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The proclamation of the Republic in Berlin in November 1918 appeared to most as marking the beginning of a new day for the German people and their nation.  However, this republic founded on a discredited revolution and burdened with a number of post-war problems could not last long in a country that was not ready to accept a more liberal, parliamentary form of system. Thus, the Republic had been reduced to a sham long before it was formally overthrown. It was in a situation like this that the Germans required and eventually got a more stable, effective of government led by a charismatic leader, who could help in resolving their problems and restore the lost prestige of Germany in the international sphere. Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, thus, has to be seen in the light of a number of factors that had come up in the post-war republican Germany and it should also be understood in the context of Germany’s historical ties with a totalitarian and autocratic form of government.

Thus, one should try to understand his rise by analyzing the political environment of Germany prior to the establishment of the Republic in 1918. Historically, and even after the creation of a unified German Empire, the concept of democracy had never found a strong foothold in Germany. Germany had remained politically backward as compared to other European nations of its time. Divided into various Germanic states, it was isolated from the surging currents of European development, ideas of democracy saw little progress and there was no national growth of a nation. In the end the Unification of Germany was achieved only in 1871 through the policy of ‘Blood and Iron’ of Bismarck. Thus, the very creation of the German Empire had been based on expansionist and colonizing forces rather than on the expression of people’s will. Similarly, the Reichstag that had been created in 1871 was not a democratic institution even though it was elected by universal male suffrage. The structure of the Reich was characterized by the autocratic spirit of victorious Prussia as Bismarck’s aim was to destroy liberalism and bolster the power of conservatism i.e. the landed and industrial elites- the army and the crown. With the chancellor being responsible only to the king of Prussia and the Reichstag being given limited powers, the ideas of democracy never got a foothold in Germany.
It is important to note here that the establishment of the republic in the first place was not because of an acknowledgement of it being a superior form of government. The only reason why this was accepted by the people was because the abdication of the Emperor, which was brought about by popular sentiments against the monarchy had created a vacuum that had to be filled. The only alternative to a parliamentary republic was a communist dictatorship, which only a tiny minority favoured. Thus, the Wiemar Republic was created out of turmoil and defeat under near Civil War like conditions and not because of any popular sentiments. Thus, from the beginning it was expected to be the focus of criticism and opposition.
Moreover, if one analyses the composition and nature of the regime that was formed by the constitution it would become clear that this republic was never genuinely committed to cause of establishing a democratic system. For instance, the landed elite kept their historic form and their administrative institutions. The execution of Germany’s laws remained in the hands of officials controlled by the Lander. Similarly, while the President was elected by popular vote for a period of seven years, it was only the chancellor, who was nominated who was responsible to the parliament. Far reaching powers to govern in an emergency were conferred upon the President, which were intended to be used only with approval of the Reichstag. However, as these powers were not properly defined by the Reichstag, governments were able to derive their effective power from the President rather than the Reichstag, which naturally led to gross misuse of such powers.
Another major flaw with this new system that added to its ineffectiveness was the electoral system as it was based on the principle of proportional representation, which led to the fostering of a multiplicity of small parties, thereby, preventing the emergence of large political forces concerned with national issues. As a consequence of this phenomenon, there was great difficulty in forming a stable coalition and moreover, strong disagreements among the various factions had resulted in faulty domestic and foreign policies, which further diluted the credibility of the republic even among those, who seemed to have accepted this system.
It has been argued that a genuine shift towards a democratic system can be brought about only when the old sources of power and prestige are stamped out. However, a year after the so-called German Revolution, the old forces continued to remain in power. Thus, the revolution had failed to bring about drastic changes in the socio-economic structure of Germany. Moreover, the inflexible constitution along with the retention of the old sources of power had created a situation that was completely unfavourable for a stable republican form of government to flourish.
Thus, it can be seen that the experiment with a republic after 1918 had failed completely in Germany. It was a highly unpopular political system and was unable to solve the crisis that had confronted the German state. The appointment of an ageing nationalist military hero, Hindenburg as the President in 1925 was an indicator of the yearnings of the German people to revert back to the old days of imperial Germany.  Jurgen Kocka has argued that the German political sphere ever since the time of Bismarck was associated with anti-parliamentarian and anti-liberal sentiments and this had prepared a field for the rise of Dictatorship. Thus, he believed that one of the chief factors for the rise of Nazism in Germany during the 1920s was this disaffection with a democratic system and the growing demands for a stronger, more stable form of effective governance. 
Many scholars have attributed the unequal peace treaties that were signed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as being responsible for the rise of Hitler. The signing of these treaties had without a doubt increased the unpopularity of the Weimar Republic as large sections of the society refused to accept this treaty and hence, the republic. The treaty it was believed by a majority of Germans an unequal treaty that was unfairly imposed upon the vanquished states by the victor nations. It burdened Germany with the responsibility of the war in the notorious guilt clause and a huge indemnity was imposed upon her. All her overseas colonies were taken away and distributed among the victor nations and large chunks of her Empire including Alsace-Lorraine, Northern Schleswig, Western Prussia and parts of Silesia were taken away. Moreover, Ruhr, which had large coal deposits and had been an important source for German industrialisation was handed over to France. Restrictions were imposed upon the armed forces of Germany as well as she was forbidden from rearming herself, her navy was disbanded and the army was limited to 10,000 men. According to Stephen Lee, Germany had lost 13% of its area, 16% of its coal, 48% of her iron, 15% of her agricultural land and 10% of her industry.
It was this treaty that had become a major source of national humiliation for the Germans. They believed that she had been robbed of any possibility of revival in the future. The chief opponents of the Republic also believed that the army could have been exonerated from all blame for Germany’s defeat but it was these November ‘traitors’ (mainly the Socialists), who had sabotaged the war effort by their agitation for peace and signed the shameful Versailles treaty. It was this “stab in the back” myth that was encouraged by the opponents of the Weimar Republic, which further antagonized the masses. The scholars, who propounded this viewpoint believe that it was this insecurity, shame and vulnerability of the German people that was exploited by Hitler, who promised to avenge this humiliation and regain the lost German prestige in the International sphere.
However, E. Lipson has argued that the Treaty of Versailles could not have been the reason behind the rise of Hitler, even though he does acknowledge the burdensome nature of the treaty. He essentially propounded three reasons to support this view: (1) 14 years had elapsed between the rise of Hitler and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and thus, it could not have been the direct reason; (2) Germany was already on the path of recovery as a lot of the war damages had been removed or paid off. This had been possible because of two commission- The Dawes plan of 1924 and the Young Plan of 1929. The former had set yearly installment payments at a more manageable rate, while, the latter set a reduced annual coverage, declared Rhineland free of foreign military occupation and lifted foreign controls on the German army. (3) Lastly, Politically as well the German position had started to improve. For instance, her relations with her western neighbours were regularized to a large extent and through the treaty of Locarno she was made a member of the League of Nations in 1926. Thus, according to Lipson, the reasons for the rise of Nazism in Germany lay elsewhere.
However, the post-war situation had seen a severe economic crisis in Germany. She had financed her war-efforts through short-term loans and by inflating the currency rather through raising of taxes.  Once she was defeated she was left with a huge internal debt and with a currency that had lost over one-third of its pre-war value. The task of recovery was complicated by trade deficit and crippling industrial potential. The efforts to secure necessary foreign exchange to overcome this crisis and pay the war damages depressed the mark even more and French occupation of the Ruhr area following shortfalls in German coal and wood delivery acted as the final straw for the German economy, which was gripped by catastrophic inflation like never seen before.  The mark was completely worthless, which wiped off the savings of millions of people, particularly those, who were dependent on fixed incomes like the middle classes and the self-employed.
Even though in the middle the German economy had experienced some degree of stability, its economic foundation was extremely fragile. It was largely reliant on short-term loans and investments from America. Between 1924 and 1930 German borrowing amounted to 7 billion dollars. Thus, if the latter’s economy was to fail then Germany’s would fall too. Scholars have claimed that the decision to overthrow the Republic had been made prior to the depression of 1929 but it was largely determined by the economic crisis that was unleashed by stock market crash of 1929. Following the depression, the flow of loans died up and repayment of old loans became difficult. Moreover, with a slump in the world trade Germany was unable to exploit enough to pay for raw materials and food. Production fell by almost half in the years from 1929-1933, while, unemployment rose to six million in the same period. There were massive cuts in salaries and a drastic rise in bankruptcies. In their frustration, many Germans began to turn to extremist parties as they believed that only such parties could help them overcome their emotions of fear, resentment and insecurity. The leader that made best use of the prevailing economic distress and disenchantment with the Weimar Republic for electoral advantages was Hitler. 
Historians like Alan Bullock claim that the Depression made the rise of Hitler possible by creating a situation in which Hitler could exploit his talents to the full to draw attentions to the failing of the Weimar Republic. The economic crisis had created an atmosphere of fear, resentment and a longing for reassurance and renewal of hope. Hitler recognized and addressed himself to these emotions by promising to the disillusioned German masses a new authoritarian government, which could speak in a single voice, recreate a sense of community and enforce respect abroad for a rearmed Germany, restored to her natural position as great power.
According to Lipson, one of the cardinal factors responsible for the rise of Hitler was the growth of a fear of communism. The German Marxists were making a strong headway in post-War Germany were they tried to use the economic plight of the people to their own advantage. In particular they tried to win over the working class, which was suffering under the new regime as unemployment was rampant. This offset a deep reaction among the middle classes of Germany. They feared that with the rise of a communist government, there would be a proletariasation of the middle class and they would be reduced to the status of the working class. It was this fear, along with the failure of the Weimar Republic, that Hitler played up. He promised protection to the interests of the middle class, the bourgeoisie and the industrialists by denouncing the type of communism being practiced by the German Communists. He believed that socialism could exist side-by-side with private property and in this way he was able to satisfy the fears of the Middle class, whose support proved to be extremely crucial to Hitler in the 1930s.
One should also analyse the personality of Hitler and the Nazi ideology in being instrumental behind his rise as well. Hitler was undoubtedly gifted, had an extraordinary ability to influence and persuade, powerful appeal as a demagogue and great skills as an actor. The extremes of post-war Germany had provided him with circumstances in which these gifts combined devastatingly with his complete ruthlessness and lack of compassion and were to ensure his rise to power. Hitler himself had realized the true potential of his skills only when he joined the German Worker’s Party, later to be named the Nazi Party. His own shock and humiliation at Germany’s defeat during the war became linked to the fate of the entire country and enabled Hitler to exploit this to the fullest. Moreover, the Nazi party had its own advantages. It consisted of young and apparently classless people, who had never been compromised by power in the Republic nor were they controlled or created by foreign powers.
Historians have also debated the role of the Nazi ideology in Hitler’s success as the programmes and ideology of the Nazi party were completely in tune with the needs and demands of the people. The Nazi party was a complete anti-thesis to the Weimar Republic. It was opposed to democracy, the whole system of parliamentary democracy and rejected the concept of a majority directing human society only because it was in majority. Given the situation in which the failure of the Weimar Republic was staring everyone in the face the declaration of such anti-democracy sentiments and the assurance to create an authoritarian state had gone down well with a large number of people. The Nazis were also vague anti-capitalists, which was not unwelcome to disillusioned Germans but while they had a socialist outlook Hitler asserted that true socialism did not involve the rejection of private property or the negation of personality. But most importantly, for the existing situation, Hitler identified his party with nationalism. The Nazi party beat the nationalist drum harder than anyone else. They abused the republic for timidity and lack of spirit in foreign affairs, demanded the total rejection of the Versailles treaties and promised to lead the Germans to national greatness- words which appealed irresistibly to thousands of Germans facing the greatest crisis in their country.
 This nationalism had a strong tinge of anti-semetic, anti-Jewish and extremist tendencies that most people believed was essential to restore the German supremacy in the International sphere. Moreover, such ideas had already been popularized in the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century by the works of HS Chamberlain and Theodore Fritsch. Hitler had categorically denied a German identity to the Jews as he believed that the Aryan race alone was the master race and should be the basis on which the Third Reich should be formed. Hitler believed that the glory which the Holy Roman Empire and Bismarck’s Empire had brought to Germany had been completely disrupted by the Weimar Republic as it had given in to Marxist and Jewish forces.   
According to William Shirer, who wrote “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, the main agenda of the Nazi Party were an attraction for the workers, the lower middle class, the peasants but most of them were forgotten by the time he came to power. Ian Kershaw has argued that the integral nationalism, anti-Marxist national socialism, social Darwinism, racism, biological anti-Semitism and elitism provided a heady brew of irrationalism to some cultural pessimists among the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie undergoing rapid social, economic and political changes in the late 19thcentury. Hitler had used both terror and propaganda to win over the masses. The Nazi party made great use of symbols, rituals, parades etc all which culminated in the creation of a Fuhrer myth, which emphasized the supremacy of the irrational and dynamic factors in politics. In the lean years the support for the Nazi party had come from the white collared proletariat- clerks, small shopkeepers, teachers and people on the lower fringes of the professions. But it was only when the middle classes as a whole abandoned their traditional political allegiances in the 1930s under the impact of the depression did it become possible for the Nazis to become a mass party. Moreover, in such a political system it was crucial to have the army as a support base.  According to Alan Bullock, it was the army’s disillusionment with the weakness of coalition government and the desire for a strong, stable government that could ensure the rearmament of Germany that was instrumental in bringing Hitler to power. Thus, by 1932 the Nazi party had become the single largest party in the Reichstag after capturing 207 seats in the 1932 elections.
Some scholars have also argued that the actual capture of political power by Hitler should be seen as a backdoor entry, which was an outcome of a shabby, secret political bargain with the conservative elites. As already seen above it was these conservative elites- big industrialists, landlords, bureaucracy, army- that did not believe in a Republic and were thus the strongest proponents for autocratic rule. They wished to end the party system of democratic parties, break Marxism and trade unionism together with the reversion to some form of authoritarianism. As they did not have mass support to achieve their objectives they turned to Hitler, whom they thought could remain a puppet in their hands. It was this anxiety to destroy democracy than the keenness to bring the Nazis to power triggered the complex development that led to rise of Hitler as the German Chancellor. However, these elites obviously underestimated Hitler’s capabilities or his intentions. By creating a political stalemate and handing over the power to him, they had given the reigns of a wounded and pent up country to a dangerous leader with an agenda of his own. Thus, many scholars believe that it was this political miscalculation on the part of these elite leaders that played a larger role in bringing Hitler to power than any action of the Nazi leader himself.

Thus, to conclude one can see that a number of factors played an instrumental role in bringing Hitler to power. While, it would be correct to say that the ideology and personality of Hitler had created a strong support base for his party, which enabled him to come to power through constitutional means, one should not ignore the failures of the Weimar Republic as being responsible for his rise. Faced with the daunting task of reviving the lost political glory and damaged economy of post-War Germany, the Weimar Republic was unable to garner popular support that was essential for its survival. Moreover, as seen above it was the hatred of the conservative elite for a parliamentary form of government that further increased its weakness and enabled Hitler to come to power. Within seven weeks of assuming power, the Enabling Act was passed, which transferred overriding powers to the cabinet and ended the dependence on the parliament and the President. Thus, a new era had started in the history of Germany and Europe, which was to have disastrous consequences in the future.

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