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The rise of extremism and the collapse of the weimar democracy

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Geschiedenis: De opkomst van het extremisme en de ondergang van de Weimar democratie …

Geschiedenis: De opkomst van het extremisme en de ondergang van de Weimar democratie

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  • 1. HI136 The History of Germany Lecture 10 The Rise of Extremism and the Collapse of Weimar Democracy
  • 2. Left-wing Extremism
    • Jan. 1919: A number of radical socialist groups came to together to found the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD).
    • Suppression of the Spartacus Uprising (Jan. 1919) and the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg left a legacy of bitterness and meant the German left was split throughout the Weimar period.
    • The KPDs support mostly came from the unskilled working class and the unemployed.
    • April 1920: The ‘Leftists’ expelled and form the Kommunistische Arbeiter Partei Deutschlands (Communist Workers Party of Germany, KAPD).
    • October 1920: The collapse of the USPD benefited the Communists, whose membership swelled to over 400,000.
    • But their electoral appeal was limited: in the Reichstag elections of 1920 the KPD won just 2.1% of the vote.
    • Involvement in insurrections in 1921 and 1923 underlined the Communists’ fundamental opposition to the democratic system.
  • 3. Right-wing Extremism
    • Interwar Germany a fertile breeding ground for radical right-wing organizations.
    • 1919: Anton Drexler founds the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers Party, DAP).
    • Adolf Hitler joined the DAP in Sept. 1919, quickly rising through the ranks to become the party’s chief theorist and propaganda officer.
    • Feb. 1920: Hitler heads a committee which draws up the Party’s ’25 Point Programme’ which remains the basis of Nazi ideology until 1945.
    • April 1920: The DAP renamed the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP or Nazi for short).
    • July 1921: Hitler ousts Drexler & is appointed Party Chairman.
    • November 1923: Attempt to seize power through violence in the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch.
    • 1925: Nazi party refounded with a new commitment to achieving power through legal means.
    • But still had little popular support – they won only 2.6% of the vote in the Reichstag elections of 1928.
  • 4. Paramilitary Organizations
    • Loss of state monopoly of violence in 1918.
    • Cult of vigilantism and Fehemorde (vendetta killings) by right-wing groupings.
    • Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold – Founded in 1924 by the Social Democrat Otto H örsing to protect the republic from attacks by ‘political enemies’. Officially non-partisan, but run & financed by the SPD and the Trade Unions. It had around 3 million members by 1932.
    • Roter Frontkämpferbund (Red Fighter League) – Founded in 1924 as the paramilitary wing of the KPD. Its aim was to defend the working classes from attacks from the radical right. By 1927 it had 111,000 members.
    • Sturmabteilung (‘Storm Division’, SA) – Founded in 1921 as the paramilitary wing of the NSDAP. Acted as a uniformed guard to protect speakers at party meetings and intimidate opposition. Had 55,000 members by 1923, rising to c.500,000 a decade later.
    • Stahlhelm. Bund der Frontsoldaten (steel helmet. League of Frontline Soldiers) founded 1918 by Franz Seldte – antidemocratic, nationalistic, non-partisan but close to DNVP. Had 500,000 members by 1930.
  • 5. The Great Depression
    • October 1929: the Wall Street Crash led to a worldwide economic downturn.
    • Germany was particularly hard hit – the German economy was heavily dependent on foreign loans and the banking system was geared towards short-term credit to finance long-term ventures.
    • As foreign investment dried up and debts were called in, German firms folded and banks collapsed leading to mass unemployment.
    • 2 million Germans out of work by the winter of 1929-30.
    • Unemployment reached 3 million in 1931 & had risen to 5.1 million by Sept. 1932. It peaked at 6.1 million in early 1933.
    • This led to material hardship, but also had an important psychological effect – fear, uncertainty, loss of pride and status, feeling that the fabric of society was unravelling.
    • The economic crisis quickly became a political crisis as the social insurance system became overloaded.
    Soucre: R. Overy, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich (1996)
  • 6. The Final Crisis, 1930-33
    • March 1930: Hermann M üller’s Grand Coalition collapsed when the DVP and SPD members of the Cabinet could not agree on how to solve the crisis.
    • Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Centre Party, Chancellor. His lack of charisma and unpopular deflationary policies (cuts in public spending & tax rises) meant that he was unable to command a majority in the Reichstag. Thus from the summer of 1930 onwards he was forced to use emergency powers to pass any legislation.
    • But the Depression had radicalized German politics and the parties of the extreme left and right continued to gain support – a very real fear of communist revolution amongst conservatives and the middle classes.
    • By 1930 the Nazis were the 2 nd largest party in the Reichstag.
    • Oct. 1931: the Harzburg Front – anti-republican alliance between the Nazis, Alfred Hugenburg’s DNVP and the Stahlhelm .
    • 1932: Hitler confident enough to challenge Hindenburg for the Presidency.
    • By May 1932 Brüning had lost the support of the President and his advisors – his policies had not significantly solved the problems caused by the Depression or stopped the escalating violence in the streets.
    • June 1932: Franz von Papen head the right-wing ‘Cabinet of Barons’.
  • 7. Chancellors, 1930-33 General Kurt von Schleicher (Non party) Dec. 1932 – Jan. 1933 Franz von Papen (Centre Party) June – Dec. 1932 Heinrich Br üning (Centre Party) March 1930 – May 1932
  • 8. The Final Crisis, 1930-33
    • July 1932: Preussenschlag – The illegal constitutional coup in which the elected SPD government of Prussia deposed by the army on the orders of von Papen. A Reich Commissioner was installed and Social Democratic and liberal officials were replaced by conservative civil servants.
    • Nov. 1932: Papen replaced by General Kurt von Schleicher.
    • Papen enters into secret negotiations with the Nazis, big business and large landowners designed to bring about his return to power with a majority in the Reichstag.
    • Jan. 1933: Hindenburg reluctantly agrees to dismiss Schleicher and replace him with Hitler.
    • The Conservatives convinced that they would be able to control Hitler and the Nazis – Papen was Vice-Chancellor and their were only 3 Nazis in the Cabinet.
  • 9. Hitler’s first Cabinet, 30 January 1933: Seated (left to right): Hermann G öring, Hitler, Franz von Papen Standing (left to right): Baron Konstantin von Neurath (Foreign Minister), G ünther Gereke (Commissioner for Job Creation), Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk (Finance Minister), Wilhelm Frick (Interior Minister), General Werner von Blomberg (Defence Minister), Alfred Hugenberg (Minister of Agriculture and Economics)
  • 10. Reasons for the Collapse of Weimar Democracy
    • Domestic Factors:
      • Lack of popular support
      • Constitutional flaws
      • Role of established elites
    • International Factors:
      • Legacy of Versailles
      • World economic crisis (the Great Depression)
      • General crisis of liberal democracy
  • 11. Lack of support for Democracy
    • The Republic never enjoyed much popular support – people accepted it, but there was never widespread identification with the Republican system and values.
    • No strong tradition of participatory politics in Germany – democratic institutions relatively new.
    • Negative experience of democracy – the Republic associated with political & economic crisis, failure to solve the problems of the Depression.
    • Factional nature of party politics – most parties relied on their core constituencies & did not reach out to other groups. Parties on the left and right fundamentally opposed to democratic politics. Split in the left -> parties unable or unwilling to work together to defend the system.
    • The Nazis much better than other parties at targeting their message at disaffected groups.
  • 12. Constitutional Flaws
    • Proportional Representation
      • 1 seat in the Reichstag for every 60,000 votes.
      • Led to the proliferation of parties.
      • Led to weak coalition governments.
    • Article 48
      • Allowed the President to assume emergency powers and pass bills into law without the approval of the Reichstag.
      • Open to misuse when the President is not supportive of the Republican system.
  • 13. Role of Elites
    • Powerful established interest groups – big business, landowners, the Army, Civil Service etc. – ambivalent towards democracy.
    • The military-conservative clique of advisors around the President had been considering an authoritarian reconfiguration of the Republic since 1929.
    • The middle and upper classes saw the Communists as a bigger threat than the Nazis.
  • 14. The Legacy of Versailles
    • The Republic blamed for signing the humiliating peace in 1919.
    • The ‘Stab in the Back’ a powerful theme in the propaganda of the right.
    • On-going frustration over the failure to revise the peace settlement.
    • Germany continues to feel like a second-class power.
    • All of this undermines support in the Republican system and the moderate parties.
    ‘ What we will lose!’ – propaganda poster opposing the Treaty of Versailles (c. 1919)
  • 15. The Great Depression
    • Radicalized German society and politics.
    • Moderate parties and the democratic system apparently unable to solve the problems of unemployment and social insurance.
    • So people turned to the parties of the extreme left and right who offered radical solutions and strong leadership.
    • The unemployed turned to the KPD, while the middle classes turned to the Nazis.
  • 16. Soucre: R. Overy, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich (1996)
  • 17. The European Context
    • 26 democratic states in Europe in 1920. By 1938 there were only 10.
    • Reasons for democratic collapse (Robert Pearce):
      • Threat from the Left
        • Fear of the spread of “the bacillus of Bolshevism” from Soviet Russia.
      • Aggrieved Nationalism
        • The post-war settlement left many nations (both victors and vanquished) dissatisfied.
      • Economic Crisis
        • Fears of the collapse of capitalism and the spread of Communism. Growing feeling that democratic politicians could not run the economy effectively and that the liberal democratic system was unable to cope with the problems of the modern world.
      • Weak democratic institutions/traditions
        • “ History proves that dictatorships do not grow out of strong and successful governments, but out of weak and helpless governments.” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)