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Friedrich Ebert: A Polarizing Figure In German History

2354 words - 10 pages

Friedrich Ebert was a polarizing figure in German history. As a major party leader in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and future president of the first German Republic, Ebert was a major influence in shaping politics in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As president of the Weimar Republic, Ebert presided over the incredibly difficult years following World War I. Many of his opponents, and opponents of the Weimar Republic and Constitution, decried the government and its leaders for acquiescing to the harsh and unfair demands of the Versailles Treaty. Although convicted of being a traitor to Germany, the opposite is actually true. Friedrich Ebert was an incredible influence on the course of German history, and the ideas that he was a traitor to his country and weak political figure are simply not true. Through his leadership in the SPD, his role in forming the new government and as president, and through the challenges he faced in the early years of the Weimar Republic it is obvious how important Ebert is to German history.
Friedrich Ebert’s rise to President began with his involvement in the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (SAPD) in 1889. Established in 1875, The Socialist Workers’ Party was the first significant working-class party in Germany. It was born out of the industrialization of Germany and the growth of trade unions that represented the over-worked and under-paid working class. At 18 years old Friedrich Ebert joined the SAPD at the behest of his uncle, though the party was technically forbidden to exist by legislature passed by Bismarck 1878. Between 1881 and 1890, the party became more radical, forced to resort to illegal means to pursue their goals. During this period, the socialists were still allowed to run for parliament, and they gained over a million votes which was a result of the increasing alienation of the urban working class. Upon Bismarck’s resignation in 1890 Kaiser Wilhelm II lifted the ban on socialist parties in an attempt to win the support of the working class in Germany. The SAPD emerged from the shadows and became the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Influenced by Marx, the goals for the reformed party called for at most the abolition of capitalism and at the least for a welfare state, eight-hour workday, and genuine parliamentary democracy.
It was in this volatile context that Friedrich Ebert emerged as a leader and began his ascent to power. In 1890 he started out as a traveling worker, moving between towns for work while simultaneously organizing and building a reputation among the skilled workers who would be potentially attracted to trade unions and then by extension socialist politics. His commitment and competence as an activist stood out and Ebert was elected secretary of the union federation in Hanover, Germany. The role suited Ebert who was prepared to do the jobs others were not – acting as a negotiator and master of details – but the illegality of some of his actions and a bad economy...

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