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

Kurt Eisner is proclaimed Bavaria’s first Premier under revolutionary law.


His cabinet includes MSPD politicians and bourgeois independents who share the belief that the rally on the Theresienwiese on 7 November “escalated into an act of political will through forces not of our making”.

These people soon adjust to this fait accompli in the new revolutionary world. They are, however, vehemently opposed to any attempts by Eisner to merge parliamentary and soviet council practices to create a constitutional democratic people’s state. They see themselves playing an active role in the forthcoming National Assembly negotiations and support the bourgeois parliamentarianism championed in the Council of the People’s Deputies in Berlin by the MSPD.

Kurt Eisner has unreservedly acknowledged Germany’s blame for the war and attempted to build bridges between the Socialist International and the new German republic – for this he is misinterpreted, his words distorted and he becomes the target of slanderous attacks. These gain credence amongst the public, and he even starts to receive death threats.

Eisner decides not to censor the press – he merely regards it with contempt feeling that its propaganda was partly to blame for the First World War. This allows it to throw its weight behind the right-wing opposition which, in cahoots with the old elite, is bent on plotting a counter-revolution.

Meanwhile, the left-wing opposition wants to add the finishing touches to the revolution by establishing a communist soviet republic. Eisner, however, sees the revolution as nothing other than a precondition, a “precursor”, to the task of embedding democratic socialism in the ways people think and act. Eisner’s tussle over the socialist councils’ political future with the Revolutionary Workers’ Council provides his bourgeois critics with the opportunity to tar him and his goals with accusations of Bolshevism.

 

The revolution of November 9, 1918 in Berlin overthrew the German monarchy. The government was now in the hands of the Council of People’s Representatives, formed on November 10, 1918 by the Majority Social Democratic Party (MSPD) and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). Initially, it comprised three MSPD and three USPD members who were confirmed in office at a plenary session of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils on November 10, 1918 and were to act as the representatives of all the Reich’s revolutionary councils.

The People’s Representatives were responsible for implementing the terms of the Armistice of November 11, and choosing the new system of government. The USPD favored a system of soviet-style councils, while the MSPD wanted a parliamentary democracy and also pushed for the election of a constituent national assembly. The Reich Workers' and Soldiers' Councils held from December 16 to 21 voted in favor of a national assembly.

This decision caused a rift within the social democratic coalition and the wider workers’ movement. Following the USPD’s defeat and President of the Reich Friedrich Ebert’s refusal to comply with the Congress of Councils’ resolutions to democratize the army, a series of armed clashes occurred over Christmas. The three USPD members withdrew from the Council on December 29.

In the wake of these events, the Spartacus League and a number of smaller radical left-wing groups split with the social democratic movement and founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). At its founding congress held from December 30, 1918 to January 1, 1919, the KPD voted not to take part in the elections to the German National Assembly, preferring instead to pursue the establishment of a system of government based on soviet-style councils (the dictatorship of the proletariat).

In the elections to the Bavarian constituent state assembly on January 12, the USPD only obtained around 78,000 votes. The only members of the party to win seats were two deputies from Upper Franconia and Eisner himself. His political opponents now pushed for the state parliament to convene as soon as possible, while a press campaign against Eisner mounted. A session of the state parliament was scheduled for February 21, with Auer calling for the cabinet to resign so that a new cabinet could be re-elected in line with the results of the election. This would mean a coalition government without the USP. 


(Felix Fechenbach, Kurt Eisner the Revolutionary. A Personal Account, Berlin 1929)