There are many factors, which can account for the fall of Weimar and the rise of the Nazi Party. This essay will attempt to answer the question in two parts, firstly what factors describe the fall of Weimar and secondly which events account for the rise of Hitler. Ultimately it will try to prove that, rather than one factor, bringing down parliamentary democracy in Germany, it was a series of impossible to predict or stop events, which had they occurred independently of one another and over a greater period of time, might not have had the same catastrophic effects of 1929 to 34.
It is often said that Weimar Germany was ‘doomed to failure’ from the start. This is a source of great debate amongst historians and is indeed relevant to this topic. Was the weakness in the Weimar foundations a factor, which led to its downfall? The earliest years of the Weimar did not in dear it to either side, left or right. President Ebert used the Freikorp, who were a rightwing mercenary unit, to put down the Spartacus uprising, which was a communist inspired revolution.
Ebert was after that always cast as an enemy in the eyes of the extreme left, and so consequently the government he represented, Weimar, was also seen in the same light. Next the Kapp Putsch saw Dr Kapp, leader of the Freikorp and an extreme right-winger, try to take control of Berlin with his mercenaries. This time Ebert used the moderate leftwing in the form of the trade unions, to put down the revolt, by calling a general strike in the region. This would ever place the rightwing against the new republic.
But possibly the greatest threat for early Weimar Germany was the Treaty of Versailles. The Republic was forced to sign the treaty and in doing so they ensured the Nationalists, the moderate right, could always use the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth against Weimar. On top of that Versailles lumbered Germany with a debt, she was unlikely to be able to repay. Whether Weimar Germany was doomed to failure or not is immaterial, what is important is that there were certain aspects of it’s founding which ensured there would always be people willing to try and bring it down.
Therefore the events which occurred as the Republic was created can be seen as factors which would lead to its downfall. Weimar’s next problem was its system of government. Again a series of events led to the collapse of parliamentary democracy in Germany. Had any one of these events happened by themselves then the Republic could have survived however the cumulative effects of all the events occurring simultaneously saw parliamentary government end, certainly by 1933. The first problem in the parliamentary system was proportional representation.
This allowed small, localised parties, like the Nazis and the Bavarian People’s Party to gain seats in the Reichstag, and a gain national prestige. Proportional representation didn’t necessarily mean that no party would ever gain a majority, however this was the case for Weimar. In the history of the Republic no party ever held more than 50% of the seat, hence no party would ever form a majority government, this certainly weakened the whole parliamentary system. Proportional representation was responsible for a series of coalition governments, which ruled Germany between 1919 and 1933.
However the only time the pro-Weimar parties ever held a majority was in the first elections of 1919, thereafter they where always in the minority. Thus a series of parties gained power, albeit, through coalition, who ultimately had the aim of bring down Weimar’s fragile democracy. A combined effect of proportional representation and coalition politics was the need for the SPD, the largest pro-Weimar & leftwing party to form part of a coalition government. However the SPD’s refusal to join coalition governments led to the major pro-Weimar party, only forming the government once, in 1919.
Here again we can see the system of parliamentary democracy in Germany was a factor in the collapse of Weimar and the rise of Hitler. The series of economic crisis’s, which effected post WWI Germany also, assisted in the collapse of Weimar. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919, lumbered Germany with a war debt she was unlikely/able to repay. When the Germans failed to keep up repayments to the French, they responded by invading the Ruhr, an industrial region of Germany. The resulting economic crisis caused by the general strike in the region ruined the middle class, who would eventually make up the mainstay of Nazi votes.
After the ‘Golden Years’ when the economy began prospering again, the middle class turned away from the extremists, however the Wall Street Crash of 1929, once again saw the middle classes ruined, this time however no great political hero like, Stresemann came to the rescue. The middle classes began voting Nazi again, especially in the industrial north of Germany. The two economic crises’s hit the middle class worse then any other. The upper class had enough physical property and land to survive the crisis and the working class had no money to loss.
However the middle class, saver who found their economic situation deteriorating, twice in such a short time, where the votes that the Nazis would capitalise on during their rise to power. The middle class voted Nazi and made up 50% of the party’s membership, for a number of different reasons, however certainly economic factors where a major driving force behind their support. Therefore it can be said that economic crisis’s played an important part in the fall of Weimar and the rise of Hitler. Voter disillusionment with middle class parties was also a contributing factor to the fall of Weimar.
The Germany people saw their government’s inability to deal with any crisis. Also coalition and minority governments showed no sign of agreement and so middle class voters where forced to vote for the extremists as they seemed more likely to get things done, than the more moderate parties. Voter disillusionment can be plotted throughout the history of Weimar. After the first economic crisis, extremists where popular with the voters, however their votes disappeared during the ‘Golden Years’, yet returned after the Wall Street Crash in 1929.
Voter disillusionment with the moderate parties can thus be seen to be a factor in the fall of Weimar and the rise of Hitler. The Rise of the Nazis can be attributed to numerous sources including, their popular policies. The Nazis glorified the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth and gave blame for all Germany’s wrongs to Weimar and ‘World Jewry’. These policies where popular to Nationalist as it gave them a scapegoat to blame all their problems on. Nazi policies also appealed to specific groups – e. g. farmers and small businessmen, who were disillusioned by their traditional party, the Nationalists.
The Nazis also gained votes from the middle and upper class’s fear of communism. Hitler was seen as the only barrier to a soviet revolt in Germany, and so he capitalised on that aspect of German life, by placing his SA in between, the ‘Volk’ and the Red-shirts. Thus the Nazis popular policies can be seen as a factor in the rise of Hitler. Von Papen’s first chancellorship was marked by the downfall of the SPD; first he lifted the Prussian parliament’s ban on the SA and SS, which allowed the Nazis to have their parades and propaganda events in the region.
Then Von Papen removed the local and regional powers of Prussia, the SPD’s greatest stronghold, and placed it directly under the control of the Reich Commissioner. Yet despite these bold ‘attempts’ to undermine the “strongest surviving stronghold of the Republic”, not a hand was raised in its defence. The fall of Prussia’s special status within the Republic can be as the fatal blow to any chance the SPD had of returning to power. The fall of Prussia and consequently the SPD can be seen as a contributing factor to the rise of Hitler.
One of Von Papen’s most unusual moves was to have all his ministers resign their party affiliations, to show that the government transcended party politics. So when Hitler was repeatedly refused the chancellership in Von Papen’s government he used his own disgruntled party, the Catholic Centre Party, against him. Hitler aimed to gain power as part of a coalition of the Nazis, Bavarian People’s Party and Catholic Centre Party, called the ‘Black-Brown Coalition’. The name was derived from the colour associated with the clergy and so the Centre Party, Black and the Nazi’s para-military SA, the Brown-shirts.
This coalition, fighting under the banner of anti-communism had already had some success at local and regional level. By the time of the second election of 1932, on the sixth of November, the economic crisis had passed its peak, however the population was still feeling its effects, this was combined with the Reichstag’s vote of no confidence in Von Papens government, 512 to 42. The results of the election saw the Nazis maintain their position as the largest party in the Reichstag, with 33% however the rest of the Black-Brown coalition lost seats and so they did not gain the majority of the seats.
However the most important result of that election saw some 80 seats fall from the SPD, as a result of the fall of Prussia, and go to the communists to give them one sixth of the votes. Although the Black-Brown coalition could not gain power most Catholics and Nationalists now supported a Nazi government. Although President Hindenberg was still not willing to allow Hitler the chancellorship, he was persuaded to do so by Oskar, his son, Von Papen & Schleicher, who was one of his most senior advisors and had once been the mouthpiece of the army.
In the end Hindenberg proved to be a more astute judge of political character that those around him, unlike his son and advisors, he did not believe that the Nationalists could control Hitler. However in January 1933 he ran out of options, faced with the communist on one side and the Nazis on the other he had no choice but, to appoint Hitler as head of the government of ‘National Unity’, as he was the ‘lesser of two evils’. Therefore it can be seen that the threat of a Black-Brown coalition and ultimately the German people’s fear of communism assisted Hitler’s rise to power.
These events can be seen as factors in Hitler’s rise to power. In the final conclusion there was no one single factor, which can explain the fall of Weimar and the rise of Hitler. It was in-fact a combination of events which allowed Hitler to undermine parliamentary democracy in Germany. Had any of these events occurred separately there is a chance that the Weimar Republic could have survived them however the accumulative effect of them all occurring simultaneously was certainly the reason that Weimar fell and Hitler came to power.