The Political State Issues of the Weimar Republic
Along with its chaotic economic state, The Weimar Republic also had many political problems; that is, problems within the government structure, or within the political landscape of the people, which directly removed opposition, or led to the German people’s resentment of the government, which all contributed to the rise of Hitler. To begin, Germany’s parliament had many different parties who were involved. There were 7 main parties as well as other smaller parties. The number of parties meant that the Reichstag would not be able to make decisions effectively, as there were many contrasting opinions from different parties.
This resulted in a need for a grand coalition between groups of parties; however, this could not be achieved due to “disagreements on economic and social questions between the SPD and Liberal parties” as well as “foreign policy differences […] between the DNVP and the Centre and the DVP” (Williamson, 160). As a consequence, this gave way to the rise of special interest parties who claimed to create a united Germany, such as Hitler’s party. So, aided by his propaganda displaying the faults of democracy, and his strong patriotic values outlined in Mein Kampf and speeches, he was able to encourage a united Germany in a time of division. Hitler was able to obtain a large amount of support from people affected by the economic crisis who believed the current government was inefficient in resolving economic issues.
Specifically, the Weimar Republic had its own constitution called the Constitution of the German Reich. This document provided many reforms that contributed to a welfare state, such as state run education, as well as more rights for workers like the right to form unions and to improve working conditions. While this sounds good, the Weimar Republic’s new constitution “proved an increasingly expensive burden on its finances” (Williamson, 160). In a period of prosperity, this may be viable; however, Germany in the 1920’s was not able to support such costly policies as a result of its economic burdens, like inflation, reparations, and strikes which caused the German government to lose revenue. The welfare state also caused problems for employers, and especially in heavy industry for coal, steel and iron. These employers were “anxious to cut wages and weaken the trade unions in an attempt to boost production” (Williamson, 178), leading to a desire of removing the welfare state, which in a democratic system, seemed impossible, resulting in more support in an authoritarian ruler, like Hitler, whose propaganda laid claim to the inefficiency of the current democratic government. Secondly, the voting distribution in germany was becoming increasingly radical as a result of the economic problems, which led people to two ideologies, and socialism was a rising and appealing notion; worker’s strikes were not uncommon in industrial areas like the Ruhr, where 20000 people had shown up for demonstrations in the 1920 Ruhr uprising.
However, the left wing had a small representation in the Reichstag, as the democratic socialist party “were not willing to enter the government without the collaboration of the brother socialist party, The Independent Socialist Party” (Davidson, 154). In addition, The Independent Socialist Party refused to join a government that was not completely socialist. Then, in 1922, when the DSP, German socialist party dissolved, many of their voters turned to the NSDAP. So, even though socialism was a growing force in the people, it could not establish a government due to the parties’ conditions, effectively removing Hitler’s left opposition. On the other side of the political spectrum there were many people in the Weimar Republic, generally middle and higher class, who were terrified of socialist revolution in Germany. The Bolshevik revolution had an international effect of creating a fear in communism, which Hitler exploited in his politics. In Mein Kampf, Hitler associated communism and bolshevism with the jew, which had an “explosive political effect” (Nolte, 419), as it provided an appeal to nationalists who were fearful of local communist revolution.
Furthermore, the Weimar government itself was not well received by the people. Alfred Hugenberg, who was a successful media proprietor and politician, controlled much of the media to express its hatred for the Weimar government who had lost a war and surrendered to the Treaty of Versailles. The individual chancellors/key figures were also hated for a variety of reasons in the 1920’s. In 1920-1921, chancellor Constatin Fehrenbach’s cabinet consisted of 5 members from the centre parties, 3 from the nationalist parties, 2 more from the German Democratic Party, and lastly, Goerner and Simons, both non-partisans (Davidson, 154).
This government was weak, and due to conflict of interests was inefficient and unstable, which aligned with the narrative Hitler was spreading in his rallies and other forms of propaganda, causing resentment in many people who agreed with this opinion. Gustav Stresemann was arguably “One of the most impressive figures in German politics” (Davidson, 201). He was the one who halted the mark’s hyperinflation by creating a new currency, the Rentenmark. After he became foreign minister, he also had a policy of fulfillment, the idea that Germany would never be relieved from its reparations and overall social, political, and economic chaos, unless Germany was able to fulfill of the allies and the rest of the world.
Stresemann executed fulfillment through both the Dawes Plan in 1924 and the Young Plan in 1929. The Dawes Plan explained that French and British occupation in the Ruhr was causing economic damage, and if reparations are to be paid, allied occupation must end. The Young Plan argued for the further reduction of the amount of reparations to be paid by 20%, and divided annual payments as well. The allies accepted both these plans, thus achieving Stresemann’s goal of fulfillment. While his actions greatly benefitted the economic state of the Weimar Republic, the nationalists of the countries detested his conformity to the allies and the Treaty of Versailles, calling him a “traitor and chief enemy of his people” (Davidson, 274).
He was also disliked from both the far right and the left. For the right, Stresemann was hated because of his renunciation of “passive resistance in the Ruhr”, and for the left, he was hated because of the “Invasion of saxony and for permitting Crown Prince Wilhelm to return to Germany from exile.” (Davidson, 273). This is a demonstration of the historical concept of perspective, as while in hindsight, Stresemann was a great help to Germany’s economic state, but he was viewed as an evil traitor by the people. Bruning, the Chancellor from 1930-1932, was nicknamed the ‘Hunger Chancellor’ as his deflationary policies resulted in widespread poverty.
The need of a strong and confident leader who could rebuild Germany was exemplified in Hitler’s rallies and propaganda, as extracts from the reports of soldiers who heard the talks show that Hitler made a very favorable impression on his listeners” (Davidson, 125). Next, the German culture of this time period reflected a desire for reform, as “modern art and architecture flourished on a far greater scale than before the war” (Williamson, 161). Examples of this include Dadaism and jazz, which both symbolism the rejection of traditional values, became popular with Germans, especially in big cities. This need for change was another factor in the rise of hitler, as he was the one spreading propaganda that he will change the flawed democratic system and unite the people of Germans, which appeals to the young men and women of Germany, who are trying to reject the current state of German culture. To offer perspective on the German culture, historians argue over how the change in culture was a factor in Hitler’s rise. For example, In theatre, Erich Maria’s Remarque’s film, All Quiet on the Western Front “stirred up a bitter campaign by the nationalists” (Williamson, 161). Jazz, as was called by conservative critics, was “the most disgusting treason against civilised music” (Evans, 125).
Williamson argues that in fact, this cultural change aided in Hitler’s rise as it disoriented German society, and gave rise to a need to “restoration of traditional family and cultural values, and for a strong authoritarian leader, who could ‘clean up’ Germany” (Williamson, 162). Again, the historical concept of perspectives is exhibited, as the German people had two contrasting perspectives on the new culture of Germany. Finally, One policy that caused political issues in Germany was Article 48 of the Weimar constitution, the article which allowed the president to seize power and take actions in ‘times of emergency’, stating “If public security and order are seriously disturbed or endangered within the German Reich, the President of the Reich may take measures necessary for their restoration”.
The problem lies that the terms of the article are so vague that anything can qualify as an emergency. This includes the suspension of civil liberties such as the freedom of the press, speech, and assembly. This led to the abuse of the article by multiple presidents. In 1923-1924, President F. Ebert used article 68 times, and Hindenburg also frequently used the article, and “Article 48 became a built-in part of the legislative process” (Davidson, 248). This led to the loss of faith in the democratic system for the German people, as there was no point to a democracy if elected members of parliament did not have any power. Hitler’s propaganda also aligned with this belief, further expanding his support base.
Furthermore, when Hitler became chancellor, he used the Reichstag Fire, an incident where a communist man, Marinus van der Lubbe, was convicted of arson to the parliament building, to justify the use of article 48. He proceeded by the censorship of the press, and also removed freedom of assembly, freedom of communication, and free expression of opinion from the people of Germany, all in a legal and democratic fashion. Soon, this would lead to the enabling act, giving Hitler complete legislative and executive control for 4 years (Williamson, 192). Opposition, which included the KPD and SPD, had mostly been arrested due to the flaw in the constitution that was article 48. To offer a contrary perspective, Williamson argues that the arrests did not matter, as “the necessary majority was only made possible when the Centre party decided to vote the bill” (Williamson, 192).
Regardless, the enabling act is the final turning point and signifies the end of Hitler’s rise into his consolidation. So, due to the flaws in governmental structure and policy, the problems of democracy, the new German culture in the 1920’s as well as the people’s resentment of the Government due to the individual leaders and article 48, Hitler was able to rise to power.
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