In this essay I intend to determine whether one could condemn Weimar’s downfall on its individual establishment. In order to do this I will highlight the key factors, which I believe, led to Weimar’s defeat; I will examine each one in turn and ascertain whether the blame could be entirely put upon Weimar. The impact of the war upon Germany was very damaging, firstly the war was very expensive and had harmed the German economy. The whole country was united in the war effort it was known as the volkgemeinschaft.
However there was a large split in society between the minority of rich people and the majority of poor people, many people were starving. Despite this there was general support for the war. Due to the fact that Germany was defeated the general atmosphere within the country was one of dejection and hatred of the allies. As a result of the war a peace treaty was created in the city of Versailles Germany was not allowed to be present at the negotiations and the treaty was extensively biased against Germany.
For example Germany was to take full responsibility for the war and had to give the allies (mainly France, Britain and America) reparations payments which had colossal economic implications for Germany. Another term of the treaty was the removal of the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, this seemed outrageous to the German people as the Kaiser was their leader he was the symbol of all their power. The mere thought of signing the treaty was unthinkable for Germany anyone prepared to sign it would be labelled as a lunatic.
The army, in charge of the country at the time, made a very clever move and put the power back to the Reichstag, who were later to become the Weimar government. Weimar was forced to sign the treaty or to face invasion from the allies, which would ultimately end in certain defeat and complete eradication of the empire. As Erzberger the president said in his analogy to the situation ” suppose somebody tied my arms and placed a loaded pistol against my chest, and asked me to sign a piece of paper obligating me to climb to the moon within 48 hours.
As a thinking man I would sign to save my life… “. There was no choice for Weimar they had to sign the treaty. This caused loathing toward them by the people, Weimar was later to become known as the ‘November criminals’ (November was when the treaty was signed) they were thought to have ‘stabbed the country in the back’ by signing. In November 1918 the Kaiser abdicated this lead to the set up of the constitutional assembly and led the way to a democratic republic. These were the aims of the old Reichstag leaders who had to negotiate peace with President Wilson.
They were backed by the political parties the CCP (Catholic Centre Party), the NLP (Progressive Liberal party) and the SDP (Socialist Democratic Party). The departure of the Kaiser caused turmoil within Germany many people were enraged with the people that supported it. Within its constitution Weimar tried to include new democratic ideas with old authoritarian views. The democratic views were stated in articles 1, 22, 23, 109, 151. By declaring that the government should be elected by the people, the term of office was four years, all German were equal and political authority derived from the people.
However it included a President that had the ability through Article 48 to dissolve all democracy and take on the part of a dictator. This idea was introduced in case of emergencies so the President could take overall control over the country and make decisions without having to consult the government or the electorate. There were supposed safeguards put in place to prevent the president from taking a dictatorial position, this was that the President had to have to approval of the national assembly before he could enforce Article 48.
There were many other terms of the constitution which were positive and showed support in democracy but the idea of Article 48 was a huge defect in the new idea. The terms of the constitution needed money, due to economic implications from the aftermath of the war, they could not be funded. This was the beginning of the problems with Weimar. There was also many people opposed to the idea of Weimar system of government the youth for example. In the early years the youth found Weimar to be liberating. It encouraged young people to be more independent.
This alienated the older people and it also showed an increase in youth crime and unemployment. Therefore as the 1920’s progressed, the novelty of the freedom decreased you saw the youth showing support of the extremist parties. The intellectuals also opposed Weimar. They believed that it was hindering Germany’s recovery, they thought that Weimar was promoting political and class divisions. They thought that Germany needed an uniting factor, combined with that they needed a stronger leader. Germany needed and ideology of struggle to become stronger.
All of these views were against the democracy and the idea of a republic. Although these problems were in the foundations of Weimar there were many other factors, which led to its defeat, all of which Weimar was completely blameless for. There were the conditions of the Versailles treaty, Germany had to pay reparations payments to the allies. They had to make an initial payment of 20 billion gold marks, then they had to pay a further i??6000 million which was impossible they were already in debt as a result of the war.
This caused huge economic problems for Germany but the national bank continued to print notes that gradually decreased in value. Then in 1921 the final announcement on Germanys reparations liability was to prove a shock they had to pay 132,000 million gold marks, annually they had to pay 2,000 million marks plus 26 per cent of the value of its exports. This was a huge blow on Germany and led to hyperinflation. In this state the value of the mark fell from around 4 marks to the dollar to 7,589 marks to the dollar.
There was a story of a basket being left outside a shop when the owner returned the money was left and the basket was gone, also workers were paid with wheel barrows of money. Germany’s economy was in a desperate state it took only the initiative of Schact the Reichbank president to save Germany. He introduced a new form of currency know as the Reichmark which was worth $4. 20 and could be purchased at a price of 4 million marks this recovered the economy and industry regained in production. Through the 1930’s the extremist parties were gaining votes all the time they were increasing in popularity throughout the country.
The nazi party gained more and more votes, in 1932 they had 14 million votes giving them 230 seats in government, the communists gained 89 seats in government. These were worrying statistics and if they were not dealt with then there was the possibility of an extremist leader being influential within government. It would have been the task of the chancellor to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately the two chancellors in power between 1932-33 were ineffective in this duty. In fact they did the exact opposite and paved the way for an extremist leader.
Von Papen the first chancellor lifted the ban on the Nazi SS, then he removed the powers of the regional governments which made him the most powerful man in the country. As Nazi votes increased it became apparent that their leader Hitler could not be refused a position in power. Von Papen voted for Hitler to become vice-chancellor whereas the present vice-chancellor wanted chancellor for Hitler. These positions were refused by the president Hindenburg, so Von Papen resigned and Von Schiecher (the vice-chancellor)was the new chancellor.
Von Schleicher had aims to try to decrease the nazi vote, he thought he could find another nazi leader and attempt to split the party. He tried to gain some of the workers vote by repealing some of Von Papen’s economic policies and regain communist votes. Von Schliecher failed to reach these aims. Hitler made cunning move and obtained the support of the CCP by using their fear of the increasing communist vote. Now he controlled more seats in government, he wanted chancellor and it looked as if he were certain to get it.
In conclusion there were many exterior factors which led to the downfall of Weimar. The huge economic problems caused by the war, which led to hyperinflation, that Weimar did manage to solve. The fact that the last two chancellors were particularly weak and enabled the Nazis, which were lead by a cunning leader, to gain increasing power throughout Germany in the 1930’s. In comparison the basis upon which Weimar was set up was the major element upon which Weimar failed. A strong government cannot be formed with a mixture of democratic and authoritarian ideas.
It is inviting a powerful idealistic leader to take on the role of a dictator. From the start Weimar was crippled because it was leading an already defeated country that was mentally and physically downhearted. The introduction of a new democratic regime enforced by the people that developed the hated treaty of Versailles was certain to be resisted by the country which was bitter from defeat. From this you can see why Weimar failed, it tried to introduce the right form of government under the wrong constitution in the wrong situation where it was bound to be rejected.
As the historian Ruth Henig said, ” the newly established democratic structure was not strong enough to cope with such underlying pressures when they were reinforced by new social and economic tensions arising from war and defeat”. The Weimar government was Germany’s first attempt at democracy it had a weak foundation waiting to collapse and to allow an intelligent political leader to take on the role of a dictator. This is what Adolf Hitler did in 1933 when he was given the position of chancellor, he was later to become President and rule an oppressed country for thirteen years.