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Louis Emmerson

History of Germany, 1862 to the Present

21/02/2011

Was Weimar fated to be dismantled by political extremism?


The broad debates about long-term patterns of continuity and discontinuity in relation to the political development of Germany, given greater moral implication due to its historical outcome, are tempered by more closely focused arguments surrounding the collapse of Weimar democracy. There can be no doubt that political extremism in all its forms did exist in Germany throughout the interwar period, rearing its ugly, violent head at various intervals. The Spartakist uprisings of 1919, for example, depict an underlying support for the extreme left in Germany at this time, with over 200,000 protesters marching against the authoritarian institutions of the pre-WW1 regime and the bourgeois democracy of Weimar alike. The anti-German determinist might argue, in contrast, that it was National Socialism which was inevitable in a country so inextricably bound to its authoritarian tradition. Can Hitlers success be explained solely by the German 1 peoples sense of frustrated nationalism , undermining any realistic hopes for a sustained democracy? After Germanys defeat in World War Two, the anti-German determinist theory was propagated ahead of all others as anti-German sentiments & propaganda became increasingly rife throughout Europe: It was no more a 2 mistake for the German people to end up with Hitler than it is an accident when a river flows into the sea. This approach, termed sonderweg, highlights the lack of a democratic tradition within Germany and its long flirtation with political extremism and dictatorial leaders: The course of German history is like some great 3 river, shadowed always by a darker and deeper stream, almost a sewer. Evidently, the debate surrounding Hitlers rise to power and its supposed inevitability forms part of a wider argument regarding the strength of political extremism as a whole under the Weimar Republic, be it left or right-wing in nature. Nevertheless, Germanys unique history and social composition ensured it was the extreme right that would ultimately prevail. Contemporary views of the Weimar Republic as an aberration within the context of German political history have been built upon during the post-war period using the notion of continuity. In this sense, Weimar is interpreted as a republican interregnum, a mere discontinuity separating Hitlers rule and that of German leaders before him, harking back even to Frederick IIs enlightened absolutism yet brutal militarism & beyond. th th As the enlightenment swept through Europe, influential German philosophers of the 18 & early 19 centuries, including most notably Goethe & Herder, highlighted the importance of patriotism, nationality & conservatism. Goethe himself remained sceptical of the ability of the masses to govern. Distinguished German intellectuals of the time also argued in favour of social Darwinism & racial superiority, or as Nietzsche termed it, bermensch & soon extreme German nationalism became synonymous with the German middle & upper classes, beginning with the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. This surge of German nationalism, political extremism and supposed racial superiority (embodied in part by the German Confederation & the establishment of the Zollverein in 1815 & 1818 respectively) ran alongside a wave of minor uprisings in the individual states that would soon constitute Germany. However, as Shirer states: Acceptance of autocracy, of blind obedience to the petty tyrants who ruled as princes, became ingrained in the German mind. The idea of democracy, or rule by parliament ... did not sprout in 4 Germany. Prussias rigid facade of militarism, authoritarianism & irrationalism continued to exist in spite of its rapid th industrialisation & urbanisation throughout the 19 century as though Germany was riding into the twentieth 5 century in a gleaming new Daimler-Benz car towed by a medieval knight in shining armour. It was under Bismarck and Wilhelm II that a tangible military-industrial complex cemented its place in German society; indeed, decades of anti-democratic, nationalistic philosophy had shaped German culture irrecoverably, the 6 Reichstag nothing more than a fig leaf covering the nakedness of absolutism. Through years of successive domestic and foreign policies aimed at promoting German superiority in all its forms, many of the long-term obstacles to true democracy and pluralism in Germany were erected, including the right-wing social and political institutions which would eventually aid Hitler so much in his quest for power, suggesting Nazi

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Patrick Salmon, Weimar Republic: Could it have survived? (London, 1992), p. 7 A.J.P. Taylor, The Course of German History (London, 1970) 3 Nigel Jones, The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps blazed a trail for Hitler (London, 2004), p. 2 4 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) 5 N. Jones, The Birth of the Nazis (2004) p. 4 6 Wilhelm Liebknecht, No Compromise No Political Trading (Munich, 1899), http://www.marxists.org/archive/liebknecht-w/1899/nocomp/nocomp.htm

Louis Emmerson

History of Germany, 1862 to the Present

21/02/2011

Germany was not "a purely adventitious episode appearing on the fringes of the German tradition" . Indeed, it is debatable whether or not the majority of Germans favoured democracy at all in 1919 as Hugo Preuss himself stated in April of that year: I have often listened to the debates with real concern ... Our people do not comprehend at all what such a system implies. One finds suspicion everywhere; Germans cannot shake off their old political 8 timidity and their deference to the authoritarian state. The Weimar Republic was, in essence, a system of government created in defeat, a fact that continuously marred its relatively short existence. Crucially, however, the humiliation of defeat was reflected onto the liberal anti-war politicians of the Weimar government. The stab in the back theory, as it came to be known, deeply angered the many right-wing elements that remained in German society, haunting the Weimar Republic for years to come: Although the war had been pursued by Imperial Germany, it was the new 9 democracy of Weimar that was forced to take the responsibility and blame for the First World War. Ludendorff and the right-wing elites made a clear association between democracy and weakness that would persist in the minds of Germans throughout the 1920s, providing any potential opposition to the Weimar government the perfect instrument with which to undermine its legitimacy. Indeed, political insurgency became endemic to the Weimar Republics early days as much opposition to democracy remained after the revolutionary period of 1918-1919. Confronted by the threat of a Spartakist revolt, Ebert forged an uneasy alliance between his Social Democrats & General Groeners deeply conservative military elites in order to suppress the immediate threat of communism. Whilst initially successful, many Germans felt Ebert had betrayed the liberal revolution & the Weimar Republic, further tarnishing its validity: It began to be clear that some of the representatives of the new republic were more in sympathy with the wrong-doers than the lawful constitution...could these really have been the guardians of 10 democracy? The Ebert-Groener deal was, unfortunately, symptomatic of the fact that the Weimar Republics nd judiciary & military were still dominated by the monarchists, conservatives & elites of the 2 Reich; exemplified by Hitlers minor sentence of 9 months after the Munich Putsch in 1924, the trial for which merely gained Hitler further publicity. The Weimar Constitutions failure to reform the military structures of Germany ensured that as the right-wing led Kapp Putsch ensued in 1920 (which exemplifies the extent of right-wing hostility to a liberal system of government in itself), the German military refused to act in support of the newly democratic Republic: The armys behaviour at the time of the putsch was typical of its right-wing attitudes 11 and its lack of sympathy for the Republic . Undoubtedly, the institutions of the Weimar Republic were deeply flawed at the outset. Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, for instance, enabled the President to assume total power during a national emergency, making Hitlers appointment as Chancellor by Hindenburg possible: 12 The democratic constitution of Weimar therefore also had this built-in authoritarian element. Despite 13 Article 48 the Weimar Constitution was one of the most democratic constitutions in the world. The highly democratic nature of the Constitution was at odds with the political ideology of most Germans & allowed even the most anti-democratic & revolutionary of political organisations, such as the National Socialists, to flourish. Consequently, it was doubtful whether such a democratic constitution could work in the hands of a people 14 that was neither psychologically nor historically prepared for self-government. Furthermore, for a country long associated with strong, powerful rule, the electoral system of proportional representation posed several major issues in that it typically resulted in weak, ineffective government. Hitler and his fellow political extremists were critical of the coalition system of government, calling it un-German in his speeches and advocating a return to rule by a single Fuhrer:
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Edmond Vermeil, L'Allemagne contemporaine (1952), http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/ahess_03952649_1953_num_8_3_2198_t1_0398_0000_1 8 Hugo Preuss, speech to the Weimar Assembly (1919), http://dro.dur.ac.uk/773/1/773.pdf 9 (General) Erich Ludendorff, Ludendorffs Own Story (1919), http://www.archive.org/details/ludendorffsownst00lude 10 Martyn Housden, The Subversion of Weimar, p. 5 (London, 1993) 11 Geoff Layton, Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-33 (2005) 12 M. Housden, The Subversion of Weimar, p. 6 (1993) 13 K. Fischer, Nazi Germany. A New History (1995) 14 K. Fischer, Nazi Germany. A New History (1995)

Louis Emmerson

History of Germany, 1862 to the Present

21/02/2011

The ordinary people have no affection for Ebert. The truth is, the Germans do not want a president in 15 a top hat ... He has to wear a uniform and fistful of medals. The loss of territory crucial to industry (such as the Saar & Ruhr), as a direct result of the Treaty of 16 Versailles, meant Germany saw a loss of 48% of its iron ore, 16% of coal & 15% of its agricultural production . This, alongside the crippling 6,600 million reparation fees and the resulting hyperinflation, placed the German state in a very precarious financial position, made much worse as it came immediately after a greatly expensive war; When the terms of the Treaty of Versailles became public in May 1919 many who had briefly 17 supported democracy turned against it. Much of the economic prosperity enjoyed by the Republic in its later years (&, as a result, political stability) was superficial & relied heavily on foreign investment (the USA in particular). Once the vital foreign aid ceased after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Germanys economy was fully exposed & suffered greater than any other European country as a result. The decline in world trade & abrupt withdrawal of American loans caused mass unemployment & widespread poverty in Germany: The fall of the 18 republic might not have come about if the depression had not been so severe and so prolonged. Disillusionment with the already fragile Weimar Republic increased & the death of Stresemann a stabilising 19 political influence worsened matters considerably as his Chancellorship had seen the end of hyperinflation & a partial restoration of German faith in the Republic: In Germany, the economic crisis quickly became a political crisis, simply because there was a lack of 20 confidence that weakened the Republics position in its hour of need. The German public turned to the political extremes for a solution (shown by the Nazis percentage of the vote in the 1928 & 1930 elections, 2.6% & 18.3% respectively) & not surprisingly, it was the issue of finance which 21 finally brought down the government in March 1930. The economic sanctions imposed by foreign powers and an unforeseen global financial meltdown left the Republic in a state of physical, political, and economic 22 exhaustion from which even the most established of democracies would find it difficult to recover. The unfortunate economic conditions were compounded by human error and miscalculation. The role of the right-wing elites has been highlighted, in particular, by the historian Ian Kershaw who claims the seizure of power itself in 1933 was an alliance between the conservative elites, acting on the assumption that 23 they would be able to control and harness Hitler and his party. The first major Nazi breakthrough in terms of genuine electoral success came as a direct consequence of the ruling elite Brunings 1930 election: Clearly, however, Bruning can be accused of having made a disastrous mistake in calling a general election in 24 September 1930. Schleichers failure to form a coalition after his appointment to Chancellor in December 1932 & von Papens misguided yet persistent attempts to convince Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in an effort to control him are further examples of the miscalculation on behalf of the conservative elites during this period: The responsibility for the triumph of Nazism must lie not only with the electorate but also with those 25 figures who played into Hitlers hands and manoeuvred him into Chancellorship. Ultimately, and in accordance with structuralist theories, it was Hindenburgs personal decision to give Hitler the role of Chancellor that signalled the end of German democracy until years later this simple fact lends 26 weight to the argument that Hitler could have been kept out of power as Hitler did not seize power, but was 27 given it by a back-stairs intrigue. Indeed, Nazi support was actually in decline prior to Hitlers appointment by the right-wing politicians, as in the July 1932 election, they received 37.4% of the vote, and by November

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Gustav Stresemann (DVP leader), speaking to a German ambassador, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1877593 Charles Reginald Schiller Harris, Germanys Foreign Indebtedness, p. 1 (London, 1979) 17 USPD Deputy Cohn, during a Reichstag session debating the Constitution, http://hsr-trans.zhsf.unikoeln.de/hsrretro/docs/artikel/hsr/hsr1997_434.pdf 18 M. Housden, The Subversion of Weimar (1993) 19 P. Salmon, Weimar Republic: Could it have survived?, p. 8 (Oxford, 1992) 20 G. Layton, Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-33, p. 21 (2005) 21 G. Layton, Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-33, p. 22 (2005) 22 Charles Reginald Schiller Harris, Germanys Foreign Indebtedness, p. 1 (London, 1979) 23 Ian Kershaw, 1933: Continuity or Break in German History? (1983) 24 Patrick Salmon, Weimar Republic: Could it have survived? p. 4 (1992) 25 P. Salmon, Weimar Republic: Could it have survived? p. 5 (1992) 26 Dr Feuchtwanger, Weimars thin thread for survival snapped by political errors (1995) 27 Dr Feuchtwanger, Weimars thin thread for survival snapped by political errors (1995)

Louis Emmerson

History of Germany, 1862 to the Present

21/02/2011

1932 this had dropped to 33.1%, suggesting the Republics demise in the face of political extremism was never inevitable: Those who intrigued Hitler into power were opposed to Weimar democracy and favoured a return to 28 authoritarianism, but they neither wanted nor expected the triumph of Nazism. Hitlers political platform prior to the elections of 1932 does not only incite comparisons between itself & Wilhelmine & Bismarckian policies respectively an aggressive foreign policy and the active discrimination of ethnic minorities being two central tenets but of the 1848 Liberal Revolution also, 29 described as "the early manifestations of aggressive nationalism . Whilst democracy was being gradually th introduced into other western European societies as of the early 20 century, Germany stood almost alone as a last bastion of authoritarianism & supreme nationalism regardless of its economic modernization. Indeed, the Weimar Republic was not created as a result of years of German protest & rebellion against its autocratic rulers, but merely on the request of the Allies after Germanys defeat in the First World War. By contrast, the Third Reich rested solely on German force and impulse; it owed nothing to alien forces. It was a tyranny 30 imposed upon the German people by themselves. However, whilst Nazi ideology may not have been original 31 ... it should not therefore be assumed that it was an inevitable result of Germanys past. There were, admittedly, several opportunities to prevent Hitlers rise to power between the years 1919 & 1933. Hindenburgs rule by presidential decree made the misjudgements of the conservative elites & the landowning Junkers (of which Hindenburg was one) ever-more crucial to outcome of this period of German history, 32 simply because of the direct access they had to Hindenburg. Indeed, events such as the Treaty of Versailles & the Great Depression play an undoubtedly crucial, short-term role in the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor. Germanys long tradition of strong, dictatorial leadership created a suitable foundation on which political extremism might succeed but it was the depression [which] caused a socio-economic dislocation 33 beyond the point of normal parliamentary government to solve, making it wrong to conclude that Nazism 34 grew inevitably from the German past.

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P. Salmon, Weimar Republic: Could it have survived? p. 9 (1992) Lewis Namier, a speech made during the annual Raleigh Lecture (1944), http://www.docstoc.com/docs/23790416/University-of-California-Berkeley 30 A.J.P. Taylor, The Course of German History, p. 85 (1945) 31 G. Layton, Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-33, p. 5 (2005) 32 Dr Feuchtwanger, Why did the Weimar Republic Fail? (1997) 33 Dr Feuchtwanger, Weimars thin thread for survival snapped by political errors (1995) 34 J. Snell and A. Mitchell, The Nazi Revolution: Germanys Guilt or Germanys Fate? p. 17 (London, 1959)

Louis Emmerson

History of Germany, 1862 to the Present

21/02/2011

Bibliography: USPD Deputy Cohn, during a Reichstag session debating the Constitution, http://hsr-trans.zhsf.unikoeln.de/hsrretro/docs/artikel/hsr/hsr1997_434.pdf Dr Feuchtwanger, Weimars thin thread for survival snapped by political errors (1995) Dr Feuchtwanger, Why did the Weimar Republic Fail? (1997) K. Fischer, Nazi Germany. A New History (1995) Charles Reginald Schiller Harris, Germanys Foreign Indebtedness, (London, 1979), p. 1 Martyn Housden, The Subversion of Weimar, (London, 1993), p. 5, p. 6 Nigel Jones, The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps blazed a trail for Hitler (London, 2004), p. 2, p. 4 Geoff Layton, Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-33 (2005), p. 5, p. 21, p. 22 Wilhelm Liebknecht, No Compromise No Political Trading (Munich, 1899), http://www.marxists.org/archive/liebknecht-w/1899/nocomp/nocomp.htm (General) Erich Ludendorff, Ludendorffs Own Story (1919), http://www.archive.org/details/ludendorffsownst00lude Lewis Namier, a speech made during the annual Raleigh Lecture (1944), http://www.docstoc.com/docs/23790416/University-of-California-Berkeley Hugo Preuss, speech to the Weimar Assembly (1919), http://dro.dur.ac.uk/773/1/773.pdf Patrick Salmon, Weimar Republic: Could it have survived? (London, 1992), p. 4, p. 5, p. 7, p. 8, p. 9 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) J. Snell and A. Mitchell, The Nazi Revolution: Germanys Guilt or Germanys Fate? (London, 1959), p. 17 Gustav Stresemann (DVP leader), speaking to a German ambassador, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1877593 A.J.P. Taylor, The Course of German History (London, 1970), p. 85 Edmond Vermeil, L'Allemagne contemporaine (1952), http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/ahess_03952649_1953_num_8_3_2198_t1_0398_0000_1