• Marius S. Ostrowski


The 1918–19 German Revolution, which saw the militaristic Kaiserreich of Wilhelm II overthrown and replaced by the nascent democracy of the Weimar Republic, has a justifiable claim to be one of the neglected transformative moments of European history. Its effects for Germany were abrupt and radical. What began as a series of strikes and mutinies among the sailors stationed at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven in late October 1918, in response to orders to prepare for a final, suicidal confrontation with Allied naval forces in the North Sea, rapidly metastatised into all-out insurrections in most of the major cities across Germany. By 9 November, as revolutionary workers’ and soldiers’ councils sprang into existence all over the country, the growing unrest had forced the Kaiser to abdicate, and his Chancellor Max von Baden to transfer power to a transitional government, the Rat der Volksbeauftragten (Council of People’s Deputies). This initially took the form of a coalition between the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and its smaller rival, the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), but by the end of 1918 was led solely by the SPD. The shock of this transition unleashed nearly a year of violent upheaval, with aftershocks lasting as late as 1923 in the guise of periodic military revolts and prolonged civil unrest, which saw the political institutions of one of the most advanced societies in Europe quickly and comprehensively transformed. The German Revolution’s effects for Europe as a whole were no less profound. Most immediately, it catalysed the end of World War 1 by confirming the military defeat of the German Reich and the Central Powers—which had become increasingly inevitable since the failure of the German March 1918 Spring Offensive (the Kaiserschlacht), and the subsequent collapse of the German front under the Allies’ counterattack during the August 1918 Hundred Days Offensive. More deeply, it precipitated the creation of the conditions for democracy as a form of government to flourish on the European continent for the first time—moving from the minority pursuit of Europe’s Atlantic and Nordic fringe to the system under which the majority of its population now lived.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Marius S. Ostrowski
    • 1
  1. 1.All Souls CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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