Kapp's Revolution (1919 - 1920)

In early 1919 the strength of the Reichswehr the regular army, was estimated at 350,000. There were in addition more than 250,000 men enlisted in the various Freikorps. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to reduce its armed forces to a maximum of 100,000. Freikorps units were therefore expected to be disbanded.

In March 1920 orders were issued for the disbandment of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt. Its leaders were determined
Bundesarchiv Bild 119-1983-0007, Kapp-Putsch, Marinebrigade Erhardt in Berlin

The Freikorps march on Berlin - March 13th, 1920.

to resist dissolution and appealed to General Walter von Luttwitz, commander of the Berlin Reichswehr, for support. Luttwitz, an organiser of Freikorps units in the wake of World War I, and a fervent nationalist, responded by calling on President Friedrich Ebert and Defense Minister Gustav Noske to stop the whole programme of troop reductions. When Ebert refused, Luttwitz ordered the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt to march on Berlin. It occupied the capital on 13th March. Luttwitz, therefore, was the driving force behind the 1920 putsch, even though its nominal leader was Wolfgang Kapp, a 62-year-old East Prussian civil servant and fervent nationalist.

At this point Noske called upon the regular army to suppress the putsch. He encountered a blank refusal. The Chef der Heeresleitung General Hans von Seeckt, one of the Reichswehr's senior commanders, told him: "Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr." The government, forced to abandon Berlin, moved to Dresden, where they hoped to get support from Generalmajor Maercker. When they realized that Maercker did not want to take a clear stance they moved further to Stuttgart. Meanwhile, Kapp attempted to form a government. In the provinces, some Army commanders were sympathatic while virtually the entire naval officer corps came out in the support of the putsch. Admiral Adolf von Trotha, the Navy's commander came out in the support of the Kapp putsch as soon as he learned of it on March 13th, 1920. Well-known conservatives and former secretaries of state were also invited to assist in the new government, although Kapp's success here was less satisfactory than he anticipated.

Prior to the putsch's execution, Kapp and Luttwitz had approached a number of socialists and trade union leaders, offering some basic power-sharing terms in a post-revolutionary government, in exchange for their loyalty throughout the putsch. Overcoming vast ideological differences, many leftists accepted. The German government issued a proclamation calling on Germany's workers to defeat the putsch by means of a general strike, but, due to the aformentioned arrangements, this plea was largely ignored.

Freikorp units across Germany quickly joined the coup. By March 16, facing no explicit military opposition, they had seized all major cities. The German government was forced to flee into exile; Friedrich Ebert, accompanied by most of his cabinet, fled to Sweden. On March 20th, Kapp himself issued a statement from Berlin:

"I, Wolfgang Kapp, formally assume my God-given duty as President of Germany, to rule over the peoples and territories of the Greater German Reich, to ensure the present and future stability of the Teutonic state, and to address the burdens forced against my nation by forces both international and domestic. My government represents Germans ruling for Germans. We recognize the right of this sacred land to pursue military interests, to oppose foreign treachery and meddling, and to guarantee an exceptional standard of living for every native German.

Walter von Luttwitz shall promptly be appointed as Chancellor of Germany; Erich Ludendorff, as Deputy Chancellor. It is decreed that the existing Reichstag is invalid. Henceforth, it shall be disbanded, to be replaced by a new, fully representative legislature in the imminent future.

God bless Germany."

Post-revolutionary government (1920 - 1925)

Almost instantaneously, Kapp's coup attracted international condemnation. The strongest critics - France, Belgium and the United Kingdom - viewed the putsch as a threat to all formal arrangements made at the Treaty of Versailles; indeed, Kapp, Luttwitz and much of their government were explicitly anti-Versailles. Prior to the putsch, there had
387px-Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2004-0048, Revolution in Bayern, Gefangener

Freikorps pose with a 'traitor to the state', in the aftermath of the Kapp Putsch.

been much internal chaos and upheaval; Kapp's ascent to power only worsened the situation. Legal institutions, weakened as they already were, were rendered completely ineffective. Freikorp units ran amok on the streets, exacting retribution on political enemies and looting homes.

On March 21, 1920, in response to Kapp's declaration, the League of Nations demanded that the new, 'illegitimate' German government stand down. When Kapp and his associates blatantly refused, French and Belgian troops entered and occupied the industrial Ruhr region on March 24, facing no resistance (internal disorder and confusion crippled Germany's ability to respond). The occupation posed a very credible threat to Kapp - the Ruhr was Germany's economic heartland -, and any designated political and economic reform was paralysed.

Representatives from Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom met at Poitiers on April 1. It was accepted, after furious bouts of dialogue, that Kapp's government would be granted international recognition; however, for the passive return of the Ruhr, Germany was ordered to retain its commitment to the majority of the original Versailles terms - 'war guilt', reparations payments, and, to Kapp's dismay, restrictions upon the strength and authority of the German military -, as well as a new pledge that would prevent the constitutional restoration of the Hohenzollerns. Fearful of economic ruin if the Ruhr was not swiftly returned, Germany reluctantly signed the Treaty of Poitiers. Troops promptly exited the Ruhr, and normal industrial procedure resumed. Recent historical debate has made much ado about the Allied 'appeasement' of the Kapp regime in its earliest days; in truth, all powers represented at Poitiers were anticipating its internal collapse, too war-wary at this point to stage an incursion into Germany and depose the new administration, which they detested, themselves.
Weimar Constitution

Public-usage copy of the 1920 German constitution.

The next obstacle Kapp and Luttwitz faced was in organizing a coherent government. The post-coup assembly - which had been rushedly assembled from a host of military and Freikorp leaders, leftist radicals, and more conservative elements of the ousted Weimar government - was riddled with squabbling and ineptitude. A new constitution was produced in late April, which advocated an essentially autocratic system of governance, somehwhat reminiscent of the old Imperial model. Parliamentary elections were to be held on a biannual basis, although this basic democratic concession was largely cosmetic in practice, to merit international and libertarian favour. Many left-wing figures denounced the new constitution, demanding radical economic reforms, but this did little to stop its implementation on May 11, 1920.

In the immediate aftermath of the constitution's ratification, all civil servants and military serviceman were ordered to swear an oath of personal loyalty to the Presidency and state, or face removal. The new Reichstag elected in January 1921 (which consisted mostly of independent conservatives and nationalists loyal to Kapp, alongside a significant number of socialist candidates) was active in the drafting and passing of acts, although in effect all political power rested on Kapp, Luttwitz and key members of the central government, who had the ultimate say on policy and matters of state. The constitution granted the President sweeping powers, and the military still held vast authority, continuing to act as a valid law-enforcement body well into the early 1930s.

The early post-revolutionary government featured a number of left-wing radicals and trade unionists, who had been granted significant positions in return for their loyalty during the coup. However, there was great friction between them and the staunchly right-wing nationalists that proliferated in Kapp's administration - they were at complete ideological ends, and both Kapp and Luttwitz privately expressed their fear of Marxist political influence. Tensions boiled over in what became known as the 'July Crisis', and this provided ground for an anti-leftist purge proposed by skeptical elements within the German government. In July 1921, it emerged that Frederick Bottcher, leader of an prominent socialist coalition in the Reichstag (the Worker's Alliance), had nominated himself the mastermind of a new putsch to overthrow Kapp, apparently going so far (the legitimacy of Kapp's claims have come into question) as to seek the support of the Soviet Union. Bottcher and his cohorts were arrested, leading to threats of a Reichstag boycott by 61 socialist MPs. The military acted swiftly and ruthlessly. The agitators were rounded up, rushedly trialled in military courts, and executed by Freikorps. By August, 90 people had lost their lives as the result of this purge; moreover, the Reichstag was now occupied almost exclusively by Kapp loyalists, rendering the President's consolidation of power total.

The violence deployed by Kapp's government throughout 1921 was largely viewed with a blind eye by the European community as a whole - Kapp was remaining faithful to most of Germany's Versailles commitments (although personally opposed as vehemently as ever to the Treaty, Kapp and Luttwitz felt it necessary to stay true to their Versailles obligations, in order for their regime to survive), and reparations were being paid out on a regular basis. Therefore, no attempt was made to intervene. Membership of an openly socialist-leaning organization was declared illegal in a Reichstag act of September 1921; protests were quelled with
War Ensign of Germany 1892-1903

Insignia of the German Labour Organization (NA). The icon had previously been used by certain Freikorps units.

great harshness. Trade unionist expressions of displeasure constantly threatened Kapp's position, with industrial walk-outs and strikes becoming a recurring spectacle in late 1921 (although the anti-leftist purge, and the subsequent brutality of the German military, had drained the trade union movement of much of its steam), leading to the foundation of the National Labour Organization. Led by Josef Eichhart, Kapp's Minister of Labour, the Nationale Arbeitsorganisation (NA) was initially established as a governmental research foundation; by May 1922, membership was legally compulsory for all members of the German workforce - it was, in effect, a state-operated trade union. Faced with unemployment, the vast majority of labourers had joined the organization by 1923.

Although some normality had been resumed since 1920, the situation in Germany was still desperate. Poverty, crime and corruption was writhe, and reparations were a huge burden on Kapp's government. The Munich Conference of April 1923 sought to address the reparations issue. Organized by Germany, and attented by representatives from eight nations (including France, the United Kingdom and the USA), the Munich Conference proposed that Germany pay its debt in set annual installments. There was still a largely anti-German feeling, and France displayed caution and hostility to the new plan, but it was, overall, a decisive success for Kapp - reparations payments were renegotiated. It was the first important Versailles concession to Germany.

The Neuenpolitik (1925 - 1929)

See main article: Polish Civil War

The Neuenpolitik ('new politics') is the term applied to the historical period after 1925, characterised by a gradual

Walther von Luttwitz (left) with Gustav Noske.

return to political and social stability in Germany after the upheaval of previous years. Wolfgang Kapp died in April 1925, from terminal illness; the ascension of Walther von Luttwitz, his co-conspirator in the putsch of 1920, as President of Germany was virtually unchallenged, largely due to the fact that most administrative power had been personally transferred to Luttwitz since 1923. Like Kapp, Luttwitz was a hardened nationalist; however, he was a far more militaristic, forcible character. One of his first acts of government, after coming to power, involved the instigation of 'reform [in] the German military and armaments industry'. Whilst exact details were never explicitly provided, this constituted a program of large-scale rearmament - under Luttwitz' supervision, the defence industry was semi-nationalised, and a basic form of conscription was introduced, in the form of the 'Battalions Act' of March 1926. Luttwitz anticipated, correctly, that the Allies would not attempt to inhibit Germany's gradual rearmament; this was due to a widespread fear of Communism and the influence of the Soviet Union, which led to Western governments emerging in favour of a strong, militaristic Germany, to oppose the perceived 'rise' of Marxism.

Germany became more politically, economically and socially stable in the latter half of the 1920s. Prosperity was visible, with a burgeoning middle-class and the re-emergence of a German 'business elite', as a result of industrial reforms. Leftist agitation had long since died away, and unemployment, while an ever-present issue, had decreased. In the famous 'New-Order Europe' speech, read on May 11th, 1926 to the League of Nations, Luttwitz outlined his vision of an 'influential order' in Europe, consisting of Germany, France and the United Kingdom. This speech is seen as a milestone, characterising Luttwitz' foreign policy for the duration of his presidential term. He was generally tolerated ('revered' would be too strong a word) by Western European governments, while Soviet and Eastern European leaders viewed the rise of Germany with great unease. Luttwitz was open regarding his expansionist ambitions in the East, which led to constant tensions with Poland in particular (Germany still held a strong claim to the 'Danzig Corridor', which had been incorporated into Poland in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles).


German paratroopers land in the Chelmno region (1928).

By 1928, Germany was fielding a large, well-trained army, considered one of the most formidable in Europe. This was perceived, within reason, as a threat by its Eastern neighbours - in 1927 alone, there had been three border skirmishes between Polish and German troops. Luttwitz was still actively seeking to reacquire 'Teutonic' lands lost as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. On September 13th, 1928, with Soviet material and political support, the Communist Party of Poland (KPP) declared the establishment of a Polish Soviet Republic at Warsaw; aided by army mutinies and tactical incompetence on the loyalist behalf, they quickly ousted the government of Ignacy Mościcki, which fled to Germany in exile. With defeat looming, the Polish government-in-exile sought the urgent assistance of Luttwitz and his government. Negotiations were concluded swiftly, though with bitterness on the Polish end - in return for expeditionary aid, Berlin demanded the concession of Pomerelia. On September 27th, with backhand British and French support, Luttwitz annexed the Polish Corridor, "to protect the basic rights of German citizens within the Second Polish Republic". The ferocity of the initial Communist offensives stood for little in the face of German military might. By Christmas, the Freikorps and and Polish government forces had retaken most of the country; ragtag partisan efforts continued to molest the invasion force well into the next year, until an amnesty was finally brokered on May 20th, 1929.

The Free City of Danzig, created in 1920 as an co-operative sector administered by both Allied and Polish elements, was neglected during the initial invasion of the Polish Corridor, but quickly became the subject of international controversy following the Polish Civil War. Luttwitz attempted several times throughout 1929 to gain Allied favour over the potential cession of the city, to no avail.

The Great Depression (1929 - 1938)

The German economy, which had prospered to almost pre-War standards under Luttwitz, was crippled by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and the recession which followed. American loans to Germany, which had contributed heavily to the financial reinvigoration, were cancelled, leading to overnight financial decline. By 1932, national unemployment had reached around 24%.

Taking advantage of popular disillusionment, extremist parties surfaced in active opposition to the German government. Although Communist parties gained a resurgence as the recession progressed, the most competent threat to Luttwitz' position originated from the Far-Right of the political spectrum. Movements such as the Munich-based Fatherland Defence League (VDL), led by the charismatic and controversial Lukas Fischer, attracted followers from across German society, even inspiring defections in the upper echelons of Luttwitz' government. These organizations modelled themselves on the Italian fascists; they were more ideologically extreme than the old-school conservatives and nationalists which formed the core German government, with a radical racial philosophy that did much to set them apart from the 1920 putschists. Politically-motivated violence, agitation and street fighting became the norm of the day.

In February 1933, a group of VDL members murdered Luttwitz' Foreign Affairs Minister in Stuttgart. The following month, the Reichstag passed the 'Crisis Act', which isntilled a state of temporary martial law in Germany, enforced by Freikorp units. This actually worsened the unrest, with riots set to break out in several cities over the course of the coming weeks. Although VDL 'greyshirts' won an alarming 94 Reichstag seats in the parliamentary elections of 1934, the Crisis Act had utterly retarded the democratic process, Luttwitz and his government bestowed with absolute, unquestionable authority over the passing of legislation, the suspension of ministers and MPs, and even the ability (never employed) to postpone elections. The Presidency made it explicitly clear that the 'Kaiser Act', as the VDL coloquially deemed it in mockery, would not be done away with until the radical movement 'died a death'.

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