November Revolution Part II
Proclamation of the Republic
Chancellor Max von Baden resigned on November 9th. He had chosen Friedrich Ebert, head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), to be his provisional successor. The SPD was divided at the time. Already during the First World War, the »Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany« (USPD), a radical group led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, separated from it. They stood for a revolutionary reshaping of Germany along the lines of the Soviet Union. For this purpose they founded the Spartacus League, named after the slave and gladiator Spartacus who organized a slave revolt in ancient Rome. His goal was a grassroots democratic council system in which councils elected at the local level should have all political powers.
According to Cachedhealth, the moderate Social Democrats around Friedrich Ebert were opposed to the plans of the radical movement under Liebknecht. Instead of a council republic of workers and peasants, they wanted a parliamentary democracy including the landowners and nobles – the old elites of the empire. Under these circumstances, on the afternoon of November 9, 1918, the republic was twice proclaimed. At 2 p.m. Philipp Scheidemann, one of the leading politicians of the SPD, stepped onto the balcony of the Reichstag in Berlin and proclaimed the “German Republic”. He came with it to Karl Liebknecht before, who two hours later proclaimed the “Free Socialist Republic” from the Berlin Palace. The “freedom” of this desired republic referred to freedom from the rule of the Prussian kings and emperors.
Between parliamentary democracy and the council system
A race against time began for the future of Germany. Liebknecht immediately set about organizing elections for the workers ‘and soldiers’ councils in order to realize his vision of a socialist Germany. Scheidemann and Ebert, however, managed to forge an alliance between the SPD and the USPD. They decided to found a council of people’s representatives, consisting of three politicians each from the SPD (Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, Otto Landsberg) and the USPD (Hugo Haase, Wilhelm Dittmann, Emil Barth). Friedrich Ebert took over the management. His job was to pave the way for general elections and a new democratic government. The first goal was to convene a national assembly to decide on the future political order in Germany. The preliminary decision in the struggle for the future course was made in December 1918. The Reich Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, which had been formed during the revolutionary turmoil after the sailors’ uprising, decided by a large majority in favor of the SPD model. This result came about because most of the delegates were members of the SPD.
The Spartacus uprising
The radicals did not want to accept this development. The representatives of the USPD left the Council of People’s Representatives. Wilhelm Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg now organized the radical left as an independent party. On January 1, 1919, they founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The goal of a soviet republic should be achieved by force. The Spartacus uprising began on January 5th. Ebert was declared deposed. There was chaos and terror in the streets. The Provisional Government, headed by Ebert, continued under an agreement with General Wilhelm Groener, Soldiers to fight the insurgency. Right-wing volunteer organizations made up of former professional soldiers were also involved. In mid-January 1919 the uprising was suppressed.
Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered on January 15th by members of the Freikorps after lengthy interrogations and torture.
The formation of the Weimar Republic
On January 19, 1919, the elections to the National Assembly took place, which was supposed to work out a new constitution for Germany. For the first time in German history, women were also allowed to vote. The SPD received the most votes (37.9 percent). At the meeting it formed a coalition with the Center and the German Democratic Party (DDP). The National Assembly met for the first time on February 6, 1919. Weimar was chosen as the conference venue because the situation in Berlin was still too restless. Friedrich Ebert was elected the first Reich President by the assembly, who in turn was elected Philipp Scheidemann appointed first Reich Chancellor. On August 11, 1919, Ebert signed the first democratic parliamentary constitution in Germany. Officially, it existed until 1945. Before that, however, it had already been abolished in 1933 when the Nazis came to power under Adolf Hitler.