November 1918 Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

November 1918: A German Revolution, a novel in three parts, begins with A People Betrayed (part 1) and The Troops Return (part 2), continuing with Karl and Rosa (part 3), the story of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the leaders of the radical Socialist revolution which was defeated by government troops in January, 1919. Interwoven with the history of the lost revolution, a turning point in German history and a prophetic warning of the ultimate downfall of the Weimar Republic, are the trials and tribulations of the main protagonist, Friedrich Becker, who is presented as a kind of Faustian figure or German Everyman. He is characterized by Hilda, a nurse from Strasbourg, as the “most German thing” that she has encountered in her life, and she compares him to the German master builder of her beloved Strasbourg cathedral.

The novel plays on several levels. First, there is the level of the political history of the Weimar Republic, including the tragedy of Woodrow Wilson, whose vision of a League of Nations is defeated in his own country. Second, there is the level of the individual biographies of Friedrich Becker, Johannes Maus, and Hilda. Finally, there are the levels of Heaven and Hell, or good and evil. The novel ends with a metaphysical battle for Becker’s soul between his guardian angel and Satan. Even though the outcome of the battle is left undecided for the other characters of the novel, Becker is saved and dies as a martyr of his time.

A People Betrayed, part 1 of November 1918, begins with the attack of the revolutionary masses on the Berlin police headquarters on November 22, 1918, planned in order to liberate political prisoners who had not been released on November 9, when a free German republic had been proclaimed. After his participation in the successful attack, Johannes Maus visits Becker, who has not yet recovered from his war injuries. Both of them were injured as lieutenants in the German army. After the armistice, they were returned to Germany from their ward in a military hospital in Alsace, where Hilda worked. When they meet again in Berlin, the city is under the rule of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. Becker advises his friend Maus to join the revolution.

The leadership of the revolutionary movement is divided. The revolution is betrayed by the majority Social Democrats under the leadership of Friedrich Ebert, who is collaborating with the Army High Command to preserve law and order. It is Karl Liebknecht and the Spartacus League who try to reverse this counterrevolutionary development. The Ebert government and the council of people’s commissars, who pretend that the revolution has gained its goals with the armistice and the removal of the monarchy, are plotting with the Army High Command to keep in check the revolutionary Left, organized by Liebknecht. A military putsch, staged by counterrevolutionary forces on December 6, 1918, leads to bloodshed among members of a Spartacus demonstration. Although Ebert is not responsible for the events of December 6, he appears to be in a secret alliance with the...

(The entire section is 1283 words.)