November Revolution of 1918

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

November Revolution of 1918


a revolution in Germany, as a result of which the monarchy was overthrown and a bourgeois parliamentary republic established.

On the eve of the November Revolution of 1918, Germany was one of the most developed capitalist countries. Trusts and cartels played a decisive role in the economy. Large Junker landholdings, which were being reorganized on a capitalist model but which still preserved significant vestiges of feudalism, prevailed in German agriculture. The Junkers, in alliance with the big bourgeoisie, ruled the country. In 1918, V. I. Lenin wrote: “Here we have the ‘last word’ in modern large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organization, subordinated to Junker-bourgeois imperialism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 300). The proletariat was an active revolutionary force in Germany. All the material preconditions existed for the transition to a resolution of the tasks of the socialist revolution after the overthrow of the monarchy and the elimination of the vestiges of feudalism. Class contradictions grew more intense as World War I (1914–18) dragged on, bringing huge profits to the Junkers and the bourgeoisie and imposing grave hardships on the popular masses.

The Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia had a great influence on the upsurge of the revolutionary movement in Germany. The January general strike of 1918, involving more than 1 million workers, took on a political character. The workers came out against the imperialist war and German imperialism’s plans to plunder Soviet Russia. They supported an immediate democratic peace and the overthrow of the kaiser’s imperialist government. During the strike the workers organized councils. Revolutionary ferment also spread throughout the army. By the autumn of 1918, it had become apparent that Germany would be utterly defeated in World War I. This hastened the ripening of the revolution.

At a conference of the Spartacist groups on Oct. 7, 1918, the program for a popular revolution was adopted. Taking as its starting point the correlation of class forces, the program, on the whole, correctly formulated the principal national and social task of the revolution: the immediate end of the war and the overthrow of German imperialism as the precondition for the resolution of the tasks of the socialist revolution. The conference called on the workers to overthrow the government of war and fight for the expropriation of bank capital, mines, blast furnaces, and the property of large-scale landowners. It appealed to the workers to struggle for the establishment of a minimum wage, for the immediate abolition of the state of siege, and for the release of political prisoners.

Striving to prevent a revolution, on October 4 the German imperialists organized a so-called democratic coalition government, headed by Prince Max of Baden. The Social Democratic leaders P. Scheidemann and G. Bauer were members of the coalition government. But the German imperialists did not succeed in stemming the tide of the revolutionary movement. A sailors’ uprising, the prologue to the November revolution, broke out in Kiel on Nov. 3, 1918.

On November 9 the Spartacist group and the revolutionary delegates of Berlin, who had been elected during the January 1918 strike, called for a general strike and an armed uprising. Soldiers joined the workers, who were taking to the streets of Berlin. The abdication of the kaiser was announced at about noon on November 9. The monarchy had been overthrown, and the working class was confronted with the task of destroying the vestiges of feudalism, smashing the old machinery of state, and struggling for a socialist revolution. Under these conditions, Liebknecht, speaking in the name of the revolutionary proletariat, proclaimed the Socialist Republic on November 9 at about 4 P.M.

The right-wing Social Democratic leaders and the centrist Independent Social Democratic Party directed their efforts at saving the capitalist system. Scheidemann advanced the slogan of the creation of a “free German republic.” This, in fact, signified the proclamation of a bourgeois republic. However, the right-wing Social Democratic leaders and the centrist leadership of the “Independents” were unable to block the development of the revolution at this stage. The revolutionary workers of Germany, following the example of Soviet Russia, organized workers’ and soldiers’ councils throughout the country. Where consistent revolutionaries headed the movement and were influential in the councils, the purge of reactionary elements from local bodies of the state apparatus was initiated, and the economic power of the magnates of capital was limited by the establishment of control over production. However, the Spartacist League lacked sufficient political, ideological, and organizational strength and experience to be able, in the struggle for anti-imperialist democratic demands, to win a majority in the councils and transform them into bodies representing the power of the working class and the toiling masses. The councils were paralyzed by the influence of Social Democratic policies and by illusions concerning bourgeois parliamentarism and the role of the state as a force supposedly above all classes.

Gaining a majority in the councils, the opportunistic leaders of the Social Democratic Party and the Independents transformed the councils into a front for the counterrevolution. The provisional government—the Council of People’s Commissars—which was elected on November 10 at a general assembly of the Berlin councils, included three representatives of the right-wing Social Democrats (F. Ebert, Scheidemann, and O. Landsberg) and three Independent Social Democrats (H. Haase, W. Ditt-mann, and E. Barth). The Council allowed the kaiser’s officials to keep their posts. The representatives of the revolutionary delegates demanded that Liebknecht be included in the government. As conditions for his entering the government, Liebknecht demanded the transfer of all power to the councils and the removal of bourgeois politicians from them. But the right-wing Social Democrats rejected his demands and postponed decisions on questions of vital importance to the German people—the aims of government policy and the establishment of a social republic until the elections to the Constituent Assembly.

Disregarding the wishes of the reformist leaders of the Social Democratic Party, the Spartacist League waged a struggle for the further development of the revolution. Under pressure from the revolutionary masses, the government lifted the state of siege, proclaimed freedom for trade unions and an amnesty for political prisoners, and established the eight-hour workday. At the same time, however, the government concluded an alliance with the monarchist, reactionary P. von Hindenburg, head of the army, to wage a joint struggle against the revolution. Relying on the army, which was commanded by Junker militarist elements, the Council of People’s Commissars went on the offensive against the rights that had just been won by the workers. In their struggle against the revolutionary masses, the reactionaries also relied on aid from imperialists in the USA, Great Britain, and France. As early as November 5, the government of Prince Max of Baden expelled the Soviet ambassador from Berlin. The Social Democratic leaders hoped that this would prevent an alliance between the Russian and German revolutions. They tried to open the way for an agreement with the Entente imperialists on the struggle against the Soviet Republic and the German revolution. On Nov. 11, 1918, Germany signed a truce with the Entente at Compiègne. Under the truce, Germany was permitted to maintain an army. The Ebert-Scheidemann government voluntarily pledged to maintain German occupation forces in the Ukraine and the Baltic until the arrival of Entente troops. Thus, the Social Democratic government continued the kaiser’s anti-Soviet policy, which contradicted the basic national interests of the German people.

In an attempt to block the expropriation of capitalist property, the Social Democratic government unleashed a broad propaganda campaign in favor of “socialization.” Collaborating with company owners and trade union leaders, it established the Commission on Socialization, headed by K. Kautsky. The activity of the commission was merely a series of demagogic maneuvers. Despite the demands of the workers, 250,000 of whom joined a demonstration organized by the Spartacist League on Dec. 16, 1918, in support of the transfer of power to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils and in favor of an alliance with Soviet Russia, at the First All-German Congress of Workers’ Councils (Dec. 16–21, 1918) the Social Democratic leaders succeeded in passing resolutions on elections to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly and on the transfer of legislative power to the government. Subsequently, the Ebert-Scheidemann government switched to an open offensive against the working class. Government troops attacked the revolutionary naval division in Berlin on the night of Dec. 23–24, 1918. With the aid of armed workers, the sailors repulsed this attack by the forces of the counterrevolution and were prepared to pass over to a counteroffensive, but the leaders of the Independents frustrated their plans. In January 1919 the bourgeoisie provoked the proletariat into a premature action and took advantage of the workers’ unpreparedness to crush the revolutionary movement. The leaders of the revolution, Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg, were brutally murdered on January 15. The Weimar Constitution of 1919, which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on July 31, 1919, confirmed the establishment of the bourgeois republic.

All the objective preconditions for a socialist revolution had existed in Germany, but the November Revolution of 1918 did not go beyond the framework of a bourgeois democratic revolution, although it was, to a certain extent, carried out by proletarian means and methods. Its main task—the overthrow of German imperialism—remained unfulfilled. A bourgeois republic replaced the monarchy. Large-scale Junker landowning remained untouched. With the aid of the Social Democratic leaders, the German bourgeoisie and the Junkers crushed the working-class movement, which lacked a tempered, genuinely revolutionary, mass Marxist-Leninist party. The Communist Party of Germany, which was founded at the end of December 1918 and the beginning of January 1919, had only weak ties with the broad masses of the proletariat, the working peasantry, and the rest of the toiling masses. Ideologically and organizationally divided, the working class was not in a position to lead the toiling peasantry. Nevertheless, the November Revolution of 1918 was one of the most important events in German history and the most important revolutionary, anti-imperialist movement of the years of revolutionary upsurge immediately following the Great October Socialist Revolution.


Lenin, V. I. “Tiazhelyi, no neobkhodimyi urok.” Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 35.
Lenin. “Strannoe i chudovishchnoe.” Ibid.
Lenin. “Doklad na Ob”edinennom zasedanii VTsIK, Moskovskogo Soveta, fabrichno-zavodskikh komitetov i professional’nykh soiuzov 22 oktiabria 1918 g.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Lenin. “Rech’ o godovshchine revoliutsii 6 noiabria,” “Rech’ o mezh-dunarodnom polozhenii 8 noiabria” (VI Vserossiiskii Chrezyychainyi s”ezd Sovetov rabochikh, krest’ianskikh, kazach’ikh i krasnoarmeis-kikh deputatov 6–9 noiabria 1918 g). Ibid.
Lenin. “O ‘demokratii’ i diktature.” Ibid.
Lenin. “Rech’ na mitinge protesta protiv ubiistva Karla Libknekhta i Rozy Liuksemburg 19 ianvaria 1919 g.” Ibid.
Lenin. “Pis’mo k rabochim Evropy i Ameriki.” Ibid.
Lenin. “Dopolnenie k proektu obrashcheniia k germanskim rabochim i ne ekspluatiruiushchim chuzhogo truda krest’ianam.” Ibid., vol. 38.
Lenin. “Geroi Bernskogo Internatsionala.” Ibid.
Lenin. “Kak burzhuaziia ispol’zuet renegatov.” Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin. “Privet ital’ianskim, frantsuzskim i nemetskim kommunistam.” Ibid.
Lenin. “Chlenam gruppy ‘Spartak,’ 18 oktiabria 1918.” Ibid., vol. 50.
Thälmann, E. Boevye rechi i stat’i. Moscow, 1935. (Translated from German.)
Ocherk istorii nemetskogo rabochego dvizheniia. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from German.)
Noiabr’skaia revoliutsiia v Germanii (collection of articles and materials). Moscow, 1960.
Drabkin, Ia. S. Noiabr’skaia revoliutsiia v Germanii. Moscow, 1967.

W. ULBRICHT [German Democratic Republic; 18–414–7]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Jessner, on the other hand, construed it as a call for freedom emerging from the masses, as Germany was transformed from an imperial monarchy into a republican democracy by the November Revolution of 1918. He further offended conservatives and traditionalists by eradicating all trappings of local colour and authentic historical setting, as the play was performed in an abstract theatrical space consisting of multi-levelled platforms, which came to be derided as Jessner's trademark 'staircase stage'.
He begins his narrative, which relies heavily on police and popular press reports as sources, with discussion of how the Wilhelmine commemorations of 1913 revealed major tensions between the politics of "monarchy" and "Volk." He then turns to the surprising and spontaneous mass nationalist demonstrations that occasioned the outbreak of war in July 1914 and argues that they were aggressive challenges to monarchical-dynastic power, later connecting them to the national democratic public mobilization that swept away the monarchy during the November Revolution of 1918.