Democracy and dictatorship - Germany, 1890-1945

Germany underwent considerable change in the second half of the 19th century. The different German states had been rapidly industrialising, much like their European neighbours. Unification in 1871 and the domination of the new nation by the well-organised Prussian state ensured the process of industrialisation only increased.

Germany had also begun to establish itself as the most powerful military force in Europe. Political change did not take place as quickly as industrialisation and Germany between 1890-1914 was dominated by wealthy Prussian land owners and the Kaiser, who was himself a Prussian noble.

Defeat after the First World War led to the collapse of the old Prussian militaristic Germany and saw the rise of an open and representative democracy. The political and economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s ensured that this new government was always one disaster away from complete collapse.

The rise of the Nazi Party after 1933 is seen by many as a return to the autocracy of the Kaiser’s Germany. Others consider the rise of the Nazis a reflection of a world transformed by a brutal World War and an economic depression; a world that needed simple messages to deal with the chaos of the previous twenty years.

It is therefore useful to divide the period 1890-1945 into three phases:

  1. The growth of democracy, 1890-1929
  2. Germany and the Depression, 1929-1933
  3. Germany under the Nazis, 1933-1945