Wild Socialism: Workers Councils in Revolutionary Berlin, 1918-21
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The bells of the cathedral were rung to celebrate the victory, and on November 7 the workers paraded through the city. Guards were posted to protect the town against a government invasion.
Warships and destroyers landed detachments, occu- pied the railway stations, arrested the commandant of the city and his principal officers, and interned them in a hotel. The troops joined the sailors, and that night the newly formed soldiers' council proclaimed : "From this hour all power is in our hands. We herewith declare that by our cause our comrades at the front as well as at home are aided. The purpose of our rising is to secure an imtne- diate armistice and jKMce.
Over sixty thousand sailors and shipyard workers held a demonstration that day and the station chief negotiated with a deputation from the soldiers' council which was formed hy the rebels. Not only did the revolt triumph in the principal German coast cities, but it also spread to the smaller towns and naval stations. On November 5 the men of the battleships Posen, Ost Friesland, and Nassau, then lying in Brunsbuettel, the west end of the Kiel canal, joined the movement and occupied the wireless station at Ostmoor. On November 6 the towns of Cuxhaven, Rendsburg, Warnemuende, Rostock, Bremerhaven, and Geestemuende fell into the hands of the sailors.
At Rostock the workers struck, and at Schwerin the soldiers of the Eighty-sixth Ersatz Battalion joined the men of the Fokker works in overthrowing the old order. Originally without political aims the naval mutiny became a general revolt against the liberal empire of Prince Max of Baden. When the success of the coast uprisings became known in the interior there followed the revolt of town after town.
In many cities of northern Germany the arrival of detachments of sailors marked the beginning of the rebellions. Although the Independent Socialists had in many instances planned uprisings for later dates, the sudden arrival of armed revolutionary soldiers and sailors furnished the leaders and the dramatic moment so essential to any revolt.
It was the navy which destroyed the imperial rule in North Germany. When on November 9 Admiral Scheer urged the Kaiser to remain at the head of his fleets, the former admiral of the Atlantic replied in a disappointed voice : "I no longer have a navy.
Here in the largest of the South German states the revolutionary movement had found fruitful soil, due to the prolongation of the war, to the gradual economic decline, and above all to the belief that the Bavarians were being involved in Prussia's guilt. Since the failure of the general strike of January, , revolutionary plots had been formed in Bavaria. Hatred of Prussia had increased during the war, and popular agitation was directed against the Bavarian ruling classes, who were considered the accomplices of Prussia. The Bavarian monarch had failed to take Bavaria out of the war.
The intellectuals of the state prepared the way for the revolution, while the two Socialist parties plotted to overthrow the mon- archy.
Even the Roman Catholic Church failed to check the revolutionary movement, although the population of Bavaria was overwhelmingly Catholic. The leader of the Bavarian revolutionists was the venerable Kurt Eisner, an Independent Socialist writer. Of Jewish parentage, he was from to on the editorial staff of the Vorzvaerts, but had been finally dismissed because he had favored revisionism as a party policy. On account of his participation in the January, , strike, he had been sentenced to imprisonment and was released only after the general am- nesty issued by Prince Max.
Eisner was not only a publicist and stylist, but also a Socialist with statesmanlike ability. Convinced of Germany's guilt in starting the war, and of Prussian responsibility for its prolonga- tion, he advocated the overthrow of the imperial system by force. Toward evening these men were actually released on telegraphic orders from Leipsic and brought back in triumph to the city.
Bold spirits cheered that day for the republic. On the night of November 5 two meetings were called by the Socialists to protest against the Pan-German demand for the continuance of the war.
Unable to crowd the masses into the two halls, the leaders adjourned the meetings to the Thcrcsienwiesse, where, under a clear sky, their orators uttered fiery protests against the robber knights who had ruined Germany. Both Socialist parties had now agreed upon joint action against the royal government, which was too weak either to make concessions to Menke, Gliickert, "Die November Revolution, ," Eisner, "Schuld und Siihne.
UTION the revolutionists or to resist their deinamls l y force. The Muenchener Post tliereupon issued a call for a meetinjj: on November 7 on the Thcrcsiora-icsc of the entire population of Munich except those involved in the transportation of food supplies. The chief purpose of the gather- ing was to demand the abdication of the Kaiser.
On Thursday afternoon over one hundred thousand people assembled in the meadow before the colossal statue of Bavaria. Twelve speakers demanded the abdication of the Kaiser, amid the plaudits of the masses. After the close of the meeting the civilians marched in a procession to the Column of Peace, while the soldiers present moved off in military formation to the barracks in order to release their comrades, who had been confined to quarters by the commandant of the city.
Thus the military revolt began and the garrison of Munich, after deposing its officers, joined the republicans. In the course of the afternoon the revolu- tionists seized the Maximilian II, Marsfeld and Tuerken barracks, while two hundred and fifty soldiers confined in the military prison as revolu- tionists were released.
Soldiers in motor trucks with red flags patrolled the streets, and the capital passed without a struggle into the hands of the soldiers and workmen. The railroad stations, telephone and telegraph offices, army headquarters, government ministries, and the newspaper offices of the Muenchener Neiieste Nachrkhten were occupied by the rebels. Under Eisner's direction, the workmen and soldiers elected delegates, who established revolutionary headquarters in the Mathaser brewery. That night this revolutionary government occupied the Parliament build- ing and held the first session of the revolutionary councils in the Parlia- ment chamber.
Kurt Eisner presided over this assembly of workmen, soldiers, and peasants, which promptly proclaimed Bavaria a People's State. The Munich garrison formally adhered to the republican move- ment. These announced that the new government would call a national assembly ; work for a just peace ; support a plan for a league of nations ; and carry out fundamental social, economic, and political reforms.
At the same time a proclamation was issued to the agricultural population of Bavaria, announcing the formation of the new government and calling for cooperation especially in the maintenance of better food conditions in the cities. Although the "'' Deutscher Geschichtskalender, The fall of the Bavarian dynasty illustrates the weakness of the old government. The afternoon of the revolution King Louis III was walk- ing in the English garden with his daughters when a private citizen ad- vised him to go back to the palace.
Scarcely had he returned when his ministers informed him that the republic had been proclaimed in the streets. The royal family hastily packed their hand luggage and left in an auto unattended. No effort was made to maintain the monarchy by force, and on November 13 the King formally abdicated the throne.
Russian Civil War Polities
The provisional government in announcing this fact in a proclamation stated that the former King and his family might remain in Bavaria as any other free citizens if they did not attack the new state. As Eisner had previously denounced the government of Prince Max of Baden, his coup d'etat at Munich indicated that either all Germany must, be revolutionized or Bavaria would conclude a separate peace with the entente.
Noteworthy is the success of Eisner, the idealist and foreigner, who, with the help of the Munich Rad icals, seized control of Catholic, Bayaria. His dramatic success electrified all Germany on the morning of November ninth. It heralded the triumph of German Radicalism and Socialism over the Con- servative empire. The Spread of Revolt The mutiny of the German fleet resulted in the establishment of revo- lutionary governments in the Hanseatic republics and the coast towns of Oldenburg, Mecklenburg, and Prussia, while detachments of sailors ad- vancing into the interior set up workmen's and soldiers' councils in the North German states.
In the Rhineland the great city of Cologne passed into the hands of mutinous troops, and Hanover and Magdeburg by proclaiming council republics threatened the lines of communications of the imperial armies. However, the naval revolt and its repercussions were limited in their effect and alone would not have destroyed the liberal empire. It was the overthrow of the Bavarian monarchy by the coup d'etat of the Munich Socialists which gave the signal for the German revolution.
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Ministries were everywhere powerless to maintain the old order. The reaction from the military defeat of the empire had brought about the complete collapse of the Bismarckian state. Yet the administra- tive system of the empire and the several states continued to function long after the monarchical control had vanished. By the ninth of November the federal empire had ceased to exist. Revolutionary plots had either overthrown or weakened the monarchical states to such an extent that Germany only awaited the signal from the capital to abolish entirely the old order and to proclaim the Socialistic republic.
Above all the movement lacked national leaders and cohesion, which accounted for the numerous delays in overthrowing Kaiserism. In Berlin alone the liberal empire under the control of Prince Max of Baden still maintained a semblance of its former authority. The fall of his ministry was, however, only a question of time, since the maintenance of the empire had been made impossible by the refusal of the Kaiser to abdicate.
How- ever, it is not very easy to acquire an understanding of the speeches. In spite of many attempts it was even impossible for the Kaiser and the chiefs of his military, naval, and civil cabinets to maintain the fiction of the Hohenzollern genius. An excellent example of this imperial attitude was the reply which the Kaiser made on Febru- ary 23, , when Admiral Scheer asked him on what date unrestricted submarine warfare could be commenced.
If he were to order the immediate commence- ment of unrestricted submarine warfare, it probably would meet with the complete approbation of the widest circles. He had, however, to take care that the advantages of unrestricted submarine warfare would not be outweighed by the results of the entrance of America into the war on the side of our enemies. After the Germans realized that Ludendoriif and Hinden- burg were the real dictators of Mittcl Europa.
Those very quali- ties which in the decade before the war had made him prominent as a European ruler, now aided in the destruction of that imperial system which he sought bravely to perpetuate.
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After the revolution, his former subjects accused him unjustly of lack of character, timidity, vanity, unreliability, and even personal cowardice. In their rage and vindictiveness the German radicals overdrew the picture, as formerly the Byzantine flatterers of the Kaiser had magnified his virtues and genius. At its best, the HohenzoUern monarchy under a military genius would have been unequal to the test of a prolonged modern world war.
For that, the national and dynastic tradi- tions were lacking in Germany. The greatest charge that can be brought J against the Emperor was that he was unable to direct the affairs of state at the crisis of the nation's history. From that day the monarch was doomed.