21/2/1919 The gun speaks: right wing fanatic kills Bavaria’s ousted prime minister

Although the Spartacist uprising has been defeated in Berlin, Germany’s capital remains restive. The city is deemed too unsafe for the recently elected national assembly, which instead meets in the quieter city of Weimar. There the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party. The assembly begins work on a new constitution. Ebert is chosen as Germany’s first president and Scheidemann succeeds him as chancellor.
Meanwhile in Bavaria it had appeared as though the local political scene was stabilising after voters decisively rejected the radical left government of Kurt Eisner in state elections. Eisner has remained temporarily in power since the election, but today he finally bows to the inevitable and prepares to offer his resignation to Bavaria’s parliament. However, he is unable to do, as on the way to parliament he is shot and killed by Anton Arco-Valley, a reactionary aristocrat. The assassination triggers disturbances in Munich, with clashes erupting between supporters and opponents of the late premier.

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Kurt Eisner on his Way to the Bavarian State Parliament (GHDI – German History in Documents and Images)

19/1/1919 Germany goes to the polls, rejecting the extremes of right and left

Today Germans vote in their country’s first ever fully free elections. Voters are choosing the members of an assembly that will write a new constitution for the country. Proportional representation has been introduced to prevent the overrepresentation of rural areas seen in elections to the imperial Reichstag, while for the first time women are voting on the same basis as men. All men and women aged 20 or over are entitled to vote, with property qualifications and various Wilhelmine-era chicaneries used to minimise the vote of unsound elements eliminated.

The results show strong support for the parties of the current status quo. The Social Democrats (the SPD) win 38% of the vote, the Centre Party (mainly representing Catholics) wins 20%, and the liberal German Democratic Party wins 19%. The reactionary conservative German National People’s Party wins just 10% of the vote. To the left of the SPD, the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) gains less than 8% of the vote. The Spartacists meanwhile boycott the election, a decision taken by them before their failed uprising.

The constituent assembly will meet soon to begin its work. Because Berlin is still in a somewhat restive state, the new parliament will assemble in the quieter Thuringian city of Weimar.

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“Women! Same rights, same responsibilities. Vote Social Democrat!” (DW: Weimar, 1919: Birth of Germany’s first democracy)

1/11/1917 A new German Chancellor #1917Live

Recent unrest in the German navy has been blamed on agitators from the Independent Socialists. Chancellor Michaelis took this opportunity to denounce the Independent Socialists in the Reichstag, hoping to separate them from the more respectable SPD and other parties. But the move backfires. Reichstag members are outraged, seeing Michaelis’ denunciations as an attack on their prerogatives. Losing the ability to manage Germany’s parliament, Michaelis resigns as Chancellor.

His successor is Georg von Hertling of the Centre Party, which represents Catholic interests. Hertling is old and conservative, but he consults with other party leaders before accepting the chancellorship. That he has taken office as a result of his predecessor losing the Reichstag’s confidence suggests that Germany may perhaps be on the road to parliamentary democracy.

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Georg von Hertling (in 1908) (Wikipedia)

19/7/1917 The Reichstag passes its Peace Resolution #1917Live

German parliamentarians are restless. The failure of the U-boat war to bring Britain to its knees has made them unruly. Bethmann Hollweg has been sacked as Chancellor because of his failure to keep the Reichstag in line. Now the politicians take a bold step as Germany’s parliament passes a Peace Resolution supported by the Socialists, Progressives and the Catholic Centre Party. The resolution calls for a “a peace of understanding, for durable reconciliation among the peoples of the world” and rejects “territorial acquisitions achieved by force and violations of political, economic, or financial integrity”. It also calls for the establishment of new international organisations after the war’s end.

The Peace Resolution is no pacifist charter. The politicians support the war’s continuation so long as Germany’s enemies continue to threaten the Fatherland. Nevertheless, the resolution is something of an embarrassment for Hindenburg and Ludendorff (Germany’s effective rulers), as they are very much wedded to a post-war reconstruction of Europe to Germany’s advantage.

full text of the resolution

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Incoming Chancellor Michaelis addresses the Reichstag (Deutscher Bundestag: Kaiserreich 1871-1918)

6/7/1917 The U-boat war denounced in the Reichstag #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat campaign was meant to bring the war to a swift end. Instead it has brought the USA into the war against Germany and shows no sign of starving Britain into submission. Now there is increasing disquiet and a sense that the U-boat campaign has been a terrible mistake. This disquiet has penetrated to the ranks of parliamentarians who had previously been supportive of the government. Speaking before the Reichstag’s Steering Committee, Matthias Erzberger of the Centre Party today argues that the navy and the government sold the country a pup with the U-boat campaign, underestimating Britain’s resilience in the face of submarine warfare and peddling the false notion that the U-boats could force Britain out of the war in six months.

Erzberger’s U-boat scepticism is significant. His party, which represents Catholic interests, had backed the U-boat war on the strength of the navy’s assurances. With the Centre Party swinging against the U-boats the government of Bethmann Hollweg is now in trouble. To make matters worse, the Centre Party is now lending its support to those parties calling for a compromise peace to end the war.

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Matthias Erzberger (Spartacus International)