Revolutionary Shop Stewards

(Revolutionäre Obleute)
   Emerging in Berlin* during the early months of World War I, the Obleute were radical socialists who sprang not from the SPD but from the trade unions.* Opposed to the policies of the SPD, the Stewards organized themselves clan-destinely into small groups within munitions factories in order to mobilize work-ers opposed to the war. The selective membership was restricted to union officials possessing administrative or political experience. In time they evolved a covert network and spread their organization to other plants and shipyards. In 1916, persuaded of eventual revolution, they formed a link with the Social Dem-ocratic Alliance, precursor to the USPD. They were largely responsible for the strikes and factory actions of 1916-1918. Until his induction Richard Müller* led the Stewards; he was succeeded in February 1918 by Emil Barth.*
   The Obleute were often at odds with the Spartacists. In contrast to their so-cialist colleagues, they hoped to retain their position as a small cadre of revo-lutionaries rather than evolve into a party organization. Moreover, they avoided theoretical discourse and favored conspiratorial activity over mass action. En-gaged from October 1918 in the formation of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils,* they opposed the December 1918 proposal of the Spartacus League* to break with the USPD and found a new party; indeed, they refused to join the KPD without Karl Liebknecht's* endorsement of five demands (including participa-tion in the National Assembly* elections). Their decision to stand by the USPD deprived the KPD of a critical connection with the workers. Yet while they initially opposed a putsch, it was largely at their behest that a vote was taken on 5 January 1919 to oust the Council of People's Representatives* with a general strike. The resultant action, the Spartacus Uprising,* was a disaster. By March 1919, with neither program nor political leadership, they admitted that they had been outmaneuvered by the SPD. Much of their energy was absorbed, albeit briefly, by the Workers' Councils.
   REFERENCES:Angress, Stillborn Revolution; Haffner, Failure of a Revolution; Morgan, Socialist Left; Waldman, Spartacist Uprising.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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