Council of the People's Deputies

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Council of the People's Deputies
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg
cabinet of Germany
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-P046275, 2. Rat der Volksbeauftragten.jpg
The Council of the People's Deputies after the USPD pulled out: Philipp Scheidemann, Otto Landsberg, Friedrich Ebert, Gustav Noske, Rudolf Wissell (from left to right)
Date formed10 November 1918
Date dissolved19 January 1919
People and organisations
Head of government Friedrich Ebert
Member party SPD
Predecessor Baden cabinet
Successor Scheidemann

The Council of the People's Deputies (German : Rat der Volksbeauftragten) was the name given to the government of the November Revolution in Germany from November 1918 until February 1919. The Council de facto took over the function of head of state (Kaiser) and head of government (Chancellor), and issued decretes replacing the legislation of parliament (Reichstag) and Federal Council. The state secretaries (the heads of the governmental departments, similar to ministers in other countries) stayed in office or were replaced by the Council.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

German Revolution of 1918–19 Revolution in 1918–1919 in Germany

The German Revolution or November Revolution was a civil conflict in the German Empire at the end of the First World War that resulted in the replacement of the German federal constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary republic that later became known as the Weimar Republic. The revolutionary period lasted from November 1918 until the adoption in August 1919 of the Weimar Constitution.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.


During this period, the main achievements of the Council were the organization of the armistice with the Allies on November 11, 1918, the Reichsrätekongress (General Convention) from 16 to 20 December 1918, and the preparation for the elections for the National Assembly (Nationalversammlung) on 19 January 1919. The Council also reformed the system of suffrage and extended the right to vote to German women for the first time.

Weimar National Assembly 20th-century constitutional convention in Germany

The Weimar National Assembly was the constitutional convention and de facto parliament of Germany from 6 February 1919 to 6 June 1920. The assembly drew up the new constitution which was in force from 1919 to 1933, technically remaining in effect even until the end of Nazi rule in 1945. It convened in Weimar, Thuringia and is the reason for this period in German history becoming known as the Weimar Republic.

Establishment and operation

The Council was formed on 10 November 1918 after the November revolution had swept away the old order. It was established after several thousand revolutionary workers' and soldiers' councils had assembled at Zirkus Busch in Berlin. Their election or appointment had been initiated the day before by the actions of the Revolutionäre Obleute , leaders of the workers who had seized the Reichstag building. This had happened against the will of the leadership of the Social Democrats, led by Friedrich Ebert who had been appointed Chancellor (head of government) on 9 November. Unable to prevent the assembly, Ebert's Social Democrats were able to co-opt the process and ensure that many of the delegates came from among their own supporters. In addition, Ebert managed to convince the more radical Independent Social Democrats to join him in a "unified" socialist government containing three of their members. [1] :114

During the First World War (1914–1918), the Revolutionary Stewards were shop stewards who were independent from the official unions and freely chosen by workers in various German industries. They rejected the war policies of the German Empire and the support which parliamentary representatives of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) gave to these policies. They also played a role during the German Revolution of 1918–19.

Reichstag building Meeting place of the federal parliament of Germany

The Reichstag is a historic edifice in Berlin, Germany, constructed to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged after being set on fire. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.

Friedrich Ebert 19th and 20th-century German politician and president of Germany

Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925.

Thus a coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD – Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD – Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) made up the council. Until 29 December 1918 there were three members from the SPD (Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, Otto Landsberg) and three from the USPD (Hugo Haase, Wilhelm Dittmann, Emil Barth). [1] Ebert and Haase were joint chairmen. The members of the Council had no official portfolios, [2] but Ebert was responsible for military and interior affairs. [3] :8 Since they had no parallel civil service, the Council had to rely on the existing bureaucracy. When the last Imperial Chancellor Prince Max of Baden had handed the office of Reichskanzler to Ebert on 9 November, the Secretaries of State of the Baden cabinet had initially remained in their positions. [1] :87 Although Ebert soon replaced some of them with members of the SPD and other parties, some senior civil servants—like Heinrich Scheuch, the Prussian Minister of War or Wilhelm Solf at the Foreign Office—lasted for weeks or months in office, at least nominally.

Social Democratic Party of Germany Social-democratic political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany, is a social-democratic political party in Germany.

Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany political party

The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The organization attempted to chart a centrist course between electorally oriented revisionism on the one hand and Bolshevism on the other. The organization was terminated in 1931 through merger with the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAPD).

Philipp Scheidemann German chancellor

Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). On 9 November 1918, in the midst of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, he proclaimed Germany a republic. Later, beginning in the early part of the following year, he became the second head of government of the Weimar Republic, acting in this post for 127 days.

The Council was formally in charge of the government when the armistice ending World War I was signed on 11 November 1918. However, Matthias Erzberger, the German envoy, had in fact been sent to negotiate with the allies in the Forest of Compiègne on 6 November by Chancellor Max of Baden, before the latter's resignation on 9 November. [1] :73 The telegram instructing Erzberger to sign on 10 November was sent after a meeting of the old Reichsregierung, originally set up under Prince Max and now chaired by Chancellor Ebert before the Council of the People's Deputies had even been created. [1] :113

Matthias Erzberger German politician

Matthias Erzberger was a German publicist and politician, Reich Minister of Finance from 1919 to 1920.

Forest of Compiègne forest in France

The Forest of Compiègne is a large forest in the region of Picardy, France, near the city of Compiègne and approximately 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Paris.

On 12 November 1918, the Council issued a proclamation An das deutsche Volk ("To the people of Germany"). It announced the following nine points ("with force of law"):

The proclamation went on to promise further social reforms. By 1 January 1919 at the latest, the eight-hour-workday was to be introduced. The government also promised to do everything to provide "sufficient" work. A scheme of unemployment assistance that would distribute the burden between Reich, state and municipality was in the works. The earnings ceiling for health insurance would be raised. The lack of housing would be alleviated through "supply of housing". The government would work towards securing regular nutrition for the people. It would strive to keep up orderly production and protect property against private infringement, as well as personal freedom and safety. Future elections, including that for the constituent assembly, were to be held under a franchise that would be equal, secret, direct and universal, based on proportional representation, and open to all men and women aged 20 and above. [4]

On 15 November 1918, the Council appointed the left wing liberal Hugo Preuss as State Secretary of the Interior and asked him to write a draft of a new republican constitution. [3] :13

The Council passed the Verordnung über die Wahlen zur verfassunggebenden deutschen Nationalversammlung (Reichswahlgesetz), the law governing the upcoming elections for a national assembly, on 30 November 1918. This codified the changes to the suffrage announced earlier. For the first time in Germany, suffrage was extended to women. [5]

The Council also organized the Reichsrätekongress which met at the Preußisches Abgeordnetenhaus at Leipziger Platz in Berlin from 16 to 20 December 1918. By majority vote, this assembly decided to bring forward the elections to a national assembly to 19 January 1919 and refused a USPD proposal to assume supreme legislative and executive power. However, it also passed a resolution known as Hamburger Punkte that emphasized some key revolutionary demands that were anathema to the military: supreme military command to be with the Council of the People's Deputies, disciplinary authority to reside with the soldiers' councils, election of officers, no rank insignia and no observance of military rank off-duty. [1] :136–137

On 18 December 1918, the Council decided in principle to socialize "suitable" industries. No concrete steps in this direction were taken, however, as the SPD members were not keen on any initiatives that were likely to further disrupt the strained food supply or negatively affect industrial productivity. The Council had its hands full with demobilizing and reintegrating 8 million soldiers, withdrawing 3 million of them over the Rhine and ensuring a sufficient supply of coal and food to last the winter. Moreover, there were threats to the Reich's integrity from separatist movements in the Rhineland and from Polish territorial expansion. [3] :11,13

On 29 December 1918, the USPD pulled out of the Council. The main point of contention was the military action the government had just taken on 23/24 December against revolting soldiers of the Reichsmarinedivision. [1] :149–151 This had happened as a result of the Ebert-Groener pact between Friedrich Ebert and Wilhelm Groener of the military high command (OHL). However, there had been talk even before the fighting on Christmas about an impending resignation of the USPD representatives. [1] :151 The vacancies on the Council were filled out with two more SPD members, Gustav Noske and Rudolf Wissell. Although there were no portfolios, Noske was in charge of the military and Wissell of economic affairs. From that point on, the Council's external communications were signed "Reichsregierung" rather than "Rat der Volksbeauftragten". [1] :152

The government organized elections for a national assembly on 19 January 1919.


On 13 February 1919, the Council ceased to exist and formally gave up power to the newly created government of Ministerpräsident Scheidemann. Scheidemann had been appointed by Friedrich Ebert, who in turn had been elected the first temporary president of Germany (Reichspräsident) by the National Assembly.

Members of the Council

MemberTerm of OfficePolitical partyPosition
#PortraitNameTook officeLeft office
Friedrich Ebert face.jpg Friedrich Ebert
10 November 191811 February 1919 SPD Co-Chairman
Reich Chancellor until 13 February 1919
Hugohaase.jpg Hugo Haase
10 November 191829 December 1918
USPD Co-Chairman
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1979-122-29A, Philipp Scheidemann.jpg Philipp Scheidemann
10 November 191811 February 1919 SPD Co-Chairman from 29 December 1919
Ministerpräsident from 13 February 1919
Wilhelm Dittmann 1930.jpg Wilhelm Dittmann
10 November 191829 December 1918
Emil Barth, 1918 portrait.jpg Emil Barth
10 November 191829 December 1918
Otto Landsberg
10 November 191811 February 1919 SPD
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14240, Gustav Noske.jpg Gustav Noske
29 December 191811 February 1919 SPD
Rudolf Wissell
29 December 191811 February 1919 SPD

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