FALL 2004 ** HISTORY 238: GERMANY FROM UNIFICATION TO REUNIFICATION ** Mr. Patch
The following documents illustrate the strategic decisions made by the leadership of the SPD at the end of the First World War, the initial programs of the most important parties in the Weimar Republic, and the most controversial provisions of the Weimar constitution. Most of these selections have been translated from Gerhard A. Ritter and Susanne Miller (eds), Die deutsche Revolution 1918-1919: Dokumente, 2nd rev. edn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe Verlag, 1975). The following selections are included:
1. The Abdication of the Kaiser (Memoir by Count Westarp on the events in Spa of November 8/9, 1918; memoirs of Prince Max of Baden; initial government proclamations by Friedrich Ebert in Berlin on November 9, 1918).
a) Memorandum on the Kaiser's Abdication, published in July 1919 by the Conservative Party leader Count Westarp in conjunction with all the advisers present at Spa (Miller/Ritter, pp. 68-72):
The Kaiser was determined not to give in to the rapidly spreading revolutionary movement, clearly perceiving that his abdication would lead to the disintegration of the nation and army. On the morning of November 8 he declared his intention to restore domestic order at the head of the army. General Groener [the army's quartermaster-general, or chief of staff] received the order to prepare the operation.
That evening a discussion took place among Field Marshal von Hindenburg [the army's commander], Colonel General von Plessen, and Lieutenant General Groener. The situation had developed as follows:
News had arrived that the workers' and soldiers' councils had seized power in the big cities, on the northern coast, in the West and the South. The major railroad junctions were controlled by the revolutionaries, as well as the whole river Rhine and the huge stockpiles of munitions and supplies that had been moved behind it in view of the imminent armistice. The front army's ammunition and supplies would last for only a few days, and resupply from the rear had already been interrupted several times, for instance in Cologne and Munich. The occupation troops within Germany had almost all defected to the Revolution, and troop units dispatched from the front, designated by their commanders as completely reliable, had immediately succumbed to the evil influences at home. ...
In view of these conditions, General Groener pronounced the plan of marching against the homeland to be completely hopeless. ...With a heavy heart, Field Marshal von Hindenburg agreed that Groener's decision was based on the most careful assessment of the situation. Success could not be expected under present conditions; every responsible adviser must expect a complete collapse as the result of such an undertaking.
Colonel General von Plessen maintained, on the other hand, that it was impossible for the Kaiser and army to bow to a handful of revolutionaries. The Fatherland would never understand that the same army that had won the admiration of the world through four years was now incapable of overcoming a band of dishonorable sailors. ...
On the morning of the 9th of November the Kaiser received his military briefing... At the beginning of the briefing the Field Marshal [Hindenburg] submitted his resignation because he could not bear to advise his war lord to abandon a decision that made him rejoice, but that, careful reflection showed, could not possibly be implemented. The Kaiser reserved judgment. General Groener then discussed the situation and declared that an offensive by the field army against the homeland could not be undertaken. The Field Marshal agreed.
During and after the briefing, Colonel General von Plessen and General Count Schulenburg took the opposite view [i.e., urged military action]. His Majesty initially leaned toward the Plessen-Schulenburg view but finally decided that the thought of conquering the homeland must be abandoned. The Kaiser wanted to spare the fatherland a civil war and wanted to spare the army new battles after its many heroic sufferings and losses. But His Majesty did declare that he would march peacefully homeward at the head of his troops after the armistice had been concluded. General Groener did not think that this plan could be carried out either because the whole revolution had turned directly against the person of the Kaiser. ...
The question of abdication had not been raised during this briefing on the military situation. But near the end of the briefing came the first demand to abdicate from the Reich Chancellory in Berlin [sent by Prince Max]. This demand repeated itself ever more urgently, so that the briefing had to be interrupted. ...
At about 1:00 o'clock Colonel Heye also appeared in order to report to His Majesty the results of a discussion with 39 divisional and regimental commanders... who had been summoned to the Supreme Headquarters at Spa to report on morale in the army. Heye had posed the following questions:
1. Are the troops loyal to the Kaiser? Will it be possible for the Kaiser to reconquer the homeland at their head?
2. What do the troops think of Bolshevism? Will they bear arms against the Bolsheviks in the homeland?
One officer answered Yes to the first question; 15 left their answers more or less unclear; 23 said No. ...Regarding the second question, 8 officers denied that their troops would fight Bolshevism; 12 considered a long rest period necessary, with extensive education and retraining, before the troops would obey such orders; and 19 were uncertain of whether their troops would ever fight against Bolshevism. Colonel Heye therefore reported to the Kaiser: "The troops are still loyal to Your Majesty, but they are exhausted and apathetic, desiring only peace and quiet. They will not march against the homeland, even with Your Majesty at their head. They will also not march against Bolshevism. They want nothing but a speedy armistice; every hour is important."
[The Kaiser telegraphed Berlin that afternoon that he was abdicating as German Kaiser but not as King of Prussia. He was shocked to learn that Prince Max had just announced his abdication from both thrones, and that evening he ordered his personal train to steam into exile in Holland.]
b) From the Memoirs of Prince Max of Baden (Ritter/Miller, pp. 72-76):
I knew that I had assumed a weighty responsibility when I issued the following press release [at noon on November 9]:
"The Kaiser and King has decided to renounce the throne. The Reich Chancellor will only remain in office until the abdication of the Kaiser, the renunciation of the throne by the Crown Prince of Prussia and the Reich, and the creation of a regency have been carried out. He will propose to the regent to name the delegate Ebert [Friedrich Ebert, chairman of the SPD] as Reich Chancellor and to present a bill [to the old Reichstag] for holding general elections to a constituent assembly that will decide on the future state form of the German nation..."
At almost the same time a deputation from the Social Democratic Party was announced, led by Ebert. Mr. Ebert began:
"In order to preserve peace and order, our party comrades have instructed us to declare to the Reich Chancellor that we consider it necessary, in order to avoid bloodshed, that the power of government be transferred to men who possess the complete confidence of the people. We therefore consider it necessary that the office of Reich Chancellor and the military command in the provinces be occupied by supporters of our party. ..."
I then asked Ebert if the party leaders were willing and able to prevent the movement from becoming violent, and if they could guarantee that order would be maintained if [the army] did not open fire. Mr. Scheidemann answered: "All regiments and garrisons in Greater Berlin have gone over to us. We have just come from the Reichstag, where delegates of all the regiments assure us of this."
I declared to Mr. Ebert: "I have already proposed to the Kaiser to submit a bill to the Reichstag for holding elections to a German constitutional convention. This assembly would then decide, how Germany will be governed in the future."
Ebert: "We can support the idea of a constituent assembly." ...
I then withdrew with the cabinet ministers in order to decide on the final answer that Mr. Ebert should receive. When I announced my decision to transfer the office of Reich Chancellor to Ebert, nobody objected.
...Ebert and the other members of the delegation were than summoned. I asked if he was ready to assume the post of Reich Chancellor.
Ebert answered: "It is a difficult office, but I will accept it."
The foreign secretary then directed at him the question: "Are you prepared to conduct the government within the constitution?" Ebert said Yes. Solf [the foreign secretary] then asked a second time "Also within the monarchical constitution?"
Ebert's answer was: "Yesterday I would undoubtedly have said Yes; today I must first discuss this question with my friends."
Then I declared: "Now we must settle the question of the regency." Ebert answered: "It is too late." Behind him a chorus of party comrades repeated "Too late, too late."
...At the door I turned around one more time: "Mister Ebert, I commend the German Reich to your care!"
He answered: "I have given two sons for this Reich."
c) Initial government proclamations by Friedrich Ebert, 9 November 1918 (Ritter/Miller, pp. 79-81):
TO OFFICIALS AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES:
The new government has taken charge of affairs in order to spare the German people civil war and hunger, while implementing its legitimate demands for self-determination. This task can only be carried out if all authorities and officials in town and country stretch out a helping hand.
I know that it will be difficult for many to work with the new men who have assumed leadership of the Reich, but I appeal to their love for our people. A failure of organization at this critical juncture would expose Germany to anarchy and the most frightful suffering.
Let everyone therefore fearlessly remain at his post until relieved, in order to help the fatherland through continued selfless labor.
TO THE NATION:
The liberation of the people has been achieved today. The Kaiser has abdicated; his eldest son has renounced the throne. The Social Democratic Party has taken over the government... The new government will organize elections to a constituent assembly, in which all citizens over 20 years of age, of both sexes, will participate with completely equal rights. It [the provisional government] will then return its powers to the representatives of the people. Until then it will conclude an armistice, carry on peace talks, secure nourishment for the people, and devise the quickest way to return our comrades in arms to their families and to productive labor. ...
Human life is sacred. Property is to be protected from arbitrary interference. Whoever dishonors this glorious movement by base crimes is an enemy of the people and must be treated as such. But whoever cooperates honestly with our work can say of himself that he was one of those who achieved the salvation of the people in the greatest moment of world history. We stand before immense tasks.
Working men and women in town and country, men in uniform and the worker's blouse, you must all help!
The moderate leaders of the SPD were so anxious to defeat the radical Left that they forged alliances with the two groups that had been their worst enemies before 1914, the officer corps of the Imperial Army and the leaders of heavy industry. In the first selection below, General Wilhelm Groener explains the nature of his understanding with Friedrich Ebert. The second is the formal agreement negotiated between a delegation of industrialists led by Hugo Stinnes and trade unionists led by Carl Legien, which soon received the force of law when it was reissued as an emergency decree by Ebert's provisional government. The terms of this historic compromise between the classes were completed in July 1919, when the constituent assembly meeting in Weimar adopted a constitution that established parliamentary democracy but protected private property and guaranteed the tenure rights of Imperial civil servants, judges, and university professors.
Source: Gerhard A. Ritter and Susanne Miller (eds.), Die deutsche Revolution 1918-1919. Dokumente, 2nd rev. ed. (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1975), pp. 98-99, 233-39 [translation: WLP].
a) From the Memoirs of General Wilhelm Groener:
Now [when the Kaiser abdicated] the essential task of the army command was to bring home the remnant of the army, promptly and in good order, but above all inwardly healthy, and to enable the officer corps to find its place in the new order as the backbone of national defense. The moral and spiritual forces accumulated through the centuries by the Prussian-German officer corps had to be preserved for the armed forces of the future. The fall of the monarchy deprived the officers of the foundation for their existence, left them disorganized and disoriented. They had to be shown a goal that was worth pursuing and that restored their inner confidence. They had to be reminded of their obligation, not just to a particular constitutional form, but to Germany itself. Hindenburg's decision to remain at his post and to assume command of the whole army and the Kaiser's approval of this decision made this transition possible.
But the officer corps could only work with a government that was willing to take up the struggle against radicalism and Bolshevism. Ebert was prepared to do this, but he was just barely able to keep hold of the rudder and was in imminent danger of being overrun by the Independents and the Liebknecht group. What could be more logical than to offer the support of the army and the officer corps to Ebert, whom I knew to be the most decent and reliable person among his party comrades and the most statesmanlike?
. . . In the evening [of 10 November 1918] I called the Reich Chancellor [from army headquarters in Cassel] and informed him that the army placed itself at the disposal of his government, but that the Field Marshal [Hindenburg] and the officer corps expected that the government would support them in maintaining order and discipline in the army. The officer corps was ready for action against Bolshevism and demanded that the government take up this struggle. Ebert agreed to my proposal for an alliance. From then on we discussed the necessary measures each evening on the secret phone line from the Reich Chancellory to the army command. The alliance proved successful. . . .
We [the officers of the general staff] hoped to gain through these activities a portion of the power in the new state for the army and the officer corps; if we succeeded, then the best and strongest element of old Prussiandom would be saved for the new Germany.
For the moment of course we had to make concessions, because developments in the army and on the home front had gone so far that the army command could not hope to issue sweeping orders; we could only hope to dam the revolutionary torrent and make it harmless.
b) The Stinnes-Legien Agreement of 15 November 1918:
The major employers' associations agree on the following points with the trade unions:
1. The trade unions will be recognized as the proper representatives of the work force.
2. There can be no restriction on the freedom of workers, both male and female, to unionize.
3. The employers and employers' associations will terminate all support, direct and indirect, for company unions (the non-striking unions).
4. All workers returning from military service have the right to immediate reinstatement in the job they had before the war. The employers' associations and trade unions will cooperate in obtaining the raw materials and work orders needed to fulfill this pledge.
5. Joint supervision and control of the labor exchanges.
6. Working conditions for all male and female workers will be regulated in each trade through a collective agreement with the workers' unions. Negotiations over this are to begin immediately and be concluded promptly.
7. Every factory with a labor force of at least 50 will elect a workers' committee to represent the labor force and cooperate with the factory owner to see that conditions in the factory accord with the collective labor contract.
8. Collective labor contracts should create arbitration boards made up of an equal number of representatives of employers and workers.
9. The maximum length of the work day is set at 8 hours. No reduction in earnings may result from this reduction in work hours.
10. A central committee made up of equal numbers of representatives of employers and workers from each trade will implement this agreement. It will also adopt further measures that may prove necessary for supervising demobilization, maintaining economic life, and guaranteeing the living standard of workers, especially those wounded in the war.
11. This central committee will also decide fundamental questions concerning the collective regulation of wage levels and working conditions, and will arbitrate labor disputes that affect several trades at once. . . .
[The industrialists later asserted that Legien had promised them orally that retention of the 8-hour day would depend on ratification of an international agreement binding on Germany's chief industrial competitors as well, but the trade unionists denied this. The business lobby secured the repeal of the 8-hour day during the inflation crisis of 1923.]
Despite rampant fear of "Bolshevism", only one small faction in Germany at the end of the war really deserved the label, the Spartacus League founded in 1917 by the most radical leaders of the prewar SPD, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. In April 1917 a much larger group had repudiated the SPD's support for the German war effort, forming an "Independent Social Democratic Party" to press for immediate peace talks, but many of its leaders now supported Ebert's plan for elections to a constituent assembly. Only the Spartacus League championed Lenin's program of "All power to the soviets!" When the Kaiser abdicated, the SPD organized about 600,000 members and the Independent Socialists 300,000, while the Spartacus League embraced only about 10,000 active revolutionaries. But most observers expected the popularity of the Spartacus League to grow rapidly among the war-weary masses.
Source: Rosa Luxemburg, Politische Schriften, ed. Ossip K. Flechtheim (Frankfurt/M: Athenäum Verlag, 1987), pp. 383-92 [translation by William Patch].
On the 9th of November the German proletariat cast down the shameful yoke. The Hohenzollerns were driven off; workers' and soldiers' councils were elected.
But the Hohenzollerns were never more than the executors of the imperialist bourgeoisie and aristocracy. Bourgeois class rule is the real culprit for the world war in Germany as in France, in Russia as in England, in Europe as in America. The capitalists in all countries are the real inciters of mass murder. . . .
The world war confronts society with the alternative: either the continuation of capitalism, new wars, and imminent collapse into chaos and anarchy, or the abolition of capitalist exploitation.
. . .
The essence of socialist society consists of the process whereby the great laboring mass ceases to be the governed, and instead assumes direction of all political and economic life in free self-determination.
From the highest leadership of the state down to the smallest commune, the proletarian mass must therefore replace the inherited organs of bourgeois class rule, parliaments, municipal councils, and federal government, with its own class organs, the workers' and soldiers' councils; it must occupy all posts, supervise all functions, satisfy all communal needs according to its own class interests and according to the task of creating socialism. Only constant and lively interaction between the popular masses and their organs, the workers' and soldiers' councils, can fill the state with a socialist spirit.
The economic transformation too can only occur on the active initiative of the proletarian masses. A simple decree from the highest revolutionary authorities concerning socialization [of industry] is an empty word. Only the deeds of the working class can make this word become flesh. The workers can take control over production and eventually actual direction of industry only through ceaseless struggle with capital, toe to toe in every factory, only through immediate pressure from the masses, through strikes and the creation of elected factory councils.
. . .
It is madness to believe that the capitalists would tamely accept the socialist verdict of any parliament or constituent assembly, that they would calmly renounce their property, their profit, and their right of exploitation. All ruling classes have fought for their privileges with the greatest energy. The Roman patricians, the medieval feudal lords, the English cavaliers, the American slave-owners, the Wallachian boyars, and the silk merchants of Lyons--all have shed rivers of blood, all have employed murder and arson, instigated civil war and high treason in order to defend their privileges and power.
The Imperialist capitalist class, as the last breed of exploiters, surpasses all of its predecessors in brutality, unveiled cynicism, and malevolence. It will defend its sacred profit and right of exploitation tooth and nail, with the same methods of cold-blooded wickedness that it has employed in the whole history of colonialism and in the recent world war. It will mobilize heaven and earth against the proletariat. It will mobilize the peasantry against the cities and the backward groups of workers against the socialist vanguard; it will foment conspiracies among officers, seek to paralyze every socialist initiative through a thousand forms of passive resistance, incite twenty Vendées to rise against the revolution; it will summon the foreign enemy, the murderous troops of Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson, as saviors--it will prefer to transform the country into a pile of ruins rather than to renounce wage slavery voluntarily.
All this resistance must be broken with reckless energy and an iron fist. The violence of the bourgeois counter-revolution must be confronted by the violence of the proletariat. . . .
In order to enable the proletariat to fulfill these tasks, the Spartacus League demands:
I. IMMEDIATE MEASURES TO DEFEND THE REVOLUTION:
1. Disarmament of the entire police, of all officers and non-proletarian soldiers; disarmament of all members of the ruling classes.
2. Seizure of all stockpiles of arms and ammunition as well as all arms factories by the workers' and soldiers' councils.
3. Arming of the entire adult male proletarian population as a workers' militia. Formation of a Red Guard from the proletariat as the active arm of the militia for constant protection of the revolution. . . .
. . .
7. Formation of a revolutionary tribunal to pronounce judgment on the main culprits for the war, on both Hohenzollerns [i.e., the Kaiser and the Crown Prince], Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Tirpitz and their accomplices.
8. Immediate confiscation of all food supplies to guarantee the people's nourishment.
II. IN THE POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SPHERE:
1. Abolition of all individual states; formation of a unitary German socialist republic.
2. Elimination of all parliaments and municipal councils and the assumption of their functions by workers' and soldiers' councils.
3. Election of workers' councils all over Germany by the entire adult working class of both sexes in town and country, voting in their factories; as well as soldiers' councils by all troops, excluding officers. The right of workers and soldiers to revoke the mandate of their representatives at any time.
4. The election of delegates from workers' and soldiers' councils in the whole country for a Central Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils, which will elect an Executive Committee as the highest organ of both legislative and executive power.
5. Frequent meetings of the Central Council--for now every three months at least, each time with newly elected delegates--for constant supervision of the Executive Committee in order to guarantee close contact between the masses of workers' and soldiers' councils and their highest government organ. The right of all local workers' and soldiers' councils to recall and replace their delegates at any time if they do not act according to the wishes of their constituents. The Executive Committee has the right to appoint or depose all commissars and government officials.
. . .
III. IMMEDIATE ECONOMIC DEMANDS:
1. Confiscation of all dynastic property and income for the public good.
2. Renunciation of all state and public debt as well as all war bonds, except for small bonds below a certain denomination that will be determined by the Central Councils of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils.
3. Expropriation of the land of all large and medium-sized agricultural enterprises; the formation of socialist agricultural cooperatives with a central direction for the entire Reich. Small peasant farms remain the property of their cultivators until they voluntarily decide to join the socialist cooperative.
4. Expropriation of all banks, mines, steel mills, and all large enterprises in industry and commerce by the socialist republic.
5. Confiscation of all fortunes above a certain level that will be determined by the Central Council. . .
IV. INTERNATIONAL TASKS:
Immediate establishment of ties with brother parties abroad, in order to place the socialist revolution on an international basis and to guarantee peace through international fraternization and revolutionary uprising by the worldwide proletariat.
a) Appeal to found a Democratic Party, published on 16 November 1918 (Ritter/Miller, pp. 311-12):
[A group of leaders of the Progressive Peoples Party and formerly nonpartisan civil servants, academics, and liberal journalists gathered to issue the following appeal (from Ritter/Miller, Die deutsche Revolution, pp. 311-13). Their ranks soon included Max Weber, Walther Rathenau, the great historian Friedrich Meinecke, and the great Protestant theologian Ernst Troeltsch; they chose Friedrich Naumann as their chair, but his unexpected death in July 1919 left them without an experienced, nationally prominent leader.]
Men and women of the new Germany! After a terrible war we now experience the confusion of a violent revolution. A state that appeared invincible has collapsed, almost without any resistance; the royal dynasties are eliminated, and the pillars of the old power have toppled. That is all hopelessly dead. Nobody can awaken it again.
Workers and soldiers have achieved this transformation because of the power of the solidarity of the masses. But the spirit of renewal has arisen from all elements of the population, and everywhere it is understood that the powers of yesterday are doomed to collapse. Should millions of men and women creep fearfully into the corner and passively observe developments, because they are frightened and shocked by the spectacle of revolution? That must not happen.
The old political parties also collapsed on November 9. The old, piously guarded party programs have become meaningless, and many who once counted as leaders of our intellectual life have fallen behind the rapid historical developments and have long become estranged from the thoughts and desires of the generations that want to push forward vigorously. We want to unify all groups of men and women who refuse to be passive but rather acknowledge the newly created facts and want to exercise their right to participate. Our association must lead to a large democratic party for a unified Reich.
We do not today announce any program, but only fundamental principles that must be shared by those who wish to join us.
The first principles is that we stand on the foundation of the republican form of government, that we will advocate it at election time and defend it against any reactionary tendencies, but that we must have a properly elected National Assembly to decide on the future constitution.
The second principle is that we cannot separate liberty from good order, the rule of law, and political equality for all citizens, and that we must combat every form of terror, be it Bolshevik, reactionary, or whatever; the victory of any form of terror would mean nothing other than the most frightful suffering and the enmity of the whole civilized world.
We know that only bold methods can help us today, and that great sacrifices must be demanded of the propertied, if we are to build a happy future on the basis of our current ruins. The times demand the formulation of a new economic and social policy. They demand that we accept the idea of socializing those branches of the economy that have developed into monopolies, and that we subdivide state-owned lands and limit the size of large agricultural states in order to strengthen and multiply the number of our family farmers. We need the heavy taxation of war profiteers, a one-time, progressive levy on the value of property, and other major tax reforms, legal guarantees for the rights of workers, white-collar employees, and civil servants, a guarantee for the proper claims of war veterans and their widows and orphans, the protection of the independent middle class, freedom for talented people to rise, and international agreements to guarantee our new social policy program. We reject all abstract and harmful dogmas and believe that all social groups, workers and burghers and farmers alike, can only rise again if German economic policy is protected against all Bolshevik and bureaucratic experiments.
Many other reforms will be necessary . Reforms can and may be implemented only by a legislative assembly elected by the whole people, not through dictatorship or arbitrary rule. To prepare for the election of a National Assembly, we call for the union of all who agree with our fundamental principles. We appeal to Germanys men and women to participate in the great tasks of the future, to secure our new liberty, and to oppose every form of reaction or terroristic policy of violence.
b) Ernst Troeltsch, German Democracy (published on 29 December 1918; translation in Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, & Edward Dimendberg, The Weimar Republic Sourcebook [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994], pp. 89-91):
Overnight we have become the most radical democracy in Europe . On closer inspection, it did not, admittedly, happen overnight. Democracy is the natural consequence of modern population density, combined with the education of the population necessary to nurture it, with industrialization, mobilization, defense preparations, and politicization. Democracy has been suppressed in Prussia since 1848 by the constitution and the military system, but it struggled sontantly and powerfully for supremacy against both . It fell solely to the terrible world war to deliver democracy to victory, which moreover introduced the danger that the development will not stop at democracy because the dictatorship of the proletariat will assume the form of the terrorist domination by a minority.
It is now certain that an order capable of functioning in domestic and foreign affairs and of garnering recognition can be regained only by way of a decisive return to both the democratic principles of participation by and justice for all classes and to the democratic means of constitutional formation on the basis of honest majorities . [We also need] principled antimilitaristic thinking and an approach based on the League of Nations as the sole means of maintaining our existence and rebuilding within the biographical borders at that time . We have to adapt ourselves to a wholly new situation, which can ONLY be secured externally through the idea of the League of Nations and internally through a new order renovated along democratic and social lines, if Germany is not to become a volcano of misery, ev3er subject to eruption, as well as a focus of civil wars and an endless slave rebellion against despots.
The Bismarckian creation of the Reich has been worn down to its foundations, and, since the latter ultimately rest on the military and bureaucratic state of old Prussia, the entire political order since the reorganization of the German territorial state through absolutism is undergoing dissolution or at least total transformation . The Reich as a whole, as well as in its individual parts, must be rebuilt with a new administration and new constitution, the army newly organized with a social foundation .
Democracy is not longer a pure question of political and moral principle, nor is it any longer the weapon of the aspiring classes who employ the moral element of the democratic idea to the advantage of their claims on state and society. It has departed completely from the sphere of doctrine and become a practical necessity . Democracy can unite broad social strata to facilitate enormous productivity, can supply a foundation of love and affection for the common state, can bring into greater play the dignity and personality of each citizen, can root responsibility and initiative in individual will, and can effect a selection of fresh talents and will: all things of the highest ethical value and most fruitful political significance. AT the same time it is of course threatened by the dangers of anarchy and leveling, of petty conflicts of interest, and of the artful spread of mediocrity that holds everything down. Tocqueville already saw all of this in the third decade of the previous century and expressed it in his famous book, Democracy in America. He also drew the logical conclusion that the triumph of democracy is inevitable because it corresponds to modern society and that therefore its great and noble aspects must be advanced . We Germans have no talent for democracy, none at all for politics, or, what amounts to the same thing, we have not been trained for it by our history and are unprepared. The old Germanys cities and villages long ago possessed republican and democratic spirit enough; the detached parts in Switzerland and the Netherlands developed it quite strongly. We must be as capable of it as they, and must at all events learn it. We WILL learn it, even at the cost of suffering and pain and much confusion.
a) PROCLAMATION BY THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE GERMAN CENTER PARTY, 30 DECEMBER 1918 (from Ritter/Miller, Die deutsche Revolution, pp. 306-07):
The old order in Germany has been destroyed by a violent insurrection, and the former holders of state power have been either eliminated or paralyzed. A new order must be created on the basis of the existing facts; after the fall of the monarchy, this order must not take the form of a socialist republic but rather of a democratic republic.
The German Center Party in particular is called to participate in this momentous and difficult task. Its old and firmly established principles will determine the direction and nature of our new labors.
Especially in this time of frightful storms, the German people should be filled more than ever with the spirit of Christian truth, which must permeate both public and private life, if we are to achieve happiness either in the community or in individual lives.
We must establish new social laws that will guarantee every citizen just and reliable protection for his property and the fruits of his labor.
On the foundation of Christian principles, we must protect civil liberties, which alone permit a decent life, free from interference and arbitrary rule by any bureaucracy, class, or political party.
To achieve these goals the Center Party needs the enthusiastic support of all party members. The Center Party is a Christian peoples party, and membership is not restricted to any one religious denomination. All citizens of the Christian faith have this foundation for political activity in common.
For the first time women too are entering the political arena; we welcome them to the struggle for a holy cause. May they stand beside the men and take up the cause of truth, justice, and freedom with all their strength!
[The appeal concludes by noting that a detailed party program still needs to be formulated.]
b) MATTHIAS ERZBERGER WRITES THE PAPAL NUNCIO, EUGENIO PACELLI, TO EXPLAIN THE CENTER PARTYS COALITION WITH THE SPD, 24 FEBRUARY 1919 (Ritter/Miller, pp. 308-09):
[Erzberger was the first Center Party leader to champion cooperation with the SPD during the First World War and a serious campaign to create parliamentary government in the German Empire. The first serious expression of this new coalition was the Peace Resolution of July 1917 (also supported by the Progressives), in which the Reichstag called upon the Imperial German government to negotiate a compromise peace as quickly as possible. Erzberger led the German delegation which signed the armistice of 11 November 1918, and he later served as the first finance minister of the Weimar Coalition. In 1921 he was assassinated by fanatical nationalists who held him largely to blame for the stab in the back that had allegedly caused Germanys defeat. In the following text he writes to the Popes personal representative in Germany to respond to conservative Catholic noblemen and some Catholic bishops who were outraged by any form of political cooperation with Social Democrats.]
According to its whole tradition, the Center is not an oppositional party, but a party of constructive labor, which it must not withhold from the Fatherland in these difficult times. The detailed reasons [which make a coalition with the SPD necessary] are as follows:
In foreign policy, a cabinet including the Center is a guarantee of political stability for all enemy governments, especially since the participation of the Center assures a majority of over three-fourths of the delegates to the National Assembly. Our opponents cannot therefore heap any new burdens on Germany with the argument that the current government is not strong enough [to fulfill its commitments]. English observers in particular have told me repeatedly that the entry of the Center [into the German government] would be of decisive importance for the outcome of the peace negotiations.
Moreover, the Center cannot make any effort to defend the legitimate rights of the Holy See in the coming peace negotiations, if it is not in the government.
The domestic political reasons are as follows: If the Center went into opposition, the foundation of the new cabinet would be very shaky. Partisan political struggles would intensify. Our country would not be pacified. The National Assembly would soon be condemned to impotence, and the country would fall into anarchy. By entering the government, on the other hand, the Center has already succeeded in altering the first draft of the constitution to remove a clause making the separation of church and state obligatory for every German state. The draft now submitted to the National Assembly says nothing about the separation of church and state; it just guarantees the freedom of religious practice. This is a powerful protection, especially for Catholics in the Diaspora [i.e., living in predominantly Protestant regions of Germany]. The original draft also contained a provision on schools, which made nondenominational schools [die konfessionslose Simultanschule, where children of all faiths studied together] mandatory for all of Germany. This provision has also been stricken, and the decision will be left to each German state.
These two successes should be considered even more important in view of the fact that political developments will doubtless run toward the left for a while, but will then certainly swing back toward the right, so that we have avoided a grave danger for the Church. If the separation [of church and state] were to be decreed, it would hardly be possible to reverse that development. Of course we members of the Center Party will strive to include more positive provisions for the Church and schools in the constitution.
c) Adam Stegerwald, a Center Party politician and leader of the Christian trade unions, reflects on the difference between the Russian and German revolutions in a private letter [ Adam Stegerwald to Franz Schümmer, 3 November 1925, Jakob Kaiser Papers, Box 215, Bundesarchiv Koblenz ]:
The distinctive feature of the German Revolution in contrast to the French and Russian is still being ignored by most of the people who imagine themselves politicians. In the French Revolution Louis XVI and his wife were executed, and soon 60 or 70,000 heads of the Old Regime fell too. In Russia about 20 million people died between 1917 and 1922, mostly from hunger. The old ruling classes, starting with the czar, were exterminated root and branch. In Germany on the other hand, Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Eisner, Haase, Erzberger, and Rathenau were shot, all of them standing on the left, while the rightists could go merrily about their business. Moreover, the Weimar national assembly decided, against my advice, to anchor the lifelong tenure of all officials in the constitution. This means that today tens of thousands of teachers and judges are active in our elementary schools, prep schools, universities, and courts who are certainly not educating our youth in the spirit of the republic and democracy. Moreover, at least 75% of the owners of the means of production belong to circles standing to the right of center. In addition to all this, Germany must bear France's cynical policy of humiliation and 2.5 billion marks in reparations [annually]. This all helps the Right to tell the masses constantly that all social suffering at home results from foreign oppression. Whoever believes in such a situation that we can simply ignore the Right and exclude it from all cabinets, after what the Communists rightly call our "botched revolution", is terribly naive. Therefore I have argued consistently in the last years that the Right must be given a share of political responsibility [in a parliamentary coalition with the Center Party] before it becomes powerful enough to govern alone. Thus it will be forced to acknowledge, just as Social Democracy was forced after the Revolution, that even it cannot start to cook without first boiling water.
a) Gustav Stresemann, The New Parties, 26 Novemeber 1918 (Ritter/Miller, pp. 294-95):
At a time when everything has collapsed which had appeared solidly grounded in our political orientation and state form, the old parties have now collapsed as well. Forward! [the SPD daily paper] boasts that one flag is still flying, that of Social Democracy. But that is merely an external appearance, for Social Democracy too has experienced the greatest transformation . All other parties now belong to the past and to history. The Conservative Party [and other smaller factions] call for the formation of a German Nationalist Peoples Party. The Center has kept its old name but added the subtitle, Christian Peoples Party. The bulk of the National Liberal Party has joined some leaders from the Progressives to found the German Peoples Party, and on the other hand some prominent National Liberals have joined with the bulk of the Progressive Party, with the addition of democratic elements from the press , to found a German Democratic Party. The old party forms are dissolving. Everyone takes a stand regarding recent events, and nobody can tell as yet whether the current party constellation is stable, or whether further splinterings or consolidations will occur. Only one thing is clear, namely that in the confusion of the current situation, the bourgeoisie has not been able to achieve any sort of united front that could stand up to the united front of Social Democratic power. That is the deplorable result of all the recent transformations of our domestic political life.
b) Election Manifesto of the German Peoples Party (DVP), 15 December 1918 (Ritter/Miller, pp. 316-19):
The more Germany suffers from the devastating consequences of the lost war, the more emphatically will we dedicate our whole policy to the national idea, and the more sharply do we reject all those international tendencies that deface and obscure our distinctive national identity. The unity of the Reich is the basis for our political activity; within that unity of the Reich we should allow free expression of the cultural identity of each German tribe [kulturelle Stammesart], rejecting both centralizing paternalism and particularist tendencies. We greet with approval the wish expressed by the Germans of Austria for union with the Reich. We desire cultural ties with Germans abroad and complete protection for their business activities in all countries. We insist on our right to colonizing activity, and we demand guarantees of the freedom of the seas as the essential foundation for the recovery of our economy. We also welcome the idea of a League of Nations, on condition that it is based on complete equality for all states.
We support the democratic, universal, equal, and secret ballot for both sexes according to proportional representation....
Preservation and strengthening of a broad middle class [Mittelstand] in industry, commerce, and handicrafts, with comprehensive welfare institutions for the middle class....
Legal and material security for the position of civil servants, officers, and teachers. Recognition of their freedom to organize, creation of civil servants= committees.
We support the strengthening and preservation of free peasants on their own soil....
We demand complete freedom to unionize, new and socially progressive laws on the rights of workers and employees, and energetic development of our social policy, in particular of laws to better protect women, nursing mothers, and children, as well as legal recognition of vocational associations and international negotiations to coordinate social legislation.
We hold firm to the principle of private property and inheritance; we hold firm to the leading position of the entrepreneur within his factory and in the national economy, but with appropriate participation by workers and employees through their elected committees. We firmly oppose those whose economic and political goal is the socialization of the means of production and the abolition of private property. We are prepared to agree to the transfer of some appropriate branches of production to the management and ownership of public powers, if that would assure increased production for the community at large and better living conditions for workers.
The historic connection between church and state must not be dissolved. Religious instruction belongs now as before in the public schools....
The revolution [Umwälzung] has brought women equality in political life. This right must be retained for women; we further demand the admission of women to the exercise of public offices. All legal hardships that still exist for women must be abolished.
We demand of the present government that it finally provide energetically for law and order. We are prepared to cooperate with the present form of government and to support all constructive initiatives by the de facto government. But we demand the elimination of all interventions by unauthorized persons in the activity of courts, government agencies, and municipal governments, and all interference with freedom of coalition and freedom of the press. We demand the elimination of mismanagement and the wasting of public property and tax revenues. We demand the elimination of all irresponsible interference with our economic life, which threatens us with hunger, anarchy, and the bankruptcy of the state....
We demand the speedy dismantling of the bureaucratic command economy. We demand the transformation of the current government, which is based solely on the facts of the revolution, into an enduring legal order; we demand the immediate convocation of a National Assembly to write a constitution and make laws. Without its approval, all legislation has no legal foundation.
a) PROCLAMATION BY THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE GERMAN NATIONALIST PEOPLE=S PARTY (DNVP), 22 DECEMBER 1918 (from Ritter/Miller, Die deutsche Revolution, p. 300):
[This committee included leaders of the old Conservative, Free Conservative, Christian Social, and German Social (Anti-Semitic) Parties, who had just agreed to merge their organizations.]
After the trial of war and defeat, our Fatherland is bleeding from a thousand wounds. Our glorious flags, which were carried to victory after victory even in this struggle against a world of enemies, lie in the dust. The German empire [Kaisertum], the achievement of the great Hohenzollern and of Bismarck, is destroyed, and the proud edifice of our Reich lies in ruins. Defenseless, we are subject to the will of pitiless enemies.
The revolution has not achieved a peace of understanding but rather our complete subjection, and even peace has been postponed until the distant future. Instead of the freedom promised, it gave us a class dictatorship and unbearable arbitrary rule; instead of the bread promised, the worst hunger; instead of fruitful labor, the most dangerous disruption of our finances and our whole economy. From abroad and from within, we are threatened by dissolution and annihilation....
In response to these dangers and emergencies of the moment we demand:
National unity of all German tribes [Stämme] and territories on a federal basis; protection and preservation of our threatened border regions in the East, North, and West; protection for the foreign Germans driven from their homes.
Protection of personal and political liberty and of private property, and effective guarantees against Bolshevik plots; immediate dismantling of all arbitrary rule; equal rights for everyone.
Abandonment of any further alteration of our political, cultural, and economic laws for the duration of the provisional government.
Elimination of economic disorder and financial mismanagement; strictest thrift [for all government bodies]; public control of expenditures.
Unconditional freedom in the preparation and carrying out of the elections for the National Assembly.
We are convinced that, even under the new democratic constitution of Germany, a monarchic head of state as an element of continuity standing above the parties corresponds both to the distinctive historical experience of our people and to political utility. But we will cooperate for the good of the Fatherland with whatever state form is created by the National Assembly and seek influence for our political views in it.
b) The Stab in the Back, testimony by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg to a parliamentary committeee inquiring into the causes of Germanys defeat, 18 November 1919 (from Weimar Republic Sourcebook, pp. 15-16):
[The retired commander-in-chief of the Imperial German Army always declared that he stood above parties, but most of his friends belonged to the DNVP, and he won the presidential election of 1925 as the candidate of the DNVP & DVP. The argument reproduced below was repeated in countless variations by the DNVP press.]
HINDENBURG: When we assumed our post [i.e., when Ludendorff and Hindenburg took over the Supreme Army Command in 1916], we made a series of proposals to the Reich leadership which aimed at combining all forces at the nations disposal for a quick and favorable conclusion to the war; at the same time, we demonstrated to the government its enormous tasks. What finally became of our proposals, once again partially because of the influence of the parties, is known. I wanted forceful and cheerful cooperation and instead encountered failure and weakness . The concern as to whether the homeland would remain resolute until the war was won, from this moment on, never left us. WE often raised a warning voice to the Reich government. At this time, the secret intentional sabotage of the fleet and the army began as a continuation of similar occurrences in peace time. The effects of these endeavors were not concealed from the supreme army command during the last year of the war. The obedient troops who remained immune to revolutionary attrition suffered greatly from the behavior, in violation of duty, of their revolutionary comrades; they had to carry the battle the whole time.
(Commotion and shouting.)
The intentions of the Army command could not longer be executed. Our repeated proposals for strict discipline and strict legislation were not adopted. Thus did our operations necessarily miscarry; the collapse was inevitable; the revolution only provided the catalyst. An English general said with justice: The German army was stabbed in the back. [N.B.: No source for this quotation has ever been discovered.] No guilt applies to the good core of the army. Its achievements are just as admirable as those of the officer corps. Where the guilt lies has clearly been demonstrated. If it needed more proof, then it would be found in the quoted statement of the English general and in the boundless astonishment of our enemies at their victory.
That is the general trajectory of the tragic development of the war for Germany, after a series of brilliant, unsurpassed successes on many fronts, following an accomplishment by the army and the people for which no praise is high enough. This trajectory had to be established so that the military measures for which we are responsible could be correctly evaluated.
The German people, united in its tribes [Stämmen], has given itself this constitution, animated by the resolve to renew and reinforce its Reich in liberty and justice, to serve domestic and international peace, and to promote social progress.
The German Reich is a republic.
All state power is derived from the people.
The Reich colors are black, red, and gold. The merchant flag is black, white, and red with the Reich colors in the upper inside corner.
Federal law supercedes state law....
Every state must have a republican constitution. The legislature much be chosen in a universal, equal, immediate, and secret ballot by all German men and women according to the principles of proportional representation. The state government must possess the confidence of the legislature.
The principles for elections to the state legislature must also apply to municipal elections. State law may nevertheless make eligibility to vote in municipal elections dependent on residence in the municipality for a period of up to one year.
Reichstag delegates represent the whole people. They are bound only by their conscience and not by any instructions.
Reichstag delegates are chosen in a universal, equal, direct, and secret ballot by all men and women over twenty years of age according to the principle of proportional representation. Election day must be a Sunday or public holiday.
The Reich President is elected by the entire German people.
The Reich President appoints and dismisses Reich officials and military officers, unless other provisions are made by law....
The Reich President is commander in chief of the entire military forces of the Reich.
If a state does not fulfill its responsibilities under the federal constitution or federal laws, the Reich President can compel it to do so with the help of armed force.
If the public security and order of the Reich are significantly disrupted or endangered, the Reich President can take all measures needed for the restoration of public security and order, if necessary with the help of armed force. To this end he may temporarily suspend the fundamental rights granted in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153 [i.e., the guarantee against imprisonment without due process, the right not to have one=s home searched without a warrant, the confidentiality of postal and telephonic communications, freedom of speech, the right of assembly, the right of association, and security of property].
The Reich President must immediately notify the Reichstag of all measures adopted under Paragraph 1 or Paragraph 2 of this article. These measures must be rescinded if the Reichstag demands it.
All orders and decrees of the Reich President, including those pertaining to the military, must be counter-signed by the Reich Chancellor or the responsible Reich minister to be valid. Responsibility for the measures [before parliament] is assumed through this signature.
The Reich Chancellor and the Reich ministers nominated by him are appointed and dismissed by the Reich President.
The Reich Chancellor and Reich ministers require the confidence of the Reichstag to exercise their offices. Each of them must resign if the Reichstag withdraws its confidence through an explicit vote.
A Reichsrat is formed to give the German states representation in the legislation and administration of the Reich.
Each state has at least one vote in the Reichsrat. In the case of the larger states one vote shall be assigned for every million inhabitants.... No single state shall have more than two-fifths of the total number of votes.
A law passed by the Reichstag must be submitted to a popular referendum if the Reich President demands this within a month. [Otherwise, the President had no veto power.]
A law supported by at least one-third of the Reichstag must be submitted to a popular referendum if one-twentieth of those eligible to vote demand this.
A popular referendum must also be conducted if one-tenth of all those eligible to vote sign a petition containing a draft law....
The Reichsrat may protest against laws passed by the Reichstag. In case of such protest, the law is returned to the Reichstag, which may override the objection by a two-thirds majority. The Reich President must then either promulgate the law within three months or call for a referendum.
The constitution can be altered by the legislature. However, acts amending the constitution are only valid if two-thirds of the members of the Reichstag are present, and two-thirds of them approve.
All Germans are equal before the law.
Men and women have the same fundamental civic rights and duties.
All legal privileges or liabilities based on birth or hereditary estate [Stand] are abolished. Noble titles are only recognized as part of a name and may no longer be conferred.
Titles may only be conferred if they correspond to an office or a profession; academic ranks are not affected hereby.
Medals and honors may not be granted by the state.
No German may accept a title or medal from a foreign government.
Marriage stands under the special protection of the constitution as the foundation of family life and of the preservation and multiplication of the nation. It is based on equality between the sexes.
To maintain the purity, health, and social well-being of the family is the task of the state and municipalities. Families with many children have a claim to special support.
Motherhood has a claim to the protection and support of the state.
Civil servants are hired for life, unless laws determine otherwise. Pensions are set by law. The duly earned rights of civil servants are inviolable....
Civil servants can only be suspended from office, compelled to retire, or transferred to another office with a lower salary according to procedures established by law.
[Note that this guarantee of tenure rights made it impossible to dismiss civil servants on the grounds that they were monarchist in sympathies.
The economy must be regulated according to the principles of justice with the goal of assuring humane living conditions for everyone. Within these boundaries the economic liberty of the individual is guaranteed.
Private property is guaranteed by the constitution. Its character and limits will be regulated by laws.
Expropriation can take place only according to the law and for the welfare of the public. It takes place with appropriate compensation, unless a federal law determines otherwise. The courts will decide any dispute over the amount of compensation, unless federal laws determine otherwise....
Property confers obligations. Its usage should also be a form of service for the common good.
The Reich can make use of its powers of expropriation, with or without compensation, to transform privately owned enterprises suitable for socialization into publicly owned enterprises. It can participate itself or have states or municipalities participate in the administration of economic enterprises or associations, or secure for itself a decisive influence in some other way.
The Reich can also, in case of pressing need and for the sake of a communal economy [Gemeinwirtschaft], require by law that economic enterprises or associations join together on the basis of self-administration with the goal of ...involving both employers and workers in economic administration, and of regulating production, distribution, utilization, and the import and export of economic commodities according to the principles of a communal economy.
Freedom of association for the preservation and advancement of working and economic conditions is guaranteed for everyone and for all occupations....
To preserve health and the capacity to work, to protect motherhood and provide against the economic consequences of old age, infirmity, and the mishaps of life, the Reich will create a comprehensive system of social insurance to be managed primarily by the insured.
Workers and employees are called upon to participate on an equal footing with employers in the regulation of wages and working conditions and in the overall economic development of our productive forces. The organizations of both sides and their agreements with each other are hereby recognized....
History Department | Grinnell College
Last updated October 12, 2004