The Fall of the Second Reich

  • Created by: hibawot
  • Created on: 13-03-15 07:54

The German Empire and Kaiser

  • Formed in 1871 - 25 states - 4 Kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg)
  • Prussification: Refer to the dominant role of Prussia in the unification of Germany
  • Junkers: Prussian landed aristocracy - most powerful social group 
  • Looked like a democracy:
    • All men over 25 had the right to vote
    • Secret ballot
    • New laws had to be approved by Reichstag
    • Reichstag had power to accept or reject the budget
  • However
    • Reichstag had limited power over the government
    • The Kaiser had the power to appoint and dismiss government ministers w/out any ref. to the Recihstag
    • Kaiser had sole control over Germany's relations with other countries
    • Undisputed command over Germany's armed forces
    • Power to dissolve the Reichstag
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Economic Growth + Society

  • 1871 - 1914: fastest-growing economy in Europe (x2 the rate of France + x3 of Britain)

1871 --> 1914

  • Population: 41 million --> 66 million
  • % of people living in towns of more than 100k people: 5% --> 22%
  • Coal production: 47 million --> 192 million
  • Steel production: 1.5 million --> 18.6 million
  • Total length of railway track: 24,000 --> 55,000

Working-class Germany:

  • Grim conditions: low wages, harsh factory discipline, bad housing
  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) formed in 1875 - by 1914 it was the biggest and best organized socialist party in Europe with more seats in the Reichstag than any other party

Junkers: feared and hated the socialists, believed it was unpatriotic and its belief in equality represented a threat to their own wealth and status. 

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Imperial German Society

Socialism: Political doctrine which seeks to replace the private ownership and control of industries and financial insistutions with a public one. Societies w/private ownership are unfair and unequal 

Capitalism: Industries and businesses are privately owned and run for profit.

Protestants and Catholics:

  • Prussia was overwhelmingly Protestant - Prussia's ruling class saw Catholics with suspicion bc it was thought that they might prioritise the Pope over their loyalty to Germany. 
  • 1870s - Kulturkampf (cultural struggle) - measures designed to undermine the political influence of the Catholic Church - Catholics formed their own political party - Zentrum (Center)
  • Kulturkampf abandoned but Catholics remained second-class citizens - Virtually no Catholics in the highest ranks of business or finance
    • Conservative camp at the top of the social pyramid 
    • Arch-enemy was the Working-class camp - SPD
    • Catholic camp then the Middle-class camp - intellectuals, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, self-employed small tradesmen. Most accepted the Kaiser's rule despite their limited political role and influence
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The German Revolution 1918 - 1919

Soviet: Factory workers spontaneously elected representatives to serve on city-wide strike committees. Known as Councils of Workers' Representatives or soviets for short. 

1. Revolution from Above - 1st October 1918

  • Ludendorff and Hindenburg told the Kaiser that the war was lost and urged him to appoint a new gov made up of representatives of the biggest parties in the Reichstag. At a stroke = democracy
  • New Chancellor was a political lightweight - most important figures: Scheidemann (Social Democrat) and Erzberger (Zentrum)
  • L & H werent fans of democracy, but they hoped a democratic Germany would get better peace terms from the victorious allies + offload the blame onto Prince Max's gov. 
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The Popular Revolution - November 1918

Demands for the Kaiser's abdication 

Admiral Scheer's recklessness (w/an attack on the British) triggered the next phase of the revolution. In its prime, Imperial Germany would've responded swiftly and mercilessly to any mutiny within the armed forces but no move was made - as a result people across the country could see that Imperial Germany's ruling class had lost control and was no longer feared.

9 Nov 1918 - Kaiser abdicated - Germany's socialists were now in control. A new six-man government made up of exclusively socialist members came into ofice. Friedrich Ebert was its most influential member. Could only be an interim government since no one elected it. Had to oversee the making of new, permanent arrangements for the gov. of Germany.

Freidrich Ebert: Became President when Germany's new consitution came into effect. As President he was the target of endless upper-class sneers about his lowly social origins. Ebert was capable and well-intentioned but uncharismatic.

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Socialist Divisions

  • SPD largest socialist party in the world in 1914
  • Majority = moderates ("reformists" or "revisionists" - socialistic principles furthered by democratic methods)
  • Moderates: pro-war / Left-wing: anti-war
  • 1917: anti-war minority broke away and formed the Indepedent Socialists Party
  • Spartacus League (loosely associated with Independent socialists) - hard-lined Marxists - split from Independents and renamed itslef German Communist Party (KPD)
  • SPD moderates: establishment of a democratic republic
  • Spartacists: state controlled by the working class 
  • Moderates: election of a National Assembly - draw up consitution for new democ. Germany
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Spartacist Challenge

Spartacists Uncompromising:

  • No serious plans to seize power + unprepared
  • Leaders were thinkers not doers
  • Numerically weak
  • Powerful forces were working to undermine the appeal of revolutionary socialism
  • Stinnes-Legien agreement: 8hr working day, long-standing trade union

On the other hand, the Spartacists' position was by no means hopeless:

  • Received backing from Lenin's Russia
  • Support of the radical trade union officials of Berlin's factories
  • Widespread hunger and unrest - Allied naval blockade which could be exploited
  • German army disintegrated following the armistice
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The Free Corps + Spartacus Week

Gustav Noske (Defence Minister) authorized privately-organized military style units to help maintain order = 150 Free Corps - 400k men in total (rep for brutality and right-wing extremism)

In early January the Spartacists organized anti-gov demonstrations in Berlin then seized cntrol of gov buildings, declaring the gov had been overthrown, so the gov sent the heavily armed and better descipilined Free Corps to crush them in a week.

The Free Corps let loose on other strongholds of revolutionary socialism. 

Upper-class saw the FC as their saviors BUT revolutionary socialists hated them

Their hatred arose out of the brutality of the FC  - in the Revolutionary socialists' view, the moderates had sided with the worst elements of the ruling class against their own former comrades. This alliance with enemeies of the working class was a crime which could be neither forgiven nor forgotten. 

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The Weimar Constitution 1919

The National Assembly elections the mod. Socialist Democrats wanted were held in late Jan 1919

  • Social Democrats, Catholic Zentrum, Democratic Party (middle class) got 80% of all votes. 
  • Nationalist Party (big business and Junkers) got 10% 
  • Middle-class Germans voted for the Democratic Party not out of democratic convictions, but because they hoped that a Germany governed by moderates would be leniently treated by the Allies at the forthcoming Peace Conference.
  • The consitution had three key features:
    • Ultra-democratic Constitution: as much power as possible remained in the hands of the people. 
    • Federal Consitution: political authority is split between a national government and a number of state or provincial governments - intention to avoid an undue concentration of power in any one place + give localities some control over their own affairs
    • Mix of British-style parliamentary system + American-style presidential system: Germany governmened by Reichstag but President given powers of his own (decree)
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Weakness of Weimar Constitution

System of proportional representation used in Reichstag elections 

  • 1. Proportional representation encouraged multi-party politics and by doing so ensured that governments were weak and unstable coalitions made up of several parties 
  • 2. Prop. rep. made it easy for extremist parties to win seats in the Reichstag and gave them a platform they wouldnt otherwise have had from which to attack the Weimar Republic

May have contributed to Germany's political problems but was not the main cause. 

  • Deep-rooted divisions in German society 
  • Success of extremist political parties
  • Weimar consitution's mixed parliamentary-presidential arrangement 
  • Article 48 enabled President to sideline the Reichstag and govern the country in 1930
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How far did the 1918-19 revolution transform Germa

Late 1918 and early 1919 was undoubtably a period of dramatic political change. Imperial Germany came to an end; a democratic republic was proclaimed; women received the right to vote. It would, however, be a mistake to think that the revolution of 1918-19 transformed Germany completely.

Alongside the changes there were elements of continuity. Senior civil servants, police chiefs and judges who held office in Imperial Germany were allowed to remain in their posts, with the result that many key positions in Geman public life in the 1920s were occupied by people who were enemies of democracy. This was to prove a source of difficulty for the Republic.

Neither did the revolution lead to huge changes in the distribution of wealth in German society. German banks and industries remained under private ownership. The rich remained rich and the poor remained poor. 

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Democracy in Crisis 1919-23


  • Displaced ruling class of Imperial Germany: Junkers, army officers, industrial tycoons
  • German Nationalist Party DNVP:
    • Monarchist
    • Anti-democratic
    • Anti-socialist
    • 10% of the vote in the elections of the 1920s
  • Had the money and influence - Hugenberg was the leader of the party - Media tycoon who owned newspapers and publishing companies as well as Germany's most important film studio. He used his resources to undermine the Republic in whatever ways he could.
  • Rightist parliamentary forces (i.e. half a million strong Stahlhelm - ex-servicemen organisation 
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Why did the extreme right hate Weimar Republic?


Before 1918 the extreme right had been Germany's ruling class


Weimar Republic was a creation of those they regarded as the worst elements in German society. Weimar, to them, was a Social Democratic Republic and a Jewish Republic (Judenrepublik)

Judenrepublik: Extreme right-wing propagandists claimed that Jews dominated the political life and manipulated it in their own interests


Claimed that these politicians - the 'November Criminals' as they branded them had agreed to armstice in 1918 even though Germany had been capable of fighting on. Totally unrealistic claim but they maintained that Weimar politicians stabbed them in the back

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The Treaty of Versailles, 1919 - Terms

Main territorial provisions on Germany's western border:

  • Alsace-Lorraine returned to France
  • Rhineland remained but demilitaized + western part occupied by allied forces for 15 years
  • Output of the Saar goes to France for 15 years - compensate for temp. loss of production from its war-damaged nothern coalfields.

Main territorial losses on G's eastern border:

  • Polish Corridor to Poland // Memel (Lithuania), Upper Silesia (Poland) and Danzig (free!)

War Guilt and Reparations: full responsibility + £6,600 million 


  • Army to 100k men / not allowed tanks or heavy artillery
  • Not allowed to have an air force
  • Navy permitted a limited number of ships (6 battleships but no submarines)

Colonies: all gone!

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German Objections to the Treaty


The manner by which in was made. They expected the armistice to be followed by a conference at which peace terms would be discussed between themselves and the Allies. They further believed that these discussions would be based on the 14 points. Instead - no discussion and little regard for the points. 


Article 231 - Germany had to accept sole responsibility. On that basis, they demanded reparations and in Germany these were seen as an Allied ploy to turn Germany into an "economic corpse" 


Placed more than a million Germans under Polish rule w/out consent - evidence of allies' hypocrisy - they believed in the right of national self-determination yet denied it to the Germans. 

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The Kapp Putsch 1920

Huge cuts were required in order to comply with the treaty restrictions - gov resolved to disband the Free Corps but Noske had promised to incorporate them into the regular army in return for their efforts to defend the Republic.

Most notorious of the Free Corps - Ehrhardt Brigade was ordered to disband and its commander,  Ehrhardt, responded not only by refusing to obey the order but also by planning to topple the Republic which was responsible for it. He drew others into his plans and ordered his forces into Berlin and proclaimed the overthrow of the Republic. 

Shaken government left the capital and turned to the army for help and the army refused. 

It didnt achieve anything, most on the extreme right saw it as a poorly organized affair and kept their distance from it. In addition the Social Democrats organized a general strike in protest against it and brought Germany to a standstill 

Organisation Consul: right-wing death squad - killed Erzeberger (led the Nov Criminals) and the Foreign Minister. When Rathenau was killed, there was a storm of protest in Germany and a security crackdown that forced them to disband. 

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Threat from Extreme Left in Early 1920s

Communists: their goal was a workers' state where power was concentrated in soviets not Reichstag. This was the fundamental reason for their opposition to Weimar democracy. 

Free Corps assault left German Communism badly scarred - KPD still:

  • Had a sizeable following
  • Inspired fanatical loyalty
  • Boosted by the arrival of 400k new recruits who joined when the Independent Socialist party disintegrated. 

1920: Communist-led revolt was crushed by the army

  • Left didnt have the same ability to influence public opinion as the extreme right
  • Had fewer armed men to call upon.
  • Treated more harshly by the authorities due to the fact that the members of the pre-war elites - who feared revolutionary socialism above all - continued to hold key positions in government and the judicial system. 
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Crisis of 1923 - What caused Hyperinflation

Dissatisfaction w/the Treaty - France occupied the Ruhr when Germany failed to make a reparations payment on schedule.

Germany was in no position to resist bc of its lack of military strength - it opted for passive resistance instead - bringing the Ruhr to a standstill and the workers were instructed to go out on strike

1918: Germany left with an acute debt problem. It became much worse when the Allies demanded £6,600 million in reparations. 

Germany had to pay more for its imports and this drove up the cost of living. 

Passive resistance turned rampant inflation into hyperinflation. Huge gap between gov spending and its falling income from taxation. Tax receipts fell because of rising unemployment.

Government printed more money - this destroyed what was left of condience in the German mark and led to total collapse. 

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Hyperinflation: Winners and Losers

Winners - people who owed money and who paid off their debts in worthless currency 

  • Industrialists who had borrowed money to invest in their factories + landowners who had mortgaged their estates
  • Currency speculators like Hugo Stinnes
  • Wealthiest section of society

Temporary Losers - people who neither owed money nor had much in the way of savings

  • Suffered badly in the short-term bc they found it increasingly hard to get food but recovered quickly once the currency was stabilised
  • Working class

Permanent Losers - people who saved money and saw the value of their savings wiped away - not compensated

  • People w/money in banks, invested in insurance policies and pension schemes, people who lent the gov money in the war
  • Middle class
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Political Unrest

  • Early 1923, thanks to the trade unions, wages mostly kept up w/rising prices, shielding the working-class from the worst effects of inflation. 
  • Mid-1923 prices started to go ahead of wages, making it difficult for poor families to buy food. 
  • Strikes, hunger riots and looting
  • These conditions were tailor-made for the Commies of the KPD
  • Made plans to seize control of Saxony and then to use it as a springboard from which to take over the rest of Germany

Presence of French in the Ruhr gave rise to an intensely nationalistic mood in Germany + the middle and upper class fears of a Communist putsch = which the extreme right exploited.

Abandonment of passive resistance in September 1923 strengthened the extreme right's position further by allowing it to claim that the Republic had capitulated to the French. 

Beer Hall Putsch: Sep 1923: crisis gov came into office - head was Stresemann head of the German People's Party DVP - his gov took decisive action against the Commies in Saxony, ordering the army to take ontrol. In Munich, Hitler's Naziz were trying to prod him into action. Police units opened fire on Nazi marchers, killing 14 of them. Once again, extreme-right had been undermined by internal divisions.  

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How can survival of the Republic be explained?

Extreme left failed in 1919-23 mainly because it lacked popular support. Only a minority of the German working class sided with it.

The extreme right lacked widespread popular support too, but its failure perhaps owed more to its internal divisions. At no point in 1919-23 did it attack the Republic in a concerted fashion, bringing all of the resources available to it into play.

The Weimar Republic didnt, however, survive these years of turmoil only because its enemies had weaknesses. There was in Germany a sizeable body of opinion, with the SPD and its followers at its core, which was firmly committed to the democratic experience. 

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Stresemann and Stability 1924 - 1929

What did Stresemann achieve as chancellor?

  • Called off passive resistance: 

Inevitable decision as it was costing too much. He knew he'd come under ferocious attack from the extreme-right. Proof of his political courage. 

  • Oversaw the introduction of a new currency:

Issued in strictly limited quantities so that it would retain its value. 

  • Fended off threats to the Republic's survival from the extreme left and right

Defeated the Communists by ordering the army into Saxony and overcame the extreme right by waiting until it self-destructed in the ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch 

The extent of his achievement is not to be underestimated. He steered Germany through the most difficult political phase of the 1923 crisis in an astute and sure-footed manner. Received little gratitude for his efforts. His policies angered his enemies and partners. Social Democrats left the gov and he was forced to resign Chancellorship. 

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Steersman's Foreign Policy

1. Extreme Right Approach: refuse to obey the Treaty and dare Germany's enemies to do their worst. This was seen as an insane "disaster policy"

2. Rathenau + Stresemann's Approach: improve relations with the Allies in the belief that they could then be persuaded to make significant changes to the Treaty - policy of fulfilment 

Stresemann's attempts led some to see him as a soft-centered idealist who wanted reconciliation between states for its own sake when he was not. Stresemann sought the revision of the Treaty in Germany's favor and the restoration of its great power status. His immediate aims were to get the French out of the Ruhr and the reparations scaled down. In the long-term he hoped to regain the Polish Corridor and maybe Germany's lost colonies. 

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Stresemann's Achievements

Dawes Plan - 1924

  • Stop-gap agreement about reparations between Germany and the Allies 
  • Agreed to resume payments in return for a reduction in the amount payable each year + French forces would end their occupation of the Ruhr

Locarno Pact - 1925

  • France and Germany agreed not to change by force the border between the two countries laid down by the Treaty of Versailles
  • Pact involved France promising not to repeat the occupation of the Ruhr, w/Germany in return giving up any claim to Alsace-Lorraine
  • Germany admitted to the League bringing an end to its outsider status.

Young Plan - 1929

  • £6,600 million to £1,850 million - reduction of more than 2/3
  • Allies remove forces from W part of Rhineland 5 years ahead of time letting Stresemann declare that Germany was now free of all foreign occupying forces. 
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Late 1920s - Booming Economy

Money flowed in the country as it became attractive to foreign investors. Industrial output returned to pre-war levels in 1928. Wages went up too w/trade unions often bargaining successfully on behalf of their members. People's inclination to spend rather than save. 


  • Germany's prosperity was heavily dependent on foreign investment i.e. loans and credits that can be withdrawn at short notice. Serious consequences after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 due to the close link to US economy.
  • Agricultural sector didnt share the general prosperity. World food prices were low, farmers' incomes suffered. Farmers heavily in debt and resented the failure of the Republic to help. 
  • Lots of friction between employers and workers. Employers believed that unions had too much power and that wages were too high as a result. They tried to reduce workforces by introducing labor-saving machinery. Trade union didnt surrender w/out a fight and lock-outs were frequent
  • Governments lived beyond their means - public spending was higher than gov's income from tax. The budget deficit was covered by borrowing which was not sustainable
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Late 1920s - Political Stability

Some calm returned - extremists no longer had hunger and desperation off which to feed. Political moderates could reflect with satisfaction on the absence of the putsches and the heavy losses suffered by the parties of the extreme right in the Reichstag elections. 

However, the calm appearance was misleading:

  • Middle-class disillusionment with the Republic: frequently complained of being treated unfairly in comparison with the working classes. They felt no comparable attempt was being made to look after them. Claimed the Republic became a "trade union state" - evidence is in the election of Hindenburg, an avowed anti-democrat, as Prez and the growth of middle-class protest parties.
  • Extremist threat didnt wither away. Instead, the extremists learning from their failures to seize power by force, varied their tactics. The Nazis and the Commies started to contese Reichstag elections. Both tried to destabilise the Republic through street violence. By late 1920s, a week rarely went by in which there was no major clashes between the SA, the Nazi parliamentary organization and its Commie counterpart, the Red Front Fighters' League.
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Why was he controversial?

He was a politician who polarised opinion. His greatest admirers were to be found among Germany's political moderates: his deadliest enemies were on the extreme right. 

Political moderates in the Social Democratic, Centre and Democratic parties did not agree with his views on domestic policy but respected his political courage. Applauded his foreign policy recognizing that it produced gains for Germany. He slowly abandoned the aggressive nationalism of his youth and moved to the left. 

Extreme right-wingers despised him bc they saw him as a turncoat, someone who deserted the nationalist cause and thrown his lot in with enemies of the fatherland. Opposed the "fulfillment policy" claiming it meant negotiating w/Germany's enemies. Just before his death, extreme right forced a referendum on a law which, if passed, would have seen him branded a national traitor. When it took place they were heavily defeated w/14% of voters supporting its proposal.

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How far was he responsible for the upturn of late

The later 1920s are sometimes described as the 'golden years' of the Weimar Republic. In view of Germany's continuing economic and political difficulties this is too generous a verdict, but things were undoubtedly better than they had been in the years of turmoil up to 1923. Stresemann deserves a lot of the credit for the gains which were made, but it is wrong to think that he revived Germany's fortunes single-handedly.

Others made significant contributions too:

  • Rathenau originated the policy of fulfillment 
  • President Ebert made extensive use of his emergency powers in 1923 with the aim of keeping the Republic afloat
  • Introduction of the Rentenmark, an exercise of huge complexity, was not primarily his work, but of two financial experts: Hans Luther, the Finance Minister, and Hjalmar Schacht, banker and Reich Currency Commissioner. Schacht also played an important part in negotiating the Dawes and Young Plans
  • Stresemann operated throughout his ministerial career in coalition governments made up of three or four different parties. He depended on his coalition partners to give him room for manoeuvre
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...more on conclusion

Stresemann's diplomacy would have got nowhere without Britain and France being willing to accommodate him and the USA being prepared to involve itself in the talks which led to the Dawes and Young Plans

It also needs to be borne in mind that Stresemann's diplomacy had its limitations. He made no progress towards regaining the Polish Corridor or Germany's lost colonies. Nor was the economic recovery his diplomacy helped to bring about built on solid foundations. He admitted as much himself. "The German economy is doing well only on the surface," he said in a speech in 1929. "Germany is in fact dancing on a volcano. If the short-term loans are called in by America, most of our economy will collapse" 

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