The Protagonists of the Soviet Republic


Intellectuals and literati decisively influenced the Bavarian Revolution of 1918/19 during the initial phase under Kurt Eisner as well as during the period of the Soviet Republic. Important protagonists of the Soviet Republic, such as Gustav Landauer (1870-1919), Erich Mühsam (1878-1934) and Ernst Toller (1893-1939), therefore, also left behind literary, programmatic and representative works.

But there were also completely different biographical backgrounds: SPD chairman Erhard Auer (1874-1945) had been a professional politician since 1908, while the first prime minister after Kurt Eisner, Johannes Hoffmann (1867-1930), was originally a teacher.

In contrast, Max Levien (1885-1937), next to Eugen Leviné (1883-1919), was the most important representative of the Communist Soviet Republic and a doctor of natural sciences. Leviné studied economics and also wrote a doctoral thesis.

Erhard Auer

Erhard Auer (1874-1945) was one of the most important politicians in Bavaria as chairman of the Bavarian MSPD (Majority Social Democratic Party of Germany) and Minister of the Interior in Kurt Eisner's cabinet in 1918/19. As a supporter of parliamentary democracy, he stood in strong opposition to Prime Minister Eisner. Left-wing radical followers of a system of councils met him with hatred and on 21 February 1919 he was assassinated, which he barely survived.

At the beginning of February 1919, a collection of Erhard Auer's political speeches was published by the Munich Hochschul-Verlag, in which he expanded his positions for the "new Bavaria". He opposes the theory-oriented plans of the Independent Social Democrats with a pragmatically oriented realpolitik. On this basis, the democratic-socialist people's state, in which the mass of the working population finally comes into its own, should be built. Central topics that Auer represented in his function as Minister of the Interior were, among other things, the securing of the food supply or the maintenance of peace and order, whereby he warned especially of a threat through communism. As a social-democratic politician, he campaigned for understanding between the peoples after the First World War and introduced ideas on a constitution for the United Republics of Germany. Above all, however, he worked against Eisner's resistance towards a rapid transition to a representative parliamentary democracy.

Das neue Bayern : politische Reden

  • Auer, Erhard
  • München

Johannes Hoffmann

Johannes Hoffman (1867-1930) was a primary school teacher in the Palatinate before joining the SPD in 1908 and being elected to the Bavarian state parliament. From 1919 to 1930 he was also a member of the German Reichstag.

After the revolution on 7/8 November 1918 Hoffmann was appointed Minister of Education in Eisner's cabinet and followed the separation of state and church, which included the abolition of the confessional schools and the abolition of spiritual school supervision in Bavaria. After the assassination of Prime Minister Kurt Eisner (1867-1919) and the assassination of Interior Minister Erhard Auer (1874-1945) in the Bavarian state parliament, he became a compromise candidate for the office of Prime Minister in order to regain a government supported by the state parliament. However, he was unable to reduce political and social tensions and to stabilise the situation in Munich. He finally had to evade with the government to Bamberg, while the soviet republic was proclaimed in Munich. From Bamberg he finally organised the action against the soviet republic. After its suppression, the new Bavarian constitution was drawn up in Bamberg before the government and parliament were transferred back to Munich. Finally, under pressure from the Bavarian People's Party, Hoffmann had to resign as prime minister in the course of the Kapp putsch. After years in local politics in the Palatinate, he stood up for an independent Palatinate state in 1923, which isolated him politically. He died in Berlin in 1930.

Gustav Landauer

In November 1918, Kurt Eisner invited the anarchist and socialist Gustav Landauer (1870-1919) to Munich. He became one of the protagonists of the Soviet movement and had a determining influence on the first Munich Soviet Republic during the period between 6/7 to 13 April. On 2 May 1919, he was murdered in München-Stadelheim gaol.

In 1911, Landauer had published his theoretical essay Aufruf zum Sozialismus (Call to Socialism). A second edition appeared in 1919; in its foreword (composed in Munich, 3 January 1919) he demanded that, after political Revolution had taken place, one should proceed with the actual construction of socialism.

Aufruf zum Sozialismus

  • Landauer, Gustav
  • Köln

Erich Mühsam

The anarchist Erich Mühsam (1878-1934), together with Gustav Landauer, was one of the protagonists of the first Soviet Republic of 6/7 to 13 April 1919. For this reason, he was sentenced to fortress detention between 1919 and 1924 and imprisoned in the gaols of Ebrach, Ansbach and Niederschönenfeld.

A short time after being discharged from Bavarian fortress detention, Mühsam published his collected works entitled Revolution. Kampf-, Marsch- und Spottlieder (Revolution. Songs of Combat, for Marching and Ridicule). The poems and lyrics included had been composed since 1909, predominantly, however, during Mühsam’s imprisonment. As far as content is concerned, the range included everything from workers’ songs to poetry, as long as it engaged with recent political events (World War, Revolution, Soviet Republic, rise of the SPD, Ordnungszelle [cell of order] in Bavaria). The collection was dedicated to the workers’ leader Max Hölz (1889-1933), who had been participating in the Communist uprisings in Thuringia and Saxony with a “red army” arriving from the Vogtland in 1920/21.

In 1929, on the tenth anniversary of the Soviet Republic, Mühsam published a statement concerning the revolutionary and Soviet period in Bavaria, which had been composed back in September 1920 in the prison fortress of Ansbach. The statement was not directed against attacks from the right or by the SPD, but against critics within the Socialist-Communist movement who had discredited the first Soviet Republic as “Scheinräterepublik” (sham Soviet Republic) and only accepted the second, Communist, Soviet Republic. Mühsam in particular refers to the text Die Bayrische Räterepublik (The Bavarian Soviet Republic, Leipzig c.1919), published by the KPD politician Paul Frölich (1884-1953) under the pseudonym P. Werner.


Revolution : Kampf-, Marsch- und Spottlieder

  • Mühsam, Erich
  • Berlin

Von Eisner bis Leviné : die Entstehung d. bayer. Raeterepublik ; Persönl. Rechenschaftsbericht über d. Revolutionsereignisse in München vom 7. Nov. 1918 bis zum 13. April 1919

  • Mühsam, Erich
  • Berlin-Britz

Ernst Toller

Since 1917, the playwright Ernst Toller (1893-1939) had belonged to the inner circle around Kurt Eisner. From November 1918, he was member of diverse Soviet committees and played a central role in both Soviet Republics in April 1919, for example in the Red Army. Because of these activities, he was sentenced to five years of fortress detention in 1919. During his imprisonment in Niederschönenfeld, Toller composed the drama Masse Mensch (Human Mass), in which he critically engaged with the revolutionary events and clearly rejected the use of violence.


Masse Mensch : ein Stück aus der sozialen Revolution des 20. Jahrhunderts von Ernst Toller

  • Toller, Ernst
  • Potsdam

Eugen Leviné

Russian-born Eugen Leviné (1883-1919) came to Germany with his parents at the age of three. In 1905 he participated in the Russian Revolution. He was then imprisoned in Russia; his mother bought him out in 1908. Back in Germany, Leviné joined the SPD. In 1918 he co-founded the left-wing Spartacus League in Berlin, which merged with the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in January 1919. The KPD sent Leviné to Munich in March 1919. There he emerged as one of the leaders of the Communist Soviet Republic, which was crushed in early May 1919. Leviné was sentenced to death and executed on 5 June 1919.

"Stimmen der Völker zum Krieg" (Voices of the Nations on War) is a collection of lectures given by Leviné at SPD party meetings in Berlin in the fall of 1914. The volume was published posthumously in 1924 by his wife Rosa Meyer-Leviné (1890-1979). In his lectures, Leviné strongly advocates a pacifist attitude and thus against war: In August 1914 the First World War had broken out. Right from the start, the SPD participated in the so-called Burgfriedenspolitik (peace policy). This intended to resolve domestic political conflicts for the duration of the war and to demonstrate unity among all parties to the outside world. Leviné also used a selection of Greek, Roman, Indian, Russian and German literary works for his argumentation, ranging from Homer's "Ilias" to Bertha von Suttner's (1843-1914) "Die Waffen nieder" (Down with Weapons).

Stimmen der Völker zum Krieg

  • Leviné, Eugen
  • Berlin

Max Levien

Like Eugen Leviné, Max Levien (1885-1937) was born in Russia and had already lived in Munich before the First World War. As chairman of the Munich Workers' Council, he had already worked since November 1918 against a stabilization of the political situation under the Eisner government and for the installation of a council system. At the beginning of 1919 he was elected chairman of the Bavarian KPD. He was also a member of the Council during the Second Soviet Republic. Together with Leviné, he formed the leadership duo of the Communist Soviet Republic.

Unlike Leviné, Levien managed to escape in May 1919. In 1921 he returned to Moscow and embarked on a career as a functionary and university professor. He was murdered in 1937 as part of Stalin's persecution campaigns (so-called Great Purge).