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Arnold Brecht on the Final Weeks of the War (Retrospective Account, 1966)

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At about this time Wilson’s third note arrived. It ended with passages in which the President once again expressed doubts about the structure of power within Germany. As a result of this note, from the time of my entry into the Chancellery, the issue of the Kaiser’s abdication moved into the center of debates.

On October 28 an amendment to the Constitution was promulgated, which had been introduced with the approval of the Kaiser and accepted by both Bundesrat and Reichstag. In only a few lines it radically altered the entire constitutional structure of Germany. The Chancellor was no longer to be selected by the Kaiser alone, but required the confidence of the Reichstag and could be overthrown by it. The same was to apply to the Prussian Minister of War, since the Reich, having no Department of War of its own, conducted its military affairs through the Prussian Minister. This amendment transformed Germany constitutionally from a semi-autocratic monarchy into a parliamentary democracy with a monarch as its nominal head. If this form of constitution had existed before the beginning of the war, then the unification of leadership in military and civil affairs in Germany would have been possible and likely, as happened in the United States, Great Britain, and France. But neither abroad nor in Germany did people recognize the almost revolutionary event of this legal textual amendment. A more visible expression of change had become necessary. Wilson had hinted at this in his last note, and in Germany demands for the abdication of the Kaiser were being widely expressed.

At that time there originated the plan that the Kaiser and the Crown Prince should abdicate voluntarily in favor of Prince Wilhelm, the twelve-year-old son of the Crown Prince, and that a Regent should head the government until the Prince came of age, that is, for six years (eighteen was the age at which a member of the royal house could take over the royal functions according to the domestic law of the Hohenzollerns). During these six years the practice of democracy could become living reality, without the necessity of giving up the form of monarchy to which people were accustomed.

Source of English translation: Arnold Brecht, The Political Education of Arnold Brecht, An Autobiography 1884-1970. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 82-88.

Source of original German text: Arnold Brecht, Aus nächster Nähe, Lebenserinnerungen 1884-1927. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1966, pp. 154-62.

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