Section: How did the Nazis gain power?

The Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic

At the beginning of 1919 Germany developed a new system of government. What resulted became known as the Weimar Republic. What was the Weimar Republic? How did the government deal with the many problems that the country faced over the next few years?

When the Kaiser abdicated, power was handed to the leader of the moderate left-wing Social Democratic Partyy, Friedrich Ebert. This did not stop the food shortages or the civil unrest and street battles between rival political groups. Ebert tried to create a new system of government to solve the problems and end unrest. Despite the violence, elections were held on 19 January 1919. The democratic parties won 80 per cent of the vote. Germany was in such a state of unrest that the first meeting of the National Assembly could not even take place in the capital city, Berlin. It met instead in the town of Weimar, earning the new nation the name ‘Weimar Republic’.

The Weimar Constitution

The constitution of the Weimar Republic was very different from that the old system (see diagram); there would be no monarch. Instead there would be a president, elected every seven years and whose power would be limited by the Reichstag.

A chancellor, appointed by the President, led the government of ministers from within the Reichstag.

All adults over the age of 20 could now vote.

The new constitution was one of the most democratic in the world. However, it was set up during a period of great unrest and was subject to compromise.

Some people who had been powerful under the Kaiser still held positions of power in the new system. Consequently, many of the old landowners, civil servants and military leaders still had enormous influence.


Conflicting interests

Because of conflicting aims and interests it was difficult to keep a government in power for long. Too many changes made managing Germany’s political and economic problems very difficult.

Political weaknesses

The constitution of the Weimar Republic meant that there would be no monarch. Instead there would be a president, whose power would be limited by the parliament, which in Germany was called the ‘Reichstag‘. The voting system led to no one party having overall power (see chart above).

Some people who were powerful under the Kaiser still held positions of power in the new system. Consequently, many of the old landowners, civil servants and military leaders still had enormous influence. It became impossible for all these people to agree with each other for long enough to keep a government together. As people in one government disagreed and ceased to support it, it would collapse.

This led to many changes of government and made managing Germany’s political and economic problems very difficult indeed.

The Weimar Republic was born in a time great upheaval and conflict. The proportional representation system of voting was intended to reduce political conflicts; resulting in many parties gaining seats in the Reichstag.

As there was no single party in overall control parties had to join together to form a government. However, each party had different aims which made it difficult for the Reichstag to govern. Consequently, there were many changes of government which led to political instability. This was reflected in 376 political assassinations up to 1923.

Despite being from the democratic left, during the early 1920s, Friedrich Ebert relied heavily on the traditionally right-wing army and Freikorps in order to keep control of the country.

Conservative attitudes tended to overemphasise the threat from the left, whilst the threat from the right was severely under estimated.


How did government deal with violent challenges?

Although the Weimar Republic had a democratic constitution, some extremist groups did not think that this was how Germany should be run. Those on the extreme right believed that a return to an authoritarian system, with a strong military leadership was the only way to keep society safe. Others on the left felt that communism was the fairest form of government.

These differences in ideas resulted in a number of severe conflicts throughout Germany. Between 1919 and 1923, extremist political parties resorted to violent attempts to overthrow the government and take over the country.



In November 1918, the German Army’s high command had agreed to support the government and use troops to maintain stability in Germany. The government also had the use of over 5,000 Paramilitaries(Freikorps).

The government relied heavily on the Army and/or the Freikorps to take violent action in order to put down extremist challenges from the ‘left’. However, when called upon to overthrow the right wing Kapp Putsch, the army failed to provide action against the Freikorps when requested by the government. As General Von Seeckt (senior officer in the German Defence Ministry) declared: “Troops do not fire on troops.”

The Treaty of Versailles

After the fighting stopped, there was a peace conference in Paris to rebuild Europe. It began in January 1919. Britain, France and the USA dominated the conference. The Germans assumed that a 14-point plan (see above) by President Woodrow Wilson of the USA would form the basis of the peace treaty. This plan seemed fair to people across Europe. The Germans were not invited to contribute to the negotiations and the actual treaty was dictated to them.

Unfortunately for the Germans, Britain and more especially France wanted to punish Germany; this was a key aim of the treaty signed on 28 June 1919. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (see above) dictated by the Allies, Germany had to accept responsibility for the war. This gave the Allies the right to confiscatee German land, and to make huge cuts in the German army, navy and air force. The Allies also demanded large amounts of money as compensation; this was called ‘Reparations’.

Within Germany the harsh terms of the treaty caused huge unrest. The politicians who signed it were later called the ‘November criminals’. Unfortunately there was no alternative to signing the treaty. Germany had to accept the terms dictated by the victorious Allies.

Hyperinflation and the invasion of the Ruhr

With all the economic and social problems Germany faced, it soon became impossible for her to keep paying reparations to the Allies. These payments were difficult for Germany to afford. In January 1923, France and Belgium invaded the Ruhr, an industrial area of German bordering their own countries. This region, full of factories and coalmines, contained resources the French and Belgians intended to use to make up for the unpaid reparations. German workers refused to co-operate with the French and Belgian armies, and went on strike. The German government supported them. The French sent in their own workers, and arrested the leaders of the German strikers and the German police. This led to violence on both sides.


With the economy in ruins, and the Allies claiming reparations and taking control of industry, goods became difficult to obtain and therefore very expensive. To help with this problem and to pay the striking Ruhr workers, the government decided to print more money. Money became very easy to get hold of, but things to buy were just as scarce as ever. This meant that prices kept going up. Inflation became so bad that the price of an item could double in a matter of hours. By the autumn of 1923 a loaf of bread cost 200,000,000,000 marks. Workers paid by the hour found their wages were worthless, because prices had risen since they began their shifts. People who had saved money for years saw the value of those savings wiped out.

1929: Problems solved?

In September 1923 a new Chancellor, Gustav Stresemann, put into action a plan to solve Germany’s problems. He ordered the workers of the Ruhr to return to work in order to rebuild German industry and prosperity. At the same time an American called Charles Dawes helped set a new, more realistic target for the reparations Germany was to pay. In November 1923 Germany introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark, based on the value of all German land and assets. The Americans also loaned huge amounts of money to Germany to help the economy. As the economy began to improve and relations with other countries got better, a new optimism began to be felt in Germany. The years 1924 to 1929 became known as the ‘Golden Years’. The violence of the years 1918 to 1923 seemed a thing of the past.

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Political weaknesses

Political weaknesses