D.4. CHRONOLOGY, 1920-1929
(The following calendar should summarize the most important events
during the middle years of the Weimar Republic. Sorry for not writing
Kapp Putsch, March 1920; causes general strike and left-wing
Reichstag elections, 6 June 1920. Vast gains for the anti-democratic
parties. Coalition of SPD, DDP, and Center loses majority.
Grudgingly the new German government, led by the Center, the DDP, and
the DVP, embarks of a policy of fulfillment. By trying to fulfill the
conditions of Versailles, the government wants to show that this is
impossible. Radical German nationalists, however, interpret the policy
of fulfillment as a betrayal. Some vow to kill all politicians
associated with it.
War between Polish units and German Free Corps in Upper Silesia.
Plebiscite, March 1921. German public is outraged because the drawing
of voting districts by the Allies favors Poland.
Left-wing uprisings in Saxony and Thuringia, spring 1921. Repression
through the army and Free Corps.
Fixation of German reparations by allied conferences and
determination of a schedule of payments in London (April and June
Assassination of Matthias Erzberger, the former finance minister, by
a right-wing terrorist, August 1921.
Treaty of Rapallo between Germany and the Soviet Union: April 1922.
Economic cooperation. Secret military understandings are already in the
making. German government tries to make the western powers more willing
to make concessions in the reparation question and to stifle possible
Russian claims on Germany, but the Treaty of Rapallo antagonizes the
west without bringing tangible gains. It is nevertheless very popular
in Germany because it looks like an independent and self-assertive
Assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau by a
group of right-wing terrorists, June 1922. Anti-Semitism, hatred of the
Republic, and resentment against the policy of fulfillment conducted by
Rathenau are the motives.
In reaction to the Rathenau murder: Reichstag issues Laws for
the Protection of the Republic, July 1922; exacerbates conflict
between the Reich Government in Berlin and Bavaria. Bavaria, having
lost most of the autonomy that Bismarck had granted it in 1871, fears
further intrusions by the central government in Berlin. Political
difference also plays a role: the Bavarian government stands far more
to the right than the Reich Government in Berlin.
Due to a delay in the payment of German reparations, French and
Belgian forces occupy the Ruhr district and other areas right of the
Rhine in January. Ruhr occupation triggers national outrage at
France in all of Germany; temporary national unity.
Britain condemns the Ruhr occupation.
In reaction to the Ruhr occupation, the German government declares passive
resistance (a gigantic, state-sponsored mass strike in the occupied
areas), which fans hyperinflation, since the government in Berlin pays
the strikers in the Ruhr. Having no monetary reserves left, the
government resorts to the printing press, thus destroying the currency,
which had lost value already since 1914 (effect of huge wartime deficit
spending). The hyperinflation wipes out all middle-class
savings and has catastrophic social effects in 1923.
German sabotage. Bloody clashes in the occupied territories. France
tries to set up separatist governments in West Germany.
At this time of renewed hostility, efforts for secret German
rearmament intensify. Rightist paramilitary groups receive military
help from the army (formation of secret units, the “Black Reichswehr”).
The Inter-Allied Military Control Commission stops its missions in the
face of popular outrage. Resumes controls only in the summer of 1924.
As the catastrophic economic consequences of passive resistance
become more visible, separatism and particularism intensify, especially
in Bavaria. Radical unrest also grows. The rearming rightist bands
start planning to overthrow the Republic, should it give up resistance
to France. The Communists intensify their own preparations for a
putsch. They hope to strike a decisive blow in October 1923 (“Red
October”), six years after the successful Russian Revolution.
In the growing crisis, a grand coalition from SPD to DVP is formed
under Gustav Stresemann, the DVP’s chairman (August to November
1923). After hesitating for several weeks, Stresemann breaks off
passive resistance on 26 September 1923. President Ebert declares a
national state of emergency in order to deal with the expected unrest
following Stresemann’s decision.
Bavarian right-wing activism, virulent, well-armed, and politically
radical, is the first to challenge the Republic. In order to check the
most militant rightists in Bavaria (including the Nazis), the Bavarian
government forms an emergency government, practically a dictatorship,
under the more moderate rightist Gustav von Kahr. Bavaria also
moves toward greater autonomy from Berlin.
Buchrucker Putsch, 1 October 1923. Attempt of some military
units from the Black Reichswehr to transform the passive resistance
into an active war against France and to overthrow the democratic
government. Fails immediately because the rest of the army does not
In Saxony and Thuringia leftist governments including the SPD and
KPD are formed. The communists build up their own paramilitary
formations (“red hundreds”).
Culmination of rightist quasi-legal putschism. Army leaders,
businessmen, and conservatives seek to take power and establish a
dictatorship through intrigue, while avoiding the risks of an open
putsch. Tirpitz is a key figure in these efforts.
The German army deposes the leftist governments of Saxony and
Thuringia (late October/early November 1923). The SPD, outraged because
no similar step is considered against Kahr’s (even more) refractory
Bavaria, leaves the national government. A minority coalition continues
in office under Stresemann.
Inflation reaches record heights in November: 1 US dollar=4 Trillion
marks. Germans see hyperinflation not only as an economic catastrophe
but also as an expression of a huge moral crisis.
Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch, Munich, 8/9 Nov. 1923. The Nazis,
still a party with no significant base outside Bavaria, feel that the
culmination of the crisis is near and hope to seize power in Germany
through a march on Berlin. They are inspired by similar examples of
takeovers by radicals who had assembled forces in the provinces and
then seized power by marching on the capital (Mussolini’s march on Rome
in October 1922; Turkish revolution in 1922). The Nazis occupy a beer
hall and force the Kahr government to consent to march on Berlin with
all Nazi and other right-wing paramilitary bands. Kahr pretends to
support the enterprise but deserts Hitler in the night. When Hitler and
Ludendorff seek to save the putsch by marching through the center of
Munich the next day, Kahr’s Bavarian police units shoot at the
putschists. Hitler is wounded, escapes, but gets caught and imprisoned
a day later. Although the putsch is a total failure, Hitler gains
prestige on the right by at least trying to overthrow Weimar (and
Versailles). See a detailed account of the Hitler-Putsch.
Ebert reacts to the Hitler Putsch by giving General Seeckt,
the chief of the army, emergency powers.
The Stresemann government achieves currency stabilization, 15
November 1923. A strict revaluation of the mark puts it on a stable
foundation. Revaluation, carried out by emergency decrees, is a small
miracle, but it hits hard and leaves a lasting hatred of the Weimar
Republic among the middle classes. Slow economic normalization follows.
As Foreign Minister in a new (minority) cabinet under Center
politician Marx (formed in the end of November), Stresemann
seeks reconciliation and international agreement. Hopes thus to win
better recognition for Germany and to revise Versailles peacefully. The
British ambassador in Berlin speaks full of admiration about the
Republic mastering so many crises during this horrible year. But the
social and political legacy of hyperinflation is depressing and has
A severe financial crisis breaks out in France in January; makes
France more dependent upon American capital and more willing to find a
cooperative solution to the reparations problem (rather than extraction
reparations alone and through violence).
Hitler Trial, February to April 1924. Hitler receives a
five-year prison term, of which he serves only one year. Ludendorff
acquitted. In prison, Hitler writes the first volume of his
autobiography/political program, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
New settlement for German reparations, offering lower yearly
payments and American loans to Germany: Dawes Plan, proposed in
April 1924, ratified in August. American loans to Germany are supposed
to restart the German economy, so that Germany will be able to pay
reparations to France and Britain, which in turn can start paying off
their war debts to the United States.
Reichstag elections in May 1924 reflect the intense anger left by
the chaotic preceding year. Radicals on the left and right make massive
gains. DNVP (right-wing nationalists, against democracy) becomes
strongest party. SPD and the middle parties loose. A radical rightist
party (successor to the dissolved and illegal Nazi party) under
Ludendorff emerges and wins about 6%. The minority cabinet under Marx
and Stresemann continues to govern, as no majority in the polarized
Reichstag can be found.
Political stabilization continues slowly despite much
anti-republican resentment. The influx of American credits secures a
phase of relative, though unsound and deceptive, prosperity over the
next few years.
New Reichstag elections in December 1924 benefit the moderate
parties. The SPD wins a lot of votes but prefers to remain in the
opposition. The KPD remains strong despite some losses. The Nazi
radicals under Ludendorff suffer a catastrophic defeat and are nearly
wiped out. The centrist minority coalition now includes the rightist
DNVP, which gives it a majority. Former Finance Minister Hans Luther
(without party affiliation) becomes chancellor. The DNVP has a
pragmatic wing, which supports Stresemann temporarily for economic
reasons. But the right wing of the party resents participation in
government and does everything to torpedo Stresemann. Tirpitz becomes a
key figure in the DNVP’s anti-Stresemann group.
After his amazingly early release from the prison, Hitler
reorganizes his party and starts to expand it to the rest of Germany.
In all elections until 1929, however, the NSDAP remains a splinter
Stresemann continues to work for reconciliation and international
agreement. Finds congenial partners in France (Aristide Briand)
and Britain (Austen Chamberlain).
Presidential elections after Ebert’s death in office. After an
intrigue masterminded by Tirpitz, Hindenburg runs and wins second
ballot against former chancellor Marx (April). Once Tirpitz’s hopes to
manipulate the president fail, however, rightists feel ambivalent about
Hindenburg’s presidency. They fear that the monarchist war hero as head
of state will increase the prestige and legitimation of the hated
Weimar Republic. Hindenburg, at age 78 in 1925, acts against his
authoritarian, monarchist convictions and remains a loyal head of state
until the early 1930s.
Treaty of Locarno, signed by Luther and Stresemann for
Germany, guarantees that the German western border will not be changed
except by peaceful means (October 1925). This forms part of an
intelligent policy by Stresemann, who sets out to create two standards
for Germany’s treaties: if Germany recognizes some selective parts of
Versailles, the original treaty (forced upon the Germans) becomes
increasingly hollow. What Stresemann does amounts to a covert
renegotiation of the peace terms in the spirit of reconciliation and
mutual trust and leads to conditions much more advantageous to Germany.
The DNVP, subordinating the subtleties of Stresemann’s foreign policy
to a hollow nationalist rhetoric, leaves the government in protest
against Locarno. The government continues to rely on the old minority
coalition, led by the Center and the DVP, with some tacit support from
Marx becomes chancellor again (May) after Luther antagonizes the
middle parties through a minor faux pas.
Germany is now allowed to enter the League of Nations. Visible
success of Stresemann’s policy of reconciliation, which receives
international recognition. (Stresemann and Aristide Briand received the
Peace Price in 1926.) German rightists criticize entry into the
League of Nations viciously and try to induce Hindenburg to block it.
To them, the League of Nations is a cover for Versailles. Hindenburg,
however, accepts Stresemann’s decision.
DNVP, pushed by its pragmatic (economic) wing, reenters government
in January 1927 but leaves again in February 1928. Unemployment rises
but reaches no dramatic levels. Quiet year in Weimar politics.
Reichstag elections in May 1928 seem to confirm the trend toward
stability and democratic government started during the December
elections of 1924: The SPD gains votes and forms a coalition with the
Center, the DDP, and the DVP (a great coalition, as in 1923).
Chancellor: Hermann Müller (SPD). Stresemann remains
foreign minister until his death in October 1929. Nazis receive less
than 3%. KPD remains strong. The DNVP’s losses lead to a sharp rightist
turn of the party under industrialist Alfred Hugenberg, who
soon aligns the DNVP with the Nazis.
Unemployment in Germany rises to a high level early in the year.
The crash of the New York stock market in September 1929 leads to a
worldwide depression with dramatic effects on Germany. Unemployment
rises sharply in the end of the year and reaches unprecedented heights
in the following years. Stresemann, exhausted and overcommitted, dies
of a heart attack (at age 51) just as the crisis starts. His untimely
death has been considered a dramatic blow to the Weimar Republic by
Go on to D.5.