Nationalism was an important and integral factor in the downfall of the Weimar Republic and in turn, the ensuing failure of democracy in Germany in the period 1918-1934. The sense of loyalty and devotion to ones nation, which the German citizens had felt in their militaristic past, was ultimately devastated by WWI and its consequences. Although nationalism was a major cause of the failure of democracy in Germany, there were many other factors adding to the stress upon the countrys government at this time.
This included the Treaty of Versailles, the Reparations Bill, the occupation of the Ruhr and hyperinflation. Several attempts to install nationalistic beliefs back in the government occurred, the most important of these being the Kapp Putsch by the right-wing nationalists and the Beer Hall Putsch by the right-wing Nazi party. The disillusionment felt by the people and their need to restore pride in their nation influenced many factors that led to the failure of democracy, and to the rise of the Nazi political party and its leader Adolf Hitler.
By the outbreak of WWI in August 1914, Germany was well-established as a major and prominent world power. Such an achievement could be seen in the countrys industrial and economic strength, overseas colonies, extensive trading interests and its vast army. Prior to the war of 1914, the people of Germany had a strong sense of pride, largely owing to their autocratic government and militaristic background. However, within five years, Germany was shattered, its armies on the Western front were in retreat, its citizens were in poverty and the monarchy lead by Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated in favour of a republic before the signing of the Versailles Treaty.
The Versailles Treaty was one of the many documents written up to ensure that Germany would never come to full power again. The terms of the Versailles Treaty included the loss of the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen-Malmedy, Memel, the Hultschin district, Poznania, parts of East Prussia and Upper Silesia. The Versailles Treaty also caused Germany’s army to be limited to 100, 000 men with no conscription, no tanks, no heavy artillery, no poison-gas supplies, no aircraft and no airships; and the limitation of the German Navy to Vessels under 100,000 tons, with no submarines.
Because the Versailles Treaty was signed by the Weimar Republic, this caused the majority of German people to hate the newly established form of government and the Dolchstosslegende myth was born. Dolchstosslegende was the stab in the back theory; it meant that neither the army nor the Kaiser would be blamed for defeat. The myth undermined the faith that many Germans had in the new republic and was used to attack democracy in Germany.
Germanys economy relied heavily on its militaristic power, and due to such shortages being made as part of the Versailles Treaty, no money was being generated from the Weimar Republic, which in turn meant that Germany was not ready to be a democracy. The German people relied heavily on the established autocratic government which shaped the foundations of their national identity. The dramatic change from the stable autocratic leadership with a military-like structure to the unstable democratic Weimar Republic after WWI came shockingly to many, and led to a nationalistic view that wanted to restore the old political system and pride in Germany. With such negative attitudes expressed from the nationalists towards this new democracy, it is evident that this ideology had a major impact on the failure of the new government.
Further affecting the failure of German democracy was the Reparations Bill, put in place by the Versailles Treaty. The Allies had set a figure that Germany had to pay 20, 000 billion gold marks under the London Payments Plan. Under the London Plan, Germany was required to pay 2000 million gold marks plus 26% of the value of its export annually. The Treaty of Versailles also caused economic instability. After the devastation of war and the losses of territories, the German currency was unstable and it was impossible for Germany to pay the massive reparations bill. The Allies refused to grant the German economy time to recover from the war when Germany stated that they could not make further reparations in 1923 or 1924. This caused Germany to be economically unprepared to establish a democratic republic as well as inspire hate in the German population for the Weimar Republic and enforce the notion of Schmachfrieden- shameful peace, once more.
As a result of the failure to repay the Reparations Bill, Germany had failed to supply the coal and timber ordered by the Treaty of Versailles. In January 1923, 60 000 French and Belgium troops invaded the coalmining area of the Ruhr to claim this payment. The people of Germany were outraged, further instilling hatred against the new republic under the myth of Dolchstosslegende. The government called for a campaign against the French occupation and the workers in the Ruhr went on strike. More French and Belgian troops were sent to the Ruhr and occupied it for the following two years. Mine owners were arrested and the mines and railways were taken over. Although the campaign of passive resistance was successful because coal production in the Ruhr fell dramatically, it had a disastrous effect on Germanys economy as Germany was forced to import coal and lost the income that it would have earned from the Ruhr.
Passive resistance was ended in 1923 which caused an outcry by right-wing nationalists and resulted in a failed Putsch by the Nazis in Munich. As a result of the Ruhr crisis, government costs had raised by 700% and more banknotes were simply printed. Inflation quickly became hyperinflation, with German currency completely losing its value. As a result of hyperinflation, radical parties took advantage of the hardship and despair caused by the Ruhr crisis. The Nazi Party began to grow and increase its influence.
However, many of these economic problems were countered with the implementation of the Dawes Plan, and the introduction of the Rentenmark, which assisted Germany in contributing towards their Reparations Bill as a result of hyperinflation. Although the government was weakened, it benefited economically as hyperinflation resulted in a loss of government debts. People who had suffered devastating financial losses turned against the Republic. This loss of support can be seen as one of the long-term causes of the failure of democracy in Germany in the time period before 1934.
However, before the Ruhr crisis, many attempts to instil nationalism throughout all aspects of German life had already been attempted through the Kapp Putsch. Many on the right simply wanted the Republic overthrown by force. In October 1919, General Ludendorff, Wolfgang Kapp (a journalist and founder of the right-wing Fatherland Party) and General von Luttwitz (a leader of the Freikorps) formed the National Association to organise anti-republican forces. One of Kapps aims was to restore the German monarchy. In Berlin, Luttwitz refused to disband Freikorps units as a result of the Treaty of Versailles and on 13 March, units of ex-soldiers rebelled with 5000 troops seizing government buildings. Led by Wolfgang Kapp, they marched to Berlin and a right-wing government was declared under his leadership, although the Commander-in-Chief intended to act against the Putsch, all other commanders refused.
As well as the other commanders refusing, the army also refused, saying Reichswehr does not fire upon Reichswehr. In order to defeat the Putsch, President Ebert called upon the workers to help save the Republic in the form of a general strike, which caused Kapps government to fall after only a few days. Although the Kapp Putsch failed, it was a significant event because it showed that nationalist or right-wing groups were prepared to take action against the Republic. Contrarily, it also showed that workers and unions would fight against any attempted military takeover. This Putsch also showed that the army was a group in German society with no loyalty to democracy. The army would ruthlessly crush opposition from the left but supported right-wing nationalist groups. As a result of the Kapp Putsch, elections held subsequently showed further weakened support for the Republic.
Following the occupation of the Ruhr was Hitlers Beer Hall Putsch which was when Adolf Hitler attempted a violent seizure of power in Munich, in November 1923. His ultimate aim had been to lead a march on Berlin to overthrow the Republic. The Putsch failed when the Army refused to side with Hitler and he was arrested and charged with treason. The judge sympathised with Hitler and he was only given a light prison term. Hitler was sentenced for 5 years imprisonment and was released after 1 year on parole and emerged from prison a hero of the nationalists, his confidence in the essential correctness of his strategy unshaken. This popularity eventually allowed Hitler to come to power legally in 1933 when he was appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg.
This initiated the end of the Weimer Republic as Hitler manipulated his power after the Reichstag fire of that year. Through this manipulation, Hitler was able to pass a law in March 1933; The Enabling Act. This Act presented Hitler with the power to make laws without them being passed by the president or Reichstag, consequently making Hitler the legal dictator of Germany. The nationalism felt by the German people during the period in which the Weimar Republic was in power, allowed the Nazis and Adolf Hitler to come to power in Germany. Hitler embodied nationalistic views and with his involvement in the Munich Putsch and his idea of Volksgemeinschaft, influenced the German people, and in due course allowed the Nazis to come to power in Germany, hence terminating the Weimar Republic.
Nationalism was an imperative cause in the failure of democracy in Germany throughout the period of 1918 to1933, as it influenced many factors that led to the Weimar Republics failure. German tradition had influenced the view of the German people during the time in which the Weimar Republic was in power. The aftermath of the First World War which included the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the Reparations Bill and the Occupation of the Ruhr led to a resentment of the Weimar Republic because of the Dolchstosslegende myth and the German peoples nationalistic views of the Schmachfrieden.
Many transformations occurred across the government and such changes influenced violent Putsches across the country from the nationalists. The change from a stable militaristic state to a hectic Republic led many to pursue a figure that would exemplify their nationalistic views and restore faith and pride in their nation. That figure was represented by the Nazi party and their leader Adolf Hitler, who through his idea of Volksgemeinschaft was supported by the people, and came to power in Germany 1933, therefore destroying the Weimar Republic and subsequently German democracy.
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