The Bavarian Soviet Republic (German: Bayerische Räterepublik) was the short-lived unrecognised socialist state in Bavaria during the German Revolution of 1918–19. It took the form of a workers' council republic. Its name is variously rendered in English as the Bavarian Council Republic or the Munich Soviet Republic (the German name Räterepublik means a republic of councils or committees; council or committee is also the meaning of the Russian word soviet) after its capital, Munich. It was established in April 1919 after the demise of Kurt Eisner's People's State of Bavaria and sought independence from the also newly proclaimed Weimar Republic. It was overthrown less than a month later by elements of the German Army and the paramilitary Freikorps.
|Bavarian Soviet Republic|
"Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt Euch!"
"Workers of the world, unite!"
The location of the Bavarian Soviet Republic (in red) shown with the rest of the Weimar Republic (in beige).
|•||12 April 1919 – 3 May 1919||Eugen Leviné|
|•||Established||6 April 1919|
|•||Disestablished||3 May 1919|
|Currency||German Papiermark (ℳ)|
|Today part of||Germany|
The roots of the republic lay in the German Empire's defeat in the First World War and the social tensions that came to a head shortly thereafter. From this chaos erupted the German Revolution of 1918. At the end of October 1918, German sailors began a series of revolts in Kiel and other naval ports. In early November, these disturbances spread civil unrest across Germany. On 7 November 1918, the first anniversary of the Russian revolution, King Ludwig III of Bavaria fled from the Residenz Palace in Munich with his family, and Kurt Eisner, a politician of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), became minister-president of a newly proclaimed People's State of Bavaria.
Though he advocated a socialist republic, Eisner distanced himself from the Russian Bolsheviks, declaring that his government would protect property rights. As the new government was unable to provide basic services, Eisner's USPD was defeated in the January 1919 election, coming in sixth place. On 21 February 1919, as he was on his way to parliament to announce his resignation, he was shot dead by the right-wing nationalist Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley.
After Eisner's assassination, the Landtag convened, and Erhard Auer – the leader of the Social Democrats and the Minister of the Interior in Eisner's government – began to eulogize Eisner, but rumours had already begun to spread that Auer was behind the assassination. Acting on these false allegations, Alois Linder, a saloon waiter who was a fervent supporter of Eisner, shot Auer twice with a rifle, seriously wounding him. This prompted other armed supporters of Eisner to open fire, causing a melee, killing one delegate and provoking nervous breakdowns in at least two ministers. There was effectively no government in Bavaria thereafter.
Unrest and lawlessness followed. The assassination of Eisner created a martyr for the leftist cause, and prompted demonstrations, the closing of the University of Munich, the kidnapping of aristocrats, and the forced pealing of church bells. The support for the Left was greater than Eisner himself had been able to command.
On 7 March 1919, the Socialists' new leader, Johannes Hoffman, an anti-militarist and former schoolteacher, patched together a parliamentary coalition government, but a month later, on the night of 6-7 April, Communists and anarchists, energized by the news of a left-wing revolution in Hungary, declared a Soviet Republic, with Ernst Toller as chief of state. Toller called on the nonexistent "Bavarian Red Army" to support the new dictatorship of the proletariat and ruthlessly deal with any counter-revolutionary behavior.
Initially, the Bavarian Soviet Republic was ruled by USPD members such as Ernst Toller, and anarchists like anarchist writer Gustav Landauer, Silvio Gesell, and playwright Erich Mühsam. Toller, who was also a playwright, described the revolution as the "Bavarian Revolution of Love". Among the café society of Schwabing, the new government became known as "the regime of the coffeehouse anarchists."
Eisner's government members were not always well-chosen. For instance, the Foreign Affairs Deputy Dr. Franz Lipp – who had been admitted several times to psychiatric hospitals – declared war on Württemberg and Switzerland over the Swiss refusal to lend 60 locomotives to the Republic. He also claimed to be well acquainted with Pope Benedict XV and informed Vladimir Lenin and the Pope by cable that the ousted former Minister-President Hoffmann had fled to Bamberg and taken the key to the ministry toilet with him.
Other Toller appointments included: as commissar for military affairs, a former waiter; a burglar with a conviction for moral turpitude as police president of Munich; as commissar for transportation a part-time railroad track maintenance worker; and – in Catholic Bavaria, where nuns ran the schools – a Jew as minister for education. Toller's minister for public housing published a decree saying that no house could thereafter contain more than three rooms, and that the living room must always be above the kitchen and bedroom.
The new government reformed the arts and opened Munich University to everyone except those who wished to study history, which was deemed "hostile to civilization." One minister declared that capitalism would be brought down by making money free.
On Sunday, 12 April 1919, only six days into Toller's regime, the Communist Party seized power, lead by three Russian emigrés, two of whom were Jewish, with Eugen Leviné as head of state. Having received the blessings of Lenin – who at the annual May Day celebration in Red Square said "The liberated working class is celebrating its anniversary not only in Soviet Russia, but in ... Soviet Bavaria" – Leviné began to enact hardcore communist reforms, which included forming a "Red Army" from factory workers, seizing cash, food supplies, and privately owned guns, expropriating luxurious apartments and giving them to the homeless and placing factories under the ownership and control of their workers. One of Munich's main churches was taken over and made into a revolutionary temple dedicated to the "Goddess of Reason." Bavaria was to be in the vanguard of the Bolshevization of Europe, with all workers to receive military training.
Leviné also had plans to abolish paper money and reform the education system, but never had time to implement them. There was time, however, for Max Levien, following Lenin's orders, to arrest aristocrats and members of the upper-class as hostages.
During Leviné’s short reign, food shortages quickly became a problem, especially the absence of milk. Public criticism over the milk shortage turned political, precipitating the communist government to publicly declare: "What does it matter? ... Most of it goes to the children of the bourgeoisie anyway. We are not interested in keeping them alive. No harm if they die – they’d only grow into enemies of the proletariat." Leviné and Towia Axelrod – the former press chief to Lenin – also held sex orgies that shocked Munichers.
An attempt by troops loyal to the Hoffmann government to mount a counter-coup and overthrow the BSR failed on 13 April, having been put down by the new Red Army, which consisted of factory workers and members of the soldiers' and workers' councils. Twenty men died in the fighting.
The rival governments – Hoffman's People's State of Bavaria seated in Bamberg, and the Bavarian Soviet Republic located in Munich – clashed militarily at Dachau on 18 April when Hoffman's 8,000 soldiers met the Soviet Republic's 30,000. The BSR forces – led by Ernst Toller – were victorious in the first battle at Dachau, but Hoffman made a deal that gave him the services of 20,000 men of the Freikorps under Lt. General Burghard von Oven. Oven and the Freikorps, along with Hoffman's loyalist elements of the German Army – called the "White Guards of Capitalism" by the communists – then took Dachau and surrounded Munich, panicking Egilhofer, who on 30 April had 10 of the hostages he was holding executed, including the well-connected Prince Gustav of Thurn and Taxis and the Thule Society's secretary, Countess Hella von Westarp, despite Toller's efforts to prevent it. The Freikorps broke through the Munich defenses on 1 May, leading to bitter street fighting that involved "flame-throwers, heavy artillery, armoured vehicles, even aircraft". At least 606 people were killed, of whom 335 were civilians. Leviné was condemned to death for treason, and shot by a firing squad in Stadelheim Prison. Gustav Landauer was killed by the Freikorps, and they killed Egilhaufer as well. Numerous others were given prison sentences, such as Toller (5 years) and the anarchist writer Erich Mühsam (15 years); others received longer sentences, 6,000 years' worth in all, some of it to hard labour.
After the trials and the execution of 1,000-1,200 Communists and anarchists, Oven declared the city to have been secured on 6 May, ending the reign of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. Although the Hoffman government was nominally restored, the actual power in Munich had shifted to the Right.
Active participants in the Freikorps units – those of Oven, Franz Ritter von Epp, and Hermann Erhardt – that suppressed the Bavarian Soviet Republic included many future powerful members of the Nazi Party, including Rudolf Hess.
One notable supporter of the Soviet Republic was the young artist Georg Schrimpf, then aged 20, who was arrested when the movement was crushed. Hitler’s longstanding chauffeur and first leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS) Julius Schreck signed up and served as a member of the Red Army in late April 1919. Balthasar Brandmayer, one of Hitler’s closest wartime friends, remarked “how he at first welcomed the end of the monarchies” and the establishment of the republic in Bavaria. All the National Socialist officers subsequently became disillusioned after the demise of the socialist republic.
The immediate effect of the existence of the People's State of Bavaria and the Bavarian Soviet Republic was to inculcate in the Bavarian people a hatred of left-wing rule. They saw the period in which these two states existed as one of privation and shortages, censorship and restrictions on their freedoms, and general chaos and disorder. It was seen as Schreckenensherrschaft, the "rule of horror". These feelings were then constantly reinforced by right-wing propaganda not only in Bavaria, but throughout the Reich, where "Red Bavaria" was held up as an object lesson in the horrors of Socialism and Communism. In this way, the radical right was able to provoke and feed the fears of the peasants and the middle class. The separate strands of Bavarian right-wing extremism found a common enemy in the Left, and Bavaria became profoundly "reactionary, anti-Republican, [and] counter-revolutionary."
The Left itself had been neutralized after the demise of the two socialist states, and in such a way that there continued to be bad blood between the Communist Party (KPD) and the Socialist Party (SPD) that prevented them from working together throughout Germany – even ignoring that under orders from Moscow the KPD portrayed the SPD as the primary bourgeois threat to socialism in Germany. This lack of cooperation, with the Communists seeing the Socialists as betrayers of the Revolution, and the Socialists seeing the Communists as under the control of Moscow, later redounded to the advantage of the Nazi Party, since only a parliamentary coalition of the KPD and SPD could have prevented the Nazis from coming to power. Even at the height of their influence in the Reichstag, they did not have enough delegates to resist such a coalition.