Democracy Abolishes Itself – The Case of the Weimar Republic


Mass demonstration in front of the German parliament (Reichstag) against the Treaty of Versailles (source: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


At the end of the First World War, Germany was in a state of chaos. The country had been defeated, the Kaiser (Emperor) had abdicated, poverty was widespread, riots and civil unrest created fear and instability. No one knew who would take over the reins of power after the collapse of the imperial government.

The political vacuum was filled in November 1918 when the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, abbr. SPD) and of the left-wing Democrats formed a Council of People’s Delegates. It was headed by Friedrich Ebert, a moderate politician who rejected the idea of a Soviet-style revolution and advocated the establishment of a parliamentary democracy (see Richard J. Evans: The Coming of the Third Reich, 2004, pp. 78-79). In early 1919 the Council announced a general election to choose the representatives for a Constituent Assembly.

The elections came at a time when the possibility of a Bolshevik-style revolution loomed on the horizon. The moderate leadership of democratic left-wing parties was a welcome alternative to violent upheaval and Communist dictatorship. The SPD, the Centre Party and the left-wing Democrats won the majority of the votes and their delegates met in 1919 in the city of Weimar. In July of the same year they promulgated a new Constitution, which was largely based on the previous imperial Constitution but contained several fundamental changes. Continue reading