Debates on the German Revolution of 1918–19

Matthew Stibbe
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This book offers an up-to-date survey of historical writing on the German Revolution of 1918–19, focusing on debates during the Weimar, Nazi and Cold War periods, and on developments since German reunification in 1989–90. Its aim is twofold: to make a comprehensive case for seeing the revolution as a landmark event in twentieth-century German, European and world history, and to offer a multi-faceted explanation for its often peripheral place in standard accounts of the recent German past. A central argument is that the ‘cultural turn’ in historical studies from the late 1970s onwards, while shedding important new light on the gendered and spatial dimensions of the revolution, and the role of violence, has failed adequately to grasp its essential political and emancipatory character. Instead, the fragmented narratives that stem from the foregrounding of culture, identity and memory over material factors have merely reinforced the notion of a divided and failed revolution that – for different reasons – characterised pre-1945 and Cold War-era historiography. Public recognition of a handful of reductive ‘lessons’ from the revolution fails to compensate for the absence of real historical debate and sustained, contexualised understanding of how the past relates to the present. The book nonetheless sees some welcome signs of a return to the political in recent urban, transnational and global histories of the revolution, and ends with a plea for more work on the entanglements between the revolution and competing or overlapping ideas about popular sovereignty in the years immediately following the First World War.

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