WEIMAR REPUBLIC (1918-33)
The Weimar Republic, proclaimed on November 9, 1918, was born
in the throes of military defeat and social revolution
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 (Länder). 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