‘Was There a German Revolution?' Essay

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‘Revolution‘ involves the transfer of power in circumstances outside of the normal constitutional process. It results in radical changes to the political — and quite possibly social and economic — infrastructure. The process is usually accelerated by the experience of war, and especially of military defeat. This is what happened in Russia during the course of 1917. There has always been a strong argument that Germany had a similar experience a year later. The usual interpretation is that, like Russia, Germany underwent either two revolutions, or a single revoIution which developed in two stages. A ‘revolution from above' Iiberalised the constitution of the Second Reich in October 1918. It was followed by a ‘revolution from below', which further subdivided into two. One successfully laid the foundations of the Republic in November and then beat off attempts to establish a more radical Bolshevik-style regime in January 1919. Collectively these developments comprised the ‘German Revolution', which transformed an authoritarian structure into an advanced democracy. This scenario can - and should - be challenged. It will be argued here that Germany certainly did experience a revolutionary situation in 1918 but that it is far from clear that this situation actually produced a revolution. ‘Revolution from above’, it has been argued, was initiated at the end of September 1918 by Ludendorff and the Army High Command or OHL (Oberste Heeresleitung). Recognising that Germany's defeat was imminent, they advised the Kaiser to hand over power to Prince Max of Baden in an attempt to secure a constitutional government which would be acceptable to the Allies in general and to President Wilson in particular. The ‘revolution' was activated by the reforms of 28 October which for the first time made the Chancellor responsible to the Reichstag and enabled members within the Reichstag to
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