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HI136 The History of Germany Lecture 7

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HI136 The History of Germany
Lecture 7
The Years of Crisis:
The Weimar Republic, 1918-23
Background
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“The Times Are Hard but Victory Certain.”
Poster by Bruno Paul (1917)
From 1916 the German
population became
increasingly war-weary.
Mounting casualties, falling
living standards and food &
fuel shortages led to growing
labour unrest.
Mass strikes in Jan. 1918
throughout
Germany
and
Austria-Hungary.
The realisation of defeat a
profound shock to the German
people – all their suffering had
been for nothing.
Constitutional Reform
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The High Command felt that the
allies would deal more leniently
with a parliamentary government
so abandoned their resistance to
domestic reform.
3 October 1918: Prince Max von
Baden installed as Chancellor.
26 October: Reform of the
Constitution announced
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Prince Maximilian of Baden (1867-1929)
The 3 class franchise in Prussia
abolished.
The Kaiser’s powers over the
army and appointments severely
curtailed.
The
Chancellor
and
the
Government made accountable to
the Reichstag.
A �Revolution from above’?
The November Revolution
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3 November 1918: Sailors at the naval base in Kiel mutiny. The unrest
rapidly spreads to Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin.
Dockworkers and Soldiers join the mutineers.
6 November: Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils established.
7-8 November: Revolution in Munich – the Wittelsbach dynasty deposed
and a republic proclaimed.
9 November: The abdication of the Kaiser announced. Max von Baden
resigns and Friedrich Ebert becomes Chancellor. A republic hastily declared
by Philip Scheidemann.
10 November: Ebert-Groener Pact – the army agrees to support the new
regime in return for assurances that its independence will be preserved.
Council of Peoples’ Representatives formed.
16-21 December: Meeting of the All-German Congress of Workers’ and
Soldiers’ Councils.
23-24 December: Street fighting in Berlin.
29 December: The USPD resign from the government.
1 January 1919: The Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) formed.
6-15 January: Spartacist Rising – The KPD attempt a coup, only to be
crushed by the army and Freikorps.
April-May: The Munich Räterrepublic (Republic of Councils) crushed by
regular troops and Freikorps.
Revolutionary Sailors at Kiel, November 1918
The Split in the Left
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April 1917: 42 SPD deputies broke away from the rest of the party
and formed the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), while
the remaining 68 SPD deputies reconstituted themselves as the
Majority Socialist Party (MSPD) with Friedrich Ebert as chairman.
The USPD committed to an immediate peace without annexations
and was loosely associated with the more radical Spartacusbund
(Spartacus League) and the Revolutionary Shop Stewards.
The German Left was therefore divided during the November
Revolution:
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The MSPD upheld democracy, wanted moderate reforms and were
opposed to soviet-style communism.
The USPD wanted radical social, economic and political reform, but
shied away from full communism. It was deeply divided and its influence
was curtailed by factional squabbles.
The Spartacists and Revolutionary Shop Stewards campaigned for a
socialist republic based on the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils which
would follow the same path as Bolshevik Russia.
Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925)
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The son of a tailor, Ebert became
a saddler and was active in the
trade union movement.
1905: Elected to the Central
Committee of the SPD.
1912: Elected to the Reichstag as
an SPD deputy.
1913: Elected joint leader of the
SPD along with Hugo Haase.
1918: Became �Imperial
Chancellor’
1919: Elected first president of the
Weimar Republic.
1925: Died of a ruptured
appendix.
Proclamation of the Republic, 9/11/1918
The November Revolution
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3 November 1918: Sailors at the naval base in Kiel mutiny. The unrest
rapidly spreads to Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin.
Dockworkers and Soldiers join the mutineers.
6 November: Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils established.
7-8 November: Revolution in Munich – the Wittelsbach dynasty deposed
and a republic proclaimed.
9 November: The abdication of the Kaiser announced. Max von Baden
resigns and Friedrich Ebert becomes Chancellor. A republic hastily declared
by Philip Scheidemann.
10 November: Ebert-Groener Pact – the army agrees to support the new
regime in return for assurances that its independence will be preserved.
Council of Peoples’ Representatives formed.
16-21 December: Meeting of the All-German Congress of Workers’ and
Soldiers’ Councils.
23-24 December: Street fighting in Berlin.
29 December: The USPD resign from the government.
1 January 1919: The Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) formed.
6-15 January: Spartacist Rising – The KPD attempt a coup, only to be
crushed by the army and Freikorps.
April-May: The Munich Räterrepublic (Republic of Councils) crushed by
regular troops and Freikorps.
Revolution in Bavaria
Kurt Eisner (1867-1919), the leader of the
Bavarian Revolution;
And his assassin, the 22 year old Anton Graf
von Arco auf Valley (1897-1945)
Revolution in Bavaria
The Revolutionary leaders Ernst Toller
(above left) and Eugene Levine (above
Right).
Right: Freikorps entering Munich, May
1919
Gustav Noske (1868-1946)
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Gustav Noske (centre) addressing crowds in
Berlin during the elections to the National
Assembly (Jan. 1919).
Born in Brandenburg & active in
the trade union movement in the
1880s.
1906: Elected as an SPD
Reichstag deputy.
The SPD’s spokesman on military
and colonial affairs.
Nov. 1918: Negotiated an end to
the Kiel Mutiny & elected
Chairman of the Kiel Workers’ and
Sailors’ Council.
Jan. 1919: Joined the Council of
Peoples’ Representatives.
1919-20: Reich Defence Minister.
His political career ended when
the Freikorps he had helped
create
turned
against
the
government during the Kapp
Putsch.
The Freikorps
The Freikorps
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Paramilitary organizations of demobilised soldiers and
officers 1918-1920.
Many soldiers felt disconnected from civilian life and
joined Freikorps in search of stability provided by a
military structure.
Fought in the Baltics against Red Army, in Silesia against
Polish insurgents.
Helped to put down communist uprisings.
Participated in Kapp putsch 1920.
Some
Freikorps
members
committed
political
assassinations (Erzberger, Rathenau – seen as
�November traitors’).
Some joined Nazi party.
Political Parties
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Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German Social
Democratic Party, SPD).
Unabhängige
Sozialdemokratische
Partei
Deutschlands
(Independent German Social Democratic Party, USPD).
Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Communist Party of
Germany, KPD).
Deutsche Demokratische Partei (German Democratic Party, DDP).
Zentrumspartei (Centre Party).
Deutsche Volkspartei (German People’s Party, DVP).
Deutschenationale Volkspartei (German National People’s Party,
DNVP).
Various smaller parties including the Bayerische Volkspartei
(Bavarian People’s Party, BVP) and the Nationalsozialistische Partei
Deutschlands (NSDAP).
The Weimar Constitution
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Germany a federal republic with
the states represented in the
Reichsrat.
Power derived from the people:
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The Chancellor and Cabinet were
appointed by the President, but
required parliamentary support to
pass legislation.
Established
fundamental
civil
rights:
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Source: J. Traynor, Europe 1890-1990
The
President
elected
by
universal suffrage every 7 years.
The
Reichstag
elected
by
universal
suffrage
through
proportional representation ever 4
years.
Freedom of press, speech &
assembly (Article 114)
Equality before the law (Article
109)
The right to economic justice
(Article 151)
The Kapp Putsch (1920)
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Punch’s take on the Kapp Putsch
The Government attempted to
disband the Freikorps in the
Spring of 1920.
In response the Erhardt Brigade
occupied Berlin and installed the
right-wing politician Wolfgang
Kapp as Chancellor and General
von LГјttwitz as head of the army.
The government fled to Dresden
from where they called on workers
and civil servants to resist the
putsch.
The Reichswher refused to
intervene, but the coup lacked
popular support and was brought
down by a general strike.
Political Violence
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The Republic was under pressure form forces on both the left and
the right who were fundamentally opposed to democracy.
1921: The �March Action’, an attempted Communist uprising in
Saxony.
1923: Communist uprisings in Thuringia, Saxony and the Ruhr.
Political violence became endemic – around 300 political murders
between 1918 and 1922.
Many of these committed by right-wing secret societies, paramilitary
organizations or völkisch groups such as the Bavarian
Einwohnerwher (�Home Guard’), the Orgesch or the Consul.
26 August 1921: Murder of Matthias Erzberger.
21 July 1922: Murder of Walther Rathenau.
The conservative judiciary had little sympathy towards the Republic
and tended to be lenient towards right-wing murderers.
�Actually there was only one political common denominator that
held the whole “national movement” together at that time, and it
was a negative one: it amounted to this: “We must make an end
to ErfГјllungspolitik, to the policy of accepting the Versailles
Treaty and co-operating with the West.” That was the one point
on which all the groups and sub-groups were agreed, though they
might and did argue about everything else. We had no wish to
become a political party with mass support and all that that
implies. . . . But we did, from the beginning, desire basic change,
a “national revolution” that would free us from the material and
ideological supremacy of the West as the French Revolution had
freed France from its monarchy. So our means had to be different
from those of the political parties. . . . in that case the only course
open was to “eliminate” every Erfüllungs politician. To
eliminate in that context is, of course, to kill. What other means
was there at our disposal?’
Ernst von Salomon
Victims of paramilitary violence: Matthias Erzberger (left) and Walther Rathenau (right)
The Munich �Beer Hall’ Putsch (1923)
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Defendants at the treason trial following the
Munich Beer Hall Pustsch. Ludendorff is in
The centre. Hitler is on his left.
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Inspired by Mussolini’s �March
on Rome’ the previous year.
8 November: Hitler held the
right-wing rulers of Bavaria
hostage in an attempt to
persuade to join him in a march
on Berlin to overthrow the
Republic.
Initially they agreed, but once
free they turned their back on
Hitler and brought extra troops
into Munich.
At a demonstration the next day
a Nazi shot a policeman and the
police returned fire, dispersing
the demonstration.
Hitler, Ludendorff and other
leaders put on trial for high
treason but received lenient
sentences.
Economic Crisis
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Had its roots in the pre-war and wartime economy.
Lack of capital investment, large trade deficit and difficulties in
switching from a war-time to peace-time economy were made worse
by the necessity of paying reparations to the victorious allies.
The Government refused to either raise taxes or cut expenditure on
political grounds – it was feared that both measures would lead to
unemployment and political unrest.
Default on reparations payments led to French and Belgian
occupation of Ruhr (1923-24).
Unable to collect taxes from the Ruhr and cut off from the supplies
of coal that powered German industry and exports, the
Government’s finances collapsed.
Hyper-inflation
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Germany already in an inflationary
crisis before 1923.
But inflation spiralled out of control
during the occupation of the Ruhr.
People on fixed incomes or
welfare support (students,
pensioners, people on benefits
etc.) were worst hit.
But landowners and businessmen
were able to pay off debts,
mortgages etc. with worthless
currency.
Long term psychological effects –
increased crime and prostitution,
undermined faith in the Republic,
increased nihilism and
materialism.
Conclusion
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German politics were radicalized by the experience of war and
defeat.
But the vast majority of Germans were primarily concerned with their
material well-being, not political reform.
The circumstances of its birth hampered the Weimar Republic –
revolution and counter-revolution, economic crisis and the bitter
legacy of defeat all helped to undermine faith in the new democracy.
The Weimar constitution achieved much (a democratic system,
welfare state etc.), but did little to solve deep divisions within
German society and left key institutions unreformed.
But the Republic weathered the storm – which should indicate that it
had more popular support and stronger institutions than has
sometimes been suggested.
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