Richard Müller – The man behind the German Revolution 1918

December 15, 2008

Ralf Hoffrogge: Richard Müller – Der Mann hinter der Novemberrevolution, Karl Dietz-Verlag, Berlin 2008, 240 p., 19,90 Euro, published in German.

Book announcement: Richard Müller – The man behind the German Revolution 1918 / Richard Müller – der Mann hinter der Novemberrevolution.

In the summer of 1914 both the german unionist movement and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) capitulated even before war had started: The unions decided to drop all strikes and support the national war-effort, the SPD decided to vote for the military budget in parliament. The strongest labor movement in Europe had given up its practise of class struggle and its marxist principles

But the nationalist turn did not go uncontested. By the end of 1914 Karl Liebknecht was the first member of parliament to refuse further support for war-finances in parliament. At the same time local wildcat-strikes showed practical protest against the collaboration of the unions. For two years, these protests remained relatively isolated phenomena. But in 1916/17 the unionist anti-war movement consolidated on a national scale.

Especially the Berlin metalworkers were active and organized themselves from below. Their resistance had to be a double one: both against the bosses and their own union bureaucracy which collaborated with the military authorities. Three mass-strikes took place in the metalworking industry from 1916-1918, all of them organized by an underground organization calling itself the “revolutionary shop-stewards”. The group was lead by a lathe operator called Richard Müller. Their strikes entirely stopped the german war industry and only massive threats could bring the workers back to their factories.

The fourth movement was more than a strike: by the end of 1918 the revolutionary shop stewards were collecting arms and made plans for an uprising. After a mutiny in the german war fleet had started the dissolution of the armed forces time for change had come: the 9th of November saw the Revolution in Berlin. The monarchy fell, the war ended and workers councils formed a new government.

Although the November Revolution was one of the most important dates in German history, the revolutionary shop-stewards and their influence on these events are almost unknown even among experts in the field. The leader of the shop-stewards, Richard Müller was more or less forgotten – although he was one of the main-organizers of the 1918 Revolution in Berlin and chairman of the highest workers-council in the newly declared “Socialist Republic of Germany”. This means, that Müller was nothing else than head of state during the revolutionary era. Nevertheless, almost no biographical information existed on him.

This has changed now. The author Ralf Hoffrogge portraits the life of Richard Müller from his early days in a small village in rural East of Germany, tells the story of his career in the metalworkers union and his role in the Revolution of 1918. By following the life of Richard Müller, Hoffrogge draws a differentiated picture of the of rise and fall of the German workers-council movements.

Hoffrogge also draws on unpublished sources to present the first Picture of Richard Müllers activities after the revolution: His short carreer in the German communist party, his time as author and historian of the November-events, his engagement in one of the smoll anti-stalinist revolutionary Unions during the 1920s. The first time ever Hoffrogge tells the story of his final goodbye to politics in order to become an entrepreneur and finally, a millionaire from real-estate business.

Both the information about Müllers early youth and his late days were unknown up to know, this biography therefore is the first complete portrait of a forgotten revolutionary.

Richard Müller - The man behind the German Revolution 1918