Democracy and the Weimar Republic

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is the form of government that has come to prevail in the majority of states at the beginning of the Twenty First Century. Democracy means ‘rule by the ’ and was first tried in some of the city-states of Ancient Greece. The essential point of democracy is that people are able to who they wish to be their rulers.

In 1919, Germany became democratic for the first time. Up until the end of the First World War, Germany had been ruled by the . Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and government passed from royal hands to an elected government known as the Weimar Republic. This was so-called because the German capital, Berlin was under the control of and the new government was forced to meet in Weimar instead.

Friedrich Ebert President of Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic was a democracy. The German people voted for Members of Parliament to represent them in Parliament (). The political party that gained a majority large enough to win votes formed the . The leader of that party became the Prime Minister () and ministerial posts were given to other prominent members of the party. To keep a check on the actions of the new government, a head of state () was elected. This person did not run Germany on a day to day basis that was the Chancellor’s job. The relationship between Chancellor and President was similar to the relationship between Monarch and Prime Minister in the UK today. In 1933 Hitler took both positions (President and Chancellor) illegally, and gave himself the title of .

Weimar Constitution
The Weimar Republic faced many problems. One of the worst was the fact that German political parties found it difficult to win enough to gain an overall majority in the Reichstag. This meant that whenever there was a vote, to pass a new law for instance, no single political party had enough MPs to push a law through on its own. The Weimar Republic had too many political parties representing relatively small sections of the . What was needed were fewer parties with widespread appeal so that one could get enough support to form a strong government that could pass laws and make changes to the benefit of the German people. The solution to this problem was for political parties to make i.e. share power. The problem was that these coalitions were often temporary and they found it difficult to agree.

Another problem was that the Weimar Republic was generally blamed for surrendering in 1918 and signing the Treaty of . Many political extremists, particularly the right-wing groups such as the Nazis, picked up this theme. Germany had no of democracy in 1919 and there was no reason to suggest at this point that it would survive for long. The Weimar Republic faced serious competition from Communist, left-wing revolts in major cities such as Berlin and from right-wing, paramilitary groups such as the who were supported by wandering bands of ex-servicemen called . To compound the mess Germany faced severe difficulties that made many ordinary Germans look to strong extremist groups to solve Germany’s problems rather than to the relatively weak, but moderate and democratic Weimar Republic.

Despite these difficulties, the Weimar Republic began to enjoy some success under Gustav who dominated it from 1923-1929. However, democracy in Germany was far too weak to survive the mortal blow that was inflicted by the world-wide economic depression that was caused by the Wall St. Crash of . Germany suffered badly and by 1933, many Germans were prepared to the Nazis even if it meant an end to democracy.

Democracy had triumphed in 1918. By 1939 there were very few democracies left in Europe and the rest of the world. Communists and fascists had delivered credible alternatives and democracy was viewed as weak and out-dated by many. The dark days of the mid-century crisis seemed to indicate that democracy had failed and would be swept away. Nevertheless democracy survived and by the end of the century it had become the political ideal once more.