The Seeds of Evil: The Rise of Hitler

The Seeds of Evil: Germany 1919 - 1933.

What aspects of the Treaty of Versailles undermined the Weimar Republic?

The Treaty of Versailles was a complex document that had many consequences for the people and Government of Germany. A range of factors combined to undermine the ability of the infant democratic republic to govern successfully, including: The 'War Guilt' Clause; The requirement to pay Reparations; terms relating to trading conditions and others relating to the things such as the armed forces and Germany's empire.

The very fact that the treaty was signed can be seen as undermining the Weimar Republic. Almost immediately there were claims that the troops had been, 'stabbed in the back' by the Government. Though this was very much a case of denial on the part of the right wing elite that had governed Germany through the war, and who were responsible for the manner in which the war was waged and ultimately lost, this was immediately significant. From day one of its existence the Government would have to answer these charges and attempt to pacify those elements of society who couldn't accept that the war had been lost.

The nature of the Treaty compounded this issue. Issues such as the level of Reparations made it difficult for the Government to cope with the economic strain that the country faced: this is illustrated by the level of inflation following the activation of reparations payments:

July 1914
1.0
Jan 1919
2.6
July 1919
3.4
Jan 1920
12.6
Jan 1921
14.4
July 1921
14.3
Jan 1922
36.7
July 1922
100.6
Jan 1923
2,785
July 1923
194,000
Nov 1923
726,000,000,000

Wholesale Price Index: Germany, 1914 - 1923.

These figures suggest that the implementation of the terms of the treaty had a massive impact. The rate at which inflation rises correlates closely with events linked to the terms of the treaty: Inflation rises rapidly in the months after the first Reparations repayment and following the French and belgian occupations of the Ruhr - itself a result of the Treaty, it is the case that the value of money depreciates by almost 4 million percent in 6 months (inclusive). Whilst it can be argued that this was fueled by German economic policy, its origins may be traced back to Versailles.

These two factors link closely with the reaction to the 'War Guilt Clause'. In having to accept that the Germans were responsible for the war, the Government doomed itself to be open to criticism from political extremes. Indeed, many ordinary Germans were antagonised by this clause and this in turn led to a situation in which a large percentage of the population could be considered to disapprove of the Government and its actions: therefore having a side effect of threatening the governments stability as a result of its existence.

Now we see a situation in which the Government is accused of stabbing the armed forces in the back (and they need the support of the army to survive), at a time when the economy is falling apart - which is often a time when threats, such as the Spartacist Uprising, occur and a large proportion of the people simply don't trust the government. This however is only part of the problem for the Weimar Government. In addition to these issues they have to contend with the clauses that relate to the cuts in the power of the military, which upturns the pre-war balance of power and the psychological impact of having huge swaths of her assents stripped. Consider the likely reaction to having an empire dismantled overnight? National Pride, already severely knocked, plummets to unknown depths. At the same time large and wealthy sector of the upper middle classes suddenly have their positions and role in society taken away from them and the Government. The two are linked, and are quite possibly calculated to destroy the Prussian aristocracy that the Allies held responsible for the war. This resulted in movements such as the Freikorps having widespread support, the Right Wing gained support and was decidedly anti-democratic: this is evident throughout the existence of the republic, note the role of the Freikorps, the Kapp and Munich Putsches, the election of Paul von Hindenburg and even some of the ideas espoused by supposedly moderate politicians such as Gustav Stresemann.

A Government will, under most circumstances, struggle to cope with pressures such as the ones outlined already. It is possible to pacify groups and to incorporate old fashioned views and traditions within a governmental structure: even if they are comparatively limited in scope. However this is less likely to happen when the Government is also a pariah on the International scene. This was the case for Germany as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. Trade was restricted and pointed in specified directions under the economic clauses, areas of the nation state were occupied by French and Belgian troops to ensure that goods were used for Reparations payments and the Government of Germany was excluded from membership of International organisations such as the League of Nations until it was deemed 'safe'.

Versailles was, in the eyes of some historians, designed to shatter the Prussian elite and ensure that they could never wage war again. Whether this was deliberate or not, the treaty did conspire to create circumstances for the new German Government that were almost intolerable: something that was accepted by some, the English economist Keynes for example, almost instantly. Anti-Democratic groups were given grounds to object to the nature of Government as a result of some clauses; the Government was undermined by its inability to manage international trade and the Treaty resulted in a mass of anti-democratic (and therefore Government) feeling. Each of these, though sometimes an indirect result of the Treaty, contributed to the undermining of the democratic experiment in Germany in the early 1920's and again following the Wall Street Crash.

 

The Second Reich
The Founding of the Weimar Republic
The Impact of War
The Treaty of Versailles
Germany 1919 - 1923
Germany - Economic Recovery
The Early days of the Nazi Party 1919 - 1924
Weekly Newsletters
 

Text © Schoolshistory.org.uk

Unit last updated 4th June 2004

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