The Establishment of the Weimar Republic and its early problems


Occupation of the Ruhr

French sent troops into the German industrial area of the Ruhr. They confiscated raw materials, manufactured goods and industrial machinery.

German government urged passive resistance - workers went on strike, even some sabotage. French replied by arresting those who obstructed them and bringing in own workers.

Germans bitterly resented what French had done, but also the failure of the Weimar Republic to resist, even though they had no choice. Their army of 100,000 were no match to the French one of 750,000 men.

Occupation of the Ruhr did little good for the French. However, it crippled Germany. Many factories, 80% of coal and iron was based here. Increased Germany's debts, unemployment and shortage of goods.

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Effects of the German Revolution

1) Government able to sign armistice. 11 November, Germany had to withdraw from all land won, pull back troops 48km. Surrender its munitins and put its navy under Allied control.

2) New government took longer to acheive. Terms of armistice not popular, and economic suffering continued. Winter 1918 - 19, conutry put into turmoil. But gradually, Ebert's government gained control

By mid 1919, town of Weimar, new rules for governeming country were agreed and the new German state became known as the Weimar Republic. Becomes democratic.

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Events of the Revolution

29 October, German sailors at naval base of Wilhelmshaven refuse to follow orders to set sail. Mutiny spread to base of Kiel.

4 November, 40,000 soldiers joined dockers. They set up a workers' and soldiers' council - communism like Russia. Sparked revolts across Germany.

7 November, Germann state Bavaria, thousands of workers, led by Kurt Eisner, marched on the state capital of Munich. The local rulers all fled, fearing similar revolts to Russia.

In Berlin, Kaiser's own ministers abandoned him. Allies said they would only negotiate with 'representatives of the people'. Were to have a democatic republic.

9 November, Kaiser Wilhelm agreed to abdicate, next day fled to Holland.Germany's largest political party, Social Democrat Party (SPD) formed new government. Leader Friedrich Ebert became new chancellor.

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Causes of the German Revolution

1) Failure in World War 1

At the start of the war, they were a militaristic society with the largest army, confident in victory. But by 1918, the Allies still remained undefeated. 2 million died since 1914, yet defeat seemed near. The morale was low amongst troops.

2) Hardship war caused

Allied navies were blockading German coast, preventing imports if basic supplies. This led to suffering and military failures, causing a sense of hopelessness. 

3) Russian Revolution

Nov 1917, Russians had overthrown Tsar, replacing him with a government of the people. By Nov 1918, many Germans were demanding similar changes. Wanted to replace undemocratic ruler Kaiser with a council of workers and soldiers.

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The Spartacist League (left-wing movement)

Winter 1918 -19, left-wing uprisings throughout Germany, which set up workers' and soldiers' soviets in towns across Germany. A central Council of Commissars was created, which claimed to be the true government. Poseing a direct threat to the on run by Ebert. Rosa Luxembury and Karl Liebknecht were the organisers of the Spartacists League.

6 Jan 1919, 100,000 communists took over key buildings, such as newspaper offices, inspired by the Spartacists.

The Freikorps (demobilised soldiers) had to help alongside the army to put down the revolt. By March, there were about 250,000 of them. In the early 1919, the Spartacist uprisng was stopped. Several thousand communist supporters arrested or killed. 15 jan, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested then shot by the Freikorps. 

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Results of Hyperinflation


  • Farmers - profited from rising prices
  • Some businesses - able to pay off loans, as they lost value. Others able to buy smaller failing businesses cheaply


  • Everyone suffered shortages - Germans marks became worthless. In 1918, £1 cost 20 marks, by 1923, £1 cost 20 billion marks. Foreign suppliers refused to accept marks for goods, so imports dried up and shortages of food worsened. 
  • Difficult to buy necessities - people had to carry money in baskets or wheelbarrows. Many workers paid 2x a day - so would rush out to buy goods before prices rose further. Some suppliers refused to take money, instead swap goods.
  • Savings - hit hardest. Money in banks accounts, insurance policies, pensions - all became worthless. Affected mainly middle class.
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Strengths of the new Constitution

1) Made Germany more democratic

More people voted. There was a general election every 4 years. More democratic.

2) Had a system of checks and balances

There were 2 houses in the new parliament - The Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The power of one was checked by the other. There were 2 key offices, the president and the chancellor. Power was shared / balanced between the two. 

This made sure no single group or person had all the power. Stopped having a second 'Kaiser' like ruler.

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Proportional Representation and Article 48

Proportional Representation

Votes are counted centrally and then converted into seats in the Reichstag.

ADVANTAGES Divides up seats more fairly than 'first past the post' systems.

DISADVANTAGES Unstable coalition governments form as no one party can get a majority.

Article 48

President can dismiss the Reichstag and rule alone if he declares a 'state of emergency'.

ADVANTAGES A potential safety value if things go wrong.

DISADVANTAGES President could abuse this and turn himself into a dictator.

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Weaknesses of the new Constitution

Proportional representation made it difficult for one party to get a majority. Weimar governments were usually weak coalitions of parties who had different ideas about how the country should be run.

Between 1919 and 1932, Germany had 21 different governments.

It was difficult to pass laws in the Reichstag because the government was so weak. The president increasingly used his powers under Article 48 to pass legislation.

In 1930, 3 times as many laws were passed by the president as were passed by the Reichstag.

Built upon shaky foundations. Extremist parties didn't support it. Moderate Germans feared it was too weak.

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Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

  • £6600 million reparations
  • 11 German colonies were given to victorious countries as 'mandates'
  • Army limited to 100,000 - used internally only
  • Navy limited to: 6 battleships, 6 cruisers, 12 destroyers, 12 torpedo boats. No submarines allowed. Rest of fleet destroyed.
  • No air force allowed
  • Rhineland demilitarised
  • 13% of European territory lost
  • 50% of its iron, 15% of its coal reserves
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Reactions to the Treaty of Versailles

Dolchstoss - the stab in the back

It was hard for the Germans as they believed they were never defeated in war, but only failed to win.

They said they were betrayed by the politicians in Berlin. These were the ones who signed the Treaty. They were blamed for undermining the army, being weak and accepting the harsh terms. They became known as the November Criminals.

Treaty had lasting effects:

  • weakened popularity of Weimar Republic
  • stirred up political protest
  • harmed Germany's economy
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Shortages meant prices went up - inflation. 

Government needed money to pay off debts, but unemployment and failing factories meant they received less from taxes. 1929-23 gov. income less than 1/4 of required.

So they printed money. In 1923, had 300 paper mills, 2000 printing shops.

Made it easier to pay reparations, but worsened inflation. Vicious circle: more prices rose, more money printed, so prices rose further.

By 1923, a loaf of bread costing 1 mark in 1919, cost 200 marks by 1922, and 100,000 million marks in 1923.

September 1923, Gustav Stresemann became new chancellor. November 1923, cancelled old mark and issued new currency - the Rentenmark. Led to period of stability. 

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The Kapp Putsch (right-wing movement)

In 1920, 5000 right-wing supporters of Dr Wolfgang Kapp marched into Berlin, wanting to overthrow the Weimar Republic and bring back Kaiser. For a while, they controlled the city.

When the government fled, they told people not to co-operate, but to go on strike. Many workers agreed as they did not want Kaiser back. Essential services were stopped -gas, electricity, water, transport.

Once realising he could no govern, Kapp fled. However, he was caught and put in prison, where he died.

But the unrest continued.

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