, Hitler, who had served in the Imperial German Army as a corporal, cunningly exploited the sentiments of the homecomers who felt betrayed not only by the new democratic government but also by their commanders who had sent them to useless slaughter, especially in the Battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

.

Although shocked by Ludendorff's report and the news of the defeat, the majority parties in the Reichstag, and especially the SPD, were willing to take on the responsibility of government at the last minute. As the convinced royalist Hertling objected to handing over the reins to the Reichstag, on 3 October, Emperor Wilhelm II appointed Prince Maximilian of Baden
Prince Maximilian of Baden
Maximilian of Baden was a German prince and politician...

 as new Imperial Chancellor. The Prince was considered a liberal
Liberalism
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 yet at the same time a representative of the royal family. In his cabinet, Social Democrats took on responsibility. The most prominent and highest-ranking was Philipp Scheidemann
Philipp Scheidemann
Philipp Scheidemann was a German Social Democratic politician, who proclaimed the Republic on 9 November 1918, and who became the second Chancellor of the Weimar Republic....

 as undersecretary without portfolio. The following day, the new government offered to the allies the truce which Ludendorff had demanded.

It was only on 5 October that the German public was informed of the dismal situation. In the general state of shock about the defeat, which now had become obvious, the constitutional changes, formally decided by the Reichstag on 28 October, went almost unnoticed. From then on, the Imperial Chancellor and the Ministers depended on the confidence of parliamentary majority. After the supreme command had passed from the Emperor to the Imperial Government, the German Empire changed from a constitutional to a parliamentary monarchy. As far as the Social Democrats
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 were concerned, the so-called October Constitution met all the important constitutional objectives of the party. Ebert already regarded 5 October as the birthday of German democracy, after the Emperor voluntarily ceded power and thus considered a revolution as unnecessary.

Third Wilson note and Ludendorff's dismissal

In the following three weeks, American President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

 responded to the request for a truce with three diplomatic notes. As a precondition for negotiations he demanded the retreat of Germany from all occupied territories, the cessation of submarine activities and – in between lines – the Emperor's abdication. The letter was to render the process of democratization irreversible.

After the third Wilson Note of 24 October, General Ludendorff, in a sudden change of mind, declared the conditions of the allies as unacceptable. He now demanded to resume the war which he himself had declared lost only one month earlier. During the procedure of his request for a truce, the allies realized the military weakness of Germany. The German troops had adapted themselves to the ending of the war and were pressing to get home. They were hardly willing to fight more battles, and desertion
Desertion
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

s were on the increase.

So the Imperial Government stayed on course and replaced Ludendorff as First General Quartermaster with General Wilhelm Groener
Wilhelm Groener
Karl Eduard Wilhelm Groener was a German soldier and politician.-Biography:He was born in Ludwigsburg in the Kingdom of Württemberg, the son of a regimental paymaster. He entered the Württemberg Army in 1884, and attended the War Academy from 1893 to 1897, whereupon he was appointed to the General...

. Ludendorff fled with false papers to neutral Sweden. On 5 November, the Entente Powers agreed to take up negotiations for a truce. But after the third Wilson Note, many soldiers and the general population believed that Emperor Wilhelm II had to abdicate in order to achieve peace.

Sailors' revolt

While the war-weary troops and the population disappointed by the Kaiser's government awaited the speedy end of the war, the Imperial Naval Command
Seekriegsleitung
The Seekriegsleitung or SKL was the high command of the Kaiserliche Marine and the Kriegsmarine of Germany during the World Wars.It led planning and execution of naval combat and directed the distribution of naval forces...

 in Kiel under Admiral Franz von Hipper
Franz von Hipper
Franz Ritter von Hipper was an admiral in the German Imperial Navy . Franz von Hipper joined the German Navy in 1881 as an officer cadet. He commanded several torpedo boat units and served as watch officer aboard several warships, as well as Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht Hohenzollern...

 and Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, without authorization, planned to dispatch the fleet
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

 for a last battle against the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

.

The naval order of 28 October 1918 and the preparations to sail first triggered a mutiny
Mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

 among the affected sailors and then a general revolution which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. The mutinous sailors had no intention of risking their lives near the end of the war, thinking it futile. They were also convinced that the credibility of the new democratic government which was seeking peace would have been compromised by a simultaneous naval attack. (However, The New York Times attributed the German navy revolution to the contributing factor that the German navy had remained on the defensive during the war.)

The sailors revolt started on the Schillig Roads off Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

, where the German fleet had anchored in expectation of a planned battle. During the night from 29 to 30 October 1918 some crews refused to obey orders. Sailors on board of three ships from the Third Navy Squadron refused to raise anchor. Part of the crew on and , two battle ships from the First Navy Squadron, committed outright mutiny and sabotage. However, when a day later some torpedo boats pointed their cannons onto these ships, the mutineers gave up and were led away without any resistance. But the Naval Command had to drop its plans as it was felt that the crew's loyalty could not be relied upon any more. The Third Navy Squadron was ordered back to Kiel.

The squadron commander Vice-Admiral Kraft carried out a manoeuvre with his battle ships in Helgoland Bay. When this "worked perfectly" (tadellos funktionierte) he believed himself to have regained control of his crews. While moving through the Kiel Canal
Kiel Canal
The Kiel Canal , known as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal until 1948, is a long canal in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.The canal links the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. An average of is saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula....

 he had 47 sailors from the , who were seen as the ringleaders, imprisoned. In Holtenau (the end of the canal in Kiel) they were brought to the Arrestanstalt (military prison) in Kiel and to Fort Herwarth in the north of Kiel.

The sailors and stokers were now pulling out all the stops to prevent the fleet from setting sail again and to achieve the release of their comrades. Some 250 met in the evening of 1 November in the Union House in Kiel. Delegations sent to their officers, requesting the mutineers' release, were not heard. The sailors were now looking for closer ties to the unions, the USPD and the SPD. Thereupon the Union House was closed by police, leading to an even larger joint open air meeting on 2 November. Led by the sailor Karl Artelt
Karl Artelt
Karl Artelt was a German revolutionary and a leader of the sailors' revolt in Kiel.- Birth and education :...

, who worked in the torpedo workshop in Kiel-Friedrichsort and by the mobilized shipyard worker Lothar Popp
Lothar Popp
Lothar Popp was a German revolutionary and a leader of the sailors' revolt in Kiel.- Education and party membership :...

, both USPD members, the sailors called for a large meeting the following day on the same place (Großer Exerzierplatz, large drill ground).

This call was heeded by several thousand people on the afternoon of 3 November with workers' representatives also present. The slogan "Peace and Bread" (Frieden und Brot) was raised showing that the sailors and workers demanded not only the release of the imprisoned but also the end of the war and the improvement of food provisions. Eventually, the people supported Artelt's call to free the prisoners, and they moved in the direction of the military prison. Shortly before, Sub-Lieutenant Steinhäuser, in order to stop the demonstrators, ordered his patrol to give warning shots and then to shoot directly into the demonstration. Seven people were killed and 29 severely injured. Some demonstrators also opened fire. Steinhäuser was severely injured by rifle-butt blows and shots, but contrary to later statements, he was not killed. After this eruption the demonstrators as well as the patrol dispersed. Nevertheless the mass protest turned into a general revolt.

On the morning of 4 November groups of mutineers moved through the town. Sailors in a large barracks compound in a northern district of Kiel refused obedience: after a division inspection by the commander spontaneous demonstrations took place. Karl Artelt organized the first soldiers' council, and soon many more were set up. The governor of the navy station, Wilhelm Souchon
Wilhelm Souchon
Wilhelm Anton Souchon was a German and Ottoman admiral in World War I who commanded the Kaiserliche Marine's Mediterranean squadron in the early days of the war...

, had to negotiate.

The imprisoned sailors and stokers were freed. Soldiers and workers brought public and military institutions under their control. When, against Souchon's promise, different troops advanced to end the rebellion, they were intercepted by the mutineers and either sent back or decided to joined the sailors and workers. By the evening of 4 November, Kiel was firmly in the hands of approximately 40,000 rebellious sailors, soldiers and workers, as was Wilhelmshaven two days later.

On the same evening the SPD deputy Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany . He served as the first Minister of Defence of Germany between 1919 and 1920.-Biography:...

 arrived in Kiel and was welcomed enthusiastically, although he had orders from the new government and the SPD leadership to bring the uprising under control. He had himself elected chairman of the soldiers' council and reinstated peace and order. Some days later he took over the governor's post, while Lothar Popp from the USPD became chairman of the overall soldiers' council. During the coming weeks Noske actually managed to reduce the influence of the councils in Kiel, but he could not prevent the spread of the revolution to all of Germany. The events had already spread far beyond the city limits.

Spread of revolution to the whole Empire

As of 4 November delegations of the sailors scattered out to all larger cities in the country. Already by 7 November the revolution had seized all larger coastal cities as well as Hanover
Hanover
Hanover or Hannover, on the river Leine, is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony , Germany and was once by personal union the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain, under their title as the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg...

, Brunswick
Braunschweig
Braunschweig , is a city of 247,400 people, located in the federal-state of Lower Saxony, Germany. It is located north of the Harz mountains at the farthest navigable point of the Oker river, which connects to the North Sea via the rivers Aller and Weser....

, Frankfurt
Frankfurt
Frankfurt am Main , commonly known simply as Frankfurt, is the largest city in the German state of Hesse and the fifth-largest city in Germany, with a 2010 population of 688,249. The urban area had an estimated population of 2,300,000 in 2010...

 and Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

. In Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 a "Workers' and Soldiers' Council" forced the last King of Bavaria
King of Bavaria
King of Bavaria was a title held by the hereditary Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria in the state known as the Kingdom of Bavaria from 1805 until 1918, when the kingdom was abolished...

, Ludwig III
Ludwig III of Bavaria
Ludwig III , was the last King of Bavaria, reigning from 1913 to 1918.-Early life:...

, to abdicate. Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

 was the first member state of the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 to be declared a Council Republic
Soviet Republic
Soviet republic, a republic ruled by soviets , may refer to one of the following:*Bolshevik Russia and the Russian SFSR after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and during the Russian Civil War.*Any of the Republics of the Soviet Union....

 , the Bavarian Soviet Republic
Bavarian Soviet Republic
The Bavarian Soviet Republic, also known as the Munich Soviet Republic was, as part of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, the short-lived attempt to establish a socialist state in form of a council republic in the Free State of Bavaria. It sought independence from the also recently proclaimed...

 by USPD-member Kurt Eisner
Kurt Eisner
Kurt Eisner was a Bavarian politician and journalist. As a German socialist journalist and statesman, he organized the Socialist Revolution that overthrew the Wittelsbach monarchy in Bavaria in November 1918....

. In the following days the royals of all the other German states abdicated, the last one on 23 November was Prince Günther Victor
Günther Victor, Prince of Schwarzburg
Günther Victor, Prince of Schwarzburg was the final sovereign prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Schwarzburg-Sondershausen.-Biography:...

 of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt
Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt
Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt was a small historic state in present-day Thuringia, Germany with its capital at Rudolstadt.-History:Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt was established in 1599 in the course of a resettlement of Schwarzburg dynasty lands...

.
The Workers' and Soldiers' Councils were almost entirely made up of SPD
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 and USPD
Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany...

 members. Their program was democracy, pacifism and anti-militarism. Apart from the royals they deprived only the hitherto almighty military commands of power. The Imperial civilian administration and office bearers such as police, municipal administrations and courts remained unscathed. There were also hardly any confiscations of property or occupations of factories because such measures were expected from the new government. In order to create an executive committed to the revolution and to the future government, the councils for the moment claimed only to take over the supervision of the administration from the military commands.
Thus, the SPD was able to establish a firm base on the local level. But while the councils believed to be acting in the interest of the new order, the party leaders of the SPD regarded the councils as disturbing elements for a peaceful changeover of power, which they imagined already to have taken place. Along with the middle-class parties they demanded speedy elections for a national assembly which was to make the final decision on the type of state. This soon brought the SPD into opposition with a large part of revolutionaries. It was especially the USPD that took over their demands, one of which was elections as late as possible hoping to create unchangeable facts that met the expectations of a large part of the workforce.

Reactions in Berlin

Ebert agreed with Max von Baden that a social revolution was to be prevented and that state order must be upheld at any cost. For the restructuring of the state, Ebert wanted to win over the middle-class parties, which already had cooperated with the SPD in the Reichstag in 1917, as well as the old elites of the Empire. He wanted to avoid a feared radicalization of the revolution along Russian lines and he also worried that the precarious situation of supplies could collapse when the existing administration would be taken over by inexperienced revolutionaries. He was certain that the SPD would be able to implement its reform plans due to its parliamentary majorities in the future.

Ebert did his best to act in agreement with the old powers, and had in mind to save the monarchy. In order to produce some success to his followers he demanded as of November 6 the abdication of the Kaiser. But Wilhelm II, still in his headquarters in Spa, was playing for time. After the Entente had agreed to truce negotiations on that day he hoped to return to Germany at the head of the army and to quell the revolution by force.

According to notes taken by Max bakla Baden Ebert declared on 7 November: "If the Kaiser doesn't abdicate the social revolution is unavoidable. But I don't want it, indeed I hate it like sin." (Wenn der Kaiser nicht abdankt, dann ist die soziale Revolution unvermeidlich. Ich aber will sie nicht, ja, ich hasse sie wie die Sünde.) Max von Baden planned to travel to Spa and personally convince the Kaiser of the necessity to abdicate. Yet, this plan was overtaken by the quickly deteriorating situation in Berlin.

9 November 1918: Two proclamations of a republic

In order to remain master of the situation, in the afternoon of 9 November, Friedrich Ebert demanded the chancellorship for himself.

The news of the Kaiser's abdication came too late to make any impression upon the demonstrators. Nobody followed the public appeals. More and more demonstrators demanded the total abolition of the monarchy. Karl Liebknecht, just released from prison, had returned to Berlin and re-founded the Spartacist League the previous day. At lunch in the Reichstag the SPD deputy chairman Philipp Scheidemann learned that Liebknecht planned the proclamation of a Socialist Republic. Scheidemann did not want to leave the initiative to the Spartacists and without further ado stepped out onto a balcony of the Reichstag. From there he proclaimed on his own authority -– and against Ebert's expressed will -– a republic before a mass of demonstrating people. A few hours later Berlin newspapers published that in the Berlin Tiergarten -– presumably at the same time -— Liebknecht had proclaimed a Socialist Republic, which he affirmed once more before a crowd of people assembled around 4 p.m. at the Berlin Royal Residence.

At that time Karl Liebknecht's intentions were little known to the public. The Spartacist League's demands of 7 October for a far reaching restructuring of the economy, the army and the judiciary – amongst other things by abolishing the death penalty—had not yet been publicized. The biggest bone of contention with the SPD was to be the Spartacist's demand for the establishment of "unalterable political facts" on the ground by social and other measures "before" the election of a constituent assembly, while the SPD wanted to leave the decision for the future economic system to the assembly.

Ebert was faced with a dilemma. The first proclamation he had issued on 9 November was addressed 'To the citizens of Germany'.

Ebert wanted to take the sting out of the revolutionary mood and meet the demands of the demonstrators for the unity of the labour parties. He offered the USPD participation in the government and was ready to accept Liebknecht as a minister. Liebknecht in turn demanded the control of the workers' councils over the army. As USPD chairman Hugo Haase was in Kiel and the deliberations went on the USPD deputies were not able to reach a decision on that day.

Neither the early announcement of the Kaiser's abdication by Max von Baden and Ebert's chancellorship, nor Scheidemann's proclamation of the Republic were covered by the constitution. These were all revolutionary actions by protagonists who did not want a revolution but nevertheless created lasting facts. However, a real revolutionary action took place the same evening which, in the end, proved to have been in vain.

Around 8 p.m. a group of 100 Revolutionary Stewards (Revolutionäre Obleute) from the larger Berlin factories occupied the Reichstag. Led by their speakers Richard Müller
Richard Müller (socialist)
Richard Müller was a German socialist and historian. Trained as a lathe-operator Müller later became a unionist and organizer of mass-strikes against World War I. In 1918 he was a leading figure of the council movement in the German Revolution...

 and Emil Barth
Emil Barth
Emil Barth was a German Social Democratic metal worker who became a key figure in the German Revolution of 1918....

 they formed a Revolutionary Parliament. Most of the participating stewards had already been leaders during the January strikes. They did not trust the SPD leadership and had planned a coup independently from the sailor's revolt for 11 November but were surprised by the revolutionary events since Kiel. In order to snatch the initiative from Ebert they now decided to announce elections for the following day: On that Sunday every Berlin factory and every regiment was to decide on workers' and soldiers' councils which then were to elect a revolutionary government from members of the 2 labour parties (SPD and USPD). This Council of the People's Deputies
Council of the People's Deputies
The Council of the People's Deputies was the name given to the government of the November Revolution in Germany from November 1918 until February 1919....

 (Rat der Volksbeauftragten) was to execute the resolutions of the Revolutionary Parliament as the revolutionaries intended and to replace Ebert's function as chancellor and president.

10 November: SPD leadership in opposition to revolutionary shop stewards. Armistice

The same evening the SPD leadership heard of these plans. As the elections and the following councils' meeting could not be prevented Ebert sent speakers to all Berlin regiments and into the factories in the same night and the early following morning. They were to influence the elections in his favour and announce the intended participation of the USPD in the government.

In turn, these activities did not escape the attention of Richard Müller
Richard Müller (socialist)
Richard Müller was a German socialist and historian. Trained as a lathe-operator Müller later became a unionist and organizer of mass-strikes against World War I. In 1918 he was a leading figure of the council movement in the German Revolution...

 and the revolutionary shop stewards. Seeing that Ebert would also play the tune in the new government, they planned to propose to the assembly not only the election of a government but also the appointment of an Action Committee. This committee was to co-ordinate the activities of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils. For this election the Stewards had already prepared a list of names on which the SPD was not represented. In this manner they hoped to install a monitoring body acceptable to them watching the government.

In the assembly that convened on 10 November in the Circus Busch the majority stood on the side of the SPD: almost all Soldiers' Councils and a large part of the workers representatives. They repeated the demand for the "Unity of the Working Class" which had been put forward by the revolutionaries the previous day and now used this motto in order to push through Ebert's line. As planned, three members of each socialist party were elected into the "Council of People's Representatives", from the USPD, their chairman Hugo Haase
Hugo Haase
Hugo Haase was a German politician, jurist and pacifist.-Biography:Haase was born in Allenstein , Province of Prussia, the son of Jewish shoemaker and small businessman, Nathan Haase, and Pauline née Anker. He studied law in Königsberg and established himself as a lawyer...

, the deputy Wilhelm Dittmann and Emil Barth
Emil Barth
Emil Barth was a German Social Democratic metal worker who became a key figure in the German Revolution of 1918....

 for the Revolutionary Stewards; from the SPD Ebert, Scheidemann and the Magdeburg deputy Otto Landsberg
Otto Landsberg
Otto Landsberg was a German jurist and politician.-Life:Landsberg was born in 1869 in Rybnik in the Province of Silesia. After passing the Abitur in 1887 in Ostrowo, he moved to Berlin to study law. In 1895, having passed the First and Second State Examination , he opened a lawyer's office in...

.

The proposal by the shop stewards to additionally elect an Action Committee took the SPD leadership by surprise and started heated debates. Ebert finally succeeded in also having this 24-member "Executive Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils" equally filled with SPD and USPD members. The Executive Council was chaired by Richard Müller (USPD)
Richard Müller (socialist)
Richard Müller was a German socialist and historian. Trained as a lathe-operator Müller later became a unionist and organizer of mass-strikes against World War I. In 1918 he was a leading figure of the council movement in the German Revolution...

 and Brutus Molkenbuhr. In theory, the Executive Council was the highest-ranking council of the revolutionary regime and therefore Müller the head of state of the new declared "Socialist Republic of Germany". But in practice the council's initiative was blocked by internal power-struggles. The Executive Council decided to summon an "Imperial Council Convention" in December to Berlin.

Although Ebert had saved the decisive part of the SPD he was not happy with the results. He regarded the Council Parliament and the Executive Council not as helpful but only as an obstacle on the way to a new system of government with a smooth transition from the Empire. The whole SPD leadership mistrusted the councils rather than the old elites in army and administration. They considerably overestimated the old elite's loyalty to the new republic. What bothered Ebert most was that now in front of the Councils he could not act as Chancellor but only as chairman of a revolutionary government. Indeed, conservatives regarded him as a traitor although he had taken the lead of the revolution only in order to stop it.

In the 8 weeks of double rule of Councils and Imperial Government the latter always was dominant. The whole higher level administration reported only to Ebert, although Haase formally was a chairman in the Council with equal rights. Concerning the question of real power, there was a phone call on the evening of 10 November between Ebert and General Wilhelm Groener
Wilhelm Groener
Karl Eduard Wilhelm Groener was a German soldier and politician.-Biography:He was born in Ludwigsburg in the Kingdom of Württemberg, the son of a regimental paymaster. He entered the Württemberg Army in 1884, and attended the War Academy from 1893 to 1897, whereupon he was appointed to the General...

, the new First General Quartermaster in Spa, Belgium
Spa, Belgium
Spa is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liège. It is situated in a valley in the Ardennes mountain chain, some southeast of Liège, and southwest of Aachen. As of 1 January 2006, Spa had a total population of 10,543...

. Assuring Ebert of the support of the Army, the General was given Ebert's promise to reinstate the military hierarchy and, with the help of the army, to take action against the Councils.

Behind the secret Ebert-Groener pact
Ebert-Groener pact
The Ebert–Groener pact or sometimes called The Ebert-Groener deal was an agreement between Friedrich Ebert , and Wilhelm Groener , 2 days before the official end of World War I...

 stood the SPD's worry that the revolution could end in a Council (Soviet) Republic following the Russian example. However, this pact was not able to win over the Imperial Officer Corps for the republic. As Ebert's behaviour became increasingly puzzling to the revolutionary workers, the soldiers and their stewards, the SPD leadership lost more and more confidence of its supporters without gaining any sympathies from the opponents of the revolution on the right.

In the turmoil of this day, the Ebert government's acceptance of the harsh terms of the Entente for a truce, after a renewed demand by the Supreme Command, went almost unnoticed. On 11 November, the Centre Party deputy Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger was a German politician. Prominent in the Centre Party, he spoke out against the First World War from 1917 and eventually signed the Armistice with Germany for the German Empire...

, on behalf of Berlin, signed the armistice agreement
Armistice with Germany (Compiègne)
The armistice between the Allies and Germany was an agreement that ended the fighting in the First World War. It was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918 and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender...

 in Compiègne
Compiègne
Compiègne is a city in northern France. It is designated municipally as a commune within the département of Oise.The city is located along the Oise River...

, France. Thus, World War I had come to an end.

Stinnes-Legien-Agreement

The revolutionaries disagreed among themselves about the future economic and state system. Both SPD and USPD favoured placing at least heavy industry under democratic control. The left wings of both parties and the Revolutionary Stewards wanted to go beyond that and establish a "direct democracy" in the production sector, with elected delegates controlling the political power. It was not only in the interest of the SPD to prevent a Council Democracy, even the unions would have been rendered superfluous by the councils.

To prevent this development, the union leaders under Carl Legien
Carl Legien
Carl Legien was a German unionist, moderate Social Democratic politician and first President of the International Federation of Trade Unions.- Biography :...

 and the representatives of big industry under Hugo Stinnes
Hugo Stinnes
-Life and career:Stinnes was born in Mülheim, in the Ruhr Valley, North German Confederation. His father was also named Hugo, and his grandfather Matthias Stinnes had founded a modest enterprise in Mülheim....

 and Carl Friedrich von Siemens
Carl Friedrich von Siemens
Carl Friedrich von Siemens was a German Entrepreneur and politician...

 met in Berlin from 9 to 12 November. On 15 November they signed an agreement with advantages for both sides: the union representatives promised to guarantee orderly production, to end wild strikes, to drive back the influence of the councils and to prevent a nationalisation of means of production. For their part, the employers guaranteed to introduce the eight hour day, which the workers had demanded in vain for years. The employers agreed to the union claim of sole representation and to the lasting recognition of the unions instead of the Councils. Both parties formed a "Central Committee for the Maintenance of the Economy" (Zentralausschuss für die Aufrechterhaltung der Wirtschaft).

An "Arbitration Committee" (Schlichtungsausschuss) was to mediate in future conflicts between employers and unions. From now on, in every factory with more than 50 employees committees together with the management were to monitor the keeping to the wage settlements.

With this, the unions had achieved one of their longtime demands but undermined all efforts for nationalising means of production and largely eliminated the Councils.

Interim government and council movement

The Reichstag had not been summoned since 9 November. The Council of the People's Deputies
Council of the People's Deputies
The Council of the People's Deputies was the name given to the government of the November Revolution in Germany from November 1918 until February 1919....

 and the Executive Council had replaced the old government. But the previous administrative machinery remained unchanged. Imperial servants had only representatives of SPD and USPD assigned to them. These servants all kept their positions and continued to do their work in most parts unchanged.

On 12 November the Council of People's Representatives published its democratic and social government programme. It lifted the state of siege and censorship, abolished the "Gesindeordnung" (Servant Rules: rules governing relations between servant and master) and introduced universal suffrage from 20 years up, for the first time for women. There was an amnesty for all political prisoners. Regulations for the freedom of association, assembly and press were enacted. The eight hour day became statutory on the basis of the Stinnes-Legien-Agreement and benefits for unemployment, social insurance and workers' compensation were expanded.

At the insistence of USPD representatives the Council of People's Representatives appointed a "Nationalisation Committee", among others with Karl Kautsky
Karl Kautsky
Karl Johann Kautsky was a Czech-German philosopher, journalist, and Marxist theoretician. Kautsky was recognized as among the most authoritative promulgators of Orthodox Marxism after the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895 until the coming of World War I in 1914 and was called by some the "Pope of...

, Rudolf Hilferding
Rudolf Hilferding
Rudolf Hilferding was an Austrian-born Marxist economist, leading socialist theorist, politician and chief theoretician for the Social Democratic Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic, almost universally recognized as the SPD's foremost theoretician of his century, and a...

 and Otto Hue. This committee was to examine which industries were "fit" for nationalisation and to prepare the nationalisation of the coal and steel industry. It sat until 7 April 1919, without any tangible result. "Self-Administration Bodies" were installed only in coal and potash mining and in the steel industry. From these bodies emerged the modern German Works or Factory Committees. Socialist expropriations were not initiated.

The SPD leadership worked with the old administration rather than with the new Workers' and Soldiers' Councils, because it considered them incapable of properly supplying the needs of the population. As of mid-November this caused continuing strife with the Executive Council. As the Council continuously changed its position following whoever it just happened to represent, Ebert withdrew more and more responsibilities planning to end the "meddling and interfering" of the Councils in Germany for good. But Ebert and the SPD leadership by far overestimated the power not only of the Council Movement but also of the Spartacist League. The Spartacist League, for example, never had control over the Council Movement as the conservatives and parts of the SPD believed.

In Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

, Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, Bremen
Bremen
The City Municipality of Bremen is a Hanseatic city in northwestern Germany. A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the river Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area . Bremen is the second most populous city in North Germany and tenth in Germany.Bremen is...

, Chemnitz
Chemnitz
Chemnitz is the third-largest city of the Free State of Saxony, Germany. Chemnitz is an independent city which is not part of any county and seat of the government region Direktionsbezirk Chemnitz. Located in the northern foothills of the Ore Mountains, it is a part of the Saxon triangle...

 and Gotha
Gotha (town)
Gotha is a town in Thuringia, within the central core of Germany. It is the capital of the district of Gotha.- History :The town has existed at least since the 8th century, when it was mentioned in a document signed by Charlemagne as Villa Gotaha . Its importance derives from having been chosen in...

 the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils put the city administrations under their control. In addition, in Brunswick
Braunschweig
Braunschweig , is a city of 247,400 people, located in the federal-state of Lower Saxony, Germany. It is located north of the Harz mountains at the farthest navigable point of the Oker river, which connects to the North Sea via the rivers Aller and Weser....

, Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf is the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and centre of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.Düsseldorf is an important international business and financial centre and renowned for its fashion and trade fairs. Located centrally within the European Megalopolis, the...

, Mülheim/Ruhr and Zwickau
Zwickau
Zwickau in Germany, former seat of the government of the south-western region of the Free State of Saxony, belongs to an industrial and economical core region. Nowadays it is the capital city of the district of Zwickau...

 all civil servants loyal to the Kaiser were arrested. In Hamburg and Bremen "Red Guards" were formed that were to protect the revolution. The Councils deposed the management of the Leuna Works, a giant chemical factory near Merseburg
Merseburg
Merseburg is a town in the south of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt on the river Saale, approx. 14 km south of Halle . It is the capital of the Saalekreis district. It had a diocese founded by Archbishop Adalbert of Magdeburg....

. The new Councils were often appointed spontaneously and arbitrarily and had no management experience whatsoever. But a majority of Councils came to arrangements with the old administrations and saw to it that law and order were quickly restored. For example, Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

 was part of the workers' council of Heidelberg
Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

, and was pleasantly surprised that most members were moderate German liberals. The Councils took over the distribution of food, the police and the accommodation and provisions of the front-line soldiers that were gradually returning home.

Administration and Councils depended on each other: the former had the knowledge and experience, the latter had political clout. In most cases SPD-members had been elected into the Councils who regarded their job as interim solution. For them as well as for the majority of the population in 1918/19 the introduction of a Council Republic was never an issue, but they were not even given a chance to think about it. Many wanted to support the new government and expected it to abolish militarism and the authoritarian state. Being weary of the war and hoping for a peaceful solution, they partially overestimated the revolutionary achievements.

Imperial Council Convention

As decided by the Executive Committee the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils in the whole Empire sent deputies to Berlin who were to convene on 16 December in the Circus Busch for the "First General Convention of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils" (Erster Allgemeiner Kongress der Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte). On 15 December Ebert and General Groener had troops ordered to Berlin to prevent this convention and to regain control of the capital. On 16 December one of the regiments intended for this plan advanced too early. In the attempt to arrest the Executive Council the soldiers opened fire on a demonstration of unarmed "Red Guards" which were Soldiers' Councils affiliated with the Spartacists, and killed 16 people.

With this the potential for violence and the danger of a coup from the right already became visible. Because of this experience, in the daily newspaper of the Spartacist League "Red Flag" (Rote Fahne) of 12 December, Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and activist of Polish Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen...

 demanded the peaceful disarmament of the homecoming military units by the Berlin workforce. She wanted the Soldiers' Councils to be subordinated to the Revolutionary Parliament and the soldiers to become "re-educated".

On 10 December Ebert welcomed ten divisions returning from the front hoping to use them against the Councils. As it turned out, these troops also were not willing to go on fighting. The war was over, Christmas was at the door and most of the soldiers just wanted to go home to their families. So shortly after their arrival in Berlin they dispersed. The blow against the Convention of Councils did not take place.

This blow would have been unnecessary anyway because the convention that took up its work 16 December in the Prussian House of Representatives also consisted mainly of SPD followers. Not even Karl Liebknecht had managed to get a seat. The Spartacist League was not granted any influence. On 19 December the Councils voted 344 to 98 against the creation of a Council System as a basis for a new constitution. Instead, they supported the government's decision to call for elections for a constituent national assembly as soon as possible. This assembly was to decide upon the state system.

The Convention disagreed with Ebert only on the issue of control of the army. The Convention was demanding a say for the Central Council which it would elect, in the supreme command of the army, the free election of officers and the disciplinary powers for the Soldiers' Councils. That would have been contrary to the agreement between Ebert and General Groener. They both spared no effort to undo this decision. The Supreme Command which in the meantime had moved from Spa to Kassel
Kassel
Kassel is a town located on the Fulda River in northern Hesse, Germany. It is the administrative seat of the Kassel Regierungsbezirk and the Kreis of the same name and has approximately 195,000 inhabitants.- History :...

, began to raise loyal volunteer corps (Freikorps) against the supposed Bolshevik menace. Unlike the revolutionary soldiers of November, these troops were monarchist-minded officers and men who feared the return into civil life.

Christmas crisis

After 9 November the government had ordered the newly created People's Navy Division (Volksmarinedivision) from Kiel to Berlin for its protection and stationed it in the Royal Stables (Marstall) of the Berlin Stadtschloss (Imperial City Residence). The Division was considered absolutely loyal and had indeed refused to participate in the coup attempt of 6 December. The sailors even deposed their commander because they saw him involved in the affair. It was this loyalty that now gave them the reputation of being in favour of the Spartacists. Ebert demanded their disbanding and withdrawal from the Residence and Otto Wels, as of 9 November commander of Berlin and in line with Ebert, refused the sailors' pay.

The dispute escalated on 23 December. After having been put off for days the sailors occupied the Imperial Chancellery, cut the phone lines, put the Council of People's Representatives under house arrest and captured Otto Wels. The sailors did not exploit the situation to eliminate the Ebert government, as could have been expected from Spartacist revolutionaries. Instead, they just insisted on their pay. Nevertheless, Ebert, who via secret phone line was in touch with the Supreme Command in Kassel, gave orders to attack the Residence with troops loyal to the government on the morning of 24 December. The sailors repelled the attack under their commander Heinrich Dorrenbach, losing about 30 men and civilians in the fight. The government troops had to withdraw from the centre of Berlin. They themselves were now disbanded and integrated into the newly formed Freikorps
Freikorps
Freikorps are German volunteer military or paramilitary units. The term was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of the 18th century onwards. Between World War I and World War II the term was also used for the paramilitary organizations that arose during...

. To make up for the loss of face they temporarily occupied the editor's offices of the "Red Flag". But military power in Berlin once more was in the hands of the People's Navy Division. Again, the sailors did not take advantage of the situation.

On one side this shows that the sailors were not Spartacists, on the other that the revolution had no guidance. Even if Liebknecht had been the revolutionary leader like Lenin, to which legend later made him, the sailors as well as the Councils would not have accepted him as such. So the only result of the Christmas Crisis, which the Spartacists named "Ebert's Bloody Christmas", was that the Revolutionary Stewards called for a demonstration on Christmas Day and that the USPD left the government in protest on 29 December. They could not have done Ebert a bigger favour since he had let them participate only under the pressure of the revolutionary events. Within a few days the military defeat of the Ebert government had turned into a political victory.

Founding of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and the January Revolt

The Spartacists concluded after their experiences with the SPD and the USPD that their goals could be met only in a party of their own. Also because of the unhappiness of many workers with the course of the revolution and joined by other left-socialist groups of the whole Empire they founded the Communist Party of Germany
Communist Party of Germany
The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956...

 (KPD).

Rosa Luxemburg drew up her founding programme and presented it on 31 December 1918. In this programme she pointed out that the communists could never take power without a clear will of the people in the majority. On 1 January she again demanded that the KPD participate in the planned elections but was outvoted. The majority still hoped to gain power by continued agitation in the factories and by the "pressure from the streets". After deliberations with the Spartacists the Revolutionary Stewards decided to remain in the USPD. This was a first defeat.
The decisive defeat of the left was to be brought in the first days of the new year in 1919. As in November before, almost spontaneously, a second revolutionary wave developed which, this time, was violently suppressed. The wave was started when on 4 January the government dismissed the chief constable of Berlin, Emil Eichhorn, who was a member of the USPD and who had refused to act against the demonstrating workers in the Christmas Crisis resulting in the USPD, Revolutionary Stewards and the KPD chairmen Karl Liebknecht
Karl Liebknecht
was a German socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany. He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919...

 and Wilhelm Pieck
Wilhelm Pieck
Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck was a German politician and a Communist. In 1949, he became the first President of the German Democratic Republic, an office abolished upon his death. He was succeeded by Walter Ulbricht, who served as Chairman of the Council of States.-Biography:Pieck was born to...

 Eichhorn's calling for a demonstration to take place on the following day.
To the surprise of the initiators the demonstration turned into an assembly of huge masses. On Sunday 5 January, as on 9 November 1918, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the centre of Berlin, many of them armed. In the afternoon the train stations and the newspaper district with the offices of the middle-class press and the "Vorwärts" were occupied. Some of the middle-class papers in the previous days had called not only for the raising of more Freikorps but also for the murder of the Spartacists.

The demonstrators were mainly the same as two months previous. They now demanded the fulfillment of the hopes expressed in November. The Spartacists by no means had a leading position. The demands came straight from the workforce supported by various groups left of the SPD. The following so-called "Spartacist Uprising
Spartacist uprising
The Spartacist Uprising , also known as the January uprising , was a general strike in Germany from January 5 to January 15, 1919. Its suppression marked the end of the German Revolution...

" originated only partially in the KPD. KPD members were even a minority among the insurgents.

The initiators assembled at the Police Headquarters elected a 53-member "Interim Revolutionary Committee" (Provisorischer Revolutionsausschuss) which failed to make use of its power and was unable to give any clear direction. Liebknecht demanded the overthrow of the government and agreed with the majority of the committee that propagated the armed struggle. Rosa Luxemburg as well as the majority of KPD leaders thought a revolt at this moment to be a catastrophe and explicitly spoke out against it.

On the following day, 6 January, the Revolutionary Committee again called for a mass demonstration. This time even more people heeded the call. Again they carried placards and banners that said: "Brothers, don't shoot!" and remained waiting on an assembly square. A part of the Revolutionary Stewards armed themselves and called for the overthrow of the Ebert government. But the KPD-activists mostly failed in their endeavour to win over the troops. It turned out that even the units like the People's Navy Division were not willing to support the armed revolt, declaring itself neutral. The other regiments stationed in Berlin mostly remained loyal to the government.

While on Ebert's orders more troops were moving into Berlin, he accepted an offer by the USPD to mediate between him and the Revolutionary Committee. After the advance of the troops into the city became known and an SPD-leaflet appeared saying: "The hour of reckoning is nigh" the Committee broke off further negotiations on 8 January. That was opportunity enough for Ebert to use the troops stationed in Berlin against the occupiers. Beginning 9 January they violently quelled an improvised revolt. In addition to that, on 12 January, the anti-republican Freikorps, which had been raised more or less as death squads since the beginning of December, moved into Berlin. Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany . He served as the first Minister of Defence of Germany between 1919 and 1920.-Biography:...

, who had been People's Representative for Army and Navy for a few days, accepted the premium command of these troops saying: "If you like, someone has to be the bloodhound. I won't shy away from the responsibility."

The Freikorps brutally cleared several buildings and executed the occupiers on the spot. Others soon surrendered, but some of them were still shot. The January revolt claimed 156 lives in Berlin.

Murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

The alleged ringleaders of the January Revolt had to go into hiding and in spite of being urged by their allies refused to leave Berlin. On the evening of 15 January 1919 Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and activist of Polish Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen...

 and Karl Liebknecht
Karl Liebknecht
was a German socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany. He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919...

 were discovered in a Berlin-Wilmersdorf apartment, arrested and handed over to the largest Freikorps, the heavily armed Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division. Their commander, Captain Waldemar Pabst
Waldemar Pabst
Waldemar Pabst was a German soldier and political activist involved in far right and anti-communist activity in both his homeland and Austria.-Anti-communism:...

, had them questioned. That same night both prisoners were beaten unconscious with rifle butts and shot in the head. Rosa Luxemburg's body was thrown into the Landwehr Canal running through Berlin, where it was found only on 1 July. Karl Liebknecht's body, without a name, was delivered to a morgue.

The perpetrators for the most part went unpunished. The Nazis later compensated the few that had been tried or even jailed, and they merged the Gardekavallerie into the SA (Sturmabteilung
Sturmabteilung
The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

). In an interview given to "Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg. It is one of Europe's largest publications of its kind, with a weekly circulation of more than one million.-Overview:...

" in 1962 and in his memoirs Pabst maintained that he had talked on the phone with Noske in the Chancellery. Noske and Ebert had approved of his actions. Pabst's statement was never confirmed, especially since neither parliament nor the courts had examined the case.

After the murders of 15 January the opposition between SPD and KPD grew even more irreconcilable. In the following years in the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

, both parties could not decide on joint action against the Nazis (NSDAP) which was growing in strength as of 1930.

Further revolts in tow of the revolution

In the first months of 1919 there were further armed revolts all over Germany. In some states Councils Republics
Soviet republic (system of government)
A Soviet Republic is a system of government in which the whole state power belongs to the Soviets . Although the term is usually associated with communist states, it was not initially intended to represent only one political force, but merely a form of democracy and representation.In the classic...

 were proclaimed and existed, most prominently in Bavaria (Munich Soviet Republic), even if only temporarily.

These revolts were triggered by Noske's decision end of February to take armed action against the Council Republic of Bremen. In spite of an offer to negotiate he ordered his Freikorps units to invade the city. Approximately 400 people were killed in the ensuing fights.

This caused an eruption of mass strikes in the Ruhr
Ruhr
The Ruhr is a medium-size river in western Germany , a right tributary of the Rhine.-Description:The source of the Ruhr is near the town of Winterberg in the mountainous Sauerland region, at an elevation of approximately 2,200 feet...

 District, the Rhineland
Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

 and in Saxony
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

. Members of the USPD, the KPD and even the SPD called for a general strike which started on 4 March. Against the will of the strike leadership the strikes escalated into street fighting in Berlin. The Prussian state government, which in the meantime had declared a state of siege, called the Imperial government for help. Again Noske employed the Gardekavallerie-Schützendivision commanded by Pabst against the strikers in Berlin. By the end of the fighting on 16 March they had killed approximately 1,200 people, many of them unarmed and uninvolved. Amongst others 29 members of the Peoples Navy Division, who had surrendered, were arbitrarily executed as Noske had ordered anybody found armed to be shot on the spot.

The situation in Hamburg and Thuringia also was very much like a civil war. The Council Government holding out the longest was the Munich Soviet Republic. It was only on 2 May that Prussian and Wurttemberg Freikorps units put an end using the same violent methods as in Berlin and Bremen.

According to modern predominating opinion of historians the establishment of a Bolshevik-style council government on 9–10 November was impossible. Yet the Ebert Government felt threatened by a coup from the left and co-operated with the Supreme Command and the Freikorps. The brutal actions of the Freikorps during the various revolts estranged many left democrats from the SPD. They, especially of course the USPD and the KPD, regard Ebert's, Noske's and the other SPD leader's behaviour during the revolution to this very day outright as betrayal against their own followers.

National Assembly and New Imperial Constitution

On 19 January a Constituent National Assembly (Verfassungsgebende Nationalversammlung) was elected. Aside from SPD and USPD, the catholic Centre Party (Zentrumspartei) and several middle-class parties took part, which had established themselves since November: the left-liberal German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei DDP), the national-liberal German Peoples Party (Deutsche Volkspartei DVP) and the conservative, nationalist German National Peoples Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei DNVP). In spite of Rosa Luxemburg's recommendation, the KPD did not participate in these elections.

The SPD became the strongest party in the Reichstag with 37.4% and 165 out of 423 deputies. The USPD received only 7.6% and sent 22 deputies into the parliament. The rating of the USPD temporarily went up one more time after the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch in 1920 but the party then dissolved in 1922. The Centre Party was runner-up to the SPD with 91 deputies, the DDP had 75, the DVP 19 and the DNVP 44. As a result, the SPD formed the so-called Weimar Coalition
Weimar Coalition
The Weimar Coalition is the name given to the coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany , the German Democratic Party , and the Catholic Centre Party, who together had a large majority of the delegates to the Constituent Assembly that met at Weimar in 1919, and were the principal groups...

 with the Centre Party and the DDP. To get away from the post-revolutionary confusion in Berlin the National Assembly met on 6 February in the town of Weimar, Thuringia, some 250 km to the southwest of Berlin, where Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany .When Ebert was elected as the leader of the SPD after the death of August Bebel, the party members of the SPD were deeply divided because of the party's support for World War I. Ebert supported the Burgfrieden and...

 was elected temporary Reich President on 11 February and Philipp Scheidemann
Philipp Scheidemann
Philipp Scheidemann was a German Social Democratic politician, who proclaimed the Republic on 9 November 1918, and who became the second Chancellor of the Weimar Republic....

 was elected as Prime Minister (Ministerpräsident) of the newly-formed coalition on 13 February. Ebert was then constitutionally sworn in as President (Reichspräsident
Reichspräsident
The Reichspräsident was the German head of state under the Weimar constitution, which was officially in force from 1919 to 1945. In English he was usually simply referred to as the President of Germany...

) on 21 August 1919.

On the one hand, the Weimar Constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

 offered more possibilites of a direct democracy
Direct democracy
Direct democracy is a form of government in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives. Direct democracy is classically termed "pure democracy"...

 than the present German constitution
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is the constitution of Germany. It was formally approved on 8 May 1949, and, with the signature of the Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May, as the constitution of those states of West Germany that were initially included...

, like for instance a referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

. On the other hand, Article 48
Article 48 (Weimar Constitution)
Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic of Germany allowed the President, under certain circumstances, to take emergency measures without the prior consent of the Reichstag...

 granted the President the authority to rule against the majority in the Parliament, with the help of the army if need be. In 1932–33, article 48 was instrumental in destroying German democracy.

Aftermath

From 1920 to 1923, nationalist forces continued fighting against the Weimar Republic and left-wing political opponents. In 1920, the German government was briefly overthrown by a coup by Wolfgang Kapp
Wolfgang Kapp
Wolfgang Kapp was a Prussian civil servant and journalist. He was a strict nationalist, and a nominal leader of the so-called Kapp Putsch.-Early life:...

 in the Kapp Putsch
Kapp Putsch
The Kapp Putsch — or more accurately the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch — was a 1920 coup attempt during the German Revolution of 1918–1919 aimed at overthrowing the Weimar Republic...

 and a nationalist government was briefly in power, until mass public demonstrations forced the short-lived regime out of power. In 1921 and 1922, Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger was a German politician. Prominent in the Centre Party, he spoke out against the First World War from 1917 and eventually signed the Armistice with Germany for the German Empire...

 and Walter Rathenau were shot by members of the ultra-nationalist Organisation Consul
Organisation Consul
Organisation Consul was an ultra-nationalist force operating in Germany in 1921 and 1922. It was formed by members of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, a Freikorps unit which disbanded after the Kapp Putsch failed to overthrow the German Weimar Republic...

. The newly formed Nazi Party under leadership of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 and support of former German army chief Erich von Ludendorff, entered into the political violence against the government and left-wing political forces as well. In 1923, in what is now known as the Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch
The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power...

, the Nazis took control of parts of Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, arresting the President of Bavaria, the chief of police, and others and forcing them to sign an agreement in which they endorsed the Nazi takeover and endorsed the Nazis objective to overthrow the German government. The putsch came to an end when the German army and police were called in to put down the putsch resulting in an armed confrontation where a number of Nazis and some police were killed.

The Republic was under great pressure from both left-wing and right-wing extremists. The left-wing extremists accused the ruling Social Democrats of having betrayed the ideals of the workers' movement by preventing a communist revolution by unleashing the Freikorps upon the workers. Right-wing extremists were opposed to any democratic system, preferring an authoritarian state like the 1871 Empire. To further undermine the Republic's credibility, right-wing extremists (especially certain members of the former officer corps) used the Dolchstoßlegende for blaming an alleged conspiracy of Socialists and Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I. Both parties would make reckless use of the freedoms guaranteed by the new constitution in their fight against the Weimar Republic. It came to an end with the ascent of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Political developments in the Weimar Republic

The Revolution of 1918/19 is one of the most important events in the later history of Germany, yet it is poorly embedded in the historical memory of Germans. The failure of the Weimar Republic which this revolution brought into being and the following Nazi-era have obstructed the view of these events for a long time. To this very day, the interpretation of these events has been determined more by legends than by facts.

Both the radical right and the radical left-–under different circumstances—nurtured the idea that a Communist uprising was aiming to establish a Soviet Republic following the Russian example. The democratic centre parties, especially the SPD, were also barely interested in fairly assessing the events which turned Germany into a Republic. At closer look these events turn out to be a revolution supported by the Social Democrats and stopped by their party leadership. These processes helped to weaken the Weimar Republic from its very beginning.

After the Imperial Government and the Supreme Command shirked their responsibilities for the war and the defeat at an early stage, the majority parties of the Reichstag were left to cope with the resulting burdens. In his autobiography, Ludendorff's successor Groener states: "It suited me just fine, when the army and the Supreme Command remained as guiltless as possible in these wretched truce negotiations, from which nothing good could be expected".

Thus, the "Myth of the Stab in the Back" was born according to which the revolutionaries stabbed the army, "undefeated on the field", in the back and only then turning the almost secure victory into a defeat. It was mainly Ludendorff who contributed to the spread of this falsification of history to conceal his own role in the defeat. In nationalistic and national minded circles the myth fell on fertile ground. They soon defamed the revolutionaries and even politicians like Ebert, who never wanted the revolution and had done everything to channel and contain it, as "November Criminals" (Novemberverbrecher). In 1923, Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 and Ludendorf deliberately chose symbolic 9 November as the date of their attempted "Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch
The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power...

".

From its very beginning the republic was afflicted with the stigma of the military defeat. A large part of the bourgeoisie and the old elites from big industry, landowners, military, judiciary and administration never accepted the democratic republic, but intended to get rid of the new type of state at the first opportunity. On the left the actions of the SPD Leadership during the revolution drove many of its former adherents to the Communists. The contained revolution gave birth to a "democracy without democrats" .

Contemporary statements

Depending on their political standpoint of view, contemporaries had greatly differing opinions about the revolution.

Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch was a German Protestant theologian and writer on philosophy of religion and philosophy of history, and an influential figure in German thought before 1914...

, a Protestant theologian and philosopher, rather calmly remarked how the majority of Berlin citizens perceived 10 November:
"On Sunday morning after a frightful night the morning newspapers gave a clear picture: the Kaiser in Holland, the revolution victorious in most urban centres, the royals in the states abdicating. No man dead for Kaiser and Empire! The continuation of duties ensured and no run on the banks! (…) Trams and subways ran as usual which is a pledge that basic needs are cared for. On all faces it could be read: Wages will continue to be paid".


The liberal publicist Theodor Wolff wrote on the very day of 10 November in the newspaper Berliner Tageblatt
Berliner Tageblatt
The Berliner Tageblatt or BT was a German language newspaper published in Berlin from 1872-1939. Along with the Frankfurter Zeitung, it became one of the most important liberal German newspapers of its time.-History:...

, lending himself to far too optimistic illusions, which the SPD leadership also might have had:
"Like a sudden storm, the biggest of all revolutions has toppled the imperial regime including everything that belonged to it. It can be called the greatest of all revolutions because never has a more firmly built (…) fortress been taken in this manner at the first attempt. Only one week ago, there was still a military and civil administration so deeply rooted that it seemed to have secured its dominion beyond the change of times. (…) Only yesterday morning, at least in Berlin, all this still existed. Yesterday afternoon it was all gone".


The extreme right had a completely opposite perception. On 10 November, conservative journalist Paul Baecker wrote an article in Deutsche Tageszeitung which already contained essential elements of the stab-in-the-back legend:
"The work fought for by our fathers with their precious blood – dismissed by betrayal in the ranks of our own people! Germany, yesterday still undefeated, left to the mercy of our enemies by men carrying the German name, by felony out of our own ranks broken down in guilt and shame.
The German Socialists knew that peace was at hand anyway and that it was only about holding out against the enemy for a few days or weeks in order to wrest bearable conditions from them. In this situation they raised the white flag.
This is a sin that can never be forgiven and never will be forgiven. This is treason not only against the monarchy and the army but also against the German people themselves who will have to bear the consequences in centuries of decline and of misery".


In an article on the 10th anniversary of the revolution the publicist Kurt Tucholsky
Kurt Tucholsky
Kurt Tucholsky was a German-Jewish journalist, satirist and writer. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Kaspar Hauser, Peter Panter, Theobald Tiger and Ignaz Wrobel. Born in Berlin-Moabit, he moved to Paris in 1924 and then to Sweden in 1930.Tucholsky was one of the most important journalists of...

 remarked that neither Wolff nor Baecker were right. Nevertheless Tucholsky did accuse Ebert and Noske of betrayal-–not of the monarchy but of the revolution. Although he wanted to regard it as only a coup (d'état) he analysed the actual course of events more clearly than most of his contemporaries. In 1928 he wrote in "November Coup":
"The German Revolution of 1918 took place in a hall."
"The things taking place were not a revolution. There was no spiritual preparation, no leaders ready in the dark; no revolutionary goals. The mother of this revolution was the soldiers' longing to be home for Christmas. And weariness, disgust and weariness."
"The possibilities that nevertheless were lying in the streets were betrayed by Ebert and his like. Fritz* Ebert, whom you cannot heighten to a personality by calling him Friedrich opposed the establishment of a republic only until he found there was a post of chairman to be had; comrade Scheidemann è tutti quanti all were would-be senior civil servants." (* Fritz is the colloquial term for Friedrich like Willy – William)
"The following possibilities were left out: shattering federal states, division of landed property, revolutionary socialization of industry, reform of administrative and judiciary personnel. A republican constitution in which every sentence rescinds the next one, a revolution talking about well acquired rights of the old regime can be only laughed at."
"The German Revolution is still to take place."


Walter Rathenau was of a similar opinion. He called the revolution a "disappointment", a "present by chance", a "product of desperation", a "revolution by mistake". It did not deserve this name because it did "not abolish the actual mistakes" but "degenerated into a degrading clash of interests".
"Not a chain was broken by the swelling of spirit and will, but a lock merely rusted through. The chain fell off and the freed stood amazed, helpless, embarrassed and needed to arm against their will. The ones sensing their advantage were the quickest."


The historian and publicist Sebastian Haffner
Sebastian Haffner
Sebastian Haffner was a German journalist and author. He wrote mainly about recent German history....

 in turn came out against Tucholsky and Rathenau. He lived through the revolution in Berlin as a child and wrote 50 years later in his book "Der Verrat" (The Betrayal) about one of the myths around the events of November 1918 which had taken root especially in the bourgeoisie:
"It is often said that a true revolution in Germany in 1918 never took place. All that really happened was a breakdown. It was only the temporary weakness of the police and army in the moment of military defeat which let a mutiny of sailors appear as a revolution.
At first sight, one can see how wrong and blind this is comparing 1918 with 1945. In 1945 there really was a breakdown.
Certainly a mutiny of sailors started the revolution in 1918 but it was only a start. What made it extraordinary is that a mere sailors' mutiny triggered an earthquake which shook all of Germany; that the whole home army, the whole urban workforce and in Bavaria a part of the rural population rose up in revolt. This revolt was not just a mutiny anymore, it was a true revolution. (…)
As in any revolution, the old order was replaced by the beginnings of a new one. It was not only destructive but also creative. (…)
As a revolutionary achievement of masses the German November 1918 does not need to take second place to either the French July 1789 or the Russian March 1917."

Historical research

During the Nazi regime, works on the Weimar Republic and the German Revolution published abroad and by emigrants in the 1930s and 1940s could not be read in Germany. Around 1935 this affected the first published History of the Weimar Republic by Arthur Rosenberg
Arthur Rosenberg
Arthur Rosenberg was a German Marxist historian and writer.-Life:Born into a German Jewish middle class family in Berlin in 1889, he excelled at the Gymnasium before studying at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin with Otto Hirschfeld and Eduard Meyer. Soon, he established himself as an...

. In his view the political situation at the beginning of the revolution was open: The moderate socialist and democratic oriented work force indeed had a chance to become the actual social foundation of the republic and to drive back the conservative forces. On one hand this failed because of the wrong decisions of the SPD-Leadership, on the other because of the revolutionary tactics employed by the extreme left wing of the work force.

After 1945 West German historical research on the Weimar Republic concentrated most of all on its decline. In 1951, Theodor Eschenburg ignored the revolutionary beginning of the republic to a great extent. In 1955, Karl Dietrich Bracher
Karl Dietrich Bracher
Karl Dietrich Bracher is a German political scientist and historian of the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Born in Stuttgart, Bracher was awarded a Ph.D. in the Classics by the University of Tübingen in 1948 and subsequently studied at Harvard University from 1949 to 1950...

 also dealt with the German Revolution from the perspective of the failed republic. Erich Eyck e. g. shows how little the revolution after 1945 was regarded as part of German history. In his two volume History of the Weimar Republic he barely dedicated 20 pages to these events. The same can be said for Karl Dietrich Erdmann's contribution to the 8th edition of the Gebhardt Handbook for German History (Gebhardtsches Handbuch zur Deutschen Geschichte), whose viewpoint dominated the interpretation of the events around the German Revolution after 1945. According to Erdmann 1918/19 was about the choice between "social revolution in line with forces demanding a proletarian dictatorship and parliamentary republic in line with the conservative elements like the German officer corps". As the majority Social Democrats were forced to join up with the old elites to prevent an imminent council dictatorship, the blame for the failure of the Weimar Republic was to be put on the extreme left. According to this view, the events of 1918/19 were successful defensive actions of democracy against Bolshevism.

This interpretation at the height of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 is based on the assumption that the extreme left was comparably strong and a real threat to the democratic development. In this point, West German researchers ironically found themselves in line with Marxist historiography in the German Democratic Republic
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

 (GDR) which attributed considerable revolutionary potential most of all to the Spartacists. While in the post war years the majority SPD (MSPD) was cleared of its Nazi odium as "November Criminals", GDR historians blamed the SPD for "betrayal of the working class" and the USPD leadership for their incompetence. Their interpretation was mainly based on the 1958 theories of the Central Committee of the SED
Socialist Unity Party of Germany
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany was the governing party of the German Democratic Republic from its formation on 7 October 1949 until the elections of March 1990. The SED was a communist political party with a Marxist-Leninist ideology...

 (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) according to which the German Revolution was defined as a "bourgeois-democratic revolution", lead in certain aspects with proletarian means and methods. The fact that a revolution by the working class in Germany never happened can be put down to the "subjective factor", especially the missing of a "Marxist-Leninist offensive party". Contrary to the official party line, Rudolf Lindau supported the theory that the German Revolution had a Socialist tendency. Consistently the founding of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) was declared to be the decisive turning point in German history. But in spite of ideological bias historical research in the GDR expanded detailed knowledge of the German Revolution.

During the 1950s, West German historians focused their research on the final stages of the Weimar Republic. In the 1960s, they shifted to its revolutionary beginnings, realizing that the decisions and developments during the revolution were central to the failure of the first German Republic. Especially the Worker's and Soldier's Councils moved into focus and their previous appearance as a far leftwing movement had to be revised extensively. Authors like Ulrich Kluge, Eberhard Kolb
Eberhard Kolb
Professor Eberhard Kolb is one of Germany's foremost authorities on German history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.- Biography :...

, Reinhard Rürup and others argued that in the first weeks of the revolution the social base for a democratic redesign of society was much stronger than previously thought and that the potential of the extreme left was actually weaker than the MSPD-Leadership, for example, assumed. As "Bolshevism" posed no real threat the scope of action for the Council of the People's Deputies (also supported by the yet reform oriented councils) to consistently democratise the administration, military and society had been relatively large. But the MSPD-Leadership did not take that step because it trusted in the loyalty of the old elites but mistrusted the spontaneous mass movements in the first weeks of the revolution. The result of this was the resignation and radicalisation of the council movement. These theories have been supported by the publications of the minutes of the Council of the People's Deputies. More and more the history of the German Revolution appeared as the history of its gradual reversal.

This new interpretation of the German Revolution gained acceptance in research rather quickly even though older perceptions remained alive. Research concerning the composition of the Worker's and Soldier's Councils which today can be easily verified by sources is undisputed to a large extent. But the interpretation of the revolutionary events based on this research has been already criticized and partially modified since the end of the 1970s. Criticism was aimed at the partially idealized description of the Worker's and Soldier's Councils which especially was the case in the wake of the German Student Movement of 1960s (1968). Peter von Oertzen went particularly far in this respect describing a social democracy based on councils as a positive alternative to the bourgeois republic. In comparison Wolfgang J. Mommsen did not regard the councils as a homogenous focussed movement for democracy but as a heterogeneous group with a multitude of different motivations and goals. Jesse and Köhler even talked about the "construct of a democratic council movement". Certainly these authors also excluded a "relapse to the positions of the 1950s: "The councils were neither communist oriented to a large extent nor can the policies of the majority SPD in every aspect be labelled fortuitous and worth praising."

Heinrich August Winkler
Heinrich August Winkler
Heinrich August Winkler is a German historian.After attending a Gymnasium in Ulm, he studied history, political science, philosophy and public law at Münster, Heidelberg and Tübingen. In 1970 he became professor at the Free University of Berlin. From 1972 to 1991 he was professor at the University...

 tried to find a compromise, according to which the Social Democrats depended to a limited extent on the cooperation with the old elites, but went considerably further than necessary: "With more political willpower they could have changed more and preserved less." With all the differences concerning details, historical researchers agree that in the German Revolution, the chances to put the republic on a firm footing were considerably better than the dangers coming from the extreme left. Instead, the alliance of the SPD with the old elites constituted a considerable structural problem for the Weimar Republic.

See also

  • Finnish Civil War
    Finnish Civil War
    The Finnish Civil War was a part of the national, political and social turmoil caused by World War I in Europe. The Civil War concerned control and leadership of The Grand Duchy of Finland as it achieved independence from Russia after the October Revolution in Petrograd...

  • Greater Poland Uprising (1918–1919)
    Greater Poland Uprising (1918–1919)
    The Greater Poland Uprising of 1918–1919, or Wielkopolska Uprising of 1918–1919 or Posnanian War was a military insurrection of Poles in the Greater Poland region against Germany...

  • Hungarian Soviet Republic
    Hungarian Soviet Republic
    The Hungarian Soviet Republic or Soviet Republic of Hungary was a short-lived Communist state established in Hungary in the aftermath of World War I....

  • Luxemburgism
    Luxemburgism
    Luxemburgism is a specific revolutionary theory within Marxism, based on the writings of Rosa Luxemburg. According to M. K...

  • Silesian Uprisings
    Silesian Uprisings
    The Silesian Uprisings were a series of three armed uprisings of the Poles and Polish Silesians of Upper Silesia, from 1919–1921, against German rule; the resistance hoped to break away from Germany in order to join the Second Polish Republic, which had been established in the wake of World War I...

  • Revolutions of 1917–23

Further reading

  • Chris Harman
    Chris Harman
    Chris Harman was a British journalist and political activist, and a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party...

     
  • Max von Baden: Erinnerungen und Dokumente, Berlin u. Leipzig 1927
  • Eduard Bernstein
    Eduard Bernstein
    Eduard Bernstein was a German social democratic theoretician and politician, a member of the SPD, and the founder of evolutionary socialism and revisionism.- Life :...

    : Die deutsche Revolution von 1918/19. Geschichte der Entstehung und ersten Arbeitsperiode der deutschen Republik. Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Heinrich August Winkler und annotiert von Teresa Löwe. Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-8012-0272-0
  • Pierre Broué
    Pierre Broué
    Pierre Broué was a French historian and Trotskyist. His work covers various topics including the history of the Bolshevik Party, the Spanish Revolution and biographical works on Leon Trotsky...

    : Die Deutsche Revolution 1918-1923, in: Aufstand der Vernunft Nr. 3. Hrsg.: Der Funke e.V., Eigenverlag, Wien 2005
  • Alfred Döblin
    Alfred Döblin
    Alfred Döblin was a German expressionist novelist, best known for the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz .- 1878–1918:...

    : November 1918. Eine deutsche Revolution, Roman in vier Bänden, München 1978, ISBN 3-423-01389-3
  • Bernt Engelmann: Wir Untertanen und Eining gegen Recht und Freiheit - Ein Deutsches Anti-Geschichtsbuch. Frankfurt 1982 und 1981, ISBN 3-596-21680-X, ISBN 3-596-21838-1
  • Paul Frolich
    Paul Frölich
    Paul Frölich was a journalist and left wing political activist who was a founding member of the Communist Party of Germany and founder of the party's paper, Die Rote Fahne. A Communist Party deputy in the Reichstag on two occasions, Frölich was expelled from the Party in 1928, after which he...

    : Rosa Luxemburg - Her Life and Work, Hesperides Press, ISBN 1-406-79808-8
  • Sebastian Haffner
    Sebastian Haffner
    Sebastian Haffner was a German journalist and author. He wrote mainly about recent German history....

    : Die deutsche Revolution 1918/1919 - wie war es wirklich? Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Geschichte München 1979 (ISBN 3-499-61622-X); also published under the titles Die verratene Revolution - Deutschland 1918/19 (1969), 1918/1919 - eine deutsche Revolution (1981, 1986, 1988), Der Verrat. Deutschland 1918/19 (1993, 2002), Der Verrat. 1918/1919 - als Deutschland wurde, wie es ist (1994, 1995), Die deutsche Revolution - 1918/19 (2002, 2004, 2008)
  • Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der SED (Hg.): Illustrierte Geschichte der deutschen Novemberrevolution 1918/1919. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1978 (o. ISBN, Großformat, mit umfangreichem Bildmaterial)
  • Wilhelm Keil: Erlebnisse eines Sozialdemokraten. Zweiter Band, Stuttgart 1948
  • Harry Graf Kessler
    Harry Graf Kessler
    Harry Clément Ulrich Kessler was an Anglo-German count, diplomat, writer, and patron of modern art. His diaries "Berlin in Lights" published in 1971 revealed anecdotes and details of the artistic and theatrical life in Europe, mostly in Germany, from the collapse of Germany at the end of World War...

    : Tagebücher 1918 bis 1937. Frankfurt am Main 1982
  • Ulrich Kluge: Soldatenräte und Revolution. Studien zur Militärpolitik in Deutschland 1918/19. Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-525-35965-9
  • derselbe: Die deutsche Revolution 1918/1919. Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-518-11262-7
  • Eberhard Kolb: Die Weimarer Republik. München 2002, ISBN 3-486-49796-0
  • Ottokar Luban: Die ratlose Rosa. Die KPD-Führung im Berliner Januaraufstand 1919. Legende und Wirklichkeit. Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-87975-960-X
  • Erich Matthias (Hrsg.): Die Regierung der Volksbeauftragten 1918/19. 2 Bände, Düsseldorf 1969 (Quellenedition)
  • Wolfgang Michalka u. Gottfried Niedhart (Hg.): Deutsche Geschichte 1918-1933. Dokumente zur Innen- und Außenpolitik, Frankfurt am Main 1992 ISBN 3-596-11250-8
  • Hans Mommsen
    Hans Mommsen
    Hans Mommsen is a left-wing German historian. He is the twin brother of the late Wolfgang Mommsen.-Biography:He was born in Marburg, the son of the historian Wilhelm Mommsen and great-grandson of the Roman historian Theodor Mommsen. He studied German, history and philosophy at the University of...

    : Die verspielte Freiheit. Der Weg der Republik von Weimar in den Untergang 1918 bis 1933. Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-548-33141-6
  • Hermann Mosler: Die Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs vom 11. August 1919, Stuttgart 1988 ISBN 3-15-006051-6
  • Carl von Ossietzky
    Carl von Ossietzky
    Carl von Ossietzky was a German pacifist and the recipient of the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize. He was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing details of Germany's alleged violation of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding an air force, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe, and...

    : Ein Lesebuch für unsere Zeit. Aufbau-Verlag Berlin-Weimar 1989
  • Detlev J.K. Peukert
    Detlev Peukert
    Detlev Peukert was a German historian, noted for his studies of the relationship between what he called the "spirit of science" and the Holocaust and in social history and the Weimar Republic. Peukert taught modern history at the University of Essen and served as director of the Research Institute...

    : Die Weimarer Republik. Krisenjahre der klassischen Moderne. Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-11282-1
  • Gerhard A. Ritter
    Gerhard A. Ritter
    Gerhard Albert Ritter is a German historian.- Biography :Ritter grew up in Berlin and studied since 1947 at the University of Tübingen and at the Free University of Berlin.- Honors :...

    /Susanne Miller (Hg.): Die deutsche Revolution 1918-1919. Dokumente. 2. erheblich erweiterte und überarbeitete Auflage, Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 3-596-24300-9
  • Arthur Rosenberg
    Arthur Rosenberg
    Arthur Rosenberg was a German Marxist historian and writer.-Life:Born into a German Jewish middle class family in Berlin in 1889, he excelled at the Gymnasium before studying at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin with Otto Hirschfeld and Eduard Meyer. Soon, he established himself as an...

    : Geschichte der Weimarer Republik. Frankfurt am Main 1961 (Erstausgabe: Karlsbad 1935), ISBN 3-434-00003-8 [zeitgenössische Deutung]
  • Hagen Schulze
    Hagen Schulze
    Hagen Schulze is a German historian currently working at the Free University of Berlin. He specializes in early modern and modern German and European history, particularly in comparative European nationalisms.-Life:...

    : Weimar. Deutschland 1917-1933, Berlin 1982
  • Bernd Sösemann: Demokratie im Widerstreit. Die Weimarer Republik im Urteil der Zeitgenossen. Stuttgart 1993
  • Kurt Sontheimer: Antidemokratisches Denken in der Weimarer Republik. Die politischen Ideen des deutschen Nationalismus zwischen 1918 und 1933, München 1962
  • Kurt Tucholsky
    Kurt Tucholsky
    Kurt Tucholsky was a German-Jewish journalist, satirist and writer. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Kaspar Hauser, Peter Panter, Theobald Tiger and Ignaz Wrobel. Born in Berlin-Moabit, he moved to Paris in 1924 and then to Sweden in 1930.Tucholsky was one of the most important journalists of...

    : Gesammelte Werke in 10 Bänden, hg. von Mary Gerold-Tucholsky und Fritz J. Raddatz, Reinbek 1975, ISBN 3-499-29012-X
  • Volker Ullrich: Die nervöse Großmacht. Aufstieg und Untergang des deutschen Kaisserreichs 1871-1918, FRankfurt am Main 1997 ISBN 3-10-086001-2
  • Richard M. Watt: The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany - Versailles and the German Revolution, Simon and Schuster 1968, ISBN 184212658X
  • Richard Wiegand: "Wer hat uns verraten ..." - Die Sozialdemokratie in der Novemberrevolution. Neuauflage: Ahriman-Verlag, Freiburg i.Br 2001, ISBN 3-89484-812-X
  • Heinrich August Winkler
    Heinrich August Winkler
    Heinrich August Winkler is a German historian.After attending a Gymnasium in Ulm, he studied history, political science, philosophy and public law at Münster, Heidelberg and Tübingen. In 1970 he became professor at the Free University of Berlin. From 1972 to 1991 he was professor at the University...

    : Weimar 1918-1933. München 1993
  • derselbe: Deutschland vor Hitler. In: Der historische Ort des Nationalsozialismus, Fischer TB 4445


External links

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