The Weimar Republic Was Doomed from the Start

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Weimar was doomed from the start The Weimar Republic failed due to a popular distrust in democracy that was reinforced by severe economic crises and aggravated by the ‘Chains of Versailles’ and the actions of the right wing. Hyperinflation in the early 1920s and then the Great Depression from 1929 meant that the Weimar Republic never really prospered, and caused social upheaval in the form of a crime wave, as well as being tainted from the start by its association with the embarrassing Treaty of Versailles.

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As such, the German people, under the influence of the right wing and the army, turned back to the traditional, militarist nationalist views they had held since Bismarck. The failings of the Weimar constitution facilitated this, and eventually allowed for the rise of the extreme right wing in the Nazis. Only formed on 19 January 1919, the Weimar Republic was a young democracy. Unfortunately it did not get the period of peace and growth that it needed to gain the trust of the conservative German populace. It was rocked by a series of economic crises that it was incapable of dealing with, the first being hyperinflation during 1923.

Inflation had been rising sharply since 1916 due to large wartime and post-war spending, and by December 1922 it took 7000 Reichsmarks to buy $1US, compared to just 4 Reichsmarks in 1914 and 49 in 1918. In January 1923, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr industrial region because the Germans had failed to make reparations payments. . The government advised policy of ‘passive resistance’ was a disaster, as they had to pay to support the thousands of workers that went on strike, eventually just printing money in order to meet the demand.

By September the mistake had been realised and they returned to a policy of fulfilment, attempting to make the necessary payments as soon as possible, but it was too late. In December 1923, it took 4. 2 trillion Reichsmarks to buy a single US dollar. This was soon solved by the creation of a new currency, the Rentenmark, which had a value tied to that of gold, but it still showed the enormous vulnerability of the Weimar Republic. The Treaty of Versailles was largely at fault for this situation, while also having ideological ramifications in terms of German national pride.

The Weimar Republic’s association with it would prove to be their undoing in a number of ways. Economically, the treaty was dangerous because of the large reparations required of Germany. The Treaty provided that Germany accept ‘sole guilt’ for the war, and thus was liable to pay reparations, particularly to France and Belgium, who had suffered the brunt of the damage. These reparations eventually reached around 6 billion gold marks per year, and were, along with the territory and military penalties, known as the ‘Chains of Versailles. Subsequently, the Government had been unwilling to raise taxes due to right wing accusations that it was for the sake of paying reparations, an issue that was at odds with German nationalism and pride. This is also the ideological issue with the treaty – many in Germany, particularly the right wing and the army, associated the Treaty with great shame, and continued reparations were an ongoing reminder of that. The fact that it was the Weimar Government who were forced to sign it reflected badly on them – the Social Democrats dropped from 76% of the vote before the treaty to just 47% afterwards.

The right wing, and particularly the army, was at best indifferent to the fate of the Weimar Republic. Their failure to support, and at times antagonism towards Weimar was particularly dangerous because of the high esteem that the military was traditionally held in. This was exacerbated by the myth of German invincibility that was maintained throughout the First World War, making the Treaty of Versailles seem like the politicians’ betrayal of the German soldiers, rather than the inevitable result of the failings of the High Command.

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