Weimar 1919-1923

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A democratic Constitution?

Democratic Features

  • universal suffrage including women
  • elected President and Reichstag
  • Cabinet and Chancellor accountable to Reichstag
  • Proportional Representation in Reichstag meant people's wishes acted upon in politics
  • Bill of Rights containing liberal features
  • Prussia can't veto changes of the constitution

Undemocratic Features

  • Articles 48 and 25 meant President had too much power= easy to abuse
  • Reichsrat essentially powerless
  • army unreformed and still seperate from the constitution
  • each state still had individual characteristics that Reichstag didn't control
  • still alot of Junkers in key positions
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Chancellors 1919-23

Ebert                    SPD              Nov 1918-Feb 1919

Schiedemann       SPD              Feb 1919-June 1919

Bauer                   SPD              June 1919-March 1920

Muller                   SPD              March 1920-June1920

Fehrenbach         Centre           June 1920-May 1921

Wirth                    Centre           May 1921-Nov 1922

Cuno                   non-aligned   Nov 1922-Aug 1923

Stresemann         DVP             Aug 1923-Nov 1923

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Political Parties- KPD

  • Communists
  • Anti-Republic
  • Broke from USPD in 1919
  • e.g. Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Ernst Thalmann
  • Working classes especially unskilled workers
  • Peak share of vote in 1930 at 13%
  • Worst share of the vote in 1920 at 2%
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Political Parties- USPD

  • Independent Socialists
  • Anti Republic
  • Broke from SPD 1917, dispanded in 1922
  • e.g. Hugo Haase
  • Working classes
  • Peak share of the vote 17% in 1920
  • Worst share of the vote 8% in 1919
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Political Parties- SPD

  • Social Democrats
  • Pro-Republic
  • same condition as pre-ww1 except no militants
  • e.g. Friedrich Ebert, Philip Schiedemann, Gustav Noske
  • Working classes especially skilled workers, some lower-middle classes
  • Peak share of vote 38% in 1919
  • Worst share of vote 21% in 1920
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Political Parties- DDP

  • Democratic Party
  • Pro-Republic
  • Rebranded version of left wing National Liberals
  • e.g. Walter Rathenau
  • Intellectuals, Professional classes
  • Peak share of vote at 19% in 1919
  • Worst share of vote at 4% in 1930
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Political Parties- Centre Party

  • Pro-Republic
  • Same since 1871 unification
  • e.g. Matthias Erzberger
  • Catholics of all social classes
  • Peak share of vote 20% in 1919
  • Worst share of vote 15% in 1930
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Political Parties- DVP

  • People's Party
  • Initially Anti-Republic
  • Rebranded version of right wing National Liberals
  • e.g. Gustav Stresemann
  • Upper middle classes, businessmen
  • Peak share of vote 14% in 1920
  • Worst share of vote 5% in 1930
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Political Parties- DNVP

  • Nationalist Party
  • Anti-Republic
  • merger of Conservative Parties
  • e.g. Alfred Hugenberg
  • Junkers, Industrialists, some farmers and middle classes
  • Peak share of vote 21% in 1924
  • Worst share of vote 7% in 1930
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Threats from extreme Left


  • Spartacist Revolt 1919- timing of it= creating constitution, extreme left attack own left-wing government and having to be crushed by Freikorps= underminew SPD's position
  • KPD- comintern membership= Soviet assistance= political and international threat
  • Bavaria 1919- timing is during constitution, whole republic turned Socilaist= shows how powerful a threat
  • Threat to left by left- people lose faith and look to right wing

Not a threat

  • Spartacist Revolt -can't defeat a united SPD and Freikorps
  • Not united enough- poor coordination so can't defeat Weimar
  • Number of rebellions- yet none successful
  • SPD anti-revolutionary- so do everything in their power to prevent it, Ebert-Groener Pact, make concessions to divide opponents
  • KPD lack support- highest proportion of vote only 12.6%


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Threats from extreme Right



  • Kapp Putsch 1920- "troops do not fire on troops"= army supportive of right wing not Ebert, he has to rely wholly on strikers assistance
  • Munich Putsch 1923- Conservative elite key players united with Nazis= very powerful supporters
  • White Terror and Organisational Consul- assassinate 354 political opponents, 326 assassination unpunished=highlight lack of Judiciary support, e.g. Rosa Luxembourg, Rathenau, Erzberger (in govt.) = terrorise public
  • Anti-Communism- many hate it so repel it by backing right, many overlook threat from right
  • Stab in the Back Myth- makes SPD look unpatriotic after Treaty of Versailles

Not a Threat

  • elites withdraw support- in Munich Putsch, don't back Kapp Putsch, easy to defeat by SPD supporters even without use of army
  •  economic recovery- undermines Weimar's "failures" so not sufficient support
  • Assassinations- make SPD oppose them more, discourage voters
  • Ebert-Groener Pact - army (right wing elites) and SPD able to co-operate against common enemy


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Treaty of Versailles Background

  • After 1918 armistice (Nov) terms presented to Germany in May 1919
  • wanted Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, felt betrayed
  • rather than accept terms Schiedemann resigned June 20th
  • signed June 28th 1919 by Bauer's SPD government
  • harsh terms but no means to resist allied invasion
  • disillusionment in Germany as not involved in negtiations or League of Nations
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Treaty of Versailles Terms

  • Territorial-
    • Rhineland demilitarised for 15 years
    • Saar placed under Leagues control for 15 years and France control mines there
    • Anschluss  forbidden with Austria
    • North Schleswig lost to Denmark
    • Upper Silesia and West Prussia lost to Poland and East Prussia cut off by new Polish Corridor
    • all colonies in Africa and Pacific forfeited
  • Military-
    • Conscription banned, army limited to 100,000 men
    • no tanks or airforce
    • Navy limited to 15,000 men, submarines banned, only allowed 6 battleships
  • Reparations-
    • Sum of 132 billion marks (£6.6 billion)
    • merchant ship's contents handed over
  • War Guilt Clause-
    • Article 231= Germany responsible for all losses and damage
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Treaty of Versailles Consequences

  • Underlying feeling of revenge
  • seen as Diktat (Dictated Peace)- not involved in negotiations so seen as illegitimate, threat of invasion
  • Far Right make political comeback- label SPD November Criminals, start stab in the back myth, easy to discredit them and encourage nationalism, Hindenburg and elite help undermine government by discrediting creators of Republic e.g. Ebert Muller Erzberger, DNVP vote increase from 10.3% Jan 1919 to 14.9% June 1920, gain popular support especially from military and veterans, provokes Kapp Putsch and Organisational Consul, SPD vote slump in 1920 as only 45%,
  • Interrupt creation of new constitution= doom Weimar from start
  • Germans forced under foreign rule e.g. Polish Corridor
  • Rise of Anti-Semitism, anti-democracy, scapegoates, want Kaiser's authoritarianism to return
  • Inflation- worsened by reparations e.g. Ruhr crisis
  • Rise of extreme left- spread of communism
  • Detest War Guilt Clause- most convinced of defensive war

BUT didn't threaten Germany's existence, had potential to unite country

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Financial Mismanagement

  • Long term, even from 1914- didn't expect long war, borrow massive sums, 84% war bonds and printing marks but even this insufficient from 1916, only 16% tax, a militarily dependant economy, high demand for consumer goods, defeat= reparations and demobilisation= unemployment
  • Medium term, due to new social reforms and reparations from 1921- policy of deficit financing by Erzberger= reduce tax but allow inflation to continue, didn't balance the budget and kept spending money, constitutionally obligated to provide social security, economic burden of reparations from 1921= had to be in gold marks = their value held as currency declined, huge sum= hard to meet, not allowed to suspend reparations, had to print money= inflation and mark in decline= 1921 $1= 263 marks, 1922 $1= 1000 marks
  • Short term, French occupation of Ruhr 1923 and Passive Resistance- govt. fail to meet payments and default on reparations Dec 1922, French occupy Ruhr provoking hyper inflation= Ruhr is industrial heart of Germany so can't collect coal or taxes, made worse by Curo's policy of passive resistance= refuse too cooperate e.g. strikes, mark collapses Sept 1923 $1= 98.9 million marks, keep printing money, savings eradicated so lower classes and those with savings or who subscribed to war bonds suffer but businesses debts wiped so they benefitted, prices way ahead of wages
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Social and Political Unrest

  • loss of confidence in government
  • crime, prostitution, profiteering= social stability lost
  • unrest- looting, strikes, hunger riots, street fights= anger and look to blame= stab in the back myth
  • unemployment rose to 6 million
  • look to anti-republic parties
  • Putsch attempts- left and right
  • trade unions membership increases dramatically
  • those on fixed incomes suffer
  • more anti-semitism and nationalism
  • worse in urban areas (farmers self sufficient on food)
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Increasing Economic Stability- Stresemann

Chancellor August 1923-November 1923

came into office as head of 4 party Grand Coalition of SDP, DDP, Centre, DVP when hyperinflation was at its worst. He...

  • Called off passive Resistance and resumed reparation payments to resolve Ruhr crisis. The policy of Fulfilment improved relations with France and meant other countries would act more leniently in the future (e.g. Dawes Plan 1924)
  • Introduced new currency of Rentenmark (became Reichsmark), this stabilised the economy as its printing was very limited and he hired Hans Luther as finance minister to oversee the new currency. He also sacked 700,00 state employees to balance the budget
  • he fended off threats from the right and left- Defeated Communists in Saxony and waited for the Munich Putsch to self destruct

This did lead to friction within his coalition. The SPD was angry at his aggresive intervention in Saxony but not in Bavaria with right wing opponents and so deserted his coalition. Others disliked fulfillment policies as they were unpatriotic and by sacking people he angered them. This all forced him to resign his Chancellorship.

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Why did Weimar survive by the end of 1923?

  • Stresemann -had successful economic and foreign policies (Fulfilment, call of passive resistance, balance budget, introduce new currency), diverted threats to Weimar, was willing to take risks and precarious moves for good of German recovery
  • Support for Weimar- many in support of Weimar 80% vote pro-democratic parties in 1919, like new constitution e.g. proportional representation benefits and parliamentary democracy compared to authoritarian
  • Weakness of opponents- Putsch failures, un-united and un-cooperative, easily crushed against Ebert Groener and strikers, not enough support especially from elite
  • Treaty of Versailles- not too cripple-ing, didn't break up Weimar
  • Political Strengths- coalitions of pro-republic parties, Article 48 useful against opponents, some continuity in coalitions e.g. Centre
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