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.

image source:

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.

image source:

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

6/1/1919 The Spartacists revolt: an October Revolution for Germany?

Germany’s Social Democrats (the SPD), led by Chancellor Ebert, want Germany to develop on a progressive and reformist path, but to their left the Spartacists of Liebknecht and Luxemburg want a second German revolution, akin to the October Revolution in Russia. The Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) hover in between, more radical than Ebert but not as fulsome in their support of Bolshevism as the Spartacists.

On Christmas Eve Ebert attempted to suppress the People’s Naval Division, a unit of radical marines that had established itself in a former royal palace. The attempt failed, partly because the army proved unreliable in its support for Ebert’s crackdown. Nevertheless, the USPD left the governing coalition in protest at Ebert’s action, leaving the SPD alone in government.

To the Spartacists, it begins to look as though one push might overthrow Ebert, much as Lenin‘s coup removed Kerensky‘s provisional government. They call for mass demonstrations in Berlin, which take place today. Many of the Spartacists’ supporters are armed and they occupy buildings around the city, including the offices of the SPD’s newspaper. More demonstrations are called for the coming days and Spartacist agitators call for soldiers in the city to desert Ebert’s government. Are the Spartacists about to seize power? So their supporters hope, but Ebert is determined not to be Germany’s Kerensky. Together with Gustav Noske, his war minister, he prepares to strike back.

image source:

Spartacists in Berlin (Wikipedia: German Revolution of 1918–19)

24/12/1918 Berlin’s Christmas Eve Battle #1918Live

It is Christmas Eve. Across Europe people are preparing for the season of goodwill to all men. But not in Berlin, where rival groups of men are today trading gunshots.

The German revolution first stopped the German navy from launching a suicidal attack on the British fleet, before overthrowing the Kaiser and hastening the end of the war. Now Friedrich Ebert leads a coalition government of his own Social Democrats (the SPD) and the slightly more radical Independent Social Democrats (the USPD). Preparations are underway for fully democratic elections to be held early next year.

No one really knows whether the German revolution is now essentially over, with the future being one of gradual reforms improving the lives of the SPD’s working class supporters, or if this is just a transitional phase akin to the rule of Kerensky‘s Provisional Government in Russia. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League hope that Ebert’s government will soon be replaced by a government based on workers’ councils, as supposedly is the case in Soviet Russia. Ebert meanwhile fears that any sign of unrest has been whipped up the Spartacists as a prelude to a coup attempt by them.

The Volksmarinedivision (People’s Navy Division) is a unit of revolutionary marines that were stationed in Berlin in the early days of the revolution, currently billeted in the former royal palace. Now a dispute has arisen between them and the commander of the city garrison, Otto Wels. Wels held back the marines’ pay; in return they have now mutinied, abducting him and roughing him up.

Ebert fears that the marines are preparing to spearhead a Spartacist putsch. He may also be coming under pressure from Groener, the army’s quartermaster-general, to do something about the unruly marines. So he orders regular troops to attack the palace and suppress the marines.

The assault on the palace begins with an artillery bombardment and then a fire fight erupts between the two sides. However the attack turns into something of a fiasco. The marines easily repel the army’s assault. They find themselves being assisted by armed civilians and members of the police force. There are even reports of soldiers switching sides and joining the Volksmarinedivision.

At the end of the day Ebert’s attempt to crush the marines has proved an embarrassing failure. His coalition partners in the USPD meanwhile are furious, as he launched the attack without consulting them. But the Volksmarinedivision makes no move to overthrow Ebert’s government; perhaps they are not actually in league with the Spartacists after all?

image sources:

Soldiers of the People’s Navy Division (LeMo – Lebendiges Museum Online: Die Weihnachtskämpfe 1918)

Members of the Volksmarinedivision defending the Neptune Fountain (Wikipedia: Skirmish of the Berlin Schloss)

7/11/1918 Spreading revolution in Germany leads to the flight of Bavaria’s King and calls for the Kaiser’s abdication #1918Live

A year ago the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Now Germany too is in the grip of revolution. What started as a sailors’ mutiny is spreading through the cities of northern Germany, with the the sailors’ recruiting workers and soldiers to their radical goals. Hamburg, Bremen and Wilhelmshaven have joined Kiel and are now in revolutionary hands. Radical agitators have spread the revolution inland, with Hannover, Cologne and Oldenburg now also flying the red flag. Even Bavaria is not immune to the revolutionary wave, with increasing unrest in Munich forcing King Ludwig III to flee for the relative safety of Salzburg in Austria.

The leaders of the mainstream Social Democrats are cautious, fearing the consequences of unbridled revolution. But they know also that they must remain in step with the popular mood or risk being consigned to the dustbin of history. Ebert, the Social Democrat leader, warns the Chancellor that if the Kaiser does not abdicate then an uncontainable revolution will be inevitable. Then in the evening the Social Democrats go further, issuing a public demand for the abdication of both the Kaiser and the Crown Prince.

image sources:

Friedrich Ebert (Wikipedia Commons)

24/10/1918 A developing rupture between Prince Max’s government and Ludendorff’s army #1918Live

In their last note to Wilson the Germans disputed his assertion that the retreating German army was laying waste to France and Belgium and denied that the U-boat campaign was a particularly beastly undertaking. They also asserted that political reforms in Germany mean that the German government is now effectively responsible to the Reichstag. As a concession the Germans nevertheless agreed to immediately recall the U-boats to port, in advance of a general armistice.

The Germans hoped that their concession would lead to Wilson’s agreeing to proceed immediately to substantive armistice negotiations. However the reply from Washington that arrives today is disturbing. Secretary of State Lansing writes on the President’s behalf that the United States is willing now to arrange with the other Allies for armistice talks to begin. However the note makes clear that the terms offered will be such as to make it impossible for the Germans to renege on the armistice and resume the war. Wilson still sees the Kaiser as the ultimate director of German policy and does not trust any guarantees made by the German government. He offers the prospect of real negotiations with a truly representative German government, but so long as real power remains with the Kaiser and the generals then the United States must demand “not peace negotiations, but surrender”.

To the Social Democrats in Prince Max‘s cabinet, the American note means that the Kaiser will have to be removed from office. The position of Hindenburg and Ludendorff is now also under question. Ludendorff has changed his mind on the armistice issue and now wants the army to fight to the bitter end.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff today depart Berlin for the army’s field headquarters in Spa. From they issue a proclamation to the army denouncing Wilson’s proposals and urging the continuance of resistance to the Allies. The two generals are now trying to continue the war in defiance of Germany’s government.

The text of Lansing’s note.

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

image source:

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