Political unrest in Weimar Germany, 1918-1924

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Learn about the political unrest that faced the Weimar Republic, 1919-1923.

This lesson includes:

  • Two videos focusing on the problems facing the Weimar Republic

  • Two revision activities

Learn

Defeat in 1918 led to the Kaiser’s abdication, a republic and a new constitution. The new Germany faced huge problems up to 1924, not least those caused by its punishment in the Treaty of Versailles.

Watch the video below to discover the main challenges facing the newly established Weimar Republic.

The challenges faces by the Weimar government.

The Weimar Republic was created at a time of confusion and chaos after Germany had lost World War One. The new Republic got off to a troubled start for two reasons:

  • Many Germans hated the government for signing the armistice in November 1918 - they called them the November criminals. The defeat in the war came as a huge surprise to the German people, which led to a theory that the brave German army had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the politicians.

  • Many Germans felt their country had received a very harsh deal in the Treaty of Versailles. They resented the government for agreeing to its conditions and signing it, even though they were forced to by the Allies.

The Weimar Republic's unpopularity meant it faced violent uprisings from both sides of the political spectrum during 1919 and 1920.

The Weimar Republic faced violent uprisings from both sides of the political spectrum.

The threat from the Left: The Spartacist Uprising

  • During 5 – 12 January 1919, 50,000 members of the post-World War One Communist Party, known as the Spartacists, rebelled in Berlin, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
  • The government was saved when it armed bands of ex-soldiers, known as the Freikorps, who defeated the Spartacist rebels.
  • In the aftermath, communist workers' councils seized power all over Germany, and a Communist People's Government took power in Bavaria.
  • By May 1919 the Freikorps had crushed all of these uprisings.
Photo of the Spartacist uprising (January uprising) in Berlin.

The threat from the Right: The Kapp Putsch

  • In crushing the communists the Freikorps had saved the government, but the terms of the Treaty of Versailles meant Germany’s army had to be significantly reduced and the Freikorps had to be disbanded.
  • During 13 - 17 March 1920, as a reaction to this, the right-wing nationalist, Dr Wolfgang Kapp led a Freikorps takeover in Berlin.
  • The regular army refused to attack the Freikorps; Kapp was only defeated when the workers of Berlin went on strike and refused to cooperate with him.
Photo showing Putschists marching with the Imperial War Flag at Pariser Platz Square.

Other violence

  • Nationalist terrorists assassinated 356 government politicians in the early years of the Republic, including Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister, and Matthias Erzberger who had been finance minister. Judges in their trials, many of whom preferred the Kaiser's government, consistently gave these terrorists light sentences, or let them go free.

Rebellions during the hyperinflation crisis

Unsurprisingly, the hardships of 1923 led to many uprisings as groups struggled to take power from the government.

  • A nationalist group called Black Reichswehr rebelled in September.
  • Communists took over the governments of Saxony and Thuringia in October.
  • Communists also took over the Rhineland and declared it independent in the same month.
  • A newly-formed fascist group called the Nazis attempted a putsch in Munich in November. This event brought Hitler to national prominence after he was jailed for nine months for his part in the attempted coup.

You can read more about hyperinflation here

Now for a recap, watch the clip below to revise the challenges facing the Weimar Republic.

Challenges facing the Weimar Republic.

Practise

There are lots of ways to revise and test your knowledge on Weimar Germany.

Here are a few you could try.

Activity 1

Glossary

Create a glossary (a list) of the key historical terms introduced in this guide. Here are a few to get you started:

  • The Spartacist Uprising
  • The Freikorps
  • The Kapp Putsch

Activity 2

Gustav Stresemann was a key leader during the Weimar Republic. Download this worksheet from Twinkl and, using the key to the code, decode information about Stresemann's life.

Who was Gustav Stresemann?

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources from around the BBC and the web.

Bitesize Daily lessons
Germany: The Weimar Republic, 1919–1924
BBC Teach - World War Two