The 'Stresemann Years', 1924-1929

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Relative Political Stability

The middle years of the WR see an absence in extra-Parliamentary action (ie. events such as the Munich putsch or the Spartacist uprising). However, it is inaccurate to describe political stability as the system did not mature or develop. The failure of the coalition system to produce governments with sufficient support and drive became an issue.

Before 1914, political parties had not all had the experience of forming governments and compromising. Ex: the DVP interests in business caused it to refuse coalition with the SPD in 1926, causing political paralysis. Problems could not be effectively tackled.

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Chancellors of the Weimar Republic, 1923-1930

AUG 1923 - NOV 1923 - Gustav Stresemann (DVP)

NOV 1923 - JAN 1925 - Wilhelm Marx (CP)

JAN 1925 - MAY 1926 - Hans Luther (no alignment)

MAY 1926 - JUN 1928 - Wilhelm Marx (CP)

JUN 1928 - MAR 1930 - Hermann Müller (SPD)

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Election, May 1924

Stresemann's gov lacked majority support and collapsed in late November 1923, replaced by one under Wilhelm Marx (CP). He continued to serve as Foreign Minister though until 1929. In the Reichstag elections of May that year, the radical Nationalist and Communist Parties made significant gains.

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The Dawes Plan

Stresemann belied in a policy of fulfilment. Germany needed raw materials, new markets for its goods and new sources of capital to restore confidence in its economy. This was extremely important for Stresemann as the TofV had removed military strength. He willingly collaborated with an American initiative to consider reparations.

The Dawes Plan was drawn up in April 1924 by a committee of economists chaired by American banker Charles Dawes. Their proposals were as follows: The French would leave the Ruhr; reparations would be paid over a longer period of time and credit would be advanced to help the German economy; an internation loan of 800 million Reichsmarks was granted, covering four-fifths of the reparations payments of 1000 Reichsmarks a year; the higher level of 2500 a year would be paid after 1929; the Reichsbank would be reorganised under Allied supervision; it would be ensured that reparations can be paid so as not to threaten the stability of the German economy.

However, it was difficult to get the plan accepted as it involved Germany accepting to continue reparations. The plan is approved in the Reichstag on 29th August 1924, with support from the DNVP, the largest right party.  However, their support caused others to withdraw - foretaste of politics in the period.

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Obstruction by the SPD

Elections, December 1924, sees a revival of fortunes of the SPD, mainly at the expense of the KPD. The new January coalition is led by Hans Luther, excluding the socialists but including the DNVP for the first time. This would be the gov's undoing as the DNVP objected to the terms of the Locarno treaties, passed in November 1925 only due to the support of the SPD. A new coalition is sought but the SPD still objected to forming 'bourgeois' coalitions.

Between early 1924 and June 1928 the SPD resisted viable coalitions despite being the largest party. Their beliefs were strengthened by the adoption of the Heidelberg Programme at a 1925 party conference, which included Marxist-based policies about overthrowing the capitalist industrial systems. Rejecting coalitions reduced the influence of the SPD in the Reichstag though their support for Wilhelm Marx in 1925 was the key to that gov's survival. Their rejection of political responsibility weakened the process of democracy. Anti-socialist Hindenburg is elected President in mid-1925, and attempts to further exclude the socialists wherever possible.

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Election of President Hindenburg

Political stalemate is reinforced by the new President, elected 26th April 1925. He is much respected as a veteran of the Franco-Prussian war and war hero at the Battle of Tannenberg. he wins due to the split in the anti-right vote, and made it clear that he would not accept SPD participation in coalitions. He was conservative and anti-socalist. But his oath as President tied him to protect the constitution.

From the start he uses his presidential powers far more than Ebert and has a greater influence. He attempts to negotiate coalitions to excluse the SPD. When the socialists were included, these govs were beset with problems. Many parties (DVP, CP etc) shared Hindenburg's reluctance to feature the SPD.

Where possible, he insisted on the inclusion of the DNVP which limited the scope of coalitions. It ruled out the possibility of a 'grand coalition', covering the political spectrum.

He did not wish for any constraints on his power. In 1926, the Ministry of the Interior creates a draft law, defining Article 48. He blocks it from proceeding. An ironic spiral begins - the parties cannot work together, leading to more interference from Hindenburg, making it impossible for parties to collaborate. He undermines the constitution.

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Political Instability

January 1926, a minority coalition of the Centre Party, the DVP and the DNVP forms under Hans Luther. A vote of no confidence is passed in May 1926 following the Cabinet's instructions to the country's diplomatic corps to use the old imperial flag. Luther is replaced by William Marx.

On 20th June 1926, a referendum takes place on the confiscation of royal property, fails to reach majority. The cabinet relies on the support of the same parties as its predecessor and has the tacit support of the SPD until late 1926. The cabinet falls after this, replaced by another Marx government in January 1927, this time including the DNVP. This places a strain on the cabinet due to the 'bourgeois' interests of the party. Some important legislation is passed however, including a reform of unemployment insurance (Jul 1927). The coalition collapses in February 1928 over the issue of religion in education.

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Election, May 1928

A turning point for the Republic. The SPD vote increases as does that of the KPD - 9 seats to 54. Parties of the centre and right see their share drop, and a rise in splinter parties such as Bauernbund (farmers' interests). The SPD is prepared to form a coalition, but by this point a stable majority seemed next to impossible due to political polarisation.

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The DNVP Moves Right

The drift of German politics towards political extremes pre-dated the Wall Street Crash. The changing nature of the DNVP from a broad coalition to one with a narrow anti-Republic view is a good example. A sharp fall in votes causes a shift in party policy.

In 1928, the Lamback Article (Walter Ambach) urges DNVP members to renounce their monarchism and accept the permanence of the Republic. There is a backlash from the party, causing the election of Alfred Hugenberg as leader in October 1928 which a decidedly anti-democratic outlook.

The Centre Party also drifts right with the election of Monsignor Kaas as party leader in December 1928.

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The Young Plan

In June 1928, the ministry is dominated by socialists, with members of the SPD, DDP, DVP, Centre Party, and BVP. This 'grand coalition' had the task of seeing the passing of the Young Plan of 1929 through the Reichstag. Under the terms of the Dawes Plan, Germany was due to pay reparations at a higher rate after 1929. In September 1928, Müller's gov requests France evacuates the Rhineland. The Young Plan is drawn up to negotiate this.

It sets a timescale for the payment of reparations. Germany is to pay until 1988 at 2000 million marks a year. Responsibility for payment lies with Germany, exchange is to be handled by the new Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland. Payments were to increase gradually. The French promised to evacuate the Rhineland by June 1930, five years ahead of schedule. This was a diplomatic victory for Stresemann.

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The Freedom Law

Many politicians are unimpressed by Stresemann, angry that reparations are still having to be paid. Under Article 73 of the constitution, one can petition for a referendum which Hugenberg (DNVP) proposes, forming a Committee for a Referendum to oppose the Young Plan. It had support from many anti-Republic groups such as Stahlhelm, led by Franz Seldte, who raises 4 mil signatures. Hugenberg also invites NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler. Hitler's stature in the right increases considerably now that his associating with respectable figures.

By the 'Freedom Law', the Reich Committee demands repudiation of Article 231 and evacuation of areas under Allied occupation. The number of signatures was enough to ensure a referendum on 22nd December 1929. The right is defested, with only 13.9% support.

The Reichstag passes the Young Plan in March 1930, but events were increasingly overshadowed by the collapse of the New York stock market in October 1929.

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Collapse of the Grand Coalition

Economic recovery of the mid-1920s had relied largely on short-term loans from abroad. As Depression set in, these nations demanded repayment. Unemployment rises in Germany, placing strain on the unemployment benefits system. Employers protest the increasing cost of social security payments.

In 1927, the law changes. The Reich Institution must pay a fixed benefit to all those out of work. In 1927, the figure was 1.3 million unemployed and the system worked well. In February 1929, this had increased to 3.6 million and the RI had to borrow from the gov to pay benefits. By late 1929, it had borrowed 342 mil Reichsmarks, putting a strain on the gov's finances.

The coalition partners must address the issue. The SPD believed that central and local govs and employers should increase their contribution to the unemployment fund by 4%. DVP disagreed, saying benefits should be cut rather than payments increased. The Centre Party wished to put off the decision until autumn 1930.

In March 1930,the SPD rejected the CP's solution, bringing down the Müller gov.

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Monetary Stability

Trade union power kept wages high and squeezed profits. This causes slow growth and 'relative stagnation' in the economy.

There was significant monetary stability due to the establishment of the Rentenmark and consequences of the Dawes Plan. This caused a significant influx of foreign capital, mostly from the USA, 25.5 bil marks, between 1924 and 1930. This enabled the reconstruction of German industry. However, there was always the risk of investment withdrawal from other nations.

The delaying of reparation payments stimulating some inward capital investment. National income was 12% higher in 1928 than in 1913. Spectacular industry growth rates. But the economy collapse worldwide increases economic discord.

Other areas of the economy suffered such as agriculture due to the collapse in food prices from 1922 causing widespread rural poverty.

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Industrial Unrest

Many believe that later economic problems have their roots in the supposed years of stability. The main problems for many Germans was adjusting to stability after years of turbulence. The legacy of this made industrial peace virtually impossible.

The mid-1920s saw a concerted attack by employers on the rights of labour. In 1923, the 1918 legislation enforcing an eight-hour day was increased to ten in some circumstances. Union demands for higher wages are rejected by employers - around 76,000 cases brought to court between 1924 and 1932. Employers resented having to use this procedure - in late 1928, ironworks owners in the Ruhr lock out over 210,000 workers instead of accepting the findings of arbitration.

The fight by the DVP on behalf of industrialists who opposed unemployment insurance contributions showed economic polarisation. The DVP refuse to collaborate with the SPD because of these goals, causing further antagonism.

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The Welfare State

Foundations are laid at the end of the 19th century and enshrined in the new WR constitution. The welfare provision is to be paid for by an increase in taxation. These plans were bold and not always realised. But a welfare state was still seen as a necessity.

The war had served to create new classes of claimant such as orphans, war widows and disabled soldiers. The Reich Relief Law (1920) and Serious Disability Laws (1920) provide the framework for support. In 1924, the system for claiming is codified, but many still continue to receive benefits, though sometimes at a lower level. The Labour Exchanges and Unemployment Insurance Law (1927) introduces unemployment insurance.

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Housing and Public Health

Public spending on housing grew rapidly throughout the 1920s. The state was spending 33 times more on housing in 1929 than it was in 1913. Between 1927 and 1920, 300,000 more homes are built or renovated. The effect of this was to improve the quality of homes for many Germans.

Better health insurance meant better medical provision and reduction in deaths from diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.

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The debate on women's status was an important aspect in Weimar society. The number of women in work outside the home was roughly the same as before 1914 with similar roles too. But there was a growing number of women in the civil service, teaching or social work. Also an increase in shop or industrial work on the assembly line.

Attitudes towards women in work were still conservative, and many women who had taken over 'men's work' during the war gave it up. There was condemnation of 'Doppelvierdner' (second earners) after business reorganisation saw men laid off in place of women. This criticism worsened during the Depression, and the Law Governing the Legal Status of Female Civil Servants (1932) is passed. This made possible the dismissal of females who were 'doppelvierdner'. There was some opposition to this but most Germans accepted it.

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The Reich Youth Law (1922) claimed the right of all children to a decent upbringing, but this was general and hard to fulfil.

The issue of juvenile crime was covered by the Reich Youth Welfare Law (1922) and the Reich Juvenile Court Law (1923).

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Neue Sachlichkiet

A new Weimar culture develops during this period. Its matter-of-fact nature served to expose the weaknesses of the Weimar society.

Art - Architecture dominated by the Bauhaus movement with Walter Gropius. The importance of the relationship between art and technology and functionality of design is stressed. This also inspired the painting of Kadinsky and the design of towns such as Weissenhof (1927).

Music - Schönberg.

Literature - Ironic literature of Alfred Döblin and Kurt Tucholsky. Alienation from the Weimar Republic is a common theme, shown clearly in 'Hoppla, wir leben!' (1928, Ernst Toller), which shows a revolutionary released from asylum to find politics has stagnated. Disenchantment with the WR - Döblin's 'Berlin Alexanderplatz' (1928) castigates its decline.

Theatre and Cinema - Plays that reflect social issues. Works based on the First World War such as 'All Quiet on the Western Front' (1928, Erich Maria Remarque). Plays by Friedrich Wolf and Peter Lampel are influential - Lampel's 'Revolte im Erziehungshaus' (1928) prompts education reform debate.

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The conservative side to Weimar culture, featuring nostalgia, romanticism and escapism.

Literature - Right wing writers such as Arthur Möller and Oswand Spengler glorify the experiences of WW1. Particularly popular are Ernst Jünger and Werner Beumelberg. Anti-war offerings come from Erich Remarque and Ludwig Renn. There is also a parallel culture that rejects Neue Sachlichkiet's realism in favour of escapism.

Cinema - Escapism through Charlie Chaplin films. Comedy, fantasy, nostalgia and mythology contrast directly to Neue Sachlichkiet.

The cultural developments of both sides served to undermine the Republic. The war's legacy created division. They stood as opposites but were both in antipathy to the Republic.

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Better Relations with the Allies

From 1919 to 1924 relations between the Allies and Germany were poor. There was continuing mistrust, but 1924 brings a change in attitudes on all sides.

A Labour gov in January 1924 comes to power in the UK, led by Ramsay MacDonald. This gov has a friendly attitude towards Germany and this is maintained by subsequent govs.

The victory of the left in the French elections in May 1924 sees a change in French attitudes. Raymond Poincaré, who had pushed the hard line policy against Germany, resigned. New French gov led by Édouard Herriot was more open to discussion.

This meant more opportunities for Gustav Stresemann to negotiate the terms of the TofV.

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The Locarno Treaties

One of Germany's priorities was the evacuation of the French from the Rhineland. The Allies state that they would not evacuate Cologne by the due date of the 10th January 1925, and Stresemann responds in February, proposing a Rhineland mutual guarantee pact. In April, French Foreign Minister Aristicle Briand accepts the invitation to settle France's eastern border with Germany. Meetings at Locarno in October 1925 result in: a mutual guarantee of the Franco-German and Belgium-German borders signed; all parties agree not to use force to alter these frontiers; arbitration treaties signed between Germany and France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Belgium.

Stresemann hopes for a similar settlement to agree Germany's eastern borders. He secures guarantees from France that it would not attack Germany in the event of a Polish-German war in which Germany was not the aggressor. The French agree to move some troops out of the Rhineland but there is no further movement on the issue until 1929. In August, the Hague Conference approves the Young Plan, and the Germans are rewarded for their acceptance with an agreement from the Allies to evacuate the Rhineland before June 1930.

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The League of Nations and Other Developments

Germany's diplomatic standing and relationships continued to improve. One bone of contention was that they had been excluded from the League of Nations, making German diplomats unable to negotiate within this structure to revise the terms of the TofV. As a part of the Locarno treaties, Germany was admitted to the LoN on 8th September 1926, granted a permanent seat on the Council.

The Soviet Union expressed doubts about Germany's admittance. In April 1926, the Treaty of Berlin is signed between the SU and Germany, reconfirming the Treaty of Rapallo - promises of neutrality in the event of an attack by a third power.

The relations with the Allies continued to improve. Occupation forces in Germany are reduced by a further 60,000 in 1926, and in January 1927, the Allies withdraw the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission (IMCC) - an organisation which was set up to oversee German disarmament.

Economic side effects to the improvement in relations included a commercial treaty signed between France and Germany in August 1927.

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Gustav Stresemann: Successful Foreign Minister? Fo

  • Fulfilment - Significant progress towards the revision of the TofV is made through a policy of fulfilment; an attempt to fulfil the terms to highlight how unjust and unworkable they are.
  • Soviet Union - Agreements with the SU (Treaty of Berlin, 1926) prompt the Western powers to gain a more sympathetic approach.
  • Locarno - Greater understanding with France reflected in the Locarno Treaties (1925).
  • Revision of Versailles - First evacuation of the Rhineland follows the Treaties.
  • Growing Diplomatic Influence - More ability to influence the Allies, and granted a permanent seat in the LoN in 1926. Removal of the IMCC in 1927. Two plans to reorganise reparations, Dawes (1924) and Young (1929).
  • The Dawes Plan - Strengthened the German industrial base and improved trade.
  • The Young Plan - Stresemann's last major achievement - he died before it was ratified. Plan linked the evacuation of the Rhineland to successful revision of reparations. Debt decreases, payment time increased.
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Gustav Stresemann: Successful Foreign Minister? Ag

Stresemann's success is not recognised universally in Germany.

  • Treaty of Versailles - Article 231 continued to undermine the WR. Fulfilment brings some relief but cannot end the humiliation felt by many Germans. This affected policy, as seen with the Freedom Law which opposed the signing of the Young Plan.
  • Lack of room for manoeuvre - There were few other options available to Stresemann beyond his peaceful policy. The gradual approach meant that those who wished for radical action to end the TofV acted as a destabilising influence on German politics.
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