The Weimar Republic was the constitutional system, the state, that ruled Germany between 1919 and 1933. Because of the insecurity in Berlin after the war where both left- and right-wing extremists tried to take power, the new democratic government was set up in Weimar, judged to be a safe place.
As Germany had been forced to disarm her huge army, the country was now filled with unemployed ex-soldiers, bitter and filled with strong nationalism.
These, together with the right-wing extremists, formed bands of Freikorps whom did not accept the Versailles Treaty, the loss of the war and the Weimar Republic.
The Troubled Start
At the end of the First World War different political extremist groups tried to take power. Amongst them were a Socialist republic under Kurt Eisner, the Spartakist Uprising (which leaders were brutally murdered (Kurt Liebkniecht and Rosa Luxemburg)), right-wing extremists under Wolfgang Kapp.
Out of the above, the army spared only the latter which in fact was crushed by the Weimar Republic itself…
The Weimar Republic and Adolf Hitler
Due to the early troubles, the Weimar Republic inherited a weakness already; the Germany army could perhaps not be trusted to defend the existence and power of the Republic.
In the cases of left-wing attempts to overthrow the state however, the army commander were keen to defend the government.
What in the end killed the right-wing attempt to overtake power was a general strike issued by President Ebert, which forced Wolfgang Kapp to leave his power after 3 days.
In 1993 in Munich, Adolf Hitler and the local right-wing party, the Nazional Sozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiter Party (NSDAP), tried to carry out a coup. The attempt was supposed to create a massive following as Hitler wanted to make a march to Berlin. It was however stopped by the Munich police who shot at the marchers, killing some.
Hitler fled but was arrested and sentenced to 6 years in prison in 1924.
Weimar politicians were blamed for the 1918 armistice, nationalists claimed it was a “Stab in the Back” of the victorious Germany army.
These politicians were also blamed for signing the Treaty of Versailles.
The republic had an election system which was proportional. This was 100% democratic. There was however no threshold to how small the parties of the Reichstag could be (only needing about 60’000 votes).
Therefore several small parties sat in the Reichstag which in turn created political instability. On average, the republic changed government every six months, and it was difficult to create stable majority support for the government.
Instead, the governments were weak coalitions with the SPD (Sozialistiche Partei Deutschlands) depending on the Catholics or Liberals for support.
In 14 years, the Republic had 21 different governments, only eight of them had majority support.
The political parties of Germany had never under Bismarck or Wilhelm really carried the responsibility of governing the country. Thus, they had not understood the importance of compromise and pragmatism.
Some parties even went as far as organizing troops against each other. This added to the weakness of the parliamentary system under Weimar. According to the constitution, in case of the parliament failing, the president had the possibility of governing through emergency decree.
In 1921 the reparation payments for Germany to pay were fixed at Â£6’600 million. This was seen as a burden too heavy to bear, and France agreed that it could be payed in goods instead of currency.
But the Germans asked for postponement in 1921, 1922 and 1923… The French lost their patience as they needed the money not only for reparations but also to pay their debts to the USA. As a result, French troops invaded the Ruhr area in 1923 to physically make Germany pay.
Berlin ordered a strike and France sent over their own workers to run the factories. The invasion was called the Ruhr Crisis.
Economically, the Ruhr Crisis was a major disaster for Germany as they lost 95% of the level of production in the area.
Following this event, Germany also started over-printing money to pay the striking workers. It seems that Germany wanted to demonstrate to the world how unfair the reparations were.
Germany was struck by hyper-inflation, some big change in German policies had to happen!
The Second Crisis of Weimar
In 1929 a financial crisis started in the American countryside which by October hit the stock market at Wall Street. The Wall Street Crash caused US banks to urgently ask the debts to be paid.
For Germany this was disastrous. Investment funds for German industry dried up and factories laid off workers. Within two years, six million people lost their job. Consequences of this were that extreme parties gained voters causing an impossibility to create a majority government. This undermined the Republic and opened the door to the Nazis.