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A Brief History of the Weimar Republic

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In 1918, Germany's army retreated on the Western Front. Thousands of German troops had surrendered at the Battle of Amiens, and the German High Command acknowledged that they could no longer win the war. As such, armistice talks with the Entente began; and one of the requirements for an armistice with them was for the kaiser to abdicate. On November 11, 1918, the war ended; and by that time the king had stepped down from the throne.

The defeat of the German army, combined with the demise of the monarchy, ensured that a new charter would be required. No longer could Germany rely on an autocratic monarchy, which had only a minimal parliament. In the months that followed the armistice, the Socialist parties were influential in establishing a more democratic Germany.

In 1919, Germany established the Weimar Republic with a multiparty parliament and Ebert as president.[1] The leader of the largest party in the Reichstag became German chancellor. All parties in the Reichstag were elected by proportional representation. The Reichstag included a number of parties, but the Socialist parties such as the SPD were among the largest.

At the Paris Peace Conference the Entente drafted the Treaty of Versailles that outlined peace terms. This treaty had a number of territorial and military provisions. Among them Germany was expected to demilitarize most of its military, and in addition to this France and Britain requested reparation compensation. Germany lost all of its colonies, Alsace-Lorraine in Western Europe and territory along its eastern border to Poland such as the Polish Corridor, which separated East Prussia from Germany. Nonetheless, with Entente armies in eastern France the Weimar Republic accepted the treaty.

During the early years of the Weimar Republic, both far left and right-wing parties, namely Communists and Fascists, were very active. The Bolshevik coup in Russia inspired the Communists, and in 1919 the Spartacus uprising was disbanded. In 1920, Lundendorff supported the Kapp Putsch, although this putsch failed. A final putsch in 1923 at the beer halls of Munich also failed, and those arrested were Nazi Party members.

There was an inflationary spiral in Germany in 1923. As the republic defaulted on reparations, French troops occupied the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. A steep inflationary spiral followed. To curb the inflation, the German chancellor, Stresemann, introduced a Rentenmark currency. This would only be a temporary currency, but the monetary policy was effective in curbing inflation.

It was the first step towards an economic recovery, and the second was the 1924 Dawes Plan that provided a clear outline for how the war reparations could be collected. This plan proposed greater American investment and the evacuation of the Ruhr. With US loans Germany began to cover the reparations.

In 1925, Germany, France and Britain met at the Locarno Conference. At this conference Stresemann was German foreign minister, and it was here that the participants signed the Rhineland Pact that effectively settled the Franco-German border as outlined by the Versailles Treaty. Although Germany’s eastern border would remain open to revision. Germany also agreed to join the League of Nations by 1926. A coming together of former wartime enemies seemed to mark the beginning of a new era in Europe. For his part in the conference, Stresemann received the Noble Peace Prize.

During the mid-1920s, the economy had also recovered from the postwar slump. Industries such as coal, chemicals, iron and steel would begin to reach prewar levels during this economic recovery.

Ebert’s reign as president was coming to a close by 1925. As such, in 1925 the Weimar Republic held presidential elections. Former World War One hero Hindenburg emerged as one of the front-runners in this contest and duly won the 1925 presidential election.

In 1929, Wall Street crashed. This would have notable economic consequences in Germany as the Dawes Plan had depended on US loans. As a result, in the early 1930s the German economy declined.

Such decline ensured a greater number of seats for Fascist and Communist parties as coalitions came and went. In 1932, the Nazi Party won 32% of the vote; so emerged as the largest party in the Reichstag. However, this was still not enough for a clear majority. Further elections held did not provide a majority for any party either, so a coalition was established that included the Nazi Party.

Hitler was officially the last chancellor of the Weimar Republic before it was gradually disbanded. The passing of the Enabling Act marked the beginning of the end of the republic. Reichstag fires effectively demolished Germany’s parliament thanks to Van Der Lubbe and the Communists who assisted the Nazi Party. Support for the KPD gradually declined as the Communists dispersed.

The Weimar Republic therefore only lasted a short period. However, in the second postwar era democracy would be restored in Western Germany at least. The Federal Republic of Germany had a similar charter to the republic, with a few modifications to remove some of the shortcomings of the original constitution. 

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Bibliography

  1. "Weimar Republic." Wiki. 16/09/2015 <Web >

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