Other Weimar political parties

weimar political parties
A diagram showing party representation in the Weimar Reichstag

Post-war Germany was so politically fertile that it gave rise to dozens of Weimar political parties. Though the SPD, the Centre Party and the radical right and left wings dominated the republic, several other notable parties were active in the Reichstag and in German society. The increase in political activity is understandable. Germany was a nation in transformation, confronted by many challenges, both internal and external. Four years of war had produced more questions than answers. There was considerable public interest in emerging political ideas like socialism and fascism. Most importantly, with the removal of the authoritarian imperial regime, Germans were curious about the political direction their nation would take. And the Weimar electoral system encouraged the participation of smaller parties, who needed only to muster up 50,000-60,000 votes to earn a seat in the national assembly.

Some of the better known parties, listed in order of their formation, included:

German National People’s Party (DNVP). Formed in 1918 from a coalition of smaller right-wing parties, the DNVP embraced strong conservative policies and values. In its early years, the DNVP opposed the Weimar constitution and the new political system, calling for the restoration of the monarchy and an authoritarian government. The party’s best election results were in 1924 when it exploited the misery of the Ruhr occupation and hyperinflation to win 103 of a possible 493 Reichstag seats. But the DNVP was an obstinate political force, refusing to participate in coalition governments. In the mid-1920s the DNVP marketed itself as a ‘classless’ party, setting up party-run unions and appealing to Germany’s farmers. The party leadership and most of its members, however, came from the upper- and middle-classes: aristocrats, businessmen, industrialists and former military men – groups that nurtured the strongest opposition to the Weimar government, the Treaty of Versailles and Germany’s desperate economic state. The stab-in-the-back theory was rife in DNVP ranks, as was anti-Semitism and talk of a right-wing counter-revolution.

German People’s Party (DVP). Formed in 1918 from a Prussian group, the DVP was the party of Gustav Stresemann. For much of its political life, it mirrored his own views and values. The DVP began as a nationalist, conservative, pro-industrialist and anti-socialist party, largely dismissive of the Republic. Its more influential members were industrial capitalists and businessmen who wanted a stronger, authoritarian government to protect their corporate interests. Under the influence of Stresemann, however, the DVP mellowed. It formed an effective working relationship with other Reichstag parties, forming a long-standing coalition with the Centre Party and the SPD. It also favoured a revision of the Versailles treaty, rather than its total abolition. The DVP enjoyed consistent electoral success during the 1920s, winning between 30-65 Reichstag seats in five different federal elections. The death of Stresemann in 1929 saw the DVP return to its old right-wing values – but this ground was already occupied by the NSDAP and DNVP. By the July 1932 election, the DVP held just seven seats.

“The role of splinter parties in the Weimar period is often much exaggerated. The functioning of the parliamentary system was less impaired by the existence of a few small parties than by the difficulty of forming coalitions among the larger ones. Bourgeois parties lost their enthusiasm for working with the Social Democrats by means of fair compromise. Their ‘anti-Marxism’ steadily gained strength – and these decidedly anti-Marxist positions are to be seen as the real germ of the disease in the Weimar party system.”
Eberhard Kolb, historian

German Democratic Party (DDP). Founded in 1918, the DDP had nationalist strains (it opposed the Versailles treaty and reparations payments). Despite this, it was chiefly a centre-left party: most of its values and policies were liberal or social-democratic. DDP members supported the Weimar Republic, the League of Nations and the rights of ethnic minorities (as distinct from the anti-Semitism of some right-wing parties). It urged government support for both capital and labour; and foreign policies to facilitate Germany’s return to the European community. The DDP won 39 seats in the 1920 Reichstag election but their numbers dwindled consistently through the Weimar period. By July 1932, the party held just four seats. In spite of its small size, the DDP contributed several prominent Weimar ministers, including murdered foreign minister Walter Rathenau and long-serving defence minister Otto Gessler.

Bavarian People’s Party (BVP). The BVP was the Bavarian section of the Centre Party, which broke away and became independent in 1920. The BVP was more conservative than its parent party; it was firmly pro-Catholic, anti-socialist and focused on interests specific to Bavaria. The BVP naturally drew its electoral support from southern Germany. It was consistently represented in the Reichstag, winning between 16-22 seats at each election, though it never threatened to become a national force. By the early 1930s, the BVP had thrown its weight behind the NSDAP, calling for a Hitler-led coalition government.

Several smaller parties also represented specific groups, religions, economic or regional interests. Among their number were the Bavarian Peasants’ League, the Agricultural League, the German Farmers Party, the Economic Party of the Middle Classes, the Reich Party for Civil Rights and the Christian Social People’s Service. These groups only ever held a handful of Reichstag seats, so their influence was usually minimal – though they occasionally grouped together to support or oppose legislation.

1. Between 1919 and 1933 the Weimar Reichstag was filled with a plethora of middle-sized and small parties.
2. Weimar’s electoral system allowed these parties to win seats with only sectional or regional support.
3. Some parties, like the DVP and DNVP, began as opponents of the Weimar Republic but mellowed over time.
4. Several became important coalition members, agreeing to form a government with the SPD and Centre Party.
5. The rise of the NSDAP in 1932 dramatically changed the composition of the Reichstag, as the Nazis soaked up votes and seats from the other right-wing nationalist parties.

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This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “What were some other Weimar political parties?”, Alpha History, 2014, accessed [today’s date], http://alphahistory.com/weimarrepublic/weimar-political-parties/.