|To what extent was the economic crisis, the overriding reason behind the fall of the Weimar republic? Explain your answer.
The economic crisis was not a huge factor behind the fall of the Weimar republic. It did not greatly impact the fall of Weimar government as there were other factors that actually posed a greater impact on the government such as Hitler’s strengths and the weaknesses of the parliamentary system. Hitler’s strength of good leadership skills and excellent speaker was actually the most important factor that caused the fall of the Weimar Republic. His ability to manipulate the Weimar government and taking advantage of the unique economic crisis is the overriding reason behind the fall of the Weimar Republic.
The economic crisis, which refers to the Great Depression in 1929, was a factor to the fall of the Weimar as they could not improve the living conditions of the people. The Great Depression showed that the German economic growth was unsustainable. Germany was already close to bankruptcy after huge military expenses for the war. Germans had to put up with the hyper-inflation, from 20 marks required in exchange for a pound, increasing to 21 000 000 000 marks for a pound. 1 Many workers, had to spend their money immediately as the inflation was so drastic that the cash will be worth nothing the following day. The economic downturn hit the middle class the worst as they only hold small capitals. The working class was also badly hit as less jobs were available. From this, we see how the Weimar Government loses its middle and working class by not being able to provide them with a stable economy and food.
With the Great Depression, people were out of jobs and those who lost their savings began to look towards the Nazis for improvement due to their unique economic policies. Many Germans were left unemployed and hungry. Thus, it stirred much dissatisfaction in the community towards the Weimar Government as they were not able to keep their voters happy, especially the lower classes and created an advantage for the Nazis.
The Great Depression forced the Germans to rethink whether the Weimar Government can lead and protect Germany and therefore radicalises them as the people become desperate for a change. This allowed Hitler to rise a little as people would choose any other alternative to replace the Weimar Government.
The weaknesses of the Weimar Government were also a factor contributing to the fall of the Weimar Government. Firstly, the parliamentary system itself was weak. This was due to Germany adopting a proportional representation. This allowed many political parties to gain seats in the Reichstag, however, no political dominance in the government is allowed. With this, the government will be a mix of the right and left sides. This would usually spark arguments to decide one thing and therefore, taking a long time for decision. With this, the governments were very short lived. This allowed the lost of many supporters as it didn’t give the people the sense of safety in Germany.
Secondly, the Weimar Government could not oppress the violence in the country. For example, in 1919, there were frequent communists revolts and as the government was too busy suppressing riots and attempts to overthrow the government, they usually used the freikorps to suppress the communists. This also made the government look terribly weak as they could not keep order in the country and therefore, losing some voters due to not being able to give a sense of safety to the people.
Thirdly, the Weimar government could not solve the economic crisis. To make it worse, the Weimar Government actually contributed to the Great Depression in Germany itself. This was because of the supposed ‘Golden Age’ of Germany. The government under, Gustav Streeseman, made Germany reliant on America’s loans. This caused their economy to be unstable though an illusion that it was thriving was seen by the people. When Great Depression spread, the economy spiralled down again which lost even more supporters/voters as it was the second time it spiralled and made the Weimar look weak and unable to solve problems thus losing the trust of the people.
Fourthly, the abuse of the article 48 in the government. Article 48 of the constitution allowed the President to suspend the constitution and rule by decree. Also, he could retain the Chancellor if he did not have the support of the Reichstag. As the Weimar government could not agree on policies with which to govern Germany, this led to the president resorting to Article 48. Under President Bruning, in 1930 onwards, he abused the use of article 48 and took control of Germany. The results were disastrous and with the president holding all the power, the Weimar Republic ceased to exist but only a presidential dictatorship existed. This shows how fragile the Weimar Government was and the honesty of the people in it. This therefore makes the people of Germany apprehensive to vote in the Weimar government and lead to its eventual fall as people did not trust them anymore and seek an alternative and radicalises them as they want a government that can provide them with the feeling of security.
Hitler’s strengths was the key factor that led to the downfall of the Weimar government. Firstly, his unique economic policy attracted a lot of attention during the Great Depression. When the Wall Street crashed, what he offered to the people seemed to be an attractive alternative rather than the republic. The Nazis offered national unity, prosperity and full employment. With his plans to expand in military, there would be more jobs and at that time, people would be desperate to have a job which the Nazis could give them. Another objective of the Hitler’s foreign policy was also to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles, which was very unpopular with most Germans. The Germans was very upset with the Weimar government for signing the Treaty of Versailles and this made the Nazis even more popular. Hence, with Hitler’s foreign policy, Germany could expand their economy as well as elevate the standing of the nation.
Secondly, Hitler had extraordinary political abilities. He had a remarkable gift for public speaking, which helped him tremendously to get Germans’ attention and convince them of what he could do. He knew how to use words and get people to do what he wanted. He did not order people around with force but told them what could happen if they did not join him. With the support of the people, he would be able to get more votes to become the ruling party. With his manipulative skills, he became Chancellor and had successfully sealed away Weimar’s powers all for himself. Von Papen had recognized Hitler’s popularity with the people and he thought to himself that he could control Hitler and make him into his puppet. Hence, he supported Hitler and voiced out to Hindenburg that he could be a Chancellor. Hence, he got the position of Chancellor and that helped him a great deal. As Hitler was a manipulative person, instead, Von Papen could not control him and he actually manipulated the Weimar government to accept the Enabling Act in parliament and he took this chance to destroy the republic.
Hence, Hitler was the overriding reason of the fall of the republic and not the great depression. Hitler actually took advantage of the situation, such as the Great Depression itself to gain power and support by undermining the Weimar government. His manipulative skills had been used so well that he could become a chancellor, and also used the Enabling Act successfully. Because of the weakness of the Weimar government, Hitler had easily abused his powers as Chancellor to be a ruling party. He put in place a dictatorship and destroyed democracy in Germany and led to the fall of the Weimar Republic.
-Lowe, N. (2008) Mastering Modern World History (4th edition). New York: Palgrave Macmillian.
-The Historic Times, http://the-historic-times.wikispaces.com