In 1918 towards the end of the Second World War, imperial Germany was ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II and secretly the High Command. The High Command, under Ludendorff and Hindenburg, sensed the inevitability of defeat and tried to ease their way towards an armistice with the Allies. However not before considering one last ditch stand against the allies. (1) In the events that occurred, the Kaiser abdicated on the 9th of November with massive munity’s occurring all over Germany, mainly at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven with the German naval fleet. Councils had appeared in Berlin and Cologne (2) and down in the south in Munich, Kurt Eisner declared Bavaria as an independent republic. (3) On the 9th of November Fredich Ebert took over from Prince Max of Baden as the Chancellor of Germany. On top of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Philip Scheidemann spoke to the people “The old and rotten – the monarchy – has broken down. Long live the new! Long live the German Republic!” (4)
Two days later, on the 11th of November, Germany signed an armistice with the Allies bringing an end to the war.
This piece of work will highlight the inauspicious circumstances that the German government was born in during the years of 1918-1923. This essay will highlight the political, economical and the violent problems that the new Republic faced and how some courses of its actions led Germany on the path towards another World War.
Straight away, a “political vacuum” appeared within the Republic. As the Social Democratic Party who were considered a moderate left wing party, had gained much respectability during the War (5) was now in power with the USPD. Their leader Fredich Ebert and members wanted to lead Germany down the pathway of parliamentary democracy. However the USPD sought an immediate socialisation of the economy and radical changes in the army and civil service. The most extreme group on the left, known as the Spartacists wanted a soviet regime based on the Bolshevik takeover in Russia the year previously. (6) This caused immense rivalry, tensions and deep divisions within the left wing in German politics.
This in turn led to the historic telephone call which the General of the Germany army – General Groener offered the army’s help in maintaining Erbert in office by putting down forces from the extreme left. (7) Nothing was mentioned whatsoever about opposition from the right wing. This became known as the Erbert – Groener pact. This proved however to be a major mistake in the coming months and years. The army in essence should always remain apolitical, something that is highly important especially with the birth of a new Republic. The Reichswehr in that time was always seen as having right wing views with deep beliefs of Prussian militarism, the army remained wedded in sympathy to the past and aspired to a restoration of a strongly nationalist Germany. (8)
Erbert had even authorised the recruitment of volunteer forces to keep order should a crisis arrive, the forces became known as the Freikorps who were ex-soldiers many of whom had served in the First World War. (9) However at first it seemed Erbert was justified in his decision. In January 1919 the Spartacists (now called the KPD) attempted an armed revolution in Berlin as to which the Freikorps brutally put down the revolution. The Freikorps along with the army quashed any communist resistance throughout the rest of the country and even made their way to Bavaria where they purged Kurt Eisner’s regime. (10)
The birth of the Weimar Republic came in 1919 under a coalition government under the SPD, DDP and the centre party. They were known as the “Weimar Coalition”. (12) In July 1919 it drafted the constitution by the assembly, some of the key points to look back at are the Reichstag would be the sovereign authority for the Weimar Republic, every four years it should be elected by proportional representation, voting to all men and woman under the age of 21 and finally to have a President of the Republic whom was also to possess special powers in cases of emergency. (11) At this time, this would have been seen as forward steps for this new Republic, however unforeseen problems would occur. Political representation in Germany created constant political instability, which became a regular appearance in the short Weimar Republic. Germany always had a coalition government throughout the Weimar years. The President through one of his special powers was able to activate clause 48 during the Wall Street crash which in turn over the years is what allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power.
On the 28th of June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by the new government. The Germans were so horrified by the terms of the treaty, they even considered resisting the treaty. Erbert had asked Ludendorff if the army would be able to hold out if the allies did invade Germany as a result. Ludendorff came back with a resounding declination, as to which the Chancellor Scheidemann resigned. His successor, Bauer, eventually agreed to accept the treaty. (13) The Republican ministers Muller and Bell who signed the treaty were widely criticised in Germany so much so that it was claimed that German armies had not been defeated by the enemy, but betrayed by the secret enemy, the socialist and the Jew. The myth of the “Stab in the back” (Dolchstoss) was born. (14) Germany as a result of the treaty lost several eastern territories, the signing of the war guilt clause, reparation payments which were viewed by J.M Keynes who believed the reparation payment was three times greater than it should have been. The army was reduced to 100,000 men with conscription abolished.
It is no wonder then in Berlin January 1920 that Dr Kapp and certain army officers hatched a plot to gain control of Berlin, otherwise known as the Kapp Putsch. They were attempting to set up a military dictatorship in Germany. The government as expected tried to request the help needed in crushing the rebellion, the army leaders refused. General Von Seeckt responded “ Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr”. (15)