Prompt: Analyze the factors that contributed to the instability of the Weimar Republic in the period 1918-1933.
The Post-World War One era saw great fluctuation in European politics. This ranged from the fascist control in Italy under Mussolini to the Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union. Perhaps no other nation saw such a dramatic governmental fluctuation as did Germany. Germany began this time period as the staunch democracy of the Weimar Republic, but was later turned to the fascist dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. The most important overall reason for this severe change in government was the Weimar Republic’s instability. The instability of the Weimar Republic can be attributed to the fact that government did not have clear goalsor popular support, and the remaining appeal of military force and firm control among the German citizenry.
The government of the Weimar Republic operated without a single, clear goal, which significantly hurt its stability. There were many political parties whose goals directly clashed with each other. This created a situation where government was detrimentally left without a clear-cut message to the people. This political conflict can certainly be seen in the conflict between the German Democratic Party, which was and the Communist Party. Ernst Troeltsch, a part of the German Democratic Party, wrote that, “The development will not stop at democracy, and a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ will assume the form of terrorist domination by a minority” (Doc 1). The words of Troeltsch are only moderately reliable, however, because as a politician, he is likely to over exaggerate the consequences of opposition’s control. This depiction of German politics stands in stark contrast to the views of the Communist Party and member Clara Zetkin’s opinion, even though both groups were on the same side of the aisle. “The only reliable guarantee of victory over monarchist militarism is the absolutely necessary development of the proletarian revolution…” (Doc 3). Clearly, these two powerful parties’ opposite opinions on the goals of Weimar government would have left the government warring with itself instead of forming a united goal for their new government. Furthermore, this lack of unified governmental aims was backed up by the observations of author Ernst Salomon, who, on the Weimar Republic, wrote, “What we wanted we did not know” (Doc 8). This document, although it comes from a novel and thus claims may be overdramatized, shows how the government seemed unable to come up with a message of its aims. This overall lack of a plan for the government made it inherently unstable through the absence of any concrete direction for the country. This idea contributed to another point of Weimar instability as well: minimal popular support.
The German citizenry never appeared to be firmly behind the Weimar Republic, making it, as a citizen-run democracy, very unstable. Part of this minimal support stemmed from the “newness” of the government, as illustrated by writer Carl von Ossietzky. “Our republic is not yet an object of mass consciousness. It is merely a constitutional document and a governmental administration” (Doc 6). Ossietzky saw that in time, the German people would give stronger support to the Weimar government, but as it stood, they were apathetic towards it. This idea of limited public support is further backed up by Bernard, Prince von Bülow, who wrote that, “The German revolution was drearily philistine, lacking in all fire and inspiration” (Doc 9). As Chancellor of Germany, he can be seen as very credible because he was right in the thick of all the governmental change. He definitely saw the apathy of the German citizens towards the Weimar government, and certainly, a democracy cannot be stable without the support of its citizens. German citizens also lost any support they had for the government as the Great Depression hit and the government seemed unable to deal with skyrocketing unemployment and poverty. As Heinrich Mann, an author, wrote, “The economy is collapsing more or less everywhere, but only in Germany does the process achieve its maximum effect on people’s spirits” (Doc 10). It is evident, through this document, that the German people were hurt deeply by the Depression and they definitely held the government responsible for their state, thus losing the government even more popular support. This lack of support was clearly injurious to the government’s democracy.
When the people opposed Weimar’s liberalism, they gave support instead to conservative groups, creating tough opponents to the Weimar government. One specific such conservative group was the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler. Hitler boasted about the people’s support for his conservatism, saying, “In our movement today, hundreds of thousands of young men are prepared at the rick of their lives to withstand our opponents” (Doc 11). It is clear that Hitler is unreliable, though, because he would want to gain support for his party through whatever means necessary, even if it meant hyperbolizing about his support. However, he is still accurate in that the conservative Nazis were significantly powerful, as seen by the Nazi attempt to gain control of Germany in 1923, with the Beer Hall Putsch. Also, a conservative military focus was popular as well. This was true on a broader scale, with Communist support included, as seen in Document 5, with Communists as proponents of military force. On the whole, this popular conservative set of values and priorities gave real competition to the liberal Weimar Republic, thus making it much less stable in German society.
In conclusion, the Weimar Republic of Germany ultimately became a fascist government because of instability stemming from a lack of a clear plan, lack of popular support, and the competition of conservative-type values. These key weaknesses of Weimar government allowed the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler to take full control of Germany in 1933, eventually bringing all of Europe into the extremely gruesome World War Two of 1939 through 1945.