Academic journal article The Historian

Gustav Von Kahr and the Emergence of the Radical Right in Bavaria

Academic journal article The Historian

Gustav Von Kahr and the Emergence of the Radical Right in Bavaria

Article excerpt

On 30 June 1934, during the so-called Rohm Putsch, Gustav von Kahr (1862-1934) was abducted by the SS in Munich. Taken to the Dachau concentration camp, his abductors tortured and killed him. His mutilated corpse was found outside the camp a few days later. (1) The Nazis murdered Kahr for his treasonous role in the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923 where, after promising to aid Hitler and Ludendorff in their plan for national revolution, he helped the Bavarian authorities successfully suppress the uprising. Kahr's actions during this event not only sealed his fate eleven years later, but also brought an end to a crucial five-year period in Germany's history, during which he helped turn Bavaria into the center of the radical-nationalist right in Germany.

In terms of historical scholarship there is not much available about Gustav von Kahr. There exists no scholarly biography of him in German or English. When historians mention him it is one of two ways. The first is as an activist of the "order block" in Bavaria, where Kahr helped foster the growth of the paramilitary movement in the state, specifically the Civil Guards. Yet he remains an adjunct to the leading figures of the paramilitaries and Free Corps (Freikorps), who are more central to such studies. (2) The second concerns his role in the early history of the Nazi Party, particularly in the months leading to the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923. Historians writing in this vein have portrayed Kahr as either trying to harness Hitler and his party on the behalf of other organizations, or trying to undercut the National Socialists. The latter was necessary not only because Hitler's party had a more radical program, but because they had a clarity of purpose that Kahr and his allies did not. (3) Viewed from the perspective of 1923, Kahr's actions seem contradictory and confused, the actions of a man who could not decide whether he was a reactionary or a revolutionary. (4)

In regards to Gustav von Kahr's part in the emergence of the radical right in post-World War Bavaria this article makes the following arguments. One, that Kahr's role in developing paramilitary formations, most substantially the Civil Guards (Einwohnerwehr)--which became the largest of Bavaria's paramilitaries following the suppression of the Council's Republic in May 1919--was motivated by a specific political idea. Namely, Kahr's vision consisted of restoring the constitutional prerogatives of the Bavarian state as much as possible along with the traditional social order, both of which had been upended by revolution in 1918. The Guards, and other paramilitaries, were to be the tools for bringing about this return to the old order. In this sense, Kahr's political program for Bavaria and its place in the German Reich differs little from those of millions of other German conservatives who in the face of revolutionary change and a republican regime run by the hated socialists sought to overturn the republican state and return Germany to authoritarian rule. Unlike many, however, Kahr's investment in the paramilitary movement brought some success when it helped overturn the Social Democratic Bavarian government during the Kapp Putsch of March 1920.

Secondly, I argue that Kahr's political program was undermined to a certain degree by the Civil Guards and other paramilitaries after March 1920. While most of the paramilitaries in the state were organized on a private basis, and thus were not subject to government control, the Guards differed in that they were intended to be an adjunct of the civil authorities. However, as a result of the way in which they had formed, a process in which Kahr had been involved, the organization was essentially independent of formal state control. This freedom was coupled with a right-wing agenda that targeted workers, socialists, Jews, and those who believed in the republic. It made the Guards a power unto themselves after March 1920. The zeal with which the Civil Guards carried out their activities invited comment, controversy, and a political dispute between Munich and Berlin over their existence and activities. …

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