1/5/1919 The Freikorps storm Munich

Bavaria is in a state of civil war, with the parliamentary government of Johannes Hoffmann having been chased from Munich by supporters of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, now led by Eugen Leviné, a Communist. Forces loyal to Hoffmann attempted to overthrow the Soviet Republic on Palm Sunday, but their putsch failed. Soviet forces followed up that success by pushing Hoffman’s forces from Dachau.

Since then the pendulum has swung against the revolution. Leviné’s regime in Munich is isolated, cut off from Bavaria’s conservative countryside, with the result that it has been gripped by food shortages. Hoffmann meanwhile has taken a leaf from Ebert and Noske‘s book, recruiting local Freikorps (volunteer paramilitary organisations) to assist in suppressing the Soviets.
Hoffmann’s forces push the Soviets from Dachau and today they storm Munich itself. The Soviets execute hostages (one of whom is Countess Hella von Westarp, a relative of the Freikorps commander; she is rumoured to have been sexually assaulted before her murder) but this fails to halt the counter-revolutionaries. In scenes of great violence the supporters of the Soviet Republic are crushed, with heavy artillery and aerial bombardment being used against the revolutionaries. Hoffmann’s government has already stated that anyone taking up arms against it will be executed as a traitor. Now summary executions of Soviets take place. Hundreds of people die in the fighting, many of them civilian bystanders. It will be a few days before Munich is completely pacified but there is no doubt now as to the final outcome.


Government troops (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Revolution in Munich (Bavaria) 1919)

A mortar (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Revolution in Munich (Bavaria) 1919)

Government troops and volunteers leading red prisoners away (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Revolution in Munich (Bavaria) 1919)

13/4/1919 Palm Sunday in Munich: a failed attempt to crush the Bavarian Soviet Republic pushes it leftwards

The recently established Bavarian Soviet Republic is led by Ernst Toller and a raft of bohemian radicals from the Independent Social Democrats and various anarchist groups. The new regime has established itself in Munich and surrounding areas, forcing the parliamentary government of Johannes Hoffmann to flee to the north of Bavaria.

Now Hoffmann’s government strikes back, with forces loyal to it attempting to regain control of Munich. But the result is a fiasco: the city’s workers rally to the Soviet Republic, arming themselves and defeating the reactionaries. This battle, taking place on Palm Sunday, creates a further revolutionary fervour in the city, pushing control of the Soviet Republic leftwards. The Communists (the KPD, formerly the Spartacists), are now in the driving seat, with Eugen Leviné the pre-eminent leader. Leviné is a Russian émigré and a disciple of Lenin; he is determined that Bavaria should follow the example of Bolshevik Russia.

The Bavarian Soviet Republic’s change of leadership does not mean that Toller is arrested, as might have happened in Russia. He remains prominent, though no longer pre-eminent, now leading workers’ militiamen to engage reactionary forces in the town of Dachau.


Revolutionaries in Munich (Cosmonaut: Insurrection and Defeat in Bavaria, 1918–19 (Part 2))

Eugen Leviné (Wikipedia)

Revolutionary poster demanding an eight hour working day (Cosmonaut: Insurrection and Defeat in Bavaria, 1918–19 (Part 2))

6/4/1919 The red tide sweeps into Bavaria

Revolution is on the march. In Berlin Ebert‘s government has suppressed two uprisings by the Spartacists, but since then a Bolshevik-allied government has taken power in Hungary. And now news of a further revolutionary advance arrives: the declaration of a Soviet Republic in Bavaria. Following the assassination of the Bavarian republic’s first premier, Kurt Eisner, the German state has seen an upsurge of revolutionary activity. With the declaration of the Soviet Republic, the parliamentary government of Johannes Hoffmann flees Munich, leaving the capital in the hands of the radicals.

The Soviet leaders of Bavaria are drawn from the ranks of the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD, a far left splinter from the mainstream Social Democrats) as well as Bavaria’s anarchists; their leader is Ernst Toller, formerly a playwright. The Soviet government announces a programme of ambitious reforms (some might say ambitious and unrealistic reforms), as well as declaring a dictatorship of the proletariat against counter-revolutionary elements.

Perhaps the dominos are now falling and in a matter of weeks or months all of Europe will be under Soviet control. For some this is a nightmare, to others their earnest hope.

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Ernst Toller (Literaturportal Bayern: Süddeutscher König)

21/2/1919 The gun speaks: right wing fanatic kills Bavaria’s ousted prime minister

Although the Spartacist uprising has been defeated in Berlin, Germany’s capital remains restive. The city is deemed too unsafe for the recently elected national assembly, which instead meets in the quieter city of Weimar. There the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party. The assembly begins work on a new constitution. Ebert is chosen as Germany’s first president and Scheidemann succeeds him as chancellor.
Meanwhile in Bavaria it had appeared as though the local political scene was stabilising after voters decisively rejected the radical left government of Kurt Eisner in state elections. Eisner has remained temporarily in power since the election, but today he finally bows to the inevitable and prepares to offer his resignation to Bavaria’s parliament. However, he is unable to do, as on the way to parliament he is shot and killed by Anton Arco-Valley, a reactionary aristocrat. The assassination triggers disturbances in Munich, with clashes erupting between supporters and opponents of the late premier.

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Kurt Eisner on his Way to the Bavarian State Parliament (GHDI – German History in Documents and Images)

12/1/1919 Bavarian voters reject radical socialism

In Berlin the Freikorps have crushed an attempt by the far-left Spartacists to bring down Ebert‘s Social Democrat government. In Bavaria meanwhile the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) have been in power since the November overthrow of Bavaria’s king. Under the premiership of Kurt Eisner, Bavaria has since then followed a radical course. Eisner has also leaked documents from the Bavarian archive supporting his belief that the war in 1914 was started by a clique of Prussian warmongers, actions that have not endeared him to nationalist opinion.

Unlike the Spartacists, the USPD remains committed to parliamentary democracy. Today in Bavaria’s first ever free elections voters deliver their verdict on Eisner’s government. The results suggest that they are not keen on the radical direction in which Eisner has been leading them. Most seats and votes are won by a local affiliate of the Bavarian People’s Party (the local affiliate of the Centre Party, which represents German Catholics), which takes 35% of the vote and 66 out of 180 seats. The Social Democrats take 33% of the vote and 61 seats, while Eisner’s USPD wins just 2.5% of the vote and three seats. Bavaria’s radical adventure looks like it is drawing to a close.

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Kurt Eisner (Wikipedia)

Bavarian People’s Party election poster (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Revolution in Munich (Bavaria) 1919)

8/11/1918 Bavaria becomes a republic but the Kaiser insists that Germany will not lost its Emperor nor Prussia its King #1918Live

Revolution is spreading through Germany with the masses turning against the royal families that have long ruled them. Yesterday the King of Bavaria fled to Austria; today in Munich the monarchy is declared abolished. Bavaria is now a socialist republic with Kurt Eisner of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) its first premier.

The position of the Kaiser as head of Prussia and Germany meanwhile is increasingly under threat. The Social Democrats have called for his removal, a move calculated to prevent their support ebbing away to more radical rivals like the USPD or the Spartacists of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Prince Max, the Chancellor, fears that the country will descend into a civil war if the Kaiser does not go. From Berlin he telephones the Emperor at Spa, warning him that he should resign to prevent the country descending into chaos. The Kaiser is again furious, railing at Max that he has no intention of abdicating and will restore order to Germany at the head of his army if needs be. The Chancellor offers to resign, but the Kaiser will not let him go; he wants Prince Max to stay on so that blame for the armistice terms will attach itself to him.

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Celebrating the Bavarian Republic (German History in Documents and Images: The Proclamation of the Bavarian Republic (November 8, 1918))

7/11/1918 Spreading revolution in Germany leads to the flight of Bavaria’s King and calls for the Kaiser’s abdication #1918Live

A year ago the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Now Germany too is in the grip of revolution. What started as a sailors’ mutiny is spreading through the cities of northern Germany, with the the sailors’ recruiting workers and soldiers to their radical goals. Hamburg, Bremen and Wilhelmshaven have joined Kiel and are now in revolutionary hands. Radical agitators have spread the revolution inland, with Hannover, Cologne and Oldenburg now also flying the red flag. Even Bavaria is not immune to the revolutionary wave, with increasing unrest in Munich forcing King Ludwig III to flee for the relative safety of Salzburg in Austria.

The leaders of the mainstream Social Democrats are cautious, fearing the consequences of unbridled revolution. But they know also that they must remain in step with the popular mood or risk being consigned to the dustbin of history. Ebert, the Social Democrat leader, warns the Chancellor that if the Kaiser does not abdicate then an uncontainable revolution will be inevitable. Then in the evening the Social Democrats go further, issuing a public demand for the abdication of both the Kaiser and the Crown Prince.

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Friedrich Ebert (Wikipedia Commons)