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The Impact of The Constitution as a Factor in The Fall of The Weimar Republic

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‘The failure of the Weimar Republic in 1933 was due to the weakness of the Constitution.’ Assess the validity of this view.

In some respects I agree with this statement because the inclusion of Articles 25 and 48 in the Constitution undermined the Reichstag which facilitated the emergence of a dictatorship following Hitler’s accession. The fundamental instability of Weimar’s system of coalition governments provoked concentrated dissolutions of the Reichstag which also contributed to its ultimate capitulation. However, the constitutional flaws were not solely responsible of Weimar’s failure. Weimar was made vulnerable by economic factors including: the French invasion of the Ruhr, the Hyperinflation Crisis and the Great Depression; political factors such as the Ebert-Groener pact, Dolcstrosslegende, Germany’s ingrained military culture, backstairs intrigue between Hitler and Papen and Hindenburg’s personal fear of a Bolshevik uprising; social factors such as the appeal of the NSDAP policies and propaganda to both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and the radicalisation of the German populous as a result of Germany’s worsening poverty. Therefore, this statement is valid because the Constitution is a valid contributing factor to Weimar’s failure, but it is not exclusively culpable.

Article 25 in the Constitution allowed Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and call a new election whenever he deemed it necessary. One interpretation could be that because Hindenburg had called two federal elections in 1932 alone (in July and again in November) their close concentration spotlighted the inability of Weimar’s coalitions to cooperate effectively. This compelled Hindenburg to seek an alternative to calling another election in 1933, which contributed to his decision to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Revisionist historian Stephen J. Lee also suggested that the frequency of elections in close proximity to one another had exhausted the Nazi’s campaigning funds which made Hitler more willing to negotiate with Papen in January 1933. A traditionalist historian might contest this view because Schleicher’s attempt to divide the Nazi Party by negotiating with Hitler’s close associate, Gregor Strasser, in December 1932 disrupted Hitler’s sense of security and making him more inclined to collaborate. However, I disagree because Strasser’s ‘betrayal’ of Hitler triggered his negotiations with Papen, but underlying factors such as the NSDAP’s depleted funds and loss of 34 parliamentary seats in the November election were more significant. Therefore, ‘backstairs intrigue’ would not have seen Hitler’s accession to Chancellorship without the presence of Article 25 in the Constitution and the concentrated election campaigns that ensued, meaning that the statement can, in some respects, be justified.

Article 48 facilitated the gradual progression from democracy to rule by Presidential Decree. Hindenburg took advantage of the loophole in the Constitution that failed to define a ‘national emergency’ – Article 48 – to exclude the Reichstag from the passing of laws. This is evidenced by the drop of 98 laws that were passed by the Reichstag in 1930, to only 5 laws having been passed democratically in 1932. A revisionist historian might attribute this to the weakness of proportional representation as a system of government because the parties were so small that no majority government could be formed. Coalition governments were a weak system of government because the contrasting policies of cooperating parties meant that decisions were disputed and took a long time to establish. This contributed to the failure of the Weimar Republic because after March 1930 with the formation of the Grad Coalition which had no majority support in the Reichstag, democracy deteriorated which eased Hitler’s accession because he did not have to dismantle the system of government to achieve an autocracy. It could be argued that there were positive aspects to Weimar’s Constitution, for example the Bill of Rights which guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and equal voting rights for men and women. Proportional representation was also the most advanced European system of democracy as it exactly represented the values of the voting German population; however the random allocation of Reichstag members to electoral districts alienated the German citizens from their representative. The flaws in the Constitution outweighed its strengths because Article 48 was a loophole that undermined the rights and political authority it granted its citizens because Presidential decree could be used to revoke these rights. Therefore the statement is valid because the Constitution contributed to Weimar’s failure by enabling an authoritarian style of government.

Alternatively, it could be argued that the NSDAP would not have been able to take advantage of the constitutional weaknesses without the extent of support that they amassed. The Nazi ideology appealed to people because the SA presented an image of strength, discipline and unity that appealed to the unemployed and ex-army veterans, and Hitler’s advocation of aggressive nationalism appealed to those who had lost their identity as German citizens because of the territory losses confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles (which Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum pledged to reclaim). Unlike the KPD, the Nazi Party appealed to the wealthy minority in German society as well as the working classes. Hitler achieved this by moderating his argument depending on the audience he addressed: for example when speaking in industrial areas of Munich in the early 1930s, Hitler appealed to his audience by promising radical ‘National Socialist’ changes such as the confiscation of land from large estates and of war profits from large corporations. Hitler made clandestine deals with wealthy industrialists such as Thyssen to promise that a Nazi government would not threaten their enterprise. By gaining support from both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the Nazis had more funding than the KPD and could further their campaigning with more propaganda. Hitler’s public speaking abilities and advantageous seizure of publicity (for example his speech in court following the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in 1923) meant that he was more adept at gaining support from large groups of listeners which increased his political power by achieving more votes in federal elections. Therefore it could be argued that the statement is invalid because the Nazis could not have taken advantage of the flaws in the Constitution without their amassed support from the electorate.

Traditionalist historians might argue that Weimar’s economic crises generated public resentment towards the Republic that contributed to its unpopularity and failure. For example, the Hyperinflation Crisis of 1922-23 saw the German mark equal over four trillion US dollars by November 1923: many people’s savings were wiped out which caused anguish and widespread poverty. The French invasion of the Ruhr in 1923 also generated resentment because the government appeared weak by being unable to defend its natural resources, the 132 workers who were killed in clashes between workers and clashes with French soldiers and the 150,000 workers expelled from their home and employment. This also put considerable strain on Weimar’s welfare state meaning that when Stresemann was forced to balance the budget to stabilise the currency in 1924, the population received less benefits and resented the worsening of their poverty. Ludendorff popularised ‘Dolchestosslegende’ or the Stab-in-the-Back myth which criminalised the politicians who formed the Republic for signing the Treaty of Versailles. The military government that had preceded Weimar was romanticised and contributed towards the reversion to an autocracy because Hindenburg was voted President in 1925 as a connection to the post-war government. A popular traditionalist view is that Weimar failed because of the Great Depression in 1930. Economic impacts such as the collapse of foreign trade, falling food prices and mass unemployment had social consequences (disease, malnutrition and unparalleled poverty) which radicalised the proletariat. Revisionist historians might contest this view because Hitler was not powerful enough to demand Chancellorship even after the NSDAP’s majority in 1932. Hitler had to make a secret political deal with Papen to convince Hindenburg to appoint him Chancellor. However, Hindenburg was perhaps motivated by his fear of an uprising by the KPD or by the SA and a revolutionary government being formed, which could show that he knew that the people resented the Republic. Therefore the statement is invalid because Weimar’s economic weaknesses radicalised the German populous which caused support for the ‘Fuhrerprinzip’ and distrust of the Republic.

The political opposition to the Nazi Party from left wing parties was a divided front since Ebert’s pact with General Groener in 1919. His employment of the Freikorps to subdue the Spartacist revolution was seen as a betrayal of his socialist values by KPD members because of the violence of their suppression: over 100 workers were killed in the January Revolution, and Luxemburg and Liebknecht were illegally executed by the Freikorps and the murderers a two-month prison sentence and an acquittal. The irrevocable divide between the KPD and the SDP meant that their resources were wasted on disparaging each other during elections instead of on opposing the NSDAP. Therefore the statement is in some respects invalid because the lack of cooperation between the left-wing political sectors weakened the barrier between Hitler and his accession to power.

In conclusion, although the statement is valid because the presence of Articles 48 and 25 in the Constitution meant that the Reichstag was made irrelevant, there were other more significant factors for Weimar’s failure. Although backstairs intrigue was important for Hitler’s accession, it would not have succeeded had he not amounted electoral support through the Nazi ideology which appealed to both the working classes (who formed the bulk of his electoral vote) and the wealthy industrialists who funded Nazi campaigns. Ebert’s pact with General Groener also created a rift in Hitler’s opposition (the SDP and the KDP) which, combined with the lack of support for the Republic and the amount of support for Hitler from radicalised, impoverished German workers, were the main reasons why the Weimar Government failed.

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The Impact of the Constitution as a Factor in the Fall of The Weimar Republic. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-impact-of-the-constitution-as-a-factor-in-the-fall-of-the-weimar-republic/
“The Impact of the Constitution as a Factor in the Fall of The Weimar Republic.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-impact-of-the-constitution-as-a-factor-in-the-fall-of-the-weimar-republic/
The Impact of the Constitution as a Factor in the Fall of The Weimar Republic. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-impact-of-the-constitution-as-a-factor-in-the-fall-of-the-weimar-republic/> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
The Impact of the Constitution as a Factor in the Fall of The Weimar Republic [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jan 03 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-impact-of-the-constitution-as-a-factor-in-the-fall-of-the-weimar-republic/
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