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The Weimar constitution


Friedrich Ebert in Germany
Friedrich Ebert in Germany

The short-lived Weimar Republic has become a symbol of many things to subsequent observers. To Nazis, it embodied the humiliation of an imposed settlement and an “un-German” cosmopolitanism that they considered decadent. To post-Nazi Germans, it was a beacon of pre-Hitler democracy. Finally, to many cultural scholars, the period of the Weimar Republic was a fascinating time when the old and the new in German society collided and blended, often producing enduring works of art and literature.

The Weimar constitution provided all of the basic civil rights common to other democratic countries: universal suffrage and freedom of speech, of press, of movement, and of association. Although the right to private property was recognized, plans were made to nationalize several key industries. The reform-minded Friedrich Ebert of the SPD was the Republic’s first president, from 1919 to 1925. He was succeeded by the elderly war hero Paul von Hindenburg, who was president until his death in 1934.

For most Germans, the Weimar government bore the stigma of defeat. In addition, as a parliamentary government, it was opposed on principle by both conservative militarists and revolutionary socialists. Both sides, using private armies, frequently tried to overthrow the government. In 1919 the Communist Spartacists under Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg tried unsuccessfully to overturn the government, and in 1920 a much more dangerous rightist military revolt, the Kapp Putsch, was put down.

The economic situation of Germany during the first five postwar years made the political situation even more precarious. Because Germany could not meet reparations requirements, France invaded the industrial center of the Ruhr in 1923, seizing control of all its coal deposits.

The German government encouraged the workers to resist passively, and it printed vast amounts of devalued money to pay them. Before July 1922, the value of the Reichsmark had already dropped from about 4 to 493 to the dollar, but during the next 16 months it plummeted to 4.2 trillion to the dollar. The resulting inflation wiped out the savings, pensions, insurance, and other forms of fixed income of most middle-class and working-class Germans.

In 1924 the Dawes Plan was implemented to ease the German reparations burden and provide for foreign loans. The brilliant chancellor and foreign minister Gustav Stresemann reorganized the monetary system and encouraged industrial growth. For the next five years, Germany enjoyed relative peace and prosperity, gradually fulfilling its obligations under the Versailles treaty. In 1925 England, France, Italy, and Germany signed the Treaties of Locarno, which finally established the western borders of Germany and began the withdrawal of occupation forces along the Rhine. In 1926 Germany was admitted to the League of Nations.

The worldwide depression of the 1930s, however, plunged the country once more into disaster. Millions of unemployed Germans, disillusioned by capitalist democracy, turned either to the Communist Party or to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), the party of National Socialism, or Nazism. By 1930 the Nazis were the second largest party in the Reichstag. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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