What problems did the Weimar Republic face in the years 1919-23?

The Weimar Republic faced many problems during 1919-23 in the wake of military defeat, political and socio-economic crisis. It was clear that it faced many difficulties to establish a democratic system of government in Germany.

Regarding to the political problems, the first issue was that the Weimar Republic was ‘born out of defeat’ in the minds of many German people. For this reason, democracy was associated as weak system of governing and the ‘Stab in the Back’ myth developed amongst right wing groups. Its concept was that the German army did not loose the First World War, but was instead betrayed by the new Socialist government led by Friedrich Ebert, which signed a ceasefire (armistice) with the Allies on 11th of November 1918. In effect, democratic politicians were labeled as ‘November Criminals’, who used ‘the stab in the back’ to size the power.

Not only the armistice but also Treaty of Versailles caused tension. The new democratic government of Germany was obliged by the Allies to accept peace terms at Versailles in June 1919. Unfortunately for the Weimar Republic, it was unable to negotiate the terms of the treaty as Versailles was a diktat (dictated peace), which had to be accepted in full or war would resume. Ultimately, Germany lost 13% of its European territory (plus all of its colonies); Germany’s armed forces were severely restricted (the army’s size was fixed to 100,000; conscription was banned; Germany was not allowed submarines, an airforce or tanks; the Rheineland was to be permanently demilitarised; the German navy could only possess six warships). Moreover, the reparations were imposed on Germany; the final figure was fixed in 1921 at 6,600 million pounds. Although modern historians are divided about how hard these terms (particularly reparations) hit Germany, there is no doubt that they caused widespread resentment among Germans at the the time.

Furthermore, during 1919-1923 there were extreme right and left wing movements in Germany that were opposed to democracy and were committed to overthrowing the Weimar Republic. For example, in January 1919 an extreme left-wing socialist movement known as the Spartacists set up the German Communist Party (KPD). The KPD rejected the new German Republic as insufficiently revolutionary. The KPD was committed to establish a Bolshevik-style system of government in Germany, involving the confiscation of privately owned factories and land. Over the next four years the Communists organised a series of risings but none of them came close to overthrowing the Republic.

Equally important, many German nationalists never accepted the Weimar Republic because of the Socialist government’s decision to accept the harsh terms imposed at Versailles. The conservative elites (aristocratic landowners, big industrialists and senior army officers, judges and civil servants) who had ruled Germany under the Kaiser largely retained their power after 1918 and they tended to be best lukewarm in their support for the Republic. More often they were openly hostile to the democratic Republic. Many favoured the restoration of the monarchy or an authoritarian alternative. During 1920 - 1923 the right wing groups organised 2 uprisings ( The Kapp Putsch, March 1920; and the ‘Beerhall Putsch’, November 1923), but none of them were successful. Nevertheless, 1920-22 saw a spate of about 400 political murders, most committed by the extreme Right (the ‘White Terror’) but some carried out by the Left. The Freikorps were mainly responsible for this violence. In August 21 members of the Organisation Consul, a right-wing group, composed mainly of young ex-officers, murdered Matthias Erzeberger, leader of the Centre Party, who had helped to negotiate the armistice. In June 1922 Walther Rathenau, the Foreign Minister, was also assassinated by the Organisation Consul.

As well as political unrest, the Weimar Constitution increased the Republic’s problems. The voting system was proportional representation, meaning that parties gained the same percentage of seats in the Reichstag as the percentage of votes they polled in the elections. As a result, it created a number of problems. The system allowed very small parties to gain representation in the Reichstag and, because there were eight major parties in Germany and a score of smaller ones, resulted in the Reichstag’s seats being widely distributed among a large number of parties. In practice this meant that no party was ever able to gain a