Germany 1918 - 1939

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1. The Weimar Republic
The Emergence of a Democratic Republic
In November 1918 there began a ‘revolution’ in Germany. This started with a widespread protest movement which as fed by war weariness and the demanding of extensive reforms. On the 9th of November, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and a National Assembly was to be elected to draw up a democratic constitution. Some protestors had wanted to replace the army with a revolutionary milita, nationalize industry and remove key public servants and judges from their positions if their loyalty remained with the old conservative order. However, the revolution would be restricted to modest reform of the political system and would not become as radical as some had wanted. Subsequently they demonstrated their discontent on a number of occasions. A problem with this was that if the Republic was to survive then there had to be drastic reforms to the old institutions but the Weimar Republic failed to do this. Between March and May 1920 a 50,000 Red Army operated in the Ruhr industrial region but it was repressed and nothing was achieved. Members were executed by the Freikorps, with the backing of the regular army and the approval of the Social Democrats. Ebert, the first president of the German Republic, passed a decree which authorized these murders. The government was seen as largely ignoring the illegal actions by the right wing extremists but suppressing any perceived threat from left wing groups. The existence of military bands and private armies, particularly the Freikorps, was a danger to peaceful political development. The failure of the Weimar Republic to take firm action to suppress these bands permitted the electorate to be intimidated and contributed to the destruction of democracy. This created a precedent which proved detrimental to the fortunes of the new republic. Elections for the National Assembly were held on the 19th January 1919 and those political parties which supported a program of moderate reform received a majority of the votes and formed the Weimar Coalition. By the end of July the Assembly had drawn up and ratified a new constitution. It meant that a Reichstag would be elected at least every 4 years, elections would be conducted on the basis of proportional representation, a President would be elected every 7 years and in times of emergency the President would be empowered to ‘rule by decree’ and to dismiss the Reichstag and arrange new elections. Already there were some problems with the new constitution – the use of the system of proportional representation multiplied the number of political parties which resulted in unstable government and frequent changes in government. Also, the people who wrote the Weimar Constitution were not confident in democracy and that is why they included Article 48. The new constitution was very democratic and its success depended on the willingness of elected politicians to work in harmony. The constitution had one of the most successful social welfare systems in the world. The constitution sought to safeguard the fundamental rights of citizens, all citizens were entitled to free welfare and the unemployed were proved for by unemployment benefits. Alex de Jonge argued that democracy would have had more of a chance of surviving if the new government had been a Constitutional Monarchy instead of a Republic. Versailles Peace Settlement

The peace terms were far tougher than had been expected. The Chancellor, Gustov Bauer, only agreed to accept the peace treaty because he didn’t want to ‘assume the responsibility of a new war’. By the terms of the treaty Germany lost many of its inhabitants, lost some of its territory – Alsace-Lorraine went to France, Germany’s army and navy were restricted, conscription was abolished, Germany had to accept sole guilt for the outbreak of the war, they had to pay reparations and the Rhineland was demilitarised. This produced a sense of aggrieved nationalism amongst Germans, a sense...
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