The Weimar Republic, Germany’s first democracy founded in the wake of the 1918 revolution, lasted only 14 years. The failure gave rise to a regime that started the Second World War and committed unparalleled atrocities. The structure and ultimate breakdown of the Weimar Republic thus rank among the key issues of modern European history. Historians have stressed either the beginning or end of the Republic when trying to explain how the relatively stable and internationally reconciled country that had experienced modest economic recovery disintegrated in such a short time. This essay will investigate two approaches: Firstly, that the Weimar Republic collapsed due to economic pressures being exacerbated by the worldwide depression following the Wall Street Crash. Secondly, that the Weimar Republic was destroyed by a majority of the leadership elites who were anti-Republican, did not support the constitution and thus not only tolerated opposition from the extreme right but actively encouraged it.
In the period before the Wall Street Crash, the Weimar Republic had experienced a remarkable recovery. The currency had been stabilised, the Dawes Plan had enabled economic growth at high speed and the overproduction resulting from expansion had been successfully checked. Production levels exceeded those of 1913 as a result of more efficient production techniques and there was large scale foreign investment, particularly into the coal and steel industry. Economies of scale were achieved, exports rose by 40% between 1925 and 1929, hourly wages increased and social welfare was greatly improved. However, the economy was growing far from even, unemployment was never below 1.3 million, grain production before the collapse was still only ¾ of pre-war levels and farmer’s incomes were declining.
The heavy reliance on investors from abroad made the Weimar economy vulnerable to the investment whims of foreign capital, a dangerous position as the consequences of the Wall Street Crash showed. Borchardt called the Weimar economy abnormal, claiming that even without the depression, collapse was only a matter of time due to aforementioned dependence on foreign loans and recession in some parts of the economy. This view has caused considerable controversy. Historians like Holtfrerich aside who has maintained that the pre-Wall Street Crash economy in Germany was temporarily off the rails but in no way chronically ill, one major issue arises: The depression was a worldwide one, and by no means limited to Germany. The undeniable fact that it was only Germany where the pressures of the economic crisis had grave political implications clearly indicates that there must have been some other factor involved. The following paragraphs will investigate in turn the approach that without the active support of the Reichswehr, the justice system and police apparatus, higher civil servants and the diplomatic corps, leading representatives of industry and large estate owners, the situation that allowed the Nazi takeover would not have occurred.
In every state, the military represents a central instrument of power. A fledgling democracy like the Weimar Republic was especially dependent on support from the army. However, since there had been near to no military reform since 1919, it was still lead by a strongly anti-Republican officer corps. The soldiers were mainly recruited from rural areas, of whom few had social democratic or pro-Republican tendencies. When Kapp and Luettwitz marched on Berlin in 1920 and installed a new government, they did so unopposed, for the army did not provide any resistance to the Putsch despite desperate requests from Ebert and Noske. “Troops do not fire on troops (...)When Reichswehr fires on Reichswehr then all comradeship within the officer corps will have vanished” was General von Seeckt’s declaration to Noske, speaking for most of the Reichswehr leadership. Admittedly, the army did not join the putschists, but neither did it feel bound to support the country’s legitimate government against the right. This is a clear example of the army putting its own institutional interests before its obligation to defend the government. Granted, the Kapp Putsch collapsed due to a general strike called by the government as their last resort, but it is significant that it had taken place at all. It highlights all too clearly the weaknesses of the Weimar Republic in the face of its most important national institution. The army’s political neutrality was one that allowed action against leftist revolutionaries, as shown by the immediate and violent suppression of the leftist 1920 March-Revolution in Saxony and the Ruhr area, but rendered them passive against opposition from the right. Despite his dubious reliability during the Kapp Putsch, Seeckt was appointed Chief of the Army Command at the end of the very month it took place. In the following six years, the army was turned into what Scheidemann called a “state within the state.” At this point, it is worth looking at Seeckt’s attitude towards the government more closely, the sole holder of the executive power to safeguard the Reich against inner revolt in the highly critical first years of the Republic. Seeckt’s letter to the Bavarian minister Kahr in November 1923 before the Hitler Putsch is as clear an indicator of his intentions as one could wish for. There can be no doubt about his attitude towards the Republic’s constitution: “The Weimar constitution is for me no noli me tangere; I did not participate in writing it and in its fundamental principles it completely opposes the political values I hold.” He goes on to state that he fully understands why Kahr is challenging the constitution and Stresemann’s government. Seeckt declares that he deems the Stresemann government nonviable and that he sees the Reichswehr as a safeguard of the state’s authority, but not that of the democratic republic, concluding that “the Reichswehr must not be put in a position to take the side of a government foreign to its nature against its comrades in opinion.” Thus, the army leadership’s behaviour was symptomatic of their right-wing attitudes and lack of support for the republic and its principles. General Schleicher is another good example, personifying the fateful way in which the Reichswehr developed as much of a political as of a military profile in the last years of the Republic, using what Wheeler-Bennett called “an overweening predilection for intrigue” in playing a key role in the appointment and dismissal of Chancellors Bruening and von Papen before assuming that role himself. His attempt of establishing a form of military dictatorship failed when he was unable to secure additional powers, thus opening the door for Hitler.
 W. Michalka and G. Niedhart, Die ungeliebte Republik: Dokumente zur Innen-und Aussenpolitik Weimars 1918-1933, (DTV, Muenchen, 1984), pp.405, 415 ,416
 ibid, pp 409, 412
 G. Layton, From Bismarck to Hitler: Germany 1890-1933, (Hodder&Stoughton, London, 1999), p.113
 A.J. Nicholls, Weimar and the Rise of Hitler, (MacMillan Press, London, 1991), p. 37
 G. Layton, From Bismarck to Hitler: Germany 1890-1933, (Hodder&Stoughton, London, 1999), p.103 “Truppe schiesst nicht auf Truppe. (…) Sonst ist alle Kameradschaft im Offiziercorps hin.”
 R. J. Bessel, Social Change and Political Development in Weimar Germany, (Croom Helm, London, 1981), pp. 110-114
 W. Michalka and G Niedhart, Die ungeliebte Republik: Dokumente zur Innen-und Aussenpolitik Weimars 1918-1933, (DTV, Muenchen, 1984), p. 235
 W. Michalka and G Niedhart, Die ungeliebte Republik: Dokumente zur Innen-und Aussenpolitik Weimars 1918-1933, (DTV, Muenchen, 1984), p. 92: “Die WeimarerVerfassung ist fuer mich kein noli me tangere; ich habe sie nicht mit gemacht und sie wiederspricht in den grundlegenden Prinzipien meinem politischen Denken.”
 Ibid, p. 92 “”Ich verstehe daher vollkommen, dasss Sie ihr den Kampf angesagt haben (…)”
 Ibid, p. 92 ”Ich halte ein Kabinett Stresemann auch nach einer Umbildung nicht fuer lebensfaehig.”
 Ibid, p. 91 “Im uebrigen habe ich es von Anfang an fuer meine Aufgabe gehalten (…) die Reichswehr zu einer Stuetze der Autoritaet des Reiches, nicht einer bestimmten Regierung auszugestalten.”
 Ibid, p. 93 “Die Reichswehr darf dabei nicht in die Lage gebracht werden, sich gegen Gesinnungsgenossen fuer eine ihr wesensfremde Regierung einzusetzen.”
. D. Stachura, Political Leaders in Weimar Germany, (Harvester Wheatsheaf, London, 1993), p. 156
 Ibid, p. 157
- Quote paper
- Philipp Studt (Author), 2005, Is it more accurate to speak of the collapse or the destruction of the Weimar Republic, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/53220