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The Birth Pangs Of Weimar Germany 1919 23 Notes

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1. The Weimar Constitution and political parties

2. Threats from the Left

3. The Treaty of Versailles

4. Threats from the Right

5. Inflation and hyper inflation


Following elections in January 1919, a National Assembly met in the city of Weimar to form an interim parliament and to agree a new constitution. Key fact - in the first assembly 80% of people voted for parties who favoured democracy

The largest party in the Assembly was the SPD, which had won 38% of the vote


SPD representatives wished to create a democracy which secured rights for workers, but they had to co-operate with the other pro-democracy parties, such as the Centre Party and the DDP (German Democratic Party)

The Weimar Republic = a period of democracy in Germany between 1919 and

1933. The Weimar Republic had two presidents  Friedrich Ebert (1919-1925) and Paul von Hindenburg (1925-1934). In the summer of 1919, two crucial documents were drawn on that influenced the history of the Weimar Republic: the Weimar Constitution which was agreed by the German Reichstag, and the Treaty of Versailles which was imposed by the Allies. Key features of the Weimar constitution: President People elected president every seven years. He enjoyed considerable powers, such as:

The right to dissolve the Reichstag


The appointment of the Chancellor (the president tended to choose the Chancellor as the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag)

The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces

The capacity to rule by decree at a time of national emergency (Article 48) and to oversee the Reichstag

These powers created a very complex relationship between the powers of the president and the Reichstag/Chancellor Proportional Representation

Elections were to be conducted using PR

Minimum requirement for a seat in the Reichstag was just 60,000 votes across the entire country

Federal System

Germany divided into 18 regions or states, each of which had its own parliament and local powers

State parliaments sent representatives to the Reichsrat, the upper house of the German parliament

Reichsrat could propose amendments, or delay legislation passed by the Reichstag

Article 48 This gave the Weimar president the power in an emergency to rule by decree and to override the constitutional rights of the people Bill of Rights Weimar Republic's constitution also included a Bill of Rights in which certain rights were enshrined. These provisions included:

Freedoms of speech, association and religion


The right to work


A provision giving workers special protection in the new state


Welfare rights


Democratic feature - article 22: "the delegates are elected by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage by all men and women over twenty years of age, in accordance with the principle of proportional representation." Liberal feature - article 117: "Every German has right, within the limit of the general laws, to express his opinions freely, by word, printed matter or picture, or in any other manner… Censorship is forbidden." Authoritarian feature - article 48: this article gave the President the power to rule by decree in an emergency. This power was subject to the Reichstag. In practice, this meant that the Reichstag needed to authorise the use of Article 48, and that the Reichstag could review the use of Article 48 by overturning any emergency decrees that the President issued

Issues with the Weimar Constitution:
 The Weimar Republic's constitution had a very democratic character

however it has been criticised for giving too much power to the President under Articles 25 and 48.
 PR has also been condemned for creating a fragmented party system which

made it difficult to form durable coalition governments and within which small extremist parties could gain representation and exposure.
 Many industrialists and business owners in Germany felt that the constitution

gave too many rights to workers and by the early 1930s many of these people had stopped supporting the Weimar system, as they felt it did not serve their interests KEY QUESTION  Did the constitution weaken the Republic?
Many historians have argued that the Weimar constitution of 1919 was a source of weakness for the Republic…




Its main features e.g. PR, parliamentary government and civil liberties, were not widely accepted


Constitution was the product of a
- It even included those on the nationalist compromise between the most successful right such as the DNVP parties in the January 1919 election to the National Assembly i.e. the SPD, the Centre It reflected successful constitutional practice and had built into it checks and balances Party and the DDP that, if used carefully, might have helped Yet at no subsequent election did these created some semblance of political stability three parties poll even close to the number of votes they had achieved in 1919 (in 1919The problem was not its design but its misuse by the new state's opponents they polled 23.1 million votes between them; the next highest was 14.3 million in It should be remembered that the new 1928) constitution was a great improvement upon



Constitution's base therefore arguably narrow and unrepresentative


Weimar constitution made no provision to reform the old traditional institutions of Imperial Germany e.g. the judiciary continued to enjoy its traditional independence under the Weimar constitution, but the hearts of many judges did not lie with the Republic. Bluntly, they were biased and tended to favour the -

The Weimar constitution reflected a broader spectrum of political opinion than the initial coalition that put it together would suggest

the previous undemocratic constitution of Imperial Germany and a very large majority voted in favour of it Weimar was initially seen as 'the most advanced democracy in the world' Constitution could not control the conditions and circumstances in which it had to operate And the Weimar Republic had other more

It seems unrealistic to imagine that any piece of paper could have resolved all Germany's problems after 1918. The Weimar Constitution had weaknesses but it was not fatally flawed - there were many more serious problems within the Weimar Republic


Political Parties Founded Social 1863 Democratic Party (SPD)

Constituen cy


Attitude to the Republic

Domestic policy

The working class; mainly urban industrial workers and craftsmen. Main strength in Prussia including Berlin and the Ruhr

Friedrich Ebert

Divided. Many within the Republic, including Ebert, strongly supported parliamentary democracy. Others were more ideologically driven, seeing the Republic as a 'bourgeois democracy' and therefore rejecting the idea of full collaboration with other parties or taking full responsibility for forming government

Committed Supported to the 'class the policy of struggle'. fulfilment Supported social reform and the idea of an extension of social welfare including unemploym ent benefit

Philipp Scheidemann

Gustav Bauer

Hermann Muller

Foreign policy


Broke away from the SPD in 1917

German Created in Democratic November Party (DDP) 1918 from the left wing of the National Liberals

Industrial workers disillusioned by the policies of the SPD, especially Ebert's use of the Army and the Freikorps and cooperation with the Centre Party and DDP


Business interests, the middle classes and intellectuals

Hugo Preuss

Luxember g

Wanted the replacement of parliamentary democracy with workers' soviets

The party supported the idea of revolution but was bitterly divided as to how to proceed and which policies to follow. In October 1920 it split into two wings; the left wing joining the KPD and right wing eventually merging in 1922 with the SPD

Opposed the war and the Versailles treaty. Followed the foreign policy dictated by Moscow through the Comintern

Fully supportive of the Republic and constitution in the early years of the Weimar Republic. From 1928 joined with the Young German Order and from 1930 fought elections as the State Party, which became increasingly

Supported constitutiona l reform, democracy, some social reform, civil liberties

In favour of a policy of fulfilment

Karl Liebknecht

Erich KochWeser

KAISER TO FUHRER - THE BIRTH PANGS OF WEIMAR GERMANY less supportive of Weimar democracy German December People's 1918 from Party (DVP) the right wing of the National Liberals

Business interests, industrialists and whitecollar workers

Founder and dominant leader of the party until his death in 1929 was Gustav Streseman n

German National People's Party (DNVP)


Conservativ e, nationalists, landowners, upper middle classes


Centre Party

At the unification of Germany in 1870

The party Konstantin representing Fehrenbac German h Catholics

Ambivalent. Recognised the Republic but instinctively preferred a return to a more autocratic system of government

Consistently hostile to the Westarp Republic, which it believed to be Karl illegitimate. Wished for a Helfferich return to the Imperial Reich and the Alfred restoration of the Kaiser. Hugenberg Only participated in two governments, both times with unsatisfactory outcomes

Wilhelm Marx

Initially strongly supportive of the Republic as a barrier against revolution. An important element in

Probusiness, anti-union and antilabour

Instinctively hostile to the Versailles treaty but foreign policy of fulfilment driven by Stresemann

Conservativ e, antisocialist and anti-Semitic

Strongly nationalist and rejected Versailles treaty. Proposed union with Austria

Essentially on the moderate right, a party of political compromise
. Supported social reform but

Supported the policy of fulfilment

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