Germany after World War I

When And Why Was The Weimar Government Set Up In Germany?

Setting up of the Weimar Republic in Germany happened in the year 1919. Military autocracy prevailed in Germany’ government before 1914 but parliamentary democracy prevailed after the year 1919. The navy in Germany mutinied in 1918 during the end of October. All throughout Germany, rebellion spread out and it decided to drop out of the First World War in November. In November 1918, the German Revolution took place and the republic emerged following the war. In Weimar, convention of a national assembly took place in 1919. For the German Reich, a new constitution was written in 1919 and the same year, it was adopted.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was thrown out of Germany after the World War I ended. After abdicating, Kaiser Wilhelm II fled Germany leading to a declaration of a new republic. For a new Reichstag, elections were held in January 1919 and a new government was agreed upon in Weimar town. The federal republic was given the name ‘Weimar Republic’ by the historians. An imperial form of government was replaced in Germany. Assembly of the constitution took place at Weimar, after which the republic was named. The new republic’s elected President was Freidrich Ebert. Not only was a new government formed in Germany, it was assured, by the Allies that it had got a government of a different kind. Military autocracy was lost and parliamentary democracy came into existence after 1919.

By 1930 the liberal democracy period lapsed. Emergency powers of the dictatorial type were assumed by Hindenburg leading to the ascent of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Party in 1933. In February and March, the Nazi government took legal measures known as power seizure. It indicated that the government was able to legislate as opposed to the constitution. Since the constitution was not repealed formally, the Weimar Republic continued till 1945. However during the early period of rule, Nazis took up measures thus rendering the constitution irrelevent. The Weimar Republic ended by 1933, resulting in the beginning of the Third Reich by Adolf Hitler.

The government was a coalition, theoretically comprising a number of political parties. However it found it difficult to assert authority as it was beset from different sides. It was in deep trouble from the very beginning. Many problems were faced by the Weimar Republic during its 14 years like troubled relationships with the nations which won the World War I, political extremists and hyperinflation. The period from 1919 to 1933 was termed as the Weimar Republic by the people.

Germany was divided into nineteen states under the constitution of the Weimar Republic. People of Germany had the right to vote and elect the President, and members of the Parliament and of the Reichstag in Germany. Cabinet members in a wide assortment and a chancellor were appointed by the President. The Weimar Constitution was considered a brilliant document as noted by a number of historians. True democracy prevailed under the Weimar Republic in Germany.

Who Were The Freikorps And The Sparticists

The Sparticists

When Germany had experienced its Revolution, after the Armistice in November, a particular radical socialist group attained fame. The group got its name after the Spartacus who was responsible for leading a revolt by the slaves in 73 BC against the Romans. This group called the Sparticists was led by Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg and formed during the summer of the year 1915. Liebnecht and Luxemburg both had left the SDP due to support given by the party in the First World War to Germany. Rosa Luxemburg determined the Sparticists political philosophy. While Rosa Luxemburg was serving a sentence in Germany in a prison, she wrote the ‘Junius Pamphlet’.

The German Communist Party was founded by Liebnecht and Luxemburg and some of the Sparticists in December 1918. On Lenin also, he had also written many pamphlets about how he led the Russian Revolution which was valuable to Russia.

Many of the Sparticists were the civilians while the Freikorps were armed and organized in a better way. The Freikorps had military background too. It was doubtful who would win. In the political party the Sparticists gradually grew into a bonafide minority by the year 1928.

The Freikorps

After the World War I ended, certain nationalists in the right wing in Weimar, Germany adopted the name called Freikorps. This name has also been previously associated with political and social dislocation which had existed in Weimar Germany during the first few years. It was a group sharing similar objectives and beliefs. The Freikorps members were anti socialist, nationalistic and conservative. They had a lot of experience in the military and of fighting during the World War I.

They were not of the belief that in the World War I, military defeat was suffered by Germany. The Nazi Party had taken up the legend – ‘stab-in-the-back’ about which the supporters of Freikorps were very vocal. In 1918-1919 the German Revolution was put down by them thus crushing down the Bavarian Soviet Republic in the month of May 1919. To overthrow the government of Ebert, an effort was made by its unit called Ehrhardt Brigade at Berlin. The Ebert government then fled to Stuttgart and Wolfgang Kapp was put into governmental charge by Ehrdardt.

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnicht the leading communists were also murdered by the Freikorps members. The Spartacists were also attacked by the Friekorps. Token sentences were given to the men who had had been responsible for killing Luxemburg.

For attempting manslaughter and hitting Luxemburg with the butt of his rifle, two years of imprisonment were given to Otto Runge. Lieutenant Kurt Vogel was given imprisonment of four year as he failed to report about a corpse. In 1920 the Freikorps was disbanded officially. However, many of its members joined the Nazi Party and became original enforcers of the party.

The Kapp Putsch

In March 1920, the Kapp Putsch took place in Weimar Germany. A journalist from the right wing, Wolfgang Kapp opposed everyone with the belief that Friedrich Ebert had stood for the nation after the humiliation experienced at the Treaty of Versailles. The new government of Weimar was directly threatened by the Kapp Putsch. General Luttwitz assisted Kapp. General Luttwitz received assistance from a group of Freikorps members. Berlin was seized by Luttwitz on March 13, 1920 with a proclamation that the centre nationalist government’s new right was being established. The chancellor of the nationalist government was Kapp.

Ebert was not able to impose his will on this and hence did not have any immediate response. Ebert left the capital the second time. This undermined his status and a lot of people emphasized that his position in Germany was not too strong. In Dresden, the reconvention of the government took place and Ebert called for a general strike. This was the only card he could play. The movement called by all those who supported Luttwitz and Kapp, got paralyzed due to the strike.

General Erich Luderndorff was the foremost military officer who supported Kapp. However Luderndorff’s lead was not followed by the German Army’s main officer corps. It was thought that the main officer corps had the feeling of support for the president as he had allowed them a free hand in the year 1919 to deal with the Sparticists / Communists. Hence it was not possible to consider Ebert as anti-military. No effort was taken by the military to prevent the Kapp Putsch and provide Ebert with active support.

Ebert called for a general strike making it impossible for the Kapp supporters to move around. The Putsch failed due to the paralysis caused by the general strike. On March 17th, both Luttwitz and Kapp fled from Berlin. The Kapp Putsch prevailed for 5 days and has been considered as very important. It was difficult for the government to enforce any kind of authority on its own capital even. It was not able to put down any challenge to the concerned authority too. Ebert’s authority could be re-established only by the huge power of a general strike.

The general strike was a success indicating that the citizens of Berlin were not in agreement to support the Ebert led government, instead of the right wing government which Kapp led. The people of Berlin fully supported Ebert. As far as this is concerned, it is counter argued that for the Berliners, Ebert was not at all relevant. All that the people wanted was peace to prevail in the capital after they had experienced the rebellion by the Communists/Sparticists in the year 1919. In comparison to political beliefs, it was more important for them to maintain order and peace. All those who had fought against Luttwitz and Kapp became supporters of the fledgling Nazi Party in the future. The swastika sign was also a sign put on the helmets of the supporters for the purpose of identification by one of Luttwitz’s main fighting force, the Erhardt Brigade. This sign helped in identifying who the supporters were.

Who Were The November Criminals And Why Were They Called So

Mutiny of the High Seas Fleet followed Germany’s final offensive that had failed. An armistice was agreed upon by the General Staff and on November 11, 1918, the fighting ended. This was after the General Staff was forced to seek peace by increasing desertions, rebellion from the navy, shortages of food and ammunition and the increasing supplies and American troops. The Social Democratic, Catholic Centre and Democratic Party leaders were the negotiators of the armistice. These parties were bestowed with the label of November Criminals by the Germans. The Germans had the feeling that these men had betrayed Germany and were also responsible for stopping the war which they felt could be still won by Germany.

Matthias Erzberger, Walter Rathenau and Phillip Scheidemann were the men who did the negotiations since the German Generals kept on pleading with them for gaining an armistice. There was a fear that the German Army was falling short of food and ammunitions and the fear of falling apart existed. Matthias Erzberger, Walter Rathenau and Phillip Scheidemann would be considered as November Criminals always by the Weimar Republic enemies. They would be termed as criminals, even if they helped in creating and leading the Weimar Republic during its early years.

These negotiators were not too willing to do the negotiations but they felt that they had to do it since acceding to the request of the Generals was their patriotic duty. Despite following requests of the Generals, their enemies marked them for murder as November criminals. The very Generals who had pressured them in carrying out the negotiations would be repudiating them. Reporting about the actual progress made during the World War I was censored, besides which all the combats that took place happened outside Germany. Due to this the people of Germany were not at all prepared for defeat or surrender. With the defeat of Germany, the war had ended.

In November 1918, the German Generals, faced with starvation at the home front, blockade by the British and fierce resistance from the French and British armies, political unrest and entrance of the US army, naval mutiny, defeat in the battlefields and a ruined economy finally requested for armistice negotiations with the Allies.

As per the armistice terms, the army in Germany was allowed to remain intact and not admit surrendering. There were misgivings from John J Pershing the US General that it would have been better off if defeat was accepted by the German Generals to clear out any doubts. However the British and French were convinced that there would be no threat from Germany again. Germany’ future would be hugely impacted with the failure of forcing the General Staff of Germany to admit defeat. Later on the army was reduced in size but its impact would be sensed as a political force, as it was not dedicated to democracy but to German nationalism, after the war.

It was expected that the theory called ‘Stab in the Back’ would gain popularity amongst the Germans who were finding it difficult to swallow defeat. This idea became an obsession with Hitler especially about blaming the Marxists and Jews in Germany for undermining effort during the war. For many others and Adolf Hitler, the politicians in Germany who had signed the November 11, 1918, Armistice, would be termed as ‘November Criminals’.

Hyperinflation In Germany

Germany had been a flourishing country before the World War I. It was a world leader in machinery, chemicals and optics, industries were expanding. The currency was gold-backed. In 1914, the Italian Iira, the German Mark, the French Frank and the British Shilling were all of equal value with an exchange value of 4 to 5 per dollar. However during hyperinflation in Germany the rate of exchange between the German Mark and the dollar was one trillion Marks to one dollar. It was difficult to purchase a newspaper even with a wheelbarrow filled with money. This financial tornado took the Germans by surprise. In 1914, the German Mark’s gold backing was abandoned by the country. The expectations were that the war would be short.

Between the year 1914 and 1919 the prices in Germany almost doubled. The country lost the war after 4 disastrous years. Reparation payments had to be made in gold-backed Mark under the Treaty of Versailles. Besides this it was also to lose a part of Ruhr production and Upper Silesia. In other words, political fragility existed in Germany. Habits of the bourgeois were quite strong. The ordinary people expected that things would get better again, however in 1922 during the five months the prices doubled again after the doubling from 1914 to 1919. Everyone complained about the high living costs. Factory workers asked for higher wages while civil servants and professors too complained of being squeezed with hyperinflation.

The able, moderate foreign minister, Walter Rathenau was assassinated by fanatics of the right wing on June 24, 1922. Faith of the German people got shattered when a glamorous, wealthy, popular and charismatic figure like Walter was shot in a society that followed the law. They wanted to believe that things would be fine in future. Walter‘s assassination was a trauma to the whole nation. The Mark was getting worth less and less everyday due to which the sellers were holding back. The amount of currency demanded was greater as the prices had gone up. Demands were responded well to by the German Central Bank.

However, authorities that were ruling failed to see if anything had gone wrong. It was also reported by a leading financial newspaper that the money in circulation was not very high. Even the Reichsbank President, Dr. Rudolf Havenstein mentioned to an economics professor that he would purchase the new suit he needed, only when the prices would come down. After the assassination of the foreign minister, the government had become fragile and shaky. For enforcing demands for the reparations, an army was sent into Ruhr by the revengeful French. The Germans were not able to resist this. Unemployment was the most feared thing for the German people as compared to inflation.

Communists put in efforts to take over, in 1919 so that they would get another chance due to the prevailing unemployment. Inflation was condoned well by top industrial combines in Germany like Stinnes, Krupp, Farben and Thyssen. The inflation ensured that everyone continued to work.

Who Was Gustav Stresemann And What Made Him A Successful Leader

Gustav Stresemann, the foreign minister of Germany was born in a middle class family in the year 1878 and died on October 3, 1929. He was described as a strong advocate of peace by a noted newspaper, The New York Times. Stresemann had strived hard to remove the bitterness of the World War I. Over a period of time, a lot of praises were showered on him. He had bided his time till Germany would get stronger to challenge powers on the western side.

At school he was moderately successful, then developed liberal view and got himself enrolled at the University of Berlin. Via a membership in the National Liberal party, he pursued interests in politics and business from 1901 to 1914. Between nationalism and liberalism he saw no conflict at all. In 1907 for the first time he was elected to Reichstag and displayed organizational skills, energy and ability to speak as a successful politician. He advocated a domestic reform and expansionist foreign policy during the World War I.

According to him, Germany’s greatest enemy was Britain which wanted to rob it of its proper role the globe over. To secure the interests of advancing sea power in Germany, he wanted to secure Belgium. He also had an eye on Russia’s Baltic provinces and had no restrictions for submarine warfare. During the last few days of the World War I, he reluctantly and painfully realized that it was unlikely that Germany would win. He found that his very own National Liberal party failed to stand together. The dictated Treaty of Versailles was rejected by him just like the other Germans as he felt it was not morally binding. For Germany the period from 1919 to 1923 was quite traumatic. It was a period when Stresemann’s outlook developed to the European statesman of 1925 – 29 from a wartime annexationist.

The fear of revolution and Bolshevism was coupled with the shock of getting defeated. A huge sum had to be paid as reparations to the allies over a period of 42 years. Ruhr was occupied by France in January 1923 for enforcing the payments for reparations due to which the vital coal fields were cut off from the Germans. They refused to work for the French after which followed, rampant inflation. During this time Stresemann formed the German People’s party with those with interests in business, a collection of old National Liberal party members and the DVP.

He embraced the republic during the 4 years and possessed a strong tendency of a monarchist and with a parliamentary democracy promise saw it as the only alternative to the prevailing chaos, dictatorship, revolution and the civil war. The political negotiations he indulged in helped him in becoming the Chancellor and foreign minister in August 1923 at the age of 45. He was chancellor for just three months and foreign minister till his death. Preventing Germany’s breakup was his main concern from the period 1923 to 1924. He wanted a revision in the peace treaty in the East which he worked on till the end as he felt this was the only option Germany had. Stresemann was a master in parliamentary games.

Strength And Weaknesses Of The Stresemann Years In Weimar Germany

The Weimar Republic was able to survive the crisis of 1919 to 1923 by using the Freikorps units and the right wing army. These were used for crushing the Communists. For crushing the Kapp Putsch, help was sought from the left wing unions. Cultural flowering was experienced in Germany due the period of prosperity which was led by the Dawes Plan – American money and Gustav Stresemann.

Strengths Of The Weimar Republic

It seemed that the Weimar Republic would collapse, however it managed to survive or recover during the period 1919 to 1929. The republic tried to use various methods to ensure survival. Bands of Freikorps were used by Gustav Noske the SPD Defense Minister, against the Communists. The bands of Freikorps were right winged and took great joy in putting down the 1919 – 1920 revolts of the Communists.

The von Seeckt led army was right winged which also enjoyed putting down the revolts of 1923 by the Communists.

Since the Kapp Putsch was also right winged, the Army and Freikorps did not agree to assist the government. An appeal was given by Ebert to the left winged Berlin workers who had gone on strike. The Kapp Putsch collapsed when Berlin came to a standstill.

The Ruhr strike of 1923 was called off by Streseman and payment of reparations began. However due to the Dawes Plan of 1924, Germany no longer had to make the reparations as the payments were reduced by the Young Plan of 1929.

Gustav Stresemann, the politician who led the government after 1924 also became the Chancellor in the month of August 1923. Stresemann opposed the Weimar Republic initially, however when it was realized that the alternative was anarchy, he changed.

The worthless and old Marks were called and burned by Streseman. The new Rentenmark which was worth three thousand million old marks were used to replace them.

The Locarno Treaty was signed by Stresemann in 1925 in which he agreed to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine. Germany was allowed joining the League of Nations in 1926 after which it became a world power once again.

In April 1924, the French left Ruhr after Stresemann’s persuasion.

From America, Germany had borrowed twenty five thousand million gold marks for building factories, railways and roads which led to the booming of the economy and cultural life and prosperity.

To make life better for the people of the working class, reforms were introduced by Stresemann. Three million new houses were constructed.

A great coalition having moderate pro-democracy parties was arranged by Stresemann and by uniting together the criticism from extremist parties was resisted. The proportional representation effect was thus overcome by Stresemann. To pass the required laws, the government had adequate Reichstag members for support.

Weaknesses Of The Weimar Republic

When economic prosperity was regained, there was a collapse of the Stresemann organized Great Coalition. Arguments between the moderate democracy parties began again. To resist any kind of challenge from the extremist parties, they wouldn’t be very strong enough, in case there was one.

The Weimar Republic depended on prosperity and success in the economy which was based purely on loans from America. If in case the American economy would get undermined then there would be great danger for the Weimar Republic.

For the Weimar Republic, the 1929 Wall Street collapse proved to be a great disaster.

The good times did not help in winning over the extremist politicians. The Republic was hated still by nationalists of the right wing as the ‘November Criminals’. The right wing nationalists waited for a situation to come where they could attach the Weimar Republic.

The Munich Putsch

The Munich Putsch is better known as the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. The Putsch was an attempt made by Hitler to overthrow the Ebert run Weimar government. In place of that government he wanted to establish a nationalist right wing. President Ebert and Gustav Stresemann the Chancellor made a decision that Germany would work with the French after the hyperinflation. A passive resistance was called for by both in the Ruhr Valley. According to Stresemann, Germany had to pay the reparations according to the demands of the Treaty of Versailles. The German nationalists felt that this was kind of admitting guilt to initiate the First World War which brought along with it the reparation punishment. Stresemann and Ebert were of the opinion that the war started due to the guilt of Germany and they could not tolerate this.

When Hitler tried attempting to exploit the 1923 crisis, the Munich Putsch, grew. In the initial stages Hitler got his storm-troopers prepared so that they would be helpful in the Bavarian rebellion. Seisser, Lossow and Kahrl, the Bavarian leaders threatened that they would call off the action. To keep the storm-troopers waiting was difficult, which Hitler soon realized. Accordingly he took over the Beer Hall on the 8th November 1923 night and took a promise from Seisser, Lossow and Kahr that they would provide him with support. On 9th November 1923 planning of the triumphal march was done. However, the Nazis were dispersed by the police. The Munich Putsch had failed after which followed a trial. Hitler became a hero of the nation after the trial which in turn laid the foundation of his success in the future.
The Beer Hall meeting was interrupted by Hitler on 8th November 1923. Seisser, Lossow and Kahr were forced by Hitler at gunpoint to agree that they would support him. The army headquarters were taken over by the SA excluding the telegraph office. The Jews got a lot of beating and offices of the anti Nazi Munich Post newspaper were trashed. Hitler released Kahr and called in the army reinforcements and the police.

On 9th November the Nazis took a march to Munich. In Residenzstrasse, the police stopped them as a result of which killing of 16 Nazis took place. Ludendorff the Nazi leader was arrested. Hitler tried to hide and then flee but two days later he was arrested and for treason he was put on a trial. He was in prison for nine months and not allowed to speak in public.

Hitler took the opportunity of his trial as a means for publicity and gave long speeches. Hitler was not known as a Bavarian politician, before the Beer Hall Putsch, but became a hero of the national right wing. The judge too was in agreement with Hitler and accordingly was give a short sentence in prison. The Mein Kampf was written by Hitler when he was in prison. He wrote about his beliefs and the story of his life. More than a million copies of the book were sold which made him Weimar’s right wing opponent leader. Hitler used a strategy to gain power. He did not want to adopt rebellion to gain power. Instead, he initiated a new strategy. Hitler got elected so that he could gain power.

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