a) Sources of information
1) P. Werner, "Bavarian Soviet Republic", Moscow, 1924 - this is a book by a communist who participated in the events.
2) M.I. Grishin, "Red Bavaria", Moscow, 1925 - written by a lecturer who wanted to understand deeper the events in Bavaria. Early Stalinist point of view.
3) Rosa Levine, "Soviet Republic in Bavaria", Moscow 1926 - she was a wife of a leader of Bavarian Socialist Republic, Eugene Levine, who was executed by social-democrats.
4) I. Zastenker, "Bavarian Soviet Republic", «Баварская советская республика», Moscow 1934 - this is a book by a Stalinist, however, as he was removed by a number of years from the events, he has had an important material on his hands to discuss the topic (Lenin, Paul Levi, E. Mayor).
5) Anatoly Holoduk, "Meditations near a grave of 53 unknown Russian soldiers in Grafelfing", on Internet.
b) Bavaria before the war
Before the war Bavaria was industrially backward region of Germany. Out of 7 million of population, less than 10% were industrial workers, while for the rest of Germany this number was 67%.
Most of the Bavarian population were middle peasants. P. Werner writes that they didn't care much for nationalization of lands of the ruling aristocracy and the church. Most of the peasants have had enough land as it is.
In the course of the class struggle in Bavaria, the peasants followed the radical bourgeoisie, and hence supported the party of social democrats. For example, when the party of Hoffman called on them, they stopped supplying food to Munich.
c) The fall of the monarchy
On 7th November 1918 a demonstration of socialist parties and workers in Munich leads to an antimonarchist uprising. Workers obtain weapons in the soldiers' barracks, political prisoners are let out of jails, the king of Bavaria (Ludwig) leaves the country and on 13th November he abdicated. A council of workers and soldiers' deputies is created in Bavaria, headed by a member of Independent social-democratic party Kurt Eisner.
The politics of this Council was blowing hot and cold: it was socialist in words and capitalist in deeds. The old state apparatus was not demolished. In the manifesto of this Council we read: "sovereignty of individual and property is protected by the law [in other words, there will be no socialization]... Let the officials stay in their places". On the other hand, the Council published secret German military treaties. Perhaps, the Bavarian bourgeoisie was trying to get on the good side of the Entente and strike a separate peace.
The Councils in Germany in general were not revolutionary. K. Radek wrote: "From the very beginning of revolution, the social patriots have taken the business of forming the councils into their hands not to organize the masses, but to deceive and pacify them".
d) The first Soviet republic
21 February 1919 - a monarchist kills Kurt Eisner.
22 February - Munich Council takes a decision to proclaim "Soviet republic". An "Action committee" is formed, including Max Levin, representing the Communist Party of Germany (do not confuse with Eugine Levine who came to Bavaria in the middle of March 1919). The Communist Party of Germany gives a mistaken analysis of the situation: "The proletariat of Munich and other Bavarian towns has taken political power, founded a dictatorship of proletariat against internal and external enemies..." The power could not be dictatorship as the "Action committee" included social-democrats of majority and Independent social-democrats. Dictatorship implies a rule of one party.
17 March - a shift in political power from Independents to social-democrats of majority, as the government of social-democrats of majority, headed by Hoffman, is formed.
21 March 1919 - a Soviet Hungarian Republic is proclaimed and the news spreads around the globe, including Bavaria.
4 April 1919 - at a cabinet meeting a decision is taken to proclaim a "Council Republic" in Bavaria.
What was the meaning in making such a proclamation? At the moment when this happened, Eugene Levine thought that a creation of "council" republic is a pretext for introducing in Bavaria soldiers from the Berlin government. In 1924, P. Werner that that this was done in order to "artificially spread the fire and finally smash the enemy in a decisive armed struggle". In1925 M. Grishin thought that the social-democrats wanted to compromise the slogan "All power to the Councils!" in order to clear up the path towards a bourgeois republic.
It seems to me that the meaning of "Soviet Bavaria" is the same as "Soviet Hungary" (in March 1919). While in Hungary the social-democrats came up to jail to communists to strike an agreement, in Bavaria they social-democrats adopted the communist program, and invited the communists to take part in the "Soviet" government. The last two points of the new government, consisting of social-democrats of majority, the Independents and anarchists, proclaimed:
"11. Form the Red army to protect the Soviet republic.
12. A union with Soviet republics of Russia and Hungary and an agreement to the consequences which follow from this."
As we know, this was a time when Versailles peace treaty negotiations were carried out (the agreement was signed 29 June 1919). A military alliance with Soviet Russia would mean a military threat to Entente. Moreover, separation of Bavaria from Germany would mean a separate peace for this land.
Communists speak up against the creation of "Soviet" Bavaria. Their negative attitude to "Soviet republic" in Bavaria they explain in following way:
1) The Communist Party of Germany is against cooperation with leaders of social-democracy who have already shown themselves as "bourgeois executioners".
2) The CPG is against creating a "Soviet republic" "around a green table". Levine in the "Munich Red Flag" said: "A Soviet republic without a foundation, decreed by a couple of accidental people" is nonsense. A Soviet republic should be created in the course of revolutionary struggle of the masses, not as a result of a putsch.
3) The situation in Bavaria is immature for proletariat taking power. "A proclamation of a Soviet republic at the present moment I believe spells a huge trouble. We do not have yet a communist party", wrote Eugene Levine on 4 April 1919. The Communist party have had around 5-6 thousand members at this time in towns of Bavaria, but did not conduct any work in the villages.
4) Even if power was taken in Bavaria, the situation of a Soviet Republic in Bavaria alone was hopeless "due to its economic backwardness and dependence upon the rest of Germany" (I. Zastenker).
7 April - a public declaration of a "Council" republic in Bavaria. The government of Hoffman is forced to flee to Bamberg, a small town in Bavaria. Zastenker writes: "This Soviet republic has left completely intact the state apparatus of bourgeoisie", it did not conduct nationalization of the means of production.
9 April - Eugene Levine, the leader of communists, speaking before a meeting of revolutionary foremen of factories and military detachments says that communists would agree to send their representatives to the Executive Committee of the Council. "However, for this to happen, the 'Soviet' government has to resign power voluntarily, for otherwise a struggle will start amongst the workers themselves, and communists do not want to be guilty". P. Werner wrote: "a white guard was moving against Munich [headed by social-democrat Shneppenhorst, the minister of defense in the government of Hoffman]... In face of this danger it was necessary to put aside resolution of internal contradictions" between the Executive Council and the meeting of revolutionary foremen.
This is not correct. It is exactly in face of external danger that revolutionaries sharpen the struggle. One example of this we see in France of 1791-93, when the country was attacked by monarchists of Austria and Prussia, but inside the country the struggle sharpened between the Girondists and Jacobins. Another example was Russia in 1917: as the country was attacked by the Kaiser Germany, the Bolsheviks sharpen their struggle against the internal enemies. A negative example we see in Paris 1870: August Blanqui called for cooperation with bourgeois government of Thiers which has betrayed the defense of Paris in order to avoid passing weapons into hands of revolutionary masses.
Hence, an important law of revolutionary struggle: sharpen the internal class struggle when the enemy is at the gates.
e) The second Soviet republic
11th April - communists take part in the work of the (Soviet) government, i.e. unofficially they enter the government. They attempt to dictate measures to be taken to fight the offensive of the Hoffman government.
12 April - social-democrats of majority visited Bamberg where they have had negotiations with Hoffman, Shneppenhorst and other ministers. The goal of the negotiations was overthrowing the "Soviet" government in Munchen. Zastenker writes: "On the night of 12-13 April parts of republican guard arrested a number of members of the Soviet government, occupied government buildings and published a declaration, in which, in the name of the 'Munich garrison', they declared the overthrow of the Soviet government and recognition of the 'legal' government of Hoffman, which will 'install order, give work and bread'. Similarly to Hungary, we hear that "outside Munich there are trains loaded with provisions".
On 13th April there is an armed struggle near the central railway station of the city, artillery and mortars were used. Around 40 people were killed, around 30 were wounded. As a result, the anti-"Soviet" putsch is defeated. The power is transferred from the Central Soviet to Action Committee. The Action Committee (AC) consists of 15 people with communists dominating it.
Bavarian Soviet Republic issues a proclamation to the Soviet Russia and Soviet Hungary in which the creation of a "true" Soviet republic in Bavaria is announced. In reply, Lenin writes a telegram (dated 27 April, 1919):
"We thank you for your message of greetings, and on our part whole heartedly greet the Soviet Republic of Bavaria. We ask you insistently to give us more frequent, definite information on the following. What measures have you taken to fight the bourgeois executioners, the Scheidernanns and Co.; have councils of workers and servants been formed in the different sections of the city; have the workers been armed; have the bourgeoisie been disarmed; has use been made of the stocks of clothing and other items for immediate and extensive aid to the workers, and especially to the farm labourers and small peasants; have the capitalist factories and wealth in Munich and the capitalist farms in its environs been confiscated; have mortgage and rent payments by small peasants been cancelled; have the wages of farm labourers and unskilled workers been doubled or trebled; have all paper stocks and all printing-presses been confiscated so as to enable popular leaflets and newspapers to be printed for the masses; has the six-hour working day with two or three-hour instruction in state administration been introduced; have the bourgeoisie in Munich been made to give up surplus housing so that workers may be immediately moved into comfortable flats; have you taken over all the banks; have you taken hostages from the ranks of the bourgeoisie; have you introduced higher rations for the workers than for the bourgeoisie; have all the workers been mobilised for defence and for ideological propaganda in the neighbouring villages? The most urgent and most extensive implementation of these and similar measures, coupled with the initiative of workers’, farm labourers’ and— acting apart from them— small peasants’ councils, should strengthen your position. An emergency tax must be levied on the bourgeoisie, and an actual improvement effected in the condition of the workers, farm labourers and small peasants at once and at all costs.
With sincere greetings and wishes of success.
In general, we must give a negative answer to the questions posed by Lenin.
Lenin suggested forming "councils of workers and servants" to give the new government a solid foundation, but this was not done.
The Hoffman government organized a food blockade of Munich. Before the blockade, 150 thousand liters of milk per day were delivered to the city, but in the course of the blockade the number had fallen to 17 thousand. However, we hear that "distribution of food stuffs was done by the old city magistrate", and not the Soviet government.
As for the socialization of enterprises, a step in that direction was taken in the form of controlling the factories by factory committees. P. Werner writes that the factory committees "de facto have held in their hands the large and middle enterprises and in many cases conducted such a thorough control that in fact this amounted to real management of the enterprise". Workers' control over enterprise is something transitional between private property and socialization (nationalization) of enterprise. Workers' control represents a state of dual power and can not last long.
P. Werner writes that the government decrees were ignored. One reason for this was lack of systematic approach. Often there was chaos, as one instruction contradicted another. The communist party showed that in reality it lacked a program of action.
P. Werner brings up a quote of Lassale: "Reaction, in my dear, has practical servants, and not those who beat around the bush". And Werner explains: "While in Munich they conducted the experiments and almost did not touch the problem of a real government, in Bamberg they put up only two goals, which they pursued consistently: creation of military force and demoralization of Soviet republic through dissemination of lies and conducting conspiracies". Hence follow two basic goals of revolutionary government:
1) creation of own armed forces, destroying the armed forces of counterrevolution;
2) closing down the enemy mass media, creation of own propaganda machine.
Grishin writes: "Disarming the bourgeoisie and arming the workers through formation of the Red army of the workers and peasants is the primary means of ensuring the power of the laboring masses". We should note that Bavarian Soviet Republic has taken measures to confiscate arms from bourgeoisie. On 14th April the new military commander of the city issued an order: "All citizens of the city of Munich must give up all sorts of weapons and bring them to the military headquarters of the city. If anybody will not give up weapons during this time period, they will be shot". In this manner 20000 guns were confiscated. However, there are reasons to doubt that the new government formed a new army. Grishin writes: "At the basis of forming the parts of the Red army were the regiments of the army which existed in Bavaria prior". Can you imagine forming a revolutionary army on the basis of regiments of the current American army engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.?
Communists have had problems with explaining their program to the population. P. Werner writes: "among the revolutionary intelligentsia there are no forces capable of writing in a revolutionary-Marxist spirit". And he characterizes the intelligentsia thus: "a careful observation of where the wind blows, complete flabbiness and cowardice". Bavarian intellectuals did not support the Bavarian Soviet Republic.
On 15-18 April the Red army achieves military successes in fighting around Dachau (see map below). At the head of the Red army was independent social-democrat Toller.
At the same time, the social-democrats of the majority, headed by Noske, the minister of defense of Germany, and Shneppenhorst, the minister of defense of Bavaria in the government of Hoffman, collect troops for an expedition against the "Soviet" Bavaria.
In the Action Committee in Munich there is friction between the communists and Independent social-democrats. The independent social-democrats want to start negotiations with the government in Bamberg, while the leader of the communists, Eugene Levine, is against such negotiations. Levine stands for military offensive against Bamberg, hoping for revolutionary wave that was sweeping Germany, Russia and Hungary at this time.
The Independents find their support in the factory committees. These committees charge the Action Committee with dominance of "non-Bavarian elements" which "can not understand the Bavarian spirit and Bavarian politics". These nationalistic charges aim first of all against Levine, a Jew from Russia.
Such "Independents" are really representatives of the Thule society, i.e. the future fascists, and they should have been shot immediately. However, the Communist Party of Germany acts in a parliamentary fashion: "either the communist policy of the Action Committee", i.e. which means no negotiations, "or the policy of independents, and the communists immediately exit the Action Committee".
On 27th April "with the aim of creating a government out of natives of Bavaria" there are re-elections into the Action Committee, and thus the communists were removed from power. Zastenker writes: "This voluntary resignation of communists was a gross mistake on their part". At the head of the new government were workers without political experience. They make an attempt to conduct negotiations with the government of Hoffman, but he refuses.
On 29-30 April there is fighting between the troops loyal to the government in Bamberg and those loyal to the government in Munich. "Bamberg mobilized a huge army of more than 100 thousand against Munich". The city was defended by 30-40 thousand troops.
On 30th April the leaders of Independents "Toller and Clainhelhoffer gave an order to remove large military detachments from the Dachau front and move them to Munich... Once the Red guards arrived to Munich, they were dissolved. The enemy had a free pass to Munich". The troops of the Soviet republic were quickly demoralized.
On May 1st the army of the government in Bamberg enters Munich and the white terror starts. According to official information, 557 people were killed. However, P. Werner writes: "the official information is a lie. This is shown, for example, by assertion that only 7 Russians died. In reality, the Russians, who were a part of the Red army (former prisoners of war), were mowed down in columns by the machine guns". On the photograph below is the grave of 53 unknown Russian soldiers in Grafelfing, near Munich. Anatoly Holoduk, who visited the site, writes: "The epithet on the wooden cross says that far away from motherland, in a foreign country, the Russian soldiers were twice prisoners of war and shot down by government troops".
f) Reasons for defeat of the Bavarian Soviet Republic
First of all there was no solid communist party able to lead. In April 1919 the Communist party in Bavaria numbered less than 6 thousand. P. Werner writes: "In organizational sense the party was not strong enough. It didn't have the kind of discipline one could rely upon; the masses have not yet adopted the tactical principles of the party". The Communist party in Bavaria has shown that it has not clear program of action. The decrees of the "Soviet" government were chaotic.
Second, as the Communist party was not strong, it was forced into a coalition with the Independents. This made necessary an appointment of Independent officials to key positions, as for example we have seen with Toller, a commander of the Dachau front. However, as Earnest Mayor, a leading member of CPG after WWI, wrote, "social-democracy and independent social-democracy will always betray, one - consciously, the other through its weakness".
Third, there were no objective conditions for creating Soviet power in Bavaria. Paul Levi, the leader of the Communist Party of Germany after the murder of Liebknecht and Luxembourg, wrote in 1919: "Bavarian Soviet republic was on 13th April just as impossible as on 6th, and the victorious actions of workers of Maffei, Krupp, etc. on 13th April gave just as little foundation for existence of the Bavarian Soviet republic as on the 6th". The leadership of the factory committees was in the hands of "Independent" nationalists. First, the Communist party had to win the support of majority of the workers; then, it could think about taking the state power.
Fourth, we doubt that the old state apparatus of Bavaria was destroyed. Earnest Mayor analyzing the reasons for defeat, wrote: "a Soviet republic without destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus is an illusion". Preserving the old sate apparatus while pretending to lead a revolution always ends up in defeat of revolution, as we've seen in Chile in 1973.
g) A resume of events in Bavaria
The First World War ended up in defeat for Germany and Austria-Hungary. Peace negotiations start in Versailles. Hungarian bourgeoisie attempts to use the Communist party to preserve part of its lands. A part of Bavarian bourgeoisie decides to follow the example.
So, they create the plan of a "Soviet" republic in Bavaria (but without Soviets!), and use social-democrats of majority, the Independent social-democrats and anarchists. They also attempt to use the communists, but initially the communists refuse to enter the government of this phony "Soviet" republic. However, the communists fall into the trap when the social-democrats, representing the government in Bamberg, attempted to conduct a coup d'etat in Munich and were defeated.
The communists created a "communist" coloring for the Bavarian republic, necessary for an alliance with Soviet Russia, but the dominant position of bourgeoisie in Bavaria was put under attack. The situation of dual power was created, both in the sphere of production and on the state government level.
The communists were not strong enough to suppress the Independent social-democracy, to immediately improve the material well-being of working masses, to conduct re-elections of factory committees. Hence, the situation of dual power was turned back under the pressure of troops headed by Noske and Shneppenhorst, the social-democrats.