History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2004: Q.7
Q.7 What were the weaknesses and difficulties of the Weimer Republic? How did Hitler succeed in establishing his dictatorship?
After Germany lost the First World War, the German Emperor Kaiser fled and a new democratic government of Germany was declared in February 1919 at the small town of Weimar, hence called Weimar Republic.
Weaknesses in Weimar Republic
(1) Proportional representation
Instead of voting for an MP, Germans voted for a party. Each party was then allocated seats in the Reichstag proportional to the number of people who had voted for it. In practice it was a disaster as it resulted in dozens of tiny parties, with no party strong enough to get a majority, and, therefore, no government to get its laws passed in the Reichstag.
(2) Article 48
This said that, in an emergency, the president did not need the agreement of the Reichstag, but could issue decrees. The problem with this was that it did not say what an emergency was, and in the end, it turned out to be a back door that Hitler used to take power legally.
(3) Inexperiences of political parties
The political parties had very little experience of how to operate a democratic parliamentary system, because before 1919 the Reichstag had not controlled policy; the Chancellor had the final authority and was the one who really ruled the country. Under the Weimar constitution it was the other way around – the Chancellor was responsible to the Reichstag, which had the final say. However, the Reichstag usually failed to give a clear lead because the parties refused to compromise.
Difficulties of the Weimer Republic
(1) Treaty of Versailles
The Weimar Republic had accepted the humiliating and unpopular Versailles Treaty with its arms limitations, reparation and war guilt clause, and was therefore always associated with defeat and dishonour. German nationalists could never forgive it for that.
(2) Lack of respect for democracy
There was a traditional lack of respect for democratic government and a great admiration for the army.
(3) Law and order problems
The Weimar Republic faced violent uprisings from various groups like communists, right wing groups supported by military generals . There were series of political assassination. Bands of soldiers called Freikorps refused to disband and formed private armies. Several other private armies were formed. It was not a good start for the Republic.
(4) Economic problems
Weimer Republic faced devastating economic problems.German currency collapsed due to hyperinflation and people lost their savings and their life became miserable. Heavy reparation was to be paid by Germany. The prosperity was dependent on the American loans and when economic crisis came, American loans stopped. It brought severe economic crisis in Germany.
Establishment of Hitler’s dictatorship
Hitler’s rise to power can be attributed to a mixture of factors including events happening outside Germany, the strengths of the Nazi party, and the weaknesses of other parties within Germany. Hitler used these factors to his advantage and in 1933 he legitimately gained power to become chancellor.
In 1929, the American Stock Exchange collapsed, and caused an economic depression. America called in all its foreign loans, which destroyed Weimar Germany. Unemployment in Germany rose to 6 million.
In July 1930 Chancellor Bruning cut government expenditure, wages and unemployment pay – the worst thing to do during a depression. He could not get the Reichstag to agree to his actions, so President Hindenburg used Article 48 to pass the measures by decree.
Anger helped the Nazis to gain more support.
Many workers turned to communism, but this frightened wealthy businessmen, so they financed Hitler’s campaigns.
Many middle-class people, alarmed by the obvious failure of democracy, decided that the country needed a strong government.
In 1928, the Nazis had only 12 seats in the Reichstag; by July 1932 they had 230 seats and were the largest party.
The government was in chaos. President Hindenburg dismissed Bruning in 1932. His replacement, Papen, lasted six months, and the next chancellor only lasted two months.
In January 1933, Hindenburg and Papen came up with a plan to get the Nazis on their side by offering to make Hitler vice chancellor. He refused and demanded to be made chancellor. They agreed, thinking they could control him. In January 1933, Hitler became chancellor.
He consolidated power by using violence through his private army and propaganda. He used fire at the Reichstag to stir up fear of communism and as a pretext for the banning communist parties. Enabling Act was passed by force which gave Hitler absolute power to make his laws. Political parties are banned – only the Nazi party is allowed to exist. Banning political parties made Germany a one-party state and destroyed democracy in the country.
When President Hindenburg died, Hitler declares himself jointly president, chancellor and head of the army. This formally made Hitler the absolute ruler of Germany.