MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events

WWI -- Germany


World War I — Germany

Failure of the Social Democracy: On August 4th, 1914, a few days after the outbreak of World War I, the vote for war credits came up before the German Reichstag. The entire Social Democratic delegation, consisting of 110 members, voted for the credits, despite the Party's anti-militarist stand up to that time. At the Party fraction meeting on August 3rd, fifteen deputies led by Karl Liebknecht, had opposed the vote, but in keeping with the discipline of the Party, they too voted for the credits the next day. Four months later, on December 2nd, Liebknecht raised a lone hand against the war budget. In Russia, only the Bolshevik Duma deputies voted against the war budget. In Italy, a year later, Socialists opposed the war budget. August 4th thus marks the collapse of the German Social Democracy and of the complete failure and betrayal of the Second International.

Defeat: On November 9th, 1918, Wilhelm II of Germany abdicated. The events leading to this were:

On October 26th, General Ludendorf, Commander in Chief of the German Army, realizing the war was lost, resigned and fled to Holland. On October 29th & 30th, in a last desperate bid to save face, the German Naval Command ordered the Cruisers Helgoland and Thuringeni out of Keil for a suicidal engagement with the British Fleet. (The German Fleet had lain idle since Jutland.) Sailors refused and 600 were gaoled. November 1st: The first Seamen's Council was formed at Kid. November 3rd: Troops fired on demonstration at Kid killing eight, wounding 29. November 4th to 7th: 100,000 sailors, almost the whole fleet, mutinied. Officers were arrested, some killed. There were no political demands but only the Social Democrats could control them. Where Haase failed, Noske succeeded. But the sailors were followed by Army reservists in Hamburg and, by November 7th, the mutiny spread all over the country up to Munich. (The Wittelsbach Dynasty and the Bavarian Government were overthrown by the army and the peasantry led by Kurt Eisner in the Munich Revolution on the same day.)

Before the revolution spread to the front armistice was declared, and Workers' and Soldiers' Councils were elected all over. The revolutionaries planned their coup for November 11th. On November 9th Wilhelm II fled to Holland. The government of Prince Max, which had been in power since early October, announced the Kaiser's abdication and resigned in favour of Social Democrat Ebert as Chancellor. Ebert invited Max to be regent, which Max refused.

At noon the news of the Emperor's abdication became known and the guards of the Imperial Palace laid down arms. At 2 p.m. Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic from the Reichstag. At 3:30 a red flag flew over the Palace. Karl Liebknecht arrived an hour later and addressed the jubilant crowds. Prisons were opened and political prisoners including Rosa Luxemburg were freed. Ebert formed the new government of "People's Commissars". Unfortunately, the Social Democrats at large would not support the revolutionary efforts of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, and thus doomed German workers to an even more awful fate for decades to come.