Germany before the revolution
Germany before 1919 was an empire in the centre of Europe. It was rules by Kaiser Wilhelm the Second. It was a young country, created in 1871, but was already one of the world's most powerful states. The most powerful person in Germay was Kaiser Wilhelm. He was head of the governemt, appointing minsters to run the coutry. He was head of the civil service and commander of the armed forces. And he was the King of Prussia, largest of the 26 states in the Empire.
Although Kaier Wilhelm had great power, Germany's government did have some democratic feautres. Men of 25 and over had the right to vote for a parliament called the Reichstag. This voted on the laws which Kaiser Wilhelm and his ministers drew up. However, the Reichstag had no say in foreign or military affairs, nor in the choosing of ministers.
Germany's industries were modern an successful. Germany produced more iron and steel than any other country in Europe. Its output of coal matched that of GB, as did its share of world trade. As Germany's industries grew, so did the number of industrial workers. By 1914 over half of all Germans worked in mines, factories, workshops and transport. Many were unhappy with their situation. Wages were often low and working conditions bad. More and more workers joined trade unions, and supported socialist parties, in the hopr of forcing the governement to improve their conditions.
Germany goes to war
German socialists- socialists wanted power and wealth to be shared equallt among the people, however they disagreed about the best way of doing this. Revolutionary socialists wanted to overthrow Germany's ruling class in a revolution. This would mean getting rid of the Kaiser, the Kings, Princes and Dukes, the landowners and all rich people. In their place, the working class would govern Germany through local, elected councils of workers. In contrast, parliamentary socialists believed in winning power through parliament. If they could persuade Kaiser Wilhelm to give the Reichstag more power, they thought they could use the large number of votes they had to change the way Germany was governed.
These arguments among the socialists were cut short when Germany went to war in August 1914. The war began as a conflict between two groups of countires. Germany and its partners (known as the Central Powers) fought Britain, France, Russia and their patners known as the allies).
At first there was great enthusiasm for the war. Men flocked to join the army, expecting it to be an adventure which would be over in a few months. Even many socialists, who opposed war on principple, agreed to support the war effort. But the war lasted longer than anyone expected- four years and four months. And it affected the people of the countries at war in ways they could not imagine when it started.
The Revolution of 1918
Conditions get worse
As winter approached in 1918, conditions grew much worse. Fod supplies ran so low that most adults were living on less than 1000 calories a day-starvation level. Fuel shortages led to power cuts, factory closures and transport problems. A killer strain of the flue virus swept across Germany, killing thousands of people each week. On the batte fronts two of Germany's allies decided to stop fighting, while the German armies were forced to retreat.
Faced with this worsening situation at home, and with defeat on the battlefields, the German army decided to ask Allies for peace.
An attempt at democracy
The allies were prepared to make peace with Germany-but only on certain conditions. They said that Germany's governement must be made more democratic before they would even start talking about peace. In other words, Kaiser Wilhelm must share his power. On 2 October, Wilhelm did exactly that. He allowed the main parties in the Reichstag, Germany's parliament, to form a new government. Over the next three weeks, the new government took away many of the Kaiser's powers and gave them to the Reichstag.But this change did not satisfy many people. Public opinion turned against the Kaiser. People blamed him for their worsening conditions and said he should give up his throne. Some talked of overthrowing him in a revolution.
Mutiny in the navy
A revolution began on 28 October when Germany'd navy chiefs made an unpopular desision. Theyaim was to fight the British navy for control of the sea between Britain and Europe.Sailors on the ships were horrified by the order. They knew that peace talks had bgeun and that the war might soon be over. They said it would be suicide to fight the British, and refused to obey the order. A thousand sailors were prompty arrestedfor mutiny. Soldiers and sailor in Kiel held mass meeting to protest against the arrests. They feared that their comrades would be shot for mutiny. Workers joined their protests. Led by socilists, they set up a workers' and soldiers' council or soviet to run the town. Troops which cam to stop this rebellion soon joined the rebels.
The mutiny leads to a revolution
The mutiny at Kiel quickly spread. Over the next week, soldiers and sailors set up soviets to run the towns where they lived. Everywhere police and army officers gave up their weapons and surrendered. Kaiser Wilhelm was losing cntrol of his country
On 9 November the Amry High Command told Wilhelm that the army could no longer support him. Without an army he could not stop the revolution. Wilhelm had no choice but to abdicate. Freidrich Ebert, leader of the largest socialist party, the social democratic party, took his place as head of the government.