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)

19/1/1919 Germany goes to the polls, rejecting the extremes of right and left

Today Germans vote in their country’s first ever fully free elections. Voters are choosing the members of an assembly that will write a new constitution for the country. Proportional representation has been introduced to prevent the overrepresentation of rural areas seen in elections to the imperial Reichstag, while for the first time women are voting on the same basis as men. All men and women aged 20 or over are entitled to vote, with property qualifications and various Wilhelmine-era chicaneries used to minimise the vote of unsound elements eliminated.

The results show strong support for the parties of the current status quo. The Social Democrats (the SPD) win 38% of the vote, the Centre Party (mainly representing Catholics) wins 20%, and the liberal German Democratic Party wins 19%. The reactionary conservative German National People’s Party wins just 10% of the vote. To the left of the SPD, the Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) gains less than 8% of the vote. The Spartacists meanwhile boycott the election, a decision taken by them before their failed uprising.

The constituent assembly will meet soon to begin its work. Because Berlin is still in a somewhat restive state, the new parliament will assemble in the quieter Thuringian city of Weimar.

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“Women! Same rights, same responsibilities. Vote Social Democrat!” (DW: Weimar, 1919: Birth of Germany’s first democracy)

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)

6/1/1919 The Spartacists revolt: an October Revolution for Germany?

Germany’s Social Democrats (the SPD), led by Chancellor Ebert, want Germany to develop on a progressive and reformist path, but to their left the Spartacists of Liebknecht and Luxemburg want a second German revolution, akin to the October Revolution in Russia. The Independent Social Democrats (the USPD) hover in between, more radical than Ebert but not as fulsome in their support of Bolshevism as the Spartacists.

On Christmas Eve Ebert attempted to suppress the People’s Naval Division, a unit of radical marines that had established itself in a former royal palace. The attempt failed, partly because the army proved unreliable in its support for Ebert’s crackdown. Nevertheless, the USPD left the governing coalition in protest at Ebert’s action, leaving the SPD alone in government.

To the Spartacists, it begins to look as though one push might overthrow Ebert, much as Lenin‘s coup removed Kerensky‘s provisional government. They call for mass demonstrations in Berlin, which take place today. Many of the Spartacists’ supporters are armed and they occupy buildings around the city, including the offices of the SPD’s newspaper. More demonstrations are called for the coming days and Spartacist agitators call for soldiers in the city to desert Ebert’s government. Are the Spartacists about to seize power? So their supporters hope, but Ebert is determined not to be Germany’s Kerensky. Together with Gustav Noske, his war minister, he prepares to strike back.

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Spartacists in Berlin (Wikipedia: German Revolution of 1918–19)

24/12/1918 Berlin’s Christmas Eve Battle #1918Live

It is Christmas Eve. Across Europe people are preparing for the season of goodwill to all men. But not in Berlin, where rival groups of men are today trading gunshots.

The German revolution first stopped the German navy from launching a suicidal attack on the British fleet, before overthrowing the Kaiser and hastening the end of the war. Now Friedrich Ebert leads a coalition government of his own Social Democrats (the SPD) and the slightly more radical Independent Social Democrats (the USPD). Preparations are underway for fully democratic elections to be held early next year.

No one really knows whether the German revolution is now essentially over, with the future being one of gradual reforms improving the lives of the SPD’s working class supporters, or if this is just a transitional phase akin to the rule of Kerensky‘s Provisional Government in Russia. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League hope that Ebert’s government will soon be replaced by a government based on workers’ councils, as supposedly is the case in Soviet Russia. Ebert meanwhile fears that any sign of unrest has been whipped up the Spartacists as a prelude to a coup attempt by them.

The Volksmarinedivision (People’s Navy Division) is a unit of revolutionary marines that were stationed in Berlin in the early days of the revolution, currently billeted in the former royal palace. Now a dispute has arisen between them and the commander of the city garrison, Otto Wels. Wels held back the marines’ pay; in return they have now mutinied, abducting him and roughing him up.

Ebert fears that the marines are preparing to spearhead a Spartacist putsch. He may also be coming under pressure from Groener, the army’s quartermaster-general, to do something about the unruly marines. So he orders regular troops to attack the palace and suppress the marines.

The assault on the palace begins with an artillery bombardment and then a fire fight erupts between the two sides. However the attack turns into something of a fiasco. The marines easily repel the army’s assault. They find themselves being assisted by armed civilians and members of the police force. There are even reports of soldiers switching sides and joining the Volksmarinedivision.

At the end of the day Ebert’s attempt to crush the marines has proved an embarrassing failure. His coalition partners in the USPD meanwhile are furious, as he launched the attack without consulting them. But the Volksmarinedivision makes no move to overthrow Ebert’s government; perhaps they are not actually in league with the Spartacists after all?

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Soldiers of the People’s Navy Division (LeMo – Lebendiges Museum Online: Die Weihnachtskämpfe 1918)

Members of the Volksmarinedivision defending the Neptune Fountain (Wikipedia: Skirmish of the Berlin Schloss)

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))

1/11/1917 A new German Chancellor #1917Live

Recent unrest in the German navy has been blamed on agitators from the Independent Socialists. Chancellor Michaelis took this opportunity to denounce the Independent Socialists in the Reichstag, hoping to separate them from the more respectable SPD and other parties. But the move backfires. Reichstag members are outraged, seeing Michaelis’ denunciations as an attack on their prerogatives. Losing the ability to manage Germany’s parliament, Michaelis resigns as Chancellor.

His successor is Georg von Hertling of the Centre Party, which represents Catholic interests. Hertling is old and conservative, but he consults with other party leaders before accepting the chancellorship. That he has taken office as a result of his predecessor losing the Reichstag’s confidence suggests that Germany may perhaps be on the road to parliamentary democracy.

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Georg von Hertling (in 1908) (Wikipedia)