Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Discussions on the economic history of the nations taking part in WW2, from the recovery after the depression until the economy at war.
Cantankerous
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Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by Cantankerous » 08 Jan 2020 17:39

There is no denying that the one provision of the Versailles Treaty asking Germany to pay reparations for damaging Allied property in World War I became a long-term cause of Hitler's rise to power by provoking hyperinflation and making Hitler blame Jews for hyperinflation in Germany. However, it is debatable whether the German people would have opted to make Hitler the next German chancellor had there been no Versailles Treaty and no hyperinflation because the Great Depression provided an excuse for Germans to slam to Weimar Republic for not doing enough to fix Germany's economic woes and for Hitler to blame Jews for economic depression in Germany. What would have been the odds of Hitler coming to power in Germany if the Versailles Treaty were never signed and hyperinflation didn't exist in the Weimar Republic?

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Re: Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by Futurist » 09 Jan 2020 09:19

First of all we need to ask this question: What treaty replaces Versailles in this scenario? Is it a milder peace treaty for a still-defeated Germany? Or it is a peace treaty that a victorious Germany imposes on its neighbors after winning WWI?

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wm
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Re: Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by wm » 09 Jan 2020 09:40

As the Godfather said, the Versailles Treaty was an offer they couldn't refuse.
The only choice was between the Versailles Treaty and a harsher Versailles Treaty (and eating grass.)

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Re: Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by Futurist » 09 Jan 2020 09:46

wm wrote:
09 Jan 2020 09:40
As the Godfather said, the Versailles Treaty was an offer they couldn't refuse.
The only choice was between the Versailles Treaty and a harsher Versailles Treaty (and eating grass.)
It's possible that the Germans would have had a different choice had they not brought the US into the war in 1917.

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Re: Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by wm » 09 Jan 2020 11:43

That's true.

The reparations enabled Hitler but weren't the cause of Hitler's rise to power.
Germany was destabilized by the communists, machinations of irresponsible German politicians, and the U.S. stock market crash - not by reparations. The reparations were survivable.
Hitler had lots of luck anyway, the German people didn't opt to make Hitler the next German chancellor, he was nominated by Hindenburg.

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Re: Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by Futurist » 09 Jan 2020 22:40

Agreed with all of this. That said, though, it's worth noting that it was impossible to form a governing coalition in Germany in 1932-1933 without either the Nazis or the Communists due to them combined having a bare majority in the German Reichstag. So, if one wanted to avoid a continuation of German presidential rule by decree, one would need a coalition with one of these two parties. I do agree with you that, in hindsight, a continuation of rule by decree or even a right-wing but non-Nazi German military coup would have been far, far preferable to what actually happened in real life for both Germany and the rest of its neighborhood.

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Re: Would Hitler have risen to power if Germany had not signed the Versailles Treaty?

Post by Jordisson » 25 Jan 2020 00:38

Cantankerous wrote:
08 Jan 2020 17:39
There is no denying that the one provision of the Versailles Treaty asking Germany to pay reparations for damaging Allied property in World War I became a long-term cause of Hitler's rise to power by provoking hyperinflation and making Hitler blame Jews for hyperinflation in Germany. However, it is debatable whether the German people would have opted to make Hitler the next German chancellor had there been no Versailles Treaty and no hyperinflation because the Great Depression provided an excuse for Germans to slam to Weimar Republic for not doing enough to fix Germany's economic woes and for Hitler to blame Jews for economic depression in Germany. What would have been the odds of Hitler coming to power in Germany if the Versailles Treaty were never signed and hyperinflation didn't exist in the Weimar Republic?
I think there are several problems with the assumptions in this post.
There is no denying that the one provision of the Versailles Treaty asking Germany to pay reparations for damaging Allied property in World War I became a long-term cause of Hitler's rise to power by provoking hyperinflation [...]
Actually, there is a lot of denying going around, as the topic of reparations is one of the most debated regarding the Versailles treaty. Sally Marks is one historian, specialist of the Versailles treaty, that has sought to challenge the common view of the treaty and especially reparations.
To quote this review of an article by Marks (p.3):
It (the scholarly consensus regarding the status of the 1919 peace settlement) demonstrates that the peace treaty with Germany was much less harsh and vindictive than critics since Keynes and Nicolson have alleged, that the Weimar Republic could have coped relatively easily with the financial obligations and territorial losses imposed upon it by the peace treaty, and that the Versailles system collapsed not because of its oppressive features but because the German public was led by its leaders to believe that it was unjust and therefore should be resisted at every turn and dismantled at the earliest opportunity.
I think this shows that academically there is a lot more nuance than you say. The popular vision, especially in the Anglo-saxon world, of the Versailles treaty in general and reparations in particular, is heavily influenced by interwar German international PR. Another element which influenced this vision is the (in)famous book by Keynes : The Economic Consequences of the Peace, though it could be argued in somewhat good faith that it was part of this German propaganda drive, given how close Keynes was to the German economic representatives at the peace conference. He basically repeated all their talking points in his book and lobbied the League of Nations on Germany's part. While I strongly respect Keynes and agree with his economic ideas (those of the General Theory), I think that Keynes in part let his Germanophilia, Francophobia, feelings for a German representative, and the temporary hardships of Germany get the better of him over sober economic and geopolitical analysis (see for instance this article).
reparations for damaging Allied property
Maybe this is a minor point, but the treaty didn't merely ask Germany to pay for reparations for damaging Allied property (which was the understanding of the pre-armistice agreement), but, at the insistence of LLoyd George, also required payment for war pensions. This had absolutely no effect on the amount of reparations, since it was to be determined not by the amount of damage but by Germany's ability to pay. However, this allowed the UK to receive a substantial part of the payments instead of nothing (since UK territory was essentially untouched by the war), and more to the point made the entente look bad in Germany and elsewhere, as they had broken the pre-armistice agreement. This was a significant factor in the de-legitimization of the treaty.
by provoking hyperinflation
This is actually a hotly debated subject, in particular to what extent reparations were responsible (Sally Marks also questions this). The German financial system was in huge hardship even before the payments started, and inflation was already high. There was a refusal to clean house from the Weimar government (which is understandable as it would have meant taking responsibility for the bad financial policies of WWI). The real hyperinflation only came when the German government started printing money to finance the Ruhr worker's strike during French occupation. My opinion is that while reparations were only an arguably small factor in hyperinflation, as some harsh financial readjustment would have come sooner or later, Weimar politicians thought it smart to blame it on the treaty and France to avoid responsibility. Of course this was a bad calculation on their part as they were blamed alongside Versailles by conservative and reactionary sectors for agreeing to the treaty in the first place.
had there been no Versailles Treaty and no hyperinflation because the Great Depression provided an excuse for Germans to slam to Weimar Republic
The link between the Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression is tenuous at best. At most, it can be argued that as part of a long-term plan to bring down the treaty, Germany focused diplomatically and economically on the "weakest link" of the Entente, the US. This entailed deeper relations between German and American financial markets, which made the Depression hit harder and faster in Germany than other countries. However, the fact that the Depression was prolonged in Germany was largely a result of the orientation of its economy towards exportation, which suffered greatly when other countries (including the US) put up barriers to foreign trade. Only in 1932 did the German government start thinking about increasing aggregate demand domestically, and they only had time to draft up the plans before the Nazis took over and took credit for it (along with some help from the industrial sector).
What would have been the odds of Hitler coming to power in Germany if the Versailles Treaty were never signed and hyperinflation didn't exist in the Weimar Republic?
Firstly, beyond the question of the link between Versailles and hyperinflation, the link between hyperinflation and Hitler's rise to power is not to be overstated. Hyperinflation was clearly a factor, but only one among many, in the delegitimization of Weimar and the perception among Germans that the Versailles treaty was unfair. All in all I think the link is quite weak and mostly indirect, especially if you compare it to the actual, contemporary economic reason of Hitler's rise, which was not hyperinflation but on the contrary the deflationary context of the Depression. Deflationary contexts, contrarily to inflationary ones, bring about unemployment (especially among the industrial working class, which in a country with deep class tensions like Germany is recipe for social upheaval), bankruptcies, and exceptional hardships on independent farmers. Only the urban middle class suffers more from hyperinflation (lost savings...). This brought in a very short time the perspective of revolution/civil war to the forefront of German politics, which was exploited by the Nazis.

Secondly, as it has been noted somewhere else in the thread, a treaty had to be signed. It would help if you provided us with a counter-proposal of a treaty. I think that it is conceivable that in a perfect world, the victors could have written a treaty that would have 1) prevented a coup from the German military in the next few years and 2) been sufficiently gentle with the German national ego that conservatives, the military-industrial complex and fascists would not have had enough traction to delegitimize the Republic, leading to its demise to the Nazis in the wake of the Great Depression. However that is far from certain, especially given that beyond Versailles, the mere fact of defeat was an indelible stain on the Republic. All in all, I think the worst and less necessary flaw of the treaty was that in its form it was humiliating, and was a betrayal of the pre-armistice agreement (see for instance my point on Lloyd George and pensions above). This made it really easy for enemies of democracy to denounce it, and perhaps more importantly, made it really hard for proponents of democracy to defend its terms. While domestic political pressures on the victors pushed them towards a treaty that was rhetorically very harsh (given that it couldn't be, and wasn't, materially very harsh), they could clearly have resisted those pressures for Realpolitik reasons. The second worst flaw, which was maybe more necessary, was the violation of the self-determination principle, especially concerning Austria and the Sudetenland. This was a direct attack on the German national identity. However, without it, it would have meant acknowledging that somehow Germany had won the war (or at least not really lost it). I think it is quite hard to find other big flaws in the treaty.

Having said that, my personal opinion is:
- the terms of the Versailles treaty were subject to heavy and contradictory constraints, there was really little room to maneuver for the victors, and they found a complicated compromise that was close to optimal given those constraints, though they could maybe have made better PR about it
- the main, obvious flaw of the Versailles treaty that enabled the demise of Weimar, the rise of the Nazis and the onset of WWII was not in its terms but was the simple fact that it was not fully implemented
- if we look at the bigger picture, the two previous points are somewhat moot, in the sense that they were in large part pre-determined (the terms of the treaty could not be significantly harsher or softer, and it was bound not to be enforced). To me, by the time the victors started negotiating, given the deep political, economic and geopolitical conceptions and goals of the different actors (UK, US, German conservatives and military-industrial complex especially), which would not have changed in an alternate history, and the onset of the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis (or at least of a fascist far-right party, as opposed to simply an overthrow of Weimar by a military dictatorship) was almost inevitable; obviously this requires a very long in-depth analysis of the events and is up for debate.

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