Friedrich Ebert: Wikis

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Friedrich Ebert


9th (and last) Chancellor of the German Empire
Preceded by Prince Maximilian of Baden

In office
11 February 1919 – 28 February 1925
Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann
Gustav Bauer
Hermann Müller
Konstantin Fehrenbach
Joseph Wirth
Wilhelm Cuno
Gustav Stresemann
Wilhelm Marx
Hans Luther
Preceded by Emperor William II (as head of the German Empire)
Succeeded by Paul von Hindenburg

Born 4 February 1871(1871-02-04)
Died 28 February 1925 (aged 54)
Political party SPD
Signature

Friedrich Ebert (4 February 1871 – 28 February 1925), a German politician (Social Democratic Party of Germany / SPD), was the first President of Germany in the Weimar Republic.

Contents

Biography

Born in Heidelberg as the son of a tailor, he himself was trained as a saddlemaker. He became involved in politics as a trade unionist and Social Democrat, and soon became a leader of the "moderate" wing of the Social Democratic Party, becoming Secretary-General in 1905, and party chairman in 1913. In 1912 he was elected as a Member of the Reichstag (parliament of Germany) for the constituency of Elberfeld-Barmen (now part of Wuppertal).

In August 1914, Ebert led the party to vote almost unanimously in favour of war loans, accepting that that war was a necessary patriotic, defensive measure, especially against the autocratic regime of the Czar in Russia [1]. The party's stance, under the leadership of Ebert and other "moderates" like Philipp Scheidemann, in favour of the war with the aim of a compromise peace, eventually led to a split, with those radically opposed to the war leaving the SPD in early 1917 to form the USPD. For similar reasons several left-wing members of parliament had already distanced themselves from the party in 1916. Later they called themselves "Spartacists".

When it became clear that the war was lost, a new government was formed by Prince Maximilian of Baden which included Ebert and other members of the SPD in October 1918. Following the outbreak of the German Revolution, Prince Max resigned on 9 November, and handed his office over to Ebert. Prince Max also declared that the Kaiser had abdicated. Ebert favoured retaining the monarchy under a different ruler ("If the Kaiser does not abdicate, the social revolution is inevitable. But I do not want it, I even hate it like sin" [2] he had said to Max von Baden on 7 November). On the same day, however, Scheidemann proclaimed the German Republic, in response to the unrest in Berlin and in order to counter a declaration of the "Free Socialist Republic" by Karl Liebknecht later that day. Ebert reproached him: "You have no right to proclaim the Republic!" By this he meant that the decision was to be made by an elected national assembly, even if that decision might be the restoration of the monarchy [3].

Scheidemann's proclamation ended the German monarchy, and an entirely Socialist provisional government based on workers' councils took power under Ebert's leadership.

Ebert led the new government for the next several months. He used the army under the command of Minister of Defense Gustav Noske and also Freikorps (paramilitary organizations of ex-soldiers) to suppress a Spartacist uprising against the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. Spartacist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by members of the Freikorps. When the Constituent Assembly met in Weimar in February, 1919, Ebert was chosen to be the first president of the German Republic.

The German workers protected his government from the right-wing Kapp Putsch of some Freikorps in 1920 by means of a nationwide general strike. The armed forces Reichswehr remained neutral and did not defend the republic. Nevertheless the government used the army and parts of the Freikorps in order to suppress a communist-led rebellion in Germany's main industrial area, the Ruhr district in north-west Germany. Thousands of people were killed.

Participants in the Kapp Putsch were treated leniently. The judiciary in the Weimar Republic was "blind in the right eye" [4]. Some of the Freikorps already used the swastika as their symbol of resistance against the "red pack" at the time, and many of them as well as right-wing members of the Reichswehr would later become influential National Socialists.

Ebert, right, with Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno (1923)
Ebert's funeral

Vicious attacks by Ebert's right-wing adversaries, including slander and ridicule, were often condoned or even supported by the judiciary when the president turned to the courts. The constant necessity to defend himself against those attacks also undermined his health.

Ebert died on 28 February, 1925, aged 54.

Controversy

Ebert remains a somewhat controversial figure to this day. While the SPD recognizes him as one of the founders and keepers of German democracy whose death in office in February 1925 was a great loss, communists and others on the left argue that he paved the way for fascism by supporting the ultra-right Freikorps and their violent suppression of "Marxist" uprisings.

The Freikorps, which consisted of WWI veterans, maintained that the German working class, supported by the SPD, was responsible for Germany's defeat in World War I. The alleged proof of this Dolchstoßlegende was found in a number of strikes during 1917 and 1918 which had partly disrupted production in the Imperial German armaments industry. The aim of the striking workers and their socialist allies was said to have been to turn Imperial Germany into a Soviet Socialist Republic. Most historians, however, say that military defeat was inevitable after the USA had joined the war against Germany [5]. In November 1918, a delegation of members of parliament represented Germany in the ceasefire negotiations at the request of the military leadership after the generals had decided that the war could no longer be won. Critics say that thus the politicians exactly played the role that the military wanted them to play. Ebert later on even co-operated with the generals in order to prevent the country from falling into chaos, as he saw it.

Some historians have defended Ebert's actions as unfortunate but inevitable if the creation of a socialist state on the model that had been promoted by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and the communist Spartacus Group was to be prevented. Leftist historians like Bernt Engelmann, on the other hand, have argued that organized communism was not yet politically relevant in Germany at the time [6]. However, the actions of Ebert and his Minister of Defense, Gustav Noske, against the insurgents contributed to the radicalization of the workers and to increasing support for communist ideas.

Although the Weimar constitution provided for the establishment of workers' councils on different levels of society, they did not play a major part in the political life of the Weimar Republic. Ebert always regarded the institutions of parliamentary democracy as a more legitimate expression of the will of the people; workers' councils, as a product of the revolution, were only justified in exercising power for a transitional period. "All power to all the people!" was the slogan of his party, in contrast to the slogan of the far left, "All power to the (workers') councils!" [7]. In Ebert's opinion only reforms, not a revolution, could advance the causes of democracy and socialism. So he has been called a traitor by the far left, paving the way for the ascendancy of the far right and even of Hitler, wheras those who think his policies were justified claim that he saved Germany from Bolshevik excesses.

Today, the SPD-associated Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Germany's largest and oldest party-affiliated foundation, which, among other things, promotes students of outstanding intellectual abilitiy and personality, is named after Ebert.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Eberhard Pikart: Der deutsche Reichstag und der Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkriegs, in: Der Staat 5, 1966, pp 58 ff
  2. ^ Cf. http://www.ebert-gedenkstaette.de/ebert_leben1918.html
  3. ^ Cf. Reinhard Sturm, Vom Kaiserreich zur Republik 1918/19, Informationen zur politischen Bildung no. 261
  4. ^ http://www.fes.de/fulltext/historiker/00211005.htm
  5. ^ http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_ludendorff.html
  6. ^ Bernt Engelmann: Einig gegen Recht und Freiheit. Deutsches Anti-Geschichtsbuch. 2. Teil, Bertelsmann, München 1975
  7. ^ Cf. http://www1.bpb.de/publikationen/Z4V2EB,5,0,Vom_Kaiserreich_zur_Republik_191819.html

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Prince Maximilian of Baden
Chancellor of Germany
1918-1919
Succeeded by
Philipp Scheidemann
Prime Minister of Prussia
1918
Succeeded by
Paul Hirsch
Preceded by
William II
as German Emperor
President of Germany
1919–1925
Succeeded by
Hans Luther
as Acting president
Party political offices
Preceded by
Hugo Haase and
August Bebel
Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
1913—1919
with Hugo Haase (1913—1916)
Philipp Scheidemann (1917—1919)
Succeeded by
Otto Wels and
Hermann Müller
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