Weimar RepublicWeimar Republic
There were various factors that contributed
to the failure of the Weimar Republic of Germany and the ascent of Hitler’s
National Socialist German Workers Party into power on January 30, 1933.
Various conflicting problems were concurrent with the result of a Republic
that, 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 struggle
against the activities of the National party as well as inflation. Other
factors that influenced the failure of Weimar were the structural weaknesses
induced by the constitution and the basic lack of support for the Republic
among the German people particularly amongst the elite. All in all, these
aspects were the major causes that doomed the Weimar republic to ultimate
failure 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 situation
they by no means created. The period during which they were appointed to
rule was associated with defeat and misery, and when disorder was nationwide.
The situation then, was that of revolution. However, rather than to make
it a revolution of there own, they co-operated with the liberals and with
the catholic centre party to lead Germany in a reformed version of her
old self. In June 1919, they voted to comply with the treaty of Versailles.
However, the signing of the Treaty served to promote protest and unrest
amongst the soldiers, sailors and the German people generally, and democracy
thus resulted in becoming an alien device. The imperial army, for instance,
never got over the humiliation of surrender, which they felt, was a ‘stab
in the back’ by their own countrymen. The sailors at Kiel mutinied in a
last desperate effort on October 28 and on November 9 1919, the streets
were filled with crowds marching to demonstrate at the center of Berlin.
Furthermore, compliance with the Treaty
of Versailles meant that Germany would have to make reparation payments
it could scarcely afford. This fact placed a heavy strain on the already
suffering economy of Germany which was bankrupted by four years of war
thus ensuing in the ascend of inflation and the occasioning of the respite
of 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 grave
humiliation by the German people and eventuated in widespread discontent.
Germany’s currency was already fragile, and in face of the occurring circumstances
consequent to the Ruhr invasion and the overprinting of currency, the Mark
fell to chronic levels, eventually reaching the value of four billion against
the US dollar, which therefore generated massive hyperinflation. The economic
instability, on top of the disillusionment and resent caused by the humiliating
peace settlement, resulted in vast sections of German society feeling alienated
by the Republic. They responded by attacking the democracy and as a consequence
it became impossible to control the hostility and discontent.
The deteriorating economic and social situation
also managed to wreak havoc on the political atmosphere of the time and
the Republic wound up having no positive friends and too many enemies.
The Republic faced opposition from the extreme left by Spartacists who
resorted to force in efforts to overturn the Republic. In March 1920, the
Freikorps who in Berlin launched a pro-Monarchist putsch in an attempt
to install Wolfgang Kapp as Chancellor also challenged the Republic from
the right. During this incident troops both refused to defend the Republic
or take action against Freikorps. In protest the working classes then responded
by organizing a general strike in Berlin, which had the effect of frustrating
this putsch. The present regime was able to survive despite the numerous
Extremism remained to pollute the atmosphere,
the evidence being represented in the alarming amount of political assassinations
that continued occurring. In evidence, according to an estimate of the
Minister 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 to
capitalize on the resultant circumstances. He exploited the economic collapse
by blaming it on all those he wished to portray as enemies. These were
the same enemies he declared as the ‘November criminals’ who had brought
about 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’s
march on Rome of a year earlier, but without first being invited to take
power, as Mussolini had been. Hitler, however, continued to fail until
1933 when he finally seized power.
The continued disruption caused
by his attacks on the Republic, notably his Munich putsch, in addition
to the economic crises as well as the resurfacing of the previously unresolved
issues promulgated the grounds for an increased anti-republican sentiment
which reached a climax in 1923 when the Republic was on its knees due to
hyperinflation. It was against this traumatic background that the leadership
of the republic was passed to the hands of Gustav Stresemann in August
1923. His determination and ambition to rectify circumstances in Germany
were realized in November 1923 when he introduced a new currency.
Valued at one billion old Marks the introduction of the Rentenmark at the
end of 1923 was a main reason for the currency stabalization. Further stability
came with the Dawes plan of April 1924, which provided a modified settlement
of the reparation issues. In addition, French troops were then confirmed
to leave the Ruhr, and disputes between the two countries then went too
independent ruling. In September, Stresemann called off passive resistance
unconditionally. These headed many positive changes in Germany, whose effects
were felt universally in almost every facet of German life.
By 1929, the German economy revived. The
changes Stresemann managed to bring about still had the effect of deviating
opposition by both the extremist groups on the right as well as the left.
However, while it seemed that politics might have settled down, the circumstances
that were to follow in the coming years proved that Stresemann perhaps
merely postponed internal problems rather than eradicated them. The relative
stability achieved through the late 1920s by Gustav Stresemann was, for
instance, heavily reliant upon foreign investment, loans and economic prosperity,
not only in Germany but also in the United States from whence much of Germany’s
foreign investments originated. Consequently, as the American economy boomed
the attractiveness of investment in Germany became overshadowed and the
German 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 collapse
of share prices began on the New York stock exchange. Had Germany’s prosperity
and economic stability been self-reliant events and circumstances on the
New York stock exchange may have had a somewhat subtle effect in Germany.
However, as said earlier, Germany’s prosperity was merely financed by international
loans and was excessively dependant on foreign investment. Germany was
thus forced to remain in a very vulnerable position, the results leading
to the onset of depression and the virtual crumbling of the Republic’s
very foundations in recourse to the Wall Street crash during the end of
The depression that hit Germany in 1929,
is said to have been the most severe economic depression in modern world
history. It devastated the lives of the urban population as well as those
living in the country districts that in recourse to the economic circumstances
struggled desperately. The unemployment figures for Germany show the rapid
deterioration of the economic climate. In September 1929 1.3 million employable
workers were unemployed, for September 1930 the figures rose to 3 million,
in September 1931 the figure was 4.35 million and by 1932 unemployment
reportedly escalated to 6 million. These conditions, in addition to the
loss of confidence generated overseas which resulted in the rapid withdrawal
of the foreign loans Germany relied on extensively placed additional strain
on the republic. The political repercussions were just as acute. Unresolved
issues and old determinations to destroy the Republic again resurfaced.
These resulted in the renewed attacks by the extremes of the left and the
right who proceeded to take advantage of the situation and manipulate it
to suit their own ends. Strikes, violence and constant bloodshed in street
battles against communists suggested to be deliberately provoked by the’brown shirted toughs of the NSDAP’, soon replaced political dialogue and
debate, and while the Republic had no Republican army to deal with the
synchronous persistence of violence, the power of Weimar to instill democracy
became largely disabled. Moreover, the continued unrest further exacerbated
a general feeling of a loss of faith in the Republic and support for it
The Republic had also been suffering from
structural weaknesses, which also played a major role in crippling its
progress. For example, the constitution of the new Republic emerged finally
from the National Assembly in July 1919. It was considered to be one of
the most liberal documents written up of its kind in the twentieth century
on. In practice though, it left much to be desired. One of its weaknesses
was the elaborate system of proportional representation, which was devised
to allow for minority parties to have a share in the system of government.
Unfortunately, this system also made it virtually impossible for a single
party to hold a majority in the Reichstag and therefore coalition governments
Another weakness was the infamous Article
48 of the Weimar Constitution. Under this article the President had the
right to suspend civil liberties – with the Chancellor’s assent – in an
emergency, thus giving him virtual dictatorial powers. Chancellor Bruening
was first to make use of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution from 1930
on when he, in response to the political and social unrest incurred in
Germany 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 Reichstag
to 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 of
the Republic, the Republic perhaps resulted in not being looked at as a
State in which the German people desired to live or to which they were
prepared to give positive encouragement. The repercussions had the effects
of helping the communists who succeeded in gaining the support of an overwhelming
number of the urban workforce. However, the main beneficiary was Hitler’s
party, the NSDAP, who managed to increase their seats in the Reichstag
from 12-107 thus concluding in their becoming the second largest political
party at the time.
Thereafter, as the NSDAP continued to attract
a 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 the
rise of Hitler to power was almost inevitable. As a result of the existing
circumstances of economic crisis, near, if not, complete social disaster
and almost universal discontent, there were ultimately only two choices
left 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 perhaps
also perceived as the only choice available to them, especially as the
prospect of Communist rule, with also the existing presence of Article
48 that allowed too much power to be vested in any one person, may have
seemed too frightening a risk to undertake. In addition, very many powerful
groups preferred to lend their support to the opposite extreme the NSDAP.
Hitler successfully managed to jockey his party as having the dual attraction
of offering radical solutions to economic problems while upholding patriotic
values. 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 retaining
more than thirty seven per cent of the vote. In November 1932 Hitler lost
an additional thirty-four seats. However, in as much as the acting president
(von Hindenburg) allowed himself to be convinced by generals and right-wing
politicians that only the Nazi leader could restore order in Germany, in
the following year leadership was passed to him. Hindenburg felt that he
was a good president, but it was old age that rendered him helpless to
his advisors and the German people. Accordingly, Hitler was made Germany’s
fifteenth post war Chancellor in January 1933. At this stage Germans had
scarce knowledge of what the future under the rule of Hitler would mean
or result in. However, Hitler lost no time in a founding a harsh
totalitarian state known as the Third Reich, which he enforced within a
mere month of his appointment. The results were the destruction of a modern
civilized society that turned crisis into catastrophe, bringing the democracy
of Weimar to its end.
When assessing the reasons for the failure
of the Weimar Republic and the ascent of the NSDAP to power, one has to
make various considerations for these events occurred as a result of a
plurality of factors. Perhaps the most important factor was the economic
crises that befell the Republic in 1923 and again in 1929. However to neglect
considerations like the possibility that the revolution of 1918 failed
to create institutions loyal to the new regime, that perhaps the constitution
of the Republic was too idealistic and lacking in practicality, causing
certain structural weaknesses and finally, that the desertion of the Republic
by the masses and more powerful interests made the failure of Weimar and
the rise of Hitler to power a mere matter of time would give a distorted
view of the issue. Moreover, several political and social issues arose
with the creation of the Republic, one of which was the influence of Imperial
Germany. The Republic failed to resolve these issues and these issues created
the context that made the failure of the Republic and the rise of a dictatorial
leader to power possible.
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to third Reich, Oxford University Press, London. 2. Gilbert. M.,(1997),
A history of the twentieth century: Volume one: 1900-1933, Bath Press,
3. Gill. A., (1994), An honourable
defeat, William Heinemann Ltd, London.
4. Ramm. A., (1984), Europe in the
twentieth century 1905-1970, Longman Group Ltd, USA.
5. Simon. T., (1983), Germany 1918-1933
revolution, counterrevolution and the rise of Hitler, Oxford University
6. Peukert. D., (1991), The Weimar
Republic, Penguin Press, London.