Richard Muller and the Revolutionary Shop Stewards

IssueOctober - November 2018
Feature by Emily Johns , Gabriel Carlyle

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Richard Muller and the Revolutionary Shop Stewards Image: Emily Johns

On 28 June 1916, Karl Liebknecht – Germany’s most famous anti-war campaigner – was put on trial for treason for his opposition to the war. That same day, some 55,000 munitions workers left their workplaces to march in perfect discipline through the streets of Berlin, shouting ‘Long live Liebknecht!’ and ‘Long live peace!’. About 120 miles to the west, in Brunswick, an estimated 60 per cent of the workforce in some 65 factories also joined the strike.

Astonishingly, these events had been organised with less than 24 hours’ notice.

They were the brainchild of Richard Müller, leader of a clandestine network within the German Metalworkers Union (DMV) that would later call itself the Revolutionary Shop Stewards.

Over the next two-and-a-half years, Müller would organise two more anti-war strikes (each bigger than the last), be conscripted into the army three times, and play a leading role in the largely-bloodless popular overthrow of the kaiser in November 1918.

The night before the revolution reached Berlin, Müller watched as heavily-armed soldiers marched by in endless rows, and became convinced that the uprising would be drowned in blood. But, the next day, the workers carried red flags and placards addressed to the garrison troops saying ‘Brothers, no shooting!’, and hardly a soldier was prepared to fire on them.