Eisner, Kurt

(1867-1919)
   politician; Bavaria's* first postwar Prime Min-ister. Born to a middle-class Jewish family in Berlin,* he studied philosophy and German literature, but forswore a doctorate for financial reasons. Turning to journalism, he worked in Berlin for the Frankfurter Zeitung and moved to Marburg in 1893 to become political editor for the Hessische Landeszeitung. His neo-Kantianism was bolstered in Marburg by attending Hermann Cohen's lectures. A parody of the Kaiser, published in 1897, landed him a nine-month prison sentence. He soon joined the SPD and caught the attention of Wilhelm Liebknecht, who ensured his appointment as editor (1899-1905) of Vorwärts.* But Eisner was not a rigid Marxist; his resolve to link socialism and Kantian ethics provoked his dismissal. He relocated to Bavaria and wrote for various city newspapers,* serving finally as editor for Munich's Arbeiterfeuilletons.He was part of Munich's bohemian set, and his literary knowledge distinguished him from his socialist colleagues. A friend remembered him as a bearded, stooped figure who captivated friends at a Schwabing locale, the Cafe Stephanie.
   World War I transformed Eisner. An opponent of the war, he joined the new USPD in 1917 and became chairman of its tiny Bavarian branch. As instigator of Munich's January 1918 armaments strike, he was arrested and imprisoned. Released in October 1918 to campaign in a Reichstag* runoff election, he would likely have won had he not first deposed the Bavarian monarchy. Gathering support from troops stationed in Munich, he formed a Workers' and Soldiers' Council* during the night of 7-8 November and, ousting Germany's oldest ruling monarchy, proclaimed a republic without firing a shot.
   Eisner's government was founded on an unsteady SPD-USPD alliance. Aside from a desire to procure special treatment from the Allies, his cabinet established few clear goals and, when unable to commit itself on critical foreign and do-mestic issues, soon lost influence. Quarrels over the role of the councils (Rate) and Eisner's equivocation on the need to elect a new Landtag deadlocked the cabinet and alienated him from the SPD. By late December his cabinet was increasingly torn between Eisner and Interior Minister Erhard Auer,* a long-time political foe. Attempts to broaden his base by joining with Bavaria's radical farmers* were abortive; the 12 January Landtag elections brought his Party only 3 of 180 seats. For several weeks his actions, principally his February appear-ance at the Bern congress of the Second International, reflected an inability to accept the election results. On 20 February Auer finally persuaded him to resign. After drafting his resignation early on 21 February, he was shot in the head by Anton von Arco-Valley* while walking to the Landtag. His murder led to Ba-varia's tragic and short-lived Raterepublik, a perversion that Eisner might have averted.
   Eisner had enormous faith in the goodness of humanity and in his ability to maximize its influence. Akin to his contemporary Woodrow Wilson, he once mused, "I believe the only Realpolitik in the world is the Realpolitik of ideal-ism."
   REFERENCES:Freya Eisner, "Kurt Eisners Ort"; Mitchell, Revolution in Bavaria; NDB, vol. 4; Raatjes, "Role of Communism."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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