Weimar, 1918 - 1923

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Weimar, 1918 - 1923

  1. Abdication and the ‘Stab in the Back’
  2. The German Revolution
  3. The Treaty of Versailles
  4. The Kapp Putsch, 1920
  5. Formation of the Nazi Party
  6. Economics and the Ruhr
  7. The NSDAP, 1921-23
  8. Internal Disorder
  9. The Munich Putsch
  10. The Trial
  11. Essay Questions

1.        Abdication and the ‘Stab in the Back’

a.        War situation and the generals

In the summer of 1918, WW I began to develop into open. After the initial success of Operation Michael, the Germans were on the retreat. The generals decided that Germany should sign an armistice.

WL Shirer

        “General Ludendorff, the actual leader of the High Command, had insisted on September 28,         1918, on an armistice ‘at once’ and his nominal superior, Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, had         supported him.”

D Thomson

        “With news of unrest at home, even rumours of revolution, it was the nerve of the German         generals, especially of Ludendorff, which broke first.”

On October 2nd, Hindenburg reiterated the need for a truce to the Kaiser, stating that “The army cannot wait forty-eight hours.”

b.        Civilian Government

At the end of September 1918, the conduct of the war passed into civilian hands. Prince Max of Baden became Chancellor, responsible to the Reichstag rather than the Kaiser. Germany had effectively become a constitutional monarchy. This government wanted to continue the war in spite of the generals’ objections.

c.        Civil Unrest

i) Kiel

On 4th November a Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council (a Soviet) was set up in defiance of the central authorities. Sailors began to mutiny, but this was limited.

AJ Nicholls

        “During the first few days after the Kiel disturbances power had changed hands in only a few         north-western cities and only on a local level.”

ii) Munich

A by-election campaign was changed into agitation for a republic. Faced with growing violence King Ludwig III (the last Wittelsbach monarch) left Bavaria on the 7th November. On the 8th November a Bavarian republic was proclaimed. The new premier was Kurt Eisner, an Independent Social Democrat.

D Thomson

        “In Bavaria trade unionists and socialists of Munich set up a republic under Kurt Eisner, a         Jewish socialist journalist recently released from prison.”

iii) Berlin

In the capital and its surrounding towns, Soviets were being set up throughout early November. The authorities discovered a plan for revolution, set for November 11th.

d.        Abdication and Armistice

On November 8th the cabinet received an ultimatum from the SPD (members of the coalition government) which stated that they would leave the coalition unless the Kaiser and the Crown Prince were to abdicate. On November 9th, Wilhelm II abdicated (Prince Max of Baden announced this in cabinet) and fled to Holland. Prince Max also resigned as Chancellor, and handed office to Ebert (the leader of the SPD), who formed a provisional government. An armistice commission was formed and sent to negotiate with the western allies. On November 10th, they reported back, giving the details and the conditions which the allies intended to impose. On November 11th, the armistice was signed in Marshall Foch’s railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne.

e.        The ‘November Criminals’

Amongst Germans, the popular image was that the country had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the SPD with the signing of the armistice. The ‘November Criminals’ seemed to have allowed Germany’s defeat and subsequent harsh punishment when the army was still fighting bravely at the front, in no danger of defeat.

WL Shirer

        “It mattered not at all that the German Army, shrewdly and cowardly, had manoeuvred         the… government into signing the armistice which the military leaders had insisted upon         … But millions of Germans refused to concede this. They had to find scapegoats for the         defeat and for their humiliation and misery.”

2.        The German Revolution

The period 1918-20 is often termed the period of ‘German Revolution’. This tern applies to both:

  • the period of political turmoil and unrest; and
  • the change from a monarchy to a republic (therefore, the abdication was part of the revolution).

Why was this a period of political unrest?

  • Economics: Unemployment and unrest due to the war’s end.

AJ Nicholls

        “War production naturally fell away with the end of hostilities.”

  • Social Movement: Soldiers returning from the war were demanding change.

AJ Nicholls

        “Soldiers and sailors usually made up the most radical element in these activities.”

  • Leaders: Political authority was weak, while the revolutionary leaders were appealing and exciting, especially Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht of the Spartakist Union.

Lord Bullock

        “Between January 1919 and April 1920, however, there was a whole series of strikes and         demonstrations in Berlin and the industrial districts of Germany, which frequently led to         fighting. In the Ruhr, in the spring of 1920, this assumed the proportions of civil war.”

a.        The Spartakists

During December 1918, there were frequent clashes between Spartakists and soldiers. The Spartakus League (or Spartakist Union) was a revolutionary, Marxist organisation. By the end of December 1918, it had formed the German Communist Party (KPD), but its members were always known as ‘the Spartakists’. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (see above) led it. They demanded that the country be run by Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in line with Lenin’s slogan “All power to the Soviets!” In January 1919 they organised a general strike and attempted revolution in Berlin; which the army and Freikorps crushed.

b.        National Assembly

In January 1919, elections were held to elect an assembly that would draft a constitution to replace the imperial system. The majority of representatives supported the republic proclaimed in November. The National Assembly met in Weimar in February 1919 to draw up the constitution, Berlin was beset by problems with radicals and agitation by revolutionaries. Drafts for a new constitution were being drawn up before the Assembly met; Hugo Preuss (SPD) was charged with this task by Ebert on November 14th, 1918.

D Thomson

        “Most of the Social Democrats, wedded to the idea of a democratic republic based on         representative institutions, supported the new assembly.”

c.        ‘Revolution’ in Bavaria

D Thomson

        “The meeting of the Weimar Assembly in February was accompanied by a period of civil         war in Bavaria.”

In February 1919, elections were held for a new local government in Bavaria. The socialists were defeated overwhelmingly and their leader, Kurt Eisner, was assassinated. The reaction was an eruption of political unrest, fomented by agitators. Local soviets assumed power in the towns, supported by workers. On April 7th, 1919, Bavaria was declared to be a Soviet Republic. It took until May 1st for the army (with the Freikorps’ support) to enter Munich and put down the Soviets. Afterwards, summary justice was evident.

d.        The Weimar Constitution

The National Assembly approved the new constitution on July 31st 1919 to come into effect on August 14th  

  1. President

Head of state, elected for a seven-year term of office, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Powers included the power to:        appoint and dismiss the Chancellor (Prime Minister);

                                dissolve the Reichstag; veto legislation while waiting for a referendum;

                                declare a, and govern by decree in a, national emergency;

  1. Legislature
  • The Reichstag (lower house), elected every 4 years, using PR (universal suffrage over the age of 20).

The Chancellor had to be chosen from the Reichstag, and was responsible to it.

AJ Nicholls

        “The country was divided into 38 large districts and parties put up lists of candidates in         each of these. The number of votes cast for a party in any electoral district decided how         many candidates from its list would be sent to the assembly … for every 60,000 votes a         party received it could count one Reichstag member.”

  • The Reichsrat (upper house) consisted of representatives of the regional (Länder) governments.

It had the power to veto legislation passed by the Reichstag.

iii)                Referenda (aka - plebiscites)

These were votes by all electors to decide policy on a single issue. They could come about by two means:

  • The President could call one when conflict existed between the houses, or if he objected to legislation.
  • The people could demand a referendum if 10% of the population were to petition for it.

e.        Real ‘Revolution’?

AJ Nicholls

        “The revolution had provided Germany with an armistice and a Republic. It was clear         that her new political institutions would be genuinely democratic in a sense they had         never been before.”

Evidently there was revolutionary change e.g. the end of monarchy and the imposition of a Republic; the replacement of autocracy by democracy. However, the more common view is that very little was achieved.

Lord Bullock

“For those who shared the Marxist view that no revolution was worthy of the name unless, like the 1917 revolution in Russia, it led to a permanent alteration in the relationship between classes, the German revolution of 1918-20 was not a revolution at all … To borrow a phrase [from AJP Taylor] … German history reached a turning point         – and failed to turn.”

This is why the Spartakists denounced the new Republic, according to AJ Nicholls: “Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht argued that the November Revolution was a sham and that the proletariat must be mobilised.”

Why, then, was this not a real ‘revolution’?

  • The civil service remained unreformed; its numbers swelled after 1919. Ministers who had not held office before were dependent on old guard, conservative civil servants.

The judiciary was unaltered; it remained upper class and conservative, as AJ Nicholls purports:“Cases of a political nature were judged according to standards which had changed little since the time of Bismarck.”

  • Local government remained unchanged; the Länder kept their influence

3.        The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was a Diktat imposed upon Germany without her input.  It was designed to insult her: the venue was where the first Kaiser had been proclaimed after the Franco-Prussian War.

a.        Territorial Losses

  • Posen and Upper Silesia were given to Poland;
  • Danzig was made a free city under League of Nations control;
  • Memel was given to Lithuania;
  • After a referendum, Schleswig was given to Denmark;
  • Eupen and Malmedy were given to Belgium;
  • Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France;
  • Germany’s overseas colonies and holdings were given to Britain, France, Japan and South Africa;
  • The Saarland was given to France for 15 years, when a plebiscite would determine the region’s future;
  • The Rhineland was demilitarised. No military forces were permitted within 50 km of the right bank.

b.        Economics

Loss of heavy industry and raw materials included:

  • Alsace-Lorraine: iron and steel;
  • The Saarland: coal;
  • Upper Silesia: coal and steel;
  • Danzig: shipbuilding.

Reparations were set at:

  • £6,600 million OR 132,000 million Gold Marks and 10% of all profits made by German industry.

c.        Military

i)             Army

  • 100,000 men;
  • No conscription – all soldiers to be volunteers and professionals;
  • Light infantry and cavalry only (seven divisions of infantry, three of cavalry);
  • No tanks or armoured vehicles; no heavy artillery; no chemical weapons.
  1.   Air Force
  • None.
  1.   Navy
  • 150,000 men;
  • No conscription – all sailors to be volunteers and professionals;
  • No submarines;
  • No ships of displacement greater than 10,000 tonnes.

d.        Diplomatic

  • Germany was forbidden to unite with Austria (Anschluß);
  • Germany was not allowed to be in the League of Nations, as a permanent or temporary member;
  • Article 231 – War Guilt Clause, included to justify reparations, which were laid out in Article 232.

Article 231:        “The Allied governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of                         Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied                 governments and their peoples have been subjected as a result of the war.”

4.        The Kapp Putsch, 1920

According to the Versailles Treaty, the German army was to be reduced to 100,000 men by 31st March 1920. This was obviously not popular within the army: the leaders feared a loss of power and prestige; the soldiers feared the loss of their jobs! The High Command prepared to comply with the Treaty and reduce the army’s numbers. On March 9th, 1920, the order was issued for General von Lüttwitz to be relieved of his command of Ehrhardt’s Naval Brigade, preparatory to demobilisation. Lüttwitz was not happy about this, and laid plans to march Captain Ehrhardt’s brigade on Berlin and join up with political malcontents, led by Dr. Wolfgang Kapp. This, at least, was the popular image of events; namely that it was a spontaneous act. In fact, this was an attempt on power planned well in advance.

Join now!

Sir John Wheeler-Bennett

        “The conspiracy had been nine months coming to birth.”

The aim was to overthrow the Weimar government and constitution and institute a military dictatorship, with Kapp at its head. On March 11th, Noske, the Minister of Defence, issued orders for the arrest of Lüttwitz and other leaders of this possible Putsch.

Who was involved?

  • General von Lüttwitz, Captain Ehrhardt and Captain Baltikum – all of the army;
  • Count Westarp – former leader of the Reichstag Conservative Party;
  • Pastor Traub – former Court Chaplain to Wilhelm II;
  • Traugott von Jagow – former Police President ...

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