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Was the Weimar Government destined to fail

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Politics in Germany between 1918 and 1933 was volatile, as the Weimar Government struggled to keep control. The democratic Weimar Republic was from its inception doomed to fail. Beginning its regime with signing a fiercely unpopular peace treaty, this did not just cause a great number of problems for the newly instated Government, but ensured the distrust of its people for the duration of its lifespan.

It struggled with problem after problem trying to maintain its rule over a country that not only was severely inexperienced with democracy but whose leaders and other significant figures were from day one aiming to destroy Weimar and the very system it was based on in its entirety. The constant demand for the destruction of the Weimar system meant that a place for extremist groups and parties was always ensured in German society, placing it in a position where it was constantly at threat. Weimar could have never survived.

As Kaiser Wilhelm II fled, a great change took hold of Germany, one which would set into place a system and way of life which could never have survived let alone thrived. The Monarchy abolished the German public were now under a new type of leadership, one that was apparently to be run by them, the people. However, nestled in the very document which laid the foundations for this Government, the constitution (signed in July 1919), can be found some of the key factors which led to its demise. Firstly, a broad range of varying, smaller parties were encouraged to form as a system of proportional representation was introduced.

This meant that it was now nearly impossible to maintain a government as decisions could not be agreed upon by the large amount of differing parties, who presented a greater range of views. Secondly, the introduction of a Reichstag, or parliament, not to mention the election of a President, who seemed more like an ‘Erstazkaiser (substitute Emperor)’1 than anything, confused the German people; speculation of who was really in charge or held the supreme authority was common. Unable to ever really understand this strange state of dual government, the German people were never able to ever really respect or follow it.

To add to this controversy was the introduction of Article 48, where by in an emergency the president was allowed to make decisions without the Reichstag’s consent in order to restore law and order. Though the intentions behind this legislation were good, it set into place a way for individuals to act through the president in order to further their personal gain. Finally, though the Weimar constitution set into place an entire set of new progressive ideals and legislations the old Elite, such as dukes and lords, were kept in their positions of authorities.

This meant that even though the Weimar Republic was said to be socialist and democratic the majority of power and influence still lay with exactly the same people. People who had respect and pride for the Kaiser and the system which had been so good to them, and would continue to uphold the values of that system. This constitution was truly flawed; it appeared to set new progressive ideals, however the foundations of the old system were kept causing more confusion and disruption than good.

The main cause of these flaws is evident, ‘Every constitution reflects the forces shaping it… ‘2. Weimar’s first act of Government, the signing of Versailles in June 1919, was to be one of its most severe handicaps. It became an integral part of the internal political, economic and social conflict which plagued Weimar Germany from then on, ‘… the German Republic was born out of its terrible defeat… ‘3. Firstly, the terms laid down by the Versailles Peace Treaty took more than 1/8th of Germany’s land, virtually cutting her into two, taking 12. % of her population, 16, 48 and 15% respectively of her coal, iron and farming production and certifying the forfeit of all her overseas colonies.

This did not only cause great economic problems, by brutally hindering her production of goods and resources, the majority of which were previously exported for profit, but caused an unimaginable and embarrassing blow to the identity of the general German population, who were fundamentally nationalistic. Secondly, the Treaty placed another strain on the proud German identity by placing inconceivable estrictions on the German military, calling for the destruction of both the air force and navy, in their entirety, and limiting its army to a tiny 100,000 men.

The final and most critical blow came in the form of a forced acceptance of fault for the war and agreement to pay, a firstly an unset amount of reparations to the victorious Allied powers. Never before had there been such a unanimous outcry by the public who still believed that they could have emerged victorious, fiercely unforced censorship laws, until now, keeping them naive to their losses.

This embarrassment had to be blamed on someone; the military instantly denied responsibility, ‘The German army was stabbed in the back. No blame is to be attached to the sound care of the army… It is perfectly clear on whom the blame rests. ‘4, placing the blame on the only other logic party, the Weimar Government. This act, seen as treason to the German people, meant that Weimar would never be accepted, respected or forgiven for the embarrassment and inconceivable injustice it had inflicted on them, and would ensure that it forever remained hated and despised among its population; its destruction the aim of all.

These two factors would place a great weight, in the form of the hatred of its people on the newly formed Republic, ensuring it would never be supported and constantly threatened. To add to this was the very essence of its people being fundamentally traditionalistic and conservative, making this first attempt of democracy greatly misunderstood, ‘a people that was neither psychologically nor historically prepared for self government’5; Weimar’s people general no longer knew where they stood in society.

The general unpopularity with its people is clearly reflected in the election results of each year. The continuous crises which afflicted Weimar did not help its esteem, with the general voting trend moving towards the extremist parties, whether right or left, during times of national unrest; the election figures dipping from 70%6 to a low 37%6 for Weimar, during the depression.

This was a fairly obvious reaction, not only due to the fact that the 6 million unemployed7 German men had no other choice but to ‘… ither join… the Communists or become an SA man… ‘8, but also the increasing appearance of civil disobedience (ie. crime), caused by this excessive unemployment, scared even the still employed, not to mention the middle and upper-class. This caused a unanimous cry for a strong government which would retake control of the German streets. Though it can be argued that Weimar would of therefore survived had it not come across so many instances of national disruption, this is however not the case.

Even in times of plenty, such as the Stresemann years when life was comfortable and favourable for the German people the votes for the extremist parties did not disappear. Without the support of its people it would only be so long until its collapse. From inception the German democratic republic was confronted by the hostility of the controlling elite. Key figures in German society and business rejected the concept of democracy, wishing for its destruction and the re-instatement of the old system, this became a decisive factoring in Weimar’s final collapse.

Able to retain their power by holding high standing positions in the remaining education system and the military, the Elite, were rich landowners who fiercely supported the Kaiser, having created the Second Reich, and scorned reform. To add to this they had an intense fear of the Communist revolution, which only created more hatred towards the weak Weimar government. Their views were easily made public, the general blame of Weimar for losing the war rising from these powerful individuals, ‘… let them eat the broth they have prepared for us.

Adding to Weimar’s threatened state was the constant presence of extremist parties, made possibly by the lack of public support for Weimar. The numerous uprisings which occurred during Weimar’s reign created constant unrest and ensured instability. The most extreme of these came in the form of the Kapp Putsch, for the right and the Spartacist Uprising, for the left, in both casing entire German cities were captured and held only to flee and return power to Weimar, not when Weimar intervened but the opposing extremist party of Weimar’s behalf.

This further proved to the German people Weimar incapability, not to mention drew support for the strong capability of the extremist parties. In conclusion, Weimar’s collapse was ensured from its formation. The survival of a democratic system lies with the support of the people. The support which Weimar never had, the fundamental hate for Weimar not only rooted in the German peoples personality and history, but caused by the injustices of Versailles, the confusion surrounding the constitution and the extreme opposition which threatened Weimar from every angle. Weimar could have never survived.

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