Explain the political threats to the Weimar republic from the left and right in the period 1919-1923
There were many on the political right and left in Germany who wanted to see the new Republic overthrown by force, for the right wing the ‘stab in the back’ theory simply strengthened their resolve. Opposition from the extreme right was very different both in the form and in its extent to that of the extreme left, there was a mixed collection of opponents of the republic but all representatives of the right were drawn together by their belief in anti-democracy, anti-Marxism, authoritarism and nationalism.
The first major threat by the right came in the form of the Freikorps, the freikorps became a law unto themselves and they were employed by the government in a crucial role to suppress the threats from the extreme left. However as the freikorps was anti-republican and committed to the restoration of authoritarian rule, they had no respect for the Weimar government.
From 1920 Weimar government tried to control the actions of the freikorps, but a new threat emerged in the form of the ‘Consul Organisation’ this was a right wing group who performed political assassinations. They were notorious because of the assassinations of a number of key republican politicians including Matthias Erzberger, Walther Rathenau and Karl Gareis. In March 1920 the Freikorps were involved in another attempt to overthrow the government, the Weimar government ordered the disbanding of the Ehrhardt Marine Brigade who was stationed in Berlin.
The leader of the brigade was Hermann Ehrhardt, who was the leader of the freikorps. General Luttwitz of the freikorps rejected this disbandment and, on the 13 March, used 5,000 troops from the brigade to seize government buildings in Berlin; this became known as the ‘Kapp Putsch’. The German army failed and were unwilling to release troops to fight the right wing rebels and the government fled to Stuttgart. The putsch ultimately failed due to trade union resistance, but the putsch showed that the extreme right were willing to use violent means and also indicated the instability of the government. Another threat to the republic was the Munich Beer Hall putsch, although the putsch was one of the threats faced by the young republic in the year 1923, it was a complete failure and disaster but the event is also a crucial part of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. The left wing movement was also critical of the republic but the left wing movement at first remained in a state of confusion with the SPD committed to parliamentary democracy, the KPD pressed for a workers revolution and the USPD stood for the creation of a radical socialist society. When the USPD disbanded in 1920 the situation became a lot clearer because its members joined either the KPD or the SPD, the first physical threat to the Weimar government was the Spartacist uprising in 1919, and the revolution was easily defeated using right wing group the freikorps. Using a right wing group who did not support the government to fight a left wing group who did not support the government showed how unstable the Weimar republic really was.
The KPD was indeed a reasonable political force in the years 1919-1923. It enjoyed 10-15% of the vote and there were continuous revolutionary disturbances such as the Spartacist rising 1919, the Bavarian Soviet republic 1919, Red Rising in the Ruhr 1920, March Operation in Meresberg 1921 and the German October in Saxony 1923 these risings show that the left could have been a major threat to the Weimar republic, there were also many protests, strikes and uprisings. However, all these actions by the extreme left gave the impression that Germany was really facing a Bolshevik-inspired ‘red threat’. Consequently, as a result of right wing propaganda, many Germans began to have exaggerated fears about the possibility of impending revolution. Looking back, it is clear that the extreme left posed much less of a threat to Weimar than was believed at the time. The effective resistance of the Weimar government and the bad co-ordination, poor leadership, concessions and repression all meant the left wing were never really likely to be able to seize power and that the extreme right were more likely to come to power because of their Anti-democracy and Nationalism which were very popular political ideologies at the time.
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