How Unstable was the Weimar Republic?

How Far Do You Agree that the New Weimar Republic
was Seriously Threatened by Political Extremists
in the Years 1919–24?

Note: One of my duties in the various places where I teach is to show students how to write essays – something most young people are not nowadays taught to do. What I like to do in class is to choose a question at random, discuss possible approaches, and then dictate an answer one paragraph at a time. Some of these answers are very short. Some are just notes. Some amount to small dissertations. In this latter case, the students take turns at looking on-line for the information we decide is needed. It they cannot find it, I show them how to change the structure of what has already been written, or to strike out in a new direction.

It is a “writing masterclass” approach that makes use of my own strengths, and is often a welcome alternative to formal teaching. It fills up a long morning session. Everyone learns something, and the more attentive will improve their final grades by at least one step.

Here is an example of the finished product. Do not take it as a statement of personal opinion. It is an answer produced for a specific question, and it bears in mind what a possibly unknown examiner will appreciate, and what can be written to incorporate the sources found in class. SIG

PS – If anyone wants to engage my services as a teacher of these skills, please click on the image to the left. Though they are my niche subjects, Greek and Latin are not my exclusive focus as a teacher. I do much else besides.

Introduction: Weimar Republic born in defeat. Born also in starvation and chaos from continued British blockade and from territorial losses imposed by Treaty of Versailles. Also sudden demobilisation of millions of men, and from German territorial losses. These had no place in economy wrecked by unemployment and rising inflation. who had no place in an economy wrecked by unemployment and rising inflation. These were often like the bandit gangs that formed of unemployed soldiers at the end of European wars until the 18th century. Many, though, ideologically based. (Freikorps)

Main Body:

First outbreaks of violence from the Communists, who saw Republic as bourgeois swindle. Wanted Germany to follow Russian path to full socialism. January 1919, fifty thousand Spartacists in Berlin rebellion led by Communists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht. Put down with bloody reprisals.

Also in 1919, Communist workers’ councils seized power all over Germany, and a Communist People’s Government took power in Bavaria. Again, object was to push Germany in direction taken by Bolsheviks in Russia. Much killing by Communists. Much killing by regular German forces and by Freikorps allies. Further attempted revolution in 1920 – Communist militia called Red Army tried to take over in the Ruhr.

Violence also from nationalist right. These rejected Treaty of Versailles and denounced Weimar politicians as “November Criminals” for signing 1918 Armistice and then signing Treaty. March 1920, right-wing nationalist Dr Wolfgang Kapp took over Berlin. Army refused to intervene. Only defeated when Berlin workers went on strike

Above all, Munich Putsch in November 1923. By now, Nazis undisputed leaders of nationalist right. Had organised virtually all nationalist Freikorps in SA. Attempted to overthrow regional government in Bavaria and then march on Berlin in manner of Mussolini.

General background of violence. Pitched battles in street between nationalists and Communists. Also nationalist terrorists assassinated 356 government politicians, including Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister, and Matthias Erzberger who had been finance minister. The judges, many of whom preferred the Kaiser’s government, consistently gave these terrorists light sentences, or let them go free.

Conclusion: No doubt that Weimar Republic serious disrupted by political violence between 1919-24. However, doubtful whether seriously threatened. At all times, had minimal loyalty of German governing institutions. When army refused to help with Kapp Putsch, had support of trade unions.

Also, pro-Republic parties always able to hold power in Reichstag, if not with easy majority. First consolidated general election in June 1920 – centre-right government emerged with passive support of Social Democrats. Neither Communists nor nationalist right in position to form government. German people may not have loved Weimar Republic, but no taste for replacing it. Same in two 1924 elections.

Also, Germany defeated and disarmed. Had no allies to defend it. At complete mercy of Britain, France and Belgium. 1923, French invaded Ruhr to ensure continued payment of reparations. No possibility of military resistance. The Allies accepted the birth of the Weimar Republic because some authority was needed to accept peace terms. Needed its continued existence to ensure performance of Treaty. Had no reason to allow nationalist government that rejected Treaty. Nor to allow Communist revolution that expanded Russian power in Europe.

And so, political violence never more than serious nuisance, not serious threat. With end of economic crisis and hyperinflation after 1923, Republic stabilised and showed no internal reason for collapse. When collapse came after 1929, cause was Great Depression.