Germany in the first two decades of the 20th century was undergoing a great political turmoil not only in the form of a revolution which they experienced in 1918 targeted at toppling the existing regime (The Second Reich) with Kaiser Wilhelm II at its helm but also because of their military disgrace in the hands of the Allies in the First World War. As a consequence of their defeat and allegedly as the Germans were responsible for the outbreak of the war, they had to accept the Treaty of Versailles on rather humiliating terms which even went on to reduce their military strengths.
The Weimar Republic, formed primarily as a result of the movement that saw the end of Kaiser and his authoritarian regime, succeeded the Second Reich. Around 12 years later, the Weimar Republic ultimately was forced to give way to the dictatorial rule of Adolf Hitler who, along with his Nazi party was the main cause for the destruction of the republic. When trying to locate or analysing the reasons for the collapse of a democratic regime like Weimar, historians often seek for the seeds of demolition of Weimar in its beginning as much as near its end.
They use the word ‘doomed’ quite frequently to represent the collapse of the republic. They often are astounded to find that on a number of occasions the seeds have been found to be sown by the establishers of Weimar themselves in the early years of the republic and that opened the path for later protests against the republic and many historians argue that because of the factions Weimar experienced in its early years made it inevitable that it would be unstable through out and perhaps would collapse in the near future.
However, it is relatively easy to point this out when provided with facts and figures, i. . , historians of a later date find it easier to enforce their argument with evidence. But to look at various events from the perspective of an early 20th century historian is quite difficult as he has to judge the current situation and predict their outcome and he doesn’t possess any other evidence to back up his argument. Thus, we see that it is rather inappropriate to say that the Weimar Republic was bound to collapse after the events of 1918-19 because there are evidences which might suggest that it might not have done so.
One of the primary aspects to look at when studying the sequence of events taking place in Germany around 1918-19. The embarrassing defeat German received in the hands of the Allies in World War I was a significant factor in traumatising the Germans who believed that there ‘great’ army was unbeatable. Naturally, the German public was unhappy over this. By the time Germany was on the verge of defeat, the Second Reich was thrown out of office and was replaced by the Weimar Republic.
Ebert, who was a socialist leader and became the president of the new republic, blamed it all on Kaiser and the previous regime stating that a revolutionary change was necessary for the revival of the country which could only be possible in the form of a democratic government. General Hindenburg and Ludendorff, representing the OHL gives contradicting statements about the loss in the war. On one hand they blame the Kaiser for not establishing strict rules and regulations to prevent mutinies within the army.
They also believe that the army was tactically weak as well. But in front of an enquiry committee General Ludendorff suspects that the German army was not defeated on the battlefield but by an element possibly present within the country itself. He clearly blames the SPD and Ebert and thus, the Weimar Republic for the defeat and uses the phrase-‘The German army has been stabbed in the back. ‘ This was a phrase that was continuously used by many pressure groups and even by the Nazis when they criticised the Weimar Republic in its later years.
They used this to strengthen the people’s belief that the Germans were invincible and it was only because of a handful of their own hypocrite countrymen that they suffered defeat in World War I. Thus we see that the issue of the German defeat was manipulated in several ways by both sides, each blaming the other for the loss but in the end it appears that there were blisters left on people’s emotions about the loss and the new government was given the blame for it. This fact is proved precisely by the fact that when Hitler tried to put the blame on the Weimar government, it was quite amazing that the public did believe him.
Obviously that was the result of some earlier scar that had been left behind by the war. After the surrender of the German forces, the country had to sign the Treaty of Versailles which is one of the most important events we must carefully analyse in dealing with the issue of the drawbacks Weimar received in 1918-19. It is rather debatable that who was responsible for the humiliating terms and we cannot say concisely that the Weimar government was to be blamed because it was Kaiser and the OHL who actually started the war. Moreover, the new government had to accept the treaty to prevent the Ally forces from ransacking the country.
By the terms of the treaty, the Germans suffered large territorial losses which included some of their most important ports and industrial areas. As a result their economy suffered. The Allies also put their forces on Rhineland and gave nothing to Germany from the split in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But it should be kept in mind that the Allies could have done much more damage; instead they reduced the military’s power d took away some territory from Germany. Apart from that there were huge financial burdens (i?? 6600 million) on Germany to be paid as compensation which further crippled the economy.
They blamed the Germans for the war although the Germans may have exaggerated and overreacted to the Article 231 in the Treaty of Versailles. They alienated Germany from the League of Nations for the time being. But even after viewing these impositions on the country we must keep in mind that the terms were, in fact, quite moderate ones and the Allies could have gone much further and severely penalised the country. However, for the aggressive German public even these terms were shameful and as the government accepted the treaty they soon became the guilty people.
However, we must never forget to remember that they had no alternative in front of them. Although this issue lost its importance in the middle years of Weimar, it was again brought up by the Nazis who provoked the people against the regime. It was just an emotional uprising on the part of the German people because clearly it had no rational base behind it to criticise the government for signing the Treaty of Versailles. The Weimar Constitution was based over the Second Reich with a president elected rather than an unelected monarch although it was demanded that it was a completely new beginning.
The Reichstag gained in power and the people had more say in the running of the government. The Article 48 in the constitution gave the president of the republic the power to govern by decree in cases of emergency. However, the presidential powers were not totally limited. There were at least, four fatal flaws in the constitution in the form of Proportional Representation, The Federal System, Election Of The President and Allocation Of Presidential Powers. However, till 1932 the first and the third defect existed only in theory.
There was inconsistency in the allocation of limited presidential powers as well. If presidential rights had been limited, Hindenburg could not have dismissed Bri?? ning in 1932. So we see that the Weimar Constitution has some inconsistencies within it and so it was often fatally flawed or was manipulated by the enemies of the state. This was another of the issues that was used by the Nazis against the government and may be looked upon as a drawback but may be it wasn’t such an important issue in the presence of other important ones like the World Was and the Revolution.
Ultimately, we must focus on the consequences of the revolution that took place in Germany before all the above-mentioned events had taken place and which, one must keep in mind, is the starting link to all the controversy, manipulation, aggressive protests and toppling of regimes that followed soon after. The so-called revolution which removed Kaiser and brought about Weimar arose much controversy amidst the German people as well as within the upper layers of the German society. Ebert tried to keep himself clear from the trouble all the time by remaining behind the screens all the time while the revolution was in progress.
Thus we see that there were various aspects at which one might look at while judging the continuity the Weimar Republic could have had after the events of 1918-19. Its beyond doubt that all these events had two sides-one which saw the government’s downfall in the near future almost inevitable an the other which could be looked upon as not so significant. On the whole, however, we must say that some of the seeds of the destruction of Weimar most certainly lay in its beginning in 1918-19 but it would be wrong to say that all of those seeds did grow in a plant of demolition for the government.
Adolf Hitler did manage to cleverly manipulate these issues when he toppled Weimar and we must say that he did use most of the issues of 1918-19 in his criticisms of the government to arise public opposition but lastly, we must conclude by saying that he did exaggerate the facts and the significance of these events and Weimar suffered ultimately from the hatred of an almost blindfolded public rather than a rational one.