Friday, January 23, 2009

Top Ten Events in the Tumultuous History of Germany Between October 1918 and February 1919

(In the order in which they happened)

1. With their armies losing, Hindenburg and Ludendorff gave up their military dictatorship and handed control back to the civilians at the end of September 1918. Germany's civilian leadership decided to install a new cabinet headed by the Prince Max of Baden, a south German liberal, who, it was thought, would be politically able to negotiate a truce. Prince Max's government immediately set up processes for dismantling the authoritarian regime.

2. On October 4, 1918, Prince Max, along with the Austrian government, appealed to President Wilson, for an armistice (a truce). Both Germany and Austria explicitly recognized Wilson's Fourteen Points as the basis for future peace. The US government exchanged letters with the two throughout October, calling for a democratic government, the pulling back of German troops, etc. Meanwhile, the Allied forces kept up the military pressure, pushing Germany slowly back on the Western Front.

3. A number of admirals in the German navy, distraught with the idea of giving up, hatched a plan to steam into the North Sea for a Götterdämmerung-type sea battle with the Allies—to go down fighting, literally. When so ordered, the crews of ships in Kiel, the principle naval base, refused and mutinied, setting up Sailors' Councils in each ship and on shore. This sailor's revolution, tinged with much Red sentiment (think of the Red Sailors of Kronstadt only a year before), spread to naval bases in Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Bremerhaven, and the rest of the naval stations, and then to army units, and then to the streets of Berlin and other cities, with workers pouring into the streets with much disorder. Kurt Eisner and supporting radical leftists took over the Bavarian state government in Munich on November 7/8.

4. The Germans sent an Armistice Commission to the Allies, meeting the head of the Allied armies, Marshal Foch, in a railroad car in the Compiegne Forest on November 8. The Commission was led by Matthias Erzberger, the liberal Center (Catholic) Party leader.

5. The Commission found no sympathy from the Allies. Terms were designed to make Germany unable to restart hostilities. The Armistice was to last thirty days, but was renewed every thirty days until the peace process was over. The Commission agreed to hand over most heavy weapons, thousands of military trucks, 150,000 freight cars, 5,000 locomotives, and more. The army was to withdraw from France AND western Germany, from all territory west of the Rhine. The Commission agreed.

6. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated (or had it done for him) on November 9. Prince Max, looking at the revolutionary crowds in the streets, handed his office over to the two socialist parties, the moderate SPD and the more radical USPD. The same day, a member of the new socialist government, Philipp Scheidemann, simply stepped onto a Reichstag window ledge and proclaimed "the German Republic."

7. The Armistice took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

8. After a tumultuous few days of violence in the streets between revolutionaries and returning soldiers, the moderate socialists excluded the radical USPD members from the government and called on the army to cooperate in putting down a street-level revolution, agreeing essentially not to upend the old order completely.

9. With the help of the army and many "volunteers," government therefore went after the USPD contingents, and the Communist (Spartacist) contingents. Fighting continued through January.

10. The SPD government asked for the support of other moderate parties and put out the call for a nationwide election, universal adult suffrage, which would elect a National Constituent (constitution-making) Assembly. The election was held on January 19. The resulting group, looking for a less tempestuous place to meet than Berlin, assembled in the city of Weimar on February 6.

1 comment:

  1. "the moderate socialists excluded the radical USPD members from the government"

    An answer after 4 years of posting!
    I think you might be wrong on this one, it wasn't an exclusion of USPD members (Haase,Landsberg,Dittmann) by rest of a government (Ebert,Scheidemann,Barth - SPD), it was rather an USPD members' decision to withdraw from the government after a congress in Berlin that decided with SPD voters' advantage to put the whole governmental control to SPD and USPD (Rat der Volksbeauftragten - these 6 men I mentioned before) instead of workers' council. The USPD, which was hoping for a socialistic republic stepped out of the Rat der Volksbeauftragten and decided to gain control in a revolutionary way. And after a month it started, but you described it already :)

    Great blog by the way, I've just discovered it :)


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