1. The Emergence of the Democratic Republic and the Impact of the Treaty of Versailles b

Gillespie: Emergence of the Democratic Republic
The old and the rotten has broken – the monarchy – has broken down. Long live the new! Long live the German Republic!” – Phillip Scheidemann, from the Reichstag building, 9th Nov, 1918.

  • By November 1918 socialism had become very popular
  • SPD led by Friedrich Ebert.
  • Kaiser fled to Holland on Nov 11th and an armistice was declared.
  • Democratic Republic characterised by the actions of revolutionary and anti-revolutionary forces:
    • 3-5 November 1918: Naval Mutinies at Kiel, Formation of first workers and soldiers’ councils, demanding the Kaiser’s abdication.
    • 7-8 November, 1918: Eisner, Independent socialist sets up Bavarian Republic; workers demonstrate in Berlin for reform.
    • 9-15 November, 1918: Ebert-Groener Pact: Army offers limited support to Govt.
    • 6-31st December, attempted revolution on Jan 1st 1919: Spartacist Uprising
      • Result: Ebert and Groener conclude that Germany must be protected from communism àFreikorps used to restore order à ramifications – assumed the Left was responsible for all political resistance, gave legitimacy to the right wing nationalistic uprisings, threatened the stability of the govt.

Right wing elements in German society:
· Nationalist Groups
· Industrialists
· The Military
· Old Ruling Classes of Pre-War Germany (Junkers)
All never accepted the republic

Kapp Putsch

Extreme right wing elements’ attempt to overthrow the govt.
Immediate cause: Govt’s attempt to reduce the size of the Army and Freikorps in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles.

Two Freikorps brigades (12 000 men) led by Ehrhardt, as part of a conspiracy amongst elite Reichswehr Officers such as General Von Luttwitz and headed by extreme right-wing politician Wolfgang Kapp marched on Berlin and overthrew the govt.

In response to Ebert’s plea to defend against this, General Hans Von Seeckt – leader of the army – replied, “Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr.”

This demonstrated the Army’s willingness to subvert the democratic process when its own interests were at stake. (Democracy never had true support of the Army)

However, Ebert and the rest of the republicans’ appealled for a workers' strike which eventually led to the reinstatement of the socialist government, demonstrating overwhelming support from the working class.

“Your dearly fought freedoms are to be destroyed… therefore down tools, come out on strike”- A Government poster at the time of the Kapp Putsch.

The Constitution and Article 48

The newly formed German constitution (drafted by Hugo Preuss) was arguably the most democratic of its time

All Germans were to be equal before the law, and personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of religion were all written into this constitution. Women were given the right to vote and Germans had the right to form trade unions.

It was approved in July of 1919

Article 48 was important in that it gave the president of Germany 'emergency' powers to disregard constitution and democratic customs and effectively rule as a dictator.

Impact of the Treaty of Versailles

“Vengeance German Nation! Today in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles the disgraceful treaty is being signed… German honour is being carried to its grave. Do not forget it.”
– An Editorial from the German newspaper Deutsche Zeitung, 28 June 1919

Field Marshal von Hindenburg outspoken in his rejection of the treaty, referring to it as a “shameful peace”.
· Viewed as a ‘diktat’, for Germany faced either acceptance of the terms presented to them, or prolonged war which would threaten the future existence of Germany

Failure of the Treaty?

In imposing the Treaty of Versailles, the Allies were attempting to solve the 'problem' of Germany

The Allies could have cultivated a partnership with Germany for future years and given them as little cause for resentment as possible, or totally eliminated Germany's ability to make a revival in the future.

Instead the T.O.V imposed a settlement that Germany would certainly seek to overturn and left intact their capacity to do so by force in the near future.

· Economic Impacts
Crippled productive capability and potential by invoking huge debt, severing resources and banning colonies.

¡ Loss of territory – 13% of area, incl:
§ Alsace Lorraine
§ Resource-rich (coal) Zaar Basin
¡ Loss of people
§ 12% of population
¡ Loss of Resources
§ 48% of its iron ore
§ 16% of its coal
¡ Restrictions on Military
§ Army reduced to 100 000 men
§ German Navy reduced to a v. small number of ships strictly for patrolling and submarines banned.
§ Forbidden to develop an air force
¡ Germany forbidden from having colonies
¡ Reparations
§ $US 32 billion

View: J M Keynes, British Economist (1920) – “unbearable financial burdens… no provisions for economic rehabilitation… degrading the lives of millions of human beings.”

· Social Impacts
o War Guilt
§ Clause 231 – blames Germany for starting the war and for all its consequences:
" Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies."
· National humiliation and psychological disillusionment
- This aforementioned humiliation was deeply felt by the German population, and because of

· Flow on effect à Weakening faith in the democratic Weimar system associated with the shameful Versailles Treaty.
· Subscribing to the ‘stab in the back myth’
- Hindenburg propagated this belief by arguing that Versailles should never have been signed and was a result of the actions of the anti-patriotic sentiments of the group of leftwing politicians – “November Criminals” – i.e the people who were running the country and democracy.
- The 'stab in the back myth' meant that emerging Weimar democracy "experiment" would have unsure beginnings, and would always be associated with failure and embarrassment by the German people
- While the Treaty was viewed by many to have been particularly harsh on Germany, considering the treaty imposed by the Germans on Russia (Treaty of Brest Litvosk) it could have been far harsher

2. Political, Economic and Social Issues in the Weimar Republic to 1929


Following WW1, Democracy becomes bound to the Army (Reichswehr):
- Ebert had an unreasonable fear of rebellion from the Communist Left
  • Ebert felt compelled to align with the military for support against the left wing à Ebert-Groener Pact, 9th November 1918. One of his first acts as leader.
o The Agreement: The Army offered its nominal support for the Government in exchange for being able to maintain its traditional order
o Result: The Army lended its support to the Government against left-wing political uprisings. The Reichswehr was allowed to remain a sovereign entity with considerable influence and power within the political workings of Weimar Germany. Army pretty much untouchable now.

Constitutional Issues :

Weimar Consitution seen as extremely democratic. Basic freedoms guaranteed (freedom of speech, etc)
The electoral system of strict proportional representation allowed the volatility of the electorate in the Reichstag to express itself without hindrance. Even small parties could gain seats...
  • From 1919 to 1933, all 21 governments were coalitions, the longest lasting just 2 years.
  • Even during the ‘Golden Years’ (1924-1928) there were a total of 7 governments, each consisting of three or more political parties, represented by 3 different chancellors, all from separate parties. Also, significant gains were made during this period by the KPD and, DNVP and NSDAP – undemocratic elements in the system. (Communists and Nazis)
  • Article 48 allowed the president to rule by decree in times of emergency (not utilised much before 1929)

  • In itself, the Weimar Constitution was not a vastly flawed document. It was even hailed the best democratic system in the world. However, the main issues (above) basically served to allow the undemocratic elements in Germany to express themselves (The Bill of Rights included free speech for all) and to seize unprecedented levels of power.

COOL QUOTE OF THE YEAR: Gordon Craig: “Against the Republic’s enemies, the constitution gave no protection.”

Putsches, Rebellions and Uprisings.

The early years of the Weimar Republic were characterised by the actions of revolutionary and anti-revolutionary forces and the Government’s reactions to the two.
Challenges from the Left – Communist Workers’s council – social unrest leading up to the Spartacists’ uprising on 1st Jan, 1919. Launch Bolshevik-style revolution.
Govt responds brutally, relying on Freikorps to quash the revolution. Leaders, Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Leibnecht murdered.
  • Dependence on Right Wing and military formed during this 'quashing'
  • Also discovery that right wing uprisings could not be 'quelled' as the military and Freikorps would not fight their own..
      • BACKUP COOL QUOTE OF THE YEAR: General Hans von Seeckt: “Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr.”

Kapp Putsch
- March 1920, conspiracy within the Reichswehr Elite led by General von Luttwitz and extreme right politician Wolfgang Kapp persuaded two Freikorps brigades (12 000 men) to march on the Govt in Berlin in response to the Govt’s attempts to downsize the military in accordance with Versailles.
- Demonstrates Army’s willingness to subvert the democratic system to uphold its own ideals.
- The displaced government encouraged workers to strike. Had support of working class masses, and even much of the civil service and industrialists.
A Govt poster at the time of the Kapp Putsch read: “Your dearly fought for freedoms are about to be destroyed… therefore down tools, come out on strike.”
- Demonstrates the popular support the Government had from the working class masses. à Result of social reforms e.g. The Stinnes-Leigen Agreement that provided for increased co operation between German workers and business.
Munich Putsch
In October 1923, a group of Right-wing Politicians based in Bavaria planned to use the period of economic turmoil to overthrow the government. Joined and encouraged by Hitler and Nazis. General Ludendorff joined.
- Angry with the ending of passive resistance in the Ruhr.
- Failure


Versailles Treaty – Direct economic ramifications à loss of resources (48% iron ore, 12% coal), land (13% of area, incl: Saar and Alsace Lorraine), Reparations ($US 32 billion).
Occupation of the Ruhr (Germany’s Industrial Heartland), Jan 1923
In December 1922, Germany was declared in default of its repayments in coal and telegraph poles, so the next month, 60 000 French and Belgian Troops crossed the boarder and invaded the Ruhr.
  • Passive resistance to the French – Industrial sabotage. Conflict, loss of production and contributions to…

  • Hyperinflation
- The government in its vulnerable, divisive state (encouraged by the industrialists who actually benefited from inflation) was not able to carry through with the necessary economic reforms and increase taxation for the suffering it would bring to the people.
- Instead, it printed more money. This resulted in the degeneration of the economy into the phenomenon of hyperinflation.
The price of a loaf of bread went from:
  • 0.63 marks in 1918, to
  • 250 marks in January 1923, to
  • 201 000 000 000 marks in November 1923.
- Recovery:
  • Gustav Stresemann negotiated the French withdrawal from the Ruhr à April 1924 – The Dawes Plan: French leave, and give immediate loans to Germany. Future payments are adjusted to Germany’s ability to pay.
  • Locarno Treaty: Guaranteed German-French and German-Belgian boarders.
  • The Young Plan: (1929) Reduced total war reparations from 132 billion marks to 37 billion marks, evacuate the Rhineland, allied controls dropped.
    • Bad however... Why not totally stop reparation payments? Said nationalists.
  • Newfound wealth from US Loans - relied heavily on foreign investment. During this time, Germany accrued $800 000 000 worth of debt to the United States, which was to be paid back under an increasingly burdensome repayments scheme.
  • Stresemann identified this massive dependence on US foreign loans, writing in November 1928 that if “the Americans withdraw their short term credits, we would be bankrupt.” (lolz, Great Depression :/)

- Impacts of the Versailles treaty:
  • Popular subscription to the ‘stab in the back’ myth. People getting angry the Weimar government continuing to acknowledge T.o.V...e.g. Young Plan.
  • Rattenau ‘Ratted out and Killed’ in 1922. He was a prominent socialist politician and supporter of the policy of ‘fulfilment’. The outspoken approval of these murders by many elements of German society is evidence of public hatred of Versailles and belief in the ‘Dolchstosslegende.

Social Achievements:
  • Some historians suggest that the Weimar Republic in fact became the first true Sozialstaat, or welfare state.
  • Welfare money increased to 26% of the GNP.
  • The Stinnes-Leigen Agreement provided for co-operation b/w German workers and business.
  • In 1927 the Unemployment Insurance Act was passed to insure 17million German workers in the event of becoming unemployed à later severe issues with paying.
  • In the same year, the Provisional Work Hours Law was passed, limiting worker’s work hours without overtime payment.

  • Women were given the vote – political parties seek to please women.
  • Women in the workforce amounted to some 35% in 1925.
  • Given sexual freedoms – access to contraceptives, decriminalisation of prostitution
  • Excelled in the arts and entertainment – e.g. Marlene Dietrich became a world-famous entertainer.

Cultural Life:

  • Theatre and cinema flourished in Germany in the Golden Years.
  • Provocative theatre and Cabaret flourished.
  • Innovative practitioners such as Bertold Brecht had a forum to develop dynamic new theatre – realism.
  • Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera enjoyed enormous success in 1928.

Literature moved into the realms of modernism. Dissillusionment with war evident in works
  • Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, published in 1924
  • Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse won Nobel Prizes for literature in 1929.
Art and Architecture moved away from traditional imperial styles and influence.
  • Geroge Grosz became one of the first pioneers of absurdism with his portrait with real buttons sewn on, entitled Remember Uncle August the Unhappy Inventor.
Despite the government’s attempts to reform, the public education system remained firmly in the control of the Right Wing Nationalistic elements of society.
  • The majority of schoolteachers and university professors were supporters of the old social and political system.
  • Teachers would imbue their students with a hatred of the republic, encourage the ‘Dolchstosslegende’ and develop a nostalgia for the empire.
  • History, geography and government textbooks and poetry texts all unreservedly praised the Wilhelmine era.

The Great Depression 1929

Makings of the Depression

-The prosperity of the golden years of the Weimar period was financed by predominantly borrowed money from the US, 23 billion marks 1924-1929.

-Stresemann had died in 1929, but shortly before he died even he admitted that the German economy was a lot more fragile than some would have liked to
accept. His testimony illustrates this concern:

"The economic position is only flourishing on the surface. Germany is infact dancing on a volcano. If the short-term credits are called in, a largesection of our economy would collapse."

-This money was then distributed throughout the German economy, into facets such as transport, social welfare and reparations

-This consequently developed a reliance on short-term loans to fund long-term projects, aimed at stimulating the economy

-This dependence on foreign investment was demonstrated in the year preceding the GD. Foreign investment began to decline as investors shifted their focus onto the booming US stock market. In a bid to keep investment flowing into Germany interest rates rose, leading to a decline in production and increase in unemployment.

-October 24th 1929, known as ‘Black Thursday’ signalled the begging of the Germany’s GD when the New York stock market collapsed. US banks began to recall loans to fund their own enterprise, causing the funs underpinning the German economy to drain away. German industrialists lost access to US markets and found credit almost impossible to obtain. The economy began a full-scale collapse.

-Unemployment, social hardship and political instability festered in the economic turmoil, the sudden economic collapse a stark contrast to the relative stability of the Weimar golden years.

September 1928
650,000 unemployed
September 1929
1,320,000 unemployed
September 1930
3,000,000 unemployed
September 1931
4,350,000 unemployed
September 1932
5,102,000 unemployed
January 1933
6,100,000 unemployed

Impact of the Depression

- The impact of the GD was emphasised by its contrast to the period of Weimar stability, a country that was once again the most powerful industrial power on the continent was suddenly plunged into turmoil.

-For the people of Germany a generation that had been forced to bear the burdens of defeat and the T of V in 1919 was once again seeing their country crumble at the hands of the west.

-Living standards began to collapse, British novelist Christopher Isherwood, who lived in Berlin during the worst of the depression, described its scenes:
“Morning after morning, all over the immense, damp, dreary town and the packing-case colonies of huts in the suburb allotments, young men were waking up to another workless empty day, to be spent as they could best contrive: selling boot-laces, begging, playing draughts in the hall of the Labour Exchange, hanging about urinals, opening the doors of cars, helping with crates in the market, gossiping, lounging, stealing, overhearing racing tips, sharing stumps of cigarette ends picked up in the gutter.”


-As the depression progressed into 1932 unemployment reached 6 million, with hardship deepening the failure of the democratic system seemed inevitable.

-The governments attempt to stem the economic turmoil came in the form of deflationary policy – an attempt to balance the government budget through cuts in welfare and higher taxation. This policy served only to exacerbate the affect on the people of Germany, causing even more resentment towards the already failing government.

-This negative sentiment is embodied in historian Alan Bullock’s writings:

“One may begin to guess something of the incalculable human anxiety and embitterment burnt into the minds of millions of ordinary German working men and women”

-The GD formed the catalyst of the resentment against a flawed and weak Government that had clung to survival since 1919, contrasted only by ‘the golden years’, the impact of the GD after 1929 was the final blow against the government.

-The political, social and economic instability provided by the GD opened the way for a resurgence of extreme political movements, illustrated in the growing influence of the Nazis.