The Weimar constitution

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The Weimar constitution

The Bill of Rights

These provisions included:

• freedoms of speech, association and religion

• the right to work (the government should ensure that everyone had a job or, failing that, provide financial assistance) 

  • welfare rights (such as protection for the disabled)

Emergency provisions

Article 48 - President had  power to rule in the event of an emergency. However, this power was checked as the Reichstag could review and overturn any decree issued under Article 48.

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Democratic features of Weimar Germany:

  • The President was elected.
  •  There was universal suffrage, as women and young men were enfranchised for the first time, and the government was now accountable to the elected Reichstag, unlike in the Second Reich.
  • Proportional representation produced democratic results as the number of seats allocated in the Reichstag reflected almost exactly the preferences of voters.
  • The President appointed the Chancellor, but as the government needed to have Reichstag support, it became the norm for members of the Reichstag to be selected as Chancellor. This gave the government a more democratic character and represented a change from the Second Reich.
  • The constitution also contained checks and balances which enhanced its democratic credentials; no one part of the political system should have been able to become too powerful: 
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Criticisms of the Weimar Republic’s constitution

The Weimar constitution has been criticised for giving too much power to the President under Articles 25 and 48

Proportional representation criticised for creating a fragmented party system which made it difficult to form durable coalition governments and within which small extremist parties could gain representation and exposure: there were twenty separate coalition governments in Weimar Germany.

Supporters and opponents of the Weimar Republic’s constitution

Supporter -pro-Weimar parties were the SPD, Centre Party and DDP: these parties won a majority in the 1919 elections. • After 1920, the DVP (German People’s Party) supported Weimar 

Opponents -conservative DVP initially opposed as wished for a constitutional monarchy.

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Opponent's -Many industrialists and business owners in Germany felt that the constitution gave too many rights to workers

The problems of Weimar Germany 1919– 1922: the legacy of the Second Reich and the First World War

Consequently, in its first years, the Republic struggled to overcome various challenges.

The legacy of the First World War

Democratic politicians had no real option but to sign the armistice which ended the First World War in November 1918. Germans labelled them the ‘ November Criminals ’. The ‘stab in the back myth’, which falsely portrayed the cause of the German loss and betrayal by democratic and socialist politicians, was widely believed in some of German society, -undermine support for Weimar Germany. 

An additional negative legacy of the war was that its cost produced inflation, which contributed to post-war economic problems.

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Lack of public support for democracy

The first election in 1919 produced a majority for the pro-Weimar parties but the 1920 election saw their support slump to only 45%

The persistence of the old regime

*many of the Second Reich’s old elite remained in place.

  • 1918 -  USPD had called for the removal of these people from positions of power.
  • However SPD, seeking stability and avoiding the possibility of army rebellion, chose instead to reach a compromise.
  • This deal left the armed forces, judiciary and civil service unreformed - undermined democracy. 

The problems of Weimar 1919–1922 political extremists

Extremists from right and left rejected democracy - significant threat to the Weimar Republic.

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The threat from the extreme left

 Extreme left wanted a  communist state like the Soviet Union - wanted to destroy the Weimar Republic.

The Spartacist uprising 1919

 Communist political group, the Spartacists, took advantage of a large political protest in Berlin to launch an attempted communist revolution. President Ebert ordered the paramilitary Freikorps , volunteer groups of armed ex-servicemen, to crush the attempted rebellion.

Strike action and communist street violence contributed to political instability of the early 1920s. Communists temporarily took control or rebelled in areas of Germany: Bavaria in 1919, the Ruhr in 1920 and Saxony and Thuringia in 1923. As a result of the Ebert– Groener Pact , the army and sometimes the Freikorps acted to crush these rebellions.

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Ebert– Groener Pact

Agreed on 10 Nov 1918 between SPD leader Ebert and army general Groener after Kaiser fled Germany. Groener agreed that the army would defend the new government and in return Ebert agreed that the new government would leave the army and civil service of Germany unreformed.

Fear of communism

The activities of left-wing revolutionaries and success of the communist takeover in Russia led many to fear communist revolution in Germany. This fear of communism led some to overlook the threat posed by the extreme right who were the larger danger.

The threat from the extreme right

- wanted a more authoritarian system

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The Kapp Putsch 1920

After the disbandment of a Freikorps group a group of right-wing politicians and soldiers, led by Wolfgang Kapp, seized control of Berlin. The government fled to Stuttgart.

  • The Putsch had little support from the public or elite and quickly collapsed following a general strike.

White terror: assassinations and violence

There were many political assassinations between 1919 and 1922 - created a destabilising atmosphere of violence as they launched violent attacks on political opponents.  354 political assassinations were carried out by the right primarily the group Organisation Consul.

murder of prominent politicians, such as former finance minister and Centre Party member Matthias Erzberger in 1921 and foreign minister and industrialist Walther Rathenau in 1922.

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Political assassinations

The judiciary’s response to the white terror indicates that judges tended to favour right-wing extremists:

• Between January 1919 and 24 June 1922, 354 murders were committed by sympathisers of the right.

• Of these murders, 326 went unpunished. Only one life sentence and a total of 90 years in prisons were handed out.

The ‘stab in the back’ myth

made democracy appear weak and un-German and portrayed democratic politicians as traitors.

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1923 – year of crisis

Inflation spiralled out of control, the Ruhr was invaded and the Nazis attempted to overthrow the government.

The inflationary problem -  Wartime and demobilisation inflation

• War left Germany with high inflation: war had been financed by increasing the money supply and the German currency consequently declined in value.

• Wartime shortages exacerbated the problem and caused price rises.

•After war, government expenditure remained high as they had to support war widows, injured war veterans and demobilised soldiers

. • new constitution made social security a constitutional right - provide support to the unemployed.

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Reparations

From 1921,  problem increased with the start of reparations payments:

  • Reparations had to be paid for in gold marks, which held their value as the currency declined.
  • German currency weakened
  • By early 1923, Germany was failing to meet all of its reparations obligations.

The Ruhr crisis 

Jan 1923 french and Belgian govs responded to German failure to meet all reparations payments by ordering the invasion of the German industrial region, the Ruhr. Their armies occupied factories & seized raw materials and goods in lieu of reparations.

The German gov paid the workers and compensated owners for lost revenue, thus adding to gov expenditure. Ruhr further damaged the German economy.

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Hyperinflation

The mark now became worthless. The gov printed more money, adding to the problem. In 1923, 300 paper mills and 150 printing presses worked 24 hours a day to print money.

issue of hyperinflation was resolved - Germans, many of whom saw their savings eradicated or standard of living dramatically reduced.

How did the Weimar Republic survive its early problems?

Weimar survived its early period due to the weakness of the opposition and the actions of some of its politicians.

The weakness of Weimar’s opponents

  • Disunited - often having different political goals.
  • lacked effective organisation and widespread support.
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Poor leadership and planning of attempted putsches

• Spartacists did not carefully plan their attempted takeover of power.

• During Munich Putsch, Hiter took time about whether to launch his coup , which gave time to others to alert the authorities.

  • In addition, the route marched during the Putsch, down a fairly narrow street, allowed the Bavarian police to trap the rebels and defeat them.

Lack of support from the public

  • Not widespread support for extremists.
  • The Spartacists had only around 15,000 members.
  • 700,000 people demonstrated in Berlin against political violence following the murder of Walther Rathenau in 1922 and it was this public revulsion rather than police or judicial action that ended the assassinations.
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Gustav Stresemann - Chancellor

  • Helped solve the crisis of 1923 by calling off passive resistance to French occupation -reduced government payments and calmed the situation.
  • Recognised that international confidence in Germany would be restored if Germany met its obligations and so he restarted reparations payments.
  • To pay this, government spending was cut (700,000 state employees were sacked) and Stresemann worked to negotiate the Dawes Plan, which helped the reparations payments and provided US loans to assist the German economy.

The Dawes Plan, 1924

  • International committee which redesigned reparations.
  • The annual payment of gold marks was reduced to 1 million, rising to 2.5 million from 1929.
  • An international loan was made to help Germany pay.
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Other factors helping Weimar Germany’s survival

The elite: The army crushed left-wing rebellions and supported the government during the Munich Putsch. The civil service refused to co-operate with the Kapp government.

Support from the international community: The Dawes Plan of 1924 helped to stabilise the German economy and currency.

1924– 1929 saw economic improvements and greater political stability - ‘Golden Years’, support for democracy increased and Germany gained acceptance in the international community.

Were the golden years really so golden?

  • Positive features -Increased political stability • No putsch attempts. • No political assassinations. 
  • The Grand Coalition in 1928: led by SPD’s Müller, was a coalition of the left, right and centre and got a majority (over 60 per cent) in the Reichstag.
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  • By the 1928 election, 76 per cent of people supported pro-Weimar parties - Support for the Nazis was low: only 2.6 per cent of the vote in 1928.
  • President Hindenburg upheld the new constitution and, in 1928, chose a SPD Chancellor in spite of his hostility to socialism.

Economics -By 1928, production equalled that of 1913, national income was 12 per cent higher than in 1913.

  • Exports rose by 40 per cent between 1925 and 1929.
  •  Loans from USA, financed the development of infrastructure in Germany: 25.5 billion marks were loaned between 1924 and 1930. 
  • Inflation remained relatively low.

Negative features - politics

  • The SPD were often reluctant to work with others, while gov were in conflict sometimes such as the collapse of Luther’s 1926 administration over the appearance of the German flag.
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Negative features 

  • Support for extremists remained high with a quarter of people voting for parties that wanted Weimar democracy end: the KPD, the German Communist Party, obtained 10.6 per cent of the vote in 1928.

Negative features - economics

  • economy was heavily reliant on US loans and leaving Germany vulnerable to US economic problems.
  • Unemployment did not fall below 1.3 million
  • Tensions remained high between workers and business owners: industrial disputes
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Foreign policy

  • 1924– 1929 Germany was reconciled with the international community.
  • The Ruhr crisis ended: Stresemann’s actions had ended the Ruhr crisis and France and Belgium left the Ruhr in 1925.
  • Stresemann pursued a policy of fulfilment of Germany’s international obligations through payments of reparations. Fulfilment enabled Stresemann to renegotiate reparations and gain foreign loans and investment through the Dawes Plan of 1924 and the Young Plan of 1929
  • 1925, Stresemann agreed to Germany’s post-war borders with France as part of the Locarno Pact.
  • Germany was admitted to the League of Nations in 1926.

The Young Plan - 1929

Easing the burden of reparations on Germany which increased the repayment term to 59 years and reduced annual repayments. The Young Plan was opposed by the nationalist right and nationalist industrialists like the steel magnate Fritz Thyssen, organised a referendum opposing the Young Plan. Their proposal only attracted the support of 13.9% of votes 

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