The German Revolution

Germany 1918 - 1919 - what happened, why it happened, was it a true revolution?

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Germany in WW1

  • "Peace of the fortress" - Germans rallied together
  • War didn't go as planned - prolonged war on 2 fronts
  • Allied Naval Blockade - shortages 
  • Generals increasingly dominated German Government
  • Autumn 1917 - shortages, demoralisation, starvation
  • April 1917 - USA entered war against Germany
  • Germany opposed harsh treaty on Russia as they pulled out in 1918 
  • American troops stopped German advances
  • Civilian and military moral disintegrating and potential fro revolution by 1918
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The End of the War

  • 1918 Sept, Germany faced threat of invasion 
  • Ludendorff persuaded Kaiser to turn 2nd Reich into virtual parliamentary democracy
  • Power given to a civilian government with Reichstag support
  • 2 motives: better peace, shift blame
  • 'Stab in the back myth'
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October and November 1918

  • Oct 1918, new gov = revolution from above
  • initiated by ruling class 
  • Prince Max of Baden
  • Some reforms, but not sufficient
  • HISTORIOGRAPHY: LAYTON, natural response to events "It would be an exaggeration to see these as a constitutional revolution. The forces that had dominated Imperial Germany were still in position by the end of the month." 
  • Lee  agrees: "Revolution from above is a less appropriate description of this process than, say, evolution accelerated by necessity." 
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October and November 1918 continued

  • Lots of unrest in Germany - defeat, shortages etc
  • Kiel Naval base mutiny
  • workers'/ soldiers'/ sailors' councils set up
  • Max gave chancellorship to Ebert and Kaiser fled 9th NOV
  • Scheidemann declares republic from one balcony, Liebknecht declares soviet republic from another
  • Constitutional monarchy collanpsed
  • 11th Nov ARMISTICE
  • HISTORIOGRAPHY: Ruth Henig argues councils "came into being spontaneously in an effort to speed up the end of the war and to defend the interests of the local community against unpopular measures ordered by government officials."
  • M Hughes "it is more accurate to talk of a potential revolution that ran away into the sand rather than the genuine article."
  • S Lee - too much continuity with past
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Stab in the Back Myh

  • German army "stabbed in the back" by unpatriotic government
  • weak politicians - "November criminals" declared republic and signed armistice
  • Later accepted humiliating terms of t of v
  • Myth quickly discredited Weimar, thriving on existing discontent
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Left wing and Ebert's reaction to them

  • LEFT WING: Sparticists (v v v left wing), USPD (independents), SPD (moderate)
  • Splits meant left wing not united
  • Spartacist revolt Jan 1919 - Liebknecht and Luxemburg killed plus 100 others in 3 days street fighting
  • Crushed by Freikorps
  • Supported Ebert because of Ebert Groener pact (10th Nov 1918)
  • Meant army would support gov if general retained authority
  • Also Stonnes-Liegen pact between industrialists and trade unionists
  • ZAG (central workers association) established and 8 hour day - soothed discontent among workers
  • Eberts strong actions +divisions and lack of strategy in left = no revolution
  • HISTORIOGRAPHY: West German historians in Cold War - Ebert did right thing, East German - Ebert betrayed revolution
  • Now - eg Kolb - Ebert overestimated threat from left, but acted to safeguard situation
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Elections 1919

  • Weimar gov moved from Berlin to Weimar
  • Small soviet republic in Bavaria - gov not fully in control
  • 83% turn out at election
  • coalition: SPD + DDP + Zentrum
  • 76% people voted pro-democracy
  • DNVP (nationalists) 4th biggest party
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Weimar Constitution

  • Hugo Preuss plus committee wrote it
  • Lots of Germans uncomfortable with democracy, and this was quite democratic - lots of freedom etc etc
  • BUT retained some authoritarian aspects: president could override constitutional rights in emergency, army stayed the same, civil service stayed the same, judges stayed the same
  • Small parties could exploit it AND was a coalition gov
  • HISTORIOGRAPHY: Streseman "the ordinary people have no affection for Ebert. the truth is the Germans do not want a president in a top hat...he has to wear a uniform and a fistful of medals."
  • Lees "the base was the previous constitution, modified by the October reforms and given a republican superstructure."
  • Fischer: "hodgepodge of principles drawn from Socialist and liberal agendas."
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