Weimar RepublicWeimar RepublicThere were various factors that contributedto the failure of the Weimar Republic of Germany and the ascent of Hitler’sNational Socialist German Workers Party into power on January 30, 1933. Various conflicting problems were concurrent with the result of a Republicthat, from the outset, its first governing body the socialist party (SPD)was forced to contend with. These included the aspect of German imperialism,the unresolved defeat of 1918, financial collapse and the forced struggleagainst the activities of the National party as well as inflation. Otherfactors that influenced the failure of Weimar were the structural weaknessesinduced by the constitution and the basic lack of support for the Republicamong the German people particularly amongst the elite. All in all, theseaspects were the major causes that doomed the Weimar republic to ultimatefailure and the eventual ascent of Hitler’s nationalist party to power.
The new socialist government of Weimar(SPD), whose constitution was adopted on July 30, 1919, entered a situationthey by no means created. The period during which they were appointed torule was associated with defeat and misery, and when disorder was nationwide. The situation then, was that of revolution. However, rather than to makeit a revolution of there own, they co-operated with the liberals and withthe catholic centre party to lead Germany in a reformed version of herold self. In June 1919, they voted to comply with the treaty of Versailles.
However, the signing of the Treaty served to promote protest and unrestamongst the soldiers, sailors and the German people generally, and democracythus resulted in becoming an alien device. The imperial army, for instance,never got over the humiliation of surrender, which they felt, was a ‘stabin the back’ by their own countrymen. The sailors at Kiel mutinied in alast desperate effort on October 28 and on November 9 1919, the streetswere filled with crowds marching to demonstrate at the center of Berlin. Furthermore, compliance with the Treatyof Versailles meant that Germany would have to make reparation paymentsit could scarcely afford.
This fact placed a heavy strain on the alreadysuffering economy of Germany which was bankrupted by four years of warthus ensuing in the ascend of inflation and the occasioning of the respiteof payments by Germany in 1922. The French reacted by occupying the Ruhr,a major industrial area of Germany, in January 1923. This was felt a gravehumiliation by the German people and eventuated in widespread discontent. Germany’s currency was already fragile, and in face of the occurring circumstancesconsequent to the Ruhr invasion and the overprinting of currency, the Markfell to chronic levels, eventually reaching the value of four billion againstthe US dollar, which therefore generated massive hyperinflation. The economicinstability, on top of the disillusionment and resent caused by the humiliatingpeace settlement, resulted in vast sections of German society feeling alienatedby the Republic. They responded by attacking the democracy and as a consequenceit became impossible to control the hostility and discontent.
The deteriorating economic and social situationalso managed to wreak havoc on the political atmosphere of the time andthe Republic wound up having no positive friends and too many enemies. The Republic faced opposition from the extreme left by Spartacists whoresorted to force in efforts to overturn the Republic. In March 1920, theFreikorps who in Berlin launched a pro-Monarchist putsch in an attemptto install Wolfgang Kapp as Chancellor also challenged the Republic fromthe right. During this incident troops both refused to defend the Republicor take action against Freikorps.
In protest the working classes then respondedby organizing a general strike in Berlin, which had the effect of frustratingthis putsch. The present regime was able to survive despite the numerousthreats. Extremism remained to pollute the atmosphere,the evidence being represented in the alarming amount of political assassinationsthat continued occurring. In evidence, according to an estimate of theMinister of Justice, rightists committed 354 murders between 1919 and 1923.
During this time, when the Republic was suffering most and was being threatened,practically from all sides, Hitler had been making affective attempts tocapitalize on the resultant circumstances. He exploited the economic collapseby blaming it on all those he wished to portray as enemies. These werethe same enemies he declared as the ‘November criminals’ who had broughtabout Germany’s defeat in 1918. Hitler’s plan was to seize power in Munich,and, with Bavaria as his base, to launch a march on Berlin not unlike Mussolini’smarch on Rome of a year earlier, but without first being invited to takepower, as Mussolini had been. Hitler, however, continued to fail until1933 when he finally seized power.
The continued disruption causedby his attacks on the Republic, notably his Munich putsch, in additionto the economic crises as well as the resurfacing of the previously unresolvedissues promulgated the grounds for an increased anti-republican sentimentwhich reached a climax in 1923 when the Republic was on its knees due tohyperinflation. It was against this traumatic background that the leadershipof the republic was passed to the hands of Gustav Stresemann in August1923. His determination and ambition to rectify circumstances in Germanywere realized in November 1923 when he introduced a new currency. Valued at one billion old Marks the introduction of the Rentenmark at theend of 1923 was a main reason for the currency stabalization. Further stabilitycame with the Dawes plan of April 1924, which provided a modified settlementof the reparation issues.
In addition, French troops were then confirmedto leave the Ruhr, and disputes between the two countries then went tooindependent ruling. In September, Stresemann called off passive resistanceunconditionally. These headed many positive changes in Germany, whose effectswere felt universally in almost every facet of German life. By 1929, the German economy revived. Thechanges Stresemann managed to bring about still had the effect of deviatingopposition by both the extremist groups on the right as well as the left. However, while it seemed that politics might have settled down, the circumstancesthat were to follow in the coming years proved that Stresemann perhapsmerely postponed internal problems rather than eradicated them.
The relativestability achieved through the late 1920s by Gustav Stresemann was, forinstance, heavily reliant upon foreign investment, loans and economic prosperity,not only in Germany but also in the United States from whence much of Germany’sforeign investments originated. Consequently, as the American economy boomedthe attractiveness of investment in Germany became overshadowed and theGerman economy thus, again proceeded to decline in 1928. Additionally,during October 1929, two crises befell the Republic – Gustav Stresemann,the architect of Germany’s stability, died and later that month the collapseof share prices began on the New York stock exchange. Had Germany’s prosperityand economic stability been self-reliant events and circumstances on theNew York stock exchange may have had a somewhat subtle effect in Germany. However, as said earlier, Germany’s prosperity was merely financed by internationalloans and was excessively dependant on foreign investment. Germany wasthus forced to remain in a very vulnerable position, the results leadingto the onset of depression and the virtual crumbling of the Republic’svery foundations in recourse to the Wall Street crash during the end of1929.
The depression that hit Germany in 1929,is said to have been the most severe economic depression in modern worldhistory. It devastated the lives of the urban population as well as thoseliving in the country districts that in recourse to the economic circumstancesstruggled desperately. The unemployment figures for Germany show the rapiddeterioration of the economic climate. In September 1929 1.
3 million employableworkers were unemployed, for September 1930 the figures rose to 3 million,in September 1931 the figure was 4. 35 million and by 1932 unemploymentreportedly escalated to 6 million. These conditions, in addition to theloss of confidence generated overseas which resulted in the rapid withdrawalof the foreign loans Germany relied on extensively placed additional strainon the republic. The political repercussions were just as acute. Unresolvedissues and old determinations to destroy the Republic again resurfaced. These resulted in the renewed attacks by the extremes of the left and theright who proceeded to take advantage of the situation and manipulate itto suit their own ends.
Strikes, violence and constant bloodshed in streetbattles against communists suggested to be deliberately provoked by the’brown shirted toughs of the NSDAP’, soon replaced political dialogue anddebate, and while the Republic had no Republican army to deal with thesynchronous persistence of violence, the power of Weimar to instill democracybecame largely disabled. Moreover, the continued unrest further exacerbateda general feeling of a loss of faith in the Republic and support for ittherefore deteriorated. The Republic had also been suffering fromstructural weaknesses, which also played a major role in crippling itsprogress. For example, the constitution of the new Republic emerged finallyfrom the National Assembly in July 1919.
It was considered to be one ofthe most liberal documents written up of its kind in the twentieth centuryon. In practice though, it left much to be desired. One of its weaknesseswas the elaborate system of proportional representation, which was devisedto allow for minority parties to have a share in the system of government. Unfortunately, this system also made it virtually impossible for a singleparty to hold a majority in the Reichstag and therefore coalition governmentswere inevitable. Another weakness was the infamous Article48 of the Weimar Constitution. Under this article the President had theright to suspend civil liberties – with the Chancellor’s assent – in anemergency, thus giving him virtual dictatorial powers.
Chancellor Brueningwas first to make use of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution from 1930on when he, in response to the political and social unrest incurred inGermany during that period, was provoked to rule under emergency decree. Correspondingly, politics were radicalized once more and resulted thus,in the intensifications of divisions amongst the parties in the Reichstagto an extent that parliamentary government became all but impossible. Accordingly,the Weimar constitution became unworkable as well as unwanted. Moreover,as a result of the existing atmosphere and circumstances at the time ofthe Republic, the Republic perhaps resulted in not being looked at as aState in which the German people desired to live or to which they wereprepared to give positive encouragement.
The repercussions had the effectsof helping the communists who succeeded in gaining the support of an overwhelmingnumber of the urban workforce. However, the main beneficiary was Hitler’sparty, the NSDAP, who managed to increase their seats in the Reichstagfrom 12-107 thus concluding in their becoming the second largest politicalparty at the time. Thereafter, as the NSDAP continued to attracta positive response from the people, eventually seizing power in 1933,the Republic was doomed to eventual collapse and ultimate destruction. It is suggested that the eventual collapse of the Weimar Republic and therise of Hitler to power was almost inevitable.
As a result of the existingcircumstances of economic crisis, near, if not, complete social disasterand almost universal discontent, there were ultimately only two choicesleft open to the German people; “a narrow, army-backed Presidential dictatorship(the Communists)” or a young, dynamic and broadly-based Nazi movement. For many, particularly the middle classes, the second choice was perhapsalso perceived as the only choice available to them, especially as theprospect of Communist rule, with also the existing presence of Article48 that allowed too much power to be vested in any one person, may haveseemed too frightening a risk to undertake. In addition, very many powerfulgroups preferred to lend their support to the opposite extreme the NSDAP. Hitler successfully managed to jockey his party as having the dual attractionof offering radical solutions to economic problems while upholding patrioticvalues. He seemingly promised something to everyone and the German people,thus responded to him as he had foreshadowed.
The Nazis still did not succeed in retainingmore than thirty seven per cent of the vote. In November 1932 Hitler lostan additional thirty-four seats. However, in as much as the acting president(von Hindenburg) allowed himself to be convinced by generals and right-wingpoliticians that only the Nazi leader could restore order in Germany, inthe following year leadership was passed to him. Hindenburg felt that hewas a good president, but it was old age that rendered him helpless tohis advisors and the German people. Accordingly, Hitler was made Germany’sfifteenth post war Chancellor in January 1933.
At this stage Germans hadscarce knowledge of what the future under the rule of Hitler would meanor result in. However, Hitler lost no time in a founding a harshtotalitarian state known as the Third Reich, which he enforced within amere month of his appointment. The results were the destruction of a moderncivilized society that turned crisis into catastrophe, bringing the democracyof Weimar to its end. When assessing the reasons for the failureof the Weimar Republic and the ascent of the NSDAP to power, one has tomake various considerations for these events occurred as a result of aplurality of factors. Perhaps the most important factor was the economiccrises that befell the Republic in 1923 and again in 1929.
However to neglectconsiderations like the possibility that the revolution of 1918 failedto create institutions loyal to the new regime, that perhaps the constitutionof the Republic was too idealistic and lacking in practicality, causingcertain structural weaknesses and finally, that the desertion of the Republicby the masses and more powerful interests made the failure of Weimar andthe rise of Hitler to power a mere matter of time would give a distortedview of the issue. Moreover, several political and social issues arosewith the creation of the Republic, one of which was the influence of ImperialGermany. The Republic failed to resolve these issues and these issues createdthe context that made the failure of the Republic and the rise of a dictatorialleader to power possible. Sources1. Fischer. F.
, (1986), From Kaiserreichto third Reich, Oxford University Press, London. 2. Gilbert. M. ,(1997),A history of the twentieth century: Volume one: 1900-1933, Bath Press,Great Britain. 3.
Gill. A. , (1994), An honourabledefeat, William Heinemann Ltd, London. 4. Ramm.
A. , (1984), Europe in thetwentieth century 1905-1970, Longman Group Ltd, USA. 5. Simon.
T. , (1983), Germany 1918-1933revolution, counterrevolution and the rise of Hitler, Oxford UniversityPress, London. 6. Peukert.
D. , (1991), The WeimarRepublic, Penguin Press, London.