World One War: Conquest of 'Red' Bavaria
In 1919, with Germany facing social, financial and economic ruin, revolution ignited in Southern Germany.
For a period of four weeks, the Bavarian Soviet Republic, also known as the Munich Soviet Republic, was a short lived attempt to establish a socialist state in the ‘Free State of Bavaria’. Not only did this short lived utopia base itself on the Bolshevik model, but also fought to be recognised as an independent state which was separate to Weimar Germany.
On the first anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, Kurt Eisner of the Independent Social Democrats declared that Bavaria was a ‘free state’. This declaration and its subsequent actions, overthrew the Bavarian Monarchy and Eisner became Minister-President of Bavaria. Not fully Bolshevik, Eisner advocated a ‘socialist republic’ but distanced himself from the atrocities being committed in Russia. Eisner declared that this new government would protect property rights.
Following the failure of Eisner’s party to win elections, Eisner decided to resign from politics. Travelling to parliament on the 21st February 1919 in order to announce his resignation, he was assassinated by right-wing nationalist Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley. The assassination caused severe civil and political unrest, fuelled by news that Hungary had fallen to a soviet revolution, Communists and anarchists in Bavaria were encouraged to seize power.
The uncertainty finally boiled over in April 1919. On April 6th 1919, a Soviet Republic was formally declared to the world. Initially ruled by the Independent Social Democrats, the government was made up of men such as Ernst Toller, Gustav Landauer and Erich Musham. Despite many of the leading members of this new ‘republic’ being educated men, ultimately they failed to keep order.
Despite the best intentions of many of the leading men, the ‘republic’ fell to the communists within a short period of time.
The communist party under the leadership of Eugen Levine began to enact Communist reforms which included the re-distribution of wealth to the citizens and placing factories under the ownership of workers.
The communists under Levine not only refused to cooperate with the regular Army, but also organised their own army. This so called ‘Rote Armee’ under the command of Rudolf Egelhofer totalled some 20,000 armed workers.
As a classic example of the turbulent period, in response to the execution of 23 ‘red’ prisoners by the ‘regular’ army, the new Red Guards began to arrest suspected right-wing and counterrevolutionary people. In particular on the 29th April 1919, those arrested included Prince Gustav of Thurn and Taxis, those arrested were accused of being traitors and summarily executed.
In response to the ‘Red’ takeover in Bavaria and the execution of civilians and military personnel alike, the German Army with a contingent of 30,000 men in Freikorps units Epp and Erhardt, entered Munich and crushed the communists in bitter and savage urban battles.
In total over 1,000 communist and supporters of communism were killed in the fighting. It is estimated that around 700 men and women were arrested and executed by Freikorps Para-Military units. The enigmatic and courageous leader of the revolution, Levine, was arrested, condemned to death for treason and summarily executed. The exact total of men, women and children killed and or executed during the Insurrection will never be known. Estimates range from hundreds to thousands. It is important to note that ‘Red’ Bavaria was merely one of a number of political battles which raged through Germany between 1918 and 1919 and 1923. Despite the controversy and counter-arguments which rage regarding the Freikorps and communist revolutions in Germany in the immediate post-war period, one thing is certain, these revolutions fuelled far right-wing politics which would be Germany’s downfall.