The Germany Revolution and the Weimar Republic (1918-1933)!
It is true that Party Truce had been proclaimed on 4 August 1914 in Germany, but the same could not be maintained throughout the duration of the World War I.
The munition strikes took place in June 1916, April 1917 and January 1918.
The extreme Left after 1 January 1916 known as the Spartacists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg rejected the Party Truce and were too ready to use illegal means to promote the Revolution.
They were wholly anti-war, anti-parliamentarian and were ready to receive money and support, after 1917, from Soviet Russia. Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were feared and respected, the former on account of his courage and integrity and the latter on account of her intellectual ruthlessness. On 30 December 1918, the Spartacist League reconstituted itself as the German Communist Party.
On 19 July 1917, Reichstag passed the peace resolution moved by Erzberger, the leader of the Catholic Centre Party and supported by the Progressive People’s Party and some National Liberals. As a result of the passage of that resolution, Bethmann Hollweg resigned as Chancellor of Germany.
After that, it became impossible to control the distress and discontent consequent upon economic collapse. This was particularly so because it was accompanied by a political movement arising from a revival of the pre-War protest against the Prussian franchise and the absence of a Reich Ministry responsible to the Reichstag.
The economic collapse came in 1917-18 partly as a result of the blockade which confined Germany to her own resources or those of the conquered territory for her food supply and partly because her highly cartelised and centralised economy could not be adapted to the changed situation. Urban hunger, peasant hoarding, the black market, pilfering and profiteering created conditions of hostility in society and despair among the people. Rations were reduced.
There were shortages of coal, leather and textiles. The work capacity and the morale of the people went down. There were industrial strikes in Berlin, Magdeburg, Halle, Brunswick and Leipzig. There had been demands for constitutional reforms but those were not satisfied by Bethmann Hollweg and that had created bitterness.
The new Chancellors were not able to handle the situation. In September 1918, Prince Maximilian became Chancellor. He hoped to save the throne for the Hohenzollems by rushing through a number of reforms which converted Germany into a constitutional monarchy.
On 20 September, 1918, Ludendorff told the German Emperor that there was no prospect of victory in the war and that fact was confirmed by Hindenburg on 1 October 1918. On 27 October, the Reichstag resolved that the Chancellor must henceforth possess the confidence of the Reichstag and that resolution was approved by the German Emperor. On 29 October, the Emperor fled from Berlin to the headquarters of the army at spa in the hope of defending himself with the help of the army.
Prince Maximilian was negotiating with President Wilson for an armistice based on the Fourteen Points. He emphasized that the new German administration was a government “of the people, in whose hands rested both actually and constitutionally the authority to make decisions”.
However, President Wilson insisted that as long as William II was the Emperor, he would not negotiate. On 23 October, a demand was made in the Reichstag that the Emperor must abdicate. The demand was supported by the newspapers. On 29 October, Philipp Scheidemann, as leader of the Majority Socialists, requested Prince Maximilian to secure the abdication of William II.
Meanwhile, at the Kiel naval base, the rumour spread that armistice negotiations would probably result in a surrender of the German fleet. The reaction of the German naval officers was that they would prefer to have an honourable death by an unexpected attack on the blockading British fleet than to surrender to the Allies.
However, about 80,000 sailors involved in it refused to commit suicide in that manner and mutinied. The spirit of the revolt spread to the workers of Kiel where revolutionary councils demanded the abdication of William II and amnesty for the leaders of earlier mutinies. Their movement spread and the great ports of Hamburg, Bremen and Cuxhaven were in the hands of Workers’ and Sailors’ Councils on 8 November 1918.
At a demonstration in Munich on 7 November 1918, an Independent Socialist Editor, Kurt Eisner, demanded the overthrow of the Bavarian dynasty. The Wittelsbach family fled and a “democracy and social republic” was set up in Bavaria with Eisner as its head.
Inspired by the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Spartacists tried to establish a Communist Government. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg addressed gatherings in Berlin and other industrial centres and called upon the proletariat to rise up and establish “a free socialist republic”. On 9 November 1918, a group of Spartacists seized the royal palace and police headquarters in Berlin. However, they lacked public support and were crushed by the government.
On 10 November, Prince Maximilian announced the abdication of William II and named Ebert, the leader of the Majority Socialists, as the new Chancellor. The same day, William II fled to Holland and Phillipp Scheidemann, the Foreign Secretary, proclaimed the German Republic. Ebert as Chancellor formed a Government of the Social Democrats and the Independent Socialists but left out the Spartacists. That Government was recognised by Hindenburg, the Chief of the General Staff.
The Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils of Berlin also supported Ebert’s Government which was pledged “to save Germany, not to save revolution”. On the evening of 10 November, Ebert formed an alliance with General Groner, the successor of Ludendorff. Ebert would have the support of the army to keep order and to keep the Communist revolution at bay. On 11 November, armistice was signed and that robbed the Revolution of its mass appeal.
Two meetings from all Germany were held. The first assembled the Prime Ministers from all the German states on 25 November 1918. This meeting supported the call for the Constituent Assembly. In the second meeting were assembled representatives from the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils from all over Germany and it lasted from 16 to 21 December, 1918.
Its deliberations showed that most Germans wished to live in a parliamentary state, that they wished for a greater degree of demilitarization than what the armistice demanded and that though there was widespread support for a socialist programme of industrial nationalisation, the restoration of the economy was their aim and not further revolution. The Spartacists, led by Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg demanded a people’s government.
They shouted, “Whoever votes for the Constituent Assembly, votes for the rape of the working class.” However, Ebert succeeded in getting a resolution passed on 19 December that elections for the Constituent Assemblies are held on 19 January 1919. The Spartacists occupied the Chancellery and took Ebert himself a prisoner. He was rescued on 24 December by the German troops who had been sent to Berlin by General Groner.
On 29 December, the three Independent Socialists resigned from Ebert’s cabinet in protest against his counter-revolutionary policies. That strengthened Ebert who appointed Gustav Noske, a Majority Socialist, as Governor of Berlin on 4 January 1919. Noske organised a volunteer corps, to crush the revolution and “to play the blood hound”.
On 5 January 1919, the Spartacists declared at a mass meeting Ebert’s Government deposed. By 15 January, they created revolutionary conditions by seizing barracks, railway stations and printing offices. On 9 January, Noske entered the field with about 20,000 men and supported by machine guns and howitzers, ruthlessly crushed the revolution and took hundreds of prisoners who were mercilessly executed. On 15 January, Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht were brutally murdered. Thus, the Spartacists revolution was crushed.
Critics point out that the German Revolution of 1918 can hardly be called a revolution. The change did not go beyond the change of Government. After the departure of William II for Holland, 25 sovereigns of individual states resigned and Germany was proclaimed a republic, but the entire social and economic organisation in the country remained the same as it was before. Practically all the imperial officials remained at their posts and continued to administer the routine of their Bureaus. The attempts of the Spartacists to set up a Communist government failed.
The German Revolution of 1918 cannot be compared with the French Revolution of 1789. It was no outgrowth of active, sustained and bitter criticism of the existing institutions and no indignant protest against a long-continued denial of political liberty. It had no background of preparation. It was a storm that had suddenly blown up, not the explosion of a slowly gathering hurricane. Yet this brief and sudden crisis, born of military disaster, swept away the supposedly strongest monarchy in Europe, set up a republic in its stead and greatly changed the face of Germany.
Not only did the Emperor disappear from the scene which he had dominated for 30 years, but the Bundesrat, the organ of the princes, vanished when the princes vanished, and the Reichstag, in the whole affair, gave no sign of life. The conservative political parties which had controlled the Reichstag since the founding of the Empire collapsed with the collapse of the royal power. The former radical parties, particularly the Socialists, occupied the centre of the scene.
The establishment of the Republic in Germany was not due to the victory of a German republican party over the monarchists as the Germans did not fight for liberty and democracy. As a matter of fact, there was little demand for a change of government. It was only when President Wilson insisted that he would not deal with the Government which was responsible for the war, did the demand for the abdication of William II arise. Germans were ready to sacrifice their Emperor only because they believed that they would obtain better peace terms by doing so.
Thus, in a way, the Republic was imposed on the people of Germany. There was little real enthusiasm for it. To those who were not in favour of it, the republic was the result of defeat in the war and foreign intrusion into German affairs. It was considered by many as the symbol of national humiliation.
With the revolution thus crushed, elections to the National Assembly which was to draft the Constitution of the new Republic, took place on 19 January 1919. The elections were boycotted by the Spartacists. Although the Majority Socialists (Social Democrats) polled more votes than all the other parties put together, the seats won by them were 163 out of 399. The Independent Socialists won 22 seats.
The rest were captured by the Centrists, Democrats, People’s Party, Nationalists and others. After the elections, Ebert decided that the Assembly should meet in a quiet town and not in Berlin in which there was a lot of unrest. The place chosen was Weimar which is associated with Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Bach and Liszt.
Before taking up the task of drafting a permanent Constitution, the National Assembly drew up a provisional Republican Constitution and elected Friedrich Ebert as President. While assuming the office of the President, Ebert said, “I desire and intend to act as the authorised representative of the entire German people, not as leader of a single party.” He also observed that he had “grown up in the world of ideas according to socialism”. However, he was quite moderate in his outlook as the President of the Republic. He was not an extraordinary man but he was an unflinching supporter of parliamentary democracy.
The Majority Socialists who were the single largest party in the National Assembly, made a coalition government with the bourgeois parties, the Democrats and the Centre Party. Philipp Scheidemann became the Chancellor. The first task was to sign the terms of the peace offered by the Allies. Sheidemann refused to sign so humiliating a document, saying, “Let the hand that signs it wither”. Bauer, his successor, signed the treaty of peace under duress on 28 June 1919 and the National Assembly ratified the same.
1. The Weimar Constitution (1919):
The National Assembly started its work on 6 February 1919. After several months of deliberations, a Constitution was adopted on 31 July 1919 and it came into force on 11 August 1919. Under that Constitution, the former name of the German national state, Deutsches Reich, was preserved, but that state was declared a Republic based on the sovereignty of the people.
The national flag was changed from the black-white-red tricolour of the Empire to black-red-gold. It was provided that every state of Germany must have a republican Constitution. The old states were preserved so that Germany could become a federal Republic like that of the United States and not a unitary one like that of France and Britain.
A proposal was urged in the National Assembly that the large states like Prussia be split up into a number of small states and a number of petty states be united into larger units so that every state might have about two or three million people and all states may be approximately equal, but that proposal was rejected.
The executive head of the state was to be a President chosen by the whole German people, men as well as women. He was to be elected for seven years but he could be re-elected. He could be deposed before the expiration of his term by a referendum, but if the referendum resulted in his favour, that was to be counted as a new election of the President.
The President had a powerful position which he could abuse. He appointed the Chancellor, the head of the Government and the latter made his Ministry which was to have the confidence of the Reichstag. The President’s choice of the Chancellor played an important part in the events of 1930-33.
The President had the power to dissolve the Reichstag so that he could appeal to the electorate over the heads of the Reich Ministry and against it. That too was a power which could be abused. The President was given emergency powers which allowed him to dispense with the Reichstag altogether.
The Reichstag was chosen by universal and secret suffrage according to the principle of proportional representation. It was elected for four years. The Chancellor and the Ministers were made responsible to it. The Reichsrat was the Upper House which represented the states. It could hold up but could not veto, most laws passed by the Reichstag.
However, its consent was necessary for the passage of any measure affecting the states as such. To prevent Prussia’s securing a preponderant influence, the Constitution provided that no state could have more than two-fifths of the total representation. Provision was made for a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. A Supreme Court was instituted at Leipzig.
The Weimar Republic was not a socialist but a liberal democracy. The Socialists did not stand by their commitment to nationalise industry. As they were a party in government, their duty was to govern and restore confidence to industrialists who were afraid of expropriation and to have nationalised industries in 1918-20 would, have loaded the state with debt. A commission was appointed to enquire which industries were ripe for nationalisation but its recommendations were ignored and the arguments of the Minister of Finance for its postponement were adopted.
The Constitution contained a Section on the economy. It formulated the principle of social justice, but guaranteed the economic freedom of the individual. It gave power to the Reich to take economic enterprises by legal enactment into the possession of the community. However, it was not provided that it must be done.
The state was to have the oversight of the economy but not its direction. No provision was made in the Constitution for the Councils of Workers and Soldiers. However, provision was made for eight-hour working day and unemployment relief.
Critics point out that the will to work the Weimar Constitution was weak. The Weimar Republic had no positive friends and too many enemies. The Socialists virtually deserted it. They lost seats in the general elections of June 1920. They were not a part of the coalition government between 1920 and 1922.
After the assassination of Eisner on 21 February 1919 and a brief Communist interlude, a government without Socialist participation was installed in Bavaria in May 1920. Only in Prussia a Socialist Government survived. The Liberal Parties should have been the source of strength of the Republic but they lost heavily in the general elections.
Moreover, Liberal Parties were middle class parties and the middle classes were seriously disabled by the economic crisis and their loss of wealth. Positive action on behalf of the Republic was not in their power. The civil service of Germany which included the judiciary was either hostile to the Republic or failed to understand the importance of active goodwill.
The Constitution safeguarded the position of civil servants. They had been appointed under monarchy and were either monarchists or only nominally loyal to the new Republic. The judiciary was so hostile that there was a state of war between the judiciary and the people. The schools were strongholds of monarchical and nationalist feelings. The churches were also not friendly towards the Republic. There was violence in the country and there was no republican army to deal with it effectively.
2. Challenges to Weimar Republic:
The Republic had to face many challenges and dangers. While the Government was busy in suppressing the Communists, the rightist diehards took advantage of it to form strong ultra-nationalist organisations such as the Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet). These organisations had a long list of grievances against republicans.
It was rumoured that cowardly republicans had made defeat inevitable by undermining the military power of the Empire during the last months of the War. The National Assembly at Weimar was attacked for accepting the “Versailles Dictate” and for permitting the Allied Commissions to “overrun” the country. Some individuals feared that the German authorities might surrender “war criminals” to the Allies for trial.
In March 1920, a rightist Putsch was attempted. It was planned by Dr. Wolfgang Kapp who had gained notoriety during the World War I for a fierce attack upon the policies of the then Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg. On 11 March 1920, a detachment of German crack troops disbanded by the Allies marched into Berlin under Captain Ehrhardt.
They were in alliance with the Commander of Berlin, General Luttwitz. The Republic was dissolved and a provisional Government headed by Dr. W. Kapp and Luttwitz was formed. Noske had only 2000 men to oppose and hence the Government took shelter first at Dresden and then at Stutgart. President Ebert reacted by calling a general strike. Workmen throughout the country responded and Berlin’s public utilities and communications were tied up. The strike was a success.
The conspirators fell out among themselves, gave up the attempt and fled. Thus, the attempted counter-revolution was checked not by any vigorous action taken by the government but due to the opposition of the workers. Even after the failure of the coup, the government did not take strong measures to punish the offenders.
General Seeckt who had refused to open fire on the insurgent officers was appointed Chief of the German army in place of Luttwitz. Dr. Kapp who had fled to Sweden, returned to Germany and surrendered himself to the authorities. However, he died in prison in 1922 while awaiting trial.
The Kapp affair did not end the attempt of reactionaries to avenge the “betrayal” of the Fatherland. They instituted a reign of terror against the persons connected with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, persons who gave aid to the Allied Commissions in Germany and individuals prominently identified with socialism. Erzberger, the Centrist leader who had urged peace without annexations in 1917, was killed in 1921. Walther Rathenau, an industrialist, political philosopher and efficient cabinet Officer was assassinated in 1922. Attempts were also made on the lives of Ebert and Scheidemann.
In January 1919, the German Workers’ Party was created. In March 1920 it was given the name of National Socialist German Workers’ Party after Adolf Hitler joined it. That party was backed by the reactionaries, Junkers and militarists including General Ludendorff. It was vehemently anti- Communist and against the Jews.
In November 1923, an attempt was made by this group in Munich to overthrow the Government. It is known as Ludendorff-Hitler Putsch. However, the army remained loyal to the Government and the plan of the conspirators clashed with another group of Bavarian conspirators. It ended in a fiasco and Hitler found himself in jail.
It is true that the Republic was saved, but its position was shaky. This is proved by the fact that in the first Reichstag elections in June 1923 under the new Constitution, the vote of the parties which openly accepted the republican government was much smaller while the parties with monarchist tendencies gained three million votes. Monarchist sympathy was not confined to the old generation. Education in the high schools and Universities in Germany was almost completely in the hands of the reactionaries who instilled monarchist ideas in the minds of the young. The result was that the Republic in Germany had a precarious existence.
3. History of the Weimar Republic: First Period (1919-23):
The history of the Weimar Republic can be divided into three periods: from 1919 to 1923, 1924-29 and 1929-1933. During the first period, the Weimar Republic signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. The Weimar Constitution was adopted on 31 July 1919 and it came into force on 11 August 1919. Dr. Kapp’s Putsch was foiled. In 1923, Ludendorfif-Hitler Putsch failed.
The most serious problem of the new Republic was economy. That was due to the fact that Germany was required to turn over to the Allies large quantities of materials. The transfer of Alsace- Lorraine to France with its iron ore and potash deposits, the temporary loss of the highly industrialised Saar District and the giving of Upper Silesia with its coal mines to Poland, dealt a severe blow to German industry.
Germany was also required to surrender to the Allies all merchant ships exceeding 1600 gross tons, half of the merchant ships between 1000 and 1600 gross tons, one-quarter of the fishing fleet, 5000 locomotives and 1,50,000 motor trucks. All German investments in the Allied countries were seized or surrendered. The credit of Germany in the capital markets of the world was seriously undermined. The result was that Germany was not in a position to pay the reparations to be imposed on her.
The task of fixing the amount of reparations was given to the Reparation Commission which was to make its report by 1 May 1921. Prior to that date, Germany was to pay 5000 million dollars to the Allies. An agreement was made at the Spa Conference in July 1920 by which out of the money paid by Germany, France was to have 52%, Britain 22%, Italy 10%, Belgium 8% and others 8%.
In 1921, the Allied statesmen met at Paris to settle the question of allowing Germany to pay a lump-sum in settlement of her entire liability. The Germans made a counter proposal which was not acceptable to the Allies who occupied three German towns of Ruhrort, Duisburg and Dusseldorf on 8 March 1921.
Germany appealed to the League of Nations and the United States but by that time the Reparation Commission announced on 27 April 1921 that they had assessed the German liability at 132 billion gold marks equivalent to 32 billion dollars or £ 6600 millions. On 2 May 1921, the Supreme Council directed the Reparation Commission to forward to Germany a scheme prescribing the time and manner of discharging her obligations.
That was done on 5 May 1921, accompanied by an ultimatum by the Allied Powers. A demand was made that £ 50 million must be paid by the end of May 1921 failing which the Ruhr valley would be occupied by the Allied troops. As there was no alternative, the schedule was accepted by Germany who paid the first installment by August 1921. Additional payments were made early in 1922.
In June 1922, Germany was forced to request a moratorium on reparation payments for two years as economic situation had deteriorated. Since the announcement of the reparation debt, the mark had declined steadily. In May 1921, the mark was worth 62 to the US dollar (4.2 to the dollar was par). After the announcement of the Reparation Commission, the mark declined to 105 in September 1921 and 270 by the end of November 1921.
Britain was ready to agree to a moratorium, but the French view was that the German request was a trick to evade payment. In December 1922, Germany having failed by a small margin to fulfill her commitments of deliveries in kind, the Reparation Commission declared Germany in voluntary default.
Both France and Belgium declared that on account of default by Germany, a Mission of Control would be sent into the Ruhr and that Mission would be accompanied by an adequate number of troops. On the next day, the Mission settled at Essen. The occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923 was opposed by Britain.
It was a blunder for France and disaster for Germany. France lost the goodwill and cooperation of Britain. Her action created a lasting bitterness in the minds of the German people towards France. There was so much of bitterness in Germany that its inhabitants resorted to the policy of “passive resistance” in which representatives of all classes participated.
The people were asked not to pay customs duties, local taxes or other demands made from them. Thousands of men in the Ruhr were thrown out of employment and food became scarce. Millions of people suffered. The telephone, telegraph and railway service came to a standstill. Mines and factories were closed. Newspapers refused to publish the decrees issued by the Governments of Belgium and France. Local officials disobeyed foreign commands.
However, the population of the Ruhr numbering about 5 millions had to be fed and supported. For that purpose, the Government had to issue more and more marks. German presses worked at top speed day and night to supply the demand. The effect on the value of the mark was catastrophic. By the middle of June 1923, it fell to 100,000 for a dollar, by 8 August to 5 millions, by the middle of September to 10 millions, by 9 October to more than 1,000,000 million and by November 1923 to 4,200,000 millions.
The financial crisis was a very serious one. The unprecedented inflation was due to many reasons. It was caused partly by the financial policies of all the German governments since 1914. The World War I was financed by borrowing and not by high taxation. In August 1914, the restriction placed upon the printing of notes beyond the sum covered by the gold reserves of the banks was removed and the organisation of Loan Banks, to afford credit on securities which did not qualify as securities under the existing regulations, was provided for. By 1918, the mark had already declined to about half its value in gold.
After the War, international trade was resumed. There was a general loss of confidence in the mark which caused further depreciation. At that stage, Germany had large gold reserves and could have stabilised her currency by following the right policy but it continued to increase the money supply. Another cause of inflation was the magnitude of the financial and economic burdens imposed upon Germany by the Allied Powers.
The Reparation Commission assessed the German liability at 132 billion gold marks. The notification demanded not only the acceptance of that figure but also the payment of a billion gold marks within 25 days. Germany paid by selling newly printed paper currency on the foreign currency exchanges.
The result was that the mark fell during 1921 from 60 to the American dollar to 310. By October, Chancellor Wirth, with Rathenau’s assistance, got a revision of the arrangements which lessened the amount to be paid in money and increased that to be paid in commodities. Cuno was then made Chancellor in the hope that his place in the business world would enable him to contrive means for Germany to pay. At the end of 1922, the Reparation Commission declared Germany in default. On 12 January 1923, French and Belgian troops marched into the Ruhr Basin.
Inflation was at its worst from March to November 1923. One of its effects was the complication of all business affairs. Rates at first were increased every week, then each day and finally workmen were paid several times a day in order to enable them to change the marks into anything that had inherent value before they became worthless. Shop-keepers had to increase the selling price of their commodities from hour to hour.
In the rural districts, peasants refused to accept marks and would exchange goods only for other goods. Inflation reduced to poverty many families of established wealth and position. Fortunes which had taken so long to make, disappeared overnight. The lower middle class was hit the hardest. Inflation wiped out pensions, savings and insurance.
This class never recovered from the blow and many of its members became the bitterest enemies of the Republic. Those who could manipulate credit, made enormous profits. The debts of the borrowers were wiped out. There were moderate difficulties for wage earners, greater difficulties for civil servants and professional people who relied on fees and salaries.
There was complete ruin for those who depended upon income from invested capital. Small businessmen, shopkeepers and self-employed artisans were almost as badly hit as the professional classes. The farmers and land-owners fared better. The year 1923 closed with the revelation of General Seeckt’s plan to resurrect the German army with Soviet help.
By 1924, inflation was over. Before his fall in November 1923, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann had made the arrangements which enabled production to start again in the Ruhr Basin and with the assistance of Schacht and his Finance Minister, Hans Luther, had taken steps which stabilised the currency on the basis of a new mark, Rentenmark which was first issued in November 1923.
4. Second Period (1924-29):
The second period of the Weimar Republic began in stability. This period was essentially the period of Stresemann. It is rightly called the Stresemann era. When he assumed power in the summer of 1923, Germany was almost out of leaders.
Public sentiment had turned against the Social Democrats whose attitude towards the country’s late enemies did not seem to be sufficiently patriotic. Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau had perished at the hands of nationalist fanatics. Stresemann’s three months of power as Chancellor marked the turning point for the republican regime.
It ended the era of constant uncertainty in which the people scarcely knew from month to month under what sort of authority they were going to live. Through a resort to martial law and firm action against both types of extremists that were threatening the state—the Communists in Saxony and Hitler’s National Socialists in Bavaria—Stresemann, like Poincare three years later, proved the seriousness of his intentions and his resolve that middle class democracy in Germany should become a reality and that actually happened.
When in November 1923, Stresemann retired as Chancellor, the Weimar Constitution had come to function in an approximately “normal fashion”. Stresemann continued to be Foreign Minister of Germany up to October 1929 when he died.
By a determined effort on the part of the government and the people to rescue their Fatherland from ruin and a foreign loan to the extent of 800 million marks under the Dawes Plan, Germany was saved.
German recovery was also due to the scheme of rationalisation under which labour savings were affected. For instance, a bank that worked in 1914 with 334 persons carried on the same volume of work in 1929 with only 284 persons. Such economy and labour-saving devices were applied also in agriculture, industry and other departments of economic life.
However, its drawback was that thousands of persons became unemployed, but for the time being the scheme worked for the recovery of German business and economic life. German recovery was also visible in the development of coal, chemistry and cartels. The development of coal industry was effected by the improvement of techniques and also by the replacement of black coal by brown coal.
The growing demand of the steel industry was met by the development in coal mining which reached nearly pre-War level. German chemists invented synthetic quinine, camphor, indigo, and menthol, nitrate, rubber, and gasoline, artificial silk and other chemical products. Those products minimised the dependence of Germany upon the outside world for raw materials.
The cartels or trusts had become very powerful in Germany and they abused their power by controlling prices and sales. By a law of 1923, the Government tried to curb their activities but in spite of that, international cartels made great progress in steel, rail and potash industries.
The development of German merchant marine received Government patronage. German shipping occupied the twelfth place among world’s commercial fleet, but by 1930, the German merchant marine made so much progress that it came to occupy the third place, next only to the United Kingdom and the United States.
In motor industry, Germany received aid and cooperation from American firms which opened branches in Germany. Berlin, with its skyscrapers, appeared to be more influenced by Americanism than any other city of Europe. Germany came to have new factories, new industries, and new techniques of production.
In 1929, the Young Committee granted Germany a further loan of 300 million dollars. In the Laussane Conference of 1932, reparation payments virtually stopped. However, there were certain drawbacks in this economic prosperity.
The problem of securing foreign loans and making reparation payments presented increasing difficulty. Rationalization added to unemployment. German attempt to decrease consumption in rye and potatoes increased the economic crisis of the agriculturists. Increasing foreign tariff enhanced the problem of marketing German goods in foreign markets.
The withdrawal of government patronage from munitions industries caused loss for business in military and naval supplies. The loss of the Russian market caused serious damage to German trade and industry. The result was mounting unemployment. The Government had undertaken welfare projects and kept per capita taxation at lower rate than even the rate of taxation in Britain and France.
That was done notwithstanding heavy reparation obligations. Germany’s economic prosperity entirely depended upon foreign loans and it collapsed as soon as foreign loans stopped. During these years, the United States was the creditor country which helped Germany to reconstruct her industry and make reparation payments.
The money ultimately came back to the United States through the payment of inter-Allied debts. However, it did not contribute to the actual flow of goods in international trade. The result was a pressure on world’s economy which resulted in the economic crash of 1929. The Great Depression had first affected the economy of the United States but it had its repercussions on European economy also.
It had a shattering effect on Germany. Foreign investors started withdrawing their investments and consequently there was contraction of trade and commerce. Banks and factories closed down. Thousands of persons were thrown out of employment.
The formation of Stresemann Government signified the introduction of a new element in the foreign policy of Germany. It was the policy of national reconciliation and reconstruction through international cooperation. Instead of merely crying for the defence of the down-trodden or sticking to the destructive course of passive resistance, or repeatedly yielding to external pressures, Stresemann and his associates regarded international cooperation as a positive method and goal though well-tied to the task of national reconstruction.
On one occasion, he declared, “International cooperation for national reconstruction….If you try to find a general formula for Germany’s foreign policy, you must discover it in the international agreements in which we are and must be involved. The task before us is to devote all our strength to the maintenance of peace in Europe. The road ahead of us is clear; we must strengthen our own national life by the advancement of peaceful understanding.”
When Stresemann became the Chancellor and later on the Foreign Minister of Germany, there was a lot of bitterness between Germany and France. In spite of that, Stresemann had the courage to declare that only a policy of reconciliation and cooperation with France could help his country and not confrontation. At that time, the French Ministry was headed by Herriot who was also prepared to cooperate with Germany.
The result was that there was an agreement between the two countries in November 1923 whereby the Ruhr industrialists promised to deliver commodities to the Allies. That eventually led to the withdrawal of French forces from the Ruhr in summer of 1925.
In November 1923, the Government of Stresemann was able to stabilise the mark through the issuance of Rentenmark which had little intrinsic value but was supported by public confidence. The public was happy to accept it @ of one Retenmark for a trillion old paper marks. The Rentenmark was replaced in 1924 by Reichsmark, based on gold and so usable in international trade.
Britain had opposed the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium. She played an important role in the adoption of the Dawes Plan in 1924 that put Germany back on the road to economic recovery. Shortly thereafter, Britain and France advanced loan to Germany whose result was that instead of remaining a debtor, Germany became a creditor country.
Stresemann conducted his foreign policy as a coordinated whole. He cooperated with the West and confirmed Germany’s alliance with Russia in the East. The three men, Stresemann, Briand and Austen Chamberlain, understood one another in the West.
The Rapallo Treaty of 1922 with Russia had given Germany an ally in the East. Stresemann made a proposal to Britain for the guarantee of existing boundaries between Germany, Belgium and France combined with treaties of friendship and cooperation with Britain and Italy.
That paved the way for the Locarno Treaties which were initialed in October and signed in London on 1 December 1925. By these treaties, the states bordering on the Rhine abjured the use of force in their relations with one another and together with Britain and Italy, mutually guaranteed their existing boundaries.
In addition, Germany and France signed the Rhineland Pact by which Germany reaffirmed her acceptance of the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland. Germany was promised admission to the League of Nations with a permanent seat on the Council. Britain and France failed to get a guarantee from Germany with regard to her Eastern frontier as permanent.
All they obtained was Germany’s signature of arbitration treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia. The entry of Germany into the League did not take place, as intended, in March 1926, but she was admitted in September 1926. On 24 April 1926, Stresemann signed the Treaty of Berlin with Russia.
There was an appreciable improvement in the status of Germany after her becoming a member of the League of Nations. In 1927, the last of the Allied Commissions were withdrawn from Germany. The report of the Young Committee on the reparation problem was published on 27 June 1929. That eased the reparation problem of Germany.
As a result of the acceptance of the Young Plan, Stresemann was able to persuade the Allied Powers to start evacuation of the occupation troops from the Rhineland five years ahead of the schedule. That evacuation was completed in June 1930. That was the final fruit of Stresemann’s policy.
Grant and Temperley observe that the balance sheet for Stresemann was not bad. On the credit side, Germany had been freed from most of the restrictions placed on her sovereignty by the Treaty of Versailles. She had been accepted as one among the Great Powers. On the debit side, she had not regained military parity with the other European powers. She had not regulated her relations with Austria.
She had not rectified her Eastern frontier. Perhaps, Stresemann had simply postponed internal problems. They could not all be solved by being exported. The primacy of foreign policy can never be absolute.
In 1925, President Ebert died. Whatever his limitations, he was a firm supporter of the Republic. There were many candidates for that office and ultimately Field Marshal Hindenburg, “the hero of Tannenberg”, was elected as the new President. The report of his victory caused consternation among the ardent supporters of the Republic and jubilation in the ranks of the reactionaries. It is true that Hindenburg was a conservative but he kept his oath to the Constitution.
5. Third Period (1929-1933):
The third period of the history of the Weimar Republic was from 1929 to 1933. During this period, Burning, Papen and Schleicher were in turn Chancellor. They presided over the struggle of the Republic against Hitler and his followers.
It is true that at the beginning of 1929, there was a large measure of contentment among the people of Germany and that was good for the long life of Republic. Through the efforts of Stresemann, the foreign relations of Germany, particularly with France, had improved considerably. There was economic prosperity in the country.
However things began to change very rapidly. Two events were responsible for the change. The first was the death of Stresemann in October 1929. As a result of his death, the ship of the state began to founder. The reactionaries openly turned against the Republic. The relations between Germany and France also got strained.
However, the economic depression hit the German Republic the hardest. The economic blizzard which had started in the United States in October 1929 also hit Germany whose economy and prosperity during 1924-29 was largely based on foreign loans.
When that source dried up and the loans already made were called in, Germany started cracking under the crushing weight of contracting trade and production, fall in prices and wages, closing of factories and business, unemployment and bankruptcy and the forced sale of property and farms. Many Germans got frightened and they withdrew their deposits either to hoard them or invest them in, other countries where they could be more safe.
The result was that a large number of banks had to close their shutters. The lack of working capital forced industry to curtail its output The number of the unemployed rose from 1,320,000 in September 1929 to 3,000,000 in September 1930, 4,350,000 in September 1931, 5,102,000 in September 1932 and 6,000,000 in February 1933 There were millions standing frustrated and forlorn in the street comers of every industrial centre in Germany, without food, fuel and clothes.
There were lacs of young boys and girls leaving schools with no prospects of a job. There were thousands of clerks shopkeepers, small businessmen, young lawyers and doctors and pensioners who were threatened with the loss of their savings and their respectability There was no provision for unemployment insurance. In the towns and villages, shopkeepers and white collared classes, business and agriculture suffered alike.
Unable to get fair return for the work put into raising crops or stock, the peasants were hard-pressed to pay the interest on mortgages and loans or be turned out of their homes. Wages were reduced by 17% in 1931 and still more in 1932. As the purchasing power of the workers went down, home markets collapsed.
The amount of taxes realised also fell. The number of bankruptcies rose. There were more than 17 000 bankruptcies in 1931 and the number was still higher in 1932. Nothing tilted against the Weimar Republic so much and nothing shifted the weight of advantage to the side of Hitler so much as the Great Depression of 1929.
Uniforms became more prominent in the streets—the Stahlhelm (Steel helmets), the Reichshanner, the Free Corps, the Red Front and the S.A. (Sturmabteilung—storm troopers) took the Republic towards extinction. The world was astounded and perturbed when in the elections of 1930 the Nazis increased their votes from 810,000 to 6,401,000.
The tragedy could have been averted if there had been a stable party system and an honest scrupulous and non-political army in Germany In the elections of 1930 ten parties polled more than a million votes each. That ruled out the possibility of a majority Government. There were unscrupulous and manoeuvring leaders wedded to sectional economic interests.
There were coalition cabinets moving like jigsaw puzzles and ensuring weak, corrupt and inefficient governments. President Hindenburg was aging fast and virtually losing all political judgment and failing to bring the antagonistic political elements to a common bond of agreement in national distress.
There was a complete disruption of bourgeois values which could have controlled the elemental national resurgence roused by Hitler’s demagogic appeal to nationalist sentiments. In defeat, the Germans could not smile through their tears. National disasters made them morbid. From 13 February 1919 to 28 January 1933 19 Ministries were formed and since 28 June 1928 five Chancellors had come and gone.
It is pointed out that a creeping paralysis and decay began to affect the parties most intimately associated with the Weimar Republic. First the Democrats started losing votes. In the election of 1928, this party made a poor showing from which it never recovered. Then the Centre Party lost its democratic moorings.
Since the death of Erzberger, it had lacked decisive leadership and it gradually drifted into a situation of ideological confusion. As a Catholic Party, it appealed to all types of voters from socialist minded trade unionists to conservative land-owners and businessmen. Its central situation m the ideological spectrum made it an indispensable partner in all coalitions, whether of the Right or of the Left. No Government ever lacked Centre Ministers and the Centre provided the Chancellor more frequently than any other party.
However, this political bigamy was bad for the Centre. No clear policy line was possible for the Centre when the same Ministers served first in a Government of the Right and then in one of the Left. The confusion was further compounded when the Centre was simultaneously participating in a Right coalition for the Reich and a Left coalition for Prussia.
If such was the condition of the Centre, the other great party on which the regime rested, Social Democrats, was succumbing to weariness and ossification. The Social Democrats and the trade unionists were hard hit by the inflation of 1923. In subsequent years, they reknit their cadres and tried to carry on as before. But the life seemed to have gone out of them.
Both the party and the unions found their leadership aging and becoming more bureaucratized and the young people less and less interested in their activities. In the election of 1928, the Social Democrats made a surprising recovery but they did not know how to devise and carry out an imaginative social programme.
The same election produced other and more threatening symptoms of approaching change. Two million voters cast their ballots for small parties and independent candidates that appealed to discontents and resentments of all sorts, more particularly of the peasantry. Still worse, the Nationalists came under new leadership. The industrialist and super-propagandist Alfred Hugenberg became the head of this party. He entered into an alliance with Hitler.
By 1928 the forces of nationalism and reaction began to come to life again. Only on the surface and in great cities Germany had changed. However, throughout the countryside, the old imperial mentality lingered on. With the passage of time, the superficiality and incompleteness of the Revolution of 1918 became apparent. What the builders of German democracy had left undone began to plague them.
They had not broken up the great estates of the Prussian nobility. They had not purged the judiciary and the civil service. They had not altered the composition and prestige of the officer’s corps in all these places, reaction remained entrenched. Land-owners concealed the veterans of extremist bands as farm workers. Judges acquitted nationalist terrorists and gave them ridiculously short sentences.
The civil servants sabotaged the reforming measures of the Republic. By the restrictions imposed in the Treaty of Versailles, the German army became still more aristocratic and tight-knit. It pursued with impunity its goal of clandestine rearmament. It reported not to the Chancellor but to President Hindenburg himself who cast a cloak of respectability over its illicit activities.
As the economic situation began to worsen in Germany, criticism of the German Republic also increased. In the minds of many Nationalists, the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles were almost interchangeable. The same Assembly which drafted the Weimar Constitution also accepted the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles.
The two documents betrayed the irremediable taint of anti-patriotism. The reconciliation of 1925-1928 was transitory and largely unreal. The irreconcilables in Germany never actually abandoned their nostalgia for the past glory of Germany before 1914.
Criticism of the Republic came from all directions. The lower middle classes had no love for the German Republic which was held responsible for the inflation of 1923 which brought about their ruin. The workers also joined the ranks of the critics of the Republic. The number of the unemployed persons began to mount and many of them blamed the republican system of government for the Listing conditions in Germany.
The result was that all discontented persons listened to the speeches and writings of those who were trying to overthrow the Republic in Germany. Many Germans joined the Communist Party. Many more joined the National Socialists whose leader was Hitler. There was a trend towards extremism. That was clear from the general election of September 1930. On the previous occasion, the Communists had got 3.25 millions of votes.
Their number increased to 4 5 millions in 1930. In 1928, only 12 Nazis were elected to the Reichstag which had more than 600 members. However, in 1930, the Nazis won 107 seats. The result was that only the Moderate Socialists continued to support the German Republic.
There were other factors also which weakened the foundations of the German Republic. The Weimar Constitution contained Article 48 which gave the President of Germany the right to issue emergency legislation. That power enabled him to suspend many Articles of the Constitution itself.
The fathers of the Weimar Constitution intended the use of Article 48 only on rare occasions at the time of a real emergency such as an armed revolt. However, Dr. Burning the new Chancellor of Germany, began to use it as a regular instrument of government. After the election of 1930, the National Socialists and the Nationalists had about 150 Deputies in the Reichstag.
The Marxists had 220 members. Chancellor Burning had the support of about 200 members only. The result was that his government was a minority government. It did not enjoy the confidence of a majority in the Reichstag. As he had no majority in the legislature, he was forced to rule by means of decrees issued by the President. The Reichstag did not figure in the matter of making laws.
The continuance of the Government of Burning depended upon the discretion of the President of Germany. That development was not congenial for the long life of the German Republic. In 1932, there was an election for President of Germany and Hitler was one of the candidates. President Hindenburg secured about 19 million votes against 13 million secured by Hitler. In May
1932, Chancellor Burning was dismissed by President Hindenburg. After his dismissal, Franz von Papen, a reactionary, was summoned by President Hindenburg to form the Ministry. He had no support in the Reichstag. Even the dissolution of the Reichstag and a new election failed to improve his position. Hindenburg offered Hitler a post in the cabinet of von Papen but he refused. General Schleicher was appointed the Chancellor.
He tried to check the Nazis but failed. At that time, Hitler entered into a coalition with von Papen who convinced Hindenburg that the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor was the only solution to the political crisis facing the country. Hindenburg did not accept the advice for many months but ultimately appointed Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.
The question has been asked why Hindenburg, who knew full well that the Nazis were the sworn enemies of the Republic, invited them to form the government. One View is that his action was a treachery to the Republic. He was devoid of any sympathy for republicanism and he was always on look out for an opportunity to destroy it.
Another view is that his appointment of Hitler was not a rational act. It was sheer senility. He was already 85 years of age. His mind was so clouded that he did not know the import of the decree he was signing. One of the jokes of contemporary Germany relates that Hindenburg’s secretary had to discard promptly miscellaneous scraps of papers, including sandwich wrappers, lest the venerable gentleman may not put his signatures on them.
Others advance the theory that Hindenburg was tricked into signing the decree. A plausible explanation is that President Hindenburg was sick of having on his hands a succession of coalition governments who were always asking for the issuing of decrees by him and he appointed Hitler as Chancellor as his party was the largest single party in the Reichstag and he could be expected to have an absolute majority in the near future.
It was on the initiative of Hitler himself that fresh elections were held in March 1933 and he won an absolute majority in the Reichstag. Between 5 March and 12 March 1933, the transfer of power was effected. Between 12 March and 7 April 1933, the leaders, parties and institutions of republican Germany were put to rout or ruin. By a vote of 441 to 94, the Reichstag passed on 22 March 1933 the Enabling Act by which it practically signed away the Weimar Constitution and then adjourned indefinitely. Hitler gave a new name to Germany, the Third Reich.
Field Marshal Hindenburg was a good President still his extreme old age rendered him helpless in the hands of his advisers. Like most soldiers, he was a good judge of men, but a bad judge of political tendencies. His position as President under the Weimar Constitution was a difficult one and it was hard to observe the Constitution and yet maintain efficiency and order. His very presence as President ensured continuity of government in Germany. “He remained sphinx-like and impassive while a succession of embarrassed and transient Ministries passed like shadows before him.”
6. Causes of Downfall of Weimar Republic:
The downfall of the Weimar Republic was due to many reasons. It “had a hard hoe to row” in foreign and internal affairs. From the very beginning, the Republic had to face tremendous difficulties. The Revolution of 1918 was a superficial one. It is true that the German Emperor and 25 princelings of Germany were driven out, but the bureaucratic structure of the state and the socio-economic base of the Republic remained the same. The democratic form of government established through the Weimar Constitution was a super-imposition with which Germany was not familiar.
German unification itself was the work of the authoritarian statesman Bismarck and the same tradition was continued even after his fall in 1890. When a democratic form of government was established in Germany in 1919, the people of Germany were not familiar with a democratic tradition and hence the Weimar Republic had to work in a hostile atmosphere and surroundings and no wonder it failed.
From the very outset, the Weimar Republic was associated in the minds of the people of Germany with the hated Treaty of Versailles. The stringent and harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the imposition of the War guilt clause and the humiliations associated with it were criticised by the enemies of the Weimar Republic which was held responsible for accepting those terms.
The Social Democrats and Republicans were branded as betrayers of German cause and were held responsible for the defeat and degradation of Germany. The militarists and malcontents, the Nazis and Junkers sought to discredit the Democrats as the architects of Germany’s misfortune in the World War I.
The Reichswehr undermined the authority of the Weimar Republic. Disbanded soldiers, hungry, unemployed and disillusioned youth and discontented industrialists and businessmen lost confidence in the high-sounding phrases used by the Parliamentarians. The opportunists and supporters of the Nazi Party took advantages of the smouldering fire of discontent to create the myth that Germany’s salvation lay in the abolition of the Weimar Constitution and establishment of a strong government.
The working of the democratic system of government in Germany left much to be desired. Between 1919 and 1933, as many as 19 Ministries rose and fell. The result was that parliamentary system did not inspire confidence among the majority of the people of Germany who prayed for the return of the good old times and the rise of a saviour which they found in Hitler.
Some writers do not agree with this view. They point out that the rise of Hitler was not due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. There was a lapse of fourteen years between the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 and the coming to power of Hitler in January 1933. Immediately after the World War, the Nazi revolution did not assume any concrete shape.
The Nazi Party came to power ten years after the recovery of Germany’s lost prestige as is evident from the entry of Germany into the League of Nations and the signing of the Locarno Pact. By 1930, the Allied troops were withdrawn from different parts of Germany. In 1931, the reparation problem of Germany came to an end. In 1932, the equality of Germany with other states in respect of armaments was recognised.
Hence it is clear that the Nazi Party captured power when Germany had freed herself from the fetters of the Treaty of Versailles. Hence, the Treaty of Versailles may be said to be the partial cause of the success of the Nazi Party. On the pretext of the Treaty of Versailles, the Nazis branded themselves as patriots and each of the German governments as traitors.
The crisis in confidence in the Weimar Republic was also psychological and the National Socialists took full advantage of it. This psychological factor was strengthened by the attitude taken up by the Allies towards Germany. The French occupation of the Ruhr and the opposition that Germany faced on the question of her admission to a permanent seat in the Council of the League of Nations were few among many other developments in the international field which hurt German feeling and pride.
The men of Weimar discarded old German symbols and heroes. Many in Germany including young war veterans, University students, conservative peasants and aristocrats yearned for the good old days of pomp and glory of colour and triumph. The result was a loss of credit for the Republic. The most significant book produced during those years was Spengler’s “The Decline of the West”.
In that book, he appealed to the German intellectuals already full of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wagner and to German youth in revolt against the reason of mechanisation, technology and science and to Europeans everywhere. He presented a pessimistic future for the West, but prophecised with confidence a revival of the West by Caesarism.
A pessimistic atmosphere was created by Egon Fridell in “Cultural History of Modem Europe”, by Count Hermann Keyserling in “Troubled Diary of a Philosopher” and by Erich Maria Remarque in “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Increasingly, the German people felt the need of a strong man who could salvage Germany from the predicament in which she found herself in the post-Versailles period due to the bungling of her democratic statesmen.
Hitler came to power not by using force but by using constitutional means. He banked upon the desire of the German people to secure for themselves a place in the Sun. The failure of the Weimar Republic to restore the prestige of Germany was one of the chief causes of its downfall. Hitler merely voiced that desire.
The anti-semetic policy of the Nazis also found easy response among the Junkers, militarists and industrialists of Germany. The Nazi theory of race-superiority appealed to the German mind. The leaders of the German Republic did not exert themselves to nip the Nazi Movement in the bud. They were not willing to shed blood. They were men without faith who could not inspire or organise. They were theorists, elderly arm-chair doctrinaires who allowed power to slip from their hands into those of the Nazis. It has rightly been said that Germany under them was a Republic without republicans.
Although they had in their hands all the instruments of popular propaganda such as the radio, the press and the platform, they did not make use of them to educate the people to have faith in democracy and in Republic. The workers of Germany did not rise in support of the Republic as they were themselves suffering from acute unemployment.
From the very beginning, the German Republic worked under many handicaps. By accepting the Treaty of Versailles, the republican leaders were condemned as the “authors” of the national humiliation and thus lost all popular respect and sympathy. The Allied Powers were also responsible for the fall of the German Republic as they treated the German Republic in a very shabby manner.
They imposed very harsh terms on defeated Germany. They occupied the Ruhr which humiliated the Germans. They made the German Republic appear in the eyes of the German masses as totally unworthy of being vested with ruling power. The Nazis took full advantage of the existing circumstances. They joined the masses in condemning the German Republic and promised everything to everybody.
They used all the symbols of mass appeal—the Swastika badge, the uniform of brown and black shirts, the acclamation (Heil Hitler) and the salute. Millions of Germans secretly sympathised with the campaign of violence and terrorism resorted to by the Nazis. Theirs was the only programme which seemed to offer a solution to the many problems facing Germany. The Nazis successfully befooled the people of Germany in believing that they alone were their saviours.
The big land-owners and capitalists contributed huge funds to the Nazi Party. The middle classes ranged themselves behind the Swastika banner. The people of Germany who worshipped power and authority, were ready and willing to be ruled by a party which professed to improve the intolerable living conditions in which the people of republican Germany were at that time.
The Weimar Constitution was worked by old civilians who were authoritarian in spirit and gave only lip-deep loyalty to the Republic. The failure of the workers of Germany against the Nazis is attributed to a fatal split in their ranks of which the Soviet Union was responsible. The Communist Party of Germany undermined the solidarity of the working classes.
It seduced younger members and sowed dissensions between the leaders and their followers. When one German Communist leader realised the needs of the situation in Germany, he was replaced by Stalin by another who was more orthodox in Communist theories. The result was that the workers failed to do anything to save the German Republic.
The character of Hitler himself helped him to come to power, He possessed great resourcefulness. He was a great orator who could control and influence audiences of millions of people. His technique of propaganda helped him to carry the audience with him. He thundered. He asked for blood.
He infused politics with religious fervour. He was a fanatic in his views who was able to hypnotise all those who came to hear his speeches. The result was that the number of his followers began to rise and ultimately he became Chancellor.
The character of the people of Germany also helped Hitler. Most of the people of Germany cared more for that party which could give them security and glory rather than freedom as such. They were sick of the treachery and cowardice of the republican politicians. They wanted a strong man who could take them out of the mess created by the republican politicians.
The declining fervour of Protestantism in Germany indirectly led to the rise of Hitler. Having lost their enthusiasm in religion, they were in search of some other object of devotion. The Republic in Germany was not able to win over their devotion and they found their object in the national socialism of Hitler. That added to the strength of Hitler’s party and his followers. Hitler was most vocal about the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles. He denounced its provisions in the strongest possible terms.
The more he did so, the greater became his popularity with the people who wanted somebody who could interpret their inner feelings to the world. They found in Hitler the man they wanted and that helped him to come to power.
Hitler gave to the Germans a high-sounding programme of 25 Points which was a catalogue of promises and promised something to every group of the German nation. He promised protection of property from the Communists.
He promised protection to labourers against their exploitation. He promised protection to the consumers against producers. He promised protection to small businessmen against corporations. As he promised something to everybody, he was able to secure an overwhelming support from the Germans.
Another cause of failure of the German Republic was that the army and the civil service were still supreme. Although the social superiority of the aristocracy, the army and the officials was no longer aggressively proclaimed and there was less “ceremonious bowing and heel-clicking”, Germany never experienced that uprising of a great democratic majority which was the solid guarantee of the survival of democracy.
During the terms of the successive governments from 1919 to 1933, the army was slowly laying fresh foundation of military power. The Free Corps and the Reichswehr became a real power against which the civil authorities were helpless. “There is indeed little doubt that the army was almost as responsible for the second counter-revolution under Hitler as it was for the first counterrevolution under Noske fourteen years earlier”.
Side by side with the army stood intact the structure of the bureaucracy, authoritative and authoritarian in temper, having utter contempt for democratic processes and pining for the old Prussian absolutist regime. Thus, the rule of law always remained in Germany spasmodic and precarious.
The German tradition facilitated the rise of Hitler and fall of the Republic.
7. Achievements of the Weimar Republic:
It is true that the Weimar Republic failed but it bridged the years between the Hohenzollerns and Nazis. Although the Republic was threatened since its inception both by the extreme Right and the extreme Left, it had some outstanding achievements to its credit. With the introduction of the Dawes Plan in 1924, there came an unprecedented prosperity in Germany. Industrial production crossed the pre-War figures. American investors lent huge amounts of foreign money to Germany.
The re-establishment of the currency and the enormous foreign sale of the paper money added about 2000 million dollars to the real wealth of Germany. The industrial and business life of Germany was rationalized and that tended to standardize products and materials and introduce scientific management and planning.
The formation of vertical trusts and combines prevented ruinous competition. The establishment of the branches of foreign firms in Germany such as the General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Eastman Kodak brought foreign capital, provided employment to German labour and utilised German raw materials.
On 20 March 1921, a plebiscite was held in Upper Silesia which resulted in a majority voting for Germany which claimed the whole of Upper Silesia. The matter was referred to the League of Nations which, in its Award of 20 October divided the province, giving two-thirds of the area to Germany but leaving the coal mines, the principal industrial areas and a sizeable German minority on the Polish side.
On 16 April 1922, Germany signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union at Rapallo under which both sides established normal diplomatic relations with each other, waived their respective reparation claims and agreed to promote mutual trade.
The Soviet Union undertook to allow German officers and units to acquire experience with the Red Army and to provide opportunities for experiments in forbidden weapons. This treaty irritated the West, particularly France which decided to have its revenge and occupied the Ruhr in January 1923.
With the adoption of the Dawes Plan, the Republic started sailing smoothly. By 1925, order was restored, currency was stabilised and reparation problem was somewhat settled. The Ruhr was evacuated.
In 1925, the Weimar Republic signed the Locarno treaty. The relations with France improved. Germany entered the League of Nations on 8 September 1926 as a permanent member of the Council on the understanding that her relations with the Soviet Union would not be affected.
In April 1926, Germany signed the Treaty of Berlin with the Soviet Union. At the end of January 1927, the Allied Military Control Commission was withdrawn. In 1928, Germany signed the Pact of Paris on equal terms with other powers. On 7 June 1929, the Young Committee report was made public which substantially reduced reparation claims of the Allies and removed all international controls from German economy.
At the Hague Conference in August 1929, Stresemann persuaded the French to agree that the withdrawal of the occupying forces should begin in September 1929, five years ahead of the time and be completed by the end of June 1930. On 13 March 1930, the Young Plan laws were passed by the German Government, but by that time Germany was fully encircled in the whirlpool of the Great Depression.