The Minister in Switzerland ( Stovall ) to the Secretary of State
[Received December 5.]
Sir: The complete defeat of the German armies in the West and the abandonment of all hope for a victorious peace brought to the German people the disappointment of all its expectations and opened its eyes to the policy of deception and untruth of its government. A revolution in Germany was impossible as long as the military powers were in control and were able to strengthen their position by apparent military successes. As soon as these failed and as the defensive lines in the West pronounced impregnable were broken one after the other, the German people saw that their only salvation lay in their taking the government into their own hands and entered upon a relatively bloodless but very complete revolution. There can be no doubt that the President’s notes to Germany regarding the armistice prepared the ground most effectively for such a change by persuading the German people that the war was waged not against them, but against their leaders.
The general strike in Switzerland and the consequent delay in the receiving of newspapers from Germany because of the cessation of all railway traffic as well as the rapidity of events which have succeeded one another with breathless speed, make it almost impossible to give a complete account of the German revolution at this time.
The resignation of Ludendorff1 and the growing influence of the social-democratic party in the government as well as the amnesty for political offenders, which the new government pronounced, indicated that greater changes than these might be expected. In view of the fact that the most disciplined and best organized of political parties, the socialists, had been divided at first into two parties, the independent socialists and the majority socialists, and later into three by the defection from the independent socialists of the Spartacus group, it seemed that a radical change in government in the sense of a thoroughgoing socialist administration could not immediately be brought about. It appears, however, that the revolutionary movement, once begun, tended to bring about a unity of action between all socialist parties. These parties, through their superior organization, were able to take a controlling hand in political events.
The first signs of the revolution appeared on November 3rd at Kiel where a large crowd of sailors and civilians demanded the release of the crews of the battle fleet which for a long time had been imprisoned for mutiny. An attempt to prevent the liberation of the mutineers [Page 90] resulted in bloodshed and in the immediate control of the town by a council of sailors and workmen, against which, troops were powerless. Some companies of soldiers and squadrons of cavalry, which were sent to quell the uprising, were in part disarmed and in greater part went over to the people and established themselves as a socialist government. The Central Government at Berlin was powerless to cope with the situation and had to promise the fulfillment of all the demands of the mutineers, which, at this time, related rather to minor reforms than to any extensive democratic demands. A report at this time that a similar council of soldiers and workmen had been established at Stuttgart was officially denied. The troubles at Kiel had their origin probably in the demobilization of the personnel of the navy, which had not been under the necessity of the same iron discipline which obtained at the front and which because of long inaction had offered a particularly fertile field for socialist revolutionary propaganda. These troubles spread immediately to Hamburg where some excesses in bakeries appeared to have taken place on November 6th. At the same time that these events took place in the port towns, a large meeting was held on November 5th in Munich at which the liberation of political prisoners was demanded, a demand which was accorded by the Supreme Court. This action in Bavaria was the more effective because the two socialist parties of this country had for two days before the demonstration been collaborating in an effort to bring about a union between all socialist elements which was effected under the leadership of Kurt Eisner, an independent socialist lately released from prison.
In view of the prominent rôle which Eisner played in later political events in Bavaria, it is interesting to note his history. Eisner is of Jewish race and early in life devoted himself to philosophical studies becoming a Privat Dozent and writing certain books on philosophical subjects which insured him a reputation as a brilliant critic. Later he became interested in socialism and grew to be the most prominent leader of radical socialism in Bavaria. I am informed by a person intimately acquainted with him that he is a man of strict integrity and of great ability.
While these events were going on, public opinion was still occupied largely with the abdication of the Emperor which was expected as a consequence of the demand addressed to him by the socialists who threatened to leave the government if he did not resign the crown of Prussia. The Reichstag was to have met on November 4th but it appears that this meeting was put off and that the activity of the political parties confined itself to party discussions outside of the legislative body. The government found itself in an exceedingly difficult situation as the events at Kiel and in Bavaria were symptomatic of the unrest among the people and as the government, which though [Page 91] liberal, contained a number of members who were compromised by former utterances, was not able to exercise any influence towards moderating the continued agitation. It appears also that cooperation between the majority socialists and the liberal members of the government was imperfect and that the socialists felt themselves strong enough to present an ultimatum to the Emperor requesting him to resign by the 7th of November and threatening an immediate severe opposition to the government if the resignation did not take place. It is incredible that the socialist party would have taken such a step without being certain that the great masses of the population were in complete accord with it and there seems little doubt that the liberal government of Prince Max of Baden knew its own weakness and the strength of the radical elements within the socialist party. These radical elements were rapidly getting the upper hand within the party body and although the majority socialists had been faithful to the government during the four years of war, the past of such men as Scheidemann and Ebert was stronger than their action during the last four years, and forced them towards the more radical wings led by Haase and Ledebour. While political tension and anxiety were thus great at Berlin, a real revolution broke out in Bavaria. On the afternoon of November 7th, a great meeting took place in Munich in order to commemorate the Bolshevik revolution at Petrograd. Thousands of people collected and the large labor unions marched as a body to the meeting. At this meeting a resolution was voted demanding (1) the immediate abdication of the Emperor and the Crown Prince; (2) the army should take oath to the constitution; (3) Germany was to be a democratic state; (4) the administration should be democratized; (5) the armistice conditions should be accepted; (6) the idea of national defense propagated by the conservatives was to be abandoned and (7) provisions for an eight hour day, for unemployment insurance and for other social reforms. After this resolution was accepted, the body of the people, joined by many soldiers, marched to the palace and shortly afterwards formed a council of workmen and soldiers under the presidency of Kurt Eisner above mentioned. A proclamation was issued to the people stating that Bavaria desired to prepare Germany for the league of nations and stating also that no one willing to work for the welfare of the new Bavaria, which was created, would be excluded from the common labor of the soldier and workmen councils. The police, the courts and the administration immediately put themselves at the disposition of the council of soldiers and workmen and an agreement with the peasants was even brought about insuring the provisioning of Munich.
In view of the fact that this revolutionary movement was to become the model for all other revolutionary movements in Germany, it is interesting to examine certain of its features. In the first place it [Page 92] presented a picture of perfect order, and although the terminology of the government was borrowed from Bolshevik Russia, it presented no analogy with the anarchy of the social republic of Lenin. In Munich and in all Bavaria, no disorder occurred and the only casualties were amongst certain officers who attempted to resist the new government after having seemingly surrendered. Even this incident appears to have caused no more than 20 deaths. All administrative officers work as formerly and with the exception of the fact that the power was in the hands of labor, it appears that Munich presents no other picture than it did under the royal government.
In Hamburg, Cologne and Bremen, similar governments to that of Bavaria were formed and with the exception of Hamburg, where in the first excitement food shops were plundered, no disorder took place. These revolutionary movements then led to the movement of the abdication of the Emperor and on November 9th, the Chancellor published a proclamation in Berlin stating that Emperor William had abdicated, that the Crown Prince had renounced all claims to the throne and that the socialist Ebert would be the new Chancellor of the Empire until a constituent assembly had been formed. Berlin itself was quiet and no revolutionary movements had taken place there.
On November 9th all of northwestern and all of central Germany were in the hands of councils of soldiers and workmen and this movement was beginning to spread into the Westphalian industrial districts. In Munich the revolution had so far progressed that a government of national concentration could be formed which had for its president Eisner and which contained the head of the Catholic peasant organization of Bavaria Heim. The former Minister of railways Frauendorfer, who is reputed a not-over intelligent conservative, became minister in this new cabinet together with the socialist Auer (Interior), the Union Secretary Finn [Fink] (Justice) and Professor Edgar Jaffe (Finance). The Chief of Police of the town of Munich was the independent socialist Diener. This government completely controls the situation and appeared to have the support of all classes of the population. On the next day a similar government of workmen and soldiers was formed at Frankfort where, with the exception of the plundering of bread shops, no disorder occurred.
The lack of German newspapers and the haste of events prevent me from giving any conclusive picture of events as they took place after this. Berlin appeared to be quiet as late as November 8th. On November 9th Berlin was cut off from all telegraphic and telephonic communication with the outside. It appears that the government had sent for a battalion of riflemen which they believed trustworthy to put down any disorder which might occur. At three o’clock on the [Page 93] morning of November 10th, this battalion refused to do duty upon the punishment of one of its members for having made a revolutionary remark. The soldiers thereupon sent a delegation to the social-democratic party insuring it of its support and putting the full strength of their troops including some of the Prussian guards at the disposal of the people. Red flags were hoisted on the editorial buildings of the Vorwaerts and military automobiles distributed revolutionary pamphlets through the streets. In a short while the whole population and all of the garrison of Berlin had joined the revolution and had formed a soldiers and workmen council, which in accordance with the national government, took over the direction of political affairs in cooperation with the government. No disorder or bloodshed took place except in isolated instances in which it seems that monarchist officers fired upon innocent passers-by. The editorial offices of several bourgeois papers were occupied by socialists, thus the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung was taken over by the Spartacus group. Liebknecht hoisted a red flag on the parliament building. Further detailed accounts of occurrences have not yet reached Berne.
During the following week the King of Saxony abdicated, the King of Bavaria was declared to have forfeited his crown and all other German princes either abdicated or declared that they would not exercise their functions until a national constituent assembly had decided upon the future government of Germany. The German Government at present constituted is presided over by a cabinet composed as follows: Interior and War, Ebert; Foreign Affairs and Colonies, Haase; Finance, Scheidemann; Demobilization and public health, Dittmann; Press, Landsberg; Social Policy, Barth. This cabinet calls itself the Council of People’s Deputies and on November 15th it announced that the administration of the Empire would be in the hands of the following officers: Foreign Affairs, Dr. Solf; Finance, Schiffer; Public Economy, Dr. Mueller; Economic Demobilization, Dr. Koeth; War Food Office, Wurm; Labor, Bauer; War, Scheüch; Navy, von Mann; Justice, Krause; Post, Ruedlin. To these ministers, the following Under-Secretaries of State are attached: Foreign Affairs, Dr. David; War Food Office, Robert Schmidt; Labor, Giesbert. Furthermore a number of advisors have been appointed to assist the Secretaries of State. They are distributed as follows: Foreign Affairs, Karl Kautzki; Finance, Eduard Bernstein; Public Economy, Dr. Erdmann (Cologne); Economic Demobilization, Buchner and Schumann; Labor, Jockel; War, Goehre and Daumig; Navy, Noske and Vogtherr; Justice, Dr. Oskar Cohn.
The Prussian Ministry has also been entirely changed and is completely in the hands of independent socialists. It appears that all the members of the Prussian Lower House, which on the Prussian electoral law were very few, are now Prussian ministers.[Page 94]
The organization of this government is such that the socialist party leaders, who control almost all offices, will have the supreme control of all political affairs and that the former ministers will act only as technical advisors. It is the aim of this government to call a constituent assembly which is to decide the future form of the government and to introduce a large number of social and political reforms. The institution of councils of workmen and soldiers does not represent any analogy to similar bodies in Russia as they are composed not only of soldiers but in many cases of officers and high functionaries. The original purpose in the creation of these councils was to prevent disorder upon the demobilization of the troops which obey their own commanders, but who, it was feared, might mutiny against their officers. So far few officers have been molested as long as they did not interfere with the political activities of the soldiers and in the ranks the officers who have remained have still military authority which, however, does not extend to activities outside of the ranks. It is a remarkable fact that many of the officers of the Prussian guard have joined the revolutionary movement.
Whether this revolution will develop along orderly lines or whether it will lead to Bolshevik excesses, is at present beyond any possibility of estimation; the morale of the returning troops can alone determine this. So far there can be no question that the government has shown itself strong and determined to enforce order and that it has the support of the people everywhere. It is not likely that a reactionary movement will set in as all the elements which would form such a movement are wholly discredited and are unable to make themselves felt against the overwhelming republican sentiment of the country. The great organization which made Germany such a menace as a militaristic nation is now being used to effect a peaceful change from a militaristic empire to a social republic and the next weeks will show conclusively whether this organization possesses enough inherent strength to insure a peaceful change. The severe discipline among the laboring classes of Germany, due on the one hand to their military training and on the other hand to the strict discipline enforced in the ranks of the socialists, will be an important factor in determining the peaceful course of the great German revolution.
I have [etc.]
- Gen. Erich F. W. Ludendorff, First Quartermaster General of the German Army.↩