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Morgan Philips Price on Workers’ Councils and the Kapp Putsch (March-April, 1920)

Morgan Philips Price, a member of the Labour Party and a critic of Great Britain’s participation in the First World War, worked for the London Daily Herald in Berlin between1919 and 1923. While in Berlin, Price witnessed many of the events that shaped postwar Germany, including the rise and influence of workers councils, the January 1919 uprising (often referred to as Spartacus Revolt), and the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch. In the early days of the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch, Price describes how the union between “Scheidemann Socialists” and Independents helped provide a pro-democratic bulwark against the Kapp regime and its supporters. Price argues that the use of non-violent, collective action against the Kapp government led to its eventual failure. He also comments on the general tension throughout the country due to violence, class conflict, and antisemitism.

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March 18

We are living now in Berlin without light, gas or water. The new Government is caught like a rat in a trap. It is increasingly clear that it is not only up against the Labour, Socialist and Democratic parties, but that large sections of the middle and lower bureaucracy are passively resisting. I hear that yesterday union was attained between the Scheidemann Socialists and the Independents in Berlin, both deciding upon common action against the new regime. A prominent Scheidemann Socialist told me this morning that reversion to the old state of affairs after the overthrow of the Kapp government is impossible. I have just seen a proclamation for a general strike in Silesia signed by middle-class men and Socialists, by Catholic Centrists and Communists. On the other hand, it is not to be expected that the new Government will give up without a struggle, and it has considerable support among the uneducated middle classes and peasantry in Pomerania, North Germany and East Prussia. Anti-Semitic propaganda is a method by which it is trying to make itself popular among the dark and ignorant elements of the population. In the street where I live is a notorious Jew-baiter who has been engaged for some time past in manufacturing rubber batons for use in pogroms.

March 30

This morning the Government issued an ultimatum to the workers of the Ruhr to disarm and dissolve the Worker’s Councils within 24 hours. In a speech in the Reichstag today the new War Minister, Gessler, justified this action by alluding to the ‘Red Terror’ in Duisburg and other Westphalian towns. According, however, to Legien, who spoke on behalf of the All-German Trade Union Executive, the Majority Socialists and Independents of the Ruhr have decided to take joint action against the anarchist and syndicalist elements who are trying to declare a Soviet Republic there. ‘The workers of the Ruhr,’ said Legien, who is a most conservative trade union official, ‘demand only one thing – the disarming of the Reichswehr and the counter-revolutionary White Guards.’ This corresponds with a report I have just received from the Ruhr that the workers of all political parties there will not lay down their arms without absolute guarantees that the Reichswehr and the Security Police [Sicherheitspolizei] shall not be sent into the coalfields.

April 6

Information from the Ruhr shows that in most of the towns peach and order reign, but in some parts of the neutral [unoccupied] zone there are irresponsible bands against whom the local Socialists of all shades are taking action. The existence of these bands gives the Junker junta just the excuse it wants to march into the Ruhr. The Berlin government is in a state of helpless indecision and its official spokesmen are making contradictory statements according as they are to a greater or lesser degree under the influence of General von Watter’s headquarters. Negotiations with France over the occupation of the neutral zone continue. Already Watter’s troops have reached Duisburg and the French government is making use of this advance to secure the right to extend its own area of occupation.

April 15

There has been a steady consolidation of the forces of reaction of Germany during the Kapp week. The people behind the Kapp adventure, though defeated on the surface, have gained below. This is particularly the case in South Germany. In Bavaria even the Majority Socialists have been secluded from the Government, which relies now solely on the parties of the Right. The newly created Bavarian Centre and the Peasants’ Party are separatist in tendency and working with Pan-Germans in Prussia, who prefer a small reactionary Germany to a large revolutionary one.

According to my information the centre of the reaction is now Pomerania, which is the spiritual Mecca and Vendée of Junkerdom to which have flocked the leaders of the Kapp adventure, quite undisturbed by orders issued by Hermann Müller’s government for their arrest for high treason. The landlords and their retainers here are well armed, and many Baltic regiments are scattered on their estates, the soldiers having brought all their arms with them. There is a strong Socialist and Communist movement among the agricultural labourers of these parts, but as the workers are completely disarmed the whole countryside is at the mercy of the Junkers.

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