Richard Müller (politician, December 1880)

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Richard Müller (born December 9, 1880 in Weira ; † May 11, 1943 in Berlin ) played an important role as one of the protagonists of the Revolutionary Obleute , especially in the run-up to and during the November Revolution as an advocate of a German Soviet republic . He was chairman of the Executive Council of the Workers 'and Soldiers' Councils in Greater Berlin .

Emil Barth's Executive Board ID No. 1 , signed by Richard Müller and Brutus Molkenbuhr as chairmen of the Berlin Executive Board

Live and act

Origin and youth

Müller was born on December 9, 1880 in the village of Weira (in today's Thuringia) as the son of an innkeeper. In addition to the restaurant, the parents also ran agriculture to support the family. Richard was the fourth of initially seven siblings. Shortly before his eighth birthday, his mother Wilhelmina died, father Otto remarried two years later, stepmother Ulrike Müller (née Zimmermann) was only 19 years old and therefore only six to seven years older than Richard's oldest sibling. From the remarriage there were two more children, so that the family now comprised ten people (one child died shortly after birth).

In 1896 his father Otto Müller also died, so that Richard Müller became an orphan. A little later, the family-owned inn went bankrupt and the family's economic situation deteriorated. Richard Müller left Weira and started an apprenticeship as a lathe operator.

After living in Hanover for some time and starting a family there, he moved to Berlin, where he had worked in the German Metalworkers' Association since 1910 at the latest and wrote the first articles on the criticism of Taylorism in the lathe industry.

World War and head of the revolutionary stewards

Müller had been the head of the lathe operator in the free trade union German Metalworkers 'Association since 1914 and one of the leading figures in the metalworkers' association in Berlin, which is located on the left wing of the trade unions. Müller had fought the social democratic truce policy since the beginning of the war . Out of this attitude he became a co-founder of the Revolutionary Obleute, a resistance network of metalworkers, originally emerging from the shop stewards in the lathe industry. In June 1916 the stewards organized a one-day general strike in protest against the arrest of Karl Liebknecht , in which around 55,000 workers took part. This strike went down in history as the first political mass strike in Germany.

Shortly before a planned second mass strike in April 1917, Müller was arrested and drafted into the military. Many of his comrades were suspected of denouncing the union leadership, which increased the anger among workers. On April strike (also called "bread strike") as participated 300,000 workers and protesting against the inadequate food supply, but also against the detention miller. After the authorities were accommodated, the strike stopped on the second day. This early termination of the strike at the instigation of the SPD union leader Adolf Cohen meant that Müller was only able to leave the military after three months.

In the January strike in 1918 , Müller took over the chairmanship of the action committee founded in Berlin, which also included Friedrich Ebert , Philipp Scheidemann , Otto Braun and others. Here he campaigned against the will of the radical left majority for the SPD to participate in the strike leadership in order to keep the strike front as broad as possible.

After the failed January strike, another wave of repression began with mass arrests, Müller was drafted again and had to do military service until September. He was only released after he had been nominated for the Berlin Reichstag constituency 1 as a USPD candidate . As a candidate for the Reichstag, he was exempt from military service for the election campaign. The election itself took place on October 15, 1918 and was a by-election in which the mandate of the late Reichstag President Johannes Kaempf had to be filled. Müller made it to the runoff election, but could not win the mandate.

During Müller's absence, Emil Barth led the revolutionary stewards, while the former Vorwärts editor Ernst Däumig joined the organization. Encouraged by the increasingly obvious military collapse at the front since the summer of 1918, the stewards now oriented themselves towards an armed uprising. Weapons were collected under Barth's leadership and plans for uprising were discussed.

Together with members of the Spartakus group and other USPD leftists, the chairmen met in a “ workers' council ” and coordinated their actions. The leadership was clearly with Müller and the Revolutionary Obleuten, much to the chagrin of Liebknecht and the Spartacus group. Liebknecht, released from prison on October 23, 1918, urged rapid action, while Müller and the stewards considered arming and preparation to be inadequate. Even when the revolution had already started due to the sailors' revolt in Kiel , they did not give in at first and stuck to the agreed date of the uprising for November 11th. Only at the last minute, on November 8th, was it decided to strike for the next day.

Although the uprising on November 9th was largely spontaneous and uncoordinated, the weeks of preparations made by the stewards contributed to the success of the action. The tactic of advancing in armed demonstrations from the industrial areas on the outskirts to the center and occupying the government buildings there was largely successful. The plans of the stewards gave the revolutionary events a certain structure, especially in the first few hours, there was hardly any resistance and the revolution was relatively bloodless.

November Revolution and Chairman of the Executive Council

First Reich Congress of Workers 'and Soldiers' Councils, opening speech by Richard Müller

When, under Friedrich Ebert and Hugo Haase, in the course of the November Revolution on November 9 and 10, 1918 after the overthrow of the monarchy, the Council of People's Representatives was formed as a new provisional government made up of representatives of the SPD and USPD, Müller, who like Haase, declined belonged to the USPD, a government participation together with the majority socialists. Barth, on the other hand, was sent by the USPD as a representative of the Revolutionary Obleute in the Council of People's Representatives. Müller was not a representative of a parliamentary form of government, he strove for the council system as the basis of the new state order. He therefore rejected a national assembly and pleaded for the workers 'and soldiers' councils to take full power. According to Müller, the National Assembly would only exist “over [his] corpse”. This saying established his contemporary nickname "Leichenmüller".

Instead, Müller was elected chairman of the workers 'and soldiers' councils in Berlin on November 10th . Besides other MSPD and USPD members such as Hermann Müller , Georg Ledebour and Emil Barth, he was a member of the Executive Council, which consists of a total of 28 people . As its chairman, he was one of the main opponents of the Council of People's Representatives. In the run-up to the Reichsrätekongress the USPD had proposed him as one of the chairmen, even if he did not have a mandate for the congress. Ultimately, Carl Severing from the MSPD had used arguments from parliamentary practice to prevent Müller from becoming a member of the board of directors at the congress. But behind this was also the aim of limiting the influence of this political opponent as much as possible. Nevertheless, as chairman of the executive committee, he played a not insignificant role. Presumably he wrote the rules of procedure for the meeting. He also gave the opening speech. In this, Müller explained that it was the task of the Congress to lay the foundations for a German socialist republic, to secure the achievements of the revolution, to anchor the political power conquered by the workers and soldiers for all time and to the German working people [to] show the way to freedom, happiness and well-being. ”Later, Müller submitted the accountability report of the Executive Council, while Ebert spoke for the Council of People's Representatives. Essentially, Ebert's position prevailed at the congress. Although the Berlin Executive Board later claimed the right of control, it could not dispute the leading political role of the Council of People's Representatives.

Müller agreed with the majority of the left-wing revolutionary Spartakusbund on the goal of a socialist Soviet republic. But he refused to join the KPD for the revolutionary stewards until they had given up their putschist tactics.

Council theorists

As a representative of the left wing in the German Metalworkers' Association, Müller was one of the staunch critics of a cooperation with employers in the so-called Central Working Group . A resolution of March 2, 1919 by Müller accused the General Commission of Germany's trade unions of treason. The March fighting in Berlin began the next day . Among other things, differences between the political groups involved and the willingness to fight and violence of some groups as well as of the Freikorps, republican armed forces and Reichswehr Minister Gustav Noske (he sent strong units of the emerging Reichswehr to Berlin) became visible. In June 1919, Müller spoke alongside Theodor Leipart at the congress of the free trade unions about the future tasks of the workers' councils. In doing so, he developed a council-democratic concept that went beyond the company level. Without the unions say, Müller, the model of a regionally and professionally structured by council organization, headed by a Central Council and a developed National Economic Council should be. However, this concept was rejected by the majority of the Congress with 407 to 192 votes, instead the works council concept prevailed. In November 1919, after the left wing had prevailed in the DMV, Müller became editor-in-chief of its weekly Metallarbeiter-Zeitung ; after a falling out with DMV chairman Robert Dißmann , he had to give up this position in June 1920.

In 1921, Müller failed with his application to turn the works councils into independent political fighting organizations - in Berlin he had already created a corresponding model with the Berlin works council headquarters that was capable of working at the local level. However, the first German works council congress in 1920 declared the trade unions to be responsible for the works councils. As a result, Müller tried unsuccessfully to collect the works councils close to the USPD in a Reich office of works councils in order to compete with the union works council headquarters of the ADGB and the AfA-Bund .

Transition to the KPD and intra-communist opposition

At the extraordinary party congress of the USPD in Halle between October 12 and 17, 1920, Müller was one of those around Ernst Däumig who advocated admission of the party to the Communist International and ultimately the merger with the KPD to form the VKPD . The majority of the delegates agreed to this course. The opponents of the decision, however, left the room, which split the party.

Müller was active in the central committee of the USPD left from October to December 1920, and since December he has been head of the Reich union headquarters of the KPD. In 1921, Müller was one of the party’s internal critics of the March campaign involving VKPD chairmen Levi and Däumig, and he also developed a critical stance on the politics of the Red Trade Union International . Because of his internal party resistance and his refusal to call for strikes in Berlin as part of the March action, he lost all posts in the KPD and was henceforth just a simple member. Müller initially sympathized with the KAG , but did not join it. According to recent research, he was still a member of the KPD in 1924, which initiated an expulsion process against him because he allegedly refused to actively participate in party work. Müller protested at the Comintern in Moscow and referred to his emerging writings on the historical reappraisal of the suppressed revolution - a work that the KPD, however, regarded as a "private matter". Whether the exclusion process was successful here or later remains unclear - at the end of the 1920s, Müller was no longer a party member.

In the following years, Müller withdrew from political life and devoted himself to his new job as a publicist and historian. As early as 1919–1921 he had laid down his political ideas for a soviet republic in various writings. After the end of his active political career, he wrote his three-volume history of the revolution with the title Vom Kaiserreich zur Republik , which received a lot of attention among contemporaries and is still considered the most important contemporary representation of the November Revolution from a left-wing socialist perspective.

After his books were published, Richard Müller worked for a while in the left - wing trade union Deutscher Industrie-Verband (DIV), which wanted to implement revolutionary trade union work and was equally critical of the KPD and the SPD. Müller left the DIV around 1929, no further political involvement is known.

Retreat into private life and work as an entrepreneur

In the last years of his life, Müller was managing director of Phöbus-Bau GmbH and made a fortune with real estate transactions. The company was originally founded as a publishing company to distribute his third book, but was soon converted into a construction company. Around 1930, Müller and his company hit the headlines several times because of unfair practices as landlords. According to information from the KPD newspaper Rote Fahne , Müller was convicted of collecting excessive deposits and illegal information fees and had to repay the money to his tenants.

Richard Müller died on May 11, 1943 in Berlin, cause of death and grave site are unknown.

Significance and aftermath

For a long time, Müller's position between social democracy and communism stood in the way of broader reception, while other actors such as Karl Liebknecht or Friedrich Ebert became symbolic figures during the Cold War. Richard Müller is remembered primarily for his three volumes on the history of the revolution, which were very well received by the West German student movement in the 1960s , initially in the form of pirated prints and in 1974 also through an "official" new edition.

Müller's reports were used by Theodor Plievier in his novel The Emperor went, the generals remained , in which he also lets Müller himself appear in a scene when the Reichstag was stormed. Richard Müller's writings also had a similarly strong influence on Sebastian Haffner's The betrayed revolution, published by Scherz-Verlag in 1969 and still successful today , in which he interprets the failed November Revolution as the prehistory of National Socialism. In 2011, a new edition was published under the title Eine Geschichte der Novemberrevolution , in which Müller's historical works were summarized in one volume and provided with scientific apparatus (historical introduction, chronology and register of persons).

Less known, but nevertheless momentous, is the concept of the “pure council system”, largely shaped by Müller and Däumig, which shaped the demands of the strike wave of 1919 and was later discussed again and again by neo-Marxist and trade union circles. Another representative and architect of this model was Karl Korsch , later one of the founding fathers of neo-Marxism. In 1919 Korsch worked together with Müller as an author for the magazine Der Arbeiter-Rat , in 1929 he got involved with Müller in the DIV and wrote for its association magazine.


  • What the workers' councils want and should! With a foreword by Ernst Däumig . Publishing house "Der Arbeiter-Rat", Berlin 1919.
  • The council system in Germany. In: The Liberation of Mankind. Leipzig 1921 ( online here ).
  • From empire to republic . 2 volumes. Science and Society No. 3, 4. Malik, Vienna 1924, 1925. (Reprint: Olle & Wolter, Critical Library of the Labor Movement. Berlin 1974)
    • Volume 1: A Contribution to the History of the Revolutionary Labor Movement during the World War .
    • Volume 2: The November Revolution . Malik-Verlag, Vienna 1924 Cover design by John Heartfield .
  • A History of the November Revolution, Die Buchmacherei Verlag, October 2017, ISBN 978-3-00-035400-7 . A new edition of the volumes “From the Empire to the Republic”, “The November Revolution”, “The Civil War in Germany”.
  • The civil war in Germany. Birth pangs of the republic . Phöbus-Verlag, Berlin 1925. (Reprint: Olle & Wolter, Critical Library of the Labor Movement. Berlin 1974)

At Olle & Wolter, the last three titles were also published under the joint title of The Civil War in Germany. Berlin 1979. Reprint of all 3 volumes in one volume: Richard Müller: Eine Geschichte der Novemberrevolution. Verlag Die Buchmacherei, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-00-035400-7 .



  • Ralf Hoffrogge : Richard Müller. The man behind the November Revolution. Dietz, Berlin 2008. Extended new edition, Karl Dietz Verlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-320-02354-6 .
  • Ralf Hoffrogge: Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution. Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement , Brill Publications 2014, ISBN 978-9-00421-921-2 .
  • Hermann Weber , Andreas Herbst : German communists. Biographical Handbook 1918 to 1945 . 2nd, revised and greatly expanded edition. Dietz, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-320-02130-6 ( online [accessed January 1, 2013]).


  • Ralf Hoffrogge: Behind the Scenes of the January Strike in 1918 - Richard Müller and the Revolutionary Obleute. In: Chaja Boebel, Lothar Wentzel (ed.): Strikes against the war - The meaning of the mass strikes in the metal industry from January 1918. VSA-Verlag, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-89965-320-5 .
  • Ralf Hoffrogge: Richard Müller (1880-1943) . In: Preserve, Spread, Educate. Archivists, librarians and collectors of the sources of the German-speaking labor movement . Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Bonn-Bad Godesberg 2009, ISBN 978-3-86872-105-8 , pp. 209-215.
  • Christoph Jünke : Sisyphus: Richard Müller. In: Christoph Jünke: Forays through the red 20th century. Laika-Verlag, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-94423-300-0 , pp. 31-41.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ralf Hoffrogge: Richard Müller - The man behind the November revolution. Berlin 2008, p. 15ff.
  2. For details and particularities of the lathe industry of the Berlin DMV cf. Stefan Heinz : Moscow's mercenaries? The “Unified Association of Metal Workers in Berlin”: Development and failure of a communist union . Hamburg 2010, here in particular pp. 375–407.
  3. Richard Müller: From the Empire to the Republic. Vienna 1924, p. 116f.
  4. ^ Revolutionary gymnastics. on: Jungle World. November 13, 2008.
  5. ^ Eduard Bernstein: The German Revolution of 1918/19. (Review in the archive for social history by Heinrich-August Winkler)
  6. Quotation from Ross: Politisches Behavior. P. 169.
  7. ^ Minutes of the founding party congress of the KPD. (Third day, January 1, 1919)
  8. Axel Weipert: The second revolution. Council movement in Berlin 1919/1920 . Diss. (FU Berlin) 2014, ISBN 978-3954100620 , p. 41ff.
  9. Michael Schneider : ups, downs and crises. The unions in the Weimar Republic . In: Ulrich Borsdorf (Hrsg.): History of the German trade unions. From the beginning until 1945 . Cologne 1987, p. 297.
  10. Schneider, p. 304.
  11. Correspondence on this is documented in: Ralf Hoffrogge, Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution. Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement, Brill Publications 2014, ISBN 978-9-00421-921-2 , pp. 174ff; this source is not yet included in the German first edition of the biography.
  12. ^ Ralf Hoffrogge: Behind the Scenes of the January Strike 1918 - Richard Müller and the Revolutionary Obleute. In: Chaja Boebel, Lothar Wentzel (Hrsg.): Strikes against the war - The meaning of the mass strikes in the metal industry from January 1918. Hamburg 2008.
  13. ^ See: Ralf Hoffrogge: Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution. Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement, Brill Publications 2014, p. 231.