There were various factors that contributed to the failure of the Weimar Republic of Germany and the ascent of Hitlers National Socialist German Workers Party into power on January 30, 1933. Various conflicting problems were concurrent with the eventuation of the Republic that, from the outset, its first governing body the socialist party (SPD) was forced to contend with.
These included the aspect of German imperialism, the unresolved defeat of 1918, financial collapse and the forced struggle against the activities of the National party as well as inflation. Other factors which influenced the failure of Weimar were the structural weaknesses induced by the constitution and the basic lack of support for the Republic among the German people particularly amongst the elite. These aspects were the major causes which doomed the Weimar republic to ultimate failure and the eventual ascent of Hilters nationalist party to power.
The new socialist government of Weimar (SPD), whose constitution was adopted on July 30, 1919, entered a situation they by no means created. The period during which they were appointed to rule was associated with defeat and misery, and when disorder was nationwide. The situation then, was that of revolution. However, rather than to make a socialist revolution they co-operated with the liberals and with the catholic center party to lead Germany in a reformed version of her old self. In June 1919, they voted to comply with the treaty of Versailles (the vindictive settlement imposed by the Paris peace conference). However, the signing of the Treaty served to promote protest and unrest amongst the soldiers, sailors, German people, and democracy thus resulted in becoming an alien device.
The imperial army, for instance, never got over the humiliation of surrender which they felt was a stab in the back by their own countrymen. The sailors at Kiel mutinied in a last desperate effort on October 28 and On November 9, 1919, the streets were filled with crowds marching to demonstrate at the center of Berlin. Similarly, even before the contingency of these incidents, the center party, a liberal group who were the coalition government of the acting SPD formed by Phillip Scheidemann, resigned rather than sign the Treaty of Versailles. Besides, German patriotism was strong, in particular because the German people believed they had fought a defensive war and were told their soldiers were unconquered in the field.
Therefore, the humiliating Treaty came as a rude shock to the German people who, correspondingly, blamed the politicians for betraying the soldiers in signing the armistice and saw them as compounding their treason by accepting the peace settlement. They spoke of the November criminals and protested A nation of seventy million suffers, but does not die. These factors propagated in the promotion of anti republican feeling, the conclusions of which were clearly reflected in the results of the election of June 1920.
To illustrate, the SPD lost nearly half its seats (many to the USDP) and the right wing parties (DVP and DNVP) increased their share at the expense of the democrats. Defeated on the battlefield, defeated at the conference table, defeated at the polls, the republic embarked on its uncertain career. Furthermore, compliance with the Treaty of Versailles meant that Germany would have to make reparation payments it could scarcely afford. This fact placed a heavy strain on the already suffering economy of Germany which was bankrupted by four years of war thus ensuing in the ascend of inflation and the occasioning of the cessation of payments by Germany in 1922.
In January the already traumatic climate in Germany was exacerbated by its evasiveness and reluctance to pay overdue reparations. The French reacted by occupying the Saar, a major industrial area of Germany, in January 1923. This was felt a grave humiliation by the German people and eventuated in widespread discontent. The economic distress caused by the French occupation of the Saar and the German passive resistance was enormous. Consequently, workers in the Saar stores and factories resisted by striking. However, Germanys currency was already fragile, and in face of the occurring circumstances consequent to the Saar invasion and the overprinting of currency, the Mark fell to chronic levels, eventually reaching the value of four billion against the US dollar which therefore generated in massive hyperinflation. 3
Furthermore, the economic instability, on top of the disillusionment and resent caused by the humiliating peace settlement, vast sections of German society came to feel alienated from the Republic. They responded by attacking the democracy and as a consequence it became impossible to control the hostility and discontent. Urban hunger, peasant hoarding, the black market, pilfering and profiteering created social hostilities and individual despair. In all 35,000 armed men converged on Munich.4
In addition, the deteriorating economic and social situation also managed to wreak havoc on the political atmosphere of the time and the Republic thus eventuated in having no allies and too many enemies. To illustrate, the Republic faced opposition from the extreme left by individuals who resorted to force in efforts to overturn the Republic.
In March 1920, the Republic was also challenged from the right by the Freikorps who in Berlin launched a pro-Monarchist putsch in an attempt to install Wolfgang Kapp as Chancellor. During this incident troops both refused to defend the Republic or take action against Freikorps. Fortunately, however, the working classes then responded by organising a general strike in Berlin which had the effect of frustrating this putsch. The culminations were that the present regime was able to survive despite the numerous threats.4
Nonetheless, extremism remained to pollute the atmosphere, the evidence being represented in the alarming amount of political assassinations that continued to occur. In evidence, according to an estimate of the Minister of Justice, rightists committed 354 murders between 1919 and 1923. During this time, when the Republic was suffering most and was being threatened, practically from all sides, Hitler had been making affective attempts to capitalize on the resultant circumstances. He exploited the economic collapse by blaming it on all those he wished to portray as enemies. These were the same enemies he declared as the November criminals who had brought about Germanys defeat in 1918- those mythical bogeymen who, from inside Germany, had deliberately brought their own country to its knees.4
Hitlers plan was to seize power in Munich, and, with Bavaria as his base, to launch (as he had explained in public that September) a march on Berlin not unlike Mussolinis march on Rome of a year earlier, but without first being invited to take power, as Mussolini had been. Hitler, however, continued to fail until 1933 when he finally seized power. Nonetheless, the continued disruption caused by his attacks on the Republic, notably his Munich putsch, in addition to the economic crises as well as the resurfacing of the previously unresolved issues facilitated the grounds for an increased anti-republican sentiment which reached a climax in 1923 when the Republic was on its knees due to hyperinflation. It was against this traumatic background that the leadership of the republic was passed to the hands of Gustav Stresemann in August 1923. 3
Stresemann transmitted himself as a rational and reasonable man who would seek compromise and conciliation rather that conflict, as said by
Ramm. 4 His determination and ambition to rectify circumstances in Germany were realized in November 1923 when he introduced a new currency. At the end of 1923, the German currency was established by the introduction of Rentenmark, valued at one billion old Marks.2 Further stability came with the Dawes plan of April 1924, which provided a modified settlement of the reparation issues. In addition, French troops were then confirmed to leave the Saar, and disputes between the two countries then went to independent ruling.
In September, Stresemann called off passive resistance unconditionally. These headed many positive changes in Germany, whose effects were transmitted universally in almost every facet of German life. Likewise Germanys relations with the Western nations were considerably improved. The proof came with the Lucarno pact of 1925. By 19295, the German economy revived, or as put by Traynor, it was superficially prosperous.7
Not withstanding, the changes Stresemann managed to bring about still had the effect of deviating opposition by both the extremist groups on the right as well as the left. However, while it seemed that politics may have settled down, the circumstances that were to follow in the coming years proved that Stresemann perhaps merely postponed internal problems rather than eradicated them. The relative stability achieved through the late 1920s by Gustav Stresemann was, for instance, heavily reliant upon foreign investment, loans and economic prosperity, not only in Germany but also in the United States from where much of Germanys foreign investments originated. Consequently, as the American economy boomed the attractiveness of investment in Germany became overshadowed and the German economy thus, again proceeded to decline in 1928. Additionally, during October 1929, two crises befell the Republic - Gustav Stresemann, the architect of Germanys stability, died and later that month the collapse of share prices began on the New York stock exchange. 6
Had Germanys prosperity and economic stability been self reliant events and circumstances on the New York stock exchange may have had a somewhat subtle effect in Germany. However, as said earlier, Germanys prosperity was merely financed by international loans and was excessively reliant on foreign investment. Correspondingly, Germany was thus forced to remain in a very vulnerable position, the results leading to the onset of depression and the virtual crumbling of the Republics very foundations in recourse to the Wall Street crash during the end of 1929. The depression that hit Germany in 1929, is said to have been the most severe economic depression in modern world history. It devastated the lives of the urban population as well as those living in the country districts who in response to the economic circumstances struggled desperately. Many farmers, small businessmen and retailers were in trouble while process and wages were rising.3 The unemployment figures for Germany show the rapid deterioration of the economic climate. In September 1929 1.3 million employable workers were unemployed, for September 1930 the figures rose to 3 million, in September 1931 the figure was 4.35 million and by 1932 unemployment reportedly escalated to 6 million.
These conditions, in addition to the loss of confidence generated overseas which resulted in the rapid withdrawal of the foreign loans Germany relied on extensively placed additional strain on the republic. The extent to which Germany had come to rely on foreign assistance was underlined when these loans were rapidly withdrawn. The political repercussions were just as acute. To illustrate, as a consequence of the existing circumstances, unresolved issues and old determinations to destroy the Republic again resurfaced. The avowed determination of the old anti-republican elites to destroy Weimars already battered parliamentary and democratic institutions were renewed. These resulted in the renewed attacks by the extremes of the left and the right who proceeded to take advantage of the situation and manipulate it to suit their own ends.1
Moreover, the continued unrest further facilitated a general feeling of a loss of faith in the Republic and support for it therefore deteriorated. Concurrently the Republic had also been suffering from structural weakness which also played a major role in crippling its progress. For example, the constitution of the new Republic emerged finally from the National Assembly in July 1919. 3
It was, on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen.1 In practice though, it left much to be desired. One of its weaknesses was the elaborate system of proportional representation which was devised to allow for minority parties to have a share in the system of government. Unfortunately, this system also made it virtually impossible for a single party to hold a majority in the Reichstag and therefore coalition governments were inevitable. Coincidently, there were also so many political parties, at least six major and many more minor ones, that it was hard to form stable coalitions for effective government.7 Another weakness was the powers vested in the President. For instance, the President was the commander of the armed forces, was capable of dissolving the Reichstag and submitting any law passed by it to the referendum, was responsible only to the people who elected him and under the infamous Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, the President had the right to suspend civil liberties - with the Chancellors assent - in an emergency, thus giving him virtual dictatorial powers.4
Chancellor Bruening was first to make use of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution from 1930 on when he, in response to the political and social unrest incurred in Germany during that period, was provoked to rule under emergency decree.4 Correspondingly, politics were radicalized once more and resulted thus, in the intensifications of divisions amongst the parties in the Reichstag to an extent that parliamentary government became all but impossible. Accordingly, the Weimar constitution became unworkable as well as unwanted.4
Moreover, as a result of the existing atmosphere and circumstances at the time of the Republic, the Republic perhaps eventuated in not being looked at as a State in which the German people desired to live or to which they were prepared to give positive encouragement. The people, for example, may have seen the culminating economic crises as a crisis of the newly evolved system and as such saw democracy to mean national humiliation, economic disaster and personal uncertainty. The repercussions had the effects of advantaging the communists who succeeded in gaining the support of an overwhelming number of the urban workforce. However, the main beneficiary was Hitlers party, the NSDAP, who managed to increase their seats in the Reichstag from 12-107 thus concluding in their eventuating as the second largest political party at the time.6
Thereafter, as the NSDAP continued to attract a positive response from the people, eventually seizing power in 1933, the Republic was doomed to eventual collapse and ultimate destruction. It is suggested that the eventual collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler to power was almost inevitable. To illustrate, as a result of the existing circumstances of economic crisis, near, if not, complete social disaster and almost universal discontent, there were ultimately only two choices left open to the German people; a narrow, army-backed Presidential dictatorship (the Communists) or a young, dynamic and broadly-based Nazi movement. For many, particularly the middle classes, the second choice was perhaps also perceived as the only choice available to them, especially as the prospect of Communist rule, with also the existing presence of Article 48 that allowed too much power to be vested in any one person, may have seemed too frightening a risk to undertake. Indeed the contrast between the spectre of Communist disorder with the Nazis promises of law and order, economic stability, the curbing of the unions, the endorsement of traditional values and the promise to crush Marxism was at the very centre of Hitlers success.2
In addition, very many powerful groups preferred to lend their support to the opposite extreme, namingly, the NSDAP. Moreover, Hitler managed in transmitting his party as having the dual attraction of offering radical solutions to economic problems while upholding patriotic values. He seemingly promised something to everyone and the German people, thus responded to him as he had foreshadowed. Nonetheless, the Nazis still did not succeed in retaining more than thirty seven per cent of the vote. In November 1932 Hitler lost an additional thirty four seats. However, in as much as the acting president (von Hindenburg) allowed himself to be convinced by generals and right-wing politicians that only the Nazi leader could restore order in Germany, in the following year leadership was passed to him nonetheless. Hindenburg, according to his lights, was a good President, at least until extreme old age rendered him helpless in the hands of his advisers.3 Accordingly, Hitler was made Germanys fifteenth post war Chancellor in January 1933. At this stage Germans had scarce knowledge of what the future under the rule of Hitler would mean or eventuate in. However, Hitler lost no time in a founding a harsh totalitarian state known as the third Reich which he enforced within a mere month of his appointment. The results were the destruction of a modern civilized society that turned crisis into catastrophe, bringing the democracy of Weimar to its end; its ultimate conclusion devastating the whole of Europe.7
In conclusion, when assessing the reasons for the failure of the Weimar Republic and the ascent of the NSDAP to power, one has to make various considerations; for these events occurred as a result of a plurality of factors. Perhaps the most important factor was the economic crises which befell the Republic in 1923 and again in 1929. However to neglect considerations like the possibility that the revolution of 1918 failed to create institutions loyal to the new regime, that perhaps the constitution of the Republic was too idealistic and lacking in practicality, causing certain structural weaknesses and finally, that the desertion of the Republic by the masses and more powerful interests made the failure of Weimar and the rise of Hitler to power a mere matter of time would give a distorted view of the issue. Moreover, several political and social issues arose with the creation of the Republic, one of which was the influence of Imperial Germany. The Republic failed to resolve these issues and these issues created the context that made the failure of the Republic and the rise of a dictatorial leader to power possible.
Fischer. F., (1986), From Kaiserreich to third Reich, Oxford University Press, London.
Gilbert. M.,(1997), A history of the twentieth century: Volume one: 1900-1933, Bath Press, Great Britain.
Gill. A., (1994), An honourable defeat, William Heinemann Ltd, London.
Ramm. A., (1984), Europe in the twentieth century 1905-1970, Longman Group Ltd, USA.
Simon. T., (1983), Germany 1918-1933 revolution, counterrevolution and the rise of Hitler, Oxford University Press, London.
Peukert. D., (1991), The Weimar Republic, Penguin Press, London.
Traynor. J., (1991), Challenging history: Europe 1890-1990, Macmillan education limited, London.