November 8 – “The German Revolution of 1918-19- 100 Years Later”
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This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the German Revolution of 1918/19. On October 29, 1918, German sailors staged a revolt, which was soon followed by a mutiny. War-weary and hopeful for an end to the long war, the sailors demanded “Peace and Bread” (Frieden und Brot) and their uprising soon precipitated a larger revolution in Germany. By early November, several German cities were in the hands of the rebels. The November Revolution was born. The rebellious sailors, joined by soldiers and workers, now formed democratic “Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils,” which forced the emperor as well as the dynastic rulers of the German states to abdicate. The German monarchy was replaced with a democratic parliamentary republic, the Weimar Republic.
Given that the namesake of our foundation, Rosa Luxemburg, has played a prominent role in these events and their aftermath, we revisit the November Revolution and some of its most outstanding characters one hundred years later. At this centennial, we have invited three prominent scholars to speak on a panel to assess the historical legacy of the German Revolution, discuss unresolved political questions and controversies, and tackle persistent myths as well as attempts to romanticize it.
Historian Mario Kessler of the Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam will set the stage by providing a general overview of the events of the November Revolution, focusing on the workers’ and soldiers’ councils and their attempts to eliminate the old class rule in order to establish real social and civil liberties under the policy of the Majority Socialists (the MSPD). He will also discuss controversial standpoints in the work of other historians, ranging from Arthur Rosenberg’s contemporary classic The History of the Weimar Republic to Bill Pelz’s A People’s History of the German Revolution.
Stephen Bronner, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, will talk about clashing visions of the German Revolution of 1918/19. Against the backdrop of mass action from below, conflict between left-wing parties, and the emergence of new institutions, this presentation will confront the unresolved institutional tension between republic and Soviets; explain the conceptual relationship between organization and spontaneity; and challenge the romance of revolution as against the material obstacles it confronts.
With few exceptions, most of the remarkable figures of the November Revolution that are mentioned in history books are men. Women are often missing from our historical narratives, archives, and collective memory. Julia Killet of the Bavarian office of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung addresses this looming historical silence by presenting her research on the role of women in the German Revolution of 1918/19, demonstrating their significant contributions to the war, the revolution, and the founding of the Weimar Republic.
Stephen Eric Bronner is Board of Governors Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. He is also Director of Global Relations and sits on the Executive Committee of the UNESCO Chair for Genocide Prevention. He is the author of Socialism Unbound and Rosa Luxemburg: A Revolutionary for Our Times.
Mario Kessler is senior researcher at the Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam (Germany) and teaches at the University of Potsdam. At present, he is visiting professor at Yeshiva University in New York.
Julia Killet serves as regional director of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Bavaria/Kurt Eisner Verein für politische Bildung e.V. She holds a PhD in Contemporary Germany Literature from the University of Potsdam. Her dissertation focused on the portrayal of Rosa Luxemburg in 20th-century prose.
With Alyssa Adams as discussant.
The event is free and open to the public. It will take place on Thursday, November 8, 2018, at 6:pm at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office (275 Madison Ave., Suite 2114, entrance on 40th Street). The panel will be followed by a Q&A. Light refreshments will be served.