This paper defends the idea that the only feasible and desirable alternative to bourgeois democracy in 1918 Germany was a parliamentary democracy supported by workers’ councils. This alternative, which I will call council Erfurtianism, blazed a trail of political possibility from late November 1918 to the summer of 1920 that was eminently desirable and politically accessible to the German revolutionary left. Council Erfurtianism was consistently undermined by the leadership of the majority social democrats, with some help from the far left. A mixture of sectarianism and mistrust made revolutionary compromise impossible and elevated the ‘parliament vs. councils’ polarity from a secondary strategic issue, into a supreme question of (putative) principle. That sectarianism also accounted for two failed attempts to rekindle the revolutionary fire: the pro-socialisation strikes of March 1919 and the strike that ended the Kapp putsch, one year later.

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Keywords German revolution, workers’ councils, Arthur Rosenberg, Max Adler, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Rätebewegung, Räterepublik, Weimar Republic
JEL Europe: 1913 (jel N44), Socialist Systems and Transitional Economies: General (jel P20), Political Economy; Property Rights (jel P26)
Persistent URL
Journal Socialist History
Vrousalis, N. (2019). Erfurt plus Councils: The Distinctive Relevance of the German Revolution of 1918-19. Socialist History, 55, 27–46. Retrieved from