Weimar Crisis

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Geschiedenis: Weimar Crisis

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  • 1. HI136 The History of Germany Lecture 7 The Years of Crisis: The Weimar Republic, 1918-23
  • 2. Background
    • 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.
    “ The Times Are Hard but Victory Certain.” Poster by Bruno Paul (1917)
  • 3. Constitutional Reform
    • 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
      • 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’?
    Prince Maximilian of Baden (1867-1929)
  • 4. The November Revolution
    • 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 R äterrepublic (Republic of Councils) crushed by regular troops and Freikorps .
  • 5. Revolutionary Sailors at Kiel, November 1918
  • 6. The Split in the Left
    • 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:
      • 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.
  • 7. Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925)
    • 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.
  • 8. Proclamation of the Republic, 9/11/1918
  • 9.  
  • 10. The November Revolution
    • 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 R äterrepublic (Republic of Councils) crushed by regular troops and Freikorps .
  • 11. 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)
  • 12. Revolution in Bavaria The Revolutionary leaders Ernst Toller (above left) and Eugene Levine (above Right). Right: Freikorps entering Munich, May 1919
  • 13. Gustav Noske (1868-1946)
    • 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.
    Gustav Noske (centre) addressing crowds in Berlin during the elections to the National Assembly (Jan. 1919).
  • 14. The Freikorps
  • 15. The Freikorps
    • 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.
  • 16. Political Parties
    • Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German Social Democratic Party, SPD).
    • Unabh ängige 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).
  • 17. The Weimar Constitution
    • Germany a federal republic with the states represented in the Reichsrat .
    • Power derived from the people:
      • The President elected by universal suffrage every 7 years.
      • The Reichstag elected by universal suffrage through proportional representation ever 4 years.
    • The Chancellor and Cabinet were appointed by the President, but required parliamentary support to pass legislation.
    • Established fundamental civil rights:
      • Freedom of press, speech & assembly (Article 114)
      • Equality before the law (Article 109)
      • The right to economic justice (Article 151)
    Source: J. Traynor, Europe 1890-1990
  • 18. The Kapp Putsch (1920)
    • 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 L üttwitz as head of the army.
    • The government fled to Dresden from where they called on workers and civil servants to resist the putsch.
    • The Reichswehr refused to intervene, but the coup lacked popular support and was brought down by a general strike.
    Punch ’s take on the Kapp Putsch
  • 19. Political Violence
    • 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 v ölkisch groups such as the Bavarian Einwohnerwehr (‘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.
  • 20.
    • ‘ 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 Erfüllungspolitik, 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
  • 21. Victims of paramilitary violence: Matthias Erzberger (left) and Walther Rathenau (right)
  • 22. The Munich ‘Beer Hall’ Putsch (1923)
    • 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.
    Defendants at the treason trial following the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Ludendorff is in The centre. Hitler is on his left.
  • 23. Economic Crisis
    • 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.
  • 24. Hyper-inflation
    • 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.
  • 25. Conclusion
    • 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.