Gabriel Kuhn's Blog

Bavarian Council Republic

By Gabriel Kuhn

The Bavarian Council Republic of 1919 was of great importance for Marxists and anarchists alike. For Marxists, because it was one of the most dedicated attempts to extend the revolutionary developments in Russia to Central Europe, something that was seen as crucial for the survival of the revolution by Lenin and the Bolshevists themselves. For anarchists, because it was the only one of these attempts in which prominent anarchists played a major role: both Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam, lifelong friends and towering figures in the history of German anarchism, were essential in the council republic’s proclamation and defense.

When the council republic was crushed by reactionary militias upon the orders of the social-democratic German government, Landauer was murdered and Mühsam sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The events have been featured in three PM Press releases:Revolution and Other Writings (Gustav Landauer), Liberating the State from Society (Erich Mühsam), and All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918-1919.

With the 100th anniversary of the council republic approaching, radical German publishers have begun to release titles dedicated to its memory.

Unrast Verlag has brought out Der kurze Frühling der Räterepublik (The Short Spring of the Council Republic) by Simon Schaupp. While the author himself concedes that the book “will bring to light only few unknown facts”, the story is told in an innovative way: Schaupp chronicles the events in the form of a journal, starting on the eve of the militant strikes that shook Bavaria in January 1918, and ending in September 1919, with the legal persecution of council republic participants still ongoing. Schaupp puts three personalities at the center of the story: Hilde Kramer, a young member of the German Communist Party, the socialist playwright Ernst Toller, and the anarchist Erich Mühsam. It is an enchanting and highly readable book.

Meanwhile, Verlag Edition AV has offered a valuable documentary resource on the revolutionary activities leading up to the council republic. The strike wave that swept through Germany in January 1918 in protest against the war and government policies provided a taste of what was to come ten months later with the sailors’ rebellion: the end of the Kaiserreich and the establishment of workers’ councils across the country. A leading figure in the Munich strikes was the socialist Kurt Eisner, who, after the war, was to become Bavaria’s prime minister – something that so outraged reactionary circles that he was assassinated by a right-wing student in February 1919. After the January 1918 strikes, together with many lesser known working-class organizers, he was accused of treason. The book in question, titled Steckbriefe. Ein Lesebuch über Münchner Revolutionärinnen und Revolutionäre im Januar 1918 (Wanted! A Reader on Munich Revolutionaries in January 1918) and edited by Cornelia Naumann and Günther Gerstenberg, collects protocols of the police interrogations that Eisner and other defendants, among them the renowned playwright Ernst Toller, were subjected to. The documents, supplemented by rare photographs and facsimiles, provide enlightening insights into both the revolutionary movement of the time and the means employed by the authorities to suppress it.

Both Der kurze Frühling der Räterepublik and Steckbriefe are precious additions to the growing body of literature on the Bavarian Council Republic, the German Revolution, and the revolutionary era that followed World War I in general.

(January 2018)

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