The Weimar Consitution
On 11th August 1919, the Weimar constitution was agreed and signed. The terms of the constitution included:
- Article 48 which stated that in an emergency the President could make laws without going first to the Reichstag.
- Proportional representation to vote for members of the Reichstag, a very democratic approach.
Under the new consitituion, the President would be elected by the people every 7 years, and he would choose the Chancellor (with the support from the majority of the Reichstag).
The constitution posed a minimal threat to the Weimar Republic due to its terms which many people disagreed with.
The Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June 1919. It ended the first world war. Fundamentally, it had many flaws and caused lots of issues within the Weimar Republic.
The Treaty consisted of:
- loss of land (especially to Poland)
- economic losses - 12% of population, 20% of coal industry, 50% of iron industry
- the German army was limited, there were naval restrictions, and the airforce was destroyed
- War Guilt clause which meant Germany had to take responsibility for the war
- £6.6 billion in reparations
- Germany could not join the League of Nations
The Treaty posed a massive threat to the Weimar Republic as right wing groups blamed the Weimar politicians for it and labelled them the November criminals who had stabbed Germany in the back (dolchstoss). German people were bitter due to their losses, the economy was further damaged, and there was a diktat, a loss of national pride.
Right Wing Threat
The Weimar Republic received minimal threat from those who were anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, authoritarian, and racist. The DNVP, a coalition of nationalist conservative parties such as the German Fatherland Party and the Pan German League, posed a moderate threat as they had substantial patronage within the Reichstag.
The Freikorps were a threatening and formidable force. They were demobilised units employed by the right to crush the threat from the left, and they supported the right during the Kapp Putsch.
The Kapp Putsch was a significant threat to the Weimar Republic as Kapp was met with no resistance from the army (filled with right wingers) which demonstrated that a right wing uprising was very possible and was difficult to crush as they had the support of the Freikorps as well as the army itself.
The Munich Putsch, Hitler's first attempt to seize power, ended in his arrest, but it still threatened the Weimar Republic as it signified that if Hitler could try to take over without many repercussions, anyone could.
Left Wing Threat
Although the left posed a lesser threat than the right, their attempts to revolt demonstrated that Germany was facing a 'red threat' and people were afraid of this. Moreover, there were continuous disturbances such as strikes, protests and uprisings.
The Spartacist Uprising in January 1919 showed that they were strong on policies but due to their lack of strategy and co-ordination they ended up being crushed. The party's leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were brutally murdered. Similarly, the Red Bavaria Uprising was easily suppressed by the Freikorps.
The KPD was a reasonable political force and it enjoyed the support of 10-15% of the electorate, yet they were never really likely to seize power due to bad co-ordination and poor leadership.
The Ruhr crisis and hyperinflation were the two main factors that damaged the economy and led to violence and unrest in Germany which posed a threat to the Weimar Republic.
French and Belgian troops invaded the Ruhr, Germany's most profitable and valuable industrial area, in 1923. The iron, steel and coal industries, as well as the railways, were taken over, Germans were imprisoned, and food was taken away. It is estimated that 150,000 people were expelled from their homes. The occupation of the Ruhr further damaged the German economy and as a result people were very unhappy and this threatened the Weimar Republic.
As a result of reparations and the Ruhr crisis, price increases were so out of control that the idea of inflation became meaningless. The mark became devalued and the cost of living spiralled out of control. People lost their savings, and day to day purchases had to be made by selling stocks. A salary of 65,000 marks one day didn't even cover a loaf of bread the next!