It is often difficult to analyse the Weimar Republic and decide whether it was doomed from the start due to constitutional defects, or if prevailing circumstances initiated its collapse. This has been a source of argument for many historians, as they all have different ideas as to why the Republic did not survive. Edgar Feuchtwanger fiercely argues that economic problems were the main reason for the Republic not succeeding, because people could no longer be supportive of the constitution in times of hardship and desperation.
As massive unemployment and spiralling inflation spread through battered Germany, another solution was sought, and people found salvation in Hitler. However, Dick Geary argues, “The Weimar Republic was not overthrown by Nazism, it had already failed”. The main reasons why the Republic failed were problems with the constitution and the way the political system worked; lack of support for Weimar; problems the Republic faced between 1920 – 1928 and the Wall Street Crash in 1929, which caused severe world depression.
However, it needs to be decided if Weimar was inevitably going to fail due to the way the constitution worked, or if it’s never ending uphill struggle from 1919 caused its disintegration. By 1918, it was certain that Germany would be defeated after four years of intensive battle with Britain and France. Due to the possibility of allied invasion and internal problems, the Kaiser, who had been Germany’s dictator, set up a constitutional monarchy, which was to be the most democratic system in the world.
It was thought that a new democratic system would stop the allies treating Germany harshly, and pave the way for a fairer peace settlement.
The Weimar constitution was a very modern one, perhaps even more so than its contemporary counterparts in Britain and France. It is also very similar to modern day systems, not least to the current system of Democracy in Germany. Therefore, it might be argued that the Weimar Republic did not fail due to constitutional problems, as Germany is certainly not failing now. The constitution was well thought out and there were many good points.
It was a democracy and the general public were allowed to vote for who they wanted in the Reichstag. Proportional representation was used, which meant there was a mixture of people with different ideas representing the whole of Germany. The President could not make decisions without consulting and gaining approval from the Chancellor first, which was the constitutions way of controlling Presidential powers. However, as Professor Geary argues, Article 48 gave a substitute for the emperor because the President could restore law and order in times of emergencies without consulting the Reichstag.
Although proportional representation appeared to be very democratic, it provided weak coalitions who did not agree on everything. Therefore when Germany needed to act quickly in times of crisis, decisions could not be made effectively, for each party had their own ideas on how the country should be run. Proportional representation also allowed extremist parties such as the KPD and NSDAP to gain seats in the Reichstag, which later led to the overthrowing of the Weimar Republic by the Nazis.
The initial setting up of the constitution later allowed Hitler to come to power, which destroyed the Republic and, in a way the Weimar Republic was doomed from the very beginning due to the way in which it ran. Nonetheless, it is hard to say that Hitler would have had the chance to abuse the system if other problems in Germany had not existed. From the Republic’s preliminary introduction, it was faced with problems occurring from the aftermath of the First World War, which was to scar Germany for years to come. Germany’s buildings and large cities had been ruined and German morale was very low.
The Army, who believed Germany was still strong and had a chance of winning the War, were horrified to learn that their beloved country had surrendered and signed a humiliating Treaty, which blamed Germany for the war. The ‘November Criminalsi?? who signed the Treaty of Versailles went on to run the country, and the ‘Stab in the Back Myth i?? left the public with a sense of betrayal and a bitter resentment towards the Republic itself. Before the War, Germany had been a great and powerful country with colonies, lots of land, a strong Army and a challenging Navy.
Now, the Treaty had reduced Germany to a wreck, with massive reparations to pay, less land, no colonies, and German people stripped of their pride. There was little hope for a new constitution run by people who had caused all this misery and resentment. As well as ordinary people hating Weimar, political parties from both the left and the right were against the constitution. The spartakists (an extreme left wing party) looked to the Soviet Union, liked the Russian political system and wanted a communist Germany. In January 1919, they started an uprising, but were crushed by the Freikorps, who also didn’t support the Republic.
However, the Freikorps were anti-socialist, and would have supported the Republic before they supported the Bolsheviks. The Right were next to revolt, and in 1920 the Kapp Putch revolt occurred. Monarchists seized government buildings in Berlin, but surrendered on March 17th. The Weimar government had had another close escape. The early major activities of Hitler included his ‘Beer Hall Putch’ in 1923, where he tried to seize control of The Bavarian government. Hitler’s revolt was crushed like the others, but clear opposition to the republic had been established.
The Weimar Republic lacked support from people commencing the day it was set up, and so seemed doomed from the start. The situation in which it was built, and the circumstances surrounding the new constitution did not present the opportunity for it to subsist and flourish, despite other problems Germany may have faced later on. However, the Republic did manage to crush most of these uprisings and didn’t fall to pieces. This shows some strength in the constitutional monarchy, so it possibly did stand a chance of survival.
The political instability was intensified by the financial implications of the Treaty of Versailles. By 1921, the level of reparations had been fixed to 132,000,000 gold marks. It was clearly evident that the weakened Germany would not be able to pay. Not only did Germany have to pay the reparations, they also had massive war debts and needed to rebuild their damaged country. Nonetheless, a reparations program of payment was imposed on the Germans. When they were not able to pay, the French occupied the Ruhr in January 1923, which led to the total collapse of the Germany currency.
The Republic had mainly survived the 1920s because of economic stability. However, by November 1923 Germany’s economy was caught in a spiral of hyperinflation, and money was becoming more and more worthless by the day. The middle classes had their savings devalued considerably and pension funds were wiped out. They decided to blame the Weimar Republic because the people who had set it up had agreed to pay the reparations. Before this economic crisis, there were many people who did not really agree or disagree with the principles of the Republic.
However, the time had come where people had no one to blame but the government, the majority of the country were angry, and it could be considered that with universal criticism, and perhaps some hatred, the new Republic was predestined to fail. Profiteering, crime and prostitution also increased markedly at that time. Such behavioural trends contributed significantly to the lack of faith in the Republican system. The evidence given so far suggests that the Republic did not stand a chance, despite everything that happened later.
The general population had no faith, and without such support, a constitution going through times of much hardship stood no chance at all. However, it would not be fair to dismiss the Republic as a total failure, as from the years 1924 to 1929, there was relative stability in Germany. In 1923 Stresemann was appointed as Chancellor. His foreign policy was shaped by the domestic and international situation, and his main aims were the liberation of Germany and its restoration as a great power. He accepted that Germany had been militarily defeated and not simply “stabbed in the back”.
He realised that France had legitimate security interests and played on Germany’s vital importance to World Trade. He realised the sympathy of the USA was important to attract American capital, and as Chancellor, he called off ‘passive resistance’ and agreed to carry on paying the reparations. This led to the Dawes Plan in 1924, which aided economic recovery and the French promised to evacuate the Ruhr in 1925. The years 1924 to 1929 have traditionally been regarded as the high point of the Weimar Republic – a glorious short-lived interlude between the early years of the crisis and its eventual decline and collapse during the depression.
An American Journalist in 1924 commented on the wonderful feeling of living in Germany and that things seemed to be much more free and modern. Kolb also described the years as ones of ‘relative stabilisation’. It is often agreed that the introduction of the Rentenmark, which stabilised the German currency and the Dawes Plan is a massive contrast to the inflationary chaos of 1922-1923. Had Germany picked herself up? Maybe the Weimar Republic had started to become stable and had a chance of survival. It certainly seemed like Germany had made a remarkable recovery.
Heavy Industry, regardless of the loss of resources from the Treaty of Versailles, was able to recover reasonably quickly. By 1928, production levels were generally better than they had been before the War! This was due to more efficient production techniques, particularly in the coal and steel industry. Foreign investors were also attracted to Germany because they knew she was being supervised financially by the allies and had relatively high interest rates. The years 1924-29 held a great amount of hope for Germany.
They had an effective Chancellor who was helping Germany to recover. There were many social benefits, and for the first time since the end of the War, people seemed to be living normally again. National border anxieties were settled in 1925, when the Locarno treaties were signed in London. A greater feeling of security began to embrace Germany for the first time in over ten years. By 1926, Germany had joined The League of Nations, and had a voice at an international level, and by 1929 even the withdrawal of the allies from the Rhineland seemed a possibility.
Germany was beginning to get back on its feet after a hard war, and relations with the allies and the people were improving. The extremist Nazis had only 12 seats in 1928, and had little or no voice in national government. The socialists were in control with 153 seats and had a steady recovery in progress with no radical changes planned. The government it’s self had progressed from an imperial autocracy into a democratic Republic. If everything was going so well for Germany, then why did it fail?
The Weimar Republic, although a little ambiguous in the first instance, seemed to be doing well. It had its faults, but these seemed to have been overcome in the years 1924-29. Therefore the Republic was perhaps not a lost cause from the start. It had a shaky beginning, but it wasn’t definitely going to fail as Germany did eventually recover under the Weimar Republic. If the Wall Street Stock Market had not crashed in October 1929, the Weimar Republic may have survived for many more years than it did, and may even have existed today.
In October 1929, all German optimism was dashed by world depression and the Wall Street Stock Market crash. The crisis was felt throughout the world but hit Germany most harshly. Loans and investments dried up and the USA demanded repayment of these loans. This caused unemployment to reach 2 million, a decline in the prices of food, a collapse in trade and a subside in demand. Bri?? ning became Chancellor in 1929, and his response to the economic crises was to increase taxes and make substantial cuts in government expenditure.
His Budget had been rejected by the Reichstag, but because of the way the constitution had been set up, he was able to put the unpopular proposals into effect, by means of the emergency decree in Article 48. Arthur Rosenberg described the formation of Bri?? ningi?? s government as ‘the beginning of the end of German democracyi??. All classes of people suffered psychologically and lost pride in their country. In such a situation, it is not surprising that people lost faith in the Weimar Republic and saw salvation in the solutions offered by political extremism.
People began to turn to Hitler, who preached employment and greatness; this is reflected by the Nazis gaining 107 seats in the 1930 election. The depression created the very situation that Hitler had been waiting for. The Nazi’s stirred up opposition to the government and Republic, by linking the government to Versailles, and linking Versailles to all of Germany’s problems. Hitler had a very wide appeal because he was offering solutions to all of Germany’s problems. He promised employment and a powerful Germany. People had been through a lot and thought Hitler seemed like he had a lot to offer.
However, it is unlikely that he caused the Republic to fail, as the historian Bessell argues “Hitler was a consequence of the failure of the Republic – not a cause”. He may have been there at the time when things were going wrong, but he alone could not have caused the Republic’s collapse without the other factors. There are many factors which contributed to the malfunction of the Weimar Republic. It could be argued that if certain things, such as worldwide depression had not occurred, the Republic would have survived, considering the relative stability beforehand.
From the very beginning, the Republic faced opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. The public blamed their problems on the Treaty of Versailles, and in turn, blamed the government that signed it. The new government had inherited a difficult situation and it was inevitable that it would face technical hitches from the start. Nevertheless, to say the Republic was doomed from the beginning is hasty. The Republic was beginning to overcome its difficulties during the mid 1920’s as economic, political, and cultural improvements were occurring.
If it hadn’t been for events like the Wall Street Crash, the Republic may have prospered for many years. In agreement with Professor Geary, “The depression and crisis led to the rise in the Nazi vote, which led to the collapse of the Republic”. The Republic had many faults within its constitutional set-up, which caused problems along the way, and lacked support, but these things had been overcome to a certain extent so the Republic had an opportunity. If it had not been for the additional prevailing circumstances, the Republic may have survived.