When I left off speaking of the "Diktat," I mentioned that it took the new republic a few historical moments to absorb what was happening. I would like to expand on that point for a few moments. Let us discuss just was going on politically in the new republic that received the treaty conditions in late spring and was being coerced into signing by mid-summer.
Back to the last weeks of the war. When Ludendorff started sending his hysterical (perhaps, literally hysterical) telegrams to the German cabinet in the late summer of 1918 (under the tremendous stress of the Allied Hundred Days advance) demanding that the government figure out how to surrender to the Allies.
All responsible German statesmen saw that the United States was the key to the problem of how to surrender. The United States was powerful—had not felt the German knife at its throat (with "backs the wall" as Field Marshal Haig had actually put it). The United States was apt to be at least somewhat forgiving, since over a third of its population had some connection to German ethnicity. The United States was headed by Woodrow Wilson, who of all the Allied heads of government was the only one who had produced anything like a peace plan, the famous Fourteen Points, with their various additions and interpretations. Hence, the central role of the United States in German thinking about how to stop the war before the Allies drove German armies back to Germany's own borders.
Wilson's verbiage looked more like a lifeline than a noose to German party leaders, bureaucratic officials, and royal councilors. The President's verbiage therefore carried enormous weight. And what the Germans saw was that he wanted "open governments, openly arrived at," "self-determination," etc. He was a political scientist who had thought a great deal about democracy. And indeed, from the standpoint of Germany's largest party, the Social Democratic Party, Wilson's scholarly comments from years before to the effect that "democracy IS socialism" were crystal clear.
Hence, in Berlin, September produced an intensive discussion of how to create a reformed government with whom Wilson would deal and with which he would sympathize. Certain liberal and democratic elements within the government were quite ready to offer plans. The liberal heir to the throne of the German state of Baden, Prince Max, emerged as a compromise solution—a personality with whom the Allies would work. Max was appointed Chancellor on October 3, 1918. He made his first peace overture to Wilson on October 5.
At the same time, liberal reform ideas from within German political life came to life. There was a great deal of discussion about the form of a new German constitution, much of it aimed at the undemocratic structures of the Federal German bureaucracy and some of it at the state constitutions, especially that of Prussia (a German state which covered three-fifths of the whole territory of Germany). There was also much discussion about the nature of what the coming German democracy would be.
It was some days before the German government realized that Wilson was really insisting on the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. But when this became clear, many in Max's government were quite willing for Wilhelm to abdicate in favor of his thirty-six year old son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, who had served as a general during the war. The Kaiser resisted abdication, even when his closest advisors came to the conclusion that he must go. And indeed, in the end, he was almost "abdicated for," once the Revolution started.
Yet as things developed, neither Wilson nor the other Allied leaders saw much profit in negotiations on the basis of a new Germany. Naturally, they had little inclination to welcome a new government of the German as liberal co-equals and pass up the distinct advantages they would have if Germany were in fact laid low. Hence, in the Armistice negotiations begun in October at Spa, the Allied representatives were hard, insisting that Germany, in effect, disarm before any peace conference should start.
During the last days of October, however, sailors mutinied at Kiel and other German naval bases, refusing to put to sea for a climactic battle with the British. The mutiny spread to workers in all major German cities, and the streets filled both with militant workers and returning soldiers. Sides formed quickly, and there was widespread street violence. Crowds in Berlin were enormous, demanding radical changes in the government. The Armistice was set for November 11, and the Kaiser left Germany, but on November 9 Prince Max resigned and handed power over to Philipp Scheidemann and Friedrich Ebert, the leaders of the moderate and majority branch of the SPD, the idea being that only these politicians from the left end of the political system and with direct connections to the militant workers in the streets could master the situation.
These two quickly formed a government of socialists, made deals with the military to help restore order, called for a national constituent assembly (an assembly whose purpose would be to write a new constitution) to be elected in January. After clashes with the radical socialists in the cabinet, and more street fighting, the Ebert and Scheidemann kicked out the radical socialists and began making more overtures to the middle class parties. Indeed, the January 1919 nationwide election for the Constituent Assembly returned an array of parliamentarians from the full political spectrum, but really inclined toward the liberal values and democratic processes. The nationalists and the monarchists were marginalized, and the new Communist party the related Independent socialists were likewise in a parliamentary wilderness.
The complexion of the German political system dealing with the Allies was therefore decidedly in the direction of democratic processes. A majority of voters supporting the "Weimar Coalition" parties probably favored some kind of democratic state, many of them some kind of welfare state. The Constitution they hammered together was finished at nearly the same moment as the Treaty. It featured a system of representation which its makers considered "the most democratic system in the world." There was universal suffrage (far ahead of Britain in this regard), proportional representation (much more responsive, one might argue, than the systems of any of the Allies), pure republic status (from Wilson's theory itself, better than Britain), etc. No class system hindered rising in the political system. The first Chancellor of the German republic was the son of a saddle-maker. Some high officials of the Weimar Republic had been in jail for political activity under the Kaiser, many years before.
This is long essay for the existing road conditions of the blog. But it is important. The Allies handed the Treaty to a Germany run by individuals who were on the whole much more "democratic" in every sense than the elites who ran their countries.
My mentor, the fine historian of Europe, Hans A. Schmitt, used to say, "Philipp Scheidemann refused to be a part of the government which gave approval to the Treaty. He said, 'The hand that signs this Treaty will shrivel.' And he was right. The socialists and democrats led the signing of it, and their hand shriveled."