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Assess the influence of the German Army and paramilitary groups on the success and failures of the Weimar

Republic The German Army extended great influence over the Weimar Republic in the period leading up to 1933. It also held considerable influence over a number of paramilitary groups; one of the most active called the Freikcorps. Thus it is the Armys major influence that can be determined to the successes and failures of the Weimar Republic rather than the smaller influence of paramilitary groups. From the onset of the republic forming from the already military dictatorship, much of its disapproval originated in the army, which had the majority of support within the country whereas the new democracy did not. Thus forming the basis of its influence to come. The power wielded by the army during this period was allowed particularly through political and economic factors within Germany, as well as the impact of the Treaty of Versailles. Political groups within the republic also secured the help of their own personal militaries, called paramilitaries to help gain in their purposes. These groups became mainly known as Freikcorps. They were the key Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. Many German veterans felt disconnected from civilian life, and joined a Freikorps in search of stability within a military structure. Others, angry at their sudden, apparently inexplicable defeat, joined up in an effort to put down Communist uprisings or exact some form of revenge. They received considerable support from Minister of Defense Gustav Noske, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who used them to crush the German Revolution of 19181919 and the Marxist Spartacist League and arrest Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were killed on 15 January 1919. The Freikcorps were also the armys way of circumventing the Treaty of Versailles. Many of the political groups within the Republic used these paramilitary groups to protect their party gatherings and to disrupt the marches and meetings of their opponents. They didnt however hold the considerable influence that the German Army was able to hold over the republic as they were tied to different groups while the Army remained its own power. At the end of WWI, the German Army managed to survive defeat without damage to its status in German Society. Even though army leaders such as General Ludendorff had advised surrender, it was the newly formed republic that was held responsible for signing the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles. The German public unable to understand its sudden defeat took to someone to blame. The army was therefore able to escape blame and saw the origins of the Dolchtoss Legende (stab in the back). The historian John Wheeler-Bennett in his book, The Nemesis of Power, identifies this as the birth of the stab in the back legend and suggests that it saw the new democracy undermined at the start.1 From the very beginning the army continued to exist as an antidemocratic state within a state, here continually undermining the Republic as it struggled to find a foothold. From the Groener Ebert pact the military therefore was not republicised

and remained its own authority. President Ebert stopped short of structural reform in the government and it stayed to contain many residual influences and structures of the old regime, which was faithful to the military (army). Hindenburg remained a strong influence in the new republic, and subsequently in 1925 was elected President, thus highlighting the Armys influence. The Historian Eyck points out that Hindenburgs election was a triumph of militarism and heavy defeat for the republic.2 Throughout the early and middle years of the Weimar Republic the army tolerated rather than supported democracy. The Chief of the General Staff, Hans von Seeckt, made decisions based on the armys best interests rather than any loyalty to the democratic state. He refused army assistance to put down the rightwing Kapp Putsch in 1920, claiming Reichswehr doesnt fire on Reichswehr.3 On the other hand the army and ex-army Freikorps were ruthless in dealing with the left wing groups, particularly the Sparticus. The extremists on both the right and left employed the use of their own paramilitary groups to crush the other Here Ebert, the President of the time formed the Ebert Groener Pact, an understanding between Ebert and General Groener that saw Ebert agree to allow the army to retain its position within German society in return for support against the left-wing extremists. This not only left the army in a powerful position, it ensured that conservatives who were unsympathetic to democracy were left in power throughout Germany. The Treaty of Versailles was ultimately viewed as harsh and humiliating, Germans felt bitter about the terms of the peace settlement (diktat). Furthermore the military conditions imposed on the Germans left them feeling weak and vulnerable to invasion by neighbouring states. The Treaty often described as a Carthaginian peace, allowed the army to remain in favour. Though viewed as harsh Heiber has argued that the Brest Litovsk Treaty that the Germans imposed on Russia was much harsher, where Russia was forced to concede 25% of territory and 40% of their population.4 The treaty also succeeded in aiding Germanys economy on a path of turmoil, such that led to hyperinflation. However the army was only one factor determining the weaknesses and failures of the Weimar Government. The Weimar Republic was born at a time that saw Germany spiraling into debt, only to be aided even further by the politicians of the time. At the end of the war, what one mark used to be worth was now worth 49 marks, and by the end of 1923 one mark was worth 4,2 trillion. Reparation costs, combined with poor economic governing of the time had led Germany into hyperinflation and on the brink of collapse. The German government call for passive resistance to the French occupation of the Ruhr was costing the government greatly, the loss of key industrial territory, combined with the overwhelming debt Germany was in from the war and the Treaty of Versailles made the government respond with the solution to print more money. And so the value of the German currency continued to drop, at the height 42 billion marks were being produced each day and the mark soon became relatively worthless.

In this failure it can be argued that the army had little influence, besides their contribution to the debt from the war, from not anticipating how long a war it was going to be, which had already cost Germany greatly. Contributing to the now elongated hyperinflation. On August 1923, Gustav Stressemann (the new leader of the DVP) was called upon to form a new government. Here he was able to form what became known as the Great Coalition. He ended the passive resistance, regenerated reparations through the Dawes plan 1924 and the Young plan 1929, introduced a new currency that would stable the German economy called the Retenmark and enabled Germany to be accepted into the League of Nations (Locarno Pact). From the economic successes and failures of the republic it can be deduced that the army played little influence where it was concerned. The army, even though held little sympathy for democracy wished to preserve the Weimar Republic for a number of reasons and tended to stand clear of the economic turmoil that had erupted through Germany. They viewed Germany as weak and needing to recover, thinking the fall of the system might lead to civil war and the danger of a communist takeover, as well as if a military dictatorship was to be established the Allies might try to intervene. The army seemed to busy reorganising itself and circumventing Versailles restrictions on the military. The Weimar policies that helped Germany into recovery and mending fences with other countries suited the army just fine in the short term. Other political groups also viewed this repairing of Germany as necessary and allowed for bills to be passed without interference from paramilitary groups. After 1924 in the period till 1929, following the stabilisation of the economy, Germany underwent a period of great cultural flourishment, and prosperity, a period of success. With censorship abolished, it became a time known for the expressionists. Women were given the vote and made up around 35% of the workforce. Stressemanns policies had effectively led to this period of economic recovery. The British Ambassador of the time said of him to have accomplished this in a few years of power without support of armed forces is a feat worthy of thoseon the scroll of fame.5 After the fall of the General Von Seekct in 1926, which had been engineered by Schleicher (German General), the Reichswehr became increasingly engaged in political intrigues. Schleicher soon became, in the words of Andreas Hillgruber "in fact, if not in name", the "military-political head of the Reichswehr".6 Which at the onset of 1929 and the Great Depression set the republic on a path of failure that would ultimately lead to its demise. The fact that the new republic had flaws in its constitution such as proportional representation, which meant that no party could form a majority alone and thus had to form coalition governments made the republic constantly unsteady. The historian Bookbinder suggests the problem of putting disparate parties with no history together of cooperation plagued the republic.7 This combined with article 48 allowed for parliament sovereignty to be replaced by Presidential

Authoritarian. As Schleicher became increasingly influential, through manipulated back room deals he managed to persuade President Hindenburg through the failings of proportional representation to put in power as Chancellor those who had no majorities in the government. Here he appointed Muller, Von Papen and finally Schleicher himself all who eventually failed in passing laws as they struggled to deal with a Germany in Depression. Eventually on these failings Schleicher and the Friekcorps pledged their support to the ever-rising Nazi Party and Hitler. Soon at the request of Von Papen who wanted Schleicher out of the chancellorship Hindenburg eventually appointed Hitler as chancellor. And thus through Article 48, it allowed Hitler to turn parliament sovereignty into a Presidential Authoritarian. Democracy had failed. As the Historian Bullock says "What the German army wanted was to regain its old position in Germany as the ruling class; to destroy the hated Republic to rebuild the military power of Germany; to reverse the decision of 1918 and to restore Germany...to a dominant position in Europe. Blinded by interest and prejudice, the Right...made the gross mistake of supposing that in Hitler they had found a man who would enable them to achieve their ends.8 From the German Armys influence combined with the small power wielded by certain political paramilitary groups such as the Friekcorps, the Weimar Republic underwent periods of success and failures. Ultimately its failures proved to great and through its underlying constitutional flaws the Nazis were able to take power. The significant influence the Army was allowed to wield over the Republic can be ultimately viewed in its downfall.

End Notes

Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 Erich Eyck, Bismarck and the German Empire (New York, W.W. Norton,1964)

http://hsc.csu.edu.au/modern_history/national_studies/germany/2420/page105.ht m#anchor172517

Heiber, H 1993, The Weimar Republic, Trans W E Yuill, Oxford: Blackwell. Pages from the Diary of Viscount V. DAbernon, Watt & Son London 1929 Kolb, Eberhard The Weimar Republic London: Routledge, 2005 page 78.

Bookbinder . P, Weimar Germany, The Republic of the Reasonable, (Manchester, 1996)


Bullock, A 1962, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Penguin. P 255

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