The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919, in Germany, to replace the imperial form of government.
Following World War I, the republic emerged from the German Revolution in November 1918. In 1919, a National Assembly convened in the city of Weimar and a new constitution for the German Reich was written and adopted on 11th August. This liberal democracy eventually lapsed in the early 1930's, leading to the ascent of the NSDAP and Adolf Hitler, in 1933.
In its 14 years, the Weimar Republic was faced with numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremists and their paramilitaries, and hostility from the winners of the First World War. However, it overcame many discriminatory regulations of the Treaty of Versailles, reformed the currency, unified tax politics and the railway system.
The name Weimar Republic was never used officially during its existence. Despite its political form, the new republic was still known as "Deutsches Reich".
In October 1918, the constitution of the German Empire was reformed to introduce a parliamentary system similar to the British, but this soon became obsolete.
On 29 October, rebellion broke out in Kiel among sailors. There, sailors, soldiers and workers began electing worker and soldier councils modeled by the soviets of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The revolution spread throughout Germany, and participants seized military and civil powers in individual cities. The country seemed to be on the verge of a communist revolution. On 7 November, the revolution had reached Munich, causing King Ludwig of Bavaria to flee.
In order not to lose their influence, the remaining Majority Social Democrats (MSPD), who supported the war efforts and a parliamentary system, decided to put themselves at the front of the movement, and on 7 November, demanded that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate.
On 9 November 1918, the German Republic was proclaimed by MSPD member Philipp Scheidemann at the Reichstag building in Berlin, to the fury of Freidrich Ebert, the leader of the MSPD, who thought that the question of monarchy or republic should be answered by a national assembly.
Two hours later a Free Socialist Republic was proclaimed by Karl Liebknecht, co-leader with Rosa Luxemburg, of the communist Spartakusbind, which had allied itself with the USPD in 1917.
On 10 November a coalition government called "Council of People's Commissioners" was established, consisting of three MSPD and three USPD members. Led by Ebert for the MSPD and Hugo Haase for the USPD it sought to act as collective head of state.
Although the new government was confirmed by the Berlin worker and soldier council, it was opposed by the Spartacist league.
Ebert called for a National Congress of Councils, which took place from 16 December to 20 December 1918, and in which the MSPD had the majority. Thus Ebert managed to enforce quick elections for a National Assembly to produce a constitution for a parliamentary system.
From November 1918 through January 1919, Germany was governed by the Council of People's Commissioners. It issued a large number of decrees which were confined to certain spheres: the eight-hour workday, domestic labour reform, agricultural labour reform, right of civil-service associations, local municipality social welfare relief (split between Reich and States) and important national health insurance, re-instatement of demobilised workers, protection from arbitrary dismissal with appeal as a right, regulated wage agreement, and universal suffrage from 20 years of age in all types of elections - local and national.
The split in the social democratic movement became final after Ebert called upon the army to put down another Berlin army mutiny on 23 November 1918, in which soldiers had captured the city's garrison commander and closed off the "Reichskanzlei" where the Council of People's Commissioners was situated. The ensuing street fighting was brutal with several dead and injured on both sides. Thus, the USPD left the Council of People's Commissioners and in December the split deepened when the Communist Party of German (KPD) was formed out of a number of radical left-wing groups, including the left wing of the USPD and the Spartacist League group.
In January, the Spartacist League and others in the streets of Berlin made more armedattempts to establish communism, known as the Spartacist uprising. Those attempts were put down by paramilitary "Freikorps" units consisting of volunteer soldiers. Bloody street fights culminated in the beating and shooting deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht after their arrests on 15 January.
The National Assembly elections took place 19 January 1919.To avoid the ongoing fights in Berlin, the National Assembly convened in the city of Weimar, giving the future Republic its unofficial name. The Weimar Constitution created a republic under a parliamentary republic system with the Reichstag elected by proportional representation. The democratic parties obtained a solid 80% of the vote.
During the debates in Weimar, fighting continued. A Soviet republic was declared in Munich, but was quickly put down by "Freikorps" and remnants of the regular army. The fall of the Munich Soviet Republic to these units, many of which were situated on the extreme right, resulted in the growth of far-right movements and organizations in Bavaria, including "Organisation Consul, the NSDAP, and societies of exiled Russian Monarchists". Sporadic fighting continued to flare up around the country. In eastern provinces, forces loyal to Germany's fallen Monarchy fought the republic.
The permanent economic crisis was a result of lost pre-war industrial exports, the loss of supplies in raw materials and foodstuffs from Alsace-Lorraine, Polish districts and the colonies, along with worsening debt balances and reparations payments.
Military-industrial activity had almost ceased, although controlled demobilisation kept unemployment at around one million. The fact that the Allies continued to blockade Germany until after the Treaty of Versailles did not help matters, either.
The allies permitted only low import levels of goods that most Germans could not afford. After four years of war and famine, many German workers were exhausted, physically impaired and discouraged. Millions were disenchanted with capitalism and hoping for a new era. Meanwhile the currency depreciated.
The German peace delegation in France signed the Treaty accepting mass reductions of the German military, substantial war reparations payments, and the controversial "War Guilt Clause".
The new post-World War I Germany, stripped of all colonies, became 13,3% smaller in its European territory than its imperial predecessor.
The Republic was soon under attack from both left and right wing sources. The radical left accused the ruling Social Democrats of having betrayed the ideals of the worker's movement by preventing a communist revolution. Various right-wing sources opposed any democratic system, preferring an authoritarian state like the 1871 Empire. To further undermine the Republic's credibility, some right-wingers (especially certain members of the former officer corps) also blamed an alleged conspiracy of Socialists and Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I.
The first challenge to the Weimar Republic came when a group of communists and anarchists took over the Bavarian government in Munich and declared the creation of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. The communist rebel state was put down one month later when "Freikorps" units were brought in to fight the leftist rebels. Other communist rebellions were put down in March 1921 in Saxony and Hamburg.
By 1923, the Republic claimed it could no longer afford the reparations payments required by the Versailles Treaty, and the government defaulted on some payments. In response, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region, Germany's most productive industrial region at the time, taking control of most mining and manufacturing companies, in January 1923.
Strikes were called, and passive resistance was encouraged. These strikes lasted eight months, further damaging the economy and increasing the expense of imports. The strike prevented goods from being produced. This infuriated the French, who began to kill and exile protesters in the region.
Since striking workers were paid benefits by the state, much additional currency was printed, fueling a period of hyperinflation. The 1920's German inflation started when Germany had no goods with which to trade.
The government printed money to deal with the crisis; this allowed Germany to pay war loans and reparations with worthless marks. Circulation of money rocketed, and soon the Germans discovered their money was worthless. The value of the Papiermark had declined from 4.2 per US dollar at the outbreak of World War I to 1 million per dollar by August 1923.This led to further criticism of the Republic.
On 15 November 1923, a new currency, the Rentenmark, was introduced at the rate of 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) Papiermark for one Rentenmark, an action known as a monetary reset. At that time, one U.S. dollar was equal to 4.2 Rentenmark. Reparation payments resumed, and the Ruhr was returned to Germany under the Locarno Pact, which defined aborder between Germany, France and Belgium.
Further pressure from the right came in 1923 with the Beer Hall Putsch, also called the Munich Putsch, staged by Adolf Hitler in Munich. In 1920, the german Worker's Party had become the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP), nicknamed the Nazi Party, and would become a driving force in the collapse of Weimar.
Gustav Stresemann was "ReichsKanzler" for 100 days in 1923, and served as foreign minister from 1923–1929, a period of relative stability for the Weimar Republic.
Durning his time as Chancellor, Stresemann worked to restore order in Germany by using the "Freikorps", made up of former soldiers, to quell various rebellions that had sprung up, particularly the Spartacist uprising. Once civil stability had been restored, Stresemann could set about stabilising the German currency, which would promote confidence in the German economy and help the recovery that was so ardently needed for the German nation to keep up with their reparation repayments, while at the same time feeding and supplying the nation.
Stresemann's first move as foreign minister was to issue a new currency, the Rentenmark, to halt the extreme hyperinflation crippling German society and the economy. It was successful because Stresemann refused to issue more currency, the cause of the inflationary spiral. The currency was based internally and restored the confidence in the economy.
Once the economy as stabilized, Stresemann could set about putting a permanent currency in place, called the 'ReichMark' (1924) which again contributed to the growing level of international confidence in the German economy.
The 1920's saw a massive cultural revival in Germany. Innovative street theatre brought plays to the public, the cabaret scene and jazz band became very popular.
Not everyone, however, was happy with the changes taking place in Weimar culture. Many of the older generations felt that Germany was losing her traditional values by adopting popular styles from abroad, particularly the USA. Hollywood popularized American film, while New York became the global capital of fashion. Germany was more susceptible to Americanization, because of the close economic links brought about by the Dawes plan.
In 1929, four years after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Stresemann died of a heart attack at the age of 51. This event marked the end of the "Golden Era" of the Weimar Republic.
The last years of the Weimar Republic were stamped by even more political instability than in the previous years. The administrations of Chancellors Brüning, Papen, Schleicher and Hitler (from 30 January to 23 March 1933) governed through presidential decree.
Heinrich Brüning was appointed as successor of Chancellor Müller by "Reichspräsident" Paul von Hindenburg on 29 March 1930, after months of political lobbying by General Kurt von Schleicher on behalf of the military.
The Parliament "Reichstag" general elections on 14 September 1930 resulted in an enormous political shift: 18,3% of the vote went to the Nazis, five times the percentage compared to 1928. It was no longer possible to form a pro-republican majority in the "Reichstag", not even a Grand Coalition of all major parties except the KPD, NSDAP and DNVP. This encouraged the supporters of the Nazis to force their claim to power by increasing organization of public demonstrations and paramilitary violence against rival paramilitary groups.
From 1930 to 1932, Brüning tried to reform the devastated state without a majority in Parliament, governing with the help of the President's emergency decrees. During that time, the Great Depression reached its high point.
On 30 May 1932, Brüning resigned after no longer having Hindenburg's support. Hindenburg then appointed Franz von Papen as new Reichskanzler.
Von Papen was closely associated with the industrialist and land-owning classes, and pursued an extreme Conservative policy along Hindenburg's lines. He appointed as Reichswehr Minister Kurt von Schleicher, and all the members of the new cabinet were of the same political opinion as Hindenburg.
Because most parties opposed the new government, von Papen had the "Reichstag" dissolved and called for new elections. The general elections on 31 July 1932 yielded major gains for the KPD and the NSDAP (the Nazis), who won 37,2% of the vote, supplanting the Social Democrats as the largest party in the Reichstag.
Hitler refused ministry under Papen, and demanded the chancellorship for himself, but was rejected by Hindenburg on 13 August 1932. There was still no majority in the "Reichstag" for any government; as a result, the Reichstag was dissolved and elections took place once more in the hope that a stable majority would result.
The 6 November 1932 elections yielded 33,1% for the Nazis, two million voters less than in the previous election. Franz von Papen stepped down and was succeeded by General Kurt von Schleicher as "Reichskanzler" on 3 December.
Outmaneuvered by von Papen and Hitler on plans for the new cabinet, and having lost Hindenburg's confidence, Schleicher asked for new elections.
On 28 January von Papen described Hitler to Paul von Hindenburg as only a minority part of an alternative, von Papen-arranged government. On 30 January 1933 Hindenburg accepted the new Papen-Nationalist-Hitler coalition with the Nazis holding only three of eleven Cabinet seats. Hindenburg, despite his misgivings about the Nazi's goals and about Hitler as a person, reluctantly agreed to Papen's theory that, with Nazi popular support on the wane, Hitler could now be controlled as chancellor.
Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor on the morning of 30 January 1933. On 15 March the first cabinet meeting was attended by the two coalition parties, representing a minority in the Reichstag: The Nazis and the DNVP led by Alfred Hugenberg (196 + 52 seats).
According to the Nuremberg Trials this cabinet meeting's first order of business was how at last to achieve the complete counter-revolution by means of the constitutionally allowed Enabling Act, requiring two-thirds parliamentary majority. This Act would, and did, lead Hitler and the NSDAP toward his goal of unfettered dictatorial powers.