The main reasons why the Republic failed were problems with the constitution and the way the political system worked, lack of support for Weimar, problems between 1920-28 and the Wall Street Crash of 1929. However it needs to be decided if Weimar was inevitably going to fail due to the way the constitution worked, or if it’s never ending uphill struggle from 1919 was predominantly responsible for its disintegration. There was no doubt that the people never forgave the Weimar government for their part in the armistice.
Their sense of betrayal meant that regardless of any successes, the slightest failure was ‘likely’ to cause its downfall. As World War One ended with Germany defeated it left the German people feeling very unhappy. Germany was forced with many problems such as reparation, weak industry, mass unemployment, guilt clause, hyperinflation and the loss of their coal and iron industry. These problems were clauses of the Treaty Of Versailles.
The Treaty Of Versailles, a peace treaty with the allies, meant harsh terms for Weimar; compulsory military service was to be abolished, the army was to be reduced from 600 000 to 100 000, naval personnel not to exceed 15 000, a limit if twenty-four naval ships with no submarines, all military and naval aviation to be abandoned and all importation, exportation and production or war materials was to be stopped – thus resulting in Weimar having insufficient resources to keep order and defence and left many soldiers unemployed. Weimar had no control over her situation.
She was ordered to provide all countries that sustained damages from the allies during the war with compensation, both financially and in the form of trade goods. This, along with the loss of many German colonies, meaning the loss of many economic regions had a severe negative effect on Weimar in the eyes of the people. Many Germans thought that things were much better in the days of the Kaiser. The reason why the Treaty and so the republic were hated so much was because it was so harsh.
10% of Germany’s land was lost, all oversee colonies, 12. 1 % of its population, 16% of its coal, 48% of its iron industry, the army of a once very proud nation was reduced to 100,000 and finally a bitter blow was that Germany and the German people had to accept full blame for starting the war. Now, with hindsight, we can see that Weimar had no choice but to sign the Treaty and thus its harsh terms were unavoidable. These unavoidable consequences of the severe armistice gave Weimar a weak base for a beginning, restricted any possible return to pre-war living conditions in Germany, therefore preventing the German people from having any confidence in this new government from its birth.
As well as ordinary people hating Weimar, political parties from both the left and the right were against the constitution. The Spartakists (an extreme left wing party) looked to the Soviet Union, liked the Russian political system and wanted a communist Germany. In January 1919, they started an uprising, but were crushed by the Freikorps, who also didn’t support the Republic. However, the Freikorps were anti-socialist, and would have supported the Republic before they supported the Bolsheviks.
The Right were next to revolt, and in 1920 the Kapp Putch revolt occurred. Monarchists seized government buildings in Berlin, but surrendered on March 17th. The Weimar government had had another close escape. The early major activities of Hitler included his ‘Beer Hall Putch’ in 1923, where he tried to seize control of The Bavarian government. Hitler’s revolt was crushed like the others, but clear opposition to the republic had been established. The Weimar Republic lacked support from people commencing the day it was set up, and so seemed doomed from the start.
The situation in which it was built, and the circumstances surrounding the new constitution did not present the opportunity for it to subsist and flourish, despite other problems Germany may have faced later on. However, the Republic did manage to crush most of these uprisings and didn’t fall to pieces. This shows some strength in the constitutional monarchy, so it possibly did stand a chance of survival. Despite unavoidably being publicly disliked due the circumstances from which Weimar arose, it can also be argued that Weimar’s composition was fundamentally flawed.
One hardly needs to study history books to see that a fundamentally weak political system has little chance of survival. From 1919, Germany was declared a Democratic Federal Republic. Two houses of Parliament were made, the Upper House called the Reichstag, and the Lower House called the Reichsrat. These two were always going to hinder Weimar’s progress. This was because when a law was passed in the Reichstag it had to be passed in the Reichsrat. If the Reichsrat refused to pass the law then, if two thirds of the Reichstag agreed, the Reichsrat’s rejection was overruled, and the law passed.
This caused law making to be slow and the Reichsrat pointless. However, the proportional representation of the coalition governments made law making even slower, and it was rare if any unanimous decisions were made in the Reichstag. Weimar also, as a democracy, was immediately undermined by what became known as Article 48. This gave the President the power to take away individual rights and make necessary changes to restore order. As well as this, many people were concerned about the lack of cohesion between governments, this would become a major problem after 1929.
There was also no party to stand out as being strong as there were too many parties representing too many different opinions. Although it began with a fundamentally floored political system, its constitution could be described as one of Weimar’s finer points; its creation had been a lengthly process beginning during the war. By 1918, it was certain that Germany would be defeated after four years of intensive battle with Britain and France. Due to the possibility of allied invasion and internal problems, the Kaiser, who had been Germany’s dictator, set up a constitutional monarchy, which was to be the most democratic system in the world.
It was thought that a new democratic system would stop the allies treating Germany harshly, and pave the way for a fairer peace settlement. The Weimar constitution was a very modern one, perhaps even more so than its contemporary counterparts in Britain and France. It is also very similar to modern day systems, not least to the current system of Democracy in Germany. Therefore, it could definitely be argued that the Weimar Republic did not fail due to constitutional problems, as Germany is certainly not failing now.
Although proportional representation appeared to be very democratic, it provided weak coalitions who did not agree on everything. Therefore when Germany needed to act quickly in times of crisis, decisions could not be made effectively, for each party had their own ideas on how the country should be run. Proportional representation also allowed extremist parties such as the KPD and NSDAP to gain seats in the Reichstag, which later led to the overthrowing of the Weimar Republic by the Nazis.
The initial setting up of the constitution later allowed Hitler to come to power, which destroyed the Republic and, in a way the Weimar Republic was doomed from the very beginning due to the way in which it ran. Nonetheless, it is hard to say that Hitler would have had the chance to abuse the system if other problems in Germany had not existed. Following this line of argument, Hitler was not able to overthrow the government purely due to its incurred weaknesses but through arguably incurred circumstances, whether these be the fault of Weimar or not.
In Weimar’s defence, she did go through a period of economic prosperity. However, many historians argue that these ‘golden years’ could never be sustained, as their funding was only a short-term solution. It is possible that Weimar could have prospered from its international loans and eventually begun to work its way to genuine economic stability, however, in October 1929, all German optimism was dashed by world depression and the Wall Street Stock Market crash. The crisis was felt throughout the world but hit Germany most harshly. This could never have been predicted by Weimar.
Due to the economic circumstances in which she was born, receiving loans off other countries was one of the only ways to survive; the Wall Street Crash affected countries all over the globe. Germany simply could not have escaped it. Thus, this final blow was due to circumstance, rather than Weimar’s own fundamental weakness. All classes of people suffered psychologically and lost pride in their country. In such a situation, it is not surprising that people lost faith in the Weimar Republic and saw salvation in the solutions offered by political extremism.
People began to turn to Hitler, who preached employment and greatness; the Nazis gaining 107 seats in the 1930 election reflect this. By 1933 the fall of the Weimar Republic was obvious. The Republic’s last leaders had done nothing to improve the effects of the Wall Street Crash upon Germany, like the rapidly increasing unemployment levels. The lack of action by the government led to extremist parties becoming very popular. The bad start the Weimar Republic made always meant that there would be many parties struggling for power.
If there had been a strong Government to begin with, then there would have been no need for a Nazi party or any other extremists, as they would feel that they had no chance of gaining the votes to come to power. In conclusion, Weimar’s fundamental weakness meant she never really even had the potential to become successful under such circumstances and the events that preceded her formation simply heeded her further. A famous quote by H. Holborn, about the period 1918 to 1933, was: “Normalcy was never quite achieved and even the period when it appeared close at hand proved only a brief interlude between the two disasters. “