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

By Sean Dobson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

IN THE AUTUMN of 1918, after it had become clear that the war was lost, revolution broke out in Germany. The spark igniting the revolutionary powder keg came from the northern ports, where sailors mutinied on 3 November in response to the order to set sail on a “death ride” against the Royal Navy, a hopeless effort by the admiralty to salvage its honor during delicate negotiations with the Allies. The mutineers at first demanded better food and more humane treatment from officers. Within a day or two they also began electing revolutionary “Soldier Councils” that stripped officers of the right of command, displaced local governments in the port cities, and demanded immediate peace and real democratization of the government. Workers in all of Germany's urban centers joined the upheaval with astonishing rapidity. By 9 November Worker and Soldier Councils (Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte, or asre) held power almost everywhere in the Reich.

The ASRe, composed in the big cities of a hodgepodge of soldiers, ordinary workers, and union and socialist leaders, borrowed from the Bolsheviks only nomenclature, not ideology. They arrogated the right of command from the officer corps and supervised officials of the old regime. The latter were retained provisionally to ensure distribution of food and coal and help with demobilization. Most local asre thought that further action was unnecessary because they expected sweeping initiatives from the Council of People's Deputies (Rat der Volksbeauftragten, or RdV) in Berlin to purge antidemocrats in the civil service, judiciary, and above all officer corps as well as to socialize big industry. With its seat in the capital and its members comprising the national leaders of the two socialist parties (the Social Democratic Party

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