Mühsam - Biography - Weimar Years: 1918–1933

Weimar Years: 1918–1933

When Erich Mühsam was released on 3 November 1918, he returned to Munich. Within days, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany abdicated as did King Ludwig III who had semi-autonomous rule in Bavaria, and Munich was in the throes of revolt. Kurt Eisner of the Independent Socialist Party declared Bavaria a socialist republic during the Red Bavaria Revolution. Eisner, in a gesture designed to bring the anarchists into the new government, offered a ministry position to Mühsam, who refused, preferring to fight along with Gustav Landauer, Ernst Toller, Ret Marut and other anarchists for the development of Worker's Councils (Soviets) and communes.

However, after Eisner's assassination in 1919, the Bayerische Räterepublik (Bavarian Soviet Republic) was proclaimed, ruled by independent socialist Ernst Toller and anarchists Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam. This government was short-lived, lasting six days, being overthrown by communists led by Eugen Levine. However, during this time, the Bavarian Soviet Republic declared war on Switzerland, resulting from the inexplicable machinations of a mentally-ill Foreign Affairs deputy who became irate at Switzerland's refusal to lend the new Republic's government 60 locomotive engines. When the Weimar Republic's Freikorps, a right-wing army commanded by Gustav Noske, crushed the rebellion and took possession of Munich, Gustav Landauer was killed and Mühsam arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in jail.

While in jail, Mühsam was very prolific with his writing, completing the play Judas (1920), and a large number of poems. In 1924, he was released from jail as the Weimar Republic granted a general amnesty for political prisoners. Also released in this amnesty was Adolf Hitler, who had served eight months of a five-year sentence for leading the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923.

The Munich to which Mühsam returned was very different from the one he left after his arrest. The people were largely apathetic, in part because of the economic collapse of Germany under the pressure of reparations for World War I and hyperinflation. He had attempted to restart the journal Kain which failed after a few issues. In 1926, Mühsam founded a new journal which he called Fanal (The Torch), in which he openly and precariously criticized the communists and the far Right-wing conservative elements within the Weimar Republic. During these years, his writings and speeches took on a violent, revolutionary tone, and his active attempts to organize a united front to oppose the radical Right provoked intense hatred from conservatives and nationalists within the Republic.

Mühsam specifically targeted his writings to satirize the growing phenomenon of Nazism, which later raised the ire of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. Die Affenschande (1923), a short story, ridiculed the racial doctrines of the Nazi party, while the poem Republikanische Nationalhymne (1924) attacked the German judiciary for its disproportionate punishment of leftists while barely punishing the right wing participants in the Putsch.

In 1928, Erwin Piscator produced Mühsam's third play, Staatsräson (For reasons of State), based upon the controversial conviction and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the United States.

In 1930, Mühsam completed his last play Alle Wetter (All Hang), which sought mass revolution as the only way to prevent a radical Right-wing seizure of power. This play, never performed in public, was directed exclusively at criticizing the Nazis who were on the rise politically in Germany.

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