In the spring of 1919 riots and violence reign in Munich. On 17 March Johannes Hoffmann is elected Prime Minister. But the new government groans from the beginning under the mammoth tasks.
The new prime minister is just one day in office, as he warns already before a civil war. On March 17, 1919, a Monday, the Bavarian State Parliament in its first session after the murder of Kurt Eisner had unanimously elected Johannes Hoffmann of the Party of Majority Social Democrats as the new Prime Minister. And the day after, the 51-year-old announces his first program speech. The new government will protect the Free State "against any reaction from the right, but also defend against the threat of anarchy from the left," he announces. "Terrible is the war of nations, more terrible is the civil war, it must be prevented for Bavaria." And that was also possible – provided that the new government acted vigorously, and the victorious powers allowed food and raw materials into the country. The peoples of the world would have to be reconciled.
Hoffmann's gaze goes to the outside: The peace negotiations of Versailles dominate not only the newspapers and the conversations at the Stammtisch, but also the inaugural address of the new Bavarian Prime Minister. The threatening "violent peace", which the victorious powers wanted to impose on the Germans, must be averted, stresses Hoffmann again and again. This is the only way to overcome internal conflicts.
Because that Hoffmann can speak on that Tuesday in the state parliament, so that the Bavarian state parliament can meet at all, that is not undisputed in those days. There is another power factor in the country: the Congress of Workers 'and Soldiers' Councils. After the murder of Kurt Eisner, the councilors have temporarily taken power again; they did not evacuate the parliament building on Prannerstraße until 16 March, later they move to the Wittelsbacher Palais. Until then, a red flag was blowing on the roof of the state parliament. And with their departure from the Diet, the councils have by no means given up all control. Although there is now a government and a cabinet, and officially are the government now in the ministries. Much of the day-to-day work, however, will continue to be done by the commissars of the Council of Congress for the time being.
Of course, the councils are not united either. Should they call a Soviet Republic? Or did you prefer a meeting of the state parliament? On March 1, the Council Congress had initially agreed to a government under the leadership of SPD politician Martin Segitz; but his cabinet did not bring a majority behind him and failed even before taking office. The radical wing in the council congress declined a parliamentary government after Weimar pattern anyway, he wanted a Soviet republic. Nevertheless, the Congress agreed to call the Landtag on condition that it elect a socialist government and delegate it extensive powers.
The liberal parliamentarians had previously announced that they would tolerate, but not participate in, a minority government made up of the SPD, the Bauernbund and the loser USPD, Eisner's party. So Bavaria got "a socialist coalition government excluding the bourgeois party representatives", as the historian Diethard Hennig has formulated.
For the office of the Bavarian Prime Minister in this difficult constellation only the former Minister of Education Johannes Hoffmann came into question. He belonged to the left wing of the SPD, but was also considered a strict proponent of parliamentarism. Hoffmann was a Protestant and came from the Palatinate. He had distinguished himself in the cabinet of Eisner by a resolute church policy; among other things, he had deprived the church of the supervision of the schools. At that time the Munich Archbishop Michael Faulhaber complained in a pastoral letter that the decree of Hoffmann weighed more heavily before God than the murder of Herod.
Hoffmann's Cabinet included five Major Social Democrats, two independents, a peasants and a nonpartisan. But not only anarchists and communists tore at the new government, but also economic crisis, housing shortage and food shortages. Already at the first meeting of the Council of Ministers on March 19, she groaned under the burden of her mammoth duties. Her socialization program, begun under pressure from the Central Council, did not bring about a speedy recovery. "Therefore, the government was soon as helpless as the Radicals on the formation of a Soviet republic, as the royal government at the time of the coup of November 7," the historian Ludwig Hümmert once summed up the situation.
Hoffmann's government actually had a lot of room for maneuver. On the day after Hoffmann's election, the state legislature passed an enabling law giving the cabinet full powers. For what he intended to use these, Hoffmann said in his speech: for a program of "peace and freedom", "social welfare and economic reconstruction for new principles". Pre-war capitalism was now "impossible for all time," Hoffmann told parliament. "The social economy, the socialist economy, will conquer vast areas of the economy, especially the mining and power sources of the country." The government wants to build houses, eliminate the housing shortage and fight unemployment. And while she did not want to separate Bavaria from the Reich, she nevertheless demanded "within the framework and as a member of the whole the possibility of a state's own life".
Hoffmann also declared in the state parliament building that he wanted to place the competition, ie the councils, on a legal basis: It was now the task of the state parliament "to draw the councils to fruitful cooperation in public life by a special law," he says. But the ruling SPD acted even contradictory. Some of them gave the impression of being at the same time for and against a Soviet republic. March 1919 is a time of contrasts. So it is no wonder that the protagonists of this chapter of Bavarian history are largely forgotten, especially many political forces of the SPD, BVP and DDP, who in the parliamentary elections in January 1919 as proponents of parliamentary democracy, after all, more than 80 percent of United votes.
And so it happens that Hoffmann's government can only stay in Munich for a few weeks. Already on April 7, the councils will drive them away. Johannes Hoffmann and a large part of his cabinet will flee to Bamberg. And they will start from there that civil war against the councils in Munich, before which the Prime Minister had warned the day after his election in the parliament building.
The next episode will be released on March 23rd.