Following the unstable years of 1918- 23, the Weimar Republic enjoyed five years of supposed prosperity. Indeed, they were characterised as ‘golden’. It is true that the Weimar Republic experienced a number of successes within foreign policy however; that is not to say there was a lack of success in other aspects of Weimar Germany. This essay will therefore demonstrate that whilst there were undoubtedly successes within foreign policy, progress was also evident within the economy, as well as in the political and social spheres.
However, this essay will also address the issue as to whether foreign policy, along with the other developments at this time, was in fact wholly successful. To begin, Gustav Stresemann’s foreign policy was built around the concept of ‘fulfilment’ – an attempt to improve relations with Britain and France by complying with the terms of the Versailles treaty. Stresemann hoped that the reparations problem would be solved, that military control of Germany would end and that Germany’s eastern borders would be revised.
The Dawes Plan in 1924 has been described as ‘a victory of financial realism’. It accepted the reorganisation of the German currency, an international loan of 800 million gold marks was given to Germany (this was to be financed mainly by the USA) and finally, new arrangements for the payments of reparations were arranged. The Dawes Plan was beneficial as the mere fact that reparations were being paid contributed to the improved relations between France and Germany during these years.
However, the whole system was dangerously dependent upon the continuation of American loans and therefore problems with the US economy would later severely damage Germany. The Locarno Pact of 1925 witnessed an international security pact for Germany’s western frontiers. Germany gained much more of Locarno than it conceded and it seemed that the historic quarrel between France and Germany had finally been buried. In 1926, Germany was invited to join the League of Nation and was immediately recognised as a permanent member.
Further, in 1928, Germany signed the Kellog-Briand Pact, a declaration that outlawed ‘war as an instrument of national policy’. Overall, it is evident that internationally Stresemann’s foreign policy was a success. Stresemann transformed Germany from being a distrusted outcast to being actively involved in European diplomacy. However, the concrete gains from his diplomacy were limited: no formal agreement existed changing the demilitarisation terms of Versailles and he did not gain French withdrawal from the Ruhr by 1925. Significantly, his policies failed to rally support domestically.
Many Germans saw Stresemann’s policy of fulfilment as unpatriotic. Thus overall, despite indubitable successes, it seems inaccurate to argue that it was only in foreign policy that the Weimar Republic was successful; firstly, as Stresemann’s achievements were too subtle to be greeted enthusiastically by the majority and secondly, as there were achievements in other areas as well. The Weimar Republic also witnessed economic success domestically. The years between 1924 and 1929 stand out between the economic chaos of 1922 to 1923 and the Great Depression of 1929 to 1930.
It is often claimed that the introduction of the new currency, the Rentenmark, and the measures brought about by the Dawes Plan ushered in five years of economic growth and affluence. Heavy industry was able to recover quickly: by 1928, production levels had reached those of 1913. This was a result of more efficient methods of production, particularly in coal mining, and also because of increased investment. By 1929, exports were 40% higher than they had been in 1925 and hourly wages rose every year from 1924 to 1930.
However, although there may have been some measure of prosperity, there was no ‘economic miracle’ in the late 1920s. Despite improvements in growth, the economy was still very unstable. Germany was falling behind the rest of the world, there was a growing trade and budget deficit and agriculture was depressed as prices continued to fall. Therefore, whilst success within the economic sphere was by no means unadulterated, it serves to dispute the notion that success only occurred with regards to foreign policy.
Elsewhere, there were aspects of social progress in the years 1924 to 1929, evidenced by the improvements in advancements of welfare, housing as well as public health. The standard of living did improve for a number of Germans and considerable advances were made in social services. State governments, often using foreign loans, improved hospitals, schools, housing, roads and electricity supplies. However, high taxation and the redistribution away from the elites reinforced their suspicions of the new democratic regime.
The minimal signs of social progress was coupled with cultural polarisations. A new culture movement emerged which stressed objectivity and matter-of-factness. Alienation from the Weimar Republic was a common theme of writing and architecture was dominated by the Bauhaus movement. This was in direct contrast to the nostalgic romanticism and escapism of popular literature. Similarly, the modern Bauhaus movements stood against the majority of Germans’ traditional tastes, especially in the countryside.
The cultural developments therefore did little to stabilise the Weimar republic as neither culture showed particular support for Germany. It only served to further divide Germany amongst cultural lines. Despite this, the fact that there was social progress between these years 1924-29 lends support to the argument that it was not just in foreign policy that the Weimar Republic had any successes. However, as with both foreign policy and the economic sphere, the success was met with some substantial limitations. Finally, the Weimar Republic also went through a period of so-called ‘political calm’.
Politics was arguably calm because there were no attempted coups from the right or left and no major political figures were assassinated. However, by no means did political violence disappear; there were frequent fights between the Nazis and the KPD. Furthermore, between 1924 and 1929, 7 governments formed and dissolved and the coalition system could not generate sufficient support. Politicians attempted to co-operate but the constant bargaining to stay in power discredited the parliamentary government. Germans began to see politics as a matter of manoeuvring, rather than maintaining, political control.
The SPD maintained its electoral success throughout these years however resisted becoming involved in the formation of any viable coalition government because they believed that a coalition with the ‘bourgeois’ parties would lead to a compromise of party ideals. This rejection of political responsibility as the largest party undermined the democratic process. Furthermore, the election of Hindenburg as president was significant as although he did not betray the republic, he did not rally the people to its banner.
He also increasingly became the focus of powerful groups who wanted a more authoritarian system. Finally, the Reichstag parties were divided amongst themselves and Chancellors perennially fell over trivial issues such as the use of the imperial flag. In sum, though politics was characterised by series of unstable coalitions, the reduction in political violence is evidence of progress in the political sphere, again both disputing the notion that it was only in foreign policy that the Weimar Republic had any successes, as well as demonstrating the limitations of success.
In conclusion, the evidence suggests that there were undoubtedly successes within foreign policy during these years. Stresemann’s policy of ‘fulfilment’ served to temporarily improve Germany’s economic situation as well as increase its international standing. However, Stresemann ultimately failed to rally support on the domestic front as he was portrayed as unpatriotic for succumbing to the demands of the Allied reparations.
The evidence also demonstrates how currency stabilisation alleviated the economic anxiety created by hyperinflation, politics witnessed a period of ‘calm’ and elements of social progress also took place. However, ultimately, each of these successes was met by a comparative weakness not just in foreign policy, but in all aspects of the Weimar Republic during these years. Thus, the notion of a ‘golden’ period is often disputed by historians and, as Gustav Stresemann aptly declared, ‘Germany [was] dancing on a volcano’.