The Paris Peace Settlement, 1919-1920

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The military disaster which befell the Mid-European Confederacy in the autumn of 1918 was the signal for immediate political revolutions within its members. The revolutions, though precipitated in several instances by Socialists, proved to be uniformly mild and more conducive to democratic nationalism than to any basic social change.

In Germany Prince Maximilian, the Chancellor on whom the Emperor William II imposed the unpleasant task of opening peace negotiations with the Allies, sought to allay domestic unrest by promising in October a number of constitutional reforms. But the more he promised in the way of reform, the louder grew the demands for an overturn of the whole monarchical regime, and to such demands the counsel of the American President, Woodrow Wilson, gave point and cogency. On October 28 a naval mutiny occurred at Kiel, and on the next day Emperor hurried from Berlin to military headquarters at Spa, imagining that the army would safeguard alike his person and his throne.

Within a week almost every city in the German Empire witnessed Socialist rioting and the formation of revolutionary “workers councils.” On November 8, amid disorders at Munich, Bavaria was proclaimed a “democratic and socialist republic,” with Kurt Eisner, a left-wing Socialist, and president. In vain Chancellor Maximilian begged William II to save the Hohenzollern dynasty by abdicating in favor of his infant grandson. The Emperor, relying on the army, was deaf to the Chancellor, and by the time the high military officers, including Hindenburg, reluctantly informed him that even the army was seething with sedition and could not be relied upon, there was no longer a friendly Chancellor to advise him. In the night of November 9-10 William II ingloriously took flight across the frontier into the Netherlands. The history of the German Empire of the Hohenzollerns was thus almost exclusively the history of two reigns-that of William the First (1871-1888), under whom the Empire had been reared in might, and that of William the Last (1888-1918), under whom it fell with a fearful crash. Already, on November 9. 1918, Prince Maximilian of Baden had felt obliged to turn over the chancellorship to a Socialist, Friedrich Ebert, and presently, under the latter’s guidance, a “Council of People’s Commissars” was installed at Berlin in imitation of the contemporary revolutionary administration in Russia. But though Ebert and his fellow Socialists in Germany were willing to borrow nomenclature from the Russian Bolsheviks, they had no serious thought of adopting their policies. Only a small group of German Socialists-to so-called “Spartacans”-were in full sympathy with the Russian Communists and eager to emulate them in a violent exercise of proletarian dictatorship. The major groups, on the other hand-those that shared in the provisional government-were too anxious for national regeneration to countenance civil war and too devoted to democracy to favor any dictatorship, even of themselves. The “moderation” of the Socialists was supported by the Catholic Center party, led by Matthias Erzberger, and also by the Progressives and left-wing National Liberals, newly fused into a Democratic party. It thus transpired that the three political organizations-Progressive, Centrist, and Social Democratic-which had repeatedly united in opposition to illiberal policies of the Hohenzollern Empire, now joined anew to supplant the Empire with a liberal democratic Republic. Against this Republican bloc were arrayed a Royalist “Right” and a Communist “Left.” The “Right” comprised the former Conservative and Free Conservative parties, now reorganized as the Nationalist party and intent upon the restoration of monarchy, and the more moderate group of right-wing National Liberals who, under the leadership of Gustav Stresemann, a wealthy industrialist, assumed the title of “German People’s party” and, while preferring...
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