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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Problems of Parliamentary Politics

The Weimar Republic represented a compromise: German conservatives and industrialists had transferred power to the Social Democrats to avert a possible Bolshevik-style takeover; the Social Democrats, in turn, had allied with demobilized officers of the Imperial Army to suppress the revolution. The January 1919 National Assembly elections produced the Weimar coalition, which included the SPD, the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei--DDP), and the Center Party. The percentage of the vote gained by the coalition (76.2 percent; 38 percent for the SPD) suggested broad popular support for the republic. The antirepublican, conservative German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei--DNVP) and the German People's Party (Deutsche Volkspartei--DVP) combined received 10.3 percent of the vote. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, which had split from the SPD during the war, won 8 percent of the vote. But the lifespan of the Weimar coalition was brief, and the Weimar political system, which was achieving gains for both extreme left and extreme right, soon became radicalized.

The future of the Weimar Republic was shaped during the critical year separating the National Assembly elections and the June 1920 Reichstag elections. German public opinion was influenced by three major developments. First, the Treaty of Versailles shocked German nationalists and seriously damaged the republic's prestige. The treaty's provisions for Allied occupation of the Rhineland and reparations were considered unduly harsh. Second, German workers were disappointed by the failure to achieve social reform. Third, the Kapp Putsch of March 1920, an attempted coup staged by disaffected right-wing army officers, provided impetus for the political radicalization of rightist and leftist elements. In the June 1920 elections, the Weimar coalition lost its majority. An increase in votes (28.9 percent) for the DNVP and the DVP reflected German middle-class disillusionment with democracy. SPD strength fell to 21.7 percent as the German working class defected to the extreme left. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany split as most members joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands--KPD), formed in December 1918, and the remainder reunited with the SPD.

The Weimar coalition never regained its majority. After 1920 the era of unpopular minority cabinets began. Postwar inflation and Allied demands for reparations contributed to political instability. In January 1923, French and Belgian troops occupied the highly industrialized Ruhr district as a protest against German defaults in reparations payment. The Weimar government responded by calling upon the Ruhr population to stop all industrial activity. In the summer of 1923, President Ebert asked Gustav Stresemann, the DVP chairman, to form a new cabinet coalition to resolve the crisis.

Data as of July 1987