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

By Sean Dobson | Go to book overview

chapter 7
ELITE AUTHORITY VANISHES:
JANUARY 1917–NOVEMBER 1918

WHILE DEMANDING GREAT sacrifices from the workforce, Germany's rulers had proved unable by autumn 1916 to offer a quid pro quo in the form of a military victory, more democracy, or even a modest redistribution of income. A continuation of this state of affairs ran the risk of transforming the anger of workers, which had thus far dissipated itself in food riots, into a direct political challenge. This chapter, which covers the final half of an increasingly desperate war, examines first how the state (and therefore elites) dealt with the domestic ramifications of military stalemate. Attention will then turn to the effects of these policies on organized Social Democracy and, finally, ordinary workers.


STATE POLICY

Rather than persuade the new, third OHL of Hindenburg and Ludendorff of the desirability of a negotiated peace, the horrific and indecisive battles of Verdun and the Somme in 1916 steeled their determination to prevail over the Entente at any cost. A victorious peace, they believed, would make possible the annexation of vast new territories for the Reich and thwart growing pressure from below for democratic reform. Industry, a gaggle of pressure groups, and the nonsocialist parties in the Reichstag (with the partial exception of the Progressive People's Party) shared this view. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg had his doubts, but he expressed them timidly and in any event lacked the political muscle to block the OHL (which forced him from office in July 1917).

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