Origins/early problems of Weimar Republic
- People starving after four years of war and Allied blockade.
- In August and September the German army collapsed.
- 9th November the Kaiser fled to Holland, leaving Germany in hands of Social Democrats. Their leader, Ebert called for cease-fire on November 11th, 1918.
- Some units of the German army had seen little action and did not understand why the Armistice was signed.
- German people had been told that the war was defensive and so did not understand why the government surrendered when Germany had not been invaded.
- January 1919: attempted revolution by communist Spartacists.Stopped by Frei Korps, gangs of ex-soldiers, who roamed the streets of Berlin in uniform.
- Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg shot. This encouraged the Frei Korps to believe that the Weimar government was weak and that they could seize power.
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- Weimar Constitution based upon proportional representation. Difficult for one party to gain an overall majority in Reichstag (the lower house of the German parliament).
- Allies hoped this would prevent a strong government coming to power. But it meant all German governments were weak and were unable to make decisions.
- Everyone over 20, male and female, had the vote.
- Freedom of speech, religion and association were guaranteed.
- There was an elected parliament, called the Reichstag. The Chancellor had to have the voting support of the Reichstag.
- There was a President, elected every 7 years. It was expected that the President would just be a figurehead, but Article 48 meant President could rule by decree without Reichstag support.
- Elections held on the basis of Proportional Representation. Numbers of representatives in Reichstag in proportion to the numbers of votes cast for their parties in elections.
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- Germany had no tradition of democracy and of making democratic systems work. Kaiser had despised democracy and his generals, diplomats and civil servants remained.
- Weimar constitution was one of the most democratic in the world, but it created difficulties.
- Proportional representation meant that no one party ever had a majority in the Reichstag.
- All governments had to be coalitions and these were frequently changing.
- The Weimar politicians who signed the treaty took all the anger of German nationalists. They were called the ‘November Criminals’.
- They were accused of ‘Stabbing the army in the back’ (because they believed that the army had not been defeated).
- The most important party in the 1920s was the Socialists (SPD), but they always needed the support of at least two other parties in order to form a government. The Chancellor was replaced about once a year.
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Treaty of Versailles
- Signed on 28 June 1919. German delegates shown terms in May and horrified,but couldn't restart war. Treaty influenced by Clemenceau's desire to 'make Germany pay'.
- Lost about 10% of land, Alsace-Lorraine given back to France, Polish Corridor created to give Poland a way out to Baltic. Lost land to Belgium, Denmark and Czechoslovakia.
- All German colonies taken away and handed to Britain/ France to look after under League of Nations until they were ready for independence.
- German army reduced to 100,000 men. Conscription banned, navy reduced to six ships and submarines were banned, airforce was completely destroyed.
- Rhineland demilitarised. The Allies would occupy it for fifteen years. Saar occupied for fifteen years and France would be able to mine coal in it for those years.
- In 1919 Germans had to pay reparations for all civilian war damage. Final bill on 1 May 1921 was over 6 billion. To be paid over thirty years.
- Germany was to accept blame for the war.
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- Spartacist Revolt in January 1919 had been crushed by the Freikorps.
- In 1920, Ebert, the German president tried to disband the Freikorps, but this only led to an attempted coup by the Freikorps in March 1920, the Kapp Putsch. Defeated by trade unions, which organised a general strike and refused to deal with the Freikorps.
- There were 400 political murders between 1919 and 1923.
- Increased street violence, often organised by the Freikorps
- Lack of respect for Weimar government
- Growth of extremist parties (including German Workers Party, which was set up in 1919 by Anton Drexler).
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Occupation of Ruhr
- The new German government made its first reparations payment in 1922, but in December announced that it would not be able to make further payments.
- January 1923 Germans stopped coal shipments.
- On 11th January, the French and Belgian governments retaliated by sending troops into the Ruhr. They intended to force the Germans to hand over coal and iron ore in place of the payments.
- German workers in the Ruhr went on strike and the Weimar government called for passive resistance to the French and Belgians and paid strike pay to workers by printing paper currency. Led to hyperinflation.
- French brought in their own workers to work in the coalmines.
- Violence broke out and a number of French soldiers were killed.
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- From January 1923, inflation increased as government printed money to pay strikers. Eventually 62 factories were working around the clock to keep up with demand.
- By August, prices were rising by up to 400% every day.
- Middle classes worst hit. War pensioners and anybody on a fixed income were hit very hard. People with savings lost everything.
- People rushed to spend wages as quickly as possible, buying anything that they could.
- Shopkeepers tried to keep their shops closed, but the government forced them to open.
- Anybody who had borrowed money could repay the loan very easily. Multi-millionaires appeared overnight.
- Weimar government became more popular. Its support for the strikers began gain popularity.
- Hyperinflation was seen as something forced upon Germany from outside.
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- August 1923, Gustav Stresemann came to power, stopped passive resistance.
- Issued Rentenmark (new currency). Based upon German land not gold. The old marks could be exchanged for Rentenmarks at 3 hundred million to 1.
- Dawes Plan: US bankers invested in Germany. 25 billion marks invested over next five years. Cut reparations and extended time they had to pay it.
- Some reparations payed so French and Belgians withdrew their troops from the Ruhr in 1925.
- The Locarno Pacts signed in October 1925 by France, Belgium and Germany. Guaranteed borders between France and Belgium and Germany. Britain and Italy signed as guarantors of the treaty.
- September 1926 Germany accepted into the league of Nations (international body which discussed world problems).
- 1929 the Young Plan reduced Germany’s reparations still further.
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- On 3 October 1929 Gustav Stresemann died. On 24 October 1929 Wall Street crashed.
- US bankers withdrew loans from Germany, led to Depression of 1930s. By 1933 6 million people were unemployed in Germany.
- Unemployment pay only lasted six months. After that came poverty and homelessness.
- Weimar government unable to deal with crisis (along with most governments in the world).
- From 1931 onwards a series of banks went bust. This ruined many Germans.
- People turned to extreme parties. Nazis and Communists gained support.
- Social Democrats refused to cut unemployment pay. They were largest party so it was difficult to make coalitions. Governments came and went.
- President Hindenburg allowed Chancellor Bruning (1930-32) to use his emergency powers. Bruning reduced government spending (cut wages of state employees), and raised taxes.
- April 1932, Bruning asked to take more right-wingers into government, he resigned.
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