- What does General Ludendorff's notion of a "stab-in-the-back" refer to? Discuss the political implications of this theory for the newly founded Weimar Republic in 1919. You should take into account both the relationship between civil government and the military command and the public's perception of the republic and the lost war.
Lesson Essay . 1. What does General Ludendorff's notion of a "stab-in-the-back" refer to? Discuss the political implications of this theory for the newly founded Weimar Republic in 1919. You should take into account both the relationship between civil government and the military command and the public's perception of the republic and the lost war. Reading Assignment · Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History by Jackson J. Spielvogel, 7th Ed., pp. 30–69 and 107–112 · A Concise History of Germany by Mary Fulbrook, pp. 155–187 Commentary The First World War We have already briefly touched upon the multiple factors that led to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Chief among them was the widespread imperialist ambitions of the major European nations at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Since Germany developed its industrial power relatively late, it felt left behind in comparison with the other powers, notably France and Britain, which had already built huge imperialist empires in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Americas. Demanding its own "place under the sun," as the German Emperor Wilhelm II put it, Germany rapidly increased its military and economic presence in other parts of the world and established colonies in southwest Africa, China, and the Pacific islands, among others. Compared with the strong sense of competition among European powers around 1914, the assassination of Grand Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Serbia, generally considered the "actual" cause of the war, was merely the final straw that unleashed the storm that had been building for decades. The war itself was enthusiastically embraced by most peoples in Europe, with only a few critical voices in the beginning. This changed later on, particularly after it had become clear in 1916 that the war could not be won as easily as each nation had hoped. The central powers (comprising Germany and Austria together with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) made quick advances against Russia and the Serbs in the east. Most importantly, Germany succeeded in smuggling the great revolutionary Lenin into czarist Russia in 1916, and thus helped unleash the Bolshevik October Revolution in Russia in 1917. After the revolution, Germany secured a gain of territory (including Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, and some regions in the Caucasus) by signing the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. In the west, however, things looked completely different. Germany had violated Belgian neutrality when it followed the so-called Schliefenplan (worked out by General Schliefen). The basic idea had been to attack France from the north in order to avoid the strong French fortifications along Germany's western border. To do so, however, required German troops to march through neutral Belgium, and this, in turn, caused Great Britain to join the war against the central powers. In 1917, Germany would again commit a similar error by declaring unrestricted submarine warfare. This policy was directly responsible for the destruction of the American luxury liner Lusitania, causing the Americans to join the war on the Allied side as well. After some initial advances into France, the Germans were stopped in eastern France and bogged down in trench warfare that led to a complete stalemate lasting almost three years. At home, the pressure on the German High Military Command (Oberste Heeresleitung) consisting of the two leading generals, Ludendorff and von Hindenburg, grew stronger, particularly after the bad harvest in 1916 and 1917 led to a famine in many parts of Germany. The social democrats in particular were pushing for peace initiatives, yet von Hindenburg and Ludendorff successfully ruled over both the emperor and the German parliament. Insisting on continuing the fight, Ludendorff and von Hindenburg also helped block an initiative from the Pope to end the war. The only hope was to force a decision prior to arrival of American troops in 1918. Hence, Ludendorff ordered another huge offensive against French and British troops in March of 1918. The Germans reached the Marne River, yet lost half a million soldiers before they were pushed back by an Allied counterattack in the summer. In September of 1918, von Hindenburg finally admitted that the war was lost. Austria collapsed as well. The German emperor abdicated and fled the country, living the remainder of his life in Holland. The military ceded control back to the civil government, and a socialist revolution was proclaimed in various parts of Germany (Kiel, Munich, and Berlin) in November of 1918. The Founding of the Weimar Republic The time immediately after the war was characterized by socio-political chaos throughout Germany, which slowly dissipated with the creation of the Weimar Republic. Elections were held on January 19, 1919, and the socialists emerged as the biggest party amidst a plethora of smaller ones. The socialist Friedrich Ebert was declared president of the Reich (Reichspräsident) and hence had to represent Germany on the international scene. The Treaty of Versailles, which Germany was not invited to draft but had to sign in toto in June of 1919, led to a significant reduction of Germany's territory and the demilitarization of the Rhineland. Allied troops were to occupy many areas. Since Germany was considered solely responsible for the war, it had to pay enormous war reparations to the winning parties (thirty-three billion dollars in war reparations and indemnities over a period of seventy years). The treaty was enormously unpopular in Germany, in no small part because it impinged extensively on internal German sovereignty. Moreover, it was drafted and signed in the same Hall of Mirrors in Versailles (France) where several decades earlier the Second German Reich had been pronounced after the successful war against France in 1871. This symbolic humiliation of Germany remained a considerable burden of the newly founded republic throughout its short existence (until 1933), particularly because the military, having been solely responsible for losing the war, was quick to blame the republic for what they called Germany's "dishonor." In his famous "stab-in-the-back" theory (Dolchstosslegende), General Ludendorff claimed that the German army had been defeated not by the enemy but by the revolutionary forces inside Germany who crept up and killed them from behind. (One must not forget that at the time of Germany's surrender, its troops were still stationed in Belgium and France; none of the fighting had taken place on German soil.) Although this was a complete fabrication, it proved to be an enormously powerful myth that allowed Germans to maintain their illusions of grandeur by blaming the disliked republic for all that had gone wrong with the war and its aftermath. Because the Weimar Republic was born out of chaos, it remained an emergency solution rather than a desired political development. It represented an impossible compromise between reactionary and revolutionary forces in Germany, between those who criticized private ownership and those who defended it, between detractors and advocates of the church, between forces who argued for a strong central government and those who supported the federalist tradition of Germany. There simply had not been enough time to work out a compromise and to allow the population to identify with the democratic principles of the new republic. Rather, Germany remained steeped in undemocratic traditions and structures in the areas of administration, economy, and education. Given this constellation of forces, it was hardly surprising to see the Weimar Republic attacked from all sides. When the communist Spartacus movement rose up again in Berlin in January of 1919, President Ebert did not hesitate to crush the revolt with the help of the official German army, a policy he repeated again later in April of that year against the proclamation of a communist government in Bavaria. One year later, Ebert had to defend the republic again, this time against forces from the right during the so-called Kapp-Putsch in March 1920. The East Prussian landowner Wolfgang Kapp, founder of the Vaterlandspartei (Homeland-Party), and his associates Hermann Ehrhardt, leader of the powerful Ehrhard Freicorps ("marine brigade"—a quasi-private, para-military group), and General Ludendorff, who had returned from his Swedish exile, marched together into Berlin, demanding new elections and resistance against the Versailles Treaty. The putsch ultimately failed because of the refusal of the Reichswehr to cooperate and because of a general labor strike called by German trade unions and the government. Things continued to deteriorate in the early years of the republic. Several members of the government were murdered by reactionary forces (Erzberger in 1921 and Rathenau in 1922), and although Germany had been able to stop paying reparations to Russia after signing the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922, it could not keep up its payments to France and Great Britain. In January of 1923, French forces occupied the Ruhrgebiet (the mineral-rich western area of Germany) in an effort to control production and increase payments. Although the French did not succeed because of the passive resistance and non-cooperation policy of German workers, they remained in the Rhineland until July of 1925. Due to reparations, the devaluation of German currency started in 1922 and increased drastically until a new currency was introduced in November of 1923. The years between 1924 and 1929, by contrast, inaugurated a time of economic and political recovery and led to what has become known as the period of "the roaring twenties." This period was marked by a cultural blossoming in literature and the arts along with the advance of American culture, above all in the areas of music (jazz) and sports. Economically, this stabilization was made possible by the Dawes Plan brokered by the American finance expert Charles Dawes. The plan both lowered German payments and provided significant credits so that Germany could pay its war reparations. The Treaty of Locarno, in 1925, secured the western borders of Germany, and the gradual process of reintegrating Germany into the world community led to the withdrawal of the international occupation forces in the Rhine area and to Germany's admission into the newly founded League of Nations (the equivalent of today's United Nations) in 1926. However, this time of relative stability did not last long. It ended abruptly with the stock-market crash of 1929 and the increasing internal destabilization of Germany until Hitler's seizure of power in 1933. The Rise of the Nazi Party Adolf Hitler experienced the end of World War I as a common soldier in a hospital recovering from his wounds. Although a decorated war veteran, he was not able to join the reestablished German army after the war, whose size had been limited by the Treaty of Versailles to only 100,000 soldiers. Instead, he worked as an undercover informant for the army in Munich. There, he began his political career as a gifted speaker in the various beer halls and, with six other members, formed the German Workers' Party (or DAP, Deutsche Arbeiter Partei) in 1920. At the time, the DAP was only one of many right-wing groups in Weimar that promoted a voelkisch, national-socialist agenda. Hitler was the propaganda chairman of the party due to his considerable skill as a public speaker. During the inaugural meeting of the DAP, Hitler was able to attract and excite several thousand people with a twenty-five point program that lashed out against capitalism, democracy, and the Jews in particular. The name of the party was later changed to NSDAP (National-Socialist German Workers' Party) to emphasize both its national and socialist program. Repeatedly threatening to withdraw from the party, Hitler was able to reorganize the program and establish himself as the party's leader in 1921. That same year, the NSDAP also formed the SA (Sturmabteilung or Storm Troops). Originally conceived as a sports group of the party, the SA was soon increasingly used as a quasi-military gang charged with providing security during the party's meetings and Hitler's speeches. One must add that other parties (notably the communists, but also the more liberal or centrist parties) likewise featured their own private corps, a result of the limited size of the official German army and the lack of civil jobs and other forms of employment in the post-war years. Nonetheless, the SA soon emerged as one of the most brutal and powerful military forces in the Weimar Republic. Already in 1923, it included 15,000 members; by 1929, it had a strength of 100,000 men and was thus as big as the official German army; in 1932, it had grown to 400,000 members. Membership in the NSDAP grew just as quickly, from 2,000 in 1920 to 55,000 in 1923, 180,000 in 1929, and 450,000 in 1932, making the NSDAP the strongest party in the election of July 1932. The social make-up of the NSDAP during the early 1920s, including the SA, was mixed. In spite of its reference to the socialist working members, only about thirty-six percent of the party included workers, which were thus underrepresented, because workers represented more than forty percent of the total German population. By contrast, the upper class with twelve percent membership was overrepresented in comparison with the three percent it constituted nationwide. Likewise overrepresented was the lower middle class at fifty-two percent (consisting of small businessmen, small-town and rural merchants, craftsmen, office clerks, and lower civil servants and civil employees), who comprised forty-three percent of the population nationwide. The latter group in particular was attracted by the party's anti-Semitism, because they blamed the Jews for their own private business problems and the economic woes of Germany at large. The Beer-Hall-Putsch and Mein Kampf By 1923, Hitler had become head of the "fight group" (Kampfbund), an organization for right-wing military groups such as the SA. From then on, he sought to rally support for an overthrow of the republic, and when conflicts escalated between the social-democratic government in Berlin and the local Bavarian right-wing government in Munich in November of