In 1900, Ernst Däumig (1866–1922) wrote to Karl Kautsky of his ‘bitter experiences’ of violence in the French Foreign Legion and then in the Prussian military that had led to his recent ‘conversion’ to the socialist worldview. This article takes up Däumig's letters, articles and travelogues, and a drama, to explore how he recast his experiences of colonial and military violence twice, first as a writer for a German soldiers’ journal and then as an aspiring socialist journalist. As well as a burden that pushed him to critique his past, Däumig's military and colonial experiences are shown to have been his starting capital in the world of journalism and politics. The article gives particular attention to the process of conversion, through which Däumig forged a new life narrative out of the moral tales offered by the adopted worldview and the events of his own past. In addition to providing a case study of worldview conversion, this article demonstrates how biographical research can challenge assumptions about the impact of colonial violence on German metropolitan culture. At the same time, this biographical analysis sheds light on the early career of one of the key figures in the German Revolution of 1918 to 1921. As co-chairman of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), Däumig led the USPD into union with the Communist Party in 1920.