The Mistakes That Lead to the Fall of the Weimar Republic
While The Great Depression played a minor factor in bringing the Nazis to power, a variety of other factors had a greater impact. Political divide within the military and German social division compromised governmental stability. Mistakes made by Weimar leadership deteriorated government power and gave Hitler means to gain power, and the loss of WW1, and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles exasperated Germans, and was used by Hitler to garner support. While the Great Depression further weakened German economy and reinforced Nazi following, it was not the largest factor in empowering the Nazis.
Political and Social Divide
Political divide between leftist and anti-socialist armed forces, and social divide between radical-left Spartacists, majority socialists and pro-monarch loyalists disallowed the newly-formed Weimar Republic to truly hold government and were vital to the Nazi’s rise to power. This social divide made it difficult to hold government for more than one election, causing, as stated by George Truss “no stability or substantial progress within Weimar Germany.” Furthermore, as stated by Rößner “because the workers’ movement was divided, the young republic was not able to raise its own army.” Political disagreement between the government and armed-forces compounded this matter, as the Majority Socialists were forced to rely on anti-communist Freikorps for support.
Furthermore, after Oberste Heeresleitung disbandment, the Reichswehr (Imperial Army) remained a right-wing “state within the state”. As stated by Rößner, this was “politically lethal for the republican system,” due to armed forces being able to “vehemently form a military state,” as stated by historian Kolb. Furthermore, Rößner cites “socialist reliance on rivaling forces [as] the cause of the Kapp Putsch in 1920, and [the] end [of the] the Weimar Republic.” The fragile state of the internally quarrelling and distracted socialist government allowed Hitler to garner unopposed military support, setting the stage for the Nazi’s forceful seizure of power.
Resentment Towards the Outcome of WWI
In 1919, German Government signed Treaty of Versailles, and agreed to subsequent charges of War Guilt and War Reparations, an action that was very unpopular in Germany. Mass demonstrations against the Treaty occurred in front of the Reichstag, and many nationalists believed the government had sold Germany out to its enemies by ending the war too early. Opponents of the government used this to claim that it had ‘stabbed Germany in the back’ by ending the war. Additionally, Truss attests “the War Guilt Clause led to widespread feelings of humiliation and anger, [and] had serious repercussions for the Weimar Government.”
In the years to come, The November Criminals and the legend of the Stab in the Back were phrases used in many of Hitler’s speeches, which described the Republic as “a morass of corruption, degeneracy, national humiliation … [and] fourteen years of rule by Jews, Marxists, and ‘cultural Bolsheviks’.” Truss attests “ideas that the Treaty was signed by anti–patriotic left wing politicians (the November Criminals), and that these same politicians were responsible for the ‘stab in the back’ of the army that led military defeat in WW1, discredited the Weimar Government.”
Mistakes Made by Weimar Leadership
The failure of Germany’s first true democracy, and the subsequent rise of the Nazi Party was primarily the result of choices made by Weimar leadership during its brief life. While Germany’s defeat in World War I, the Versailles Treaty, inflation and depression made the development and survival of democracy difficult, Bookbinder agues “they did not doom the Republic to inevitable failure. The fate of the Weimar Republic was in the hands of its leaders.” Just one of these mistakes was, Ebert’s 1919 decision to call on anti-communist Freikorps to crush the radical-left Spartacists. Rößner argues “Ebert’s actions split the left, ma[king] the Republic much more vulnerable to rightwing forces and ultimately to a Nazi takeover.” In fact, five years later, Ebert admitted in his journal that his (roughly translated) “actions had profound, and irreversible consequences … jeopardizing the future of the Republic.”
Furthermore, in 1928, the executive committee of the German Nationalist People’s Party appointed Hugenberg as party chairman. Hugenberg was anti-republic, and controlled a media empire including newspapers that ~50% of Weimar Germans read. Hugenberg wished to become the ruler of Germany but his strategy called for an alliance with Hitler and the Nazis. This proved fatal for the Republic, as Hugenberg ultimately provided Hitler with positive media coverage and introduced him to industrialists and financiers who supported his political campaign. Bookbinder attests “Hitler’s alliance with Hugenberg was a necessary step on his way to power.” This meant political blunders were crucial in Hitler’s rise to power, far more so than the Depression, as without the mistakes made by Weimar leadership, Hitler would have never been in a position to come to power.
Despite this, the Depression was a contributing factor to dire economic conditions in Weimar Germany, which in-part aided the rise of the Nazi Party. The Great Depression devastated economies worldwide, and deteriorating economic conditions in Germany created an angry, frightened, and impoverished populace, thus open to more extreme political systems. This gave Hitler had an audience for his anti-Semitic and anti-communist magniloquence, which depicted Jews as the cause of the Depression. Additionally, fear and uncertainty about Germany’s future also led many Germans to support the stability that Hitler offered.
As stated by Hollinger, “the Depression and abysmal economic circumstances granted Hitler significant support for his cause.” However, Hollinger also acknowledges that “the Depression was not solely responsible for Weimar Germany’s economic condition.” The deteriorated Weimar economy can also be attested to large reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, the loss of industry in the Ruhr occupation, and the following hyperinflation, which Germany had only narrowly recovered from. Furthermore, Kolb attests “while the Great Depression helped create an environment in which he gained support, it (and German economic conditions in general) were not solely responsible for bringing Hitler to power.” As while these economic conditions strengthened the Nazi following, they were not responsible for Hitler’s position of power, or crucial to the Party’s existence.
The Depression was not the most significant factor in empowering the Nazi Party. Governmental stability was impaired due to political and social division. Political blunders diminished Republic influence, allowing Hitler to take a position of power, and German infuriation over the conclusion of WW1, was used by Hitler to garner support. The Depression enhanced economic pressure, granting additional Nazi backing, but was not the leading factor in the Nazi’s rise to power.
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