Weimar Republic 1918-23

Edexcel germany 1918-1939, chapter 1 (origins of the weimar republic) revision notes. If you found this helpful please rate and comment! :)

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Ending of WW1

Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on 9 November 1918 leaving Germany as a republic

On 11 Novemeber 1918, (two days after the abdication) the new Chancellor of the Republic, Fredrich Ebert (leader of Social Democratic Party) signed the armistice on the basis of US president Wilson's 14 points.

What did the Germans think of this?

Many believed that the armstice symbolised Germany's humiliation and that the ending of the was was a betrayal of the Germany army who risked their lives for the country only to be defeated. They had been stabbed in the back - Dolchstoss by the politicians who signed this. They became known as the November Criminals

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The Weimar Constitution

Ebert, the chancellor announced that there would be elections for a Constituent Assembly on 19 January 1919.

The members of the Assembly had two important tasks to complete:

  • draw up a new constitution
  • formulate peace treaty with the Aliies

The reslut of the January elections were that no single party had a majority. Therefore there had to be a coalition government. Fredrich Ebert was appointed president. Philipp Scheidemann of the SPD became Chancellor and he formed a coaltion with the Catholic Centre Party (ZP) and German Democratic Party (DDP). Coalitions became a fature of the  Weimar Repubic because of the many political parties.

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Why was the Weimar Republic weak?

The government had several major flaws in its constitution:

  • Proportional Representation: (number of seats depended on votes gained- votes were counted centrally then converted into seats in the Reichstag) this meant a large number of parties were produced and made it difficult to create political stability. No single party could win a majority and there were numerous coalition governments. Extreme parties were able to rise to prominence under this system.
  • Article 48: the president could dismiss the Reichstag under 'a state of emergency' and rule alone. This was used frequently since parties disagreed over passing laws so the article had to be used to get things done. This also meant that the president could abuse his power for his own benefits.
  • New and unfamiliar:Germany had never been a republic before and so polticians were not to sure how to run the new government.
  • Challenges from army: Leaders of the army wanted the Kaiser to return as they had more power under him.
  • Challenges from civil service and judiciary: Many judges and civil servants did not want Weimar as they didn't agree with its liberal political views.
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Treaty of Versailles

Signed on 28 June 1919. Germans expected it to be based on Wilson's 14 points but were disappointed. When the terms of the treaty was published, they were horrified. The French wanted revenge and sought to make sure Germany would never threaten France again. The British said that 'Germany will be squeezed until the pips squeak'. It was seen as a diktat (dictated peace).

Main terms:

  • 13% of land lost including all colonies, Alsace Lorraine given  France, Saar to the League of Nations, and Polish corridor.
  • 48% of iron production lost
  • >6 million citizens absorbed into other countries.
  • £6.6 billion worth of reparations to pay back
  • Article 231- the War guilt clause- Germans to accept blame for war.
  • Army restricted to 100,00
  • No weapons, tanks or heavy military allowed
  • Rhineland demilitarized

Ebert called it as a Gewaltfrieden (enforced peace). The treaty was intimately associated with the Weimar Republic from now on. It was the stigma to defeat and humiliation. Consequently the republic failed to win the esteem of the public. The public were unaware though that the politicians were forced to sign it or face an invasion.

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Opposition to the Weimar Republic

The new government were faced with opposition from the left and right. There was political turmoil all over the country. Some Germans felt that democracy had been forced upon them. In addition, the consequences of the war were creating unrest in Germany. 

As a result of the British naval blockade, there were still food shortages which the government couldn't solve. The people also began to experience inflation from the reparations. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in October 1917, when the provisional government was removed by the communists, many hoped that a socialist country could be established in Germany too. 

Because of fear of revolution Ebert made a deal with the new army leader Groener. It was agreed that the army would support the new government against revolution and Ebert would support and supply the army.

However, this meant that the new government was dependant on the army, many of whose leaders disliked democracy and supported communism. For some, this weakened the authority of the Weimar Republic.

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Opposition to the Weimar Republic: Spartacist Upri

Spartacist uprising (January 1919):

  •  Group emerged from the German Social Democratic Party (SPD)
  • Led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg who sought to establish a state based on Communist ideals.
  • Later became the German Communist Party (KPD)
  • On 6 January 1919, Spartacists began their attempt to overthrow the Weimar government to create a communist state. 
  • Ebert used the army and the Freikorps to put down the rebellion. The uprising was over in a few days. The spartacists were no match to the army and the freikorps.
  • The leaders were captured and killed. In March, a further communist uprising in Berlin was crushed with frocity and more than 100 people were killed. 
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Opposition to the Weimar Republic: Kapp Putsch

Kapp Putsch (early1920):

  • Formed when the Weimar government announced measures in March 1920 to disband the Freikorps and to reduce the size of the army.
  • Led by leader of the Freikorps, Ehrhardt and leading Berlin politician, Wolfgang Kapp.
  • They planned to seize up Berlin and form a new right wing government with Kapp as chancellor. They stressed the communist threat, dolchstoss theory and the severity of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Berlin was successfully captured on 13 March 1920. 
  • The new regular army had been asked to put down the putsch but the commander in chief said 'The Reichswehr does not fire on the Reichswehr.'
  • There was little support the putsch as trade unionists and civil servants had supported the government and it had collapsed.
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Problems the Weimar Republic faced

Along with political opposition and general hatred for the government, the country also faced economic problems too! Germany had experienced inflation during the first world war and had borrowed extensively to finance its war effort.

The high reparations figure (£6.6 billion at £100 million/ year) and the loss of wealth making industrial areas only exaggerated the problem.  As inflation continued, the weimar government had to print more money in order to pay France and Belgium as well as its own workers

The value of the mark rapidly fell and since no reparations were paid, France sent troops into the Ruhr, Germany's main industrial area in 1921. A further occupation took place in 1923 when Germany failed to pay reparations again. This time the Germans carried out much industrial sabotage and went on strike by these actions were mean with violence from the French. This meant that the economy was disrupted further and the government had to print more money o help the strikers.  When international confidence in the mark collapsed, inflation became hyper inflation. In Nov 1923, £1 was 1,680,800,000,000,000 marks!

People with savings or retirement found themselves penniless. The government was blamed yet again and was another humiliation for them.

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