Weimar Republic, 1918-33


Democratic Revolution, 1918

  • After Soviet Uprisings & Navy mutiny, the Kaiser abdicated. On the same day, the SPD led coalition led by Ebert (modeate and anti-communist) formed government - German Republic.
  • 11th Nov - Armistice - agreed ceasefire with new govt
  • This matters because it attracted more support as it majority of Germans accepted democracy, not communism. 
  • Ebert Groener Pace = agreement with head of army, General Groener, that elite/army would protect/defend new republic in exchange for the army maintaing its privaleged position

HOWEVER: This did suceed in avoiding revolution, but the limited revolution meant that the struggle between autocracy and democracy was never solved, just postponed. 
EG: The Spartacist Revolt, 1919

  • 1917 USPD split from SPD - communist party who belived SPD were not communist enough
  • Spartacus League (radical militant wing) split from USPD to form KPD
  • Ebert responded with the Freikorps (private army of ex-army who were reduced in Treaty)
  • Jan 5th, KPD began uprising to seize power
  • Jan 15th, Freikoprs crushed uprisings and executed leader and 800 communists
    • Helps show that the Weimar Republic survived and legitimises Ebert, the Republic and democracy 
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Parties: Pro/Anti republic

SPD: pro-republic
- Working class with divided opinions (many strongly supported demoracy, others saw it as 'bourgeois democracy'. Supported social reforms and extension of social welfare. Supported the policy of fulfilment
DDP: pro-republic
- Middle class who supported republic and served in nearly every cabinet of the Republic. Supported constitutional/social reform and favoured policy of fulfilment
Centre Party: Centre
- Cathoilics who were initally supportive but less supportive from 1930s. Supported social reform but also sociall conservative looking to protect Churchs intered. Supported fulfilment
DVP: centre/anti-republic
- Business intersts.white-collar workers who were indifferent. Recognised Republic but would prefer a more autocratic system. Pro business policies, hostile to Treaty
DNVP: centre ish/anti- republic
- Conservatives, nationalists, upper middle class who were consistently hostile to Republic and whished for return to Imperial Reich. Cons policies and heavily rejected Treaty
USPD: anti-republic
- Industrial workers disilludioned with SPD policies. Wanted to replave democracy w/ workers' soviet. Divided so split later. Opposed war and Treaty. 
NSDAP: anti-republic
- Ex-servicemen, radicals who were extremely hostile to Republic. Against Treaty
KPD: anti-republic
- Communist revolutionaries, ex-USPD, working class members who were hostile to Republic that expolited the working class. Committed to overthrowing republic with revolution. Supported violent resolution.

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National Assembly, 1919

Key Evidence to show that people were for democracy

Massive turnout - 85% = shows wanting to participate, healthy, strong democracy

WINNER - SPD - 37.9% (Landslide victory = triumph for those supported democracy, 76% voted for SPD, Centre Party, DDP coalition)
LOST - DVP - 4.4%

Ebert officially President of Weimar Republic.

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Threats to the Weimar Republic, Left Wing

Left Wing Threats:
Spartacist Revolt, 1919 - KPD failed attampt to take control of Berlin - 10 days
Red Bavaria, 1919 - Student killed USPD leader, lasted 8/9 months. Ebert tackled with Article 48
Communist Invasion of Ruhr, 1920 - KPD workers took over parts of Ruhr but failed (spontaneous, uncordinated and untrained)

Serious? These uprisings never seriously threatened Weimar, although Spartacist and Red Bavaria required thousands of troops to put down

Why? -Lack of coordination (communist invasion ruhr), strong leadership (communist invasion ruhr), popular support (spartacist), -Powerful conervatives united against left-wing and took action (Red Bavaria and executed rebels)

Impact? Drove voters into arms of right wing parties (DNVP, Nazi)
Threat of communist revolution terrified middle-class and elite so strengthened radical right wing 

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Threats to the Weimar Republic, Right Wing

Right wing threats:
Kapp Putsch, 1920 - Lasted 4 days and was brought down with Freikorps
The White Terror, 1920-22 - terrorist attacks on radial right wing, approx. 350 weimar politicians killed
Munich Putsch, 1923 - Hitler rose up due to Ruhr Invasion - failed as it lacked support

Serious? More of a threat to Republic, but fewer attempts

Why? -Support of army, judiciary, police, civil service, widespread sympathy amongst cons. elite
-Strong leadership from high-profile figures = publicity -Well organised para-military uits (planned) and the Stahlhelm, ex army volunteers forming military wing of DNVP and SA for NSDAP

Significant? People voted anti-republic so they had increased support due to: - fear of communism, socialist nature of weimar constitution, against treaty of versailles 

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Major Elections

Jan 1919 
Winners - Centre, DDP, SPD (76%)
Losers - DNVP, DVP, USPD 

1920 - Swing to the Right
Winners - USPD 5m votes, DVP, DNVP
Losers - Centre, DDP, SPD

1924 - people belive republic can work = pro-republic + DNVP led coalition showed stability
Winners: DNVP, SPD, DVP
Losers: NSDAP, KPD

1928: poor govt.
Winners: SPD, KPD

1928 - Grand Coalition
Most representative - SPD, Centre, DDP, DVP, BVP

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Ruhr Crisis and Hyperinflation

1919 - Treaty of Versailles: Germany to pay 300 billion marks in war reperations

  • National Debt - 144bn marks
  • Load of bread - 0.63 marks 

1922 - Ebert informs allies that Germany is unable to pay reperations

  • Exchange rate = 8,000marks to 1 dollar

1923 - National debt - 500bn marks, Load of bread costs 200bn marks

  • Franco-Belgian invasion of Ruhr
  • Workers told to strike = Collapse of industry
  • To pay the strikers, Weimar begin printing money
  • Exchange rate increases - 4bn marks to 1 dollar = worthless currency
  • Hyperinflation - 600bn marks in circulation - middle class/elites affected heavily as they lose their savings and investments
  • Hyperinflation ends with Streseman introduving new currency (Rentenmark) and resumes reperations payments (DAWES PLAN)
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Gustav Stresemann and Ending Hyperinflation

- Head of DVP - centre right, moderate willing to work with democracy
- Appointed Chancellor in August 1923 to solve hyperinflation
Does so by:

  • Abandoned passive resistance for 'policy of fulfillment' - fulfilling terms of Treaty
  • Introduced new currency: 'Rentenmark'
  • Set up Reichbank (govt. controlled)

Immediate impact: currency stabilised, investment grew, inflation dropped

November 1923 - replaced as chancellor

  • Polarised political opinions by treating left-wing uprisings harshly but lenient towards right wing = led to collapse of his own coalition (SPD withdrew)
    • Failure to punish right wing in Munich Putsch but bloody crackdown of Communist risings in Ruhg - angered SPD
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Plans to help (1)

The Dawes Plan, 1924
1) French evacuate the Ruhr (repay reperations)
2) Reperation payment made over a longer period of time
3) US loan to revive Germany economy
4) International loan of 800m marks
5) Reichsbank reorganised under Allied supervision
Right wing viewed it as a form of appeasement - another humiliation as it confirmed they are to blame (similar to Treaty). Helped Germanys economic revival by having money come in

Locarno Pact, 1925
Treaties with France, Belgium, Italy & Britain
1) Mutual guarantee of the Franco-German&Belgian-German borders - provides security
2) All parties agree not to use force to alter borders
3) France wouldnt attack Germany if it was in a defensive war - fear of zweifrontenkreig
= provides security and oppurtunity to expand at the same time, popular w/ general public as reintergratin Germany into international community

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Satbility? - Dancing on a Volcano

Economy + foreign policy + social/cultural achievemtns = relative stability
1924-29 drastically more stable than any period since 1914
Stresemans recovery from 1924 followed up by foreign policy = achievements
Streseman described this as 'dancing on a volcano' (looked ready but was ready to explode

  • 1930 - cracks beginning to show, 1933 collapsed entirely (Hitler)
    Could be argued that seeds of destruction were laid between 1924-29

Despite swing to the right between 1919-1923, support for Republic rose rapidly under Stresemann - reflected in 1924 election (DNVO, SPD, DVP) won - believing thatRepublic can work
Swing away from radicals - Recover under Stresemann in economiv and foreign affaits
- DNVP - led coalition showed that right-wing could contribute towards stability (approved Dawes Plan, willing to work within Republic and democracy)

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Adv and Disadv of Weimar Constitution:

Worked well if the President and Chancellor got on
- Universal suffrage
- Reichstag had power

- PR system encourages many small party making it impossible for anyone to get majority = weak coalitions and difficulty in getting decisions through Reichstag 
- Article 48

-SPD refused to work with right-wing - differnet ideologies
Significant/threat to republic?
- Failure of largest party to participate in govt - undermine democracy = no majority
-7 coalitions in 6 years (1923-29) all torn apart by indifferences - in the Golden Years
-Republic propped up by weak and fragile democratic centre

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1925 takes over from Ebert
Ultra-conservative politicians - also anti-republic
Right wing hoped he would dismantle Republic - declare dictatorship
He upheld an oath to protect it- but used position to spread right-wing control - makes it more right-wingm autocratic, conservative
   -Excluded SPD from coalitions - insisted DNVP must be in every one - forcing right wing to govern the country


  • Prevented popular and representative coalitions of left and right wing
  • He didnt believe in constrains on his presidentail powers
  • Minister of Interior proposed a law limited his use of Article 48 - run country w/o reichstag approval
  • Hindenburg blocked it - refused to limit it
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System beings to crack

1926 onwards - fragile coalitions with little support
Republic had become tainted - parties that had governed lost massive support
- Associated with poor govtover 4 years
- Those who didnt govern (SPD,KPD) had best results (change of support)
     -Those parties distanced themselves from Republic and became more radical to attract new voters (extremism)

Overall, 1929 elections (winnder SPD, KPD) showd that public had become tired of ineffective Weimar government

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Grand Coalition of 1928

Republic Last Hope: 
- Chancellor Mullers SPD led Grand Coalition was the most representative yet (SPD, Centre, DDP, DVP, BVP)
2 massive challenges:
1) Steering Young Plan through Reichstag   
2) Alfred Hungenberg invoked article 73 of the constitution (righ to hold referndum on Treaty)
DNVP, NSDAP held referenfum opposing the Young Plan
4m signatures (10%) called for freedom law to reject Treat - Referndum defeated - only 14% in favour
SUGGEST: support for grand coalitions effective government and Stresemanns policy of fulfilment
-last democratic achievement in Germany until 1945

Collapse of Coalition:
1927 - global economy entered Great Depression
- German economy relied on US loans, which were called in and Germany went bankrupt
-Unempolyment doubled
-Welfare state collapses - Reich Institution responsible for social security payments borrowed 340m marks
Great depression led to collapse as left and right opposed on how to solve crisis
SPD wanted to increase benefits to relieve people
DVP wanted to cut benegits and save money and redube national debt

1930 Grand Coalition collapsed and replaced  by Hindenburgs presidential government using article 48 to run country

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Plans to help (2)

League of Nations, 1926
Accepted into League of Nations and were granted permanent seat on the council - power to veto - to limit Treaty. Advantage as Treaty excluded Germany from negotiations in 1919 so now able to pressure other nations into changing 
1) 1927: allies reduced troops in Germany by 60,000
2) Inter-allied military control commission to oversea German disarmament was abolished
3) Franco-German commercial treaty signed

Young Plan, 1920
Germany still couldnt afford reduced payment so Stresemann and US Owen Young agreed on:
1) Payment reduced from 2.5bn to 2bn a year
2) Extended to 1988 to ease pressure
3) Allies promised to exacuate the Rhineland by 1930 - 5 years ahead of schedule
Difficuly to say whether it was successful as Great Depression hits German 2 weeks later, see no benefits of plan

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