The Weimar Republic
Key features and issues
* successes and failures of democracy
* nature and role of nationalism
* influence of the German army
* changes in society
From this tutorial you will learn about the political, economic and social issues in the Weimar Republic to 1929. The following are extracts from an article which first appeared in Teaching History, July 1998 and is expanded in the HTA Modern History Guide 2006. Political and Economic issues
In order to understand reasons for the collapse of the Weimar Republic, it is essential to examine its political history. With six governments between 1924 and 1928, it had no real political stability. Also, many of the parties were narrowly sectional, their priority being to look after the interests of the class, area or religion that they represented. Overall loyalty to democracy was often of secondary importance. The existence throughout the 1920s of paramilitary groups also reflects a weakness in the democracy. Such groups include the Nazi Sturmabteilung, nationalist Stahlhelm and communist Red Front. Army commander Von Seeckt saw the need to support Stresemann's policy of fulfilment so that Germany could gain stability and time to recover; but the Army tolerated rather than supported democracy. Generals had an inordinate influence on cabinet and, after 1925, on the President. In the late 1920s, generals like Groener and Schleicher were in a position to push for strong government and this helped to undermine democracy. In 1926 Luther's government actually resigned over the issue of which flag German ships would fly, the old imperial flag or the new republican one. This indicates the continuing division in loyalties and the fragility of democracy. (Flags are a very emotive issue in any country!) In 1926 a referendum on a proposal to redistribute the wealth of the old royal families was defeated. The proposal had been sponsored by the communists and supported by the Social Democrats (SDs). This, however, was enough to generate middle-class opposition. Once again, even in the good years, the following were demonstrated: clear divisions, a continuing attachment to the imperial past, very limited support for republican ideals and a tendency on the part of the middle class to side with the right wing whenever they felt threatened by the left. Philosophers such as Oswald Spendler were anti-democratic and promoted an authoritarian, nationalist outlook. The old right wing was never loyal to the republic, even when conditions were relatively good. As AJP Taylor says, the "national classes" saw in the republic "only the symbol of defeat". Stresemann, the hero of the good years for democracy, was hardly a committed democrat. His policy of fulfilment was designed to give Germany a respite so that it could recover from the war. His ultimate intention was to undo the conditions of the Versailles Treaty and recover lost territory. He advised others to become "republicans of the head, not the heart".
There were considerable achievements in social policy:
* 1927 Provisional Work Hours Law: limited work hours or provided penalty rates for overtime * 1927 Unemployment Insurance Act: national insurance for unemployed * Pay increases for lower levels of the civil service.
These measures were popular with workers but helped to alienate business people, especially those in small businesses. To the middle class it seemed that workers were doing well out of democracy but their own position was being eroded. For big business it seemed that the unions were gaining too much power. In the 1928 election moderate parties did well, with gains for the Social Democrats. However, they still needed to form a coalition government containing some right-wing ministers. Unfortunately, one of the first things this new government had to deal with again was the reparations question. The Young Plan was a further improvement on the Dawes Plan; but, because it required Germany...
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