1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Scheidemann, Philipp

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SCHEIDEMANN, PHILIPP (1865-1939), German Social-Democratic leader, was born July 26 1865 at Kassel. He was by trade a printer, but in 1895 took to editing Socialist newspapers, first at Giessen and afterwards successively at Nürnberg, Offenbach and Kassel. In 1903 he was elected member of the Reichstag for the great industrial constituency of Solingen, and in the course of the World War he became the leader of the Social-Democratic party. In his reminiscences of the war period, which he published in 1920 under the title of Der Zusammenbruch (The Collapse), he gives an account of the attitude of the Socialist party as a whole at the beginning of the war, and of the change of policy which, to the disappointment of international socialism in other countries, led the German Socialists to give an all but unanimous vote in the Reichstag for the first war credits. He refers to the hurried visit of his Socialist colleague Hermann Müller to Paris on Aug. 1 1914 to discuss the situation with the French Socialists, and the effect of Müller's report, when with great difficulty he had managed to make his way back to Berlin. Scheidemann represented the attitude of the great majority of the Socialists in the Reichstag, if not in the country, by persistently supporting the Government in the main lines of its war policy, up to the months immediately before the so-called “Peace Resolution” of July 19 1917 at any rate. In conjunction with Erzberger he was one of the leading authors of this Resolution, which demanded “peace without annexation or indemnities.” Before this date the improvement in the position of the Socialist party in German political life had been shown by the way in which its leaders, particularly Scheidemann, were frequently called into conference with the imperial chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg. Scheidemann, in his book, gives a vivid account of some of these conferences, and also of the celebrated interviews which the leaders of parties in turn had with Hindenburg and Ludendorff in Berlin when the army authorities endeavoured to obtain the modification of the so-called “Peace Resolution” before it was produced in public. It was largely owing to the firm attitude taken up by Scheidemann and the Majority Socialists that the chancellorship of the incompetent Michaelis (July to Oct. 1917) was brought to a close. In June 1918 Scheidemann was elected vice-president of the Reichstag, and on Oct. 3, on the formation of the last imperial Ministry by Prince Max of Baden, he received a secretaryship of State without portfolio. The part which he and his associates in the leadership of the Governmental or Majority Socialists played on the eve and on the outbreak of the Revolution was somewhat ambiguous. There is said to be evidence that, while insisting upon the abdication of William II. and the renunciation of the Crown Prince's rights of succession they were prepared to tolerate the continuance of the monarchical form of government in the shape of a regency, with, perhaps, the Crown Prince's eldest son, a young boy, as the prospective monarch. If this be so their plans were speedily brought to naught by the greater vigour of the Minority or Independent Socialists, led by Haase. The Independents had been active in sowing the seeds of revolution among the troops at the front, the sailors at Kiel and Wilhelmshafen, and the workmen in the munitions and other great factories. It was the Independents who forced the hand of Scheidemann and his associates by the arrangements which they had made in Berlin in the first week of Nov. 1918 for a general strike, a demonstration of the masses, and an appeal to the soldiers of the garrison to follow the example which had just been set in Kiel and other northern towns. And it was for this reason that the leaders of the Minority Socialists had to be admitted on equal terms and in equal numbers into the Provisional Government of the “Commissioners of the People,” formed on Nov. 10 by Ebert, Scheidemann, Haase and three others. How little Scheidemann's party had been prepared for the course events took was shown by the fact that a proclamation appeared in the Socialist Vorwärts on Nov. 10, announcing that Prince Max of Baden in resigning the chancellorship had handed over the conduct of affairs to Ebert, who accordingly signed this proclamation as “Imperial Chancellor” (Reichskanzler). On Nov. 9, when the revolution in Berlin was slowly and, at first, peacefully spreading throughout the city, it was only after the announcement of the Kaiser's abdication had been published by Prince Max of Baden on his own initiative, at noon, and after the troops which were in occupation of the Reichstag building had thrown their rifles into the Spree and gone home, that Scheidemann appeared in front of that building at two o'clock and dramatically proclaimed the republic.

"Workers and soldiers ! The four war years were horrible, gruesome the sacrifices the people had to make in property and blood; the unfortunate war is over. The killing is over. The consequences of the war, need and suffering, will burden us for many years. The defeat we strove so hard to avoid, under all circumstances, has come upon us. Our suggestions regarding an understanding were sabotaged, we personally were mocked and ignored. The enemies of the working class, the real, inner enemies who are responsible for Germany's collapse, they have turned silent and invisible. They were the home warriors, which upheld their conquest demands until yesterday, as obstinate as they fought the struggle against any reform of the constitution and especially of the deplorable Prussian election system. These enemies of the people are finished forever. The Kaiser has abdicated. He and his friends have disappeared; the people have won over all of them, in every field. Prince Max Von Baden has handed over the office of Reich chancellor to representative Ebert. Our friend will form a new government consisting of workers of all socialist parties. This new government may not be interrupted, in their work to preserve peace and to care for work and bread. Workers and soldiers, be aware of the historic importance of this day: exorbitant things have happened. Great and incalculable tasks are waiting for us. Everything for the people. Everything by the people. Nothing may happen to the dishonour of the Labour Movement. Be united, faithful and conscientious.The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. The new may live. Long live the German Republic !"

Scheidemann was closely associated with the policy, alleged to have been inevitable, which led the provisional and, afterwards, the first properly constituted republican Government to retain the services of reactionary officers and troops for the suppression of communist disorders. He was, therefore, together with Ebert and Noske made the subject of violent denunciations, not only by the Communists but also by the Minority Socialists after they had seceded from the Provisional Government at the beginning of Jan. 1919. When the National Constituent Assembly met at Weimar on Feb. 6 1919 Scheidemann was selected as president of the first regularly constituted republican Ministry of the Reich. He guided the affairs of Germany through the stormy period of the first half of 1919, when it repeatedly looked as if the communist insurrections, which broke out in various parts of the country, might result in the overthrow of the democratic republic and in an experiment in some kind of Bolshevism. On July 20 1919, being unable to agree to the signature of the Treaty of Versailles, he resigned with the rest of his Ministry. He then resumed the leadership of the Majority Socialists in the National Assembly and subsequently in the first republican Reichstag. In Jan. 1920 he was elected chief burgomaster of his native town, Kassel.