Brecht on the Hindenburg presidency (1944)

Arnold Brecht was a democratically-minded German politician during Weimar era. In this extract, written in 1944 after Brecht had emigrated to the US, he reflects on the Hindenburg presidency of 1925-32:

“The real surprise was not Hindenburg’s victory, which in view of the lack of pro-democratic majorities was quite logical, in case the Communists abstained. The real surprise came later. It was the unexpected fact that Hindenburg subjected himself quite loyally to the Weimar Constitution and maintained this attitude unhesitatingly during his first term in office.

Both sides had expected his support for right-wing attempts to restore the monarchy, to abolish the colours of the democratic republic in favour of the former black-white-red, to reduce the rights of the working classes, to reintroduce more patriarchal conditions. The great surprise – disappointment on the one side, relief on the other – was that he did not do any of this. During the election campaign, he said that now he had read the Constitution for the first time and had found it quite good. “If duty requires that I act as President on the basis of the Constitution, without regard to party, person, or origin, I shall not fail.”

Campaign promises are often mere sedatives; no one trusts them. But the Field Marshall kept his for seven years. He swore an oath to the Constitution before the Reichstag. He had the black-red-gold standard fly above his palace and on his car and made no attempt to show the black-white-red colours instead. He made no step toward a monarchistic restoration. He performed his presidential functions conscientiously in the manner prescribed by the Constitution. During the first five years, he did not even once make use of the President’s emergency power under article 48, as Ebert, much to Hindenburg’s annoyance, had done repeatedly, and then did so only at Chancellor Brüning’s request.

For seven years he dismissed and appointed chancellors in strict accordance with the Constitution without regard to his personal preferences; the Social Democrat Hermann Müller was chancellor under him for two years (1928–1930). He signed all acts passed by the Reichstag, whether or not he liked them, even the first extension of the Act for the Protection of the Republic in 1927, though with a little grumble about the paragraph on the further exile of former royal families, the ‘Kaiser-Paragraph’.”