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Weimar Germany 1919 29 Notes

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Germany 1919­29 Notes ­ The Weimar Republic The Weimar Constitution:

• Weimar constitution adopted July 1919, introduction of democracy a significant change

• Written by Hugo Preuss, a legal scholar, expert and liberal

• SPD largest party in 1919 national assembly elections, coalition with Centre party + Democrat
DDP, + this outcome reflected in constitution to show will of the people

• President elected directly every 7 years, strong powers to counter possible 'parliamentary
dictatorship', could disband Reichstag, dismiss GVT + strong executive ensured in article 48 as
he could rule by presidential decree in an emergency (EG Ebert used in 1923 to give power to
army to put down Munich Putsch)

• Article 48 allowed flexibility in difficult circumstances but also opened door later on for
undermining of Weimar democracy

• Chancellor + cabinet needed Reichstag majority support + Chancellor had to resign if he lost the confidence of the Reichstag (unlike 2nd Reich)

• Reichstrat, upper house, could delay laws

• Reichstag, lower house, elected every 4 years by everyone over 20 by proportional

• Extensive bill of rights guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, association etc

• Regional authority with 17 'Lander' which controlled local police, education etc + chose
Reichstrat members, continuity from before

• Lost legitimacy quickly as created as compromise between successful, pro­democratic parties in Jan 1919 (had around 75% of vote) but quickly declined to under 50% support by next year.

• Proportion representation voting system ­ Germany divided into 35 equal electoral districts +
every 60,000 votes in each district added one deputy to Reichstag, and parties gaining fewer
across multiple districts added up.

Proportional representation debate:

• Proportional representation (PR) a compromise between most successful parties in 1919
national assembly election (SPD, Centre, DDP) but far less successful after, EG 1919 23M
votes between them, next highest in next decade just over 14M)

• But, could be seen as representing broad political opinion due to 1919 success + coalition
formed, problem was not system, but that parties didn't build coalitions well, EG SPD found
compromise difficult

Unstable as coalitions consistently rose + fell, longest coalition lasted 18 months BUT, most supported PR, SPD on ideology + right to prevent SPD domination Main political groups represented in same proportions in 1919 as before in 1912 Allowed broad set of differing interests to be represented in parliament

Treaty of Versailles:

Lost territory of economic importance, 20% of coal production + 15% of agricultural resources Lost important symbolic territory; West Prussia, Posen, Alsace­Lorraine, Memel, Danzig Rhineland demilitarised zone Article 80, Anschluss (Austrian union) forbidden Army limited to 100,000 men Article 231 war guilt clause

• Caused extreme resentment at Diktat

• 'Stab in the back' myth formed, Hindenburg claimed it was signed due to unpatriotic allies + left
wing 'November criminals', EG Ebert, Erzberger, Muller etc

• Absolved military of responsibility for failings + played on popular resentment of treaty but
untrue + Hindenburg advocated armistice at time, out of necessity

• BUT, myth remained + reduced support for Weimar republic + parties involved in its creation,
did damage to legitimacy of republic Threats:

• Spartacist revolt, 1919:

January 1919 Revolutionaries led by Liebknecht + Luxembourg, USPD breakaway Poorly planned + easily crushed by regular army + Freikorps
Lacked popular support, as shown by the fact that Dec 1918 the First Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils in Berlin refused to allow the pair to address the meeting

• Red Bavaria, 1919:

• February 1919

• Assassination of USPD leader, Eisner, triggered revolution in Bavaria

• In May 1919, 30,000 troops sent in ­ army + Freikorps ­ + communist republic crushed

• Kapp­Luttwitz Putsch, 1920:

• Figurehead General Ludendorff, led by Kapp + Luttwitz

• General von Luttwitz a key senior figure in the Freikorps, key to putting down 'dangerous'
LW uprisings such as the Spartacist revolt, now posed a greater threat by plotting against
the GVT himself

• Under threat from the very people GVT had previously relied on for protection + to crush
LW uprisings

• Freikorps refused to disband after TOV

• Head of the General Staff, General Von Seeckt, ordered troops to stay in barracks when
Putsch started,'Reichswehr does not fire on the Reichswehr', seen as comrades

• But huge general strike paralysed Berlin, didn't win over civil service or other financial
institutions (including Reichsbank), collapsed after 4 days

• Revealed army's reluctance to support republic, sympathetic to Putsch

• Ruhr revolution, 1920:

• Workers militia put down brutally + easily by Freikorps + army

• 1920 election results showed swing away from 'Weimar coalition' parties due to TOV + political
unrest, vote collapsed by 6M due to widespread disenchantment

• Majority of Reichstag now unsympathetic or hostile to republic, 'Weimar coalition' only got

44.6% of the vote Evaluation of threats:


• Fear of communist revolution due to Russian experience + led to widespread belief that the
revolutionary left was the big danger to Weimar, + a strong GVT was needed to guard against

• But the revolutionary left were divided + weakened by lack of broad support, as well as,
crucially, a lack of institutional support from the army, judiciary etc

• KPD close alliance with Comintern + Soviet Union ties put off large sections of working class

• Tactic of head on revolt ineffective + v.unlikely to work against strong GVT

• Ebert­Groener agreement meant army promised to put down revolutionary activity strongly, and
they did

• Left weakened further as Law for the Protection of the Republic (July 1922) hardened state
powers to protect nation against extremists, but mostly used against left (when extra powers
used at all)


• Right wing nationalism more serious threat, revolutionary uprisings encouraged many to support stronger, more authoritarian RW GVT (+ perception that LW the major threat further increased
threat of RW, not fully appreciated)

• 1920­22, 354 out of 375 (almost 95%) of political assassinations carried out by RW groups, far
more dangerous in practice than the left, yet right received only total 90 years in prison, while
the left got 250 years overall

• Figures like Erzberger, epitome of the republic, (+ foreign minister Walther Rathenau + USPD
leader Karl Gareis), assassinated by RW groups, in particularthe Consul organisation

• Chancellor Wirth claimed 'the enemy is on the right'

• Kapp putsch more dangerous than many of the LW uprisings

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