1924 – 1929: Golden years? 1. The economy and politics. Key question: Did political and economic developments between 1924 and 1929 make the Weimar Republic more stable?
Political calm was restored to Germany and there were no attempts to overthrow the system, but there was continued government instability: there were six separate governments during this period. No chancellor was able to hold a government together for more than 2 years.
The success of the democratic parties in the Reichstag elections in December 1924 and May 1928 was an optimistic sign, though the small size of parties like the DDP showed that the liberal middle classes still lacked political power.
Peukert: ‘The electoral decline of the liberals was the decisive event of Weimar politics because it undermined the pro-republican center from within.’
Influential groups such as church leaders, teachers, and newspaper editors failed to foster commitment to democratic values. In addition, there was a lack of national pride.
Bookbinder: ‘With little inspiration from political leaders and little encouragement for democracy from the pulpit or the teacher’s desk, the political education of many Germans made little progress.’
Edgar Jung (secretary to Papen, 1927): ‘If there were to be an opinion survey, not of those who support today’s Republic, but of those who love it, the result would be devastating.’
The election of Hindenburg as president in 1925 put great power in the hands of someone not committed to the parliamentary system, though it did engender the loyalty of some conservatives
Amongst conservative groups, the new republic was resented: industrialists resented the burden of the welfare state; the junkers their loss of influence; and many judges and civil servants democracy itself.
Some parties shifted towards the right during the late 1920s, like the Centre Party. Its leader, Bruning, began to favour more authoritarian ideas of government.
Abelshauser: ‘the Weimar Republic was an over-strained welfare state’.
Inflation was cured in 1924, never to return.
Reparations were reorganized on a more reasonable level in the Dawes and later the Young Plan, but they caused a lot of nationalist resentment. They meant that the economy was heavily dependent on short-term American loans.
By 1929, industrial production was back to 1913 levels, but growth lagged behind that of many other countries.
Unemployment remained around 1 million, and farmers became increasingly harmed by low food prices.
Kolb: ‘It is generally accepted that the economic situation in Germany was highly precarious even before the world depression.’ Stresemann (1928): ‘Germany is dancing on a volcano. If the short-term credits are called in, a large section of our economy would collapse.’ R. Bessel: ‘The profound social, economic, political and psychological destablisation which had set in with the First World War had not really been overcome; underlying economic problems remained, and the relative political stability of Weimar’s ‘golden years’ rested on shaky foundations.’
M. Fulbrook: ‘To moderate observers, it might appear that under Stresemann’s guidance, a considerable amount had been achieved … Yet observers in Weimar Germany were far from moderate. Each of the measures negotiated under Stresemann was highly contentious. Moreover, under the façade of apparent stablisation there were many cracks, both political and economic.’
2. Foreign Policy. Key question: How far did Stresemann’s foreign and economic policy strengthen Weimar Germany?
Stresemann, Foreign Minister from 1923 to 1929, was determined to improve Germany’s international position: he believed the key to success would be a strong economy.
He pursued a policy of fulfilment in order to show that the burden of reparations was unworkable.
He helped to negotiate the Dawes and Young plans, which aided the German economy.
Stresemann has been seen as both a ‘good European’, working for European harmony, and a ‘good German’, in the way he strengthened the position of his country. It is more probable that he was neither of these things.
In his obituary in the newspaper Vorwats, 1929: ‘He saw that you can only serve your people by understanding other peoples. To serve collapsed Germany he set out on a path of understanding. He refused to try to get back land which had gone forever. He offered our former enemies friendship.’
In line with his other policy of rapprochement, Germany accepted the western borders of Germany drawn up at Versailles, in the Locarno Treaties of 1925.
He gained agreement from the Allies to withdraw from the Rhineland by 1930. However, Stresemann’s conciliatory policies upset many German nationalists without winning as many concessions from the Allies as he wanted.
Stresemann (To an English journalist, in 1929) ‘If I had received a single concession after Locarno, I would have been able to win over my people. I still could, but you Englishmen gave nothing… The future now lies in the hands of the young generation – the youth of Germany whom we could have won over to peace and the new Europe. If both have been lost – that is my tragedy and a great error on your part.’
Stresemann died before he was able to win sufficient changes to the Treaty of Versailles to strengthen the Weimar Republic.
S. Marks: ‘Stresemann was a superlative liar, dispensing total untruths to the Entente, the German people, and his diary with even-handed aplomb. … In his six years as architect of German foreign policy, he had liberated the Ruhr and the Rhineland, ended military inspection, twice reduced reparations, and transformed Germany from the pariah to the pre-eminent member of the European family of nations.’ P. Pulzer: ‘The era of Stresemann was the high noon of the Weimar Republic. Tempers dropped, political extremism subsided. In large part this was due to prosperity.’ 3. Culture. Key question: To what extent does the cultural revival in Germany during this period indicate a healthy nation?
Weimar Germany was marked by an explosion of cultural experimentation in various forms. This reflected the new optimism, democratization, and excitement of the period.
Many of the artistic achievements (for example paintings and books) chose for their subject criticisms of the Republic.
Berlin, with its lively culture and night life, became one of the most important cultural centres of Europe.
‘Mass culture’, for example film, radio, and consumerism, also developed during this period.
Prominent amongst the artists and writers and performers were Jewish people.
Many Germans were horrified by what they say as the collapse of traditional moral and cultural values. Groups were set up and strengthened by such opposition, such as the Wandervogel.
P. Pulzer: ‘To most Germans … the energy, the experimentation, the chaotic creativity which made Weimar culture the envy and Mecca of so many foreigners represented Kulturbolshewismus (cultural communism), the overturning of forms and values in a world in which too much had been overturned already. The predominant cry was in favour of … ‘’a conservative revolution’’.’