Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The German Revolution and the Defeat of Franchise Sovietism

Reds on the march.
There is a karma in history that means that bad deeds are often returned, sometimes quite quickly. When America betrayed its British and French allies after WWII by pushing for the decolonization of their empires, it was soon forced to face its own internal "decolonization" of its Afro-American population through the Civil Rights movements.

Another major example of "instant karma" in history was the German Revolution of November 1918, which started today 98 years ago. It followed the defeat of the German army on the Western front and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was an important factor in the hastily arranged armistice made on the 11th of November, an armistice that placed Germany at a distinct disadvantage in subsequent peace negotiations.

But the German Revolution was also a kind of poetic justice, as the Germans, had more than a year previously paved the way for the brutal Communist Revolution in Russia by allowing Lenin and other top Communist revolutionaries to return to Russia from Switzerland in the famous "Sealed Train." The contagion in that train, as it turned out, also infected Germany, leading to a serious outbreak of Leftism and Communism that finally played itself out in the counter-rise of Nazism and the destruction of Germany in 1945.

The trigger for the German Revolution of 1918 to 1919 was the Naval Order of October 24th, which ordered the entire German Imperial fleet to sail out of their ports and do battle with the mighty British Royal Navy. Facing military defeat on the Western Front and the collapse of their allies, this was the last card the German High Command had to play. A major naval victory could have turned the war by cutting the supply lines to the victorious British army in Flanders, but the German sailors lacked the confidence to make the attempt, as they had been bottled up in their ports for most of the war by the Royal Navy.

This enforced leisure had also given the sailors ample opportunity to become infected with socialistic ideas. Under these circumstances, the battle order seemed a highly risky one, and the imminent danger to the lives of many sailors provided a unifying impetus that manifested itself in mutiny, a mutiny that then removed all possibility of any victory for Germany and thus undermined all confidence in the Kaiser’s regime.

Curveball: Many Germans thought they could trust President Wilson.
Once the mutiny picked up speed, the trade unions and socialist organizations, which had already been taken in by President Woodrow Wilson’s posturing as an "honest broker" who just wanted to end the war in a fair way, jumped on board.

On the 3rd of November, the mutineers and their supporters among the workers seized control of Kiel, the main base of the German Imperial Navy.

Using the Russian Revolution as a model, the revolutionaries immediately sent delegations to workers and sailors in other cities in a kind of Soviet "franchise" system. Those cities with naval bases and strong trade unions soon followed Kiel’s lead. The main coastal cities like Kiel, Hamburg, and Bremen, were the centre, but the Revolution also spread inland to cities like Hanover, Frankfurt, and even Munich in the far South.

So far, the Revolution was following the "quantum pattern" established by the Revolution in Russia. This involved local committees called Soviets, formed by the most determined activists and acting with a high degree of autonomy, seizing power and then being gradually coordinated by the central leadership of the Revolution. This was an inevitable development in a country like Russia, with its vast distances, but it also proved very effective, as it exploited local factors effectively, as well as mobilizing the opportunism of local malcontents. We initially see the same pattern in the German Revolution. For example, the Revolution in Munich had distinct local characteristics and concerns.

The Revolution spreads to Bavaria.
But, as the Revolution gained pace, the main left-wing political party, the Social Democrats, which, unlike the Bolsheviks in Russia, had a long history of electoral politics and gaining mass votes, started to move away from the Soviet pattern, with its baggage of localism and extremism, and instead moved towards the idea of a democratically validated national assembly as the supreme revolutionary body.

Part of the reason for this was because large areas of the country, especially in the East, where the Junker military class were strong, showed no signs of joining the revolution and would clearly resist the imposition of control from Soviet areas. Invoking a national assembly was seen as the way to gain legitimacy in those areas by gaining overall legitimacy – in short, a wave mechanics model of asserting political control instead of a quantum mechanics one.

On the 9th of November, the Kaiser abdicated as a compromise measure with the Social Democrats (SPD), leading to the proclamation of the Wiemar Republic. Over the next few months, the moderates in the SPD, led by Friedrich Ebert, endeavoured to prevent the polarization process between the Soviet-style "franchise" system of self-appointed activist committees seizing local control and traditionalist elements, who were prepared to fight back. They did this by favouring a national assembly and parliamentary model.

In December, there was an outbreak of fighting in Berlin, between the People's Navy Division, a force composed of revolutionary sailors that had ended up being stationed in Berlin, and troops supposedly loyal to Ebert’s government. Although the fighting proved inconclusive, it pushed Ebert’s government closer to the Freikorps movement, composed of former soldiers, who supported the old order. The Soviet revolutionary tendency was embodied in the Spartacist Movement and the Bavarian Soviet Republic. As a side note, it appears that the future Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, may have been loyally serving in a "Red Unit" under the control of the Munich Soldier's Council in the Bavarian Soviet Republic at this time.

In January, the Spartacists used the Bolshevik tactic of a general strike in Berlin, accompanied by mass demonstrations, as a cover to seize power. Ebert however responded by bringing in the Freikorps, who defeated the Spartacists in street fighting between January 6th and 15th, on which date Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the Jewish leaders of the movement were captured and executed.

Death of an arrogant young leftist.
The continued weakness of the government meant there were more outbreaks of violence in subsequent months, with the government reluctantly relying on the Freikorps to reestablish order. However, the events of January 1919 in Berlin provided a successful template for resolving the crisis that Germany was in.

In late April and May, a force composed of the German Army and Freikorps entered Munich and crushed the Bavarian Soviet Republic. After violent street fighting, summary arrests, and executions, order was restored and the German Revolution effectively ended. Compared to the Russians, the Germans had got off relatively lightly.

1 comment:

  1. Jews must have been scared during Vietnam. After all, many who fought there, or had loved ones who fought and died there, may indeed have begun to hate Ho Chi Minh and the rest of the Vietnamese Communists, just about as much as they hated Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. Jews, being Jews, did not like that much. After all, they want all our hatred focused on Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. They do not want it diverted to the Vietnamese, instead.

    And, that is precisely why Hollywood never churns out a single good movie about the Conflict in Indo-China. Why we all have to feel so much guilt about it!