Neither War nor Peace: The Early Struggles of the Republic
On the same day (28 October) as the Kaiser gave the royal assent to the new constitutional reforms an event occurred which disrupted the smooth transition from authoritarian to parliamentary government. Sailors in the Imperial Navy at Kiel disobeyed orders to put to sea, defied their officers and hoisted the red flag. They believed (with good reason) that the object of the exercise, planned by the Admiralty, was to provoke a suicidal battle with the much stronger British fleet. After being confined to harbour for over four years, and knowing that the war was irretrievably lost and an armistice imminent, the crews refused to sacrifice themselves for a conception of honour they did not share. The Admiralty’s decision had been taken without the knowledge or approval of the government, and was a breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the new democratic regime which put the army and the navy for the first time under a civilian minister. The admirals had misread the temper of their men, which was by now that of the country. Sailors on shore made common cause with those on board, and Kiel was soon in the hands of a sailors’ council. Troops sent to restore order went over to the rebels. Two members of the Reichstag (Haussmann, a Progressive, who was a minister in Prince Max’s cabinet, and Noske, the right-wing Socialist) who hastened to Kiel to deal with the mutiny came to terms with its leaders, but could not prevent the contagion from spreading along the coast to the ports of Cuxhaven, Bremen and Hamburg and inland to the Ruhr.
KeywordsForeign Minister German Government Left Wing Peace Treaty Passive Resistance
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