Did any British working class men have the vote before 1918?

I was watching the film Suffragette recently and she mentioned her husband having the vote.

I thought he looked too poor to already have the vote, but this didn't look like a film to just ignore history.

Ok the 1884 Reform Act introduced:

all adult householders and men who rented unfurnished lodgings to the value of £10 a year.

Which I can imagine was quite a substantial property in 1884, but who did it cover by 1918? Would it have covered a worker in a factory as the film says?

So money she was paid 18 shillings a week, which comes out to £48.6 pounds a year, her husband was paid a few shilling a week more to say £90 pounds between them.

So it is possible they could afford £10 a year rent between them, but in that case which working men got the vote in 1918, if a factory worker could already afford a £10 a year house.

I have just realised the possible significance of unfurnished, did poor people all rent furnished property?

The film said this ordinary working man had the vote, my calculations show it was possible he had the vote.

But the 1918 Act gave "working men the vote".

So one of these two statements must be wrong. Were working class men able to vote before the 1918 Act like the film depicts?

The film said this un-extraordinary working man had the vote, my calculations show it was possible he had the vote. But the 1918 act gave "working men the vote". So one of these 2 statements must be wrong, why didn't working men already have the vote in 1918?

These statements are not as contradictory as you seem to think.

The key here is that "working men" is a very broad term covering a wide range of circumstances. In 1918, the working class was a much larger fraction of society than in our modern economy - around 78%, in fact.

Throughout this period the working classes were a large, though slowly declining majority of the English people: they made up 78.29 per cent of the whole population in 1921 [and] 78.07 per cent in 1931.

McKibbin, Ross. Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2000.

If only non-working class men had the right to vote, you would expect them to number less than 22% at the most. However, that was not true after the 1884 reforms. In fact, by the time of the 1918 reform, a small majority - 58% - of British men were already eligible to vote.

Only 58% of the adult male population was eligible to vote before 1918

"Women and the vote".

We may surmise therefore that roughly half of the male, working class population had already received the vote by the time of the Representation of the People Act of 1918.

Therefore, it's true that the 1918 Act "gave [millions of] working men the vote", but it's also true that millions of other "working men" (like the husband character) had already been eligible to vote before then.

All men over 21, with no property restrictions, and women over 30 or some property owning women.

Fintan O&rsquoToole: The 1918 election was an amazing moment for Ireland

Such is the drama of violence that it is easy to forget that the most important moment in the creation of an independent Irish State was a democratic election, held on December 14th, 1918. It was by far the biggest exercise in democracy yet staged on the island.

With the end of the first World War opening the way for the first general election in the United Kingdom since 1910, the age of mass democracy was dawning.

The Representation of the People Act almost tripled the Irish electorate from 700,000 in 1910 to 1.93 million in 1918. Women over the age of 30 and working-class men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote for the first time. The results were seismic.

The Irish Parliamentary Party, which had dominated nationalist politics since it was galvanised by Charles Stewart Parnell in the early 1880s, had won 73 of the 105 Irish seats at Westminster in 1910. It held just six in 1918, four of which, in the North, were retained as a result of a pact with Sinn Féin brokered by the Catholic primate Cardinal Logue.

Conversely, Sinn Féin won 73 seats in 1918, with Unionists taking 26, mostly in the northeast (though the unionist candidate also won Rathmines in Dublin). Ironically, Sinn Féin benefited hugely from the Westminster first-past-the-post electoral system – it won nearly three quarters of the Irish seats with just 48 per cent of the vote (65 per cent in what would become the 26 counties).

No opposition

On the other hand, Sinn Féin candidates were returned unopposed in 25 constituencies – in the entire counties of Cork, Clare and Kerry they faced no opposition at all.

But this was more than an electoral landslide. It was an act of largely peaceful secession. The successful Sinn Féin candidates would not be MPs – they would be TDs. They had asked to be elected, in effect, to a parliament that did not exist: an Irish parliament they intended to establish in Dublin. This was, above all, an imaginative and constructive act – it proposed to call into being a new democracy, using the methods of democracy itself.

And it is also all too easy forget, when we think of the big personalities who won seats on that day (Éamon de Valera, Edward Carson, Constance Markievicz, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins) that it was not they who did it.

No voice

It was primarily people who had had no voice in politics: women, the young and the poor. Not only had they not had a voice but no one in the entire line of their ancestors had ever had one.

The new thing that was happening was being done quietly, in the privacy of the polling booth, by new political actors. It was done by people who remained anonymous to history but who were nonetheless making it.

And we must not lose sight of the fact that this was a reaction, not just to the Easter Rising of 1916 and its transformative effects on public opinion, but to a far greater turmoil: the Great War that had ended just over a month previously. We take this impact for granted now, but we shouldn’t.

It might have been different. John Redmond, the Irish Party leader who died in March 1918, could have been seen in retrospect to have placed a successful bet – he had backed the British empire in 1914 by urging Irishmen to join its armed forces and the empire had won. More than 200,000 Irishmen had joined up: by far the largest military engagement in Irish history.

But this vindication had already turned sour. The 1918 election may have been a post-war event but in Ireland it was decisively shaped by anti-war sentiment.

For most of the conflict, Irishmen had been exempt from conscription. But on April 10th, 1918, in the face of the German Spring offensive, but against the strong advice of even the military authorities in Dublin, Lloyd George’s government gave itself the power to extend conscription to Ireland.

Delegates from across the spectrum of Irish nationalism, at a mass meeting at the Mansion House on April 18th, signed a pledge denouncing this move as “naked militarism” and pledged to “resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal”.

Tens of thousands of people signed the pledge outside churches on April 21st, and the Irish Trades Union Congress held a successful one-day general strike two days later.


This anti-conscription movement had two huge effects. First, the Irish Party at Westminster was humiliated by its failure to stop the legislation its claim to hold a decisive influence over the government in London was terribly exposed. Its members walked out of the House of Commons in protest but they were made to look like they were increasingly following, not leading, Irish nationalist opinion.

Hamfisted way

Arthur Griffith’s victory for Sinn Féin over the Irish Party in the East Cavan byelection on June 20th confirmed as much. So, in its own hamfisted way, did the government’s arrest of 73 prominent Sinn Féin members the previous month.

Even more crucially, the Catholic hierarchy, having heard from a deputation from the Mansion House conference, met at Maynooth and issued a public declaration that the Irish people had “a right to resist [conscription] by every means that are consonant with the law of God”.

Even though it seldom features in popular accounts of the transformation of Irish opinion in the lead-up to the 1918 election, this was arguably a bigger and more important shift in nationalist politics even than that wrought by the 1916 Rising.

The Catholic Church was far and away the most influential body in nationalist Ireland. The Mansion House conference had used powerful rhetoric in describing conscription as a “declaration of war on the Irish Nation” and a “direct violation of the right of small nationalities to self-determination”. For the hierarchy to endorse these sentiments and give its blessing to resistance was a decisive development.

This did not mean, of course, that the church was directly backing Sinn Féin. The Irish Parliamentary Party used the same kind of rhetoric in denying the right of Westminster to impose conscription on Ireland: “an outrage and a gross violation of the national right of Ireland.”

But with Maynooth professors publishing articles with titles such as “The Theology of Resistance”, it was not hard even for many of the clergy to conclude that if resistance and national self-determination were the order of the day, the Irish Party was old hat.


Fr Walter McDonald, a maverick Maynooth professor, wrote disapprovingly shortly after the 1918 election: “Great numbers of the junior clergy, and a considerable body of their seniors, with some even of the bishops, supported the Sinn Féin candidates, or voted for them. Some of this, I know, was bluff – asking, as I have heard one man put it, for more than they had hoped to get. Others voted Sinn Féin as for the less of two evils. But many of the priests, and perhaps some of the bishops, seem to have acted on the conviction that Ireland is de jure a fully independent nation. Is this really their teaching?”

But this teaching was where the anti-conscription campaign had led. It is striking that, in seeking to capture this anti-war sentiment, Sinn Féin was very careful not to be seen to dishonour the 200,000 Irish soldiers who had already fought and the tens of thousands who had died in British uniform.

In a pamphlet called Ireland’s Case Against Conscription, published under the name of Éamon de Valera (who had been arrested and imprisoned shortly before its publication), the tone is respectful towards the “flower of our manhood”, the “generous Irish youth” who had sacrificed themselves:

“Their bones today lie buried beneath the soil of Flanders, or beneath the waves of Suvla Bay, or bleaching on the slopes of Gallipoli, or on the sands of Egypt or Arabia, in Mesopotamia, or wherever the battle line extends from Dunkirk to the Persian Gulf. Mons, Ypres, will be monuments to their unselfish heroism, but the land they loved dearest on earth… still lies unredeemed at the feet of the age-long enemy.”

In contrast to its later disdain for those who had fought, Sinn Féin’s acknowledgement of their heroism and patriotism surely helped it to appeal to voters disillusioned with the war but deeply attached to the warriors.

It must also be remembered that the Sinn Féin of 1918 was a broad church of nationalists, and not a mere front for what was now being called the Irish Republican Army. Moribund before the Easter Rising, it had now become a genuine mass movement with perhaps as many as 130,000 members.

Young militants

On the one hand, the selection of its candidates was controlled by the young militants, especially Michael Collins and his sidekick Harry Boland. Only three of the party’s candidates had not been gaoled or interned.

But on the other hand, Eoin Mac Neill – who had countermanded the orders for the Rising – was also a prominent figure in the reconstituted party. Its leading propagandist, Fr Michael O’Flanagan, had strongly opposed the Rising and allegedly referred to those who took part as “murderers”.

The remnants of the socialist Citizen Army had been swept up into Sinn Féin – and Labour’s decision to stand aside and give Sinn Féin a clear run was a crucial contributor to its victory.

Most importantly, the new Sinn Féin retained the name of the old one and therefore gave enormous prestige to Arthur Griffith, who had not been involved in the Rising, but whose brand had become attached to it. This mattered because it was Griffith’s long-term policy of passive resistance and of fighting elections on a secessionist platform in order to form an Irish parliament that proved decisive.

Fateful decisions

None of this means that the election of December 1918 can be seen as a pure and untroubled moment at which a fully-formed democracy was born. Labour’s fateful decision to stand aside had consequences from which the Irish left never recovered.

While Sinn Féin did target the new female voters with broad hints of political power in the new Ireland – “in the future the womenfolk of the Gael shall have a high place in the councils of a freed Gaelic nation” – just two of the Sinn Féin candidates were women and just one, Markievicz, was elected.

A pattern of male domination was laid down.

And of course the outcome of the election – the creation of the first Dáil in January 1919 – was a reflection of a bitterly divided “nation”. The Irish Convention, which met between July 1917 and March 1918, had been unable to forge an agreement between nationalists and unionists on the implementation of Home Rule and this effectively ended any hope of an all-Ireland settlement.

Violent rhetoric

De Valera had used violent rhetoric against Ulster unionists, calling them “a rock in the road” that nationalists must “blast… out of their path” and warning them that “as they were in the minority they had nothing to do but give way to the majority”.

This hardly made it any more likely that unionists elected in 1918 would take their seats in the new Irish parliament.

It must be remembered, too, that on the other side, many of the young recruits to the IRA remained deeply sceptical about parliamentary democracy, even after the creation of the Dáil.

Todd Andrews, afterwards a stalwart of Fianna Fáil and the State, recalled his unhappiness at being told, as a member of the IRA, to take an oath of allegiance to the Dáil: “In 1919 parliamentary democracy was a word not so often heard used as abused. The only democracy we knew of was British democracy and that had less than nothing to recommend it to us.”

That ambivalence would grow during the IRA’s guerrilla campaign and ultimately lead to the Civil War.

Unresolved contradictions

And yet, for all these unresolved contradictions and all their consequences of violence, sectarian division and patriarchal oppression, the 1918 election is still an amazing moment.

Ordinary people didn’t just vote – they changed what voting meant in Ireland. In the 26 counties at least, they collectively withdrew from the state they were in and took the great risk of imagining another. And they did it, not by killing anyone but by marking a piece of paper. They voted themselves out of the condition of subjects and into a hope of citizenship.

That hope would be disappointed and betrayed in many ways for many decades. But it never disappeared.


Lloyd George's coalition government was supported by a minority (majority after the election) of the Liberals and Bonar Law's Conservatives. However, the election saw a split in the Liberal Party between those who were aligned with Lloyd George and the government and those who were aligned with Asquith, the party's official leader.

On 14 November it was announced that Parliament, which had been sitting since 1910 and had been extended by emergency wartime action, would dissolve on 25 November, with elections on 14 December. [8]

Following confidential negotiations over the summer of 1918, it was agreed that certain candidates were to be offered the support of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative Party at the next general election. To these candidates a letter, known as the Coalition Coupon, was sent, indicating the government's endorsement of their candidacy. 159 Liberal, 364 Conservative, 20 National Democratic and Labour, and 2 Coalition Labour candidates received the coupon. For this reason, the election is often called the Coupon Election. [9]

80 Conservative candidates stood without a coupon. Of these, 35 candidates were Irish Unionists. Of the other non-couponed Conservative candidates, only 23 stood against a Coalition candidate the remaining 22 candidates stood in areas where there were no coupons, or refused the offer of a coupon. [10]

The Labour Party, led by William Adamson, fought the election independently, as did those Liberals who did not receive a coupon.

The election was not chiefly fought over what peace to make with Germany, although those issues played a role. More important was the voters' evaluation of Lloyd George in terms of what he had accomplished so far and what he promised for the future. His supporters emphasised that he had won the Great War. Against his strong record in social legislation, he called for making "a country fit for heroes to live in". [11]

This election was also known as a khaki election, due to the immediate postwar setting and the role of the demobilised soldiers.

The coalition won the election easily, with the Conservatives the big winners. They were the largest party in the governing majority. Lloyd George remained Prime Minister, despite the Conservatives outnumbering his pro-coalition Liberals. The Conservatives welcomed his leadership on foreign policy as the Paris Peace talks began a few weeks after the election. [12]

An additional 47 Conservatives, 23 of whom were Irish Unionists, won without the coupon but did not act as a separate block or oppose the government except on the issue of Irish independence.

While most of the pro-coalition Liberals were re-elected, Asquith's faction was reduced to just 36 seats and lost all their leaders from parliament Asquith himself lost his own seat. Nine of these MPs subsequently joined the Coalition Liberal group. The remainder became bitter enemies of Lloyd George. [13]

The Labour Party greatly increased its vote share and surpassed the total votes of either Liberal party. Labour became the Official Opposition for the first time, but they lacked an official leader and so the Leader of the Opposition for the next fourteen months was the stand-in Liberal leader Donald Maclean (Asquith, having lost his seat at this election, was not returned until a by-election in February 1920). Labour could only slightly increase their number of seats, however, from 42 to 57 and some of their earlier leaders including Ramsay MacDonald and Arthur Henderson lost their seats. Labour won the most seats in Wales (which had previously been dominated by the Liberals) for the first time, a feat it has continued to the present day. [14]

The Conservative MPs included record numbers of corporate directors, bankers and businessmen, while Labour MPs were mostly from the working class. Bonar Law himself symbolised the change in the type of a Conservative MP as Bonar Law was a Presbyterian Canadian-born Scottish businessman who became in the words of his biographer, Robert Blake, the leader of "the Party of Old England, the Party of the Anglican Church and the country squire, the party of broad acres and hereditary titles". [15] Bonar Law's ascent as leader of the Conservatives marked a shift in Conservative leaders from the aristocrats who generally led the party in the 19th century to a more middle class leadership who usually led the party in the 20th century. [15] Many young veterans reacted against the harsh tone of the campaign and became disillusioned with politics. [16]

In Ireland, the Irish Parliamentary Party, which favoured Home Rule within the United Kingdom, lost almost all their seats, most of which were won by Sinn Féin under Éamon de Valera, which called for independence. The executions of many of the leaders of the Easter uprising of 1916, the force-feeding of those imprisoned in connection with the uprising who had gone on a hunger strike in 1917, and the Conscription Crisis of 1918 all served to alienate Irish Catholic opinion from the United Kingdom. [17] The Sinn Féin candidates had promised on the campaign trail to win an Irish republic "by any means necessary", which was a code-word for violence, though it is not entirely clear if all Irish voters understood what the phrase meant. [18] The 73 Sinn Féin elected members declined to take their seats in the British House of Commons, sitting instead in the Irish revolutionary assembly, the Dáil Éireann. On 17 May 1918 almost the entire leadership of Sinn Féin, including de Valera and Arthur Griffith, had been arrested. In total 47 of the Sinn Féin MPs were elected from jail. The Dáil first convened on 21 January 1919, which marks the beginning of the Irish War of Independence.

In the six Ulster counties that became Northern Ireland, Unionists consolidated their position by winning 23 out of the 30 seats. Cardinal Logue brokered a pact in eight seats (one, East Donegal, not in the six counties), after nominations closed, where Catholic voters were instructed to vote for one particular nationalist party. Split evenly, the Irish Parliamentary Party won four of those seats and Sinn Féin three. (The pact failed in East Down). Joe Devlin, memorably, also won Belfast (Falls) for the Irish Parliamentary Party in a straight fight with Éamon de Valera of Sinn Féin.

Constance Markievicz became the first woman elected to Parliament. She was a Sinn Féin member elected for Dublin St Patrick's, and like the other Sinn Féin MPs, did not take her seat at Westminster.

Working-class activity and councils - Germany 1918‑1923 - Peter Rachleff

A survey of the main events and the limits of working class activity during the Revolution.

" Without being conscious of it, the working class had conquered power in November of 1918. It had gone in its actions far beyond its explicit demands ‑‑ and far beyond the consciousness it had of its own activity and desires. Now it had to decide whether to consolidate its new‑found power (i.e., create a genuine council system) or revert back to the realization of its initial demands (i.e., peace, food, and parliamentary democracy). "

When Germany entered World War I in 1914 internal dissent was minimal. The vast majority of the population regardless of class or party affiliation ‑‑ joined in the war effort.[1] However, as the war progressed, particularly in its final year, dissatisfaction with not only the war itself but also the German political system and, to a lesser extent, the socio‑economic structure, increased.[2] This dis­satisfaction appeared primarily among sailors and soldiers (especially those who wore not engaged in immediate combat on a daily basis) and workers. For neither group was the conduct of the war the sole cause of their discontent. Steadily deteriorating economic and social conditions contributed, indeed in many instances precipitated, their rebellions in the last year of the war.

Concomitant with the continuation of the war came a progressive deterioration of living standards for the vast majority of the population, both civilian and military. Prior to the war, the German workers had enjoyed a fairly steady improvement in wages and overall living condi­tions.[3] Germany had been dependent on imports for fully one‑third of its food supply before 1914. [4] As these necessities became increasingly scarce, prices rose, and a galloping inflation developed. The average real wages of the best paid German industrial workers (those employed in the war‑related industries) dropped 21.6% between March 1914 and Septem­ber 1916 while those of all other workers plummeted 42.1% in the same period.[5]

. . . the years 1915‑1916 brought an ever‑increasing economic distress consequent upon the blockade. Foodstuffs became so scarce that governmental control daily came more and more to take the place of ordinary trade. For the majority of the townspeople there began an era of famine of which the symbols were turnips and queues. Notwithstanding the increase in wages, especially in those of the munitions workers, the large majority of wage‑earners was unable to earn enough to eat.[6]

The suffering was not shared equally by the entire population. The wealthy among the civilians and the officers in the army and navy were relatively unaffected by the inflation and the scarcity of food. This became painfully apparent to those who didn't enjoy the same privileges. Rosenberg stresses the importance of the food‑related problems and its connection to swelling discontent and class conflict in the period leading up to the revolution of 1918:

The working class was filled with hunger and resentment. The feeling of hatred daily grew stronger for the factory owners, the rich shopkeepers, and businessmen who dealt in army supplies of all kinds, and for officers of the army and navy. The fight for food even made its appearance in the army where, under ordinary conditions, no one regarded it as anything but natural that officers should be better fed than the privates, and should have their better mess. When, however, famine made its appearance and began to affect the rations of the men in the rank angry and envious glances were cast towards the officers' mess.[7]

The mass of the population began to realize that those who governed them and set the rations, those who persisted in waging war, and those who managed to avert the suffering caused by the inflation were one and the same. Thus, throughout the period of the war, a clear class polarization took shape in Germany.[8] The trade unions and the Social Democratic Party maintained their support of the government's foreign and domestic policies. Beginning in 1916, workers engaged in direct actions and strikes in increasing frequency in attempts to improve their situation. The dangers in doing so were immense ‑‑ at first, striking workers were drafted into the army later, they could be forced to return to work under the terms of the "militarization of labor" laws passed by the government. No support was given to the workers by "their" organizations ‑‑ the trade unions and the Social Democratic Party. In fact after 1916, in the face of increasing rebellion, the government turned to these organizations to help control the workers.[9] Despite all these measures discontent and rebellion increased, both among the working class and in the armed services, as living conditions continued to deteriorate and the war continued to drag on.

‑‑1917 saw a steadily increasing number of massive strikes throughout Germany. Along with the worsening food crisis came a serious breakdown in transportation, leading to a severe fuel shortage. "The civil population, already suffering from the infamous 'turnip winter', had to be cold as well as hungry." [10] The lack of fuel also caused several large factories to close down, throwing many workers out of work. The revolution in Russia in February both increased the population's hopes for peace and indicated to them that it was possible for the exploited classes to revolt and establish their own political‑economic system. It became an inspiration and a model for the German working class. [11]

In April 1917 massive strikes spontaneously occurred in Berlin, Leipzig, and other cities.[12] In Berlin, some 200‑300,000 struck in response to a decrease in the bread rations. Despite the dangers involved in their actions and their tradition of following the orders of "their" leaders in the trade unions and the SPD the workers realized that they had no choice but to act for themselves. "The kind of desperation which only a combination of hunger and disillusionment can produce forced the workers of Berlin to shake off the habit of meek obedience and resort to direct action."[13] There, protest against the drafting of Richard Muller, the leader of the radical metal workers shop stewards group, also was involved in the strike.[14] In Leipzig, workers formulated more explicitly political demands ‑‑ peace without annexations, freedom for political prisoners ‑‑ and elected delegates to present their demands to the Chancellor.[15] This was the first embryonic "council" to appear in Germany.[16] The strike ended in two days as the employers promised to cut the work week and raise wages.

In June of that year, the simmering discontent in the German navy broke out in a series of hunger strikes among the ships in Squadron IV, which were at the time in port and had not been involved in much actual fighting.[17] These strikes were spontaneous protests stemming from the deterioration in the quality of the food rations.[18] They initially took the form of an implicit revolt against the authority of the officers, who enjoyed much better food and subjected the men to a severe discipline. Rosenberg discusses the causes of this rebellion:

It was, in truth, the close proximity in which for three years officers and men had lived that in the summer of 1917 made possible a fierce outbreak in the Navy of the class hatred which was at that time sweeping Germany. The officers were socially completely cut off from the men, and powered with illimitable authority. They ate apart from the men, and were better fed than the men a fact which in itself was a cause of embitterment at a time when famine dominated the thoughts of every man. It is probable that the sailors imagined that the difference between their rations and those of the officers was greater than was actually the case but the fact remains that the worst form of class warfare ‑‑ the fight for bread ‑­invaded the Navy.

The soldier in the trenches and the sailor in the submarine saw that his officer shared in the same risks. Hence, class differences tended to disappear in the trenches and on the submarines. On the battleships and cruisers, however, danger was virtually non‑existent, and the crews had nothing to do . . . . The severe discipline was looked upon by the sailor as the device employed by an arrogant ruling class to hold down a crowd of slaves . . . . [19]

At first the Naval High Command sought to appease the rebelling sailors, through meeting many of their demands. The fundamental immediate demand ‑‑ the right of the sailors on each ship to elect "menage commissions" which would negotiate with the officers concerning food and represent the sailors in all other matters ‑‑ was granted. However, this effort at appeasement failed to achieve its goals. Rather than quelling dissent, these committees facilitated and served as the focus for widespread discussions of social conditions on the ships and in Germany as a whole. Through such discussions ‑‑ both formal and informal ‑‑ a sense of class was fostered among the sailors. Hatred of the officers and authority became more explicit and freely expressed ‑‑ both in words and in actions.[20] Some sailors attempted to unionize the navy and affiliate with the USPD (Independent Socialist Party). By mid‑July, Rome 6,000 sailors had committed themselves to this clandestine union.[21] At the beginning of August the High Command became aware of this activity and arrested the eleven men they felt to be the ringleaders. Immediately there were mutinies and sympathy strikes throughout the Wilhelmshaven harbor. By August 4, fully one‑half of the fleet was on strike. The High Command stepped up its tactics of repression. More were arrested and court‑martialed. Two were executed and several others were given lengthy prison terms. The strike was broken. The repression seemed to have succeeded ‑‑ at least on the surface. The sailors were afraid, but they had learned more than fear alone from their experiences that summer. The revolt was temporarily thwarted, but the hatred for those in authority, the sense of solidarity, and the spirit of revolt continued to spread.

There were massive demonstrations on the 18 th and 25 th of November, particularly in Berlin, celebrating the announcement of the Russian Revolution (which for the masses meant peace at last) and protesting against the governmental decree banning all assemblies. Soon afterward, the conduct of the peace negotiations at Brest‑Litovsk made it apparent to the German people that despite the intentions of the Bolsheviks, peace was not yet to be realized. "The working class at once gained the impression that the Pan‑Germans were still masters of the situation, and that it was useless to agitate for a peace without annexations or reparations."[22] The nature of the government revealed itself more and more clearly through its unwillingness to yield to the desires of the vast majority of the population.[23] Living conditions took a further turn for the worse.[24] No end to the misery was in sight without a fundamental change in the structure of the government and the society as a whole. Unless the masses ‑‑ workers, sailors, and soldiers ‑‑ were to act for themselves they would have to submit to yet greater slaughter in war and deprivation at home.

Hence it appeared to the masses that they must attempt to find for themselves a path to peace and to the democratization of Germany. This feeling formed the background to the great strikes in January 1918 which were a dress rehearsal for the November Revolution.[25]

‑‑On January 14 there were mass strikes and demonstrations in Vienna protesting the failure of the peace talks. Councils were formed which entered into negotiations with the government.[26] Berlin erupted in a mass political strike on January 28. This strike was not spontan­sous in its character. Rather, it had been well‑planned by a group of 1,500 workers' delegates, including representatives from nearly all the munitions factories in the area.[27] Instrumental in this planning was the "Revolutionare Obleute" (revolutionary stop stewards), a militant group of metal workers who fought against the established trade unions as well as the government.[28] Some 400,000 struck on the first day. Factory delegates were elected and a 400‑ member Workmen's Council was formed.[29] "The strikers' main object was peace they also demanded workers' representation in peace negotiations, better food, the abolition of martial law, and a democratic regime in Germany with equal franchise in Prussia."[30] The strike rapidly spread throughout Germany, reaching Kiel, Hamburg, Leipzig, Brunswick, Cologne, Breslau, Munich, Nuremburg, Marnheim, Madgedeburg, Halle, Bochum, Dortmund, and other towns, with over a million workers going out in the next few days.[31] The Berlin Workmen's Council did not seek to take over the functions of the local or national government, to usurp power, or even to put itself forward as an embryonic organ of dual power. Rather, it was "nothing more than the expression of a mass movement."[32] , the spokesman for the mass desire for peace and a share in the government.

The government response was repression and a refusal to negotiate with anyone but trade union and SPD leaders. Some of the workers lost their draft exemptions. The military and the police engaged demonstrators in bloody street battles. Newspapers were censored or shut down. By February 3, most of the strikers gave up and went back to work.[33] Little wits accomplished in an immediate sense by this strike. There were no changes in governmental policy or structure. However, the effect of this experience on the consciousness of those workers who had been involved was considerable. The realization arose that in no way could the masses influence the government to accede to their desires for peace and political reorganization, but, moreover, that the government was willing to severely repress any challenges to its authority.

Meanwhile, after the experiences of January, the masses no longer believed in the good will of the Reichstag to extricate them from the war and the military dictatorship. They relied instead on their own power, and hoped for a better opportunity than had been afforded them in January 1918.[34]

However, this realization did not lead immediately to further insurrection or overt activity. The awareness of the immensity of the task confronting them ‑‑ especially of the forces upon which the government could rely ‑‑ led to a momentary cessation of direct actions.

Repression, political division, deception caused by BrestLitovsk, perhaps also by the reports which began to spread nearly throughout the press about chaos and misery in Russia, military victories which masked the next collapse, all this undoubtedly contributed to plunge the German masses into a sort of apathy until the end of the summer of 1918 . . . .[35]

There were sporadic, small‑scale, wildcat strikes in July and August, but they were localized and easily contained and defeated. Thus, some eight months went by with no serious outbreaks of working class activity. Meanwhile, living conditions continued to deteriorate and the war continued, although now the German military was suffering serious defeats. However, the government and the tightly‑controlled press still presented the military situation in a positive light. They went to great lengths to hide the impending military collapse from the civilian population. In mid‑September, the German forces, in an attempt at a last major offensive, suffered such a serious setback that the worsening situation could no longer be kept hidden. Morale at home and at the front sagged. The number of deserters increased. There was a run on the banks and talk of a total collapse spread.[36] In early October there was yet another crushing military defeat. The atmosphere of the entire country seemed to change overnight. There was an effort at reorganization made within the government. Prince Max von Baden became the new chancellor and promises of future democratization were made. This represented no genuine restructuring but only an attempt to quiet dissent. In line with this goal, Prince Max offered cabinet positions to members of the SPD.[37]

In late October the German High Command decided to attempt a last gasp naval attack on England in order to cut off its communications with its European allies. Ships in the Wilhelmshaven and Kiel harbors were ordered to put to sea on the 28 th. This surprised the sailors, who had expected immediate peace with the "change" in the government.

The conviction spread among the men that the government knew nothing of the proposed naval action that the officers wanted to bombard the English coast and thus destroy all chances of peace negotiations and that the whole thing was a coup‑d'etat planned by the Pan‑German officers.[38]

Mutinies broke out on several ships. After two days of a tense stand‑off, the orders were withdrawn. The sailors felt that they had won a moral victory. Their celebration did not last long, however. The Admiralty immediately arrested over 600 men who had been involved in the mutinies on board the "Thuringen" and the "Helgoland." They were taken ashore and locked up. The sailors' memories of the executions and lengthy jail sentences of the previous summer were still fresh. The realization that their comrades could not be deserted took hold. The streets in Kiel were filled with sailors, workers, women, and children on Saturday, November 2. "There was a sort of holiday spirit in the air."[39] The next day, over 20,000 sailors turned out for a demonstration in Kiel. There they mingled with the radical dock workers and other local workers. A battle broke out with troops loyal to their officers and eight sailors were killed. The logic of the rebellion led the sailors to the conclusion that they must overthrow the regime or they would be killed.

Fearing that there would be further death sentences, the sailors decided to take matters into their own hands. On November 4, mutinous sailors took possession of the town of Kiel. They elected sailors' councils, and the workmen in the shipyards who went on strike elected workers' councils. The workers' and sailors' councils had all the power in their hands. By November 7 the crews of the whole fleet with the exception of some 30 submarines and a few torpedo boats had joined the mutineers.[40]

Committees and councils were formed on the ships and in the barracks, as well as for the area as a whole. Troops were sent to put down the insurrection but they allowed themselves to be disarmed by the rebels. Many sailors left the port areas to spread the news throughout Germany and encourage sailors, soldiers, and workers to act as they had. They realized that there was no turning back, that their alternatives were now revolution or death.

The government sent Gustav Noske (an SPD bureaucrat) to Kiel in response to the sailors' demands to meet with representatives of the opposition parties ‑‑ the USPD (Independents) and the SPD.[41] Noske delivered an impassioned speech and was elected governor of Kiel by the Sailors' and Workers' Council. Thus, the naval rebellion was recuperated by the SPD.[42]

However, the ideas and spirit of the rebellion had already spread. Councils sprang up in Cuxhaven, Bremen, and Hamburg on November 6. The German regime was about to collapse. Prince Max summoned Ebert the SPD minister, and turned over the chancellorship to him. Ebert was committed to saving the monarchy. But it was clearly a case of too little, too late, on the part of the government.

‑‑In the next few days, all of Germany erupted in a spontaneous uprising, taking all the political leaders (from far right to far left) by surprise. Mass demonstrations against the war and the deteriorating living conditions appeared throughout the country. The sailors' appeals had struck a responsive chord. Overnight, the entire nation seemed to come to a standstill. Soldiers refused to suppress the demonstrators and most even went over to their side.[43] The power of the government evaporated.[44] Workers', sailors', and soldiers' councils sprang up and, temporarily, political power was effectively in their hands. The role of the councils ("soviets") in the Russian Revolution had certainly helped propagate the idea of their organizational form. However, far more important was the experience of the German working class and armed service personnel themselves, particularly in the face of their difficulties and their experiences of the last two years.

The Councils were a rapidly improvised elementary form of self‑government which expressed the popular will at a time when the government had lost the nation's confidence . . . . The sailors' councils started as a continuation of the food committees set up in the Navy during the war. The workers' councils stemmed from the strike committees formed in the factories during the strikes of 1917 and 1918 . . . . [45]

The spirit of revolt spread rapidly, in the factories, the barracks, and in the streets. Anderson describes the fervor of the first several days of the revolution:

During the first days of the November Revolution, Workers' and Soldiers' Councils were elected in all workshops, mines, docks, and barracks. The people were in motion. Whenever crowds assembled, they nominated spokesmen and elected delegates, who were to speak and act on their behalf as their direct representatives. This happened all over the country.[46]

For the most part the councils were of a narrowly political nature. That is, although they included delegates from factories, their primary concerns were peace and governmental reform, rather than the self‑management of production and society. However, in some places, councils within the factories formed and sought to control production. Bernard Reichenbach, a former member of the KAPD, described the formation of these councils:

Independent councils, based on factories rather than on trades, as had been common previously, appeared spontaneously all over Germany. This was to a considerable extent a result of the economic chaos. When a factory came to a standstill due to lack of fuel or raw materials, there was no one to turn to for help. Government, parties, unions, capitalists, could do nothing to solve basic problems of transport, fuel, raw materials, etc. Resolutions, declarations, orders, even paper money were of little use. Under the circumstances, workers would form a council and try to solve their problems by themselves.[47]

This description, in light of the other available historical and firsthand accounts, seems to be an over‑estimation of the development of self‑management in November 1918.[48]

At any rate, the immediate result of the revolution was that power was effectively in the hands of the working class and exercised through their councils.[49] Moreover, the councils themselves were truly the expression of the will of the masses (although it is doubtful if one could actually call them class organs). The delegates elected could be recalled at any time and were therefore forced to reflect and exercise the desires of their constituencies. Anderson describes this process:

One important feature of the "Rate" system is the direct and permanent control of elector over deputy. The deputy can be deprived of his mandate at a moment's notice if and when he does not exercise it in accordance with the will of his electors. The "Rite" system Is therefore an even more extreme and direct form of democracy than a parliamentary system.[50]

The councils were unable, and in most cases unwilling, to maintain their power for long. On December 16, 1918, the conference of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils in Berlin voted to set up elections for a parliamentary National Assembly, effectively divesting themselves of all power. Even though many of the delegates to this conference were not workers themselves ‑­i.e., they were political party leaders, soldiers, even officers, etc., ‑‑ they had been elected and were functioning as the expression of the will of their constituency, although more on the basis of the old Social Democratic movement than on the basis of common social experience. There were no massive demonstrations in protest against this decision when it was announced. Thus, there is no point in speaking of a "betrayal" of the masses. Rather, we must ask how and why the masses, after holding power, were willing to give it up again. Before turning to this difficult question, I would like to present some descriptions and analyses of the development of working‑class activity in different areas in Germany.[51]

‑‑‑Hamburg was a heavily industrial area with fairly diversified manufacturing firms. Most of the work force was relatively unskilled and over half was involved in metal working and machinery. The labor movement there had been fairly conservative In comparison with the rest of Germany. There were some wildcat strikes prior to 1913, but the vast majority of the working class had been kept in line by "their" trade unions. Throughout 1918 there were wildcat strikes and demonstrations which were suppressed by the authorities. On November 5, the local newspapers carried accounts of the Kiel uprising in their morning editions. By noon strikes began to spread throughout the city. The SPD and the trade unions were taken by surprise. A mass meeting resulted in an initial resolution calling for an immediate general strike. However, the local SPD leaders managed to convince the assemblage to postpone their action for two days. Later that day the USPD held a mass meeting, which between 5,000 and 6,000 attended. Comfort describes this gathering:

In this meeting, what one may call the "spirit of revolution" was clearly evident. Elated by the war's end and ebullient with the release of pent‑up emotions, the excited participants filled the hall with cheers and shouts as groups of sailors from Kiel and various escapees from military prisons leaped upon the stage to urge their comrades to action. The Independent leaders, who had called the meeting, did not create this spirit. They could only hope to channel it for the accomplishment of concrete ends, something that the Majority Socialists had so patently failed to do that afternoon. With great difficulty, the USPD leaders were ultimately able to bring the meeting to a vote on a series of specific proposals: workers' and soldiers' councils must be formed no functionaries of the trade unions or cooperatives should be allowed to participate the workers of Hamburg should at once go out on a general strike in support of the socialist revolution. These proposals were adopted unanimously.[52]

The next day, November 6, the city government recognized the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils as legitimate governments and offered to enter into negotiations with them. In other words, it paid lip service to their "legitimacy" but had no intention of turning over its power to them. Thus, a situation of dual power existed and, for the most part, indecision reigned.[53] Between November 7 and 10, councils were elected according to a specific procedure and a political structure was created.

. . . each plant electing delegates in accordance with an intricate system of proportional representation. These delegates, who together constituted the Workers' Council, were then to come together with the delegates elected by the various military units in the area (the Soldiers' Council) to elect the Executive. The Executive, in turn, would elect from its membership the Presidium, which would then assume the executive powers of the government. Questions of basic policy were to be decided by a joint meeting of the members of the two Councils.[54]

The Executive Council consisted of eighteen factory delegates plus three delegates from each of four groups ‑‑ SPD, USPD,[55] "Free Unions," and "left radicals." Laufenberg, from the left wing of the USPD, and an advocate of the council system, was elected head of the Presidium. On November 12, the Presidium voted that the Councils would replace the city government. The council delegates took over City Hall and flew the red flag.[56] This was the peak of the Councils' power. Four days later, under the pressure of growing financial problems and the opposition of wealthy businessmen, the Presidium voted to recreate the local government and Senate as the "administrative organs of the Councils." On the 18th, a group of Hamburg businessmen became the "Economic Advisory Council."[57] Thus, real power returned to where it had been two weeks before, i.e., in the hands of the rich businessmen and bureaucrats. Power on the factory level remained undisturbed as well.[58]

In the elections to the local government of January and March of 1919, the SPD received a majority of the votes. Also in March, elections to the new Workers' Council were held. This time, delegates were elected in the same manner as government representatives, rather than on a shop basis as before. This new Council had no clear functions but soon became oriented toward welfare problems.

Meanwhile, unemployment (over 10% in January) and economic problems (especially food and coal supplies) began to mount.[59] In the early part of 1919 there were a few big demonstrations and strikes in Hamburg. On February 6, there was a mass demonstration to protest the occupation of Bremen by Berlin troops. Many of the workers were armed, expecting perhaps similar treatment for themselves.[60] Nevertheless, a month later, some 80% of those eligible to vote turned out for the local elections, giving the SPD a majority.[61] On April 15, a demonstration of unemployed got out of hand and stormed the Workers' Council. There was plundering and looting amidst widespread rioting. Around half of the local troops and police went over to the demonstrators. The government finally managed to restore order by use of force.[62] The role of the SPD had become clear at last to the working people of Hamburg. The SPD sought to purge the police and the troops, creating a loyal elite army corps.

In May, the publication of the draft of the Works Councils Law (which gave the councils only token rights to co‑determination and would have subordinated them to the trade unions) aroused protests and demon­ strations In Hamburg.

The reaction in Hamburg to the new law was immediate and violent. Several works councils got together at once and sent telegrams to Berlin demanding that the law be changed. Then they proceeded to organize a Committee of Nine to unify the existing councils in opposition to the law. On May 30, representatives from all the Hamburg works councils met and declared their opposition to the draft . . .

"The meeting . . . unanimously raises the sharpest protest against the . . . draft law concerning the factory councils. This law would take away the last achievements of the revolution and would completely return to the entrepreneurs and the capitalists control over all economic life. The draft flatly contradicts the wishes of the organized proletariat and shows how unlikely the present Reich Government is to accomplish anything significant." [63]

This Committee of Nine became the focus for opposition to the Councils Law, the trade unions, the SPD, and the Reich government. However, these forces came to work closer together against the desires and activities of the workers. Thus, the unions began to expel workers who opposed their policies ‑‑ or those of the government. Any worker who was thrown out of the union then was fired from his job by his employer. "The threat of losing one's job in Hamburg, at a time when unemployment figures continued to mount, was a serious one."[64] Most workers chose to suppress their dissatisfaction rather than chance starving.

But on June 24 a mass demonstration protesting the quality of the meat rations led to a battle between the crowd and the new troops. The Committee of Nine expanded to a Committee of Twelve and became the organized expression of mass discontent and a threat to the established power. A state of virtual civil war existed. The next day the troops were taken by surprise, disarmed, and marched through town.[65] On the 27th, Noske announced in Berlin the sending of troops to protect the Hamburg government. A state of martial law was declared. However, the troops, inexperienced and few in number, were beaten and driven back to Berlin. Then a large detachment was sent and the local forces were defeated. Hamburg was occupied and under martial law until December.[66] Moreover, the SPD‑controlled Workers' Council for the city sought to bring the then autonomous Committee of Twelve under its control. The Committee was officially declared an organ of the Council. Further manipulations by the SPD and right‑wing members of the USPD spelled the end of this expression of working class autonomy.[67] An uneasy peace reigned for a few months.

The abortive Kapp Putsch in March 1920 was greeted by a general strike in Hamburg ‑‑ as in the rest of Germany. Workers armed themselves and struck against the attempted rightist coup. However, they failed to consolidate their gains after the strike, virtually divesting themselves of real power for the second time in less than a year and a half. One of the major causes of this failure ‑‑ and the then apparent decline of the Hamburg labour movement ‑‑ was the existence of sharp divisions within the working class. Disputes between workers belonging to different parties undermined the class solidarity which might have grown out of the united strike action.

1921‑1923 were years of further turmoil in Hamburg. There were mass demonstrations and strikes, occurring for various reasons. However, existing organizations, from the KPD (Communist Party) to the SPD and the conservative trade unions, were able to encapsulate the movements, take over their direction, and lead them back in a non‑revolutionary direction. At times, the KPD seemed willing to spearhead a mass insurrection, but under orders from Moscow, they usually backed down.[68]

The activities of the various parties should not be viewed as "betrayals" of the working class. A combination of internecine fighting, severe repression, the threat of unemployment, and subtle cooptation, along with a resilient faith in the institutions of bourgeois democracy, managed to confine and demoralize the working class in its futile efforts to assert its autonomy and manage production and society as a whole. At first ‑­i.e., in 1918 ‑‑ there were strong illusions about parliamentary democracy, the SPD, and the trade unions, illusions which were at the time rampant throughout Germany. The "propaganda of real events"[69] dispelled these illusions among most of the workers. By then, however, it was too late. The Berlin regime had fortified itself, there was a new army, well‑equipped and loyal to the government, and the unions now had the power to force adherence to their policies. The Hamburg developments in many ways parallel those of the rest of Germany in the same period.

‑‑The situation in Bavaria was much more complicated. On November 8 a "Council Republic" was proclaimed from above by Kurt Eisner of the USPD who formed a "socialist" cabinet which was composed of party representatives, not factory delegates.[70] Not only did the new government come into existence prior to the formation of councils at the local and factory levels, but it made no effort to depose the already existing state bureaucracy.

Eisner and his Council Government found itself ill‑prepared and isolated: lacking administrative experience, it relied on the existing bureaucracy in the absence of a firm base among the population, it was forced to collaborate with the Majority Socialists and peasant organizations at the price of postponing the social revolution until an indefinite future time.[71]

This is not to imply, however, that there was an absence of working class activity in Bavaria. It took various forms in different places due to existing specific local conditions. The government encouraged the formation of councils, although in a vague manner.

Revolutionary councils were formed in every major city of Bavaria within days after the coup‑d'etat of November 7 . . . . The form and importance of the councils . . . differed from city to city: in Augsburg a council of workers and soldiers seized complete authority in Nuremburg a strong council was compelled to tolerate a strong mayor and in heavily Catholic Regensburg the mayor was able to maintain his prerogatives and to dominate the local councils. It is possible to record with assurance that, by the end of November, there was some sort of council organization in virtually every township in Bavaria one may therefore presume the existence of at least six to seven thousand separate bodies in the entire council system. These councils were composed in every conceivable manner and represented a wide spectrum of political persuasion. With a few exceptions the councils had little influence or contact outside of their separate localities, and for that reason the term "council system" may be somewhat misleading.[72]

For the most part the local councils had similar relationships to the local civil service bureaucracies as the Bavarian "Council Government" did.

It was characteristic of the workers' councils either to force out local officials entirely or (more often) to effect administrative modus vivendi with governmental bureaucrats. With its seat in a town hall or district office, a workers' council would normally seek to dictate or oversee bureaucratic functions.[73]

In Munich a city‑wide council was immediately formed. It then supervised elections to shop councils which then formed a reconstituted city‑wide council from below. However, these councils exercised little power, being under the administrative control of Erhard Auer, the Minister of the Interior and an opponent of the council system. In May 1919 a mass rebellion in Munich, protesting against ever‑deteriorating living conditions and the sham "council government," was put down by Berlin troops who then established martial law.

In the army, councils were also rapidly formed. However, they remained under the control of the leaders of the military, effecting little real change.

The soldiers' councils rapidly assumed a form similar to the cadres of the existing military establishment. For each unit of the Bavarian Army a representative council body was established as a counterpart. The first element, constituted during the night of the rebellion in Munich, had been a sort of extemporaneous general staff, designated simply as the Council of Soldiers. From this central authority originated, on November 8, instructions that each military post was to select a barrack council of ten soldiers . . . . When a measure of order had been restored in the city, further regulations were issued in an attempt to establish the rudiments of a council system for all of Bavaria. Instructions on November 13 specified, 1) that besides the barrack councils, there were to be councils in the military hospitals to represent the wounded 2) that trustees were to be elected to councils at the division level 3) that all soldiers' councils "were to find their culmination in a Steering Committee" 4) and that the Steering Committee, in turn, would delegate two plenipotentiaries who would "work together in the most intimate contact" with the Minister for Military Affairs . . . .

The functions allotted to the soldiers' councils were sufficiently vague to offer the councils a hope of grandeur and yet to withhold any real authority. The barrack councils were granted the right to hear complaints, recommend promotions, request the removal of junior grade officers, and to "assist" in army command posts. But the last word in every case was accorded to the Ministry for Military Affairs, where the presence (without prescribed powers) of the council plenipotentiaries might or might not be of substantial importance.[74]

These councils rapidly lost even any semblance of power. In fact, what there was of a "council system" in Bavaria lost all its power by mid‑December, 1918. On the 17th of that month the government passed a series of regulations concerning the final outcome of the "council system." These regulations effectively:

1) eliminated the combined soldiers'‑and‑workers' coun­cils, generally the earliest and most radical of council bodies

2) ended any claim to autonomy of the system of peasants' councils and thus assured their control by the Ministry of the Interior and

3) effectively reduced the workers' councils to an adjunct of the bureaucracy While assigning to them only perfunctory bureaucratic duties.[75]

All executive power was centralized in the state government and remained out of the reach of the mass of the population. There was little protest about this action. Moreover, there had been little activity as regards demands for the self‑management of production or the society as a whole. Bavaria, primarily a peasant area, is a prime example of the rapid appearance of councils which had hardly any revolutionary content at all. In 1919, Bavaria became the scene of several coups and attempted coups, both by the right and by the left. However, precious little of all this governmental turmoil touched the daily lives of the working people and peasants, who were relatively complacent throughout 1919 in comparison to the rest of the country. The Bavarian "Council Republic" passed away quickly, as did its effects on the consciousness of the inhabitants of this area.

‑‑‑The situation in Berlin was extremely complicated because it was the focal point, indeed the seat of power, the trendsetter for the rest of Germany. Thus, considerations of the national situation played a role from the start in the situation in Berlin, as the local Executive of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils claimed to be the legi­timate national government. Developments in the national situation, as they reflect and condition working class activity in Berlin, are focused on in this section of the chapter.

As was stated earlier, the Imperial Government collapsed November 9, 1918, In the face of a spontaneous uprising by soldiers, sailors, and working people. Immediately a situation of dual power existed, in Germany as a whole and in many specific cities and areas.[76] In Berlin two national executive bodies existed simultaneously, with an unclear line of demarcation between them. There were the People's Commissars (three from the SPD and three from the USPD) who were the Provisional Government, and the Executive Council of the Berlin Workers' and Soldiers' Councils. Theoretically, the Executive Committee was the real power and the People's Commissars were to be subordinate to them. In reality, this was not the case. The People's Commissars, representing for the most part the old German political and social institutions, were able to maintain a great deal of power.[77]

From the outset, the SPD and the trade unions did all they could to contain the movement and maintain their hegemony. They realized that, at the time, they could not count on the army or the police and that any attempt to openly suppress the uprising would have failed. Thus, they sought to put themselves in control of the movement. Badia writes of the SPD:

They ran after the revolution, caught it, tried to contain it, and lacking the power to totally take control of it, tried at least to orient it, to keep it from questioning the state structures that it shouldn't shake and disturb the foundations of the Reich.[78]

Anderson writes of the trade unions:

Faced with the danger [ i.e., losing control ] the Union leaders decided not to fight the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils outright (this policy would have been too unpopular), but to reduce them to shop stewards committees with strictly limited functions. The idea was that the shop stewards committees should closely cooperate with and be guided and controlled by the unions.[79]

The fundamental issue was whether Germany would become a "Council Republic" or a parliamentary democracy ruled by a National Assembly. The secondary, but connected, issue what that of socialization ‑‑ who would control production. The SPD and the unions supported the creation of a National Assembly and sought to strip both the political councils and the factory committees and councils of all their power. However, no policies could be forced on the masses, i.e., the SPD and its cohorts at the time lacked control over the means of coercion. Thus, it was necessary to win the masses over to their side. Despite the apparently radical nature of the November uprising, this was rather easily done.

In the first place, the working class had become accustomed to certain traditions and beliefs which in many ways corresponded to their real pre‑war situation.[80] Indeed, until the war, the living conditions of the German working people were steadily improving. The workers had learned to entrust their fate to "their" SPD and trade union leaders. During the war, all this broke down. As we saw earlier in this chapter, the workers began to act for themselves out of necessity toward the end of the war. However, the SPD and the unions put themselves forward as the embodiment and the organizations of this initially autonomous movement.

Without being conscious of it, the working class had conquered power in November of 1918. It had gone in its actions far beyond its explicit demands ‑‑ and far beyond the consciousness it had of its own activity and desires. Now it had to decide whether to consolidate its new‑found power (i.e., create a genuine council system) or revert back to the realization of its initial demands (i.e., peace, food, and parliamentary democracy). The SPD played on this deeply‑felt belief in democracy to argue that a council system would be a dictatorship rather than a true democracy. This struck a responsive chord among the workers in November [81], and they approached even their own organizations ‑‑ the councils ‑‑ in a manner like that of parliamentary democracy electing delegates by parties rather than natural constituencies, such as the common social experience of working on the shop floor.

Few workers were capable of refuting this argument which corresponded with their own ingrained beliefs. Despite what they had achieved, they still believed in traditional forms of organization. Thus they allowed the representatives of the social‑democratic movement, the unions, the left socialdemocrats, the consumers' cooperatives, etc., all to be represented on the councils as well as the factory delegates. The councils on such a basis could no longer be directly representative of the workers on the shop floor. They became mere units of the old workers' movement, and thus came to work for the restoration of capitalism by means of the building of democratic state capitalism through the SPD.[82]

Thus, in a very short time, the working class shared out ‑‑ if not gave away ‑­the power that had fallen to it.[83] By December 16, 1918, the date of the first conference of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils, power remained in name only in the hands of the councils. Thus, their decision to commit suicide, to yield their "power" to a National Assembly, was merely the legitimation of a process that had already begun and was preceding full speed ahead.

On the whole, the decision of the first conference was accepted by the German working population. This is not to imply, however, that only the extreme left favored a council form of government. In fact, during the conference itself, some 250,000 workers and soldiers demonstrated outside in the streets of Berlin. They sent in a spokesman who read their demands to the conference. They were:

Without being conscious of it, the working class had conquered power in November of 1918. It had gone in its actions far beyond its explicit demands ‑‑ and far beyond the consciousness it had of its own activity and desires. Now it had to decide whether to consolidate its new‑found power (i.e., create a genuine council system) or revert back to the realization of its initial demands (i.e., peace, food, and parliamentary democracy).

1. Germany is a unified socialist republic.

2. Complete power to the workers' and soldiers' councils.

3. The Executive Committee, elected by the Central Council, as the highest organ of legislative and executive power by which even the People's Commissars and all central authorities of the Reich are to be appointed and removed.

4. Abolition of Ebert's Council of People's Commissars.

5. Immediate and energetic execution by the Central Council of all measures necessary for the protection of the Revolution above all, the disarming of the counter‑revolutionaries, the arming of the proletariat, and the forming of a Red Guard.

6. Immediate proclamation by the Central Council to the proletarians of all lands for forming workers' and soldiers' councils in order to carry through the common task of the socialist world revolution.[84]

Despite these demands, the conference overwhelmingly voted in favor of the election of a National Assembly and the giving up of power by councils throughout Germany. The mass response to this decision was not at all rebellious. At this time ‑‑ the end of 1918 ‑‑ the working class seemed to be satisfied with the achievement of peace and parliamentary democracy and believed that now the economic problems would somehow be solved within the present structure of the German economy.[85] Such attitudes did not last long, however, giving way in the face of the reality of the situation the workers faced over the next few years.[86]

‑‑In the five years after the November Revolution, the German working class continued to struggle against the government and the institutions which developed after the revolution. New conceptions developed among many workers in the face of the necessities of the moment and the rising expectations caused by the revolution. The economic and social crisis continued unabated after the war ended. Indeed, Germany went from crisis to crisis ‑­economically and socially ‑‑ for several years.

At the beginning of 1919, the working class expected to see a concrete improvement in living standards and working conditions. Nothing of the sort was forthcoming.

After the victory of the Revolution, the workers wanted to see new paths opening before them, they wanted to take an active part in the reconstruction of industry. The strikes were an expression of their desire to achieve new economic and social conditions. Instead, they were asked to continue working for their old employers with empty stomachs and leaky boots.[87]

(We should take note of the fact that as of the end of December, the government was totally in the hands of the SPD. On the 23 rd, the USPD members had resigned from the new government in protest against Ebert's sending troops against some sailors who were holding a government building, demanding their back pay. Thirty of the sailors were killed. Now, the beginning of 1919, the government was in the hands of the SPD and they had a large detachment of loyal troops to rely on if they were threatened.)

In early January of 1919 there were massive street demonstrations in Berlin, organized by the Revolutionare Obleute and the Spartacists, protesting the removal of Emil Eichorn as police commissioner for the city. Eichorn was the last member of the USPD still holding an important public office. The organizers of the demonstration had hopes that they could mobilize masses of people for an attack on the new bastions of power. Some 700,000 people took to the streets on January 5 in response to the leftist calls for action.[88] However, there was little direction to the demonstrations. Some groups tried to begin street battles with the now forces of order, but they were militarily defeated without much difficulty by the 11th.[89] Precious few of those who turned out for the demonstrations became engaged in the fighting. For the most part, there was a situation of a large, fairly peaceful demonstration, while, at the same time, small groups engaged in guerrilla activity. A few days later, the 16th, 30,000 of the 35,000 eligible voters cast ballots in the elections to the National Assembly.[90] Obviously, the vast majority of the population was still willing to try its luck with the institutions of bourgeois democracy. With the elections to the Assembly, all the political councils throughout the country lost their legitimacy and their claims to power, and most of them disappeared.[91]

Throughout the first half of 1919, there were scattered uprisings across Germany. There were different specific causes behind each one, but, in general, one can say that rising expectations combined with deteriorating living standards to create a very volatile situation. Moreover, all this time, the workers were learning from experience what sort of activities might be successful and what sort were bound to be fruitless. The German working class was progressing from their understanding of themselves as a class to an understanding of what the tasks of a working class in a crisis situation should be, i.e., slowly, revolutionary class consciousness was developing. It was necessary throughout this period for the government to send troops to quell dis­orders in Bremen, Hamburg, Leipzig, Halle, the central German mining districts, Brunswick, Thuringia, and the Ruhr.[92] If the government had not been able to assemble its elite corps of loyal troops, it is doubt­ful if the working people in these areas could have been stopped in their efforts to create their own social organization and structures.

Revolts not only occurred at great distances from the seat of the new government. In March of 1919 there was yet another general strike in Berlin, in which the preponderance of activists were sailors. The new troops suppressed the rebellion and held mass executions. The govern­ment was becoming much more serious in its repression and the working class gave indications of becoming yet more serious in its actions. In May, the elite troops occupied Munich and executed hundreds of workers.

More than ever, the working class was able to perceive the true nature of the SPD, the party that had put itself forward as "their" party, and was now ordering the execution of workers who were demanding the necessities of life. Workers left the SPD en masse.[93] Ryder summarizes and evaluates the activities of the working class in 1919:

The continuation and intensification of the strike movement with its political demands and use of force despite the convening of the National Assembly testifies to the strength of revolutionary feeling in Germany, which also explains the growth of political radicalism in the year leading up to the Kapp Putsch. Behind the political grievances were genuine economic hardshipsi prices had risen more than wages, food was scarce and expensive. In the year 1919 there were nearly 5,000 strikes, with a loss of 48, 000,000 work‑days. The 1920 figures were to be even higher.[94]

On January 13, 1920, a peaceful mass demonstration in front of the Reichstag in Berlin protesting the content of the new Works Council Law being discussed inside was fired upon by government troops. Forty‑two workers were killed.[95] This further alienated the workers from the government itself as well as the SPD and brought about an awareness of the weakness of peaceful demonstrations. In February, massive demonstrations swept Germany in the face of the passage of the Works Council Law itself, which was seen by those involved as a sham and an attempt to totally subjugate the workers to the trade unions and destroy any remnants of self‑management.[96] However, on March 20, a new situation presented itself. A group of rabid rightists, including a large part of the elite army the SPD had fostered, under the direction of Kapp, a right‑wing industrialist, sought to overthrow the government. The economic chaos was becoming intolerable to the rich capitalists as well as to the workers. Naturally, the solution sought by the capitalists and the militarists was considerably different from that of the working class. This attempted coup was greeted with the biggest general strike in German history. Although this strike was a high point in working class activity, it took the form of a defense of the government against against the right. Over 12,000,000 engaged in this battle against the "Kapp Putsch."[97] Once again as in November of 1918, effective power was in the hands of the working class.[98] Once again, the working class had exceeded their intentions ‑­and their consciousness and understanding of their activity ‑­in their actions, and, once again, they chose to reaffirm their initial intentions, i.e., protecting the government, rather than consolidating their autonomous power. Certainly, in some areas and among groups of workers in other areas, the realization took hold that the workers could run society themselves, and indeed must do so if they were to get out of the situation of facing one crisis after another and enduring ever‑deteriorating living conditions. However, this understanding, this attainment of the core of revolutionary class consciousness, did not spread throughout the German working class. Many workers still held on to the old conceptions and traditions which were being undermined ever so slowly by the developments in Germany.

The response to the abortive "Kapp Putsch" was the last mass struggle on a national level in Germany until the summer of 1923. Living conditions continued to deteriorate between 1920 and 1923 as the country was gripped by a severe inflation and was further shaken economically by the need to pay reparations to the victors of World War 1.[99] Strikes continued to occur throughout the country. Indeed, each year saw yet more strikes. However, these activities were, to a large extent, local in scope,[100] and the government, having regained control of the means of coercion, suppressed them brutally. In the midst of this chaos and working class activity, some interesting new organizations were formed in 1920 ‑‑‑ the KAPD (a split‑off from the Communist Party which rejected Leninist notions of a party while accepting the need for revolutionary organizations to "educate" the workers) the AAUD (an anarcho‑syndicalist organization which sought to create the structures of the new society In the form of industrial unions and worked more or less as the industrial arm of the KAPD) and the AAUD‑E (a split‑off from the AAUD which objected to working with the KAPD or any organization separated from the mass of workers and developed an ideology quite like the IWW ).[101] Although many new ideas concerning working class autonomy developed ‑growing out of the experiences of workers and radicals since 1918 ‑the government now had sufficient force on hand to destroy any isolated uprisings. This was the case in the Ruhr and in Saxony in 1923.[102] The mass of the German working class was unable to develop means of national coordination and united activity. On August 11, 1923, the German working class engaged in its final mass action. In response to the spiraling Inflation and the deterioration of living conditions, the workers spontaneously rose all over Germany.[103] The government fell ‑that is, those in charge of the government lost power ‑‑ and new faces, again from the SPD, appeared at the top of the political structure. Reforms were promised and repression was implicitly threatened. Once again, the working class failed to carry through the implications of its actions. To all intents and purposes, this was the end of the German working class movement.

[1] As Evelyn Anderson argues, the position of the Social Democratic Party on the war must not be construed as a "betrayal" of its constituency. Rather, "they acted as the willing instrument of the masses rather than as their guides." (Hammer or Anvil, p. 25).

[2] This is not at all to imply that the German masses patriotically threw themselves into the war effort and maintained this attitude until the war appeared lost. Rosenberg points out the growing. discontent with the German government: "A deep‑seated discontent animated the masses of the population throughout the first winter of the war. The depression which held working men and women in its grasp could only have been removed by their being informed that they now shared in the government of Germany and that they were actively and not passively assisting in the prosecution of the war. In the middle‑class democracies the governing middle class was able to arouse this feeling in the mass of the population . . . . But in Germany the Bismarckian constitution rendered the genesis of any such mass feeling impossible . . . . It is true that during the war the military and civil authorities did not treat the broad mass of the people any worse than they had done in peace. But the experience of war awoke the masses to a consciousness that many things would no longer be endured that had formerly been tolerated and thus from the very first winter of the war the gulf separating the Social-Democratic working class and the ruling aristocratic‑industrialist class widened rather than narrowed." (Rosenberg, The Birth of the German Republic, p.90)

[3] Anderson, op. cit., pp. 10‑11.

[4] Feldman, Army, Industry, and Labor in Germany, 1914‑1918, P‑ 98.

[5] Ibid., P. 117. 6 Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 90.

[8] " It seemed to the workmen that the very men by whom they were held down in political and economic life and in the army were responsible for the prolongation of the war." (Ibid., p. 104.)

[9] "The use of the Social Democratic and trade union speakers to calm the workers grew in importance as the number of strikes increased in 1916." (Feldman, op. cit., p. 128)

[11] Rosenberg, op. cit., P. 154.

[12] "In both cases the strikes were relatively spontaneous outbursts by the workers in response to the food situation. " (Feldman, op. cit., P. 337). "At the same time strikes occurred in . . . Halle, Brunswick, and Madgeburg, which . . . were due to purely economic causes." (Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 209)

[13] Halperin, Germany Tried Democracy, p. 26.

[14] Badia, Le Spartakisme, p. 124.

[15] "In Leipzig, the strike had a political character from the very beginning. The striking workers there demanded, in addition to a satisfactory supply of food and coal, a government declaration stating its readiness to concede a non‑annexationist peace, annulment of the Law of Siege and the Auxiliary Service Labor, an end to all restrictions on the press and meetings, the liberation of political prisoners, and the introduction of universal and equal suffrage throughout the Empire . . . . The Leipzig workers called on all the other workers in Germany to join them, and proposed that, as in Russia, a workers' council could be established to represent the interests of the proletariat." (Feldman, op. cit., P. 338)

[16] BAdia, op. cit., p. 126. Cf. also Ryder, The German Revolution of 1918.

[17] Schubert and Gibson, Death of a Fleet, 1917‑1919 and Vidil, Les Mutineries de la Marine Allemand, 1917‑1918.

[18] Although the strikes were in fact spontaneous, propaganda and political ideology did have an influence on the sailors. The USPD distributed a great deal of literature among the sailors ‑‑ some of whom were members ‑‑ and the IWW also had a marginal influence through the radical dock workers who had learned of its ideas from boat workers who had passed through German harbors. (I was informed of this latter fact by Paul Mattick.)

[19] Rosenberg, op. cit., P. 183. He adds that the primary political desire of the sailors at this time was "a speedy peace and the creation of a state of things in which officers would no longer wield a dictatorial authority over the nation."

[20] On July 25, the captain of the "Konig Albert" was stabbed to death and thrown overboard. (Schubert and Gibson, op. cit., p. 26)

[22] Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 206. Moreover, the failure to come to terms concerning the European theater after the reaching of an agreement concerning the Oriental front revealed that the German government still sought to annex the important Belgian industrial areas. Rosenberg pointed out earlier (P. 105) that such a policy was perceived by the working class as an attempt by the industrialists to make greater profits and therefore was met with much anger.

[23] 0n December 28 the peace talks were broken off. (Ryder, op. cit., p. 112)

[24] "The war had deprived the German people of sufficient quantities of the basic necessities of life. The food problem had arisen early in the war. The coal shortage developed in the winter of 1916‑1917. Now, in the last year of the war, there were serious shortages of clothing and housing as well. The clothing supply had deteriorated sharply because of the shortage of raw materials and the use of inadequate 'substitute' products. Shoes were in particularly short supply. No less serious was the shortage of soap . . . . Many German workers were now being forced to contend with lice. Finally, the flood of workers into war production centers created a housing shortage and a rapid rise of rents." Feldman, op, cit., p. 459.

[25] Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 207.

[26] Badia, Les Spartakistes, p, 25. Ryder points out that the food situation was particularly bad in Vienna. (OP. cit., P. 115) "Hundreds of thousands of workmen threw down their tools in Vienna, Budapest, and other industrial centers." Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 210.

[27] Badia, Le Spartakisme, p. 137.

[28] "The Revolutionare Obleute developed out of a small circle of Berlin metal workers. All their members were highly skilled craftsmen and active trade unionists of long standing . . . . The chief aim of the Revolutionare Obleute was to transform the unions from purely industrial into political and revolutionary organizations." Anderson, op. cit., P. 37.

[29] Ryder, OP. cit., P. 117 Badia Les Spartakistes, p. 29 Badia Le Spartakisme, P. 138 Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 211‑212. The council elected an eleven‑member "action committee" which included but one worker. (Badia, Le Spartakisme, P. 139) This was the first example of a process we will see repeated in November‑December ‑‑ the formation of councils with the election of political leaders rather than factory delegates to important posts

[30] Ryder, op. cit., P. 117. Feldman points out that "the Berlin strikers were the best paid workers in Germany, and it is noteworthy that their demands for peace and reform did not include demands for the socialization of industry or even the limitation of war profits." (Op. cit., p. 453‑454) Rosenberg concurs that "the Berlin workmen wanted a reasonable peace, bread, and a middle‑class democratic German government which would imply the overthrow of the military and Junker domination in Germany." (Op. cit., p. 212)

[31] Badia, Le Spartakisme, p. 141. Rosenberg, ibid., p. 215.

[32] Rosenberg, ibid., p. 213. He adds that it "bore no resemblance whatever to a Soviet."

[33] The German workers' yearning for peace, unlike that of his Russian counterpart, was not a yearning for peace at any price. If the German workers had been truly revolutionary, the strike would not have been such a fiasco." Feldman, op. cit., p. 456.

[34] Rosenberg, op, cit., p. 217. The solidarity which developed from this experience was expressed in the organizational form of shop stewards committees, closely connected with the Revolutionare Obleute. As leaders (e.g., Richard Muller) were drafted, new ones appeared from within the ranks. Cf. Ryder, op. cit., p. 119.

[35] Badia, Le Spartakisme, p. 146.

[37] Rosenberg termed this a "change to middle‑class parliamentary democracy without any immediate alteration in the constitution." (Op. cit., p. 247) 1 find it difficult to consider this as more than a change of faces at the top, as the distribution of power was unaffected.

[38] Rosenberg, ibid., pp. 265‑266

[39] Rudin, Armistice 1918, p. 252.

[40] Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 266.

[41] The USPD representative failed to reach Kiel in time.

[42] "By his clever temporizing, Noske entirely forestalled and outwitted the Independents [i.e., USPD] who had been at such pains to prepare the movement . . . . Finding himself powerless, with considerable finesse he feigned sympathy with their [i.e., the sailors'] ideals and thus succeeded in keeping a dangerous movement within bounds." Delmer, "Inner History of the German Revolution," The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 87, March, 1920, P. 559.

[43] Rosenberg argues that "the impetus to the German Revolution was given wholly by the soldiers. If the army had been opposed to it, on." working men alone would never have been able to carry out a revolution. A History of the German Republic, p. 4.

[44] "During the four years of war the old State had gradually crumbled to ruins. The process was infinitely slow and for the most part invisible, and when the catastrophe came dominion fell to the proletariat, like a ripe fruit into its lap." Stroebel, The German Revolution and After, P. 58.

[45] Ryder, op. cit., p. 148. Anderson writes: "The German Arbeiter und Soldenraten (the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils) were a spontaneous creation of the German Revolution, just as the Soviets had been a spontaneous creation of the Russian Revolution. They had not come into existence in response to foreign or sectarian propaganda, but as the natural ad hoc organizations of masses in revolt." OP. cit., P. 43.

[46] Ibid., p. 43. She adds: "The Revolution was supremely an 'action directe.' Spontaneously, the masses formed workers' and soldiers' councils as the instruments of their revolutionary will. During the earlier stages, these councils held all the power in their hands." (p. 44)

[47] "Then and Now: A KAPD Veteran Talks to a Young German Revolutionary," Solidarity, Vol. 6, No. 2, n.d., pp. 12‑13.

[48] Paul Mattick, also a former KAPD member, was at that time working in a large factory in Berlin. In relating his experiences to me, he minimized the extent of the sort of activity that Reichenbach describes. However, where such councils formed (e.g., among miners in the Ruhr), their development did follow the process depicted by Reichenbach.

[49] ‌"On November 10, 1918, the Workmen's and Soldiers' Councils wielded the actual power throughout Germany, both in the town and in the country, supported by the revolutionary groups in the army and by the working men who in many places also furnished themselves with arms." Rosenberg, A History of the German Republic, p. 21,

[51] Unfortunately, my inability to read German has severely limited the areas I can examine with any thoroughness. In particular, probably the most serious attempt at self‑management took place among the Ruhr miners and in Bremen, but nothing is available in either English or French discussing these areas.

[52] Comfort, Revolutionary Hamburg, P. 39.

[55] The SPD favored parliamentary democracy over the council system the USPD wanted both, but sought at that time to postpone all parliamentary elections in order to give the councils time to develop.

[58] Comfort argues that this was due to "the lack of trained manpower to take over the administrative machinery." (Ibid., p. 49).

[68] Ibid., Chapter 6, "The Decline of the Hamburg Labor Movement," PP. 109‑130. On the role of the KPD see: Lowenthal, "The Bolshevisation of the Spartacus League," St. Anthony's Papers IX: International Communism and Spartakism to National Bolshevism, the KPD, 1918‑1924, Solidarity, London, May 1970.

[69] Mattick, P‑209 of this thesis.

[70] Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, P. 103.

[71] Gruber, International Communism in the Era of Lenin, P. 170.

[72] Mitchell, Revolution in Bavaria, 1918‑1919, pp. 145‑146.

[76] For an analysis of the relationship between these two bodies, see Friedlander, "Conflict of Revolutionary Authority Provisional Government vs. Berlin Soviet, November‑December, 1918," International Review of Social History, VII, 1962, pp. 163‑176.

[77] "Beneath the shifting surface of events the old institutions of the empire survived: the bureaucracy, the army command, the big industrialists, even the Junkers. The Workers' and Soldiers' Councils were superimposed on the old system, but did not destroy it, and after a period of uneasy co‑ existence between the two, the councils were to disappear having accomplished little of their purpose." Ryder, op. cit., P. 159. "On November 12 the Council issued a proclamation stating that all communal land, national, military, and administrative authorities were to continue their regular activities." Lutz, The German Revolution, 1918‑ 1919. P. 90.

[78] Badia, Les Spartakistes, P. 77.

[79] Anderson, op. cit., D. 68. To further these aims, the Berlin trade unions concluded an agreement with the employers on November 15, 1918, which provided for: 1) recognition of the unions as the representatives of the workers 2) freedom to organize unions 3) bosses would cease forming company unions of scabs 4) the election of committees in factories with over 50 employees, which would work with management to avoid disputes and 5) the eight‑hour day. (Badia, Les Spartakistes, P. 133)

[80] "But it quickly became evident that the parliamentary and trade union traditions were too rooted in the masses to be quickly wiped out. The bourgeoisie, the Social Democrats, and the trade unions, called upon these traditions in order to break down the new conceptions." ("Raden," The Origins of the Movement fcr Workers Councils in Germany, 1918‑1935, p. 4) Rosenberg writes: "Burpaucratic control of public affairs rested upon a tradition of centuries. It appeared hardly conceivable that it should be vanquished by a revolutionary storm." ( A History of the German Republic, p. 22) Reichenbach recalls that "Germany had a tradition of parliamentary institutions, a tradition of government by elected representatives. In such circumstances, revolution is much harder because it appears as coercion against democratically elected representatives. After all the years of a bourgeois majority in parliament, the victory of the Social Democrats appeared as a decisive victory for the left." Op. cit., p. 12,

[81] We should also keep in mind the news accounts of chaos and misery in Russia which appeared throughout 1918 in the German press.

[82] " Raden," op. cit., p. 8. "The trouble was that in these councils the Social‑Democrats were in a majority. They put forward economistic rather than political, and reformist rather than revolutionary demands. The Social‑Democrats, however, did not impose these views. Their majority reflected the will of the broad mass of the workers inside the councils, and that even during a revolutionary situation." Reichenbach, op. cit., p. 12.

[83] Stroebel, op. cit., emphasizes quite rightly that power fell to the proletariat it was not the result of a hard‑fought battle.

[84] Burdick and Lutz, eds., The Political Institutions of the German Revolution, 1918‑1919, p. 216. Indeed, many shared the conceptions described by Lutz: "The goal of the councils movement was the completion of the socialistic revolution and the formation of communistic society. The system itself was two‑sided: political and economic. Politically, it united legislative and administrative power in the councils, discarded periodical elections, restricted the franchise to the proletariat, and placed the political power of the State virtually in the hands of the work­ men of large industries. Starting with the commune the industrial work­ men formed, according to occupation, councils of 1,000 workers, which elected leaders. The delegates of all the communal councils then formed a council for that commune which assumed all the functions of government. City officials, magistrates, and police were displaced by the council and its committees. Communes were organized into districts and districts into provinces, The provinces then were subordinated to the national congress of all councils. This congress was to choose an executive council which was to be elected twice a year and subject to recall. It was to exercise the supreme power of the State.

The economic side of the council system aimed to bring about social­ism by the aid of the proletariat and to create an economic organization in which the proletariat would have complete control of the national economic life. Besides the political councils, shop councils were to be organized according to industry. They were, like the political councils, to be formed into districts and provinces Lutz, op. cit., pp. 78‑79.

[85] "The German Revolution appeared to be more significant than it really was. The spontaneous enthusiasm of the workers was more for ending the war than for changing existing social relations. Their demands, exercised through workers' and soldiers' councils, did not transcend the possibilities of bourgeois society." Paul Mattick, "Otto Ruehle and the German Labor Movement," n.d., P. 7.

[86] "Despite this 'abortive revolution' it cannot be said that the victory of the conservative elements had been simple or easy. The new orientation of spirit was strong among hundreds of thousands of workers who fought relentlessly so that the councils might keep their character of new class units. It required five years of incessant conflict for the council movement to be definitively beaten by the united front of the bourgeoisie, the old workers' movement, and the white guards." (" Les Mouvements des Conseils en Allemagne," Informations Correspondence Ouvrier, January‑February, 1971, P. 9)

[87] Rosenberg, A History of the German Republic, p. 43.

[89] It was after this abortive uprising that Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were hunted down and murdered by government troops.

[90] Ryder, op. cit., p. 214. This gives an indication of the contradictory nature of mass consciousness at this time. On one day, 700,000 turn out against the SPD in Berlin. Ten days later, over 85% of those eligible to vote throughout Germany do so.

[91] Grzesinski, then a trade union bureaucrat, wrote: "The financial authorities refused to appropriate the necessary funds, and shortly after the election of the first parliamentary government, all workers' and soldiers' councils were disbanded." Inside Germany, p. 80.

[92] Rosenberg, A History of the German Republic, p. 86. "The political result of the civil war that was waged during the first half of 1919 in Noske's name was the total destruction of the political power of the councils." P. 89.

[93] The SPD lost half of its membership in the course of 1919.

[94] Ryder, op. cit,, pp. 216‑217.

[95] Rosenberg, A History of the German Republic, p. 127.

[96] For a good analysis of the content of this law, see Boris Stern, Works Council Movement in Germany, U. S. Department of Labor, 1925, and Guillebaud, The Works Council, Cambridge, 1928.

[97] Spartakism to National Bolshevism, p. 16.

[98] "The working class was now faced with its greatest opportunity since January 1919, with the ruling class split and a mass movement in action." Ibid., p. 16.

[99] "The inflation had devoured all small savings and had reduced the real income of all wage‑ and salary‑earners, of pensioners and rentiers to a level far below the red line of the officially recognized minimum of existence. Wage and salary increases were granted only after terrific struggles. But even such increases as were granted still remained far behind the rapid increase in prices." Anderson, op. cit., p.88.

[100] In 1922, there were 4,338 strikes involving 1,600,000 workers. Ibid., p. 88.

[101] The ideology and history of these organizations is presented and analyzed in "Raden," op. cit,, as well as in the Informations Correspondence Ouvrier pamphlet. Both are edited translations of the original pamphlet by the Dutch councilist group, written by H. Canne Meijor. For more on these groups, cf. also, Goetz, Les Syndicats Ouvriers Allemands apres la Guerre.

[102] Frankel, "The Ruhr and the German Workers," American Labor Monthly, Vol. I, June, 1923, pp. 61‑71. Rosenberg, A History of the German Republic, pp. 208‑210.Also, Anderson, op. cit., pp. 91 ff.

[103] Mass unemployment and inflation had led to a radicalization of working class." Spartakism to National Bolshevism, p. 25.

Primary Sources

(1) Philip Snowden, An Autobiography (1934)

By the end of 1892 it was felt that the various Labour Unions should be merged into a National Party. So steps were taken to call a Conference, which met at Bradford in January 1893. To this Conference delegates from the local unions, the Fabian Society (which at the time was doing considerable propaganda work among the Radical Clubs), and the Social Democratic Federation, were invited. There were 115 delegates present at this conference, and among them was Mr. George Bernard Shaw, representing the Fabian Society. He played a conspicuous part in the Conference. Mr. Keir Hardie, fresh from his success at West Ham, was elected Chairman of the Conference.

(2) Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly fed animal. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization.

(3) Robert Blatchford, Merrie England (1894)

Socialists do not propose by a single Act of Parliament, nor by a sudden revolution, to put all men on an equality, and compel them to remain so. Socialism is not a wild dream of a happy land, where the apples will drop off the trees into our open mouths, the fish come out ot the rivers and fry themselves for dinner, and the looms turn out ready-made suits of velvet with gold buttons, without the trouble of coaling the engine. Neither is it a dream of a nation of stained-glass angels, who always love their neighbours better than themselves, and who never need to work unless they wish.

Socialism is a scientific scheme of national organization, entirely wise, just, and practical. It is a kind of national cooperation. Its programme consists, essentially, of one demand, that the land, and all other instruments of production and exchange, shall be the common property of the nation, and shall be used and managed by the nation for the nation.

(4) Keir Hardie, From Serfdom to Socialism (1907)

This generation has grown up ignorant of the fact that socialism is as old as the human race. When civilization dawned upon the world, primitive man was living his rude Communistic life, sharing all things in common with every member of the tribe. Later when the race lived in villages, man, the communist, moved about among the communal flocks and herds on communal land. The peoples who have carved their names most deeply on the tables of human story all set out on their conquering career as communists, and their downward path begins with the day when they finally turned away from it and began to gather personal possessions. When the old civilizations were putrefying, the still small voice of Jesus the Communist stole over the earth like a soft refreshing breeze carrying healing wherever it went.

(5) H. G. Wells, New Worlds for Old (1908)

That Anarchist world, I admit, is our dream we do believe - well, I, at any rate, believe this present world, this planet, will some day bear a race beyond our most exalted and temerarious dreams, a race begotten of our wills and the substance of our bodies, a race, so I have said it, 'who will stand upon the earth as one stands upon a footstool, and laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars,' but the way to that is through education and discipline and law. Socialism is the preparation for that higher Anarchism painfully, laboriously we mean to destroy false ideas of property and self, eliminate unjust laws and poisonous and hateful suggestions and prejudices, create a system of social right-dealing and a tradition of right-feeling and action. Socialism is the schoolroom of true and noble Anarchism, wherein by training and restraint we shall make free men.

(6) J. R. Clynes, Memoirs (1937)

One day in June, 1894, in the Commons, an address of congratulations was moved on the birth of a son to the then Duchess of York. This child later became King Edward VIII. Hardie moved an amendment to this address, crying out that over two hundred and fifty men and boys had been killed on the same day in a mining disaster, and claiming that this great tragedy needed the attention of the House of Commons far more than the birth of any baby. He had been a miner himself he knew. The House rose at him like a pack of wild dogs. His voice was drowned in a din of insults and the drumming of feet on the floor. But he stood there, white-faced, blazing-eyed, his lips moving, though the words were swept away. Later he wrote: "The life of one Welsh miners of greater commercial and moral value to the British nation than the whole Royal crowd put together."

(7) Herbert Morrison, An Autobiography (1960)

By day I watched the ordinary people as they came to the shop. By night I read voraciously the ideas of those who wanted to create a new society.

This literature was without doubt the basic reason why my thoughts began to turn towards socialism. My father was a stern though kindly man, but the sort of fatalistic attitude which he and many of his generation had in the essential inevitability of things remaining as they were naturally rankled in my youthful mind. For my parents' generation the long reign of Victoria seemed a symbol of stability and even if there were many evils of poverty, squalor and disease constantly at hand these probably appeared to be in the divine order of things rather than the defects of a man-made society.

My generation in its youth was as restless as any youthful generation always is. If our parents never thought of questioning the established order of things we young socialists were equally convinced that every facet of it demanded criticism and probably change. Fortunately for us this desire to create a better world and to get rid of the bad old one did not exhibit itself in some anti-social activities which so aggravate the situation today. Thanks to the flood of books and pamphlets by wise and far-seeing writers, both in fiction and in fact, we had our thoughts harnessed to purposeful and feasible ambitions.

I cannot therefore claim that a faith in the socialist way of life was a sudden revelation, but it certainly was born very early. Its growth into a practical contribution was natural and inevitable despite, and perhaps because of, the environment in my home where criticism of the established order of things was regarded as futile, unjustified, and even wicked.

(8) Fenner Brockway, Towards Tomorrow (1977)

Maxton was Keir Hardie's natural successor. Hardie created the Labour Party. Maxton sought to make it a Socialist Party. He did not succeed - few would say that it is yet Socialist in practice - but he converted more people to real Socialism, its spirit and purpose, than any man in Britain. In his sixty-one years he addressed more meetings and spoke to more people than anyone, and he rarely spoke without making converts, changing their conception of life fundamentally. He did this not only by convincing argument and inspiring eloquence, but because Socialism to him was a religion and his hearers sensed intuitively that his words were himself. When he entered prison he registered Socialism as his religion and when told that this was politics replied that it was his one guide to life. Walter Elliott in his obituary tribute on the BBC said that Maxton was a Socialist before Socialism. Everyone who knew Maxton knows how true that was. He treated all human beings as equals, the Labourer and the Lord, at the same time subservient to none. When sympathy was voiced that he had had to mix with criminals in prison he retorted that he had only twice seen criminal features - in a senior official of the High Court and in his mirror.

(9) David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (1977)

When the MacDonalds arrived back in England in late December, the election campaign, which did not formally begin until January 1910, was, for all practical purposes, under way. In Leicester, the result was scarcely in doubt. As in 1906, MacDonald faced only one Liberal candidate as in 1906, he was comfortably elected, only a few hundred votes behind the Liberal. But the rest of the country spoke with a more uncertain voice. When the House of Commons assembled in February 1910, the Liberals had 275 seats only two more than the Unionists. The Irish had 80 the Labour Party, its strength augmented by the miners' members, had 40. If the Irish abstained, the Labour Party might hold the balance. If it combined with the Irish and dissident Radical back-benchers, the Government might be severely shaken, perhaps even overthrown. On paper, Labour's position was stronger than ever before. In practice, it was to be a source of confusion, dissension and bitterness.

The confusion was due largely to the new problems created by the election results: the dissension and bitterness were exacerbated by the old problem of finding an acceptable chairman. Hardie had stayed in the chair for only two years. Henderson followed Hardie's precedent, and after two years as chairman he, in turn, retired. Thus the party's first task after the general election was to choose his succcssor. Even in 1908, MacDonald's name had been canvassed. By now, with the debate on the "right to work" Bill to his credit, his standing in the party was higher. Unlike Hardie, he was acceptable to the non-socialist trade unions unlike, Henderson, be was a socialist, and a member of the I.L.P. There is little doubt that he believed himself, and was widely believed, to be the best candidate. Yet be was reluctant to throw his hat into the ring. The British Labour movement had traditionally been reluctant to combine symbolic authority with real power. Its "chairmen" and "presidents" were figureheads: power rested with "secretaries", theoretically responsible to committees. The L.R.C., and later the Labour Party, followed this tradition. The chairman presided over the National Executive: it was MacDonald, the secretary, who controlled the machine. Under Hardie and Henderson, the parliamentary party had followed a similar pattern. Thus the temporary chairmanship of the parliamentary party would be a poor exchange for the permanent secretaryship of the party outside, while it would be difficult to persuade, the party to allow both offices to be held at once or to make the parliamentary chairmanship permanent.

(10) David Kirkwood, My Life of Revolt (1935)

A Socialist Government cannot carry on a capitalist system better than the capitalists. The men bred by a capitalist system are men of affairs who understand their business. They are not apprentices.

It was the practice, and still is, for Socialist propagandists to refer to the great industrial magnates and their friends in the House as nonentities - stupid, cruel, selfish people who had fallen heir to positions of power which they have not the capacity to uphold. I have found that it is not so. The men in charge, whether in the world of industry or in the world of politics, are very able men. To change the system is a sound proposition. If those of us who wish to change the system can persuade a sufficient number of our fellow-citizens that a change is desirable, then a change will come. But merely to change masters is not worth striving for. If the system is to remain, I prefer that the men in control should be men who can do the job.

(11) Jessica Mitford wrote about her parents political activities in her autobiography, Hons and Rebels (1960)

Participation in public life at Swinbrook revolved around the the church, the Conservative Party and the House of Lords. My parents took a benevolent if erratic interest in all three, and they tried from time to time to involve us children in such civic responsibilities as might be suitable to our age.

My mother was a staunch supporter of Conservative Party activities. At election time, sporting blue rosettes, symbol of the Party, we often accompanied Muv to do canvassing. Our car was decorated with Tory blue ribbons, and if we should pass a car flaunting the red badge of Socialism, we were allowed to lean out of the window and shout at the occupants: "Down with the horrible Counter-Honnish Labour Party!"

The canvassing consisted of visiting the villagers in Swinbrook and neighbouring communities, and, after exacting a promise from each one to vote Conservative, arranging to have them driven to the polls by our chauffeur. Labour Party supporters were virtually unknown in Swinbrook. Only once was a red rosette seen in the village. It was worn by our gamekeeper's son - to the bitter shame and humiliation of his family, who banished him from their house for this act of disloyalty. It was rumoured that he went to work in a factory in Glasgow, and there became mixed up with the trade unions.

Reform Bill

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Reform Bill, any of the British parliamentary bills that became acts in 1832, 1867, and 1884–85 and that expanded the electorate for the House of Commons and rationalized the representation of that body. The first Reform Bill primarily served to transfer voting privileges from the small boroughs controlled by the nobility and gentry to the heavily populated industrial towns. The two subsequent bills provided a more democratic representation by expanding voting privileges from the upper levels of property holders to less-wealthy and broader segments of the population.

The first Reform Bill was necessitated chiefly by glaring inequalities in representation between traditionally enfranchised rural areas and the rapidly growing cities of newly industrial England. For example, such large industrial centres as Birmingham and Manchester were unrepresented, while parliamentary members continued to be returned from numerous so-called “ rotten boroughs,” which were virtually uninhabited rural districts, and from “ pocket boroughs,” where a single powerful landowner or peer could almost completely control the voting. The sparsely populated county of Cornwall returned 44 members, while the City of London, with a population exceeding 100,000, returned only 4 members.

The first Reform Bill was authored by then prime minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, and was introduced into the House of Commons in March 1831 by John Russell it passed by one vote but did not pass in the House of Lords. An amended Reform Bill passed the Commons without difficulty the following October but again failed to pass the House of Lords, creating a public outcry in favour of the bill. When a third Reform Bill passed the Commons but was thrown out in the Lords on an amendment, Grey in desperation proposed in May 1832 that King William IV grant him authority for the creation of 50 or more Liberal peers—enough to carry the bill in the still-obstinate House of Lords. William refused, and when Grey threatened to resign as prime minister, the king called in the duke of Wellington to try to form a new government. When Wellington tried and failed, the king yielded to Grey and pledged the authority for the creation of new peers. The threat was enough. The bill passed in the House of Lords (those who objected abstaining), and it became law June 4, 1832.

The First Reform Act reformed the antiquated electoral system of Britain by redistributing seats and changing the conditions of the franchise. Fifty-six English boroughs lost their representation entirely Cornwall’s representation was reduced to 13 42 new English boroughs were created and the total electorate was increased by 217,000. Electoral qualifications were also lowered to permit many smaller property holders to vote for the first time. Although the bill left the working classes and large sections of the lower middle classes without the vote, it gave the new middle classes a share in responsible government and thus quieted political agitation. However, the Act of 1832 was in essence a conservative measure designed to harmonize upper- and middle-class interests while continuing traditional landed influence. The Second Reform Act, 1867, largely the work of the Tory Benjamin Disraeli, gave the vote to many workingmen in the towns and cities and increased the number of voters to 938,000. The Third Reform Act of 1884–85 extended the vote to agricultural workers, while the Redistribution Act of 1885 equalized representation on the basis of 50,000 voters per each single-member legislative constituency. Together these two acts tripled the electorate and prepared the way for universal male suffrage.

Eight facts you didn't know about the Suffragette movement

Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union who fought for women's right to vote, pictured leaving prison with her daughter, Christabel, in 1908. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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1) Not all women were given the vote in 1918

D espite this year's quite rightly celebrated centenary, the legislation passed in 1918 did not give all women the right to vote.

Only those who were aged over 30 and home owners were eligible to head to the ballot box.

While this extended the right to vote to around 8.4 million women, it excluded many of the working-class.

Full suffrage for all women over the age of 21 was only granted a decade later on July 2 1928 with the Second Representation of the People Act.

2) Suffrage for women could have happened much earlier

I n 1910, The Conciliation Bill nearly granted suffrage to women eight years early.

If passed, it would have done exactly what the Representation of the People Act did in 1918.

However, despite getting enough votes to pass its first reading, the then-prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith killed the bill before its second reading, claiming that there was no Parliamentary time left in the current session.

The backlash was, as you can probably understand, ugly.

Hundreds of suffragettes descended upon parliament to protest the action, with 119 of them getting arrested.

3) Mr Selfridge was an ally

K een to market his still-iconic shop to women, Henry Gordon Selfridge supported the suffrage movement by advertising in publications run by the activists and flying the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) flag above his store.

H e even reportedly refused to press charges against one young woman who broke one of the store’s famous windows, as a sign of his support for the movement.

4) Men played a key role too

D espite the most famous faces of the Suffragette movement being women, there were several men who fought alongside them to secure a woman’s right to vote.

These include the MPs Keir Hardie and George Lansbury, who were both vocal supporters of the suffrage movement.

Mr Hardie regularly raised the issue in the House of Commons and attended WSPU events.

Mr Lansbury even resigned from his seat so that he could fight a by-election on the suffrage question. In 1913 his dedication went even further and he was imprisoned after making a speech at a WSPU rally in support of their campaign of arson attacks.

5) The WSPU were more popular than Labour

Despite the Labour Party still being one of the biggest political parties to this day, there was once a time when their donations trailed behind the WSPU - perhaps a sign of just how popular the movement for suffrage among the general public was?

In 1908, Labour Party subscriptions and donations were around £10,000, while by 1909 the WSPU had a growing annual income of over £21,000.

6) Suffragettes were trained in Jiu Jitsu

A s countless photos and historical accounts show, the Suffragettes were not afraid of getting violent.

T o protect themselves during protests and police brutality, many of them were trained in Jiu Jitsu - a Japanese martial art.

Appointed female bodyguards who were trained in the special combat would surround senior figures like the Pankhursts and defend them against the police.

7) The movement secured men greater rights too

P rior to the Representation of the People Act 1918, not all men could vote. Working-class men who didn’t own property were denied the right to vote - until the Suffragettes kicked up a fuss.

After the 1918 Act was enshrined in law, the voting franchise was extended to an extra 5.6 million men.

8) Full suffrage was passed 18 days too late

E mmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union who committed most of her life to campaigning for suffrage, died 18 days before full equal voting rights were granted.

She passed away aged 69 on 14 June 1928, just weeks before the Conservative government's Representation of the People Act (1928) extended the vote to all women over 21 years of age.

Another battle front

F ear, grief, sorrow: these are the overriding emotions of war. For men, women, and children confined to the home front between 1914 and 1918, exhilarating surges of patriotic energies and the evaporation of many restraints were fleeting thrills when set against the loss of loved ones. Children woke to find that their fathers had left for distant battlefields while they slept. Three hundred thousand never saw their fathers again 160,000 wives received the dreaded telegram informing them that their husbands had been killed. Countless others discovered the meaning of suffering.

When Phyllis Kelly first heard that her lover Eric Appleby had been seriously wounded, she immediately put pen to paper. "My own darling Englishman", she wrote from Dublin on October 28 1915, "I wonder why I'm writing this, which you may never see - oh God, perhaps even now you have gone far away from your Lady - I wonder when another telegram will come this knowing nothing is terrible, I don't know what to do. I simply have sat and shivered with such an awful clutching fear at my heart . Oh my love, my love, what shall I do - but I must be brave and believe all will be well - dear one, surely God won't take you from me now. It will be the end of everything that matters . you are all the world and life to me." The letter was never posted: Eric was already dead.

The "awful clutching fear" that sapped morale presented the British government with the formidable task of rallying not only the troops but the entire nation to the war effort. Loyalty was not guaranteed. The Independent Labour Party, No Conscription Fellowship, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Union of Democratic Control and the Women's International League opposed the war. In "Red Clydeside", there were anti-war demonstrations, industrial action in essential industries, rent strikes, and even cries for a Marxist revolution. Irish republicans went ahead with an armed rising at Easter, 1916. After a week, they were crushed and their blood sacrifice denounced as pro-German but, on the Irish home front, support for Sinn Féin and resistance to the war began growing.

Curfews and censorship

From the declaration of war, the authorities realised that they had to act decisively. They passed the Defence of the Realm Act (Dora), which, after many amendments, gave the government unprecedented powers to intervene in people's lives. They were empowered to take over any factory or workshop. Curfews and censorship were imposed. Severe restrictions on movement were introduced. Discussing military matters in public became a serious offence. Almost anyone could be arrested for "causing alarm". In the interests of the work ethic, British summer time commenced, opening hours for pubs were cut, and beer was watered down. Women who were suspected of having venereal disease could be stopped by the police and subjected to a gynaecological examination. A woman with VD could be prosecuted for having sexual intercourse with a serviceman. It did not matter that he could have been her husband, and may have given her the disease in the first place.

Suspicion of outsiders was high. Dora and the Aliens Restriction Act severely curtailed the civil liberties of non-British-born subjects (even naturalised citizens who had resided in the UK for decades). They were required to register, obtain permits if they intended to travel more than five miles, and were prohibited from entering certain areas. More than 32,000 were held in internment camps or repatriated. Most notably after the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine in May 1915, anti-German sentiment erupted into riots in Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Sheffield, Rotherham, Newcastle, South Wales, London and elsewhere.

In Liverpool, 200 businesses were destroyed. In London, of the 21 Metropolitan police districts, only two were free from riots. It was, as the Daily Record observed, "not an uplifting spectacle to see this country descending to trivial and hysterical methods of vengeance". More typically, DH Lawrence admitted: "When I read of the Lusitania . I am mad with rage myself. I would like to kill a million Germans - two million." Ironically, Lawrence's German-born wife and his opposition to militarism placed him on the wrong side of Dora. He was accused of spying and forced out of his cottage in St Ives.

It would not have helped Lawrence that he was widely believed to have lax morals. Spy fever was only rivalled by concerns about women's sexual fervour. Indeed, in the summer of 1918, the two fears bonded. Noel Pemberton Billing, MP for East Hertfordshire and publisher of right-wing newspapers, claimed to have a copy of a blacklist of 47,000 traitors and spies in high places in Britain. Many were, he insisted, inflamed by the "cult of the clitoris", betraying the "sacred secrets of state" in "lesbian ecstasy". Heterosexual passions were also said to have been kindled by wartime excitements. Freed from the masculine governance of fathers, husbands and brothers, women were accused of khaki fever. As Private GJ Dodd, a member of the British West Indian Regiment, enthused while on leave in Seaford (East Sussex): "Plenty of girls. They love the boys in khaki. They detest walking with civilians. They love the darkies!"

The newly established Women Police Volunteers, Women Police Service and Women Patrol Committee did not share his enthusiasm. Female breadwinning was thought to have helped sponsor women's licentiousness and consumerism. As poet Madeline Ida Bedford expressed it, parodying the accents of munitions workers:

Earning high wages?
Yus, Five quid a week.
A woman, too, mind you,
I call it dim sweet. [. ]
I spends the whole racket
On good times and clothes. [. ]
I've bracelets and jewellery,
Rings envied by friends
A sergeant to swank with,
And something to lend. [. ]

Jobs in the civil service, factories, docklands and arsenals, tramways, Post Office and farms were feminised. In July 1914, 3.2 million women were employed in industry this had jumped to 4.8 million by April 1918. Some 40% of these women were married (compared with only 14% prior to the war). Many encountered hostility from male workers who were worried about competition and the deskilling of their jobs. "Dilution", or the breaking down of complex jobs into simpler tasks, was introduced to solve the problem of the shortage of skilled male workers without threatening male wages.

Munitions work elicited particular anxieties. In Women at Munitions Making, Mary Gabrielle Collins maintained that women's hands: "Should minister unto the flame of life, / Their fingers guide/ The rosy teat, swelling with milk, To the eager mouth of the suckling babe." Instead, she lamented, their hands were being "coarsened" in the factories and: "Their thoughts . Are bruised against the law, / "Kill, kill."

Givers of life were being trained to take it. In the words of a woman writing for the magazine of a projectile factory: "the fact that I am using my life's energy to destroy human souls gets on my nerves". She was proud that she was "doing what I can to bring this horrible affair to an end. But once the war is over, never in creation will I do the same thing again".

Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931). Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Propagandists attempted to reconcile women's dual roles as life-givers and manufacturers of death-dealing weapons. Thus, in Our Girls: Their Work for the War (1916), Hall Caine adopted the language of trashy romances, pointing out that munitions workers had learned to show a "proper respect" for their machine's "impetuous organisms". By learning their machine's "whims", munitions women speedily "wooed and won this new kind of male monster". Making bombs was as "perfectly natural" to women as making love.

The effect of widening employment opportunities for women was ambiguous. On the one hand, women were admitted into industry under strict conditions, including the fact that they did not actually replace the men but were allowed to perform only certain tasks. Feminist lobbying for equal wages never succeeded: women were paid about half of what men earned. In munitions factories, they risked dying in explosions or suffering TNT poisoning. After the war was over, they were expected to return to traditional roles. The pervasive theme of feminine self-sacrifice meant that they lacked the economic and political power after the war to transform their world.

Purpose and emancipation

On the other hand, many women revelled in a new sense of purpose and emancipation. As Naomi Loughnan admitted in 1917, she was "sick of frivolling" and "wanted to do something big and hard, because of our boys and of England". Factories offered better conditions, higher wages, more interesting work and greater freedoms than domestic service had done. Female factory workers challenged the gender order: they were earning much more than previously (three times more in some cases), were able to demonstrate their ability to carry out skilled work in areas previously barred to them, and were allowed greater leeway in the way they comported themselves publicly.

As trade union leader Mary Macarthur concluded in 1918: "No longer are we told that 'the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world'. Today it is the hand that drills the shell that determines the destiny of the world and those who did not hesitate to refuse the rights of citizenship to the mothers of men are ready and anxious to concede these rights to the makers of machine guns."

Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragetteleader, arrested outside Buckingham Palace. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Macarthur believed that women's war work would make female suffrage politically unavoidable. The suffragettes (members of the Women's Social and Political Union, the more militant wing of the suffrage movement), who a few months before had been torching churches and cricket pavilions, became patriotic war workers. Although a sizeable minority of the more moderate members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies ("suffragists") joined the peace movement, most also threw themselves into the war effort in an attempt to link their demands for citizenship with service during a national emergency.

Vote granted

By June 1917, a combination of admiration for women's war work, judicious lobbying by suffragists and debates about re-enfranchising men who were serving in the armed services abroad convinced parliament to pass the Representation of the People's Bill by 385 votes to 55. This gave the vote to an additional 5 million men and nearly 9 million women. Crucially, however, the vote was granted only to women over 30 years old who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of an annual value of not less than £5, or university graduates. Ironically, the young women who had toiled in war industries or in the Land Army did not gain the vote on the same terms as their male counterparts until 1928.

The effect of the war on working-class standards of living was more encouraging. Civilians had a relatively low chance of being killed in enemy raids. Only 1,300 civilians were killed when Zeppelins rained bombs on London in 1915 and Gotha Giant bombers followed in 1917 (a single raid during the second world war would have a resulted in a similar number of deaths). Full employment, rationing (which was introduced in the last year of the war), rent control, rising bacon imports and increased consumption of milk and eggs, and improved social provision meant that working-class families were better off. Indeed, on average working-class incomes doubled between 1914 and 1920 and, in the aftermath of war when price levels dropped, this war-enhanced wage level was successfully defended.

In contrast to the improved life expectancy of working-class men who had been old enough to evade war service, servicemen and servicewomen returning from the front-lines were physically devastated. Writing in 1917 about Brighton, pacifist Caroline Playne admitted to being full of "sickness and horror" at the "sights of hundreds of men on crutches going about in groups." More than 41,000 men had their limbs amputated during the war 272,000 suffered injuries in the legs or arms that did not require amputation 60,500 were wounded in the head or eyes and 89,000 sustained other serious damage to their bodies.

The home front eventually welcomed back men and women whose war service abroad had left scars, both visible and invisible, which were often difficult to speak about. As Vera Brittain put it in her memoir, Testament of Youth (1933), the war had erected a "barrier of indescribable experience between men and the women they loved". Brittain's brother, fiancé and two close male friends were killed in the war, but she rightly observed that "the war kills other things besides physical life". Phyllis Kelly, who mourned the death of her beloved Eric, would have agreed.

Joanna Bourke is professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, and the author of An Intimate History of Killing (Granta) and Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present (Virago).

'I cannot say I became a suffragist. I always was one'

By the late 19th century parliamentary reforms had given more men the right to vote in Britain, while petitions to enfranchise women were mocked and rejected.

Growing anger turned into action, and in 1897 local campaigners came together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Known as the suffragists, they were made up of mostly middle-class women and became the biggest suffrage organisation with more than 50,000 members.

Their president, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, passionately believed that non-violent campaigning would lead to constitutional change. She wanted to prove, through petitions and the lobbying of MPs, that women were respectable and responsible enough to participate in politics.

The broad focus of the suffragists is reflected in the colours adopted by the group Green, White and Red, stood for Give Women Rights. Meanwhile the sashes often seen on suffragettes (and in the Disney film Mary Poppins) used Green, White and Violet, demanding Give Women Votes.

Street fighting

In some places, the election battle was a literal as well as metaphorical fight. In Dublin there was major disorder between Republicans and pro-British crowds, especially around the Armistice of November 11, 1918 that ended the First World War, but the December 1918 election passed off relatively peacefully.

Oddly violence was worst not between nationalists and unionists but between rival nationalists of Sinn Fein and the IPP.

The Irish Volunteers provided security and stewards for Sinn Fein, while members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which was affiliated with the IPP, often acted as that party’s strong arm organisation. Also generally hostile to the Republicans were many Irish ex British Army servicemen and their wives, the ‘separation women’ .

In Waterford city, where the IPP candidate William Redmond held onto the Party’s seat, a republican activist reported “Redmondite mobs, mainly composed of ex-British soldiers and their wives…carried on in a most blackguardly fashion, Anybody connected with Sinn Fein was brutally assaulted with sticks, bottles etc.”.[13]

In County Clare, according to one republican’s memory, the ex-British soldiers were, “like lunatics, attacking with knives and heavy sticks”. Shots were also fired at Sinn Fein election workers . In the north, for instance in West Belfast, Tyrone and South Armagh, many activists remembered vicious brawls between the Volunteers and the local Hibernians. [14]

In many areas, Sinn Feiners and the Irish Volunteers clashed with Home Rulers and Hibernians in the streets.

Both Republicans and Redmondites used impersonation and intimidation. In Cork city, one of the successful Sinn Fein candidates Liam de Roiste thought that the IPP impersonated in the morning and the Sinn Feiners followed suit in the afternoon. ‘I am sorry to say’, he wrote, ‘that it is looked upon in the light of a good joke.’[15]

Street fighting and trickery had long been a staple of Irish elections, however, and was certainly not something Sinn Fein brought to bear for the first time in 1918. In Cork city for instance, 11 eleven people had been shot, two fatally, in elections in 1910, in confrontations between the rival nationalists of the Irish Party and the All For Ireland League. Electoral violence in 1918, by comparison, was fairly restrained. [16].

The Irish Volunteers and Sinn Fein in 1918 certainly gave as good as they got in brawls with Hibernians and ex-servicemen, but street violence was no worse than usual at election time and was not the reason for their victory as has sometimes been claimed. Sinn Fein were also the only party whose leaders and activists were being arrested and jailed in large numbers in 1918.

In Cork city, JJ Walsh and Liam de Roiste won over 66% of the vote each to take the two seats in that city.[17]

In the capital, Dublin, out of nine contested seats, Sinn Fein won eight. Richard Mulcahy the Volunteers’ Chief of Staff was elected in Clontarf on the north side of the city. Sean T O’Kelly trounced his Irish Parliamentary Party rival in College Green.

Among the other Republican MPs in Dublin were Easter Rising veterans Constance Markievicz (the first ever woman MP to be elected to the British Parliament), Desmond Fitzgerald and Joe McGrath.

Out of about 140,000 votes in the city, Sinn Fein had received 79,000 or about 60% of the vote. The remaining contested seat in Dublin was won by Unionist Candidate, Maurice Dockrell in Rathmines and two more unionists were elected unopposed for Trinity College Dublin, the only unionist elected outside of Ulster. [18] There was also a strong working class vote for Alfie Byrne a populist, though anti-conscription, IPP candidate in the Harbour constituency of Dublin, though he failed to get elected.[19]

It would be naïve to imagine that all those who opposed the ‘Sinn Feiners’ throughout the war years and before came over to their side in 1918. But there was no doubt that, at least outside of north east Ulster, Sinn Fein had a mandate to pursue Irish independence. Whether that would entail political bargaining, mass protest or armed resistance was still uncertain in December 1918.

But on January 21 1919, the Sinn Fein MPs met in Dublin’s Mansion House and declared Irish independence. It could reasonably be said that all of subsequent twentieth century Irish history flowed from the votes cast on December 14, 1918.


[1]Michael Laffan, The Resurrection of Ireland: The Sinn Féin Party, 1916-1923, p. 164, Sinn Fein’s total vote was about 46% of the electorate but many of the uncontested seats had also been won by the party in by-elections in the previous two years. It is posited that Sinn Fein’s true support was closer to 66% of the electorate.

[2] Dorothy MacCardle, The Irish Republic, p.244

[3] PS O’Hegarty, The Victory of Sinn Fein, p.21

[5] T Ryle Dwyer, Tans Terror and Troubles, p. 152-153

[6] Charles H. E. Philpin, Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland p.415

[7] Marie Coleman (The Irish Revolution 1916-1923) cites 698,000 eligible voters in 1910 and 1.93 million in 1918.

[8] In 1911 the population of all Ireland was 4.3 million. 700,000 is roughly 16% of 4.3 million. If half the population was female then roughly 32% of all males had the vote in 1910. But if we include only adult males then it would be somewhat higher. According to the 1911 census, roughly 40 % of the population was under 21. Which means that about 50% or so of males over 21 had the right to vote in 1910. In 1918, there were 1.93 million voters and a turnout of 68%. (Here

[10] Ibid. Though in East Down the pact between Sinn Fein and the IPP broke down, meaning that unionists won the seat despite the nationalist parties between them getting more votes. My thanks to Cathal Brennan for this information.

[11] Conor Kostick, Revolution in Ireland, Popular Militancy 1917-1923, p.49

[13]Annie Ryan, Comrades, Inside the War of Independence, p222.

[14] For Clare, Padraig Og O Ruairc, Blood on the Banner, p.63, For the north See for instance John McCoy BMH WS402 and Kevin O’Shiel BMH WS 1770. Though the worst rioting between republicans and Hibernians took place in the by-elections of early 1918 in South Armagh and East Tyrone rather than in the general election of December, by which time Cardinal Logue had brokered a deal between the rival nationalists in Ulster.

[15] John Borgonovo, The Dynamics of War and Revolution, Cork city 1916-18, p.227

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