Why did the Weimar Republic survive the crises of 1919-23?

These cards will give an overview of the challenges faced by the Weimar in its early days. It will also assess the threats to the Weimar's stability

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  • Created on: 15-02-11 10:58

How great a burden was the Treaty of Versailles fo

'Death rather than slavery' - said Deutsche Zeitung on the Treaty of Versailles - virtually the whole German nation rejected it. Even the gov were split over whether they should accept it but in the end they had no choice. The threat of the Allies to resume the war and the fear of total German dismemberment led to a reluctant acceptance in June 1919.

Most Germans were expecting great gains from winning the war - land, resources etc. and were still expecting this as late as Spring 1918. This sudden collapse of their hopes led to frustration and resentment as well as anger. They also hoped that the 14 points proposed by President Wilson in 1917 would form the basis for the treaty. They were used but selectively so millions of Germans lost their national rights. The German gov were excluded from negotiations and were asked for comments within 21 days for a final draft. The treaty became known as a Diktat or 'dictated peace'

The hated 'war clause' - Germany was blamed for war in order to justify the reparations. This attitude of the people makes the 'stab in the back' myth powerful as it points to the Weimar gov as the cause of this misery.

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How great a burden was the Treaty of Versailles fo

See diagrams 2A, 2B and 2C for details on threats to Weimar and terms of Treaty of Versailles.

The government's acceptance of the Treaty made it seem very weak and this is how it reinforced the 'stab in the back' myth. Therefore, the Treaty reinforced the hostility of the Germans towards the new system. A.J.Ryder - 'Nor did public resentment lessen with time: subsequent events, notably the occupation of the Ruhr, exacerbated it.'   

Hatred allowed the radical right to gain support and the Kapp Putsch (1920) and the Munich Putsch (1923) were their challenges. The disarmament issue was the main reason behind the Kapp Putsch and reparations helped cause the hyperinflation of 1923. 

However, it can be seen that Germany was in a strong position and that the treaty wasn't that harsh because: 1) break-up of Tsarist, Austro -Hunagrian and Ottoman Empires meant that there were opportunities for Germany (now surrounded by small, weak states)

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How great a burden was the Treaty of Versailles fo

2) France failed to achieve its aims of a permanently weakened Germany and a secure border. 3) Reparations were not so burdensome that they destroyed the Germany economy. 

By the mid 1920s, Versailles itself wasn't a major obstacle but when other things such as Hyperinflation happened, it was continually blamed by Demagogic politicians who could rapidly revive German hatred of reparations and loss of territory)  

Versailles therfore was a underlying threat - it itself more exasperated other threats such as the hyperinflation of 1923 and the challenges of the left and the right which used it as an excuse to try and take power.

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Did Weimar democracy face a seroius challenge from

The threat of left, due to Bolshevik takeover in Russia, always overestimated.

After the Weimar gov crushed the Spartacist Uprising of Jan 1919, workers were angered by economic problems and disillusioned by the lack of real gains from the uprising. A wave of strikes occurred in the Ruhr and Berlin, demanding shorter hours, socialisation of industry and government based on councils. However, these were uncoordinated, with leaders following not leading.

KPD had neither strong leadership nor an organised party structure and had no cleat plan. It also lacked support, both in numbers and committment to the cause. Eventually, a mix of government promises and use of the army and Freikorps quelled unrest (with significant loss of life).

 Only in Bavaria did the left gain any control - the overthrow of the Bavarian gov and creation of a republic meant that there was political confusion. March 1919 - soviet republic porclaimed which created Red Guards and workers councils. May 1919 saw this repressed, bloodily, by the Freikorps, with over 700 killed and a right-wing gov established.

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Did Weimar democracy face a seroius challenge from

By summer 1919 - best chance of establishing communism gone. Next three years saw unrest but it was never a threat to government control. Numerous demonstrations and strikes as the workers saw their gains from 1918 - such as the eight hour working day  - as being under threat.

Some looked to Russia and agued they needed a second stage revolution, like October. In the aftermath of the Kapp Putsch, attempts were made to exploit the fragility of the Republic but came to nothing. Then in 1921 - rushed into a poorly supported rising. Reacted to this by being cautious throughout the mass protests of 1923 and acted too late come October.

Inadequate leadership, poor organisation, internal divisions, lack of support and gov repression and this characterised the left throughout this period and meant that all the revolts of 1921-23 failed like 1919.

See 2D Germany in Turmoil for Left's timeline of events

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How strong was the challenge of the Right? The Kap

The right-wingers felt resentment towards the new regime - mainly elites and army

March 1920 - Kapp Putsch attempted  - this came as the Socialist - led gov had little need for the Freikorps after the Sparticist Uprising. it was also trying to reduce the size of army to comply with Treaty of V. So in Feb 1920 - about 12,000 men disbanded from Freikorps.

Luttwitz, Kapp and other disgruntled Generals planned to overthrow the gov. 12 March saw 12,000 Freikorps march 12 miles to Berlin - where THE ARMY REFUSED TO HELP THE GOV - the gov had to flee and a new gov headed by Kapp proclaimed. However, it failed to gain widespread support, even from conservatives. Generally the army were neutral towards the Putsch.

LEft organised a general strike in Berlin in protest to the Putsch. This meant that the new gov were occupying gov buildings but were unable to govern. They fled after 4 days. The gov took no action against Deeckt and other army leaders for not supporting them. Those involved in the Putsch were treated leniently (see Source 2.9 on page 42 of Hite and Hinton for numbers.

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How strong was the Challenge from the right? Assas

Between 1919 and 1923, Weimar politicians lived in fear of assassination - brutalising effects of the war, the revolutionary origins of the republic and the political struggles of the period as well as the challenge to the traditional values encourgaed some right wingers to resort to murder to weaken the regime.

The lenient attitude of judges, when convicting right-wingers made the right wing increasingly dangerous. It was the role of the constitution to keep these traditional positions and this aided its downfall.

Walther Ratheneu was head of a massive AEG electrical firm. He developed views of industrial organisation and the co-operation of workers and employers. He participated in arranging the armistice and attempts to improve the Diktat. His successor was Stresemann, and like him, his view were progressive. He became Foreign Minister in 1922. It was his involvement in Versailles and his Jewish background which made him a target for assassination - assassianted in June 1922 by a right-wing group. After 1923, political assassinations declined. There was a strong reaction against these murders but they did serve to foster disillusionment with the new regime. See election results on page 44.

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Did the hyperinflation crisis (1923) undermine Wei

By November 1923, the German mark was worthless. An egg cost 80 million marks at one stage of the crisis. People resorted to barter. Major food shortages started as farmers were reluctant to sell food for worthless money.

 Many Germans e.g Hugo Stinnes benefitted from the crisis. People in debt or who had a mortgage could pay them off with the devalued currency. Many entrepreneurs with access to cheap credit, used loans to extend their holdings, easily repaying the loan when their income had increased in money terms. For many it was a catastrophe: savings became worthless and those who bought war bonds were left with nothing. Those relying on welfare benefits found the value of their householf incomes fall. By 1923, the cost to a landlord of one window replacement might be greater than all the rents received in the last 10 years. Workers wages were still increasing but at a slower rate to the rising prices. Unskilled workers lost about 30% spending power between 1913-23.

Peukert warns against generalisations such as 'the destruction of the middle class' 'the shifts in the relative standing of the different social groups...made individuals uncertain about their social status'

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Causes of Inflation

Many people, both at the time and later, blamed the Allies for causing hyperinflation. See chart 2F for factors of hyperinflation.

  • Occupation of the Ruhr by the French - this exasperated an inflationary problem that was pre-war as well as take the means for German economy to thrive
  • 1919 - Weimar govs faced a growing budget deficit - went with borrowing and printing more money - helped the manifestation of hyperinflation
  • The Treaty of Versailles -reparations was blamed
  • The government seemed to favour inflation as it got rid of the internal debt
  • modest inflation good for economy - Holtfrerich says the gov was wise - see page 49 of Hite and Hinton
  • the gov continued to print money - by 1923 300 paper mills and 2000 printing firms were workign 24hours to produce money - needed to fund compensation for war victims and to pay wages, welfare and subsidies
  • hope that continuing economic problems would reinforce the argument that Germany could not pay reparations and so influence Allied governments to lower the level of demands.
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The end to hyperinflation

Nov 1923- new Chancellor - Stresemann  - took decisive action to restore confidence in the currency Replaced currency with Rentenmark - 1 rentenmark replaced 1000 billion marks. Supply o fnew currency limited to prevent hyperinflation again (only 3200 m) Berliner Illustrierter Zeitung cost 1billion  in Nov - Dec cost 20 pfennings. Gov cut expenditure, party by dismissing many civil servants

Effects - Its main consequence was that the confidence of the people in the Weimar was shaken and come the Great Depression, this doubt in the Weimar resurfaces.

Easy for Demagogues to offer simple explanations and solutions - was blamed on Jews, Treaty, Weimar democracy and Socialists. Helped increase unrest in 1923 - see page 146 in Layton Radical right-wingers didn't win mass support.

German state gained finacially - it lsot its debt. However, Weimar was weakened politically since many who had great financial losses turned against regime. Health suffered, due to inflation-induced poverty and this was also blamed on Weimar.

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How strong was the challenge of the Right? Munich

See 2G for crises of the Weimar in autumn 1923

In 1923, Hitler emerged from obscurity - see source 2.30 on page 52 of Hite and Hinton for programme of DVP in 1920. See 2H for cartoon of Hitler's Munich Putsch and see 2I for Hitler's background and family tree

Why did it fail? Bullock says that 'Hitler proved singularly ineffective' and that by the time of the actual march, 'Hitler had lost faith in what they were actually doing'.

Consequences - 1) Hitler was sentenced lightly (favouritism of the right-wing judiciary) 2) Ludendorff was aquitted on grounds that he was there 'by accident' 3) lead to Hitler assessing the party's policies.

Hitler later, in 1933 spoke of the failed putsch as good propaganda as there was blood shed and better because there was no cooperation with Ludendorff and the party was in a better place structurally in 1933.

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