Problems in the Social and Economic Development of the Weimar

Problems in the Social and Economic Development of the Weimar

3 Problems in the Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic DIETMAR PETZINA Translated by Irene Stumberger, Michael N. Dobkowski, and Isi...

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3 Problems in the Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic DIETMAR PETZINA Translated by Irene Stumberger, Michael N. Dobkowski, and Isidor Wallimann Many historical accounts narrowly interpret the Weimar Republic as a mere prelude to German Fascism. The questions concerning the independent developments and the new social start following 1918 are fe1.rer than those regarding the realm of social problems that seem to have unavoidably led to the political breakdown of the first German Republic. Indeed, such an evaluation of the first German Republic is understandable since not only its beginning but also its end were marked by serious political and economic crises as well as social conflicts. On the other hand, this interpretation fails to sufficiently acknowledge the unmistakably positive beginnings of the 1920s. There was an astounding revival of art and culture, and German Sozialpolitik (the German government's laws and policies affecting the welfare of the people in social, economic, and cultural terms) was the leading role model internationally, at least until 1929, and despite the continuation of authoritarian traditions in German society, there also existed a widespread democratic trend, whose violent end was by no means predetermined. The following explications do not claim to be a new interpretation of social behavior and economic processes in the 1920s. Nor do they limit themselves solely to socioeconomic reasons for the collapse of the political system. Rather, they focus upon this epoch's prospects for development which distinguishes the Weimar Republic so notably from the Kaiserreich (German empire). Many of these possibilities were permanently crushed by National Socialism, and others forged the way for the new beginning of the Second Republic following 1945. The self-image of the Federal Republic of Germany, her people, and the institutions they rebuilt were greatly influenced by the manifold Weimar experiences. Therefore, the Weimar Republic does not only form the prelude to National Socialism and the Holocaust; it also forms the prelude for the new democratic beginning after the Second \lorld War.

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To attempt to give an all-encompassing account of economic and social developments in the Weimar Republic is not the purpose of this chapter. The intent is simply to extract a few questions from the profusion of problems in order that a framework for the analysis of political and ideological aspects can be formed. These questions are as follows: 1. Which economic liabilities resulting from the First World War especially burderred the Weimar Republic? 2. IJhat changes was German society subjected to? Did these developments correspond to general Hestern capitalistic patterns or was there something particular to Germany's development that created a special potential for conflict? 3. I!ow did the \leimar governments react to social and economic challenges, that is, to what extent were the administrations prepared and capable of stabilizing the economic foundation of the Republic? 4. Finally, why did German society react politically in such a different and disastraus manner during the worldwide economic crisis as opposed to similar industrial societies in Europe and America? SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC STABILIZATION Contrary to the appearance of drastic change and revolution, social conditions were not fundamentally altered by World War I. Certainly, widespread popular consensus attributed the blame for the war and defeat to the ruling elites of the empire. Nevertheless, no overthrow of influence, power, and prestige patterns resulted. Surely, the nobility that once dominated society lost its social and political privileges. Yet even before 1914, there had been disputes about the aristocracy, and now, just as before, the nobility held many of the republic's important positions in diplomacy and in the military. There was also little change in the traditional dominance of the conservative elites in government, the judicial system, and in the universities. The contradiction between the democratic will to change, on the one hand, and the authoritarianconservative stubbornness in key centers of power, on the other, became a constitutive element of the Weimar Republic. Of course, this continuity did not imply a solidification of the ruling strata. Rather, it went hand in hand with a noteworthy shifting of influence within the bourgeoisie and between the industrial bourgeoisie and the quasi-feudal elites. As a result of the world war, class differences revealed themselves more distinctly than in preindustrial times and thereby strengtherred the role of the industrial bourgeoisie.l More so than before 1914, control of the means of production determined one's material standing, working conditions, the level of

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

39

workers' lifestyles, and the privileges and welfare of those with possessions. Despite the demarcation of class lines, which had been brought about by the war, social conflicts were not primarily discharged agairrst entrepreneurs. The military state 's bureaucratic interventionism turned the workers ' protest and the displeasure of many entrepreneurs upon the government authorities. The goal of state intervention between 1915 and 1913 was to guarantee mobilization of the war economy, and government agencies had to force great sacrifices from the workers . On the other hand, the government was neither prepared nor in a position to compensate for these financial burdens with concessions in the political arena, such as trade-union participation in war -related economic decisions and the setting of priorities. Hence, among the masses, Opposition to and disappointment with the state and agairrst the political system as a whole grew without the masses simultaneously coming to a questioning of the entrepreneurs' position. These experiences were very much in, the foreground when the "Produzentenkartell" (producer cartel) was founded in 1913, consisting of organized labor and entrepreneurs. Thus , the coalition of capital and labor set the political direction for the new state. In comparison to the economic development before World War I and after the Second \lorld War, the German economy in the period between world wars presents a picture of stagnation .2 In the 1920s the industrial production and the gross national product per capita barely exceeded the level before 1914. A statistical average con tribut es little to a description of the economic development and its consequences for the social and political history of the period. Ilistorically more significant was the hectic sequence of critical disturbances and short periods of economic growth that can be identified between the world wars, inflation, the 1924 stabilization crisis, the crisis of 1926, and the Great Depression. Just as the trend in economic growth changed, so did the prewar pattern of economic cycles . Before World \Jar I, highs and lows in the economy corresponded to rhythmical changes, which according to the experience over several decades usually led to a higher level of production. The economic development between world wars differs from the pattern of classical economic cycles. It gave reason for a widespread pessimistic outlook upon future social development. The interpretation of these crises as a sign of a secular breakdown of growth seemed to be confirmed by the Great Depression that had been regarded as a transition to a new epoch by many contemporaries. This notion is certainly understandable if one considers that in the period from 1919 to 1933, nine years can be described as times of crises. Economic and subsequentl y social structural changes (the shifting career structure, for example) must have unfurled an explosive force far greater in this period of stagnating economic growth than it would .have in times of accelerated development. It is advisable to examine economic problems individually before turning to the social structural changes and the role of the state .

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The Weimar Republic can be divided into three time periods: The period of postwar crisis and inflation (1919-1923), the following phase of stabilization from 1924-28/29, and finally the phase of the Great Depression. Of course, this sort of periodization overemphasizes the persistent twenty-year-long crisis-character of the \Jeimar Republic, making the years of economic upswing an exception and lumps the "anomalous" years until 1924 tagether with the other years.3 It must be said that the commonly held crisis theory can certainly be verified if one only considers the inflation and its economic and social consequences. But if the criteria of employment and unemployment, industrial production, and gross national product are also considered, there arises a distinct cantrast to the traditional points of view. For example, the rate of unemployment from 1920 to 1922 was under 3 percent, thereby nearly reaching the prewar full employment level. Only in 1923, at the height of galloping inflation, did unemployment rise above 20 percent, while the comparable figure rarely fell below 10 percent during the entire period of stabilization after 1924. From 1920 to 1922, the real Gross National Product may likely have reached 80 percent of the prewar level, and the growth of industrial production totaled 100 percent between 1919 and 1922. Despite the uncertainty of all data for the period of inflation, the fact of a distinct industrial postwar boom cannot be overlooked. At the same time, in 1921, other important industrial countries suffered serious production losses, emphasizing to an even greater extent the recovery of the German economy from 1920 to 1922. However, the rapid recovery should not be overrated in view of the very heavy decline in production at the end of the war. During the war, Germany's industrial production fell to 57 percent of its prewar level and entailed disproportions in the production structure that could only be corrected at the cost of a continued decline in production.

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

41

Table 3.1 Index of Irrdustrial Production, 1913-1938 (1923=100) 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1913 1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 Source:

93 81 66 63 61 56 37 54 65 70 46 69 81

1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938

78 93 100 100 37 70 58 66 83 96 107 117 125

\lagenfUhr, Industriewirtschaft, pp. 23 and 64; Industrie im Kriege, pp. 166 and 191; Bevl:llkerung und \Hrtschaft, s. 176; Stat. Jb. f. d. Dt. Reich 1941-42, p. 192.

Until 1922, the upswing (disregarding the greatly lowered production level in comparison to 1913) alleviated problems that immediately followed the war. Above all, it allowed for an easier integration of the returning soldiers into the economic process--although at the cost of a lower productive standard whose extent and consequences were initially covered up by the inflation. A second divergence from the worldwide economic development appeared when inflation unavoidably l ed to an economic breakdown while in England, France, and the United States, there was an upswing after the cyclical depression in 1921. At the end of the first five - year period following the war, and at the same time as the beginning of the "normal upswing," the power of the German economy had clearly diminished internationally. According to calculations by the League of Nations, the world industrial production index stood at 121 (1913=100) in 1925, while Germany's production volume had not yet reached its prewar level.

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Table 3 .2 An International Comparison of Germany's Industrial Production in 1925 (1913=100) Japan Italy USA Australia Czechoslovakia India Canada Source:

222 157 143 141 136 132 117

France Sweden Austria Germany Great Britain Russia Po land

114 113 95 95 36 70 63

League of Nations, Industrialisation and Foreign Trade, Geneva (1946), p. 134.

Although economic development from 1925 until 1929--the Weimar Republic's period of stability--compared well with prewar levels, Germany still lagged behind the relative development of the majority of other industrial countries at the end of the 1920s. The industrial production of France surpassed its prewar level by 38 percent, that of the United States by 70 percent, and the world average rose approximately 47 percent. In contrast, German production rose by a modest 13 percent, based on its 1920 level. Germany was thus among the losers of the industrial race after the war, even though she placed second to the United States in total potential. Measured by total economic performance, the upswing from the middle of 1926 had already passed its peak by 1928. Just before then, however, from the summer of 1926 to the autumn of 1927, there was a short , hectic rise in economic activity that caused a 50 percent gain in industrial production and even a 70 percent rise in the production of capital goods within a year . Already by the third quarter of 1927, the peak of economic activity had been passed--a sign of the instability of the cyclical upswin g . Early indications of the world economic crisis surfaced by 1929. In that year, capital investments and industrial production were below the previous year, and by 1932 the national income declincd by as much as 43 percent in relation to 1929. The data of various individual economic sectors confirm, if with varying degrees of intensity, the development of the national economic output . In 1932-1933, the production index of German industry fell to half of its 1923 standing and to one-third in capital goods production, which are particularly sensitive to crises . During the world economic crisis , there was not only a decline of the industrial investment volume, but also an absolute decrease in the existing capital stock. Over a span of years, signs of a crisis emerged every>vhere,

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

43

a cr~s~s which was without precedent in the history of industrial capitalism. The extremely quick rise in unemployment was the most severe social indicator of t~e crisis. At the peak of unemployment in 1932, statistics indicated that six million people were unenployed in Germany. The actual number was probably considerably oigher, since many who had been unem~loyed for years no langer received state aid and therefore weren't included in the statistics. It is most likely that every third worker was unemployed in 1932. The quota of unemployed in industrial trade unions clearly rose above 40 percent. A review of unemployment in selected countries points to the special problems which confronted Gennan society in its crisis.

Table 3. 3 Unemployment in Selected Countries, 1919-1939 (Percent of labor force une1nployed) Year

Germanya

1919 1920 1921 1922 1923

3.7 3.3

Swedend

Great Britainb

France

e

1.5 10.2

5.2 3.2 17.0 14.3 11.7

3.4 5.8 16.9 10.9 4.6

5.5 5.4 26.6 22.9 12.5

5.0 2.0 2.0

1924 1925 1926 1927 1923 1929

13.1 6.3 13.0 3.3 8.6 13.3

10.3 11.3 12.5 9.7 10.3 10.4

8.0 5.9 2.3 5.9 6.4 4.7

10.1 11.0 12.2 12.0 10.6 10.2

3.0 3.0 3.0 11.0 4.0 1.0

1930 1931 1932 1933 1934

22.7 34.3 43.8 36.2 20.5

16.1 21.3 22.1 19.9 16.7

13.0 23.3 34.0 35.3 30.6

11.9 16.8 22.4 23.3 13.0

2.9 6.5 15.4 14.1 13.8

1935 1936 1937 1933

16.2 12.0 6.9 3.2

15.5 13.1 10.3 12.9

23.4 23.9 20.0 26.4

15.0 12.7 10.8 10.9

14.5 10.4 7.4 7.3

Source:

Stanley Lebergott, Annual Estimates of Employment in the United States 1900-1950, 'lalter Galenson, Arnold Zellner, "International Comr>arison of Unemployment Rates," in The !1easurement and ßehavior of Unemployment, ed. by NßER (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

2.G

44

a) b) c) d) e)

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Only trade union members until 1932. Unemployed determined on the basis of unemployment insurance. Unemployed as percent of the non-agrarian work force. Trade union statistics. Unemployed covering non-self-employed wage and salary earners in mining, construction, and industry.

The statistical indicators, particularly the data on unemployment, suggest that next to the United States, Germany was hit the hardest by the Great Depression. Between 1930 and 1934, the average rate of unemployment fluctuated araund 30 percent in both countries. Nevertheless, this crisis pattern was also typical for other industrial nations although characterized by less intensity or by a certain time lag. In Germany and in the United States, the economic world crisis reached an exceptional magnitude due to mutually enforcing causes after an economic boom lasting several years covered up the unstable character of the countries' economic systems following the war. On the whole, the United States experienced a more stable development than Germany. This can be recognized by the low rate of unemployment from 1924 to 1929 amounting to merely 5.6 percent in the United States as opposed to 11 percent in Germany. ECONOMIC SECTOR SIIIFTS DURING THE \lEH1AR REPUBLIC Disregarding the inhibitors of growth and the cyclical irregularities, shifts typical for the industrialization process continued during the Heimar Republic. They were to the advantage of industry and the tertiary sector and to the disadvantage of agriculture.

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

45

Table 3.4 Warking Population according to Economic Sectors, 19J7-1939 (percent of labor force) Year

Agriculture and Forestry

Industry and Trade

Tertiary Sector Total

Trade Public and and Commerce Private Services

Domestic Help

1907

35.2

40.1

24.3

12.4

6.2

6.2

1925

30.5

42.1

27.4

16.4

6.6

4.4

1933

23.9

40.4

30.7

13.5

3.3

3.9

1939

25.9

42.2

31.9

17.5

10.5

3.9

Source:

Stat. d. Dt. Reiches Val. 203, p. 2 f. (1907); Val. 757, H. 24, p. 2 f. (Saargebiet 1939); Stat. Jb. f. d. Dt. Reich 1941/42, p. 33 (1925-39).

By approximately 1890, the industrial sector--measured by the number of people enployed and their productivity--had already noved agriculture to the second position in the national economic structure. Thereafter, agriculture continuously lost economic importance althou3h no corresponding decrease of influence in socie ty and eovernr.1ent occurred. Even so, this process still emphasized the rapid decline in the social impact of the agrarian socioeconomic sphere and life-style on the total social development of Germany between the world wars. From 1907 to 1925, at least 1.5 million people left their jobs in agriculture. The sample years , chosen on the basis of occu~ational census data, do not reveal the entire process of sectoral change. The displacement of agriculture and its social manifestation--the migration from the country to the towns--exnerienced periods of acceleration as well as deceleration. The First \Jorld \.lar, the agricultural business cycles, and the absence of an industrial pull during the Great Depression held up the migration out of agriculture, while the relative industrial prosperity of the latter half of the 1920s strengtherred it. It is noteworthy that the agrarian migration reached a climax during the reign of National Socialism even thoup,h its ideology allotted the farmers a privileged position. In view of the long-term pattern of change in the sectoral structure, this is by no means surprising. While the number of people engaged in agriculture

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continued to decrease during the economic world crisis, the corresponding increase in the industrial sector was i1alted for the first time. A development that had persisted throug:wut the First llorld \lar and the great inflation was thus thrust back to prewar conditions at the end of t~e Great Depression. This slowdown of industrialization, even if just tem~orary, i1luminated the social irregularities caused by the economic crisis. At the same time, the overproportional increase of people emp1oyed in trade and commerce is also an expression of a crisis phenomenon. The rush into trade professions was frequently the desperate attempt of the unemployed to find jobs at any cost. The characteristic process of development for an industrial society--increasing wage and salary employment and decreasing self-employment--continued throug:1 the 1920s. Every fifth person employed in 1907 was self-employed; only every eighth by 1925. Of course, this over1ooks different processes that took place within economic sectors. Independent craftsmen, whose decline had been predicted by contemporaries before the First \lor1d \lar, were actually able to expand operations between the wars. The number of people employed in craft trades rose from 2.5 mi1lion to 4.9 million between 1395 and 1939.4 The social consequences of this development were significant. Craftsmen found their place within industrial capitalism after fighting the threatening dominance of industry for decades. Accordingly, the trades gave up their anticapitalistic position and started to align with industry on social-politica1 questions. In turn, industry realized that consideration of petty bourgeois segments wou1d be in the interest of their own stabi1ity. On the other side, the number of self-employed farmers had already been decreasing before the First ilorld \lar. This development acce1erated even farther in the 193t)s. 'lhile the number of independent farmers decreased to about 300,000 from 1907 to 1925, this category stabilized from 1925 to 1933, only to again fall by 200,000 during the period of National Socialism. The Great Depression's motto, "Selbstl:lndigkeit aus Hot" (Independence out of Necessity), was responsible for this slowdown in the shrinking process during the Weimar Republic. Remarkab1y, despite the fascists' claim upon "Rettung des Mittelstandes" (Saving the i1idd1e Class), a relatively !arger portion of the middle class had to give up üteir self-employment after 1933 than during the \1eimar Republic. \lith the decline in se1f-emp1oyment brought about by the accelerated concentration of factories and the means of production, there was a corresponding predictable rise in number of bluecollar workers, white-collar workers, and civi1 servants. Here, however, the crucial social-structural changes took place in relation to the proportional growth of these groups. Only the industrial working class remained re1atively stable. Their share of the total labor force fell from 55 percent to 50 percent between 1907 and 1925 and remained at that level during the 1930s.

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

47

In contrast, the size of the white-collar employee class changed dramatically. In 1833, white-collar workers numbered 300,000; in 1925, there were approximately 3.5 million. They fell into the fields of commerce, transportation, banking, and insurance. The increase of white-collar employees in industry was not quite as steep; only every eighth employee belonged to the "new middle class," whereas in the tertiary sector more than half of the wage laborers could be considered white-collar employees. A betterthan-average representation was held by those white-collar employees in new industries--which had already expanded heavily before the First llorld l'iar and were also the leading sectors of industrial growth in the lleimar Republic. T:1e emergence of scientific methods in production, swelling bureaucratization, and the growing share of tertiary production represented in the gross national product triggered and fastered this movement. The difference between white-collar and blue-collar employees cannot be clearly established economically and is of little practical significance. Yet these differences were fundamental for undeTstanding social roles and political behavior. The efforts to cut oneself off from classes beloH in the interest of securing one's own personal status, created an antiproletariet self-image that seemed to be especially susceptible to faseist slogans during the Great Depression.5 In this way, large numbers of white-collar employees, along with the old Hittelstand, made up the mass basis of the National Socialist regime. Theodor Geiger's6 data clarifies how great the potential for radical movement was by showing--with data based on a population and business census--how German society was stratified in 1925. He estimated that at least half of the population belonged to grou~s that felt their status was threatened from "oben" (above) and "unten" (below), by big business and the proletariat, in the event of a crisis.

Table 3.5 Stratifications of German Society, 1925 Groups

Mentality

0.92

Large entrepreneurs, large landholders, wealthy retirees

Shocked by the "crisis in caoitalist thousht"

Old Hittelstand

17.77

Self- employed individuals in medium and small businesses in trade, craftsmanship, and agriculture

Tendency to revert to the "culture of early capitalist society"; defensive posture in order to maintain one's own social status

llew Mittelstand

17.95

Civil servants, white-collar employees, academics

"their social positions are historically new"; ideologically unsteady

Proletarianized

12.65

Old l1ittelstand which has lost previous socioeconomic position; small farmers, cottage laborers, craftsmen working without employees in tertiary sector

Tendency to resign, but during times of crisis tendency to "harsh rebelliousness"

Proletariat

so. 71

\lorkers in indus try and agriculture

!1oderately Marxist

Strata

Percentage

Capitalists

Source:

Th . Geiger, Die soziale Schichtung des deutschen Volkes, Stuttgart 1932, pp. 73, 77, 82-1 05, quoted from \Verner Abelshauser, Sozialer \Jandel zwischen den Weltkriegen, unpublished manuscript (Bochum, Ruhr-UniversitMt, 1930).

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

49

ECONOl1IC CONTINUITIES AND GROWTH DU:\ING TI!E \JEI!1AR REPUBLIC It has become clear tllat the economic structures and problems characteristic of the two decades after the First \lorld War are basically so different from those of the period before 1914 that every comparison of these two periods of German history becomes problematic. For the contemporaries of the 1920s and early 1930s, prewar conditions may have seemed like a golden age, particularly in the realm of economics, where continuing expansion until \lorld \lar I mitigated the struggle between classes over the distribution of the national product. In contrast, the decades between the wars were characterized by Stagnation, serious economic crises, inflation, and self-aggravating social conflicts. It is not surprising, then, that a majority of the German people often viewed t:1e \leimar Republic as a dismal reflection of the prosperaus times before the war. Of course, identifying the source of the difficulties exclusively as the military defeat and its effects was only half the truth. It is true that the world war placed too heavy a demand on national resources and simultaneously destroyed the international currency, finance, and trade system with serious consequences for Germany; it is also likely that, during the war, traditions of state and administrative bureaucracy arose which blocked a swift, private, capitalistic reconstruction as well as a clear Socialist alternative. It is also indisputable that the war frequently strengthened tendencies that had already been formed before the war and thus influenced the future economic development of the \Jeimar Republic. The continuation of earlier trends is applicable to the monopolization of the economy and the changes that were thereby brought about in the economic system. The military bureaucracy hastened this process with the help of the war industry, the establishment of state production controls, and the regulation of resources and goods, but it did not initiate it. In Germany, a collapse of the liberal-capitalistic competition mechanisms and a changeover to a system organized by syndicates, big business associations, and state bureaucracy had been already noticed by the 1390s. Therefore, it would be a reversal of cause and effect if one merely wished to view the monopolization of the 1920s as a result of the war. Furti1er continuities exist. Although the ruin of the liberal world-trade systeia after 1918 was a direct consequence of the war, there were signs as early as the 1330s of a neomercantilist protection of trade. Such tendencies appeared in all of the European countries after the turn of the century. The government's influence uron the economy, i1owever, intensified durinp, t:1e course of the war. Out of the humble beginnings of the War Hutrition and Resources Administration, a bureaucratized war economy developed as of 1916 and subjected every phase of production and distribution to public regulation. But even here,

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at least in the very important raw material industries, prices and sales usually ceased to be determined by market mechanisms and were increasingly submitted to cartel agreements in the various spheres of production. Finally, in Germany, governmental influence was traditionally more significant than in other large industrial countries. Decades before ti1e First World war, the government obtained significant shares of heavy industry and developed into one of the largest bankers. The Gemeindesozialismus (socialism of the communities) promoted an expansive public assistance program even before the turn of the century. In addition, Germany's individual social security system for old ase, illness, and invalids had already been carried over from the Bismarck era' s quasi-governmental institutions. The example of governmental intervention therefore demonstrates that many social and economic political problems after 1913 only can be understood if the interventionist mechanisms created since the lß90s and the corporatist penetration of the economy are taken into consideration. This, however, does not mean that the significance of the war should be underestimated because without it, these tendencies would probably have just appeared in weakened form and after a time, dissipated. The immediate economic problems of the new Republic were without question direct results of tne war. They partially resulted from the stipulations of the peace treaty and partially from the economic waste of the war years. Accordinß to the peace treaty, Germany had to surrender one-tenth of its territory and po!'ulation. Although East Prussia and parts of \lest Prussia were less economically important agricultural regions, the lass of Alsace-Lorraine, East-Upper Silesia and the Saarland were a heavy burden on the economic balance. It vJas in these areas that a large part of German industry's valuable natural resources were located--for example, one-fourth of the coal production. The turning over of tl1e merchant marine without compensation and the lass of German assets abroad caused similar difficulties since their revenues before the war were important elements of Germany's positive balance of trade and payments. The lasses of these assets directly affected only the large banks and the relevant industries, but even the social democratic government could not remain indifferent to the wide-reaching consequences. After 1913, the revenues from services and foreign capital were no langer available for leveling a trade balance that had already been negative before the war. Yet, more than ever, the German economy needed a positive balance of payments because of political burdens. This was above all true because, with their reparation demands, the victorious allies, at least immediately after the war, had counted upon bindering Germany for several generations. The allies actually carried through nore realistic policies within a few years, due above all to pressure from the United States, which was persistently interested in an economic exchange with Germany. l
Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

51

reparation for the \veimar Republic' s foreign and domes tic policy, the economic politics and the economic development of Germany we re on the whole les s affected by it than was feared in the first few years following the war. The original astronomically high reparation claim of 132 billion marl~s (which was double the nation's prewar income) did not harm the German economy, since there was no point in time when it 1.;as required to carry the full burden. Between 1924 and 1932 , 28 billion marks were transferred abroad, but simultaneously, the same amount of foreign capital flowed back into Germany, particularly froTI the United States. As paradoxical as it may seem, the reparation problern worked like an economic stimulant, thanks mostly to the lending policies to which it was tied. Glose analysis unmasks as mythical the connection betwee n economic instability and payments abroad, claimed by all German parties at the time. Still, this economic relativity does not diminish the oolitical weight of the reparations. Reparation payments served as a ?ermanent leverage for right-radical agitation up until the 1930s and had considerable political and psychological significance. The second major economic problern of the 1920s developed out of the inflation. The German public also siraplified the causes of inflation by seeing its origins solely in the reparations requirements. Actually, the inflationwas a liability resulting from the war, specifically from the method of financing the war. In 191G, Germany's debts amounted to 150 billion marks-approximately twice the sum of the national income in 1913. To pay this debt and the interest upon it would have required greater means than the entire national expenditures before the war. To have avoided the development from war-time inflation to galloping depreciation of the currency, the imbalance between the circulation of money and the real production possibilities should have been corrected. That, however, would have meant cutting the nation's debt drastically by splitting the value of the currency and by not allowing the national budget to be a continuing source of inflation. Each of these alternatives was unpopular, and actually, all of the European countries that had participated in the war were harassed by inflation after the war. Of course, the clearest sign of this was the devaluation of the German currency, since the government di
52

Towards the Holocaust

helped to create jobs, thus easing the worker's integration into the new system, particularly since the government spent twice as much as in 1913 despite a gr ea tly diminished r,ross national product. 7 Those hurt by this inflationary policy (which did not end until the complete collapse of the currency in 1923) were, above all, the old middle class. Employees and industrialists profited from the inflation in their own way, whether through full employ~ent or through large profits. Thus, a silent coalition of interest s arose (consisting of government, bie business, and trade unions) against which small businesses and mvners of money wealth were powerless. Until 1923, their v1ealth and claims on government and business were worthless paper. It is difficult to determine who was really harmed, since even within the Mittelstand, there were groups who, as debtors, profited from the inflation. Farmers and owners of tenement buildings belonged to such groups. Then there is, finally, the insoluble question of to w:1om the "inflation gains" on the part of the state can be attributed, since plausible estimates are not available of how public expenditures during the inflation affected the various classes. In any case, the temporary advantage for the governme nts was politically insured; it could credit itself with the liquidation of state debt and the avoidance of unemployment. The owners of tangibles, generally including entrepreneurs, also benefited. Yet in the long run, damages to the German democracy far surpassed the advantages to individual groups. The economic ruin of a part of the l1ittelstand increased their susceptibility to right-wing political radicalism. The radicalization of the Mittelstand was also encouraged by the economic concentration promoted by inflation and the connected loss of status suffered by small manufacturers, traders, and craftsmen. All groups benefited from the prosperity phase following the stabilization crisis of 1923-24. However, they did so to markedly different degrees. The civil servants could not regain their privileged prewa r position. For workers and white-collar employees, however, the real wages and salaries increased relatively si§nificantly, that is, 26 percent and 16 percent respectively. Considering the impoverishment of the population during the war and inflation periods, this did not mean that mass prosperity had set in, as was the case in the United States. Nevertheless, the population enjoyed a relatively low level of unemployment and experienced political and social stability on the domestic front. During the five years from 1924 to 1929, important CJrogress in the Sozialpolitik, improvements in living conditions, and an expansion of the public infrastructure could be achieved. The distribution of income within German society shifted in favor of workers and employees at the expense of those who derived their income from Money wealth or CJroperty. 9 The share of wage and salary incomes increased from 70.9 percent of the GHP in 1910-13 to 37.3 percent of the G~


Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

53

Only after the fascists rase to power did this percentage-during a period of growth in the military industrial complex (1935-33)--fall again to 73 percent of the GNP. The develo,ment in private income confirms this trend favoring wage and salary earners. Between 1913 and 1923, private incomes increased from 66.1 billion to 72.7 billion marks. Simultaneously, the income of the self-employed segments decreased from 2.::i billion to 18 billion marks, and the income derived from wealth and rent decreased fron 10 billion to 3.6 billion marks. In contrast, wages, salaries, pensions, and various supportin3 transfer payments jumped from 33.6 to 51 billion marks. After Uorld llar I, the most severe lasses were experienced by those who derived income from money wealth. Inflation erased the rentier category just as it erased a large portion of the self-employed and dependent Mittelstand's wealth. In this manner, income derived from wages rase in the 1920s faster than the income of the self-employed. In 1925, the average income of the non-self-employed amounted to 43 percent of that of the self-employed, as compared to 40 percent in 1913.10 All in all, the non-self-employed could count themselves among the modest beneficiaries of an economic development in which their real income reached tne prewar level sametime between 1925 and 1929. In part, this was also due to increased state transfer payments, whic:1 to a larger extent went to the non-self-employed than to groups with a higher income. Avera3e figures, however, hide the redistribution of income within the wage-and-salary-earner category, which consisted primarily in a decrease of the spread in inequali ty .11 Before the First ~lorld llar, the income gap between the skilled and unskilled workers was markedly larger than in 1913. The same pattern also held for civil servants and white-collar employees. The farmers' income trend deviated from that of the wage and salary earners. The years of relative prosperity were accompanied by a worldwide depression in agriculture so that, by 1923, the income gap between the farmers and the rest of the population amounted to 44 percent.12 During t:1e last prewar year, however, this gap was only half as large. Decreasing yields per acre during the war, an international price collapse for agricultural products, and, finally, the stagnation in the consumption of agricultural products led to a noticeable worsening of the farmers' social position. Although most of the famers could pay back their debts during the inflation period, only a few years later they became just as indebted as before. ßy the end of the 1920s, therefore, the farmers proved to be a source of political radicalism, particularly in Germany's Protestant north and east. Also, this turning away from the republic, as reflected in voting behavior, could not be prevented by the voluminous support and subsidy programs, of which agriculture was the main beneficiary. On t:1e contrary, Brllning, the last not openly antidemocratic

54

Towards the Holocaust

Chancellor of the republic, failed despite his active agricultural policy in the fall of 1932 because of a coalition of dissatisfied entrepreneurs and large landholders. The fruits of this crisis, here as elsewhere, were reaped by the National Socialists. CONCLUSION Through its policies , the state influenced the course of development in the economy and society for some years. llowever, i t did not provide the German population with a fundamentally new, anticapitalist perspective. Similarly , the Social Democrats showed little inclination in 1919-20 to put into effect the prewar demands (which were part of their pa rt y program) for state planning and the socialization of the means of ~roduction. The question must even be asked whether or not they would have been ab le to do so since, in parliament they depended on the cooperatiorr of the left-liberal bourgeoisie. In place of fundamental reforms, capitalist market mechanisms began to assert themselves again throughout the economy after a short transition period. Facing the extra-parliamentary worker and soldiers ' council movement, the parliamentary left--given the relative strength of the council movement--sllied away from a conflict with traditional powers . It believed itself to be dependent on the cooperation of the conservatively minded state bureaucracy, The parliamentary left was also afraid that fundamental socialistic changes in the economic system would prevent rather than facili tate, so lut ions for the Republic ' s already grave economic problems. It therefore was logical that, of the socialization promises of 1919, only the rudiments remained, concerning primarily state influenced car tels in coal and potassium production. llowever, these arrangements had little in common with socialism, since large enterprises ap,ain enjoyed the most influence. It would nevertheless be unjustified to blame the Social Democratic c hancellors of the fi rst postwar years for me rely restoring traditional capitalism. A shift of power in favor of the state and away from private capital did occur, since the various gov ernments gained influence in many , mostly indirect, ways. The increased volume of government spending alone strengtherred the role of the state as a redistributing agent of the GNP. Thus, Ueimar coalition governments were at least in a position t o correct some of the undesired social effects of the private market system. This ne'~ interventionism also caused a strengtherring of the federal government's institutions at the expense of the competencies of various states and communities. It therefore promoted a trend that countered the historically fastered German fe derali s m. The most remarkable area of the state's new activities--and at the same time ex~ressive of the most positive political changes as compared to the Kaiserreich--was that of Sozialpolitik,

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

55

Because of its Qultidimensionality, it became in many ways a model for the new post-World I/ar I German welfare state interventionism. 7 hree areas of this Sozialpolitik were particularly exemplary: The continued development in (1) labor law, (2) housing and public health, and finally, (3) the extension of co~unal services . The introduction of the eight-hour day (which was one of the first 'l!easu::es tal~en after the revolution) became symbolic of a number of labor-law changes through which relations bet1veen classes were to become newly r-egulated. Of particular importance for the social reality of the 1920s was the introduction of the collective labor law, mainly because it included an official recognition of collective bargaining. In part, however, these laws, sup~lemented by the law regulating the intro duction of worker representation on the factory level (Betriebsdlte) of privately owned firms, bad only tended to confirm what bad become social reality. The relationship between labor unians and entrepreneurs had already begun to change by the First World War. This found its expression in the founding of a central cooperative body ( Zeotrale Arbeitsgemeinschaft), which included unians a'nd business associations. llithin this frame~Vork, new industry - wide labor contrac t s and new limited forms of cooperation were agreed uoon. Although this body rapidly lost its practical significance after 1921, its politicalpsychological significance was nevertheless imoortant at the beginnin g of the Republic. On the one hand, it pointed the way for the collective labor law that later became a part of the 1\leimar Sozialpolitik; on the other hand, it demonstrated labor's and business 1 s 1vill to independen tly deal wi th labor market issues, particularly since the state had not yet become fully stabilized. The cooperation between the se organized social forces had been ques tioned frorn the very be g inning, ini tially within labor unians and later, after consolidation of their own power posi tion had taken place, among entrepreneurs. l1any union members saw in this cooperation oerely the continuance of the truce maintained during the wa r and believed that the entrepreneurs ' co nc ess ions reflected their fear of a revolutionary change in society . Indeed, this cooperation 1vas initially more advantageaus for the entrepreneurs than for the workers since it implied that capitalist power relationships were in principle accepted by the unions. In the face of the g rowing self-consciousness evident among union raak and file members--which in part was due to the drastic increase in union membershiTJ--the union leadership, after 1920, had t o distinctl y emphasize the gap between itself and the entrepreneurs. This was not easily possible wi thin the Zentrale Arbeitsgemeinschaft . ~
56

Towards the Holocaust

inflation, membership decreased by .30 percent and, after 1924, the unians Here only one interest group amonß others. They enjoyeo more influence than they had had before 1914, but it \vas a meager acconplishment if measured by the hopes and expectations held by a majority of the workers in 1913. The Weimar state "'as relatively late in beginning to influence the producer cartel of entrepreneurs and unions. The constitution had provided a many-faceted role for the state in the area of Sozialpali tik. The governments, however, limited themselves initially to securing, on the labor market, the social compromises made by the parties. Even the already mentioned lvorker factory representation law (Betriebsr~tegesetz) of 1920 was only the continuation of a policy ini tiated during liorld Uar I. Only when, during the period of inflation, the unions' and entrepreneurs' ability to compromise declined, was the state practically forced to increasingly influence the nature of collective bargaining agreements and wage policies by resorting to forced arbitration. Virtually all important collective bargaining agreements between 1924 and 1932 were the result of such forced arbitration. This indicates that the 1913 agreed-upon free play of forces on the labor market did not function. For their part, unians evaluated the state's intervention positively until the Great Depression. IHth wage disputes, state arbitration tended to be more in favor of workers than of entrepreneurs, which induced the entrepreneurs to fundamentally question this system in 1923.13 Only during the Great Depression and at a time of rigorously pursued deflationary and economic cleansing policies was state arbitration used against the workers. These different experiences during the various phases of the Weimar Republic explain why in 1945 neither entrepreneurs nor unians were willing to institutionalize state arbitration. A quantitative expression of the state's Sozialpolitik was the quadrupling of public Axpenditures for social purposes since 1913. This occurred despite a stagnating GNP.l4 During the sametime span, 1913-30, total public expenditures doubled and the expenditures for education increased by 60 percent. In contrast, defense expenditures decreased to less than one-third of its prewar level. An example of this new form of Sozialpolitik was the state's public housing program. Before the war, only about every tenth apartment had been cofinanced by the state. Between 1919 and 1930 this increased to 30 percent. These measures markedly improved the problern of shortages in apartments, but did not fully overcome it. The decade from 1919 to 1929, it can be concluded, brought about a qualitatively new welfare-state interventionism, which could have corrected the market's distribution processes but only indirectly influenced the capitalist economic structure. Attempts an the part of the German left to fundamentally change

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

57

the system; for example, through socialization of means of production or through workers and soldier councils, remained without practical consequences and fell apart almost from the outset. Despite all the Opposition against Sozialpolitik and hidden socialization (Kalte Sozialisierung) the entrepreneurs would certainly have been able to live with this sociopolitical class struggle compromise, and farsighted industrialists promoted it. State redistribution efforts seldom hindered free-market activity; often it supplemented or even promoted it. l!owever, even this welfare-state reformism broke apart during the Great Depression because of the consensus destroying tactics employed by big business and big agriculture interests who believed, in 1930, that the time for a turn around had come. Their cry against deficit spending, politically realized by the vigorously pursued deflationary policy at the expense of employees under Chancellors Brllning, Papen, and Schleicher, liquidated all important welfare-state measures even before 1933. As regards to Sozialpolitik, therefore, l!itler did not represent a new beginning. On the contrary, he systematically pursued those conservative ideologies that had become guide posts of German political thinking by 1931-32. It would be incorrect, however, to conclude from the increase in conservative and authoritarian tendencies, the inevitability of fascism. Until the September elections of 1930, the NSDAP-although making lots of noise--was an insignificant splinter group on the right of the German party spectrurn. Only the very critical combination of economic crisis, unemployment, conservative-authoritarian undermining of the constitutional welfare state, and the radical-nationalist agitation gave the NSDAP a chance to quantitatively become an important movement. Despite its power monopoly, however, it even failed in 1933 to gain an absolute majority. Its mass basis did not consist of those who suffered most from the Great Depression--the workers-but of the broad spectrum of Hittelstand groups in the city and the country who became economically threatened and felt socially insecure. They were supplemented by socially uprooted, unemployed, young students without much of a professional future and former soldiers lacking bonds to the civilized order of everyday democratic life. During times of economic crisis, the diffuse anticapitalism of the German population did not stabilize the Republic. Instead it destroyed it because it lacked a progressive change-oriented perspective. It is the ironic tragedy of the Ueimar Republic that the National Socialists' anticapitalist slogans became democracy's death song. In its place came a system which not only stood for fanatical racism and the Holocaust, but which also robbed the rnajority of Germans of the modest fruits gained by the century-long struggle for a constitutional and democratic welfare state.

NOTES

1

2

3 4

5

6

7

JUrgen Kocka, !Classengesellschaft im Krieg: Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1914-1913, 2d ed. (G~ttinßen: VandenhoeckRuprecht Verlag, 1973). Dietmar Petzina and \Ierner Abelshauser, "Zum Problem der relativen Stagnation der deutsci1en \lirtschaft in den zwanziger Jahren," in !!ans Hommsen, Dietmar Petzina, Bernard \leisbrod (eds.), Industrielles System und politische Entwicklung in der Heimarer Republik (DUsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1974). Dietmar Petzina, Die deutsche \lirtschaft in der Zwischenkriegszeit (\liesbaden: Steiner Verlag , 1977). See also \Jolfram Fischer and Peter Czada, Handlungen der deutschen Industriestruktur im 20. Jahrhundert, in Gerhard A. Ritter (ed.) Entstehung und \landel der modernen Gesellschaft. Festschrift fur Hans Rosenberg (Berlin: de Gruyter Verlag, 1970), pp. 155-65. Characteristic of this is the attitude of the Gesamtverband der Angestellten (GDA), a democratically inclined association of white-collar employees. For an analysis, see JUrgen Priamus, Angestellte und Demokratie (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta Verlag, 1979). Theodor Geiger, Die soziale Schichtun3 des deutschen Volkes, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Enke Verlag, 1967). Peter-Chris tian \Jit t, "Finanzpolitik und socialer l~andel in Krieg und Inflation," in Industrielles System und politische Entwicklung, i1ommsen, Petzina, and IJeisbrod, pp. 395-425.

Social and Economic Development of the Weimar Republic

8

9

10 11

12 13 14

See also D. Petzina, W. Abelshauser, and A. Faust, Socialgeschich tliches Arbeitsbuch II I, l1a terialien zur Statistik des Deutschen Reiches 191:3-1945 (HUnchen: Beck Verlag, 1978), Table 18. D. Petzina, "Haterialien zum sozialen und wirtschaftlichen \l"andel in Deutschland seit dem Ende de s 19. Jahrhunderts," Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte, vol. 17, 1969. Sozialgeschichtliches Arbeitsbuch III, p. 106. Ibid., pp. 93, 107. George Castellan, "Zur sozialen Bilanz der Prosperitl!t," in Industrielles System und politische Entwicklung, pp. 104-110. Hans-Hermann •.Iartwich, Arbeitsmarkt, Verblinde und Staat 19131933 (ßerlin: de Gruy ter Verlag, 1967). As to the structure of government expenditures, see Suphan Andic and Jindrich Veverka, "The Growth of Government Expenditure in Germany since the Unification," Finanzarchiv, N.F., 23 (1964).

59