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.

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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.

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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)

12/3/1919 The Freikorps crush the Spartacists again

A second Spartacist uprising has erupted in Berlin and Ebert‘s government has once more called on the services of the Freikorps, paramilitary volunteers who like nothing more than having a go at socialist malcontents. They have successfully cleared the Spartacists and their supporters from central Berlin, after which the rebels retreated to the working class neighbourhood of Lichtenberg, preparing to make a last stand.

As the Spartacists consolidate in Lichtenberg, a local police station is stormed and a number of policemen killed. This incenses respectable opinion. Noske, the war minister, orders that anyone bearing arms against the government is to be shot on sight. The Freikorps are happy to oblige. Today they complete the pacification of Lichtenberg, crushing the Spartacists and violently suppressing the People’s Naval Division. The Berlin Workers’ Council is also closed down. Calm returns to Berlin’s streets, but the cost is high, with over a thousand killed (including a handful of Freikorps members), perhaps as many as 1,500, and many more wounded.

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Freikorps (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War – Berlin March 1919: the second Spartacist uprising)

Summarily executed revolutionaries (Wikipedia: German Revolution of 1918–19)

6/3/1919 More clashes in Berlin between the Spartacists and Freikorps

The recent Spartacist uprising in Berlin was violently suppressed. Since then a certain calm has descended on Germany’s capital, with Lettow-Vorbeck (recently returned from Africa) even being treated to a parade through the city. But the calm is deceptive. Discontent still haunts the working class areas of the city, where life is still hard and the gains of peace and the transition to democracy are slow to materialise. And despite their recent defeat, the Spartacists retain considerable influence in these quarters.

Spartacist leaders Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered after the recent failed uprising, but the party’s organisation remains intact. Spartacist leaders now decide to call a general strike in the city, demanding formal recognition of workers’ councils, the release of political prisoners and the disbandment of the Freikorps militias.
The strike soon assumes the character of another uprising against the government. Noske, the war minister, takes a characteristically hard line, sending the Freikorps back into Berlin to restore order. But the task proves tougher initially than in January, with the radical sailors of the People’s Naval Division choosing this time to join the fight against the Freikorps. Bloody street fighting erupts and the rebels besiege the city’s police headquarters.
Today though the Freikorps manage to restore order in central Berlin, clearing Spartacist strongpoints from the city centre. Eventually, with the aid of a tank and air strikes they storm the former royal police in which the People’s Naval Division had based themselves.

But the fighting is not yet over. The Spartacists and their allies withdraw to the working class neighbourhood of Lichtenberg. Here they erect barricades and prepare for the final showdown with the Freikorps.
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Police headquarters, Freikorps with tank, and fighting aftermath (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Berlin March 1919 – the second Spartacist uprising)

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)

11/1/1919 Freikorps militiamen crush the Spartacist revolt in Berlin

Street fighting has erupted in Berlin between supporters of Ebert‘s Social Democrat government and the Spartacists, who wish to reorganise Germany on the model of Soviet Russia. The Spartacists have occupied buildings in central Berlin and their supporters are staging strikes and demonstrations.

The Spartacists’ efforts are curiously ineffectual, hovering between demonstration and insurrection, with their various cadres operating without much coordination. The Spartacists also appear not to be making any direct attempt to seize Ebert’s government and remove him from power, perhaps hoping that he will simply go away. They have been unsuccessful in their attempts to persuade army units to join them; soldiers are largely opting to remain neutral, with even the radical marines of the People’s Naval Division staying out of the conflict. And across Germany workers are largely failing to rally to their cause.

Nevertheless, Ebert fears that without a decisive response his government will fall and Germany go the way of Russia. He has therefore resolved that the Spartacists must be crushed. The army proved unreliable in the Christmas Eve clashes with the People’s Naval Division, so Ebert is wary of relying on it to suppress the Spartacists. Instead he instructs Noske, his war minister, to make use of the Freikorps, paramilitary militia units of demobilised army veterans, many of whom have brought their weapons with them into civilian life. Many members of the Freikorps hold political views that could be characterised as reactionary; they are only too happy to have a crack at the socialist Spartacists.
The Freikorps march into Berlin today and soon overwhelm the Spartacists, clearing their street barricades and evicting them from occupied buildings. Order is restored to Berlin, but at some cost: 200 people die in the fighting, some of them Spartacists shot while trying to surrender, others civilians killed in the crossfire. A very small number of Freikorps members are also killed. Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and other Spartacist leaders go into hiding while Noske leads a victory parade through the city.

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Noske inspects a Freikorps unit (Wikipedia: Freikorps)

Freikorps unit with flamethrower in Berlin (Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) on Twitter)

Freikorps victims (Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) on Twitter)

Patrick Chovanec‘s Twitter account is worth following. You’ll come for the interesting nuggets of historical detail from a 100 years ago and stay for the insight into the current thinking of anti-Trump conservatives.