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The german weimar republic after the first world war

In the month following the signing of the treaty, the Weimar constituent assembly completed a draft constitution for the new republic, resulting in what was hailed as the most modern democratic constitution of its day. Ebert had advocated the establishment of a true constitutional monarchybut Independent Socialists in Bavaria had already declared that state to be a socialist republic.

Ebert, fearing that extremists would take charge, accepted the fait accompli. To maintain order, Ebert allied himself with the army, under Chief Quartermaster Gen.

The following day, German officials met with Allied generals at Rethondes, France, and concluded the armistice agreement that ended World War I. Groener, WilhelmWilhelm Groener, c. After some hesitation, Ebert put down the extreme leftist risings of the winter of 1918—19 and later.

Impact of World War One on the Weimar Republic

Private paramilitary groups known as Freikorps brutally suppressed the revolts, and Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknechtthe leaders of the leftist Spartacus Leaguewere murdered by Freikorps officers in Berlin. This led to a further break with the Independents and earned Ebert the hatred of the radical left, who accused him of betraying the workers. The principal task of the assembly was to provide a new constitution, which was promulgated on August 11, 1919. The republic, like the empire that it replaced, was to have a federal basis.

The powers of the Reich, however, were considerably strengthened, and it was now given overriding control of all taxation. National laws were to supersede the laws of the states, and the Reich government was given the power to supervise the enforcement of the national laws by the local authorities.

The only new Land was Thuringiaformed in 1919 from the amalgamation of seven small principalities.

All men and women over the age of 20 were to have the right to vote for the Reichstag, and the elections were to be conducted on the basis of proportional representation.

Provision was also made for popular initiatives in legislation and for referenda. As a counterweight to the Reichstag, the president, as the chief executive, was endowed with strong powers. He was to be elected independently of the Reichstag by the nation itself, was to hold office for seven years, and was to be eligible for reelection. He was to make alliances and treaties, and he was the supreme commander of the armed forces, with the right to appoint and remove all officers.

The president could dissolve the Reichstag and submit any law enacted by it to a referendum. Finally, under Article 48, the president had the right to suspend the civil liberties guaranteed by the constitution in case of emergency and to take any measures required to restore public safety and order. These provisions reflected the insecurity, bordering on civil war, that Germany faced at the time, and they were to prove of great importance in the final stages of the history of the Weimar Republic.

Under the president, political responsibility was to rest with the chancellor. The government was made dependent upon the confidence of a majority of the Reichstag, and, with the withdrawal of this confidence, the government would be required to resign. The Weimar the german weimar republic after the first world war has been subjected to considerable criticismnotably for the system of proportional representation that it introduced and the large powers that it conferred on the president.

  • The only concession of importance that the German delegation was able to secure was the promise of a plebiscite in Upper Silesia;
  • Ebert could not hold the entire party to his course for long;
  • The German Army could not stand up to such an attack and in just a few weeks the German Army had collapsed;
  • So Ebert and his friend Gustav Noske , the defense minister, had recourse to volunteer groups, the Freikorps , which were principally composed of officers of the old army, and suppressed the communist uprising out of hatred of communism rather than love of the republic;
  • It was torn between several old ideas and values of the 19th century tradition, militarism and authoritarian government and those of the modern era republicanism, liberalism and democracy;
  • Together with the officer class and the old officialdom, the Junkers —the landed gentry east of the Elbe River—with their great estates and influence in social and political life, also survived the revolution.

For the first time in German history, however, it provided a firm foundation for democratic development. The fact that within 14 years this ended in a dictatorship was due far more to the course of events and to the character of social forces in Germany than to constitutional defects. The German Reich, as it was reestablished in 1919, was a democratic but not a socialist republic. A number of measures for the socialization of certain parts of the national economy such as the coal, electrical, and potash industries were introduced but proved ineffectual.

German industry continued to be marked by cartels and other combines of a monopolistic character, control of which was increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small number of men. Because of the hopes aroused in 1918—19, the fact that no far-reaching plan for securing public control over industry or for breaking up the big landed estates was carried through had two consequences.

First, although the German working class undoubtedly improved its political and economic status under the republic, a considerable portion of it was embittered by the failure to effect drastic reform of the social and economic systems.

  1. At the same time, the Allies were to enjoy most-favoured-nation rights in the German market for five years. After a division of opinion among the Allies, with France supporting the Poles, the dispute was referred to the League of Nations.
  2. William II had been forced to abdicate — give up the throne. Article 48 During hyperinflation, the German middle class bore the brunt of the economic chaos.
  3. Also Germany had lost 2 million men in the war. Without funds, the government could not pay its reparations or sustain its unemployment and other social-spending programs.
  4. Extremists of the right and left gained influence.
  5. From this underworld of conspiracy , which was a breeding ground of the Nazi movement, were recruited gangs like the notorious Organisation Konsul which assassinated, among others, Matthias Erzberger August 26, 1921 and Walther Rathenau June 24, 1922.

This disenchantment was to provide the left-wing opposition with strong working-class support, which weakened both the Social Democratic Party and the republic. Second, economic power was left in the hands of those who were either irreconcilable opponents of the republic from the beginning or equivocal supporters with a preference for authoritarian forms of government.

The position of the trade unionsthe eight-hour workday, and the right of collective bargaining were safeguarded under the republic, but the attempt to extend democracy to the industrial sphere met with powerful opposition from the industrialists. A system of works councils set up early in 1920 enabled the workers in each factory to elect representatives to share in the control of management. The attempt to establish an economic parliament Reichswirtschaftsratwith equal representation for employers and workers, proved similarly disappointing.

In German eyes, the break with the past was complete, and the Wilsonian program of self-determination and equality of rights as set out in the Fourteen Points was binding on both sides. The fact that the Allied powers refused to permit negotiations and the character of the terms presented on May 7 provoked bitter indignation throughout all classes in Germany.

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Versailles, Treaty of Overview of the Treaty of Versailles. In Europe alone without counting the German colonies, all of which were ceded to the AlliesGermany lost about 27,188 square miles over 70,000 square km of territory with a total population of over 7,000,000. The union of Austria with the Reichwhich was advocated in both countries, would have compensated for these losses but was expressly forbidden by the treaty.

The left bank, and the right bank to a depth of 31 miles 50 kmwere to be permanently demilitarized. Germany was to lose the rich coal fields of the Saar for 15 years, at the end of which a plebiscite was to be held.

  • Inflation was ended through monetary reform, and a means for resolving the reparations question was partially resolved in an American proposal providing for their reduction;
  • Ebert could not hold the entire party to his course for long;
  • Private paramilitary groups known as Freikorps brutally suppressed the revolts, and Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht , the leaders of the leftist Spartacus League , were murdered by Freikorps officers in Berlin.

Until then the Saar was to be governed by the League of Nations and its coal mines administered by France. A decision on reparations was deferred until 1921, but the Germans were to make a provisional payment of 20 billion marks in gold as well as deliveries in kind. Prewar commercial agreements with foreign countries were canceled. German foreign financial holdings were confiscated, and the German merchant marine was reduced to less than one-tenth of its prewar size.

  • Ebert and Hugo Preuss , a professor of constitutional law whom he had charged with the task of drafting the constitution, wished to alter the organic structure of the Reich;
  • The German army and marauding bands of right-wing soldiers broke up these governing councils;
  • They hoped to create a modern liberal democracy, in a nation that had known only militarism and authoritarian monarchy.

At the same time, the Allies were to enjoy most-favoured-nation rights in the German market for five years. The German army was to be limited to 100,000 officers and men, and conscription was forbidden.

The German general staff was to be dissolved.

The Weimar constitution

German naval forces were to be reduced to a similar scale, while the possession of military aircraft was forbidden. Inter-Allied control commissions were set up with wide rights of supervision to make sure that the disarmament clauses were carried out.

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A list of those accused of violating the laws and customs of war was to be prepared, and those named were to be handed over to the Allies for trial. Finally, as justification for their claims to reparations, the Allies inserted the famous war-guilt clause, article 231: The Allied governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

All the German political parties united in a solemn protest against these terms. The Allies were declared to have flagrantly violated the principles of a just peace proclaimed by Woodrow Wilsonand the belief that Germany had been tricked into signing the armistice was widespread.

The only concession of importance that the German delegation was able to secure was the promise of a plebiscite in Upper Silesia. In June the Allies presented an ultimatum, and the German the german weimar republic after the first world war had to face the alternatives of signing the peace treaty or submitting to an invasion of their country. Scheidemann, who was personally opposed to acceptance, resigned when his cabinet was unable to agree.

On June 23 a majority of the assembly, persuaded that there was no alternativevoted in favour of acceptance, and the treaty was signed at Versailles on June 28. Library of Congress, Washington, D. The republic never succeeded in breaking its association with the capitulation of 1918 and the signature of the peace treaty in 1919. In the mood of resentment created by the treaty, the claim was readily accepted by many Germans. The republican leaders, to whose sense of responsibility the nation owed the preservation of its unity and the avoidance of far worse disasters in the critical year that followed the request for an armistice, had to endure a campaign of vilification that represented them as traitors to the fatherland.

The elections of June 6, 1920, however, showed a marked swing against the parties most closely identified with the republic: Thus, 1920 marked the end of the brief period during which the Social Democrats were the dominant party in the republic. Fehrenbach, KonstantinKonstantin Fehrenbach, 1918. German Federal Archive BundesarchivBild 146-2007-0187, photograph: In the plebiscite held in Upper Silesia on March 20, 1921, an overall majority voted to remain with Germany.

Therefore, Germany claimed that the whole area should remain German. However, in making that claim, it was disregarding the treaty provisions for partitioning the area according to the wishes of the inhabitants of each commune there. Poland retaliated by organizing an armed revolt and attempting to seize territory by force.

After a division of opinion among the Allies, with France supporting the Poles, the dispute was referred to the League of Nations. The League awarded two-thirds of the territory to Germany but left the coal mines, the principal industrial areas, and a considerable German minority on the Polish side of the frontier.

Friedrich Ebert

The decision was hotly resented in Germany. Katowice; Silesian uprisingsFrench tanks and soldiers in the streets of Katowice KattowitzUpper Silesia, during one of the Silesian uprisings, 1919—21. On April 27, 1921, the Allied reparation commission fixed the total to be paid by Germany at 132 billion gold marks. The Allies retorted with an ultimatum calling on Germany to announce its unconditional acceptance of the figure within six days, under threat of the occupation of the Ruhr.

Once again, the republican parties were saddled with the responsibility of carrying out the decisions forced on a resentful country by the Allies. The German government, however, found it impossible to pay the sums required on time.

Relations with France had in any case remained bad. The French had twice already marched troops into German cities on the grounds that Germany was not carrying out its obligations under the treaty. French attempts to develop a separatist movement in the Rhineland succeeded only in strengthening German impressions of inflexible hostility and determination to break up Germany on the part of France.

Then, in January 1923, on the pretext of a technical default by Germany on its deliveries of timber, the French occupied the Ruhr. The Rapallo Treaty One way of breaking the hostile ring with which the Germans felt themselves encircled was to make common cause with the other outcast among the European powers—the Soviet Union.

This idea was attractive not only to many on the left but to some on the right, who believed that another war with France was inevitable and were looking for allies. Economic negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1921 proved successful, and support for a rapprochement between the two countries came from Gen.

Weimar Republic

Hans von Seecktthe commander in chief of the army. On April 16, 1922, a treaty of friendship was signed between Germany and the Soviet Union at RapalloItaly, waiving reparations claims by both sides and promising the expansion of Soviet-German trade.

The French and British were surprised and furious. No counteraction was taken, but Rapallo no doubt helped to harden French opinion. The most important practical consequence was the conclusion of secret agreements between the German and Soviet armies, which allowed German officers and units to acquire experience with the Red Army. The agreement also provided opportunities for experimentation with the design of forbidden weapons, such as tanks and aircraft.

Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin Political disturbances at home At home, the republican regime was challenged from both right and left. There was fierce fighting between workers and army and Freikorps units before the revolt was suppressed at the beginning of April. When miners in the Mansfeld district of central Germany took up arms against the police in March 1921, the Communists unsuccessfully called for a general strikeand order was rapidly restored.

However, there was still widespread fear of a German revolution on the Soviet model.