The revolution of 1918

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As the war came to an end, the German nation was in a state of collapse.

On 29th October 1918, sailors at the German naval base at Kiel refused to obey an order to attack British ships. The German sailors set up soviets (councils) in order to defy their superiors. Only a year earlier, councils like these, set up by workers in Russia, had led to a communist revolution. Many people feared Germany would end up like Russia, with a communist dictatorship and civil war.

By 6th November, the revolution had spread to many German cities and even to soldiers fighting on the Western Front.

When the Kaiser abdicated, power was handed to the leader of the moderate left-wing Social Democratic Party, Friedrich Ebert. This did not stop the food shortages or the civil unrest and street battles between rival political groups.

Inspired by Russia’s revolution in 1917, revolutions spread throughout Germany. In the region of Bavaria, in the south, a communist state was established in the capital Munich. In January 1919 revolution threatened Berlin itself. Chancellor Ebert saw that democratic rule was under threat, so he called in the German army and the Freikorps (ex-soldiers who banded together to form small private armies). They crushed the revolution in Munich and executed the leaders. 

  • Although Chancellor Ebert used the army and the Freikorps to crush the Bavarian communists, there were still revolutionaries in other German cities, and fear of revolution still threatened peace in Germany.