Academic journal article German Quarterly

Authority and Upheaval in Leipzig, 1910-1920: The Story of a Relationship

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Authority and Upheaval in Leipzig, 1910-1920: The Story of a Relationship

Article excerpt

Dobson, Sean. Authority and Upheaval in Leipzig, 1910-1920: The Story of a Relationship. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. xvi+476 pp. $52.00 hardcover.

In a spirited narrative, the author seeks to explain why the German Revolution of 1918-1919 developed into a full-scale assault on capitalist relations of domination in Leipzig during the first half of 1919. That explanation, Dobson argues, lies not only in the tensions of war but in long standing grievances, predating the war, held by workers against "non-workers." The fact that resentments existed, he continues, indicates that workers were at no point fully integrated into the German social and political order; indeed, he claims to find a "salient revolutionary potential" (76) among the workers, which Social Democracy failed to tap into. Worker anger culminated in the workers' councils movement, which was eventually crushed by moderate Social Democrats in league with right-wing militias.

The argument is reminiscent of similar arguments from the 1970s, which sought to rediscover a lost radical heritage in the Revolution of 1918-1919. Dobson is aware, however, that these narratives all too easily assumed that social class was an objective category and furthermore the driving force behind modern history. He therefore seeks to move away from class by using the terms "worker" and "non-worker" to describe the groups that act in his narrative. But in the end, he operates with the same category in much the same way; indeed, the term "proletariat" slips into the last few chapters of the book. Furthermore, he himself notes that "non-worker " is hardly a coherent category, containing as it does stenographers, nobles, cap-tains of industry, professors, and shopkeepers. He argues that these groups may have disagreed among themselves, but when push came to shove they would rather unite against their real foe, the workers. But why were the workers their foe, then? The label of "non-worker" may itself have helped to rule out cooperation, insofar as it suggested that all other groups were illegitimate. Unfortunately, the cultural and political significance of the image of the "worker," so well described by Alf Ludtke and Eric Weitz, plays no role in this book.

Dobson's choice of categories plays into a narrative that at times becomes tendentious, as his account of living conditions during the war shows. …

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