The German Revolution of 1918-1919 did not resemble a real revolution, leastwise not in the traditional sense of the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917, or even the German Revolution of 1848 (Bassel, 1993). The traditions in political sphere differed somehow from those of Russia and France.
Even though the conditions that led to the birth of German Revolution in 1918 in Kiel were somewhat different from the ones in 1789 in France, and had some similarity with the condition in Russia before the revolution in 1917, most of them were not the same. Unlike both the revolution in Russia and France, the German Revolution of 1918 was a total surprise even to the revolutionaries. Prior to the Revolution in 918, there were no agitations or public presentations. Thus, when they occurred during the German Revolution, even the Social Democrats were completely overwhelmed by events (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011).
After losing the war, the German government turned to the Social Democrats not to start a revolution, but to liquidate the crumbling edifice of the empire. The Socialists wound up doing things they did not really want to do they crushed their Spartacist cousins by force, preserved bourgeois society and re-created the army in the process (Bassel, 1993). There were no stirring revolutionary manifestoes, no radical breaks in policy, no marching songs like the “Marseillaise” or the “Internationale” (Bassel, 1993).
This revolution was the first revolution in history that had no song. Some of the socialists, except the left-wing Independents like Emil Barth, Richard Müller, and Georg Ledebour, claimed credit for making the revolution. The Majority Socialists believed that revolutions just happened due to the socio-economic evolution of the country, but were not made and planned in any case (Kathleen & Barndt & McGuire, 2010).
The German Revolution was not similar to the flow of the Leninist revolution, that had happened in 1917 in Russia. It should better be compared to the revolution in France that happened in 1871. In both instances, there was a military defeat, complete political and moral bankruptcy of the dynasty, the absence of any popular enthusiasm for the republic, a conservative majority confronting a radical minority and, finally, the emergence of republican institutions by default (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011). In both cases, middle-class leaders and Socialists agreed on the republic as the only road to survival for both of them (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011). The problem of Germany was not the lack of a Trotsky or Lenin, but the absence of a Zola, Jaures or Clemenceau. The last ones could have given the faith in democratic institutions to the nation.
In November 1918, the three revolution centers were represented in the next cities: Berlin, Munich, and Kiel. In all the three cities, the rebels’ main cause for the revolution were the desire for peace, moreover, the desire for social revolution. They were all against the institution of the monarchy and the Kaiser himself. It combined both the strong desire for peace and the feeling that the Kaiser stood in its way. As the result, the republic was proclaimed on November 9. It was announced by Philip Scheidemann. He wrote: “It was the logical conclusion of a lost war, of unmatched privation and of loathing of the war monger. It was the protest against the continuation of an utterly hopeless slaughter. It was the day on which it was impossible to carry on any longer” (Bassel, 1993).
This might have been so, but there was another reason. The valuable reason was that Scheidemann wanted to nip on ahead a Bolshevik-type revolution. He thought that the Spartacists were already preparing the revolution as for that moment. Another fear was that Ebert could have had already prepared secret plans for restoring the monarchy, moreover, he wanted to face Ebert. It was not clear if Ebert wanted to rebuild the monarchy in fact. However, the researchers have no doubt that a certain amount of revolutionary agitation were already turned over during the latter part of the war (Bassel, 1993). The Independent Socialists and later the Spartakus League were at the center of this activity. Ledebour claimed that revolutionary plans had been laid as early as 1916 (Bassel, 1993). They planned to have a strike in order to lead the war to a revolution end. They distributed illegal and propaganda literature in the navy and army. But the Majority socialists took over the strike and steered it to non-revolutionary ends (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011).
The Independent socialists issued a call for a “socialist republic” in frames of a worldwide movement on the 5th of October, 1918. Later this year, they formed a committee of “revolutionary shop stewards” and the arms collection began. However, a strike, planned for November 6 fell through, because the Independents could not reach the agreement among themselves and some of them were arrested by the police. However, another strike was held on the 9th of November by the “revolutionary shop stewards,” who had decided to act on their own. Probably, this revolution was another reason for Scheidemann’s to proclaim the republic on that day (Kathleen & Barndt & McGuire, 2010).
However, some small radical minorities had their own action independently in the city of Kiel and Munich. What existed in Germany then, was a revolutionary situation, in the sense that there was widespread despair, stimulated by the military collapse, apprehension about Bavarian separatism and a considerable amount of Revolutionsfurcht, or fear of revolution (Bassel, 1993). It all lead to that of Prince Max government made some last minute efforts at democratic reforms. However, it was done too late. The whole situation was so volatile that any incident would topple the whole structure (Bassel, 1993). That incident accrued in Kiel when the sailors revolted
The rumor, that proclaimed that the German fleet had been readied for a last-ditch effort to attack the English fleet in the North Sea stimulated the revolt in Kiel, held on October 30 (Kathleen & Barndt & McGuire, 2010). The rumour-fuelled the law morale level of the sailors, aggravated by better food rations for the officers, the monotony of inactive ship life, and the strict discipline.
The sailors were prepared to listen to the anti-war propaganda of the Independent Socialists (Bassel, 1993). They were sure that attacking now, when armistice negotiations were underway, was suicidal and senseless. The sailors thought that their officers were acting without government approval. Thus, they refused to take the offensive and stated it in the resolution. As a result, some of them were arrested by the sailors. It all led to a mass demonstration of the men on November 3. These demonstrations were fired on, resulting in 8 deaths and 29 wounded (Bassel, 1993). Thus, a spark of considerable excitement in the surrounding area and in radical circles has raised. The workers of Kiel joined the strike on November 4. That day, they created the first workers’ and soldiers’ council in Germany to defy the existing authorities (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011).
However, revolution and defiance are two different things. The revolvers did not have any intense of having ignited a revolution. The Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council demanded the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech and press, the abolition of censorship, better conditions for the men, and that no orders be given for the fleet to take the offensive (Bassel, 1993). That does not constitute a revolution. De facto, the council even wanted to guarantee the inviolability of private property (Bassel, 1993). Noske was easily able to do so, when the Majority Socialist expert on military affairs, was sent to Kiel to restore order (Bassel, 1993). Nevertheless, due to the situation Germany, the Kiel incident reverberated and the movement was spread throughout the country.
One newspaper wrote on the 5th of November: “The revolution is on the march: What happened in Kiel will spread throughout Germany. What the workers and soldiers want is not chaos, but a new order; not anarchy, but the social republic ” (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011). Wherever the council took over the local authority, the development of actions was similar. In every case, all the participants of the councils were socialists, mostly Majority Socialists, and Independents. However, some of them were still controlled by Spartacists.
The sailors` revolt in Kiel put the beginning of the German Revolution of 1918 – 1919, even though they did not have any intention to do so at the beginning. The same course of actions happened in Munich and Berlin later. When it occurred, the movement took on the character of a revolution.
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