Revolutionary and State Premier – Kurt Eisner (1867-1919)

Who is Kurt Eisner, this alleged perpetrator of high treason?


Kurt Eisner was born on 14 May 1867 “in the urban asphalt culture of Große Friedrichstraße” in downtown Berlin. This is the year when the North German Confederation was established under Prussian tutelage. Just ten years later, his father’s business went bankrupt.



Kurt Eisner’s father owned a business purveying goods to the Court, built on the solid pillars of bourgeois industry and careful financial management. In 1866, the business started to run into financial difficulty and eventually had to be sold during the late 1870s. His father took a job working for the very person who had bought his business.


His family played no part in the turn-of-the-century economic boom surrounding Otto von Bismarck’s journey – as Imperial Chancellor and encompassing three wars – towards a unified German nation state at the heart of Europe which climaxed in the dramatic stock market crash of 1873.

Nonetheless, Kurt Eisner enjoys a comfortable life as a “young bourgeois”, with middle-class values, attending an academic school and – like his family and most other people he knows – seeing the organized working class politically oppressed by the government as a “horde of savage outlaws”. Following an attempt to assassinate Emperor Wilhelm I, he places candlesticks in the windows of his parents’ home in the Emperor’s honor. These, presumably, hold the very same candles that are lit every Friday evening to observe the Sabbath. He is not so much abiding by his own personal convictions as upholding long-standing traditions that provide a sense of security.

Yet his family’s growing financial woes start to make themselves felt while Eisner is still attending academic school. In 1886, he starts to study philosophy and German literature at a place “between the chestnut grove and Opera Square” – i.e. between the Royal Library, Friedrich Wilhelm University and the Academic Reading Hall – but is forced to abandon his studies after eight semesters.

With all hopes of an academic career dashed, his life now turns into a humdrum struggle for survival. Yet Eisner knows that these years will have an indelible influence on his intellectual development. His interest in political and social issues has been awakened, and he turns his attention to matters that hitherto had been of scant concern to him.






This caricature of Otto von Bismarck was published at the time when Kaiser Wilhelm II had reneged on the promises he had made prior to 1894 to carry out domestic political reforms to help the working class. The picture alludes to the ways and means of the domestic and foreign policies pursued by the Chancellor of the Reich between 1866 and 1890.




During an era of political oppression, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) achieved growing success at the polls. In the Reichstag, the SPD group radically opposed the policies of the other parties and of Chancellor Bismarck which made it also attractive to members of the bourgeoisie and intellectuals.