July 31st in German History: The July 1932 German Federal Elections Held

Reichstagswahl Juli 1932.svg
July 1932 election results by district.

The collapse of German democracy was preceded by multiple elections which further destabilized the German political system. The elections held on July 31st of 1932 strengthened the Nazi Party and its rival Communist Party, and weakened the more moderate parties. In doing so, it pushed Germany towards extremism and accelerated the end of the Weimar Republic.

Reichstag composition after July 1932 election.svg
The makeup of the Reichstag after the election.

Germany became a democracy in the aftermath of the First World War. The abdication of the Kaiser and concurrent revolution established a republic. However, the new government was soon faced with the prospect of a collapsed economy and huge reparation payments, along with having to oversee the handover of German territory. The government’s response to these crises led to hyperinflation and further instability, which contributed to the rise of the Nazi and Communist parties in the early 1920s. However, the economy recovered in the middle of the decade, and the late 1920s were even known as the Weimar Golden Age. This, however, did not last. The relative prosperity was built on large public deficits and loans from American businesses. The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 led to an economic collapse. This in turn led to the collapse of the governing Social Democrat-Center coalition in 1930, which forced President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint a minority government led by the Center Party. This government could only operate via Hindenburg’s emergency powers, which only further weakened public faith in democracy. The 1930 elections saw the Nazi Party win ninety-five seats. In 1932 Hitler nearly beat Hindenburg in the presidential elections. In that year Hindenburg replaced Chancellor Bruning with Franz von Papen, who had almost no support from the legislature. As such, Hindenburg dissolved the legislature and called for new elections. The campaign leading up to the July 31st elections saw street clashes between the Communists and the Nazis, reflecting the deterioration of civil politics. The Nazi Party saw enormous gains from the elections. They became the largest party in the Reichstag, gaining one hundred and twenty-three seats. Further, the Communist Party also gained seats, although far fewer, and the Social Democrat Party lost seats. However, no party had a majority or could form a coalition to create one. As a result, Papen’s minority government continued. Germany’s democracy was left in tatters, as a majority of the voters had voted for parties that wished an end to it.

For a democracy to survive, it must have popular support. More than just support for a party, support for the democratic system is vital. When the population loses faith in that system, it does not often survive for long. When people turn to authoritarian or totalitarian systems in search of safety and security, democracy and its leaders have clearly failed. It is thus the primary responsibility of a nation’s leaders to provide safety and security for all.

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