Stresemann, Gustav

(1878-1929)
   politician; the Republic's foremost statesman and the 1926 Nobel Peace laureate (with Aristide Briand). Born in Berlin* to a beer distributor and innkeeper, he was among his generation's ambitious social climbers. He studied economics during 1896-1900, and took a doctorate at Leipzig with a thesis on Berlin's beer industry. As a fledgling businessman, he worked with Saxony's industrial association and became active in the Bund der Industrieller. His connection with light industry generated per-manent conflict with the Ruhr's heavy industrialists. Meanwhile, he joined the National Liberal Party in 1903; his business success translated into political recognition, and in 1907 he was elected to the Reichstag.* As faction leader during World War I, Stresemann was both outspoken na-tionalist and extreme annexationist; as a result, the left-liberal DDP refused to affiliate with him after the war. Stresemann thereupon founded the right-liberal DVP on 2 December 1918. Serving as Party chairman until his premature death, he was also faction leader from June 1920 until his appointment as Chancellor on 12 August 1923. His short-lived cabinet (actually, two cabinets), containing four Social Democrats and deputies from the DDP and the Center Party,* was the first Great Coalition.* His resolve to work with the SPD arose from prag-matism, not socialist sympathies. Governing for three months (12 August-23 November 1923), he faced more crises—separatism in the Rhineland*; hyper-inflation; the Ruhr occupation*; and threatened uprisings in Saxony,* Thurin-gia,* Bavaria,* and Hamburg—than the Republic had encountered since its founding. Moreover, circumstances forced his reliance on Weimar's chief mil-itary leader, Hans von Seeckt,* who openly abused him. Yet Stresemann re-mained energetic and tenacious. Increasingly an advocate of reconciliation abroad and constitutionalism at home, this former monarchist came to embody the Vernunftrepublikaner* (a republican by rational choice). His cabinet unrav-elled on 3 November 1923 and collapsed twenty days later.
   Even as Chancellor, Stresemann's focus was foreign affairs; he continued as Foreign Minister until 1929. After years of erratic diplomacy, foreign policy* became predictable under his guidance. According to Hajo Holborn, he "was the only statesman who, through his great ability as a parliamentary tactician and orator, as well as through his diplomatic talents, could make the office fully his own." Thus it is that the period 1924-1929, commonly known as die gol-denen zwanziger Jahre (the Golden Twenties), is also the Stresemann era. He aimed to restore Germany's great-power status, and his strategy centered on ending the struggle in the Ruhr and stabilizing the economy as prelude to ne-gotiating a compromise with France and reopening the reparations* issue. This was a courageous plan, part of his fulfillment policy,* but its realization ruined his reputation with old allies on the Right. Yet as leader of the DVP, he per-suaded Germany's industrialists to help stabilize the mark and forge a new understanding with the West.
   Stresemann tirelessly mended bridges with the West while profiting from conflict between France and Britain. Beginning with the Dawes Plan,* negoti-ated in London in August 1924 and pushed through the Reichstag the same month, he initiated his strategy of freeing Germany from the isolation imposed by the Versailles Treaty.* The Locarno Treaties* of October 1925, which eased European tensions while paving the way for German membership on the League of Nations' Executive Council, were his premier diplomatic victory. By linking acceptance of the 1929 Young Plan* with early withdrawal from the Rhineland, he engineered a diplomatic coup unappreciated at home. Although foreign policy always begets domestic implications, this was never so true as during the Wei-mar era. Stresemann's tragedy was the failure of the nationalistic Right, espe-cially old friends in the DVP and the moderate wing of the DNVP, to either understand or give support to his policy. The burden of the Foreign Office also destroyed his failing health.
   Because of his complexity, no critique of Stresemann can be final. Encom-passing both conservative and liberal attributes, both monarchism* and repub-licanism, he was damned by the Right for selling out to Germany's enemies while he was censured by the Left for being Hitler's* ideal precursor. Neither image is accurate. He was both a consummate politician and a patriotic states-man; his service in six successive cabinets was marked by a sober determination to revise Versailles through conciliation. From August 1923 until his death in October 1929, his negotiating skill and diplomatic constancy gained him the respect needed to maneuver through domestic and international hazards.
   REFERENCES:Cornebise, "Gustav Stresemann"; Gatzke, Stresemann; Grathwol, Stresemann and the DNVP; Holborn, "Diplomats and Diplomacy"; Jacobson, Locarno Diplo-macy; Kent, Spoils of War; Stresemann, Mein Vater; Sutton, Gustav Stresemann; Turner, Stresemann.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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