German Revolution of 1918–19

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The German Revolution of 1918–19 was a revolutionary period, starting in October 1918 with the declaration of the High Command to the Emperor (Kaiser Wilhelm I) that they must sue for peace, and with the new constitutional pledges then drawn up and presented to the Reichstag. The communist revolutionary Karl Liebknecht was released from prison on October 23rd.

That was followed by the November revolution triggered by the decision of the Naval High Command on 24 October 1918 to fight a last major battle with the British Royal Navy. A mutiny (a sailors' revolt) then ensued, on the 30th, in the naval ports of Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, and spread across the country with "disorder, collapse, mutiny, treason, mob rule, and chaos." The Jewish communist firebrand Rosa Luxemburg was released from Breslau jail, after years of imprisonment, on November 9th.

The Emperor Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise. In the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, the new Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, announced Wilhelm's abdication on 9 November 1918. However the socialist Friedrich Ebert proclaimed a Republic shortly thereafter, in Berlin. Thus ended the Second Reich. This was followed by a further period of civil conflict, characterized by revolutionary attempts to create Communist state(s) inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917, such as the Bavarian Soviet Republic and the uprising by the Spartacus League. The non-Communist parties, however, had the army and the Freikorps quell these uprisings by force.

The new Weimar Republic was formally established in August 1919.


  • Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19 by Sebastian Haffner, London, 1973. (It should be pointed out that the author is a socialist, and sympathetic to the German Revolution. However the book remains an important piece of source material.)