Weimar - was it doomed from creation?

These cards will assess the impact the founding of the Weimar had on its sustainability. This will be useful in dertermining whether other factors caused the Weimar to collapse in 1929 or whether it was long term problems.

  • Created by: Rachel S
  • Created on: 14-02-11 15:13

How strong were the roots of democracy in 19th cen

This relates to section on early Germany (see revision cards)

  • The 2nd Reich did have a parliament but it didn't have a parlimentary government
  • The Chancellor and other ministers handled the control and were appointed by the Kaiser
  • However the government had to co-operate with the Reichstag as laws had to be agreed between them
  • It was really a SEMI-ABSOLUTIST REGIME, a form of modernised conservative state
  • The success of Bismarck to create a united Germany persuaded many liberals to support the authoritarian nationstate above their wishes for parlimentary government
  • This therefore weakened support for democracy in Germany
  • the rapidly expanding industrial and urban working class (the Proletariat) - supported the SPD who wanted political reform 
  • Bismarck sought to repress them and then introduce social reforms to win over the working class
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How strong were the roots of democracy in 19th cen

  • Both policies were unsuccessful and SPD continued to grow, reinforcing conservative tendancies within the newly developed middle class
  • conservative elite which created the Second Reich was hostile to reform
  • Bu the 1890s Germans were being influenced by Social -Darwinism - survival of the fittest
  • Some Germans felt concern for what they saw as the biological degeneration (decline) of the nation
  • linked to the growth in anti-semitism
  • German nationalism was therefore both increasing and fearful for the future
  • this led to nationalism sometimes taking an aggressive form, with demands for expansion
  • German ruling class saw an aggressive foreign policy as a way to win over working-class support and so reduce the threat of revolution
  • from 1890s, Kaiser and his minsiters persued Weltpolitik, to develop an overseas empire, similar to Britain's

See diagrams 1A and 1B for political structure and Germany at beginning of 20th century

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The democratic regime born from German defeat?

'the revolution from above' - another name for this section                                   See revision cards on run up to WW1 for more contextual information 

  • During the war, many Germans supported Burgfriede - however, by the end of the war, many people supported Seigfriede - showng the polarisation within German politics prior to the formation of the Weimar Republic
  • Those still supporting Burgfriede mainly consisted of the elites
  • By autumn of 1917, Germany faced a growing economic and military crisis
  • Starvation was near and military supplies were critically short
  •  During WW1 there was lack of morale and there was danger of revolution
  • General Ludendorff suggested that the Kaiser transform the 2nd Reich into a parlimentary democracy, while also arguing for an armistice 
  •  2 motives: 1) he hoped this new civillian government would be able to get better peace terms from the Allies
  • 2) he cynically hoped the new civillian government would be blamed for Germany's defeat because it would end the war and mask the generals' responsibility, preserve their reputations and help them retain power
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The Stab in the Back Theory

  • It was claimed that the German armyt had been 'stabbed in the back' by unpatriotic and weak politicians
  • According to this view, the German army had been a formidable fighting force and could've won
  • Germany hadn't lost on the battlefield but by pacifists and socialists who had undermined the war effort
  • anti-war agitators caused unrest amongst civillians and weakened the morale of troops - this culminated in November 'revolution' where these same 'November criminals' seized power and declared a republic
  • The new government then organised an unnecessary armistice and accepted Versailles Treaty
  • Belief that Germany's brave, undefeated army had been 'stabbed in the back' quickly used to critcise the democratic Weimar
  • Weimar became associated with Germany's apparently undeserved defeat and the humiliation of the peace treaty - weakened prospects for democracy
  • widely believed and reinforced hostility of many Germans to the new system
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German Revolution - Revolution from below

Causes of revolution

  • Severe weakness in the exsisting government system
  • collapse of law and order
  • major setback for the government
  • mass discontent
  • organised revolutionary groups
  • determined revolutionary leaders with a clear vision for change

the revolution from above was the establishment of the Reichstag-based government, set up in Oct 1918 as this was initiated by the ruling class. The revolution from below refers to the German revolution which broke out 1918-19     

Naval bases of Kiel and Wilhelmshaven refused to obey orders and took over Kiel. News of the mutiny encouraged the creation of a series of sailor's, soldiers' and workers' councils which challenged the authority of state governments

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German Revolution - Revolution from below

Desperate to prevent a full scale revolution, as in 1917 Russia, Prince Max of Baden announced the abdication of the Kaiser and handed chancellorship over to moderate socialist leader Ebert

Moderate and radical socialists were competing for leadership of revolution - all announcing different republics - armistice signed 2 days later

SEE 1D diagram for rough timeline to German revolution

Ebert's Problems


  • Hunger/flu epidemic
  • Inflation
  • Allied blockade meant shortages of essential goods
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German Revolution - revolution from below


  • Hostility of the elite
  • powerful generals only tactically and possibly temporarily supporting the new regime
  • FREIKORPS - mainly demobilised soldiers; very anti-communist and armed
  • Nationalist turmoil on eastern ans southern borders
  • SPARTACIST movements in Bavaria, Rhinland and East Prussia


  • Bitterness at unexpected defeat
  • need for an armistice - then peace treaty
  • Demobilisation- 1.5m soliders returned to society
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German Revolution - revolution from below


  • Radical groups holding strikes and mass demonstrations
  • Worker's councils (soviets)
  • The KPD wanted a communist revolution as in Russia in 1917 which had led to civil war

Ebert's decisions and deals - chose the moderate course - believed the majority of German people wanted an end to war and were for moderate change. Even the majority of members of councils didn't want a true revolution - supported the SPD line.

Ebert determined to defend new democratic system from communism. The new system would organise elections for an assembly which would write the new constitution. With this policy he had the support of the elite - terrified of communism

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German Revolution- revolution from below

General Groener made a secret deal with Ebert - in return for the gov promising to maintain authority of existing officers, the army would defend the new government.

FREIKORPS - see small section on page 21 of Hite and Hinton

Ebert's moderate line aroused some left wing opposition - In Dec 1918 the USPD left the government. Jan 1919- mass protests at the dismissal of a radical official turned into a largely spontaneaous uprising which Sparticist League members tried to take over - like a communist revolution

SPD governement - ordered army to supress rising - was squashed easily. The army was supported by the Freikorps. This marked the end of the German revolution.

See 1G for short term and long term effects of Ebert's deals.

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Was Ebert's deals with elites and crushing communi

Most western historians in Cold war atmoshpere of 1950s and 60s (such as K.D Erdmann) accepted that Ebert's actions in supressing communist threat and making deals with the elites was vital for the creation of democracy. The possibility of other routes to democracy were underplayed. (there were only two choices communism or republic)

Historians in communist east Germany saw the actions of SPD as betrayal of left wing movement. the real heros were the Sparticists who went down with their beliefs.

Kolb and Rurup believe that, after studying the German Worker's councils movement, that few fell under control of extreme left. Vast majority were supporters of SPD with USPD support and only after Jan 1919 USPD started to dominate. Threat exaggerated. All talk and no base for action

Others see that this was a missed opportunity because left threat was overestimated - compromised with right rather than asserting own force. (See Layton pages 112-113)

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Did the Weimar Constitution establish a structure

Universal male and female suffrage - fair vote

3/4 of voters chose parties committed to the republic so they had a majority. Ebert was voted as President

(see pages 26-27 of Hite and Hinton for Weimar Constitution)

THe new voting system of PR  - meant that no party ever had a majority and had to form coalition governments meaning progress was limited - couldn't agree, extremists fought them down and this meant that the President was a vital position as he had to appoint and dismiss chancellors. This set up was key in Hitler's rise to power (see revision of Rise of the Nazi's)

The Article 48 was used well by Ebert but after his death, Chancellors continually used it poorly and this aided Hitler when he became chancellor.


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