German Democratic Party
- Following a 10 November 1918 meeting at the offices of Theodor Wolff,* an announcement was printed on 16 November in the Berliner Tageblatt of the intent of liberal politicians and like-minded colleagues to form a new parliamentary party on 20 November. Responding were members of the Pro-gressive People's Party and the left wing of the old National Liberal Party, as well as such radical liberals as Wolff, Alfred and Max Weber,* and Hugo Preuss.* But the spiritual leader was Friedrich Naumann.* That the new Party did not include all National Liberals, many of whom formed the DVP under Gustav Stresemann,* is deemed the first flaw in the Weimar party system. A second was the DDP's rapid alienation of its left wing (e.g., Hellmut von Ger-lach,* Wolff, and the Webers), which was deemed too attentive to socialization and international reconciliation by the leadership. Naumann, elected chairman in July 1919, was dead one month later—a serious setback. Among the Party's subgroups were a business-oriented right wing centered on Eugen Schiffer* and a social liberal circle on the Left. Naumann's followers—including his successor as Party leader, Carl Petersen,* and the DDP's most prominent woman, Gertrud Baumer*—interjected their dead leader's dream of a centralized state in the Party program of December 1919. The same program committed the DDP to revision of the Versailles Treaty* and to the social-reform program of the non-socialist Hirsch-Duncker labor movement.In the January 1919 National Assembly* elections the DDP gained 18.5 per-cent of the votes and seventy-five mandates. But a steady and marked shrinkage of support began with the 1920 Reichstag* elections. By May 1928, twenty-five mandates were returned by only 4.9 percent of the electorate. Although the DDP was a committed member of the Weimar Coalition* and was represented in almost every Weimar government, its following was not loyal: in 1919 it boasted 800,000 members; in 1927 the number was 117,000. Middle-class splinter groups, many opposed to the Republic, steadily eroded its base of support. At the same time, its social and political philosophy moved steadily to the Right, due largely to the death and retirement of its most prominent leaders. Naumann died at age fifty-nine, while Conrad Haussmann,* ill and often incapacitated, died in February 1922. Friedrich Payer survived until 1931, but retired at sev-enty-three in 1920; Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch,* both prominent intellec-tuals, died in 1920 and 1923 respectively; and Preuss, "father of the Constitution,"* died in 1925. The 1922 assassination* of Walther Rathenau,* who was serving as Foreign Minister, was another blow. Of the remaining lead-ers, Ludwig Haas, who was forty-four in 1919, died in 1930; Otto Fischbeck, fifty-three in 1919, was often ill, while Georg Gothein, sixty-two in 1919, frequently complained of ill health and advanced age; Anton Erkelenz,* forty-one in 1919, was a physical and mental wreck by 1930. Only Erich Koch-Weser,* Naumann's inconsistent follower, possessed the health and stamina to retain leadership until the Party's transformation in 1930. Under Koch the DDP combined in 1930 with the political arm of the anti-Semitic Jungdo* to form the DStP.As of 9 November 1930, the DDP ceased to exist. Although it was supported by the Republic's liberal press—that is, Frankfurter Zeitung, Berliner Tageblatt, Vossische Zeitung, and Erkelenz's Die Hilfe (founded by Naumann)—the DDP failed in its hope of uniting Germany's middle classes. That failure must be closely linked with the breakdown of Weimar democracy.REFERENCES:Albertin, "German Liberalism"; Chanady, "Dissolution"; Eksteins, Lim-its ofReason; Frye, Liberal Democrats; Larry Jones, German Liberalism; Pois, Bourgeois Democrats.
A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. C. Paul Vincent.
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