Problems of the Weimar Constitution (GCSE Example Answer)
Last updated 11 Apr 2020
Here is an example answer to a 12 mark question on why the Weimar Constitution was a problem for the German government from the outset.
Explain why the Weimar Constitution was problematic for the government from the outset
Marks: 12 marks
Stimulus 1 Proportional representation
Stimulus 2: Article 48
[Examiner commentary following each paragraph and at the end is provided in italics]
The Weimar Constitution was an ambitious attempt to deliver democracy in Germany. In practice though, there were many aspects of the constitution which undermined this attempt at achieving an effective political system. Firstly, the constitution recognised the local and distinct identities of different parts of Germany. Each of the 18 regions of Germany kept its own local parliament (called a Land), which controlled key services such as police, courts and schools. The problem with this though was that such power meant that often the local states (that were hostile to national government) would disobey and undermine Weimar in other areas of national policy, limiting the influence of the government.
Another aspect of the constitution was that the Reichstag would be a coalition of different parties created via proportional representation. Every party was allocated one representative for every 60,000 votes. However, because there were so many parties from across the political spectrum, finding consensus and developing policy was extremely difficult. At one point there were 29 parties in the Weimar government. This was at a time where Germany needed efficient and strong government to deal with the economic and social upheaval inherited from the war. Compromise only served to create a lack of clear, strong policy. The frequent disagreements resulting from an overly democratic Reichstag meant that there were nine different elections and coalition governments between 1919 and 1923 as the parties often found it impossible to work together and find consensus, which impacted the government’s ability to run the country.
[Excellent detail in this paragraph helps to illustrate the consequences of the problematic PR system.]
Linked to this, many parties within the Reichstag that actively sought votes deliberately tried to impede government business. Several parties, such as the communists on the left and the nationalists on the right, hated the Weimar Republic, the constitution and were opposed to democracy because it conflicted with their own ideology. This meant they were deliberately problematic in discussions, votes and the passing of legislation. Lastly, because of the inefficiency of the constitution, frequently the Chancellor and President had to draw on the most anti-democratic aspect of it in order to pass legislation, which was a reliance on Article 48. This saw the Chancellor often ask the President to pass a law by emergency decree (especially following the Spartacist Uprising of January 1919), which only served to cause frustration among parties and voters and highlight how Germany was only a democracy in name, not practice. This made it difficult for the government to rule.
[This paragraph links two different issues together very effectively, while ensuring that the answer goes clearly beyond the stimulus points.]
Ultimately, in a country that was in debt, recovering from the loss of World War One and trying to create a new political system following the abdication of the Kaiser, there were always going to be limitations placed on the new constitution. Germany had no experience of the ‘give and take’ politics of democracy and it showed in the creation of its constitution that was the most democratic of its kind on the one hand, but was supported by the draconian Article 48 on the other. It hindered the very type of democracy the Weimar Republic tried to create and only served to create further political instability.
[This summary helps bring together the overall analysis and demonstrates clear conceptual focus of the question.]
Overall Examiner Comments:
Level 4, 10-12
A coherently argued, sustained answer which includes wide-ranging knowledge of the topic to support the analysis (for instance when exploring the problems of PR or when giving an example of how Article 48 was used). The question is answered directly and benefits from the links back to the question at the end of each paragraph.