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Peace, Security and Order in the Revolution of 1918/19

Uncertain situation

The revolution is proclaimed in Leipzig on November 9th, 1918. However, the situation in the city requires the local Workers' and Soldiers' Council to take a cautious approach: Winter is coming and the supply of food and fuel is uncertain. Riots and looting are a danger. The great upheaval in the local administration and police force therefore does not happen. Using the local and national press, the revolutionaries are calling for prudence. In addition, the Workers' and Soldiers' Council rapidly sets up its own security service in mid-November, 1918. Marked with red armbands, this security service patrols rallies and demonstrations and ensures peace and order in the city.

Police: Symbol of the old order, necessary for the new order?

For workers, the police are primarily an instrument of the state, in previous times, also responsible for controlling and fighting social-democratic politics. Therefore, the political department of the Leipzig police force is soon dissolved by the Leipzig Workers' and Soldiers' Council, similar to what happened in other cities of the German Reich. However, in 1918/19, fears of hardship and unrest mean that there is hardly any further intervention. Leipzig's police director Friedrich Louis Wagler remains in office until spring, 1919, as do most of the police officers. The revolutionaries limit themselves to controlling the police. The Workers' and Soldiers' Council sends Johann Scheib to control the affairs of the police director and puts the Schutzpolizei (Security Police, responsible for police service on the streets), under the control of its own security service. In 1919, the influence of the Workers' and Soldiers' Council is reduced once again, allowing comprehensive police reforms to take place only at the beginning of the 1920s.

Self-help attempts of Leipzig residents

The revolutionary situation should by no means turn into chaos, since the well-being and life of people in Leipzig depends directly on the maintenance of security and an adequate supply of provisions. There are various initiatives, both in the bourgeoisie and among the workers, to set up groups, working alongside the police, to ensure peace, security and order. There are similar developments in the other municipalities and cities of the German Reich.

In December, 1918, a so-called “White Guard”, consisting mainly of university students, is established to provide protection for property and people in the interests of the bourgeoisie. These privileged citizens cannot only lose political prerogatives as a result of the revolution, but also they tangibly fear for their estates being plundered, for property damage and violence.

The Volkswehr (People's Army) which the Leipzig Workers' and Soldiers' Council wanted to form in March, 1919, is already pursuing goals other than simply maintaining peace and security. The Volkswehr is an attempt by the revolutionaries to push the revolution further and realize the idea of a socialist republic. Because the city is considered one of the last revolutionary strongholds which wants to prevent political development towards a parliamentary republic, it was threatened with occupation by combined troops of Freikorps soldiers under the command of General Maercker in early summer, 1919. The Volkswehr is said to be ready on call, to defend the city with a force of arms if necessary. At the beginning of May, 1919, the Landesjägerkorps under Maercker actually does march into the city but does not experience any resistance. The formation of the Leipzig Volkswehr barely gets beyond the initial idea. Volunteers are too hesitant to volunteer due to the brutal measures taken by the Freikorps in other cities, such as Halle.