|DISCUSS THE ROLE OF THE GERMAN ARMY IN WEIMAR GERMANY
The German army was one of the strongest nationalistic institutions in the country and became imperative in the Weimar republic, providing essential defence against revolutionary communist forces in the early era of the democracy. The German army aided in preventing the success of numerous communist uprisings and aided the Weimar republic. Yet controversially, their stong nationalistic right wing tendencies prevented them from launching an attack on right wing assaults. The accession of Seeckt to Defence minister shifted the role of the Reichswehr from mainly strategic to mainly political. Finally, Weimar militarism was instrumental in the establishment of the political chaos of the final era and eventual collapse of Weimar democracy.
The Reichswehr became an essential force against the uprisings from the left of Weimar politics. The troublesome beginnings of the Weimar Republic required extensive military support and establishment. As writes AJ Nicholls ‘Bloodshed and disorder in various parts of the country in the first half of 1919 made the new Reichswehr indispensable to the government’. The pact between Ebert and Groener on 9 November 1918 was paramount to the cooperation between the Army and Weimar. This support became evident greater than ever when it came to the suppressing of communist activities and revolts. Mulligan writes that ‘It was in the interests of the army to cooperate with the regime’. In the 1919 Spartacists uprising in Berlin, the army and the Freikorp aided in the suppression of the communists and their leaders Liebknecht and Luxemburg were arrested and murdered. Similar suppression of the communists was seen again in Bavaria in May 1919 and the Ruhr in May 1920. Furthermore in the Ruhr invasion of 1923 acts of sabotage had been led by many army led groups. Perhaps the greatest sign of military suppression of left wing political power attempts is that of the suppression of the Saxony and Thuringia in October 1923. The Reichswehr instructed by Stresemann ensured the failure of this final attempt and the end of left uprisings from the KPD. This early influence of the army on protecting Weimar interests showed to the government how ‘indispensable the army was’ (Carsten). Thus the necessity of the German army in defending the democracy against left wing attacks becomes apparent.
Yet the Reichswehr failed to effectively defend the Weimar republic against right wing attacks. Since the time of the Prussian empire, the German army had maintained a position of right-wing traditionalist prestige and was proud of such military history. One of the greater impacts of the army on Germany came through these tendencies. This impacted the development of the Weimar Republic particularly in the case of the 1920 Kapp putsch, led by Wolfgang Kapp in an attempt to take over the Weimar Government. As the 1919 Spartacists revolt was resolved, the government began to dissolve sections of the Free Corps. In February 1920 two such brigades (12000 men) were ordered to disband. On the 12th March 1920, 12000 of these Free Corps marched to Berlin, and the Reichswehr’s right wing tendencies became apparent. The Putsch met no resistance from the army despite knowing of the attack, refusing to let Reichswehr soldiers fight themselves. General von Seeckt replied that the ‘Reichswehr does not fire upon Reichswehr’ forcing the government forced to flee. Situation only resolved when workers went on strike and Kapp’s government fled to Sweden after four days. Ebert, attempting to dissolve tensions between the army and the republic made General von Seeckt the Minister of Defence. This was ‘a change in the army command that was contrary to the interests of the Republic, and an alienation of the Reichswehr from…the largest political party, the Social Democrats’ (Carsten). Yet this achieved nothing and aided in establishing an uneasy relationship and ‘During the subsequent 13 years the two lived next to each other, but not with each other’ (Carsten). Thus the influence of the army and its right wing tendencies became apparent through the Kapp Putsch.
Under the governance of Seeckt, the Weimar republic experienced further pressure from the Reichswehr. The impacts of militarism on German democracy became highlighted within the rule of General Von Seeckt, so much so that E.H Carr writes that the Weimar Republic provided a facade for the rule of the General Staff aided by big business. Seeckt did however initially stand by the government as he wanted order and discipline. ‘The duty of the soldiers was to fight any revolt ruthlessly; from whichever direction it might come’ (Carsten). However Seeckt was an aristocrat and is seen as never having respect or support for the Weimar Republic and ‘he never attained a positive relationship to the republic and its institutions’ (Carsten). He did not support the Weimar republic. When President Ebert asked him in September 1923 where the army stood, he replied, ‘The Army, Mr President, stands behind me’. The ability of the army to retain their power was devastating for democracy. He retained the army’s independence and power, even attended Cabinet meetings also attended by the President. This gave him direct access to power, a damaging situation for Weimar as Seeckt was never truly for the republic. The Army Budget increased 75% in the period between 1923-6 due to Seeckt’s political influence. This was imperative in Seeckt’s attempts to evade the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles by attempting to train the Black Reichswehr and air force pilots as well as building secret weapons in Russia after 1922. A.J. Nicholls describes how Seeckt ‘put the interest of the army before his duty to the government’. Yet his influence would have been limited if his power was constrained, it was the mistake of the Weimar who foolishly ‘recognised the Army’s position as a state within a state and subject only to itself’ (Shirer). Thus the German army under Seeckt had an imperative role in Germany and the Democracy.
The final and most imperative influence of the German army on the Democracy came through the impact of General von Schleicher in influencing leadership of the SPD and Germany, creating political chaos. Gordon Craig writes that “The military politicians lacked the will to take responsibility boldly and openly into their hands”. Groener and Schleicher withdrew support from the SPD government forcing Muller to resign in March 1930. Bruning was appointed as chancellor supported by Groener and Schleicher and in October 1931 Groener became interior minister. Through the April 1932 verbot issue against the SA, Groener and Bruning are forced to resign in May 1932, replacing them with Papen creating the ‘cabinet of barons’. As continues Craig, individuals such as Schleicher “preferred to operate through agents like Bruning and later Papen, whom they could control and dispose of when they had served their purpose”. Schliecher replaced Papen as chancellor in December 1932. Yet a lack of parliamentary support forced Schleicher to resign pushing army support behind Hitler and so destroying democracy in January 1933. Craig finally comments that in the end military politicians lost heart “and their last agent, Hitler, became their master”. Thus the role of the army in the final political chaos and eventual collapse of democracy in Germany becomes apparent.
Hence it can be seen that the Reichswehr in the Weimar period was instrumental in suppressing left wing uprising in the early periods of the democratic government. Yet the army became insignificant and unable to defend against right wing attacks due to internal disputes and a nationalistic stance. Under Seeckt, the army further strengthened its political control of the establishment and became responsible for an establishment of political chaos. This occurred through the establishment of the politics of power, and by providing and withdrawing support, the Reichswehr created the democratic insecurity responsible for the rise of Hitler.