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Chancellor Gustav Stresemann

In August 1923, President Ebert appointed a new chancellor, Gustav Stresemann, as the head of the coalition government of moderate parties, including the Social Democrats. Stresemann was the son of a Berlin innkeeper and beer distributor. He had been a student of history, economics and literature, receiving a doctorate at the age of twenty-three and writing his dissertation on the growth of the bottled beer industry in Berlin. His interest in history, the German classics and poetry continued when he entered a career in business and then politics. In politics he had become a champion of small businesses, including small manufacturers, and against big business combinations. At the age of twenty-eight, Stresemann was elected to a seat in Parliament, becoming its youngest member. He had married a young woman from a Jewish family that had converted to Christianity. And he was known as a man of courage who said what he meant and was willing to stand up for an unpopular cause.

When Stresemann became chancellor – at the age of 45 – he also took the office of Foreign Minister. He faced not only ruinous inflation but a failed passive resistance to the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr. The French had bypassed the refusal of Germans to work by bringing in their own laborers to work in Germany's mines and on Germany's railroads. Hostility toward France by Germans remained at a fever pitch, but on September 26 Stresemann ended passive resistance and sent workers in the Ruhr back to work. He attempted negotiations with the French government, trying to settle the reparations issue while winning some small face-saving measure for his government. He sought cooperation between German and French industries, and he sought to give France assurances of the security of the border between them. The government of Poincaré refused to negotiate its position in the Ruhr. Then Stresemann asked industrialists in the Ruhr to negotiate with the French and to promise the French their reparations payments. To other nations, including Britain, Stresemann spoke of economic trouble in Germany eventually being trouble for the whole of Europe.

Stresemann's willingness to give in to French demands for reparations angered many Germans. His government faced crises on many fronts. In the city of Leipzig, in Saxony, the Communists called for action to turn state power into a Soviet regime. In Thuringia, the old Free Corps leader, Ehrhardt, escaped from prison and organized a private army. In the town of Küstrin, about fifty miles east of Berlin, a Rightist force of four hundred seized the town. In the Rhineland, Germans were conspiring to make the Rhineland independent – a conspiracy encouraged by the French who saw such a move as weakening Germany.

Bavaria was also making threats. In Munich, von Kahr was back in power after having resigned in September 1921. Now he was state commissioner general and had virtually dictatorial powers. Kahr and other Rightists were labeling Chancellor Stresemann's government as Marxist – President Ebert being a Social Democrat and many in the government also being Social Democrats. With other Rightists in Munich, Kahr was dreaming of a march on Berlin to "sweep aside the Marxists" to restore order in the nation, and Kahr thought that in the process he could make Bavaria semi-autonomous. With him in this dream was General von Lossow, who had also picked up on Hitler's label of Stresemann's government as Marxist. Von Lossow was defying orders from General von Seeckt, claiming that he, von Lossow, was not obliged to a government that was under Marxist influence.

Seeing a threat from the Right, the Leftist governments in Saxony and Thuringia sought unity on the Left. Factory councils called for war against the Right. In Saxony, the government took two Communists into its cabinet. Two days later, the government of Thuringia followed suit. Unable to fight a war against the Communist regimes and Bavaria at the same time, Stresemann's government pursued a showdown first against the Left. It declared martial law and declared it unconstitutional for a German state to permit Communists in its government. Stresemann demanded the resignation of the government in Saxony. There, Communists and their allies took to the streets and plundered. The violence spread to Hamburg, where fourteen were killed before police could restore order, while Stresemann's government was sending troops into Saxony and Thuringia.

Social Democrats in Stresemann's government were appalled by Stresemann having moved against the Left but not against the Right in Bavaria. They resigned from Stresemann's government, leaving no "Marxists" in the Stresemann government against which the Bavarian Right might rage. Meanwhile, Munich's Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, saw a need for reconciliation rather than hate and civil war. He denounced the hatred directed against "our Jewish fellow citizens and other ethnic groups." He complained that civil war would bring more civil desolation and ruin. The extent of the archbishop's influence is unknown, but Kahr, at any rate, had decided to make peace with Berlin. He was impressed with Stresemann's success in crushing what he saw as Leftist disorders, and he was distancing himself from the National Socialists and banned Hitler's mass meetings.


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