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Peculiarities of The Weimar Republic and Its Downfall

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Table of contents

  1. The Legacy of the First World War
  2. The Abdication of the Kaiser, the Armistice and Revolution 1918-19
    The Setting Up of the Weimar Republic
  3. The Weimar Constitution
  4. Challenges to the Republic From the Left and Right
  5. The Spartacist Revolt
    The Kapp Putsch
    Political Violence
    Hyperinflation in Germany
    So Why Did Weimar Republic Downfall?

The Legacy of the First World War

The first world war was a global conflict, in which the central powers (which included Germany) fought against the allied powers (which included Britain, the United States, France, Italy, and Russia). The allied powers won the war. The war had drained Germany financially. Germany lost 2 million soldiers with more than double that injured. The first world war lasted 4 years, from 1914 to 1918. The German government’s debts trebled between 1914 and 1918, from 50 billion marks to 150 billion marks. The people of Germany also suffered. A British naval blockade cut food supplies forcing many in Germany into starvation. Over 750,000 Germans died because of food shortages. The war caused significant problems for the German government as unrest spread across the country with strikes and rebellions taking hold in Stuttgart, Munich, and in the ports of Kiel and Hamburg.

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The Abdication of the Kaiser, the Armistice and Revolution 1918-19

In October 1918, the German navy mutinied and refused to follow orders in the ports of Kiel and Hamburg. The Kiel Mutiny happened as sailors at Kiel refused to attack the British Navy. This resulted in unrest spreading across Germany. After realizing that he had lost the support of the army, the Kaiser had no choice but to abdicate which he did on 9 November and went into exile in Holland the next day. On 9 November, the Kaiser’s chancellor, Max von Baden, handed over his office to Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Ebert suspended the parliament and named six moderate politicians to form the Council of People’s Representatives which would head the government until a constitution could be agreed. On 11 November, Ebert’s representative, Matthias Erzberger, signed the armistice – a formal agreement ending the first world war.

The Setting Up of the Weimar Republic

Ebert arranged for civil servants to stay in office as this would ensure that the state kept running. He reassured General Groener that the army would not be reformed and that officers kept their ranks. In return, Groener agreed to use the German army to help keep the new Republic in power. Ebert also reassured leaders of industry that there would be no industrialization of private industries. This helped ensure that the economy continued to operate. Finally, Ebert won the support of trade unions by promising to achieve an 8-hour working day.

Elections for a National Assembly took place on 19 January 1919. Moderate parties gained most of the seats. Due to unrest in Berlin, the National Assembly first met in the town of Weimar in February 1919. On 31 July, the National Assembly agreed a new constitution. The new republic was known as the Weimar Republic.

The Weimar Constitution

The National Assembly had to create the Weimar Republic’s constitution. Strengths of the Weimar Constitution:

  1. Germany was a democracy and allowed women to vote as well as men. This was more democratic than Britain at the time.
  2. The electorate could change the president every 4 years. The chancellor’s decisions on laws being passed had to be approved by parliament. The Reichsrat could delay laws passed by the Reichstag, These checks and balances meant that no one person or group could ever have too much power.
  3. Proportional representation meant the number of votes they got resulted in the equivalent number of seats. This means a fair representation is made in the Reichstag.

Weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution:

  1. Article 48 of the constitution gave the president incredible power to rule without parliament. This opened up the constitution for possible dictatorships to form and made it less democratic.
  2. Proportional representation meant the number of seats depended on the number of votes gained. This produced many parties and made it difficult for swift decisions to be made during crises.
  3. The army was against the Weimar constitution as they wanted the Kaiser to return and reinstate their status.
  4. There was great resistance to the constitution from the left as well as the right. It proved hugely unpopular for several years.
  5. The coalition governments frequently argued and fell apart, leading to a lack of clear and strong policies.

Challenges to the Republic From the Left and Right

Extreme left-wing groups opposed capitalism and wanted Germany to be controlled by the people. The German Communist Party (KPD) was the main left-wing party in 1919. Inside the Reichstag, the extreme left obtained 205 of the seats, causing problems for the other parties. Outside the Reichstag, the extreme left challenged the Republic through rebellions like the Spartacist Revolt. Extreme right-wing groups supported capitalism and wanted to return to a strong government, with a strong army. Inside the Reichstag, the extreme right achieved around 20% of the seats. Outside of the Reichstag, there were significant challenges from the extreme right with the Kapp Putsch in 1920 and the Munich Putsch in 1923.

The Spartacist Revolt

The Spartacist Revolt was a left-wing uprising designed to establish a communist state in Germany and destroy the Weimar Republic. It was led by the Spartacist League – a group within the Communist Party led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. In January 1919, Ebert sacked the head of the police Emil Eichhorn. Eichhorn was popular in Berlin and, because of his sacking, workers protested in the streets. Upon seeing this protest, the Spartacist League took the opportunity to rebel and bring down the government. Following protests over the sacking of Eichhorn, a general strike was declared on January 6th, 1919. Over 100,000 workers were involved in the rebellion. During the strike, the Spartacists seized key government buildings including the telegraph offices. The Weimar government found the revolt difficult to handle and had to call in the Freikorps. The Freikorps put down the rebellion, with most workers and rebels being cleared by January 13th, 1919. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested and killed by the Freikorps.

The Kapp Putsch

In March 1920, the Weimar Government announced plans to reduce the size of the army and to disband the Freikorps. This caused a huge uproar in Berlin. Members of the Freikorps did not want to become unemployed again as they had after the First World War, so they turned against the Government. 5000 armed men marched on Berlin. The head of the Reichswehr refused to fire upon the rebels. The Freikorps managed to take over Berlin and declare a new government, with Wolfgang Kapp as a figurehead leader, who then invited the Kaiser to return from exile. The Weimar Government fled Berlin and, in an attempt to stop the putsch, encouraged the workers of Berlin to go on strike. Essential services stopped. Kapp couldn’t govern and fled but was caught and imprisoned. The rebellion collapsed.

Political Violence

Between the period of 1919-22, there were 376 murders, most of which were attributed to the far right (though none of them were convicted). 10 left-wing assassins were sentenced to death. In 1921, Matthias Erzberger was assassinated. He was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1922, Walther Rathenau, the foreign minister, was assassinated.

Hyperinflation in Germany

The more money that the government printed, the more the money became worthless. The German Government started to print excessive amounts of money to pay workers on strike and this resulted in hyperinflation. Hyperinflation affected people in different ways:

  • People with savings had their money become worthless, making them poor or bankrupt.
  • Businesses with loans from banks were able to pay off these debts
  • Serious food shortages led to higher prices for necessities such as food, which benefited farmers.
  • Foreigners in Germany suddenly had a huge advantage as they could buy much more with their money.

So Why Did Weimar Republic Downfall?

This is valuable to studying the collapse of the Weimar democracy as it gives an insight as to why people turned to Hitler, which inevitably led to the Republic’s collapse. From the point of view of someone who was dedicated to the Nazi party this person was a party member and war veteran so in many ways this may limit the value of the source as the Nazi party members were people who despised the Weimar democracy, meaning that this war veteran would be advocating from one point of view and which could therefore be considered biased.

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Nazism was directly proportional to the Weimar government’s downfall, the fact that it is from the point of view of someone who was dedicated to the Nazi party, the person’s views would be one-sided and set on antagonising the Weimar Republic, which limits the source’s value.

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