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Years of Crisis, 1918-23. HI136, History of Germany Lecture 6. Did 1918 mark a break from the 19 th century? How revolutionary were the events of 1918? What compromises led to birth of the parliamentary republic?

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Years of crisis 1918 23

Years of Crisis, 1918-23

HI136, History of Germany

Lecture 6

The birth of german democracy

  • Did 1918 mark a break from the 19th century?

  • How revolutionary were the events of 1918?

  • What compromises led to birth of the parliamentary republic?

  • What changes in German politics and society did the birth of the Weimar Republic signal?

The Birth of German Democracy?

The domestic impact of the war

  • Growing unrest from 1915.

  • Mounting casualties, falling living standards and food & fuel shortages led to growing labour unrest.

  • Mass strikes in Jan. 1918 throughout Germany and Austria-Hungary.

  • The realisation of defeat a profound shock to the German people – all their suffering had been for nothing.

The Domestic Impact of the War

The october reforms

  • 3 October: Prince Max von Baden installed as Chancellor.

  • Coalition of Centre Party, Liberals and SPD.

  • 26 October: Reform of the Constitution announced

    • The 3 class franchise in Prussia abolished.

    • The Kaiser’s powers over the army and appointments severely curtailed.

    • The Chancellor and the Government made accountable to the Reichstag.

  • A ‘Revolution from above’?

The October Reforms

The proclamation of the republic
The Proclamation of the Republic

Philipp Scheidemann (marked by the cross) proclaims the formation of the German Republic from the window of the Reichstag, 9 November 1918

The split in the left

  • The SPD split in April 1917 over continuing support for the war.

  • The MSPD represented the more reformist wing of the party, upheld democracy and wanted moderate reforms rather than soviet-style communism.

  • The USPD wanted radical social, economic and political reform, but shied away from full communism. It was deeply divided and its influence was curtailed by factional squabbles.

  • The Spartacists and Revolutionary Shop Stewards campaigned for a socialist republic based on the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils which would follow the same path as Bolshevik Russia.

The Split in the Left

Fatal compromises

  • Ebert- war.Groener Pact (10 Nov. 1918)

    • The Army promised to support the new government in return for a commitment to resist Bolshevism and free hand in military affairs.

    • A betrayal of the revolution or a sensible precaution?

  • Stinnes-Legien Agreement (15 Nov. 1918)

    • Employers agree to recognise unions & introduce 8 hour working day if Unions abandon calls for nationalisation of industry.

Fatal Compromises?

The freikorps
The war.Freikorps

The spartacist uprising
The war.Spartacist Uprising

Street fighting in Berlin, January 1919

Revolution in bavaria

Kurt Eisner (1867-1919), the leader of the war.

Bavarian Revolution …

Revolution in Bavaria

… And his assassin, the 22 year old Anton Graf

von Arco auf Valley (1897-1945)

Revolution in bavaria1

Above:The war. Revolutionary leaders Ernst Toller and Eugene Levine.

Below: Freikorpsentering Munich, May 1919

Revolution in Bavaria

The weimar constitution

  • Power war.derived from the people:

    • The President elected by universal suffrage every 7 years.

    • The Reichstag elected by universal suffrage through proportional representation ever 4 years.

  • The Chancellor and Cabinet were appointed by the President, but required parliamentary support to pass legislation.

  • Extended the vote to women and lowered the voting age.

  • Established fundamental civil rights:

    • Freedom of press, speech & assembly (Article 114)

    • Equality before the law (Article 109)

    • The right to economic justice (Article 151)

The Weimar Constitution

The weimar constitution1
The Weimar Constitution war.

Source: John Traynor, Europe 1890-1990 (1993)

Political parties

  • Sozialdemokratische war.ParteiDeutschlands (German Social Democratic Party, SPD).

  • UnabhängigeSozialdemokratischeParteiDeutschlands (Independent German Social Democratic Party, USPD).

  • KommunistischeParteiDeutschlands (Communist Party of Germany, KPD).

  • Deutsche DemokratischePartei (German Democratic Party, DDP).

  • Zentrumspartei(Centre Party).

  • Deutsche Volkspartei (German People’s Party, DVP).

  • DeutschenationaleVolkspartei (German National People’s Party, DNVP).

  • Various smaller parties including the BayerischeVolkspartei (Bavarian People’s Party, BVP) and the NationalsozialistischeParteiDeutschlands (NSDAP).

Political Parties

The kapp putsch
The war.Kapp Putsch

Left: Freikorps distribute leaflets in Berlin, March 1920

Right: Wolfgang Kapp, figurehead of the Kapp Putsch

The ruhr uprising
The Ruhr Uprising war.

Left: Left-wing unsurgents during the Ruhr Uprising, March 1920

Right: Soldiers killed in action during the uprising.

Matthias erzberger 1875 1921

  • Centre Party Leader war.

  • Proponent of self-determination

  • Supported Armistice and signed Versailles Treaty

  • 1919-1920: Vice Chancellor & Finance Minister

  • Killed on holiday in Black Forest, 26 August 1921.

Matthias Erzberger (1875-1921)

Walther rathenau 1867 1922

  • Industrialist and financier. war.

  • Responsible for setting up the Kreigsrohstoffabteilungin WWI.

  • Germany’s first Jewish foreign minister.

  • Assassinated 24 June 1922.

Walther Rathenau (1867-1922)

Economic crisis

  • Had its roots in the pre-war and wartime economy. war.

  • Lack of capital investment, large trade deficit and difficulties in switching from a war-time to peace-time economy were made worse by the necessity of paying reparations to the victorious allies.

  • The Government refused to either raise taxes or cut expenditure on political grounds – it was feared that both measures would lead to unemployment and political unrest.

  • Default on reparations payments led to French and Belgian occupation of Ruhr (1923-24).

  • Unable to collect taxes from the Ruhr and cut off from the supplies of coal that powered German industry and exports, the Government’s finances collapsed.

Economic Crisis

The munich beer hall putsch
The Munich war.‘Beer Hall’ Putsch

Defendants at the treason trial following the

Munich Beer Hall Pustsch. Ludendorff is in

The centre. Hitler is on his left.


  • German politics were radicalized by the experience of war and defeat.

  • But the vast majority of Germans were primarily concerned with their material well-being, not political reform.

  • The circumstances of its birth hampered the Weimar Republic – revolution and counter-revolution, economic crisis and the bitter legacy of defeat all helped to undermine faith in the new democracy.

  • The Weimar constitution achieved much (a democratic system, welfare state etc.), but did little to solve deep divisions within German society and left key institutions unreformed.

  • But the Republic weathered the storm – which should indicate that it had more popular support and stronger institutions than has sometimes been suggested.