After the First World War, Germany was confronted with war-guilt and faced several issues politically, economically and socially. The Treaty of Versailles was one, if not the largest, factor that influenced the outcome of the Weimar Republic and the German future itself. Along the Treaty were also sub-factors and smaller yet meaningful events that also impacted Germany, from a social, economic and political aspect. One of these factors being the invasion and occupation of the Ruhr in 1923. How significant were these events to the Weimar Republic and how did they impact the future for Germany, especially the few following years after the Weimar Republic? This essay will briefly cover the events and causes that led to the Ruhr occupation, then focus more specifically on the long and short term consequences, connected with their significance towards the Weimar Republic.
Germany and France had a very tense relationship, which led to very harsh terms in the Treaty of Versailles. Following the First World War, France feared that Germany would seek revenge and attempt to recapture Alsace-Lorraine. The French premier minister had a lot of pressure from his people as they had suffered greatly during the war and wanted strict punishments for Germany. Many French citizens feared German retaliation, so they played it safe by inducing harsh terms. Germany had to accept to the Treaty of Versailles which had the following terms; Germany must accept to war guilt, pay reparations, and agree to Disarmament. The Rhineland, which was closely bordered to the French frontier, had to be completely demilitarized1. This gave France some security as Germany could not attack them from this side and regain Alsace-Lorraine. The German army was only allowed 100,000 troops2, which all had to be voluntary, the navy was reduced to six battleships and no submarines, and any form of an air force war prohibited3. The alliance with Austria was also forbidden, thus Germany could not gain more power and support. The economic factors were the war reparations, totalling £6,600 million4, which Germany’s post-war economy could not pay. To add-on, all German colonies were given to France and Britain, and the Saar lands, which had rich coal-fields, were given to France for 15 years. The terms were seen as quite harsh by other countries, yet no one interfered as they believed France had the right to do so and the actions were completely legal under the terms of the Treaty.
The Treaty of Versailles was so significant towards the later events in the Weimar Republic, because the terms were unachievable by Germany, which led to the Ruhr invasion, political and economic instability and opposition to the newly founded democratic government. The terms in the Treaty, like war reparations were completely unreasonable. The Treaty stated that Germany had to pay a total of £6,600 million5 as reparations to France. As the war had a great impact on the German economy, the government could not afford to pay this, but Germany was still in debt and the French wanted their money. £50 million were already paid in 1921, but the following year nothing was payed6. Ebert tried to negotiate a deal with the Allies, but this was no success. As the pressure in France started to rise, the French government was forced to do something. German timber and coal deliveries were delayed, consequently leading to France taking the supplies themselves. French and Belgian troops invaded the Ruhr in 1923 and took all the raw materials they could find7. They claimed that these materials were what Germany owed them and this was perfectly legal under the terms of the Treaty. This had a massive impact on the Weimar Republic, as the Ruhr was the centre of Germany’s iron, steel and coal production. Ebert and his party, the Social Democrats Party (SPD), announced their workers to go on a strike so they would not produce any more goods for the French to simply take. This was known as passive resistance, which was the only way to fight the French without violence. The only downside to this was that the workers in the Ruhr still had to be paid. As the Germans were already in debt, they had two options. The first option was that they could raise taxes, but the taxes were already at record highs so no one could afford higher amounts. The second option, which the government chose, was to print even more money. This led to gigantic hyperinflation causing economic issues and massive societal opposition towards Ebert and the SPD as many doubted that they had everything under control. The value of the German mark declined substantially, and prices of goods increased dramatically. In 1923, the value of £1 was equivalent to 16 billion marks8. Money had no importance or worth to a point where it would be burned or used as toys. All the middle and lower class citizens were outrageous as all their savings were worthless. The rich became richer as all their money was either in form of property or foreign currency. The occupation drew a lot of negative attention to the German government and was significant as opposition was created because of the governments failures. The German economy was in huge debts and there were hundreds of protests. The post-war economy of Germany was now even more chaotic and in addition the Weimar Republic gained a lot of criticism for its failures.
The occupation also had a political impact on the Weimar Republic, yet these were shorter term effects. It was the Treaty of Versailles that caused most the opposition towards the Weimar Republic. The Social Democrats Party was elected after Kaiser Wilhelm II was resigned. The Weimar Republic was created along with its democratic system. Early on the SPD gained much criticism as Germany had to sign the Treaty of Versailles, or the Allies would announce war on Germany again. Hence the SPD had little choice on what to do. The Treaty was of such high significance to the Weimar Republic as it was very disliked by numerous Germans. Most of the population was upset with the government and felt betrayed since Germany accepted war guilt. Especially the Army felt back-stabbed by the government for agreeing to disarmament and reducing the Army to only 100,000 men. Therefore, many discharged soldiers joined the Freikorps, which was an unofficial, anti-communist self-regulating militia. Many Germans listened to the extremist parties, both left- and right-wing, about the governments insufficiency. The right-wing politicians expressed their dissatisfaction by conducting various putsches. For example, the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 and the Munich Putsch in November, 1923. The Kapp Putsch was an attempt to take control of Berlin by Wolfgang Kapp who was assisted by General Luttwitz together with the Freikorps. The Freikorps were a group of angry, right-wing ex-soldiers who felt betrayed by the government. These men wanted to put an end to the Weimar democracy and wanted to re-establish the regime of the Kaiser. The Putsch was stopped after only 6 days by Berlin workers who went on a strike, as common services like electricity and transport came to a halt. This was a massive blow to German democracy. Another example would be the Beer Hall Putsch or Munich Putsch. Adolf Hitler tried to take over Munich with some leading army figures, like Ludendorff who was a World War 1 hero. This was a failure as Hitler did not gain support from the army. The police and army interfered and stopped the uprising and various people were taken to court for treason. This was significant to the Weimar Republic as it showed its weakness and were the real power stood. Right-winged extremist also carried out assassinations on high-ranking politicians like Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister, and Matthias Erzberger, the finance minister. Both were assassinated because of their connection to the Treaty of Versailles. The Foreign minister was deeply involved in the Treaty, and the finance minister could be blamed for the economic collapse in Germany, like hyperinflation. Left-winged parties expressed their disapproval by leading rebellions against the government. For example, the rebellion in the Ruhr, March 1920 or the Spartacist uprising. The Spartacist Uprising was a rebellion run by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, both communist. The arranged 50,000 Berlin workers to go on a strike. They protested that Germany should be run by the working forces and that wealth should be evenly distributed. They captured Berlin and armed themselves. The government hired the Freikorps, which hated the communists, to bring the situation under control. Over 100 workers were killed during the ‘Bloody Week’. The aftermath of this uprising was that countless communists and most of the German work class developed hatred of the SPD. By signing the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic and the Social Democrats were immediately put at a disadvantage, as political instability and opposition started to form early on, and led to many constitutional failures.
There was one outstanding figure that took Germany out of its economic disaster, hyperinflation, and brought the country into its so-called ‘ Golden Years ‘ between 1924-1929. Gustav Stresemann, Foreign minister of Germany from August 1923 to November 1923, believed that to help Weimar Germany, he must fix the relationship with the Allies. That is why his first move was to call off passive resistance in the Ruhr, as this resistance enhanced inflation and could trigger a financial collapse and opposed the Allies views. Under the Great Coalition, which consisted of several pro-democratic parties in the Reichstag, Stresemann managed to persuade the French and Belgians to withdraw their troops from the Ruhr. Together with Charles Dawes, the U.S budget director, Stresemann managed to rebuild the German economy by introducing the Dawes Plan. This plan consisted of retrieving the old currency, and introducing a new currency called ‘Rentenmark’. Furthermore, the USA loaned Germany 800 million Gold Mark and gave them longer to pay the war reparations. This was significant to the Weimar Republic as it was assisted financially and politically by the Allied forces. It also kick-started the Golden Years for Weimar Germany.
Following the Dawes Plan, the Locarno Pact rearranged the Franco-German borders and led to the full removal of foreign soldiers in the Rhineland. Stresemann also agreed that Alsace-Lorraine officially belonged to France. This pact was significant to the Weimar Republic as it helped reinforce the relations between the two countries France and Germany, and accepted Germany as a member of the League of Nations.
In conclusion, the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 had an immense impact on the Weimar Republic, yet these factors were more short term. Whereas the Treaty of Versailles had more long-lasting effects on the German government. Political instability and opposition to the Weimar Republic were majorly significant and could be seen as the leading factors to the downfall of the German regime and possibly the rise of Hitler. The Ruhr was significant as it caused hyperinflation, which caused a lot of societal distress throughout Germany and from then on, the Weimar Republic had ongoing economic problems. The main party, the SPD (Social Democratic Party) lost its main support base after signing the Treaty of Versailles and after the Ruhr Invasion it gained even more criticism. Additionally, uprisings and putsches gave extremist parties more support as they pointed out the government’s inadequacy. The Ruhr occupation, which caused hyperinflation, also led to Gustav Stresemann the Dawes Plan and Locarno treaty. Both treaties were significant as they precipitated the Golden Years and aided Germany out of its political and economic disaster. To conclude, the occupation of the Ruhr impacted Weimar Germany, yet I consider the Treaty of Versailles to be the main factor that affected the Weimar Republic, including the Golden Years and the uprising of Adolf Hitler.
1 BBC Bitesize. (n.d.). Rhineland had to be demilitarized. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/ir1/thetreatyrev1.shtml on the 17th of December 2017.
2 BBC Bitesize. (n.d.). German Army Demilitarised to 100,000 troops. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/ir1/thetreatyrev1.shtml on the 17th od December 2017.
3 BBC Bitesize. (n.d.). All forms of Airforce were prohibited. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/ir1/thetreatyrev1.shtml
on the 17th of December 2017
4 Ben Walsh, ‘Conflict in the Ruhr’ in Modern World History, Hodder Education, London, 2013, p.15
5 GCSE History. (n.d.). £6,600 million had to be paid back. Retrieved from https://www.gcsehistorywithmissbez.com/the-weimar-republic/french-invasion-of-the-ruhr-1923/ on the 19th of December 2017.
6 Ben Walsh, ‘Conflict in the Ruhr’ in Modern World History, Hodder Education, London, 2013, p.15
7 Ben Walsh, ‘Conflict in the Ruhr’ in Modern World History, Hodder Education, London, 2013, p.15