This dissertation explores the German revolution of 1918 through the lens of a rebellion staged by Max Hoelz, a religious farm boy turned "terror of the bourgeoisie," in an area of Saxony known as the Vogtland. Based on court records, diairies, correspondence, literature, and contemporary newspaper accounts held in federal, state, and local archives—many of them used here for the first time—this dissertation brings together regional history, biography, and social and cultural history to reexamine the connections between the history of the German empire, the world war, and the revolution.
Attracted by Hoelz's eschatological socialism, which tapped into the Vogtland's tradition of religious non-conformism and Hoelz's own melding of cinema and politics, Vogtländer transformed the revolution of 1918 into an intense contest between two different visions of the future: their own, and that favoured by the Social Democratic caretakers of the revolutionary polity. The first vision, represented by Hoelz's constituency of textile workers, wounded veterans, impoverished widows, and social outcasts, conceived of a communistic social order based on decentralised institutions, a non-materialist notion of class, and charismatic rather than bureaucratic leadership. The opposing project, favoured by organised labour and industry alike, sought to centralise and standardise economic life and reduce politics to a contest between their own large socio-economic blocs. By 1918, this version of modernisation was firmly established: traditional élites lost their hold on crucial municipal posts, and the Vogtland's largely female labour force and returning veterans alike found themselves economically and politically marginalised. Rather than checking this trend, revolutionary institutions accelerated it, inspiring Vogtländer to turn away from the political realm in their search for ideologies, organisations, and leaders more representative of what had quickly become an anti-politics. They found this leader in Max Hoelz, who redefined the Vogtland's revolution as a conflict between the mainstream consensus on modernisation on the one hand, and a renewed iteration of Germany's forgotten subcultures on the other. In doing so, Hoelz crystallised for the first time a new kind of constituency which, by the very failure of his rebellion, would turn toward National Socialism just under a decade later.