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Friedrich Ebert and the First World War

Friedrich Ebert and the First World War


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Friedrich Ebert, the son of a tailor, was born in Heildelberg on 9th November, 1871. He worked as a saddler and was eventually converted to socialism. During this period he also joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

At that time the SDP was led by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht. After the anti-socialist law ceased to operate in 1890, the SDP grew rapidly. However, the leadership had problems with divisions in the party. Eduard Bernstein, a member of the SDP, who had been living in London, became convinced that the best way to obtain socialism in an industrialized country was through trade union activity and parliamentary politics. He published a series of articles where he argued that the predictions made by Karl Marx about the development of capitalism had not come true. He pointed out that the real wages of workers had risen and the polarization of classes between an oppressed proletariat and capitalist, had not materialized. Nor had capital become concentrated in fewer hands. Bernstein's revisionist views appeared in his extremely influential book Evolutionary Socialism (1899). His analysis of modern capitalism undermined the claims that Marxism was a science and upset leading revolutionaries such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

Paul Frölich has argued: "The SPD divided into three clear tendencies: the reformists, who tended increasingly to espouse the ruling-class imperialist policy; the so-called Marxist Centre, which claimed to maintain the traditional policy, but in reality moved closer and closer to Bernstein's position; and the revolutionary wing, generally called the Left Radicals (Linksradikale)."

Ebert was a follower of Eduard Bernstein, whereas members of the Left Radicals, included Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring, Karl Radek and Anton Pannekoek. His power increased in 1905 when he became Secretary-General of the Social Democratic Party. Soon afterwards he stated that "I hate revolution like mortal sin."

1912 Ebert was elected to the Reichstag. The chairman of the SDP, August Bebel, died following a heart attack on 13th August, 1913. Ebert now replaced him as leader of the party. Like most socialists in Germany, Ebert was initially opposed to the idea of Germany going to war. However, once the First World War had started, he ordered the SDP members in the Reichstag to support the war effort.

Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the war. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."

Paul Frölich, a supporter of Liebknecht in the SDP, argued: "On the day of the vote only one man was left: Karl Liebknecht. Perhaps that was a good thing. That only one man, one single person, let it be known on a rostrum being watched by the whole world that he was opposed to the general war madness and the omnipotence of the state - this was a luminous demonstration of what really mattered at the moment: the engagement of one's whole personality in the struggle. Liebknecht's name became a symbol, a battle-cry heard above the trenches, its echoes growing louder and louder above the world-wide clash of arms and arousing many thousands of fighters against the world slaughter."

Clara Zetkin later recalled: "The struggle was supposed to begin with a protest against the voting of war credits by the social-democratic Reichstag deputies, but it had to be conducted in such a way that it would be throttled by the cunning tricks of the military authorities and the censorship. Moreover, and above all, the significance of such a protest would doubtless be enhanced, if it was supported from the outset by a goodly number of well-known social-democratic militants.... Out of all those out-spoken critics of the social-democratic majority, only Karl Liebknecht joined with Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, and myself in defying the soul-destroying and demoralising idol into which party discipline had developed."

Karl Liebknecht now joined with Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin to establish an underground political organization called Spartakusbund (Spartacus League). The Spartacus League publicized its views in its illegal newspaper, Spartacus Letters. Liebknecht, like the Bolsheviks in Russia, began arguing that socialists should turn this nationalist conflict into a revolutionary war.

In May 1915, Liebknecht published a pamphlet, The Main Enemy Is At Home! He argued: "The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists. We think as one with the German people – we have nothing in common with the German Tirpitzes and Falkenhayns, with the German government of political oppression and social enslavement. Nothing for them, everything for the German people. Everything for the international proletariat, for the sake of the German proletariat and downtrodden humanity."

Rosa Luxemburg argued that it was important to stop the First World War through mass action. This brought her into conflict with Lenin who had argued that "the slogan of peace is wrong - the slogan must be, turn the imperialist war into civil war." Lenin believed that a civil war in Russia would bring down the old order and enable the Bolsheviks to gain power. Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches took the side of the Mensheviks in their struggle with the Bolsheviks. As a result Lenin favoured the Polish section led by Karl Radek over those of Luxemburg.

On 1st May, 1916, the Spartacus League decided to come out into the open and organized a demonstration against the First World War in the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. One of those who attended reported: "It was a great success. At eight o'clock in the morning a dense throng of workers - almost ten thousand - assembled in the square, which the police had already occupied well ahead of time. Karl Liebknecht, in uniform, and Rosa Luxemburg were in the midst of the demonstrators and greeted with cheers from all sides." Several of its leaders, including Liebknecht were arrested and imprisoned.

Ebert called for a defensive, rather than an offensive war. With the formation of the Third Supreme Command, in August, 1916, Ebert's political power was undermined. Other members of the SDP also began questioning the policies of Ebert and in April 1917 they formed the Independent Socialist Party. Members included Kurt Eisner, Karl Kautsky, Julius Leber, Rudolf Breitscheild and Rudolf Hilferding.

For the next two years Ebert continued to call for peace negotiations with the Allies. When Erich von Ludendorff returned power to the Reichstag in September, 1918, Max von Baden invited Ebert to join the German government. At a public meeting, one of Ebert's most loyal supporters, Philipp Scheidemann, finished his speech: "Long live the German Republic!" He was immediately attacked by Ebert, who was still a strong believer in the monarchy.

In Germany elections were held for a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution for the new Germany. As a believer in democracy, Rosa Luxemburg assumed that her party would contest these universal, democratic elections. However, other members were being influenced by the fact that Lenin had dispersed by force of arms a democratically elected Constituent Assembly in Russia. Luxemburg rejected this approach and wrote in the party newspaper: "The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power in any other way than through the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian masses in all Germany, never except by virtue of their conscious assent to the views, aims, and fighting methods of the Spartacus League."

Paul Frölich has argued: "The enemies of the revolution had worked circumspectly and cunningly. On 10th November Ebert and the General Army Headquarters concluded a pact whose preliminary aim was to defeat the During that month there were bloody clashes between workers. During this month there were bloody clashes between workers and returning front-line soldiers who had been stirred up by the authorities. On military drill-grounds special troops, in strict isolation from the civilian population, were being ideologically and militarily trained for civil war."

On 29th December, 1918, Ebert gave permission for the publishing of a Social Democratic Party leaflet. "The shameless doings of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg besmirch the revolution and endanger all its achievements. The masses cannot afford to wait a minute longer and quietly look on while these brutes and their hangers-on cripple the activity of the republican authorities, incite the people deeper and deeper into a civil war, and strangle the right of free speech with their dirty hands. With lies, slander, and violence they want to tear down everything that dares to stand in their way. With an insolence exceeding all bounds they act as though they were masters of Berlin."

On 1st January, 1919, at a convention of the Spartacus League, Luxemburg was outvoted on this issue. As Bertram D. Wolfe has pointed out: "In vain did she (Luxemburg) try to convince them that to oppose both the Councils and the Constituent Assembly with their tiny forces was madness and a breaking of their democratic faith. They voted to try to take power in the streets, that is by armed uprising. Almost alone in her party, Rosa Luxemburg decided with a heavy heart to lend her energy and her name to their effort."

In January, 1919, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches and Clara Zetkin organised the Spartakist Rising that took place in Berlin. Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democrat Party and Germany's new chancellor, called in the German Army and the Freikorps to bring an end to the rebellion. By 13th January the rebellion had been crushed and most of its leaders, including Liebknecht and Luxemburg. They were both murdered while in police custody.

The following month Friedrich Ebert was elected as President of the new German Republic. He selected Philipp Scheidemann as Chancellor and although the SDP was the largest party in the Reichstag, Ebert attempted to obtain national unity by appointing ministers from other parties. Threatened by revolution from both political extremes, and having to deal with the severe economic crisis brought about by the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty, Ebert found running Germany extremely difficult.

In March 1920, Herman Ehrhardt, a former naval commander led a group of Freikorps soldiers to take control of Berlin. Ehrhardt was protesting against the decision by Friedrich Ebert and his government to accept the Treaty of Versailles. A leading right-wing politician, Wolfgang Kapp, accepted Ehrhardt's offer to form a new government. The Kapp Putsch failed to win support from the German Army and was brought to an end when the trade unions in Berlin called a general strike.

Friedrich Ebert remained in office until his death on 28th February 1925, aged 54, from untreated appendicitis.

The enemies of the revolution had worked circumspectly and cunningly. On military drill-grounds special troops, in strict isolation from the civilian population, were being ideologically and militarily trained for civil war.

As significant and hopeful as they were, Rosa Luxemburg did not look at the events from the perspective of a Berlin ivory tower. She grasped their implications in the given situation and especially in the light of the level of political consciousness of broad sectors of the population throughout Germany. In consequence her demand for the overthrow of the Ebert government was for the time being primarily only a propaganda catch-all slogan to rally the revolutionary proletariat rather than a tangible object of revolutionary fighting. Under given conditions, confined chiefly to Berlin, such fighting would have led, in the best case, to a "Berlin Commune", and probably on a smaller historical scale to boot. For her the only immediate aim of armed struggle was the vigorous repulse of counter-revolutionary coups, i.e. the reinstatement of Eichhorn, the withdrawal of the troops who were supposed to crush the Berlin proletariat, the arming of the workers, and the transfer of all military executive power to the revolutionary political representatives of the proletariat. But these demands had to be won by action and not by negotiation.

Because of this situation the young Communist Party led by Rosa Luxemburg was faced with a difficult task involving many conflicts. It could not accept the aim of the mass action - the overthrow of the government - as its own; it had to reject it. But at the same time it could not let itself be separated from the masses who had taken up the struggle. Despite their contrary attitudes the party had to stand by the masses and to remain among them in order to strengthen them in their struggle against the counter-revolution and to further the process of their revolutionary maturation during the action by making them aware of the conditions enabling them to move forward. For this purpose the Communist Party had to show its own face, to define and work out clearly its own evaluation of the situation without breaching the proletarian, the revolutionary solidarity it owed to the fighting workers. Its role in the fighting had to be at once negative and critical on the one hand, and positive and encouraging on the other.

The shameless doings of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg besmirch the revolution and endanger all its achievements. With an insolence exceeding all bounds they act as though they were masters of Berlin.


Friedrich Ebert

Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925) was a German unionist leader turned socialist politician and the first president of the Weimar Republic.

Ebert was born in Heidelberg just two weeks after the unification of Germany. His father, Karl, was a Catholic tailor with a successful business, his mother, Katharina, a Protestant housewife. Friedrich was the seventh of nine children.

Ebert was a bright student who was encouraged to enter the priesthood but instead left school at the age of 14. In 1885, he commenced training as an apprentice saddle maker. Later in his political career, the right-wing press would attack Ebert’s working-class origins

After qualifying, Ebert worked and travelled in various German towns and cities. He also became interested in the trade union movement, joining the saddlemaker’s union and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

In 1890, Ebert was elected as secretary of a trade union federation in Hanover. He also rose through the ranks of the fast-growing SPD, becoming secretary-general in 1905 and party chairman in 1913.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Ebert and the core of the SPD gave the Wilhelmine government unconditional support for the war effort. This war policy led to the factionalisation of the party and the formation of its radical left-wing splinters, the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) and Communist Party (KPD).

Ebert became a critical figure when the Kaiser’s government began to collapse in October 1918. A social-democrat rather than a socialist, Ebert resisted radicalism and revolution, in the hope that Germany would transition and evolve into a parliamentary democracy.

In November 1918, Ebert inherited the leadership of the new republic, following the abdication of the Kaiser and the resignation of chancellor Max von Baden. In January the following year, he was confirmed as the Weimar Republic’s first president.

Though Ebert conducted himself well and was widely respected, his presidency divided opinion. He was hated by right-wing nationalists, who thought him weak, and socialists in his own party, who thought him a class traitor.

Ebert’s reliance on the army and the Freikorps to protect his own government during the Kapp putsch proved especially controversial. Under Ebert’s presidency, the military, the Junker aristocracy and even the Hohenzollern royals retained a significant amount of their pre-war prestige.

The final years of Ebert’s life were spent battling hostile attacks by the nationalist right-wing press, some valid criticisms and some defamatory. These events took a toll on Ebert’s own health and contributed to his premature death in 1925, aged 54.

Citation information
Title: “Friedrich Ebert”
Authors: Jennifer Llewellyn, Steve Thompson
Publisher: Alpha History
URL: https://alphahistory.com/weimarrepublic/friedrich-ebert/
Date published: September 15, 2019
Date accessed: Today’s date
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Friedrich Ebert

Friedrich Ebert was born in Heidelberg on Feb. 4, 1871, the son of a master tailor. Trained as a saddler, he turned to socialism at the age of 18 under the influence of an uncle. Although the anti-Socialist law was repealed that same year (1889), political harassment forced the young journeyman to change jobs and residences several times until he settled in Bremen in May 1891. Elected head of the local saddlers' union shortly after his arrival, he devoted his time increasingly to politics. He left his job and joined the Social Democratic organ Bremer Buerger-Zeitung, becoming editor in March 1893.

A tireless agitator, popular campaigner, and able organizer, Ebert quickly rose in the Bremen Social Democratic party (SPD). In 1900 he was elected to the City Parliament and became secretary of the local consolidated union organization. From his dominant position in the Bremen labor movement he entered the national party hierarchy in 1905 as secretary of the party Executive Committee and in 1912 was elected to the Reichstag (Imperial Diet). Here his reputation as a mediator between the right and left wings of the party brought his election to the SPD Executive in 1913 in 1916 he became party floor leader in the Reichstag.

A vigorous advocate of peace and an opponent of annexations during World War I, Ebert was the man to whom the defeated monarchist leadership turned in the face of threatening revolution and chaos in 1918. Initially opposed to the proclamation of the republic, he organized a provisional People's Commission of Social Democrats and Independent Socialists on Nov. 9, 1918. This government signed the armistice with the Western Powers (Nov. 11, 1918), dealt with revolutionary threats from left and right (chiefly through an agreement with the army, the "Ebert-Groener Deal"), and made preparations for the election of a Constitutional Assembly (January 1919). On Feb. 11, 1919, the National Assembly elected Ebert provisional president of the new German Republic he was reelected by the Reichstag in October 1922.

Ebert gave the presidential office a special dignity through his honesty, simplicity, strong convictions, and concern for the common man. Continually striving to maintain government stability, he promoted strong coalitions of the moderate forces of the Reichstag in order to combat the numerous antirepublican threats from right and left and to strengthen a foreign policy of reconciliation. He was, however, virulently attacked by the nationalist press, and his health finally broke in a bitter struggle against a malicious accusation of high treason (December 1924) which was upheld by a reactionary court. He died in Berlin on Feb. 28, 1925.


Weimar Constitution adopted in Germany

On August 11, 1919, Friedrich Ebert, a member of the Social Democratic Party and the provisional president of the German Reichstag (government), signs a new constitution, known as the Weimar Constitution, into law, officially creating the first parliamentary democracy in Germany.

Even before Germany acknowledged its defeat at the hands of the Allied powers on the battlefields of the First World War, discontent and disorder ruled on the home front, as the exhausted and hunger-plagued German people expressed their frustration and anger with large-scale strikes among factory workers and mutinies within the armed forces. Beginning in 1916, Germany had basically been operating under a military dictatorship, the Supreme Army Command, led by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. In late October 1918, however, with defeat looming on the horizon, Hindenburg pushed Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German government to form a civil government in order to negotiate an armistice with the Allies. The kaiser and Reichstag subsequently amended the latter organization’s constitution of 1871, effectively creating a parliamentary democracy in which the chancellor of Germany, Prince Max von Baden, was responsible not to Wilhelm but to the Reichstag.

This was not enough, however, to satisfy the far leftist forces within Germany, who capitalized on the chaos of the last days of a losing war effort to lead a general workers’ strike that November 7, and call for the establishment of a socialist republic along the lines of the Bolshevik government in Russia. Hoping to pacify the radical socialists, von Baden transferred his powers to Ebert, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), on November 9. Over the next six months, the Reichstag, led by the SPD, worked to write a new constitution that would solidify Germany’s status as a parliamentary democracy. Meanwhile, many within Germany blamed the government for what they saw as the humiliating terms imposed on the country by the victorious Allies in the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the treaty’s demands for German war reparations, justified by a clause that placed blame for the war squarely on the shoulders of Germany.

Under vicious attack from both the militarist right and the radical socialist left and identified by both sides with the shame of Versailles, the Weimar government and its constitution—signed into law on August 11, 1919—seemed to have a dim chance of survival. In this atmosphere of confrontation and frustration, exacerbated by poor economic conditions, right wing elements began to take an ever more pervasive hold over the Reichstag. This process, intensified by the worldwide depression that began in 1929, would culminate in the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who exploited the weakness of the Weimar system to lay the foundations for himself and his National Socialist German Workers’ (or Nazi) Party to dissolve the parliamentary government and take absolute control over Germany.


Defeat of revolutionaries, 1918–19

Ebert, however, was faced with a precarious situation. The dangers confronting him were mounting all over the country. Four and a half years of seemingly futile combat and sacrifice had resulted in a disaffection with the war and discredited the imperial system, as well as its emperor. Shortages of food and fuel had rendered the population vulnerable to the influenza epidemic sweeping Europe. On October 18 alone Berlin authorities had reported 1,700 influenza deaths. Independent Socialists in Munich had forced the abdication on November 8 of Bavaria’s King Louis III and proclaimed a Bavarian socialist republic. The port cities along the North Sea and the Baltic Sea were falling into the hands of sailors’ and workers’ and soldiers’ councils (Räte) in the wake of the naval mutiny at Kiel in early November. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, leaders of the radical Spartacus League, were eager to transform Germany into a republic of workers’ and soldiers’ councils (a Räterepublik) in imitation of the soviet republic being established by the Bolshevik leaders in Russia. As Ebert was accepting the reins of government in the Reichstag building on November 9, Liebknecht was proclaiming a socialist republic at a rally of his own followers in front of the deserted Royal Palace about a mile away. Many Marxist revolutionaries believed that the Bolshevik Revolution was merely the spark that would set off the worldwide proletarian revolution that Karl Marx had predicted. Inevitably, that revolution would have to spread to Germany. Given this ideologically charged scenario, Liebknecht confidently anticipated his destiny to become the German Lenin.

While the Liebknecht rally was proceeding in front of the Royal Palace, an angry crowd was gathering before the Reichstag building, the seat of the government. Because Ebert had just left the building, his friend and fellow Majority Socialist Philipp Scheidemann felt called upon to address the crowd. To meet its inevitable demands for change and to forestall whatever Liebknecht might be telling his followers, Scheidemann in his speech used the phrase “Long live the German republic!” Once made, the proclamation of a republic could not be withdrawn. Ebert was furious when he learned of Scheidemann’s “accidental” proclamation, but he realized that there was no turning back. He spent the afternoon seeking partners to form a provisional government to run the newly proclaimed republic. By nightfall he managed to persuade the Independent Socialists, a party that in 1917 had split from the Majority Socialists over the continuation of the war, to provide three members of a provisional government. To gain their cooperation, Ebert had to agree to name the provisional government the Council of Peoples’ Commissars and to transform Germany into a vaguely defined social republic. Despite this promise, Ebert still hoped that elections to a constituent assembly would lead to the creation of a moderate democratic republic. The Independent Socialists, however, though not as radical as Liebknecht, held to their vision of a socialist Räterepublik. They hoped that workers and soldiers would elect a multitude of councils across the entire country during the following weeks, assuming these would establish the foundation for a genuinely socialist republic.

For the time being, however, Majority and Independent Socialists jointly formed a provisional government for the defeated German nation, which everywhere seemed on the verge of collapse. Although the armistice of November 11 ended the fighting, it did not end the Allied blockade. The winter of 1918–19 brought no relief in the shortages of food and fuel, and the flu epidemic showed no signs of abatement. Soldiers returning from the military fronts by the hundreds of thousands were left stranded, jobless, hungry, and bitter—grist for the mill of revolution.

The push for revolution, led by an enthusiastic Liebknecht and a more reluctant Luxemburg, came on January 6, 1919, encouraged by Soviet Russia and further prompted by fear that Ebert’s plans for the election of a constituent assembly, scheduled for January 19, might stabilize the German situation. The Spartacists, now officially the Communist Party of Germany, initiated massive demonstrations in Berlin and quickly seized key government and communications centres.

The events of “ Spartacist Week,” as the radical attempt at revolution came to be known, demonstrated that Germany was not nearly as ripe for revolution as leading radicals had believed. As Luxemburg had feared, mass support for communism did not exist among German workers instead, most remained loyal to the Independent Socialists or to Ebert’s more moderate and democratic vision of socialism. The German army, moreover, had recovered its nerve and was determined to prevent a further move to the left. In December the army had begun secretly to train volunteer units drawn from the sea of soldiers returning from the front. These so-called Freikorps (“Free Corps”) units formed dozens of small right-wing armies that during the next years roamed the country, looking for revolutionary activity to suppress. The Spartacist revolt, which was confined largely to Berlin, was put down within a week by some 3,000 Freikorps members. When Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured on January 15, they were both shot at the initiative of Freikorps officers. Although sporadic revolutionary activity continued elsewhere in Germany during the following months, its failure in Berlin clearly marked its doom. The proclamation on April 4, 1919, of a Räterepublik in Bavaria revived radical fortunes only briefly Freikorps units put down the radical Bavarian republic by the end of the month.

The collapse of the Spartacist revolt greatly enhanced the chances for Ebert’s vision of Germany’s future to prevail. Moreover, the meeting of a national congress of workers’ and soldiers’ councils in mid-December 1918, upon which the Independent Socialists had pinned their own hopes for creating a socialist republic, proved to be far less radical than expected it did nothing to interfere with Ebert’s plans to elect an assembly to draw up a democratic constitution. The elections on January 19, 1919—the first German election in which women had voting rights—produced a resounding victory for Ebert’s conception of democracy. Three of every four voters gave their support to political parties that favoured turning Germany into a democracy. After months of turmoil Germany was to become a democratic republic. The assembly began its deliberations on February 6, 1919, choosing to meet in Weimar, a small city that was considered less vulnerable to radical political interference than Berlin.

On January 18, 1919, representatives of the powers victorious over Germany began the deliberations in Paris that would establish a European peace settlement. Germany’s new democratic leaders placed high hopes in the prospects for this settlement. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points seemed to promise Germans national self-determination as well as to encourage the efforts to transform Germany into a democracy. When the German constituent assembly met in Weimar for the first time, it immediately declared itself sovereign over all of Germany. It selected a provisional government—with Ebert as president and Scheidemann as chancellor—whose first major task was to prepare for the expected invitation to Paris to negotiate a peace treaty with the empire’s former enemies.

But the invitation for a German delegation to come to Paris did not arrive until early April. Rather than being treated as a fellow—if fledgling—democracy, Germans soon learned that they were still viewed as the pariah of Europe. Wilson’s idealism had been forced to yield to still-fresh wartime resentments being articulated by the leaders of the French, British, and Italian delegations. Instead of offering negotiations, the Allies forced Germany to sign the treaty with no alterations.


During the Revolution ↑

In the fall of 1918, Ebert pleaded vehemently for SPD participation in the final monarchical government, which was the first one to be formed on a parliamentary basis. Ebert was considered a moderate and pragmatist who was prepared to take on responsibility in parliament. For these reasons, as well as his strained relationship with Scheidemann, Prince Max von Baden (1867–1929) transferred to him the office of Chancellor on 9 November 1918. He gave this office up one day later to become a member of the revolutionary transition government (Rat der Volksbeauftragten).


Friedrich Ebert

Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925.

Ebert was elected leader of the SPD on the death in 1913 of August Bebel. In 1914, shortly after he assumed leadership, the party became deeply divided over Ebert's support of war loans to finance the German war effort in World War I. A moderate social democrat, Ebert was in favour of the Burgfrieden, a political policy that sought to suppress squabbles over domestic issues among political parties during wartime in order to concentrate all forces in society on the successful conclusion of the war effort. He tried to isolate those in the party opposed to the war, but could not prevent a split.

Ebert was a pivotal figure in the German Revolution of 1918�. When Germany became a republic at the end of World War I, he became its first chancellor. His policies at that time were primarily aimed at restoring peace and order in Germany and containing the more extreme elements of the revolutionary left. In order to accomplish these goals, he allied himself with conservative and nationalistic political forces, in particular the leadership of the military under General Wilhelm Groener and the right wing Freikorps. With their help, Ebert's government crushed a number of leftist uprisings that were pursuing goals similar to those of the SPD. This has made him a controversial historical figure.


Know about the founding of the Weimar Republic after Germany's defeat in World War I and the challenges of the infamous Treaty of Versailles

NARRATOR: February 1919 - In Weimar, once home to Goethe and Schiller, the fall of the Emperor paves the way for a freely elected national assembly of the first German Republic. Democracy is completely new for many citizens.

ILSE-SIBYLLE STAPFF: "I can remember my relatives speaking of a woman, a teacher's widow, who had volunteered to put up three delegates. They were saying 'how can this lady take such people into her home?'"

NARRATOR: The delegates come to Weimar because there's unrest in Berlin. In 1918, The Great War had been lost, the emperor had been overthrown, and now the communists are hustling for power. In January '19, there's an uprising. It is crushed brutally. For the first time, women are allowed to both stand and vote in this election for the National Assembly. Parties pushing for a parliamentary republic receive a two-thirds majority. The SPD becomes the strongest party. Its leader, Friedrich Ebert, becomes the first president of the Weimar Republic.

After many months of deliberation, the delegates enact the so-called Weimar Constitution. Germany becomes a democratic republic. The government is no longer responsible to the emperor, but to parliament. For the first time in German history, government authority emanates from the people. The constitution follows on from the failed Revolution of 1848 and the ideals of the Paulskirche Assembly. Black, red and gold, representing the German liberal tradition, are the chosen colors of the Weimar Republic. But the new state must bear the consequences of the war. The Treaty of Versailles allows victors to dictate their terms. Germany loses one-seventh of its territory, and must pay reparations.

GUSTAF-ADOLPH GRAF VON HALEM: "Everyone called it shameful Treaty of Versailles, of course without having read the many hundreds of paragraphs. There was great unanimity against the Versailles Treaty."

NARRATOR: Protests are also directed against the republic. Supposedly, the Democrats and Socialists abandoned the victorious troops, the so-called stab in the back. The lie proves effective. Already in the first elections to the Reichstag in June, 1920, the government parties of the Weimar Republic – the Social Democrats, Catholic Center Party and the Left-Liberals – lose their majority. They would never regain this power. From the very beginning, also in parliament, the young democracy faces determined opposition.


Watch the video: Friedrich Ebert Shaping Democracy! (July 2022).


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