November 1918: The German Revolution – Authoritative study of a year of turmoil

Book review: Robert Gerwarth rescues the Weimar Republic from the ‘condescension’ of history

The Spartacist uprising in November 1918. Photograph: Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Spartacist uprising in November 1918. Photograph: Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When my cohort studied the German revolution of 1918-1919 at Trinity in the late 1980s, the prevailing view was that the revolutionaries had been too German and not sufficiently revolutionary. Their failure to emasculate the “old elites” such as army, aristocracy, bureaucracy and big business, we learned, had stunted the young republic from birth. Worse, the incomplete revolution had paved the way for the rise of Nazism a decade later.

A great deal of research has been done since then, but the negative image has persisted. As recently as 2008, Oskar Lafontaine, at that time chairman of the radical left German party Die Linke, repeated that the “betrayal” of 1918 had “set the course for the disastrous history of the Weimar Republic”. It is therefore a breath of fresh air to read Robert Gerwarth’s authoritative new account, which is the latest product of a vibrant Dublin research hub on modern European history.

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