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Authority and Upheaval in Leipzig, 1910-1920: The Story of a Relationship.

Authority and Upheaval in Leipzig, 1910-1920. The Story of a Relationship. By Sean Dobson. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Pp. xvi, 476. $45.00.)

This work is a thrice-welcome addition to the historiography of modern Germany. First, Sean Dobson's focus on Leipzig and Saxony makes an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on this long-neglected region of Germany. Second, Dobson directly challenges the long-accepted story that this revolution owed its beginnings primarily to war weariness and food shortages. Instead, he suggests that simmering resentments reaching back to Imperial Germany were a "necessary precondition" to the events of 1918 (130). Third, he presents a welcome corrective to the notion that Wilhelmine Germany's workers were poised for successful integration into the bourgeois social and political world and, moreover, that this success was due to the efforts of those selfsame elites. Rather, Dobson argues that the "strong yearning" for a change in government by the workers was muffled by "weight of custom" until the war made that impossible (188, 184).

Dobson's introduction acknowledges the difficulties with the terms worker and nonworker, but gives a refreshingly frank case for their use in his study that is borne out by the rest of the book. The first section covers the period between 1910 and January 1915. Here, Dobson dramatically outlines the degree to which workers were divorced from the more economically, socially, and politically empowered citizens even as their absolute standard of living continued to improve.

The second section chronicles the rapidly declining relations between workers and nonworkers up to October 1918. Leipzig's workers were enthusiastic participants in the Burgfrieden. Food shortages and a plummeting standard of living, combined with failure of either the city or the state to provide relief, eventually undermined worker support for either the war of the ruling elites. The virtual takeover of the Social Democratic Party in Leipzig by the Independent Social Democrats is one example of this. Dobson's study also demonstrates that nonparty members became equally disaffected with their lot. Discontent rapidly became public in the form of strikes and demonstrations that the city officials were unable to control. The stage for the revolution was set.

The final section shows why this broken relationship could not be satisfactorily repaired in the new democratic republic. Both nonworkers and workers continued to reinforce their own interests at the expense of the other. While the workers celebrated the political gains of the Revolution, the city and state governments continued to he ineffective in alleviating economic distress. Only threats to their political gains in the guise of the Kapp-Luttwitz Putsch provided a chance for Leipzigers to come together and achieve a degree of equilibrium.

As relationships go, that between workers and nonworkers in Leipzig was clearly dysfunctional, even if Dobson's portrait of the city's nonworkers is, perhaps, slightly two-dimensional. There were ongoing efforts by municipal elites and the Arbeiter-Bildungs-Institute to provide the city's workers with access to some of the social and cultural privileges that they craved. This small complaint notwithstanding, Dobson's book is a compelling and important story of a relationship gone awry.

Margaret Eleanor Menninger

Southwest Texas State University
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Author:Menninger, Margaret Eleanor
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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