With the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm a new Government was formed in the town of Weimar (as Berlin was too unstable) known as the Weimar Republic. Thus a new democracy was born. From the start the Weimar Republic seemed doomed being branded the ‘November Criminals’ for signing the armistice that betrayed Germany and then for signing the Treaty of Versailles. Moreover, the Social Democrats that held the majority in the Weimar Government was pressured both by the left and right wing seeking to usurp power.
One of the first problems that the Weimar Republic faced was Hyperinflation. Money became so worthless that children could play with stacks of it. People's savings were wiped out causing widespread discontent and civil unrest.
Conditions that prevented the success of the Weimar Republic
- The army leaders who were from Junker or noble families were unwilling to be led by people below their social class. The army did not support the Weimar Republic.
- The Weimar Republic did not have any charismatic leaders. Friedrich Ebert, the first President of the Weimer Government was not a people’s leader. Instead he was despised by patriotic Germans who saw him as a ‘November Criminal.’
- The bureaucratic transition was not smooth. The government was still stuck in the old monarchy system of the Kaiser. The government could not even do basic things such as trash collection. It appeared as if the government was unable to function to the average citizen. The government had a lot on their plate with stability being such a key concern (as shown by the fact that the constitution was geared towards this by entitling the President emergency powers of being able to rule by decree.)
- The Weimar Government being a new and inexperienced government had to deal with the complex problem of economic depression. Hyperinflation occurred as the government made the mistake of too much money to pay reparations.
- The Weimar Republic had to figure out how to pay reparations. Germany had to take loans from the USA to pay reparations and also pay in the form of coal, iron and other resources. As a result, there was a shortage of coal in Germany. Commoners didn’t have enough coal for heating and cooking, which they blamed the government for.
- Germans were very patriotic and proud. The Weimar Republic did not fulfill many German’s desire for glory. World War One did not make Germans lose faith in their ability to achieve victory.
- Treaty of Versailles: all the handicaps above were in some way or another caused by this treaty.
People showed their unhappiness with multiple putsches or revolts that added to the instability of Germany. The Government had no choice but to crush them using unemployed soldiers returning from the war.
- Spartacist Revolt, January 1919: the left wing Spartacists led by Rosa Luxembourg and William Liebknecht. They were financed by Bolsheviks in Russia. The putsch was brutally crushed by unemployed soldiers, and Luxembourg and Liebknecht were hung.
- Kapp Putsch, March 1920: this right wing revolt was led by General Kapp in an attempt to initiate a military coup. He had many soldiers as his followers, so this revolt was that much more difficult to put down. The government had to halt the revolt with the help of loyal soldiers and street gangs. General Kapp only received a 6 month prison sentence as many were sympathetic to the Right Wing sentiments and they felt it was important to respect social hierarchy.
- Ruhr Valley incident, January 1923: Germany was finding it extremely difficult to pay reparations. Germany was late on several reparations payments as well. As a result, France invaded the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heart, to get the coal that was due as reparations. As the French occupied the Ruhr Valley, humiliating the Germans, the workers in the Ruhr valley went on strike with the support of the Government. To show their support, the Government printed more money to pay wages to the workers. This only further exacerbated the hyper-inflation. The French finally pulled out in 1925.
- The Munich/ Beer Hall Putsch, November 1923: Hitler and the Nazis attempted to take control of Munich by force. The revolt failed as the army unexpectedly clashed with the SA (the Nazi storm troopers) even though the generals were placed under house arrest in the beer hall.
Did the rest of Europe want the Weimar Republic to succeed?
Perhaps on a superficial level it might’ve appeared that Europe (Britain and France) in particular cooperated with the Weimar Republic through various agreements. However, many of these agreements had serious flaws. Moreover, there are interesting theories and evidence that suggest that some of Europeans did enjoy watching Germany fail in setting up a viable democracy. This does not seem unbelievable considering the strong anti-German sentiments of the war and the view of Germany as an aggressor that caused much destruction being fresh in the minds of many.
In recent years, information has emerged suggesting that Britain continued its blockade of food to Germany even after the end of the war! According to The Hidden Historical Fact: The Allied Attempt to Starve Germany in 1919 from the Barnes Review by Fred Blahut, when 900,000 Germans were starving the allies continued to restrict food that went to Germany. More interestingly, the American and British media actually covered this up. This is a strong contrast to the media today that eagerly and extensively reported on the wikileaks continuing classified US government information related to diplomacy.
The consequences of food shortage were terrible. Children were heavily malnourished. Blahut further writes about the economic difficulties and insurgencies within Germany that Versailles caused. He then states that at Versailles the allies “celebrated the unrest and destruction” in Germany. This may be considered too radical a view of Versailles. Versailles seems more like a struggle of each of ‘The Big Three’ to achieve their goals rather than joint celebration. The celebration was there for the allies that they were the victors but to suggest that it made them happy to see malnourished children is perhaps too strong a statement.
Nevertheless, Blahut does effectively convey the hardship faced by Germany describing pictures showing Germans giving each other potato peels to be used as firewood or Germans lining up for meals from outdoor soup kitchens.
Blahut writes about how the allies starving the German people in 1919 had implications for the future in the form of the Morgenthau Plan, which he terms as method of starving one-third of all Germans. Other sources take a less harsh stance stating that the plan was intended to make Germany primarily agricultural and lessen its industrial strength in an attempt to defeat Germany in World War Two. However, looking at it from Blahut’s perspective, the removal of industry would be a huge loss of income leaving people unable to provide for their families as well as damaging to the economy, leaving the government less able to fend for its people. Thus, starvation and death is implied.
The Allies also confiscated all German private property outside Germany. Ironically this seems to go against the principles of capitalism and sounds very much like socialism and communism. Moreover, it can also be noted that this is a continuation of Imperialism. Blahut goes on to write about how the allies had easy access to German markets with no trade barriers whilst the Germans faced many barriers whilst attempting to access their markets. This in a way sound like the relationship between developed nations and less developed nations today. The allies at that time carried out this unequal relationship with the implementation of the Treaty of Versailles, today developed nations do the same using the World Trade Organization and the idea of Free Trade, which in actual fact is not even being applied by developed nations.
In all this negativity, one should note that there were people who wanted Germany to prosper after the war. Woodrow Wilson wanted this. He believed that his Fourteen Points would be implemented and that the German people would receive food according to Blahut. But most people weren’t in the mood to be humanitarian when they had their own economic problems. Bhalut ends the article stating that the food blockade ended on July 12, 1919.