World War I 1919-1923

Germany, 1918-1919

Administration . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography

Administration . Chancellor Friedrich Ebert (SPD) 1918-1919. Capital Berlin. Provisional seat of government Weimar. A general election was held on January 19th 1919.

Domestic Policy
A. The German Revolution . During World War I, despite the Wartime Socialism (a Coupon Economy ensuring that scarce consumer goods were distributed equally at affordable prices), the workers suffered more hardships than the other strate of society. They suffered most during the hunger winters, as they neither could buy additional food on the (illegal) black market, they could create less additional food supply by growing potatos and vegetables in the garden, because most of them did not have any land, and most soldiers were workers.
In 1914 the Social Democratic Party (SPD), despite having followed an international, pacifistic line so far, had been infected by war enthusiasm and approved the war credits. By 1917 that enthusiasm was gone, many felt desperate.

Stamps issued by Bayern (= Bavaria), overprinted Volksstaat Bayern (People's State Bavaria, revolutionary) respectively Freistaat Bayern (Free State Bavaria, after the revolutionary government had been toppled), both issued in 1919.
When Germany was unified in 1871, two federal states - Bavaria and Württemberg - were granted the right to continue with the emission of stamps. Bavaria continued doing so until 1920, Württemberg until 1923.

When order was given for the fleet to take to the sea and fight a last battle in the final days of the war, the sailors mutinied, refusing to become cannon fodder for no purpose. The mutineers took control of the city of Wilhelmshaven, forming an Arbeiter- und Soldatenrat (workers' and soldiers' council, a socialist gremium similar to the Russian Soviet), on October 28th. Soon, workers and soldiers in other cities formed similar workers' and soldiers' councils, which were dominated by Spartakist agitators. The German Revolution was under way. The leading Spartakist agitators were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. In Bavaria and Württemberg, the Spartakists even took over state governments, transforming the respective kingdom in a Volksstaat (people's state).
B. Suppression of the Revolution . Attempts to proclaim entire Germany a people's republic were forestalled by moderate social democrat Philipp Scheidemann, who, informed that Karl Liebknecht planned to proceed with that proclamation later that day, acting on his own initiative, proclaimed the republic on Nov. 9th 1918.
This proclamation and the formation of a democratic coalition government under chancellor Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the social democratic party (to which the radical socialists who ran the workers' and soldiers' councils belonged) took the wind out of the sails of the German Revolution; it did not proceed.
Meanwhile, Ebert, in accordance with Chief of Staff Groener, was convinced that the revolution had to be suppressed; interior minister Noske, another social democrat, was placed in charge of that operation. At that time large units of the German Army were disbanded (the army was to be reduced to 100.000 men); many of them joined the Free Corps, essentially soldiers without uniform. In March 1919 they went from town to town, dissolcing the workers' and soldiers' councils, arresting their ringleaders, most of whom were executed without trial, among them Liebknecht and Luxemburg.
The republic prevailed. Yet, a large group of left socialists split from the SPD, forming the USPD (independent SPD), of which the KPD later split off. Remembering the bloody suppression of the German Revolution, both social democrats and communists kept party militias to defend their respective districts in town (workers usually lived together in the same area).
C. Establishment of the Weimar Republic . On August 14th 1918, the German OHL, headquartered in Spa (Belgium), declared that there was no more prospect for success in the war. The German government offered to accept Wilson's 14 points in October, but did not immediately respond to the Wilson's demand ceasing submarine warfare and evacuating occupied territory immediately; the war continued. On Oct. 29th, the mutiny of sailors in Wilhelmshaven started the German Revolution. Meanwhile, the OHL in Spa was in contact with the allies; it signalled to Berlin that the allies were not prepared to negotiate with any German government as long as Wilhelm II. was still on the throne. On November 9th, Wilhelm II. abdicated, hours later also for his son and successor, both choosing to live in exile in the Netherlands.
While the revolution was going on in Germany, General Groener (OHL, Spa) and Friedrich Ebert, head of the SPD faction in the Reichstag (the SPD was the largest faction) communicated, agreeing that Germany would need a new, democratic government and that the revolution had to be suppressed. On November 9th, moderate Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann, from a Reichstag window, proclaimed Germany a republic. Friedrich Ebert formed a provisorical multiparty coalition government, including liberal, conservative and christian parties. The armistice Germany had called for took effect on November 11th 1918.
In February 1919 the National Assembly, charged with deciding upon a new constitution, met in Weimar (the capital Berlin was still partially in control of the revolutionaries). Therefore the new republic was called Weimar Republic. Friedrich Ebert was elected the republic's first president.

Foreign Policy . On January 18th Germany's delegation, led by foreign minister Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, was, at Versailles, confronted with the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles : Germany had to cede all colonies, Alsace Lorraine (to France), Eupen-Malmedy (to Belgium), much of Posen and Westpreussen (to Poland), the Memelland (to the Allies; in 1920 handed over to Lithuania). Further territories were to be separated from Germany, their political future decided by plebiscites : North Schleswig , Allenstein, Marienwerder, Upper Silesia, the Saar. The city of Danzig was neither to become German nor Polish, but become a free city. The Rhineland, while remaining an integral part of Germany, was to be demilitarized. Germany was to hand over it's entire navy, to reduce it's army to a size of 100.000. Germany was to pay Reparations for the damage caused in France and Belgium during years of trench warfare, and, worst of all, was to accept Sole Responsibility for the War.
The conditions were excessive, heart-breaking even for the most peace-loving, compromise-oriented of Germany's politicians. Yet they were non-negotiable, and Germany was in desparate need of peace. On June 28th 1919, foreign minister Hermann Müller and colonial minister Johannes Bell signed the treaty for Germany.

The Economy . The discontinuation of price regulations resulted in inflation. Demand for food and basic consumer goods greatly outnumbered supply; there was an excess of money in circulation, further increased by locally issued coupons which had the value of money (Notgeld). Industrial production had to be reconverted from the production of war materials to consumer goods; millions of veterans had to be reintegrated into the labour market; many women gave up their jobs in the factories.
The British Blockade remained in force until German representatives signed the Treaty of Versailles, i.e. the food supply was so low that fatalities due to starvation continued.

Demography . The census of 1919 counted a population of 60.3 million, in the post-Treaty of Versailles borders. A point rarely discussed is the phenomenon of internal displacement; many veterans, accustomed to living with their units and estranged from home by years of war, did not return home. Others fled the revolution, street fighting in the course of the suppression of the revolution, terror they were exposed to in the plebiscite areas.

Note : the following links lead to EXTERNAL sites. The webmaster of WORLD HISTORY AT KMLA does neither take responsible for the contents of these sites nor sympathize with the political perspective they express.
Users are advised to be careful, as some of the documents may advocate marxism and revolution, others authoritarianism and the use of violence against "bolzhevists".
Articles from Wikipedia : German Election, 1919, Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, Gustav Noske, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Treaty of Versailles, Wilhelm Groener, German Revolution, Freikorps, Weimar Republic
The German Revolution of 1918, by G. Rempel, Western New England College
Upheaval in Germany, the Peace Treaty and Imperialism, in Notes on the 20th Century by F.E. Smitha
Biography of Rosa Luxemburg, from Calendar of Authors
DOCUMENTS Images from 2000 Jahre Chronik and from DHM
The German Revolution : Documents (Pamphlets), from Subversion Home Page (English transl.)
Images of Street Fighting in Berlin, from
Karl Liebknecht Archive, from
SPD posters, Weimar Republic, from Archiv der Sozialen Demokratie, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, comment in German
Photos, Weimar Republic, from Archiv der Sozialen Demokratie, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, comment in German
Treaty of Versailles, from Univ. of San Diego, History Dept.
Map : Germany according to the Treaty of Versailles, from Univ. of San Diego, History Dept.
Aufruf des sozialdemokratischen Vorwärts (9. November 1918) (The Social Democratic Daily Vorwaerts publishes an appeal to the Germans, on the occasion of the Kaiser's abdication), from PSM - Data Geschichte
Die Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches vom 11. August 1919, (The German Empire's constitution of August 11th 1919 (= Weimar constitution)), from PSM - Data Geschichte
Reichspräsident und Reichsregierung am 26. September 1923 (Aufruf zum Abbruch des passiven Widerstandes) (President and Government, Appeal to the Germans to end passive resistance), from PSM - Data Geschichte
Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, Goerlitzer Programm , 1921, posted by Marxists' Internet Archive, in German
Abdication of Wilhelm II (9/28 November 1918), from Heraldica, scroll down; text in German
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Philipp Scheidemann proclaimes the Republic, Nov. 9th 1918; Ex=Emperor Wilhelm II. and his host, Count Godard Bentinck, in the park of Palais Amerongen; Ex-Emperor Wilhelm II. when crossing the border into the Netherlands; Burial of the sailors who were killed on Nov. 9th 1918; Nov. 11th 1918, railcar of Gen. Foch where the truce was signed that day
REFERENCE Frederic V. Grunfeld, The Hitler File. A Social History of Germany and the Nazis, 1918-1945, NY : Random House 1974 [G; actually a pictorial history]
Article : Germany, in : New International Year Book 1918 pp.249-257, 1919 pp.286-297 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Statesman's Year Book 1919 pp.886-911 [G]
VIDEOS Rosa Luxemburg, 1986, in German with English subtitles, focusses on the biography of R.L.
Berlin, Synfonie einer Stadt, 1927, German with English subtitles; filmed as a "melody of images', the director sympathized with the Spartakists.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 4th 2007

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