Is a vote necessary to save democracy?

Weimar Republic

Reinhard Sturm

To person

born 1950, studied history, political science and English from 1971 to 1978 at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. In 1973/74 he worked for a year as a German Assistant at a school in England. After his preparatory service in Salzgitter from 1978 to 1980, he worked as a high school teacher in Göttingen until 1990, and since then in Hildesheim. Since 1990, he has been training prospective history teachers for teaching at grammar schools as the director of studies and subject manager for history at the Hildesheim study seminar. He has published academic and didactic articles on the history of the labor movement, the Weimar Republic, National Socialism and German post-war history as well as history didactics.

Contact: »[email protected]«

The stock market crash heralds the end of the Weimar Republic. Still a splinter party in 1928, the NSDAP changed under the leadership of Adolf Hitler into a mass movement that took power in Germany in 1933 and from then on destroyed all democratic foundations.

On the "Day of Potsdam" the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler reads out the Reichstag message. (& copy AP)

Economic crisis

On October 24, 1929, a dramatic decline in share prices began on the New York Stock Exchange ("Black Friday"). The cause was years of overinvestment in industry and thus an oversupply of goods with which demand had not kept pace. Due to the international financial and economic ties, the American crisis quickly expanded into the greatest crisis in the world economy of the 20th century. It by no means caused the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933, but it made it possible and accelerated it.

Data on the economic crisis in the Weimar Republic.
After the USA, the German Reich was hardest hit by the crisis. Despite a decline in demand, which had already been announced in 1928, the industry had still invested in 1929. This created overcapacities, especially since all industrialized countries soon raised the existing tariff barriers in the wake of the crisis. The oversupply of goods led to a reduction in production; Short-time work and layoffs as well as company failures were the result. From 1928 to 1931 the number of annual bankruptcies doubled. In the winter of 1929/30 there were already more than three million unemployed who were financially far less secure than they are today. A vicious circle arose of diminishing purchasing power, falling demand, falling production and further layoffs. In agriculture, many small and medium-sized farmers could no longer pay off their debts. There were foreclosures against which a desperate peasant protest was formed. As early as 1929, the Schleswig-Holstein "rural people movement" appeared through physical attacks on bailiffs and police officers as well as bomb attacks on government buildings.

Break of the grand coalition

Mass unemployment quickly overwhelmed the unemployment insurance funds. In the government there was a persistent, bitter coalition dispute over the solution to the problem, which was only briefly interrupted by the joint adoption of the Young Plan on March 12th. In essence, the question was: Should the contributions from employers and employees be increased or the benefits for the unemployed reduced? The industry-oriented DVP wanted to avoid additional costs for employers as a result of increased contributions. The SPD workers' party refused to cut unemployment benefits, which were already low. After several unsuccessful solutions, the center parliamentary group leader Heinrich Brüning finally submitted a compromise proposal on March 27, 1930, which temporarily postponed the main decision - increase in contributions or reductions in benefits. The DVP agreed, while the SPD refused, because they saw the substance of the welfare state in jeopardy with the unemployment insurance. On March 27, 1930, the only thing left for the Müller cabinet to do was resign. Apparently, the grand coalition was broken because of the immobility of the SPD in an essentially resolvable issue. However, when Hindenburg appointed the new Chancellor - Heinrich Brüning - just three days later, without the usual coalition negotiations, the conclusion was that the break of the grand coalition was based on long-term planning, which the SPD had, however, accommodated with its uncompromising stance. Your previous coalition partners must have been inaugurated, because Brüning only replaced the three SPD ministers with representatives of small conservative parties and the moderate wing of the German Nationalists, which split off from the DNVP at the end of July as the "Conservative People's Party" (KVP). The willingness of the DDP to work in the Brüning cabinet and soon afterwards its merger with the anti-Semitic "Young German Order" to form the "German State Party" in July 1930 revealed the right-wing trend among left-wing liberals as well.

Transition to the presidential regime

The Briining government did not have a majority. How the Chancellor intended to enforce his policy anyway, he informed the Reichstag on April 1, 1930 in his government statement: His cabinet - so loud Hindenburg's mandate - was "not tied to a coalition" and would be "the last attempt to find a solution with it To carry out the Reichstag ". Accordingly, the new government wanted to work without and against parliament if necessary, with the help of the power of the Reich President: emergency ordinances under Article 48 WV and dissolution of the Reichstag under Article 25 WV. It saw itself as the "Presidential Cabinet" or the "Hindenburg Government". Besides Hindenburg, his advisers Schleicher and Meissner and - besides Brüning - the parliamentary group leaders in the Reichstag Ernst Scholz (DVP) and Count Westarp (DNVP) were involved in the explorations and planning for this authoritarian mode of government, which is not provided for in the constitution. According to his memoirs, Brüning learned from Schleicher shortly after Easter 1929 that the Reich President saw the danger "that the entire domestic and foreign policy would run its course". He therefore wanted to "send Parliament home for a while at the given moment and during this time, with the help of Article 48, put the matter in order". Briining also reports that Schleicher and he had agreed at the time on the goal of reintroducing the monarchy; however, some historians consider this to be an afterthought of self-stylization. According to Meissner's recollections, at the end of December 1929, Hindenburg had Brüning informed that he should make himself available for the office of Reich Chancellor. The respected conservative was seen by the Reich President as a figure of integration that could possibly even be placed with the SPD. From the notes of Count Westarp of January 15, 1930, Hindenburg's guidelines for the Brüning government emerge: "a) anti-parliamentary, i.e. without coalition negotiations and agreements, b) anti-Marxist [...]" (i.e. without the SPD); "c) Change in Prussia [...]" with the help of the center - the Weimar coalition ruling in Prussia should also be broken up. In parallel to these plans, business circles increasingly influenced the industry-related DVP under its chairman Ernst Scholz in order to achieve its exit from the grand coalition. In December 1929 the Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie (RDI) demanded in a memorandum with the title "Rise or decline?" Tax relief for entrepreneurs, abolition of compulsory arbitration, reduction of government expenditure and reform of unemployment insurance through "savings measures, but not through increased contributions". The DVP adopted this anti-SPD and anti-union course. On February 5, 1930, Erich von Gilsa, a member of the DVP, wrote to Paul Reusch, chairman of the Association of German Steel Manufacturers, in confidence that Scholz wanted to "consciously work towards a break with social democracy". The break of the grand coalition thus occurred in the interplay of influential representatives of authoritarian political - if not monarchist - aspirations and economic interests. Against this background, Brüning's mediation proposal of March 27, 1930 appears in a different light: the future Chancellor intended the grand coalition "to be put to shame in public because of the uncompromising nature of the SPD and not because of the intransigence of the upcoming coalition partner DVP" (Volker Hentschel ).