‘During this period [the 1920s] the parliamentary and political system in Germany failed to make any real progress. It just coped as best it could. Government carried out its work but with only limited success.’ Geoff Layton, Democracy and Dictatorship in Germany 1919–63, 2015
Evaluate the strengths and limitations of this interpretation, referring to other interpretations that you have studied (20)
Economic problems were serious, including rising prices, unemployment, etc…
· Early challenges to the Weimar Republic
· Reasons for early unpopularity of the republic include, the “stab in the back” theory and the key terms of the treaty of Versailles.
· Challenges to the republic from left and right: Freikorps, Kapp Putsch.
· Challenges of 1923: hyperinflation, occupation of the Ruhr
· The recovery of the republic
· Reasons for economic recovery, including work of Stresemann, Rentenmark, the Dawes & young plan and American loans/investments.
· Impact on domestic policies of Stresemann’s achievements abroad: the Locarno pact and joining the league of nations.
Post world war I in 1919 the Weimar Republic was formed. At the beginning of this period it was thought that the country could accept a new democratic constitution, but the republic faced many challenges early on between 1919 and 1923 such as economic instability, political problems, and foreign policy issues. However, by the end of 1923 political and economic stability were being restored to Germany, and the Weimar did not face any challenges until 1929. Overall, I would say that the republic effectively managed with the problems it was faced during 1919-29.
During the Weimar Republic the political system faced some of the problems ineffectively as the Weimar Republic failed to provide a stable government this was because very few Germans really believed in democracy. The government was constantly unstable because there was no election threshold in the constitution, this resulted in a lot of smaller parties being elected to parliament. During the fourteen years of the Weimar Republic, there were twenty separate coalitions. The government didn’t last very long, the longest government lasted 2 years. This political chaos caused many to lose faith in the new democratic system. Another reason for this was because the voting system (voters voted for a party rather than individual candidates) meant that voters didn’t feel close to politicians. This resulted in dozens of tiny parties, with no party strong enough to get a majority, no government gets its laws passed in the Reichstag. This was a major weakness of the Republic.
The republic was threatened by communist uprisings (Spartacus revolt) in 1918-1919 in both Berlin & Munich. The communists wanted Germany to be run by the working classes, they believed that power and wealth should be shared equally among the population. The communists wanted to: overthrow the central government, establishing soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ councils) in place of central government in German towns/cities, and using violent methods. However, the republic survived all attempts to overthrow the communists: the army crushed the communist uprisings in 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1923 and the Munich Putsch in 1923, while the Kapp Putsch in 1920 was brought down by a general strike. By surviving the attempts, the republic effectively took care of the communist uprisings, this led to there being no serious political violence in Germany between 1923- early 1930’s.
The politics stabilised between 1924-1928, with the SPD gaining votes while the DNVP & Nazis lost them; in 1928 0nly 2.6% of Germans voted for the Nazis. Despite the political stabilisation, anti-democratic parties (KPD on the left, DNVP on the right) still had significant support. The parties that had anti-democratic platforms sought the destruction of parliamentary democracy. The liberal DDP’s support steadily declined, leaving SPD as the major party committed to democracy.
Overall, the political side of the Weimar Republic was dealt with weakly. Even though they dealt with some of the problems well, the problems that did occur were more impactful and caused more damage for the Weimar Republic.
During the Weimar Republic the economy faced some problems such as how Germany suffered continuously from high inflation & low living standards between the years 1919-1923, ending in the hyperinflation of 1923. Inflation means rising prices which means money buys less and is therefore worth less. High inflation was a problem as prices ran out of control this meant that Germany’s currency became worthless. As banknotes flooded the economy their value plummeted, leading to rapid increases in prices and wages. Hyperinflation eroded the cash savings of the middle/working class and disrupted commercial activity. The results of hyperinflation were complicated and bad such as: everyone suffered shortages as German marks were worthless in comparison to foreign currencies, everyone found it difficult to buy what they needed even if their wages went up, and people who had savings were hit the hardest as their money didn’t have much value anymore. This was a huge problem for the republic as the value for products such as bread went from 250 marks (Jan 1923) to 200,000 million marks (Nov 1923).
Another problem for the economy was that there was a failure to pay reparations this led to the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923; the governments decision to respond with “passive resistance” then caused hyperinflation. France became angry that Germany couldn’t pay so they sent troops into the German industrial area of the Ruhr, the French took raw materials, manufactured goods, and industrial machinery. The occupation of the Ruhr did the French little good, but it did cripple Germany. The German government urges passive resistance this led to workers going on strike, there was even some sabotage. The occupation of the Ruhr increased Germany’s debts, unemployment and the shortage of goods. This was a big problem for the republic as it meant that Germany was in debt of £6.6 billion and the reparations couldn’t be paid.
Furthermore, the economic recovery between 1923-1929 was fragile, this resulted in collapse following the Wall St Crash in 1929. As Stresemann admitted, “Germany is dancing on a volcano. If the short-term credits are called in, a large section of our economy would collapse”. Even before 1929 there was a crisis in agriculture, rising unemployment and a balance of payments deficit. This was bad for the economy and the republic as if there was another crisis Germany would completely collapse.
However, the republic managed to overcome hyperinflation, this happened when Stresemann was appointed foreign minister and chancellor of Weimar Germany. Stresemann stabilised Germany by solving hyperinflation to do this, he introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark, and stopped printing money. By doing this, Stresemann stopped hyperinflation and money rose in value, it also restored confidence in the economy. However, people who had lost their savings or businesses because of hyperinflation were still unhappy with the Weimar government. The Dawes plan 1924 was Stresemann’s idea of how to get money into Germany. Due to the Dawes plan, Germany was given a large loan from America and reparations were set at £132,000 million Marks, instead of £620,000 million Marks. Also, the French troops in the Ruhr were to be removed. As a result of the Dawes plan, Germany had to pay less reparations, and was able to re-build Germany. The workers were able to return to the coal mines in the Ruhr. However, some people didn’t like the Dawes plan as they thought Germany shouldn’t pay reparations at all because of this, Stresemann came up with the Young plan 1929, Stresemann organised that the total sum of reparation to be paid was reduced to £37,000 million Marks. This was to be paid annually over 58 years. Stresemann really helped out Germany so that it could be restored meaning that this was a key point for Germany and was effective for the Weimar Republic. Germany enjoyed a strong economic recovery between 1924-1929: the industrial production trebled, real wages rose by 50% & only 1/10 as many days were lost through strikes as in 1921 this happened when Stresemann was appointed chancellor between 1923-1924.
Overall, the economy was dealt with quite well as Stresemann introduced the Dawes plan and the Young plan which helped bring Germany’s economy back to normal.
During the Weimar Republic the foreign policies was effective as Stresemann resolved the Ruhr crisis by ending passive resistance and resuming reparation payments; this resulted in French & Belgian troops being withdrawn from occupying the Ruhr in 1924. The Dawes plan in 1924 made it easier for Germany to pay reparations by rescheduling their payments and providing US loans. This helped Germany to rebuild as the US lent them more than they needed. The Young plan in 1929 made it easier for Germany to pay reparations & provide US loans also it helped secure an agreement that enemy troops would leave the Rhineland by 1930. These helped effectively to deal with a lot of Germany’s main problems.
Also, Stresemann signed the Locarno Treaty which was an agreement signed between Britain, France, Belgium, Italy and Germany. It was signed on 1st December 1925. Stresemann believed that through signing the Treaty, it would increase confidence in Germany from their own people but also other European powers. The treaty improved Germany’s relations with the west and enabled Germany to join the league of nations in 1926, greatly improving their international position. This helped Germany as it helps resolve the big problem of foreign relations therefore showing that this effectively helped Germany’s problems.
At the same time, Stresemann’s foreign policy for Germany received 7 billion marks more in US loans than they ever paid in reparations. The USA & GB recognised that their prosperity depended on trade with Germany & were therefore willing to invest in her economic recovery; they also realised that economic prosperity was the key to preventing the rise of political extremism in Germany. By the US giving Germany a large loan, it helped solve the reparation problem and the rest of the money helped to bring up Germany’s economy and republic, this was effective against the problem of debt which was a big problem for Germany.
On the other hand, the Treaty of Versailles disarmed Germany and damaged its economy and also reduced Germany’s territory, it also left Germany diplomatically isolated. Apart from some reduction & rescheduling reparation payments, none of this was alleviated in the 1920’s and all of it was blamed on the republic through the myths of the “stab in the back” and the “November criminals”. The terms of the Treaty were damaging to Germany for a number of reasons: Germany had to accept responsibility for starting the war and the war guilt left many German’s feeling humiliated, also Germany’s armed/navy forces were severely reduced which caused Germany to be weak and unprepared for war.
Furthermore, Stresemann’s foreign policy successes did not restore national pride as Hitler’s did later. Reparations were not ended; the Rhineland was not evacuated until 1930 & Stresemann had both to accept the loss of Alsace Lorraine to France & to promise not to use force against Poland. 6 million Germans voted to reject the Young plan in the “Liberty Law” of 1929. This was seen as a problem as the republic weren’t happy that they still had to pay reparations even though, Stresemann had reduced them. This was seen as a problem however, in the referendum only 13.8% voted against the Young plan. This shows that it wasn’t a big problem for the Weimar Republic to deal with.
Overall, taking consideration of the above points I think that the Weimar Republic quite effectively dealt with the problems between 1919-1929 however there were a few difficulties during the Weimar Republic. Between 1919-1923 the problems Germany faced were major and on the verge of collapse socially and economically. However, this crisis was followed by a period of relative stability and success. The period between 1924-1929 was a time when the Weimar economy recovered. Germany’s stability period was only stable when Stresemann became chancellor. They restored their international relations with three events: the Locarno Treaties, League of Nations, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. These events meant that Germany was accepted into the international community to avoid another destructive war. So, in conclusion the Weimar Republic wasn’t dealt with successfully at the beginning but towards the end (1924-1929) it improved massively.