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A Path to a Dead End

Essay by   •  December 18, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,021 Words (9 Pages)  •  807 Views

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From 1916 till 1918, the German Empire was governed by the military. World War One had become Germany's primary focus. At no means did the Germans ever believe they would be defeated. However, as the battle raged on, it became apparent that defeat was in near sight. With defeat close, the Supreme Army Commander demanded that a civil government be installed to appease Woodrow Wilson's conditions for peace talks. October 28, 1918, the German Empires 1871 constitution was amended and the Reich became a parliamentary democracy. By early1919, the first attempt to establish a liberal democracy in Germany was formed and the Weimar Republic was created. As soon as the Weimar Republic was established, it was doomed to fail. From the start the Weimar Republic was an unpopular government among the German people. There was a sense of resentment and humiliation due to the surrender and loss of the war, the economic strife, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The people blamed the Weimar Republic for the weak state Germany was in. However, the failure of the Weimar Republic cannot be solely blamed on the unstable conditions World War One. The Weimar Republic created massive economic problems and structural problems for itself throughout its existence. Although the Weimar Republic did have some economic success between 1923 and 1929, overall, the economic inflation and structural flaws the Reichstag created and the Great Depression ultimately led to its failure.

One of the main reasons the Weimar Republic failed was due to the Treaty of Versailles. The signing of the Treaty meant Germany surrendered territory, reduced its military, and paid reparations to other countries. The Treaty forced Germany to surrender all of their colonies to the League of Nations, and hand over Alsace-Lorraine to France, Saar Territory, the Polish Corridor to Poland, and the Sudetenland to Czechoslovakia. As well successor states were formed and Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, and Yugoslavia were their own countries. The Rhineland was divided into zones and occupied by Britain, France and the United State, and was permanently demilitarized, and Austria was not allowed to join the German Reich. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost 13 percent of her territory and about six million subjects.

The military was further weakened as German armed forces were to be restricted and supervised by the Allies Conditions. The conditions were: a volunteer army limited to 100,000 men with no conscription, navy restricted to 6 battleships, 6 cruisers, 12 destroyers, no submarines and no military aircraft.

Germany was also forced to take all responsibility for the war under the War Guilt Clause. As well she was held accountable for the total damage done to civilians and their property in all countries involved in the war. In total Germany owed £6,600 million in reparations.

The Treaty of Versailles was considered a dictated peace and the people felt that Germany was not morally bound by it. The Weimar Republic was resented for signing the Treaty. Violations of the treaty were supported in Germany by small and radical political groups. The economic and financial issues that resulted from the signing of the Treaty are difficult to determine the exact amount, however losses were substantial. Germany lost overseas investments confiscated by the Allies and most of their mercantile marine. While the reparations were substantial, Germany never did pay the entire required amount. However the reparations did do significant damage on the economy as World War One destroyed Germany economically, so she had problems paying her dues. The War Guilt Clause Act implemented in the treaty discouraged market loans and outside financial investments. This resulted in a financial deficit within the government. The Weimar Republic kept printing money to try and pay off their debts and the reparations which created hyperinflation. Certainly no atmosphere of peace descended on Germany with the signing of the Treaty; if anything, hostility towards the Weimar Republic became more marketed, and was reinforced by hatred towards the party members involved with the Treaty.

The volatile structure of the Weimar Republic was another contributing factor to its failure. The Weimar Republic's parliamentary had no dominating party within the Reichstag; their government was based on proportional representation. Proportional representation allowed many small political parties gain seats in the Reichstag, which permitted them to circulate their ideologies publicly. With many parties participating in the Reichstag, the larger parties had to rely on the small radical parties to for coalitions in order for reforms to occur in both domestic and foreign affairs. The coalitions that formed between larger parties were undependable never fully supported each other. For example, a partnership consisting of the Center, DVP and DNVP agreed on many domestic issues, however, avidly disagreed on foreign affairs. As well as a coalition known as the 'great coalition' between the SPD and the DVP, who usually supported each other on the issues of foreign affairs, were constantly at odds on economic and social matters. The coalitions clashes in views discredited their efforts, which would result in a complete reorganization of the party itself. Since there were ever-changing power shifts and reorganization within the parties, the attitude towards the government was always changing making both parliament and the parties unstable, unreliable and incalculable. In 1929, Gustav Stolper, an economist said "There are not government parties, only opposition parties. This state of things is a great danger to the democratic system than ministers and parliamentarians realize." As result of proportional representation, there was no parliamentary majority in the Reichstag prepared to work together and steer a constant long-term political course in both domestic and foreign affairs. The lack of a dominant party running the Reichstag always meant that there would be competition and change over in who would rule, leading to a weak and unstable government.

Another flaw in the Weimar constitution was Article 48. Article 48 allowed for a temporary presidential dictatorship on the grounds of an undefined national emergency without the consent of the Reichstag. Although Article 48 was meant as an emergency clause, it was often misused for parliamentary leadership. February 27, 1933, six days before a Reichstag election, which

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