Workers and Soldiers Councils

(Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte)
   Inspired by the slogan "all power to the councils" ("Alle Macht den Raten"), Germany s council system was launched on 3 November 1918 by mutinous sailors in Kiel. Gaining greater support from the Revolutionary Shop Stewards* than from the Spartacus League,* the councils spread rapidly to every key city and town; the Stewards organized Berlin's first council on 9 November. In large cities executives (Vollzugsrate or Zentralrate) were formed to coordinate the work of several councils; the executive of the Greater Berlin Workers and Soldiers Councils had twenty-eight members—fourteen workers and fourteen soldiers—divided equally between the SPD and the USPD. In addition to work-ers and soldiers groups, Bavaria* had peasants councils, and there were factory and revolutionary workers councils as offshoots of, and sometimes in competition with, preexisting groups.
   The spontaneous appearance of councils in the war s last days was the No-vember Revolution s* most innovative feature. Recent studies tend to dismiss the theory that they were a reflection of their Russian counterparts (Soviets), no matter how much their appearance may have been a product of the Russian example. Because the Workers Councils were improvised in most cities on the basis of the local workers political orientation, they were inevitably dominated in all but a few cities by the SPD and moderate Independents. Such was the political isolation in late 1918 of the extreme Left (e.g., the Spartacists) that some Workers Councils even had middle-class elements in their membership. The Soldiers Councils were even less moved by the Soviet model. They often reproduced the army s structure and constituted themselves as a sort of localized General Staff. Although the inclination of these bodies was to dismiss local officials compromised by their connection with the Kaiserreich, most envisioned their role as supportive of new coalition governments in both the Reich and the Lander (states) whose composition would be based on parliamentary elections. To the chagrin of the Spartacists, the councils expressed their desire at the national Congress* of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils (16-21 December 1918) for the early election of a National Assembly* (a motion favoring elections on 19 January 1919 carried by a vote of 400 to 50). While war-weary members might have varied local objectives, their chief concerns were the maintenance of order, regulation of food supplies, and control of transportation.
   The December vote was coupled, however, with demands for the democra-tization of the bureaucracy and the army and for socialization of key industries. When it became clear that such reforms were unlikely, a marked radicalization of the workers' movement impacted council deliberations. Yet the period of revolutionary transition was essentially over by January 1919. By rejecting a socialist Raterepublik, the Congress underscored that the legitimacy of council rule would end with the election of the National Assembly. Whereas localized ambiguity persisted—Raterepubliken were formed in Bremen and Munich— most councils dissolved by early February. The bloody period in the winter and spring of 1919 was largely owed to the withdrawal of moderate socialists and trade unionists from those councils that persevered beyond February. Radicals, with a revolutionary agenda but a weaker base of support, assumed control of the rump organizations. It became a Freikorps* assignment to force fealty from these bodies. Although most had vanished by May, Berlin s executive sustained a dubious existence until August 1919.
   REFERENCES:Carsten, Revolution; Kolb, Arbeiterrate and Weimar Republic; Mitchell, Revolution in Bavaria; Morgan, Socialist Left; Ryder, German Revolution of 1918.

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

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