Council of People's Representatives
The Council of People's Representatives was Germany's provisional government in office from November 10, 1918 to February 13, 1919 , which shaped the transition from the German Empire to the Weimar Republic . It was formed in the course of the November Revolution from three members each from the Majority Social Democrats ( MSPD) and the Independent Social Democrats (USPD).
As a revolutionary government , the council exercised roughly the powers that the emperor and chancellor had granted under the Bismarckian constitution . The people's representatives controlled the state secretaries of the former imperial government, most of whom remained in office. The council was a collective body in which nominally all six members had equal rights. In fact, however, MSPD boss Friedrich Ebert exercised the function of chairman.
The People's Representatives ended the First World War with the armistice of November 11, 1918 and introduced women's suffrage and the proportional representation system . In protest against the violent repression of government troops against the People's Navy Division during the Christmas fighting , the USPD members resigned from the body on December 29, 1918 and were replaced by two other majority Social Democrats. From then on the council referred to itself as the imperial government .
The elections announced by the council for a constituent national assembly , which should also give Germany a democratically legitimized government, took place on January 19, 1919. The Weimar National Assembly elected Friedrich Ebert as Reich President on February 11, 1919 . This in turn appointed Philipp Scheidemann as the new head of government. Its cabinet , which included members of the MSPD, the Center Party and the DDP , took the place of the Council of People's Representatives on February 13 as the new Reich government.
Preconditions: defeat in war and revolution
In order to be able to shift responsibility for the foreseeable military defeat in World War I and to pass it on to democratic politicians, the Supreme Army Command (OHL), under Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff , demanded immediate surrender from the imperial government on September 29, 1918 an armistice offer to the Entente Powers and recommended to change the imperial constitution at the same time. The authoritarian-led empire was to become a parliamentary-democratic monarchy .
Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to agree to this and appointed Prince Max von Baden , who was considered liberal, to be Chancellor of the Reich. For the first time, this accepted members of the majority parties in the Reichstag , including the MSPD politician Philipp Scheidemann. He initiated the democratization of the empire with the October reforms and asked US President Woodrow Wilson to broker a ceasefire. Wilson's reply notes that the opponents of the war were only willing to negotiate with a democratic German government and insisted on the emperor's abdication .
The policies of the Naval Warfare Command (SKL) under Admiral Reinhard Scheer were directed against these demands and against the new government's search for peace . On October 24, 1918, she issued a naval order that would have resulted in a battle between the German deep-sea fleet and the superior Royal Navy . Because of this militarily senseless and politically counterproductive plan, the sailors of individual ships refused to give orders on October 29 . The SKL then canceled the planned operation, but arrested hundreds of sailors. This triggered the Kiel sailors' uprising on November 3, 1918 , which developed into a revolution within a few days that spread to all of Germany.
The MSPD leadership, especially its chairman Friedrich Ebert, found this revolution extremely inconvenient. She saw her goals already achieved by the October reforms and believed that the elites of the empire would come to terms with democratization if only the monarchy as such continued to exist. But she saw her position increasingly threatened by the USPD and other political forces on the left. With the USPD, the resolute opponents of the war split off from the SPD during the First World War . The left wing of the USPD, in turn, was formed by the recently newly founded, Marxist Spartacus League . While the majority of the USPD tended towards a parliamentary democracy , the Spartacus League represented council democratic ideas. However, the leaders of the MSPD feared that supporters of both movements were leaning towards Bolshevik ideas on the Russian model. In order to maintain the initiative and control over the revolutionaries during the rapidly changing events, the MSPD now also demanded the emperor's resignation. However, he had left Berlin in Spa , Belgium , at the headquarters of the OHL, and was delaying his renunciation of the throne further and further.
Origin of the republic
On the morning of November 9, 1918, the revolution finally reached Berlin; Masses of striking workers poured into the city center. Time was running out to keep them from openly revolting. Max von Baden therefore proclaimed the emperor's abdication and “handed over” the office of Chancellor to Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag. The latter was not covered by the imperial constitution: only the emperor could appoint a chancellor. Prince Max resorted to this emergency solution because the emperor was de facto no longer able to act at this point . That morning Ebert still hoped to be able to save the monarchy as such, and asked Max von Baden to act as imperial administrator for a new emperor to be determined. The prince refused, however. These plans became completely obsolete at noon on November 9th. Philipp Scheidemann had learned that the Spartacus politician Karl Liebknecht , the declaration of a "Socialist Republic of Germany" was planning. In order to forestall this and to keep the masses on the side of the MSPD, Scheidemann spontaneously stepped to a window of the Reichstag building and in turn proclaimed the "German Republic". The exact content of the speech is no longer known; the importance of the various speakers who proclaimed a republic that day is controversial.
Under the chairmanship of Friedrich Ebert, who did not want to forego the experience of the state secretaries and administration , the state secretaries, the heads of the highest Reich authorities, met on the same day. These remained in office even after the actual end of the imperial constitution. Ebert planned to quickly "steer the revolution in order" and published an appeal on November 9, which he signed as Reich Chancellor. He spoke of a new (actually nonexistent) government that had taken over the business to protect the people from civil war and famine . He invoked the danger of anarchy in order to get the officials' support.
It was vital for the MSPD to form a coalition with the independents. The USPD did not have the working masses in Berlin or elsewhere under control either. But alone, without the USPD, the position of the MSPD would hardly have been tenable. The revolutionary workers 'and soldiers' councils , which had formed all over the country as a result of the sailors 'uprising, were made up of supporters of the MSPD and USPD and vehemently demanded unity between the two workers' parties. The moderate wing of the USPD around Hugo Haase was also very interested in an alliance because otherwise power in the big cities threatened to fall to the left wing around Georg Ledebour or even Liebknecht's Spartacists. Since Haase was still in Kiel on November 9, 1918, the decisive discussion between the MSPD and the USPD did not take place until the 10th.
The two parties differed mainly in the question of whether the new government should create facts in advance in the sense of a socialist transformation of Germany or leave appropriate measures to a constituent national assembly. The USPD joined z. B. for the immediate nationalization of large estates and certain key industries . The representatives of the MSPD around Philipp Scheidemann succeeded in negotiating a compromise in which important decisions were postponed. It is true that the workers 'and soldiers' councils should receive “political power” and meet “immediately”, as demanded by the USPD and the Spartacists. But the MSPD had succeeded in avoiding the concrete expression " executive , legislative and judicial power". The MSPD, however, had to accept that the National Assembly should only be discussed “after the conditions created by the revolution have been consolidated”.
Formation of the council
In the late afternoon of November 10th the revolutionary governing body stood. The USPD originally wanted to call it "Council of People's Commissars", which was then Germanized into "Council of People's Commissioners".
Initially, the council included Friedrich Ebert , Philipp Scheidemann and Otto Landsberg from the MSPD, as well as Hugo Haase , Wilhelm Dittmann and Emil Barth from the USPD. Ebert and Haase became chairmen with equal rights. However, Ebert enjoyed special trust from the state secretaries and civil servants, as the last Imperial Chancellor had handed over the office to him, even though the Chancellor was not constitutionally allowed to do so. Occasionally Ebert continued to use the title of chancellor, which emphasized him to Haase - also to the Supreme Army Command and the public. According to the coalition agreement, Ebert did not have this priority at all, emphasizes Ernst Rudolf Huber . It was more of a "tacit act of recognition, a permanent plebiscite of trust, as it were".
As the USPD had accepted, the “civil specialist ministers” (state secretaries) remained in office as “technical assistants”. However, they should each be assigned an MSPD and a USPD man as “political undersecretaries”. Ebert was satisfied that the USPD sent two moderates, Haase and Dittmann, and Barth, a representative of the left wing, to the council. Through Barth, Ebert hoped to be able to involve the radical revolutionaries as well.
People's representative and council movement
On November 10, 1918 from 5 p.m., three thousand delegates from workers 'and soldiers' councils met at the Busch Circus in Berlin. They had been elected the same day; Contrary to the expectations of the independents, the MSPD did well thanks to its mobilizing power. The MSPD and the right wing USPD ended up having a large majority. The assembly confirmed the Council of People's Deputies, which had already met that afternoon. According to reports at the time, the assembly even "constituted" (established) the council. Even if this is doubted, the council would hardly have been able to hold its own without the acclamation by the congregation.
In addition, the council meeting set up an executive council . This executive council was supposed to control the council of people's representatives and consisted of 14 workers and 14 soldiers representatives. Half of the workers 'representatives belonged to both parties, while the situation was more confusing for the soldiers' representatives. In practice, however, it was the case that the Council of People's Representatives controlled the council organization through the Executive Committee, not the other way around. Because the effective power lay with the Council of People's Representatives, in which the important party leaders sat.
“The party-political parity in the executive committee and in the council of people's representatives was a clear indication that in the revolution it was not the 'council state' but the party state that prevailed. The council organization remained a mere tool for establishing the rule of the two socialist parties [...]. "
In the coming weeks and months nothing changed in this basic constellation. To the disappointment of the extreme left, the council organization did not develop into an organ that followed the path into the council state and the dictatorship of the proletariat . The Council Congress on November 25, 1918 confirmed the previous line and the First General Congress of Workers 'and Soldiers' Councils in Germany (December 16-21) advocated that Germany's future should be determined by a national assembly. A council state with constant surveillance of elected officials by the masses was never a realistic option. The majority of the workers did not want this, the election of a national assembly met with approval in all classes.
Parts of the revolutionaries, especially members of the Spartakusbund , from which the Communist Party of Germany emerged , saw the behavior of the MSPD leadership as a "betrayal of the working class". This led to unrest, such as the Christmas battles of 1918 or the January uprising of 1919, which the Council of People's Representatives had put down with the help of troops loyal to the government and right-wing volunteer corps. The USPD accused Ebert, Scheidemann and Landsberg of betraying the revolution and supporting the old, anti-revolutionary forces. As a result, the USPD members resigned from the Council of People's Representatives on December 29th.
Relation to the previous state
Heinrich August Winkler emphasizes: “A good measure of democracy” had already been achieved before November 9, 1918, because there had been general electoral rights for men in the Reichstag since 1867/1871, and Germany was also governed de jure parliamentary since October 28 . The political system of the authoritarian state collapsed in November 1918, behind which only a minority stood. However, the monarchists and the army command opposed the regime change, so that the old state organs could not be retained. The unfinished revolution from above led to the revolution from below.
But even after November 9, “not everything collapsed”: the administration continued to work, the judiciary and education were hardly affected by the revolution, and the Supreme Army Command quickly became a partner of the Council of People's Representatives. The local workers 'and soldiers' councils were dominated by the MSPD and gave the administration a new legitimation.
The MSPD and USPD did not have an absolute majority in the Reichstag, the Prussian electoral reform was a long time coming, and in general one had to counter popular anger through reforms. In addition, the two socialist parties had their own ideas about how Germany should develop. That is why they formed an alliance for government outside of the previous (Bismarckian) imperial constitution .
The Council of People's Representatives ordered the Reichstag not to meet again. Reichstag President Fehrenbach ( Center Party ) nevertheless made advances and also considered whether the Reichstag could work in a location other than Berlin. Such thoughts were not entirely ineffective as they put the Council under time pressure. In addition, the council announced that the previous Federal Council should only exercise its administrative functions (i.e. no longer the legislative functions).
Thus none of the previous state organs was in office and dignity (see “ Ebert Cabinet ”); the state secretaries were not formally an organ or a collegiate government, but behaved that way. Several state secretaries were exchanged. Paradoxically, the State Secretaries, who had previously received instructions from an Imperial Chancellor, were now in charge of their own departments. This government was controlled by the Council of People's Representatives, which exercised the role of Emperor, Reich Chancellor, Bundesrat and Reichstag. The Council worked under rules of procedure from November 12th . It ruled out the unauthorized intervention of individual council members in the administration. The Council could only issue instructions to the State Secretaries as a whole, and not for individual cases, but more in the sense of guidelines .
Activity of the council
On November 10, 1918, before the Council was formed, the cabinet of the new Chancellor Ebert approved the Compiègne Armistice Agreement, which ended the First World War on the following day. The Council of People's Representatives then had to deal with the consequences of the agreement: including the surrender of Alsace-Lorraine , the military evacuation of all French , Belgian and German areas on the left bank of the Rhine and the delivery of the fleet and other military equipment to the war opponents.
Just two days after meeting, on November 12, 1918, the council issued the appeal "To the German people". After that, the following points of the "socialist program" immediately became law:
- The state of siege is lifted.
- The right of association and assembly is not subject to any restrictions, not even for civil servants and state workers.
- There is no censorship . The theater censorship is lifted.
- Expression of opinion in word and writing is free.
- The freedom to practice one's religion is guaranteed. Nobody should be compelled to do a religious act.
- Amnesty is granted for all political crimes . Proceedings pending for such offenses will be put down.
- The Law on Patriotic Auxiliary Service is repealed, with the exception of the provisions relating to the settlement of disputes.
- The servants' ordinances are suspended, as are the exceptional laws against farm workers .
- The labor protection regulations that were repealed at the beginning of the war are hereby reinstated.
In addition, in the document the Council decreed the right to vote for women in all elections to public bodies . In addition, he promised the introduction of the eight-hour day and other socio-political reforms on January 1, 1919 .
On November 30, 1918, the council issued an ordinance governing elections to the National Assembly. In it she confirmed that all men and women over the age of 20 should be eligible to vote . With the lowering of the voting age and the introduction of women's suffrage, the council ensured the greatest expansion of suffrage in German history. The regulation also determined the transition from majority to proportional representation.
Fundamental reforms in the military - even if it was only the abolition of the obligation to salute off- duty - the council did not tackle, however. Even before his formation, Ebert had promised this to the new head of the OHL, General Wilhelm Groener (see Ebert-Groener Pact ). In return, the army command promised to support the new republican government.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether the Council of People's Representatives should not have acted more courageously, whether the important transition phase should not have been used for a more profound change in the state and society . Cooperation with civil servants and the military was inevitable. Nevertheless, the regime could have built up its own troops that would have been loyal to the republic. The Social Democrats led by Ebert later insisted that they lacked the necessary specialist knowledge to replace civil servants on a large scale. The real reason, however, was that the MSPD did not see itself legitimized to make radical changes.
On January 19, 1919, the general elections for the Weimar National Assembly took place. On February 6, this passed the law on provisional imperial power , a kind of provisional constitution. In accordance with the law, the National Assembly elected Friedrich Ebert as Reich President on February 11th. This in turn set up the Scheidemann government on February 13 . So there was both a parliament and a government that were democratically legitimized.
Members of the Council of People's Representatives
|Surname||Taking office||End of office||Political party||Department|
|Friedrich Ebert||November 10, 1918||February 11, 1919||SPD||Chair; Home and Military|
|Hugo Haase||December 29, 1918||USPD||Appearance, Colonies, and Justice|
|Philipp Scheidemann||February 11, 1919||SPD||Finances|
|Wilhelm Dittmann||December 29, 1918||USPD||Demobilization, traffic|
|Emil Barth||USPD||Social policy, mediating body between the Reichsrätekongress and the Council of People's Representatives|
|Otto Landsberg||February 11, 1919||SPD||Finance, Press and News (since November 19)|
|Gustav Noske||December 29, 1918||SPD||Demobilization, Army and Navy|
|Rudolf Wissell||SPD||Social policy|
According to the old Bismarck constitution, the State Secretaries were the heads of the highest Reich authorities. Unlike the ministers in other states, they did not manage their departments independently, but worked for the Chancellor. They remained in office after November 9, despite offering to resign. On November 14th, the Council of People's Representatives presented a new cabinet list with some new, but mostly old state secretaries. There was no longer an Imperial Chancellor or Vice Chancellor .
- Foreign Office , colonies : Wilhelm Solf until December 9, Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau from December 20, 1918 (both non-party)
- Interior : Hugo Preuß (independent, from November 20 DDP )
- Justice : Paul von Krause ( NLP )
- Navy : Ernst Karl August Klemens von Mann , since January 9th, interim Maximilian Rogge (both independent)
- Reichseisenbahnamt : Constantin Fritsch (independent)
- Economy : August Müller (SPD)
- Diet : Emanuel Wurm (USPD)
- Job : Gustav Bauer (SPD)
- Post : Otto Rüdlin (independent)
- Schatz : Eugen Schiffer , (NLP, after November 20th DDP)
- Head of the armistice delegation with the rank of State Secretary: Matthias Erzberger ( center )
- Economic demobilization (since November 12th): Joseph Koeth (independent)
In addition, there were parliamentary under-secretaries in 1918/1919. These were members of parliament who were assigned to a Reich department. Such politicians were leading members of their parliamentary group and controlled the state secretaries and undersecretaries or the minister in the Prussian war ministry. This practice already existed during the Baden cabinet . The professional training and importance of these people varied widely.
Comparable bodies in the German member states
In the Free State of Saxony and in the Free State of Braunschweig, too, the first two post-revolutionary governments were called the “Council of People's Representatives”. The Council in the Free State of Braunschweig was in office from February 22 to April 30, 1919 ( Oerter I cabinet ).
The council in Saxony ruled from November 15, 1918 to March 14, 1919:
- Lipinski cabinet under Richard Lipinski (USPD) (from November 15, 1918 to January 16, 1919)
- Gradnauer I cabinet under Georg Gradnauer (SPD) (from January 16, 1919 to March 14, 1919)
In Prussia, on the other hand, the largest member state, there was no such duplication of the Revolutionary Council and the actual cabinet. The Prussian Revolutionary Cabinet replaced the old state government on November 12, 1918; it was initially occupied equally by politicians from both parties, as was the council of people's representatives at the national level.
- The Government of the People's Representatives 1918/19 . Introduced by Erich Matthias , edited by Susanne Miller . 2 volumes. Droste, Düsseldorf 1969 ( Sources on the history of parliamentarism and political parties, series 1: From the constitutional monarchy to the parliamentary republic 6)
- Michael Kotulla : German constitutional history. From the Old Reich to Weimar (1495–1934) . Springer, Berlin 2008, p. 581.
- Heinrich August Winkler : The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933 . Bonn 2002, p. 372.
- Heinrich August Winkler: The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933 . Bonn 2002, p. 370.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber : German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 709.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, pp. 709-711.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 711 f.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 712 f.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 713.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, pp. 715-717.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 718.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 717.
- Heinrich August Winkler: The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933 . Bonn 2002, p. 385 f.
- Heinrich August Winkler: The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933 . Bonn 2002, pp. 375-377.
- Heinrich August Winkler: The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933 . Bonn 2002, p. 375.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, pp. 728-730.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 731 f.
- Call of the Council of People's Representatives to the German People on November 12, 1918 . In: documentarchiv.de , accessed on November 12, 2018.
- Heinrich August Winkler: The long way to the west. German history 1806–1933 . Bonn 2002, pp. 382-384.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919. W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 745.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 826.
- Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume V: World War, Revolution and Reich renewal: 1914-1919 . W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1978, p. 746 f.
|predecessor||Government of Germany||successor|
|Baden cabinet||Council of People's Representatives