What are the tragic facts of democracy


Concentrating on the defeat of the war, the hasty October reforms and the deep contradictions in the labor movement, the article intensifies the contradictions of the revolution like theses.


The revolution of 1918/19 is one of the most important decisions in recent German history. However, different, even irreconcilable potentials collided in their course. Hope and fear, idealism and oppression, soaring expectations and deep disappointments all combined in her. The experience of the revolution remained correspondingly contradictory. For some, especially the Majority Social Democrats (MSPD), it represented a heroic effort with elements of tragic failure. For others, she embodied a national misfortune, while still others hoped for a forward-looking development in German history from her.

For the anti-republic and anti-democratic extremists, on the other hand, the revolution was contaminated from the outset by its supposedly treasonable character: the communists followed Lenin's claim that the Social Democrats were "betraying workers", while the extreme right coined the poisonous word "treason" and criminalized the revolution. Such extreme contradictions in memory reflected the political turmoil in Weimar society. In the personality of Reich President Friedrich Ebert, who had lost two sons in the World War and was branded a "traitor to the workers" by the extreme left and a "traitor" by the extreme right, she found an almost tragic embodiment. [1] For a long time, historiography was based on contemporary levels of experience. Karl Dietrich Erdmann's early, equally apodictic and influential judgment, according to which in 1918/19 there was a clear "either-or" between parliamentary democracy in league with the conservative forces on the one hand and the Bolshevik dictatorship on the other, essentially followed the self-perception of the majority Social Democratic leaders. [2] The revision of this thesis, strongly influenced by Arthur Rosenberg, spoke of excessive anti-Bolshevism, postulated an "open situation" and saw in the workers 'and soldiers' councils a democratic potential that could be used. In doing so, it essentially followed the self-perception of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD). [3]

The more clearly the older historiography took such normative positions, the more it tended to make political ex-post judgments in view of the failure of the Weimar Republic and to speak of omissions or "mistakes" on the part of the actors. Mostly behind this was the unspoken wish to open up the possibility of a "different", more promising path to German history. Today, on the other hand, weimar history no longer needs to be used to secure identity. Rather, it is important to take the deeply contradicting signature of the epoch as such seriously and make it the starting point for historical questions. Only when the course of events is viewed in its complexity can its results also be accepted, and the temptation to retrospectively distribute historical-political censorship is reduced. The disappointment about the course of the revolution, which was all-encompassing at the end of 1919, then becomes a historical category in its own right. It appears less as a result of wrong decisions or mistakes by the actors than as the result of a contradicting and uncontrollable complexity.

With this in mind, and in a theses-like, pointed selection, four fields of contradiction are measured below. Together they constituted a paradoxical field of tension in which the revolution prepared, unfolded, polarized and at the same time exhausted itself.