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Jack Chilcott

HISTORY

JGR

The Weimar Republic was doomed from the moment it was created. To what extent do you agree with this statement? Fundamentally, the Weimar republic was created, 1918, as a quick short term solution to Germanys mass unemployment and large-scale political unrest, following the loss of the First World War and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The new Weimar Government offered Germany democracy for the first time in its history- a system which previously had had proven success and economic stability in western countries, yet by 1930 the entire Weimar system was beginning to collapse and was eventually dismantled by Adolf Hitler after 1933. For this collapse to have been inevitable, it must be proven that its failure can be intrinsically linked to the Republics origin. Despite being introduced in a time of crisis and perhaps introducing a system that was arguably not the best solution during such times, it did withstand a string of crisis up until 1923, delivered a period of stability in the 1920s and did address to an extent the ongoing economic problems Germany faced. Therefore, yes Weimar was built on shaky foundations and had large institutional problems which could have easily lead to Weimars fall as of 1923; however its demise was not inevitable after 1923, when in the years 192429 Germanys economy was re-stabilised and the Weimar constitution arguably might have been prosperous- had it not been for the Great Depression of 1929 which ultimately led to Weimars downfall. From the outset the Weimar Republic was largely unpopular across the nation and found itself branded as the November criminals. This was due to public beliefs that the Weimar Government had cowardly backstabbed the German nation by signing the Treaty of Versailles- a harsh Diktat in which the allied powers imposed; post war reparations, loss of territory, disarmament and a loss of raw materials- all adding further severe economic strain to Germany. Furthermore, many Germans couldnt believe that Germany had lost the First World War and consequently blamed many of the Weimar politicians for being traitors and surrendering when the War could still be won. It is certainly true that there were vital flaws with the Republic which would face a veritable test of its strength in the years after the Great War. The constitution functioned on a system of proportional representation, resulting in constant coalitions between many different parties and often indecisiveness. Whilst this system worked in western countries in periods of stability, Germany was in a time of great difficulty and economic instability meaning that this part of the constitution would render governing near impossible- this suggests that one strong leader/government perhaps would have been better suited to govern in the adverse times. Article 48 of the Weimar Republic did allow for the Chancellor of the Reichstag to assume undisputed power, without the sanction of the Reichstag, in times of emergency, however the definition of an emergency was loosely defined and many Chancellors abused the power. The Weimar republic also faced problems in that, as of 1918, the German economy was on the verge of collapse and its people nearing starvation. Meaning that, despite the removal of the Kaiser in the so-called German Revolution, many of the old elites and landowners that supported him remained and could be very influential, because the new government could not risk the loss of agricultural productivity that would arise as a result of the redistribution of the elites land. Furthermore the Weimar Government did not have control of the army under the state- thus they had the potential to cause great political problems if they opposed a new regime. It is these numerous problems

Jack Chilcott

HISTORY

JGR

discussed so far that illustrate the initial weaknesses of the Weimar republic and suggest early on that it will be a short lived. Inevitably so, these initial political and economic problems led to unrest amongst the population and a series of major uprisings followed from all sides of the political spectrum, most significantly from extremist parties. To the communist the party, the KPD, the new Weimar government was very unpopular, possibly following the example of the Russian revolution a few years earlier and through their hatred of the Weimar Government, 50,000 Spartacists rebelled in Berlin under leader Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, January 1919. Although initially successful, the rebellion was eventually effectively and brutally extinguished by the demobilised soldiers of the Freikorps. Whilst it showed the weakness of the official German military, the uprising did demonstrate the ability of the government to find a solution to a difficult problem. The Kapp Putsch of 1920 required a different and equally innovative solution, which was to call a general strike. The public thankfully supported this, and Kapp was forced to abandon his nationalist ambitions. Interestingly it can be argued that both uprising were always going to fail however as unlike other revolutions, where the old ruling class is completely uprooted and removed from influence, during the attempted Spartacist and Kapp Putsch revolutions, those who had influence during the German Empire, the elites and landowners, retained their property and thus capacity to move centre-stage to diminish extremist threats in possibility of a more authoritarian government trying to come to power. Significantly, both of these attempted coups did expose a degree of weakness in the armed forces, but similarly showed an innate strength in the new government to defeat its opponents. Despite dealing with the uprisings of the Early 1920s, the Weimar Government still had many ongoing economic problems. The most pressing issues were the high rate of unemployment, due to the loss of war-focussed industry jobs and the return of many soldiers, and the crippling reparations that Germany had to pay. In 1923 German payments were falling behind, and as consequence the French occupied the Ruhr seeking alternative payment via the possession of raw materials. In order to keep up with the payments the Weimar Government chose to print more money. In the short term this was an effective solution, however very soon hyperinflation struck Germany as the value of money decreased rapidly, the prices flew rose rapidly. The economy was in turmoil and it could be argued that the Weimar Government were showing signs of inevitable decline at this point. In spite of these economic problems, an almost worthless currency and failing industry, crucially Weimar did not collapse. Hitlers attempted putsch of November 1923 ended in chaos, disaster and imprisonment for the NSDAPs leader. The new Chancellor, Gustav Stresemann, cancelled the old currency and issued the new Rentenmark, channelling it through just one bank, in order to heal the financial wounds caused by hyperinflation. Under his capable leadership, Weimar returned to prosperity: exports reached the levels of 1914 once more, despite huge losses of territory and natural resources; strong economic growth was enjoyed; the burden of reparations were reduced under the Dawes and Young Plans; and Germany began to regain some of her pride on the international stage. Germany signed the Locarno Pact in 1925, confirming its western borders and joined the League of Nations in 1926, becoming an influential Council member. Up until the Golden era of recovery under Stresemann, the inevitability of Weimars decline is still certainly disputable; however the Golden Era of 1924-28 eradicates this argument, as now the Weimar Republic is prosperous, near a full economic recovery and is functioning well under democracy showing no obvious signs of collapse.

Jack Chilcott

HISTORY

JGR

The key cause for the collapse of the Weimar republic came not from within Germany, but externally, from America. On October 28, 1929, the American stock exchange lost 12% of its entire value over night. The impact of the ensuing Great Depression was felt most painfully in Germany. The American loans that had fuelled Germanys recovery in the 1920s were withdrawn, and Germanys economic recovery was ruined as they suffered severe deflation. Drastic action was needed; however Stresemanns death in 1929 deprived the Weimar Republic of the one statesman who might have handled the crisis. Muller, the new Socialist chancellor at the time, refused to implement the much needed government expenditure cuts, and so resigned, with him his Grand Coalition collapsed. In the following years of growing political division, it became increasingly impossible to hold any coalition together, so chancellors resorted to Article 48 of the Constitution to pass any law by decree. The increasing use of Article 48 for many people showed the collapse of democracy and thus the failure of Weimar Republic. As many more shared this view, people lost faith in democracy and turned to extremist parties with a strong leader offering decisiveness and a way out of the depression. As a consequence votes for the Nazis increased dramatically, with a gain of 95 seats in the Reichstag. The KPD also gained 25 seats, which showed a general shift in the zeitgeist towards an authoritarian solution to Germanys problems. Ironically, it was in this situation that the old elites that existed under the Kaiser re-emerged to bring Hitler to power in 1933. The wealthy businessmen, industrialists and landowners persuaded President Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler, a man dedicated to destroying democracy, as chancellor in a new coalition. It is clear that this surge in Nazi support that swept Hitler to power was not alone linked to the initial faults and problems of the Weimar Republic- if that was the case then Nazi vote would have been fairly constant from 1918-1933. No, it shows that only after the Great Depression does the Weimar Republic show inevitable failure and consequentially Nazi vote rises drastically. The Great depression was, after-all, the main reason that the Nazis managed to convince the vast population to vote for a party that would destroy the institutions of democracy and under a strong leader, Hitler, restore Germany to her former greatness. Weimars collapse was never fully inevitable as no link can be made between the certainty of its collapse and its flaws upon creation. It is true that it did have many flaws as an institution and was on the whole weak up until 1923 showing signs of its demise; however it survived several uprisings and numerous economic crises, 1920s, without ever establishing the control of the army or civil union- most notably Hyperinflation and the short term problems of wartime reparations- and it even emerged in 1928 showing signs of prosperity and stability. Its not until the Great Depression of 1929 does the Weimar Republic truly come to a state of inevitable demise, as the economic deflation is so severe that it ultimately unearths all the successes of 1924-28 and compounds the initial flaws of the constitution showing its dependence on foreign policy.