WAS THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC DOOMED FROM THE START?

How did Germany emerge from defeat in the 1st World War?

1918 Revolution

Demands for change:

  • Germany was not a democracy. There was a parliament but the Kaiser ruled over the empire.
  • In 1918, people were starving because of the Allied blockade
    without heating because of a coal shortage
    angry at the Kaiser’s failure to give them victory in the war.
  • People demanded a change, better conditions, a free press to voice their opinions, a parliament with the power to control the government.

 

Allied conditions for making peace – Wilson added to the pressure for change by refusing to negotiate unless Germany became a democracy.

 

Formation of the Republic

 

October 1918 Kiel Mutiny Sailors mutiny, followed by soldiers and workers.

This spreads to other cities.

Spartacus League demands a Communist government.

November 9 Kaiser abdicates Kaiser is convinced to abdicate to avoid revolution.
November 9 Germany declared a republic Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party becomes chancellor.
November 11 Armistice Signed by Ebert.
January 1919 National elections Ebert’s Social Democrats are the largest single party
February 1919 Foundation of Weimar Republic Republic meets at Weimar to draw up a new constitution.

Ebert elected first President.

What is important to note is that it is the Weimar republic that signs the armistice, not the Kaiser.

 

The Weimar Constitution

 

The Weimar Republic had two elected houses:

Reichsrat (Upper house)

Reichstag (Lower house)             – elected every 4 years by proportional representation – provided Chancellor (Prime Minister) and ministers

President – elected every 7 years – powers to dissolve Reichstag, chose the Chancellor, in an emergency, could use the army to put down revolution, suspend the constitution and rule by decree.

The constitution guaranteed freedoms of speech, press, association.

 

Main political divisions

Left Pro Republic Parties Right
Communists Socialists Centre Nationalist
Install a communist government based on workers and soldiers councils. Keep a democratic government

 

 

 

Uphold workers’ conditions and freedoms

Keep a democratic government (although not necessarily a republic)

 

Avoid conflict and negotiate further with the allies.

Return to an authoritarian, non-democratic government

 

 

Overturn the treaty of Versailles, unite all German speaking people

 

Army – meant to be neutral but many of its senior officers were strongly nationalist. They supported the Freikorps.

Freikorps – volunteer organisation of ex-servicemen. They were nationalist and hostile to communism.

 

What were the political weaknesses of the Weimar Republic?

 

  • Germans were unused to a democratic, parliamentary form of government.
  • Proportional representation meant no one party was likely to have a majority. This meant coalition with others. This might lead to weak government if they were unable to cooperate.
  • Army officers and judges were strongly sympathetic to militant nationalists – encouraging disorder.
  • Instead of abolishing private armies, the government relied on the Freikorps to put down to put down Communist uprisings. This encouraged Nationalist inspired disorder.

 

Political Disorder

Left

Right

January 1919 Spartacists lead a communist seizure of Berlin, brutally crushed by Ebert’s government using the Freikorps. March 1920 Kapp Putsch, Freikorps led by Kapp take over Berlin aiming to restore the Kaiser. Ended by a general strike.
February 1919 Kurt Eisner declares an independent Bavarian State. Also crushed by the Freikorps. 1920-1922 Right wing extremists carry out political murders against republican politicians.
March 1920 Communist agitation in the Ruhr. 2000 workers killed by the Freikorps. November 1923 Munich Putsch, Hitler’s failed attempt to take over Munich.   Hitler imprisoned for 5 years, released after 9 months.

 

What was the impact of the Treaty of Versailles?

When the 1918 armistice was signed:

  • Many Germans wanted peace and hoped the 14 points would apply, that they would be treated fairly as a democracy
  • Others wanted to fight on rather than be humiliated by peace.

 

Anger at the signing of the Treaty in 1919

  • German government refused to sign at first. Sailors scuttled the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow
  • But German generals advised the government that it would lose if it went back to war. Ebert’s new government signed the Treaty.

 

Results

  • Nationalists accused Ebert’s government of ‘stabbing the army in the back’ and that they were ‘November Criminals’ for signing the armistice and treaty.
  • Many other people lost faith in the government and the new Republic.

Economic Crises

Reparations and the Ruhr

  • 1921 Reparations announced at £6,600 million.
  • By 1922 Germany defaults on its reparations payments.
  • January 1923 France and Belgium send troops into the Ruhr to seize coal, iron, and steel as payment.
  • The government orders workers to go on strike (passive resistance). The French react harshly.
  • Industrial production is at a halt.
  • The government starts to print money.
  • 1923 Hyperinflation sets in. (1921 £1=500 Marks, Nov 1923 £1=14,000,000,000,000 Marks)
  • The crisis hurt the poor and the middle classes most of all. They lost confidence in the Weimar Republic, feared the return of inflation, became more ready to listen to extreme nationalists.

 

To what extent did the Republic recover after 1923?

Stresemann wanted to restore

  • Stability and prosperity at home
  • Gremany’s position in Europe

To achieve these aims he was prepared to co-operate with the Allies.

 

1923

Restores Allied confidence

  • He calls off the Ruhr strikes
  • Agrees to resume reparations repayment

Deals with inflation

  • Replaces the old currency with the rentenmark
  • Creates a central bank to control the new currency

 

1924

The Dawes Plan

  • Reparations repayments reorganised
  • French agree to withdraw from the Ruhr
  • Americans agree to make loans to Germany

Foreign Loans

  • Between 1924-29, 25,000 million gold marks in loans, used to invest in industry, building programmes, farming.

1929

The Young Plan

  • Reduction in the total amount of reparations

Further international cooperation

1925 Locarno Treaties signed (guaranteeing Germany’s western boarders as set down in 1919)

1926 Germany enters the League of Nations

1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact (outlawing war)

Results of Stresemann’s policies

The mark became stable

Unemployment fell and living standards improved

Extremist parties became less popular

But underlying weaknesses

Germany’s prosperity relied on American loans that could be recalled

Many remained opposed to the Weimar republic despite Stresemann’s efforts

Nationalists were still active and opposed Stresemann’s cooperation with the Allies

In 1929, the Great Depression showed how fragile German’s new stability really was.

 

What were the achievements of the Weimar period?

Arts

Artists flourished especially in Berlin

Weimar Arts and Crafts School (the Bauhaus) became a centre for experiment in arts and architecture

Cinema

Golden age of German cinema with international stars like Marlene Dietrich.

Theatre

Berlin became a centre for challenging new plays from writers such as Berthold Brecht.

Clubs

In 1927 there were 900 dance bands in Berlin alone. Cabaret was free to experiment in political and sexual themes.

End of Cold WarEnd of Cold War

End of Cold War: The Cold War which lasted for 50 years was on the brink of a nuclear war. Had Joseph Stalin continued to lead USSR this might have happened. His death in 1953 brought in a little improvement in the relationship between the two major powers. In 1960s

x