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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


Weimar Constitution

The Weimar Republic, proclaimed on November 9, 1918, was born in the throes of military defeat and social revolution (see fig. 5). On November 3, mutiny had broken out among naval squadrons stationed at Kiel. Workers had joined the revolt, which had quickly spread to other ports and to cities in northern, central, and southern Germany, finally reaching Berlin on November 9. Largely as a result of the November Revolution, Prince Max von Baden, the German chancellor, announced the abdication of the emperor. Following the abdication, the Social Democrats in the Reichstag gained control of the government; they proclaimed the republic, formed a provisional cabinet, and organized the National Assembly. Another revolt instigated in Berlin by the Spartacus League, a group of left-wing extremists, was crushed by the army in January 1919. In February the National Assembly elected Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert to the presidency and drafted a constitution.

The Weimar Constitution of 1919 established a federal republic consisting of nineteen states (Lšnder). The republic was headed by a president who was to be elected by popular direct ballot for a seven-year term and who could be reelected . The president appointed the chancellor and, based on the chancellor's nominations, also appointed the cabinet ministers. He retained authority to dismiss the cabinet, dissolve the Reichstag, and veto legislation. The legislative powers of the Reichstag were further weakened by the provision for presidential recourse to popular plebiscite. Article 48, the so-called emergency clause, accorded the president dictatorial rights to intervene in the territorial states for the purpose of enforcing constitutional and federal laws and/or to restore public order.

The constitution provided for the Reichstag and the Reichsrat (council of German states' representatives). The Reichstag, elected by popular suffrage, voted on legislation introduced by the chancellor. By a vote of no confidence, it could call for the dismissal of both chancellor and cabinet ministers. The Reichsrat replaced the Bundesrat (see Political Consolidation , this ch.). Established to guarantee state government supervision of national legislation, it was nevertheless subordinated to national control in that members of the Reichstag cabinet convened and presided over Reichsrat sessions. The Reichstag was empowered to override Reichsrat opposition with a two-thirds majority vote.

The powers accorded to the president reflected the nineteenth century's conservative and liberal predilection for monarchical rule. But democratization of suffrage strengthened the Reichstag, and in theory both the military and the bureaucracy were subordinated to cabinet control. Thus the constitution established a republic based on a combination of conservative and democratic elements. It guaranteed civil liberties, but provisions for social legislation, including land reform and limited nationalization, were never implemented. The constitution adopted the colors black, red, and gold--the colors of the Holy Roman Empire--to replace the black, white, and red of Imperial Germany. The colors adopted by the constitution symbolized the idea of a "greater Germany," which was to include Austria; but the incorporation of Austria into the republic was opposed by the Allies, and Austria remained a separate state.

Data as of July 1987