Category: History Other
Autor: andrey1985 13 July 2010
Words: 1713 | Pages: 7
Why Did The Weimar Republic Face Political Problems In The First Few Years Of Its Existence - 1919-1923?
In 1919 the Weimar Republic was set up in Germany. From its birth it faced numerous political problems, for which the causes were many and varied. These problems included political instability, deep divisions within society and economic crisis; problems were constantly appearing for the new government and from 1919-1923, the Weimar Republic experienced a period of crisis.
In 1916, the German Social Democratic Party, which controlled the Reichstag, split in order to cater for the tensions between the reformist and revolutionary wings. They formed the majority socialists (SPD) and the Independent socialists (USPD). Another group split from the SPD to form the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). On 9 November 1918, the Kaiser abdicated and fled to the Netherlands. This meant that a new government had to be formed. The SPD, being the largest political party proclaimed Germany a democratic republic and formed a new government. The main interest of the SPD was to create a strong and stable government with which they could sign the Treaty of Versailles in order to end the war with the Allies. However, in order to return Germany back to peace and stability, the SPD had made a pact with the old order who had strongly supported the Kaiser; they compromised themselves by cooperating with the business community and the army in order to prevent a social revolution. Naturally this sparked off communist anger; the SPD had created a middle class democracy, while the communists demanded a worker's state like that in Bolshevik Russia. The communists wanted nationalisation to take place (i.e. factories, businesses and land to be owned by workers), they wanted workers to be more in control of their lives by means of locally elected councils (soviets), they wanted the army to be replaced with a Citizen's Militia, and they wanted to prevent the middle class from exploiting the working class. In other words, they required a much more radical change than that made since the Kaiser had left. In January 1919, the Spartacists (an old name for the KPD), led by Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxembourg, attempted to overthrow the government and establish a worker's republic by means of an armed uprising in Berlin, Germany's capital. The Spartacists, however, did not have enough support and their revolt was brutally suppressed by a group of armed volunteers called Freikorps. The significance of this uprising was that it was the SPD who had allowed the right wing Freikorps to suppress the Spartacist revolt and so the communist hatred of Weimar was deepened even further. A more successful communist revolt occurred in Bavaria, Munich in April 1919 when Bavaria was proclaimed a Soviet (Communist) Republic and a Red (Communist) Army was established to protect their revolution. However, on May 1 1919, the government sent the Freikorps to crush the revolution. Finally, in March 1920, a communist revolutionary attempt was made in the Ruhr, Germany's industrial region, and a Soviet Republic was declared. However, yet again, the government sent the Freikorps to suppress the revolution. Hence, the Weimar Republic was particularly weak and unstable facing intense and violent left wing opposition. Additionally, the government had had to use those that despised Weimar (i.e.Freikorps) to suppress these uprisings. Thus, attempts to overthrow Weimar were made from the start of its existence; this certainly did not imply a very promising future.
Right wing attempts to overthrow the government were also made. The main reasons for nationalist hostility to the r'gime were that firstly, they felt that the new Republic had betrayed Germany as they believed that whilst the German army were willing and able to continue fighting, they were "stabbed in the back" by German politicians who surrendered by signing the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles greatly weakened the German nation as it caused Germany to be severely cut back as a military power with its army and navy being dramatically reduced in size. The treaty also caused Germany to lose a large amount of territory as well as all its colonies. Finally, the treaty included the War Guilt Clause, which forced Germany to accept that they bore sole responsibility for World War One and would consequently have to provide compensation for any damage they had caused. Many Germans, however, did not believe that they were responsible for the war nor that they had been defeated. Thus, the nationalists, who believe in the idea of a strong nation, were deeply angered at what they saw as Germany's decline from the greatest power in Europe to a second-class power. In March 1920, Dr Wolfgang Kapp, with the support of the Freikorps, launched a Putsch (revolt) in Berlin in order to overthrow the government. They did manage to take over Berlin, but as a socialist city, Kapp was not likely to find many supporters in Berlin and so the government, fleeing the capital for safety, called for a general strike of German workers and without essential services such as transport, gas and electricity, Kapp was not able to govern and so his rebellion failed. However, if it had not been for the far left's general strike, Kapp could easily have seized power. This was very worrying for the Weimar Republic because, again, it had been saved by those that despised it, and the army that was supposed to be supporting it refused to act against Kapp and his supporters of which many were ex-soldiers; this was very humiliating for the government as it meant that they had to flee Berlin .The government was to face much more right wing opposition though in the form of political murders and violence. For example, in June 1922, Walther Rathenau, a leading Weimar politician who believed that Germany should fulfil the terms of the treaty of Versailles, was murdered by right wing extremists, who threw a bomb into his car and shot him several times whilst he was driving to work. Thus, the government was shown to be even more unstable and weak and these rebellions showed how little support people, including Germany's own army, had for the new Republic. This situation, however, was worsened even further due to the government's failure to prevent Germany's economic crisis.
The most important economic impact of the treaty of Versailles was its demand on Germany to pay reparations (compensation for war damage). The figure for the reparations was eventually fixed by the Allies at 132,000,000,000 marks (6,600,000,000). The government no longer had sufficient resources to support the German economy, but continued to print paper money. This caused rapid inflation, which Germany used as an excuse for not being able to pay its second instalment towards the reparations. The French government, however, decide to force Germany to pay. It did this by sending French and Belgian troops to the industrial heartland of Germany, the Ruhr to collect reparations still owing to them, but the German Chancellor called for "passive resistance" by the workers of the Ruhr; a refusal to co-operate with the troops. This, however, led to the collapse of the German economy, as the government was forced to print more paper money in order to pay the striking workers in the Ruhr. This caused hyperinflation as Germany was not producing anything; its industrial heartland had been destroyed and yet the number of notes in its economy was increasing. The German currency soon became worthless and prices were constantly rising (For example, an American dollar in July 1914 was worth about 4 marks, whilst in November 1923, its equivalent in marks was 4,000,000,000,000 marks). The social effects of this hyperinflation were disastrous, particularly for the German middle classes who had lost all their savings and pensions as a result. Then, in September 1923, Gustav Stresemann called for the end of passive resistance in order to begin the restoration of the German economy. This led to great political humiliation however, as it showed that Germany had been forced to do what the French wanted. This led to the Munich Putsch, which was an attempt by the Nazi Party leader, Adolf Hitler to overthrow the government; Hitler was determined to show the German people that not all Germans were going to accept what the French had forced the German government to do. Bavarian police broke up the revolt however and Hitler was arrested. In Saxony, there was another revolt against the republic, but this was a communist revolt and a communist government was set up, but Stresemann ordered this government to resign or else it would face military action. Therefore, the Ruhr Crisis led to economic collapse, political humiliation, discontent within society, further opposition to the Weimar Republic and finally, its disastrous effects caused people to start looking towards extreme solutions.
The Weimar Republic, in spite of all its problems, did survive the crisis that had befallen it between 1919 and 1923; even though it had inspired violent political opposition from right and left wing groups, it had faced a devastating economic situation creating a high level of discontent within society, and had brought about serious political humiliation upon itself, it had still managed to survive. All these problems contributed to the political difficulties which Weimar faced during its first few years; a general hatred amongst Germans of the new system and constant opposition towards it. The political issue of the Treaty of Versailles was probably the most important individual cause of Weimar's crisis however. It had been the Treaty of Versailles that caused nationalist opposition to Weimar and the German nation to step down to a second class power, losing much of its territory, having extreme military restrictions imposed on it, and it had been the treaty of Versailles that had brought about reparations, leading Germany into an extremely difficult economic situation causing further social tensions, and it had been this treaty that had inspired communist opposition by bringing about the need to get Germany back to work, causing the SPD to cooperate with the old order. It can be argued that this treaty was responsible for most of the hatred of the German people towards Weimar between 1919 and 1923, but on the other hand, Germany would not have been able to negotiate peace had they not signed the treaty.