Political and Cultural History

Common Vision of the Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic is usually presented in one of two ways: first; through its culture, which was unusually permissive, allowing minority expression, including advancements in philosophy, art, film and theater which were unbounded by content laws common to other countries at the time. Secondly, it is viewed through its political failure: Historians, knowing that the Republic ended in disaster, focus on the structural problems within its government, its inflation problems, and its people’s widespread protests. These two visions do not consider fully the context that the Republic existed in: firstly, that its outward culture was unrepresentative of the majority of its people, and secondly, that it was plagued by two political parties determined to undermine it.

Weimar History

The Weimar Republic began with the collapse of the German Empire. In November 1918, a group of sailors, soldiers, workers and middle-class started simultaneous protest against the army. Sailors occupied the German City palace and ordinary Germans took to the streets of Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and removed himself to Holland. The Social-Democratic Party of Germany became the ruling party of the Weimar Republic, because it had been the only party to vote against the war. After crushing a Communist revolution, the SPD established a parliamentary democracy that lasted until 1933, when President von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Reich Chancellor.

Weimar Mistakes

The Weimar Republic was founded on principles of party plurality and democracy, and at its beginning enjoyed popular support: according to interviews of people who lived through the period, the Revolution represented a positive change in the mindset of the German people. At least for some, it meant the possibility of growth and “rebirth.” However, it made several mistakes in its establishment and later rule that, in combination with the social stresses of the times, allowed it to become destabilized.

The Republic was founded on principles of party plurality and democracy – and it experienced so much party plurality that by 1929, the Reichstag was occupied by several political parties, of which the SPD was a tiny minority. It also failed to remove the old order from power: it left the job of military restructuring to old imperial officers, who were decidedly anti-democratic. It also never removed the old barons of the Ruhr or destroyed the power of the Prussian Junker. These old forces of the Empire later conspired to use Hitler as a springboard to gain more power, and convinced von Hindenburg to make him Chancellor; an act which led to the ascension of the Nazis to the position of primacy, and the end of the Weimar Republic.