Political unrest, 1919-1923

The Weimar Republic was created at a time of confusion and chaos after Germany had lost World War One. People were starving, the Kaiser had fled and 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 challenges from the left wing (Spartacists) and right wing (Kapp Putsch)

The threat from the Left: The Spartacist Uprising

Photo of the Spartacist uprising (january uprising) in Berlin - demonstration of armed spartacists in the Jerusalemer Straße
The Spartacist uprising in Berlin - demonstration of armed spartacists in the Jerusalemer Straße

  • 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.

The threat from the Right: The Kapp Putsch

Photo showing Putschists marching with the Imperial War Flag at Pariser Platz Square.
Putschists marching with the Imperial War flag at Pariser Platz Square

  • 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.

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.
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