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Kapp Putsch

A major cause of discontent was that the members of the small new army remained in complete uncertainty regarding their personal future. According to the Versailles Treaty, the German army, which in peace times had numbered about 700,000 men and during war had risen to 12,000,000, had now to be reduced to 100,000. This reduction had to take place within three months of the ratification of the Treaty. At Germany's request, however, the Supreme Council agreed on Feb. 18 1920 to extend the period for reduction to July 10. Until April 10 a strength of 200,000 men was to be permitted. In Spa, in July 1920, it was decided that the new army (Wehrtmacht) should have a strength of 150,000 until the following Oct., but should be reduced to 100,000 by January 1921. This decision was carried out by Germany.

The army reduction originally determined for April 10 was one of the direct causes of the military Putsch on March 13. There were two bodies of troops, the Ehrhardt Marine Brigade and the Lowenfcld Brigade, which refused to be disbanded.

In Jan. 1920 the text of the electoral bill for the first republican Reichstag and for the election of the President of the Reich had been published. It seemed that the date for the general election could not be long delayed. Yet the National Assembly rejected on March 9 a Conservative proposal for the dissolution of the National Assembly on May 1. On the Right the view was held that the mandate of the National Assembly bad been fulfilled when it had constructed a new Constitution and concluded peace. It presently became known that the Social Democrats intended to propose that the President of the Reich should be elected by the Reichstag instead of, as the bill provided, by the whole nation.

The feeling against the Government and Parliament created by this prospect was utilized by Wolfgang Kapp of Konigsberg and by Gen. von Luttwitz, and on the morning of March 13 1920 they seized power in Berlin with the aid of the marine brigades quartered at Doberitz. The Government offices in the Wilhelmstrasse were occupied. Kapp assumed the Chancellorship and Luttwitz the ofhce of Minister of National Defence, and the constitutional Government was declared to be deposed.

Wolfgang Kapp was bom in New York July 28 1868. He was the son of one of the leading German Liberals of 1848, Friedrich Kapp, who, when the reaction triumphed, had sought refuge in America and remained there until the establishment of the German Empire by Bismarck in 1871. He returned to Germany and was a National Liberal member of the Reichstag until he separated from Bismarck on the question of protection. His son Wolfgang grew up under Bismarckian influences, and after an ordinary official career became the founder of the Agricultural Credit Institute in East Prussia, which achieved great success in promoting the prosperity of landowners and farmers in that province. He was consequently in close touch with the Junkers of East Prussia, and during the Great War made himself their mouthpiece in an attack on the Imperial Chancellor Bcthmann Hollweg published in 1916 under the title of Die Nationotm Kreise und der Reichskanzler. Nothing more was heard of him until on March 12 1920 the Republican Government of the Reich suddenly issued an order for his arrest. It turned out that he had organized, with Gen. von Ltlttwitz and other officers, a conspiracy to seize power in Berlin and to occupy the Government offices. Noske, the Socialist Minister of National Defence, had, with misplaced confidence, put Luttwitz at the head of the troops which suppressed the Communist risings in Berlin.

Luttwitz, after delivering a kind of ultimatum to the Government, placed himself at the disposal of Kapp, and led the troops, which consisted mainly of the so-called "Baltikum" and other Free Corps, from the camp of Dobcritz near Berlin into the capital in the early morning of March 13, where he occupied the Government buildings. Kapp was installed in the Imperial Chancellery and issued proclamations with his signature as "Chancellor of the Reich." A new Government of "order, liberty and action" was described in a proclamation as having been instituted. The National Assembly and the Prussian Constituent Assembly were declared to have been dissolved. A Committee of the Social Democratic party replied by the proclamation of a general strike, an appeal to which the names of the President of the Reich and the Socialist ministers were attached.

The Government and the President of the Reich fled to Dresden to prevent civil war and bloodshed. President Ebert, Chancellor Bauer, and other members of the Ministry fled in motor-cars first to Dresden and afterwards to Stuttgart, where a meeting of as many members of the Reichstag as could be assembled took place.

Kapp tried to form a Government, with a number of desperate and in part criminal characters in the 'subordinate offices. Well-known Conservatives and former secretaries of state, who were invited to assume the more important offices, declined to associate themselves with him. He endeavoured to negotiate with ministers who remained in Berlin, particularly with Schiffer, Minister of Justice.

The chief grievances which Kapp and his followers professed to have against the Government were (a) that the National Assembly, which had been elected as a Constituent Assembly, was prolonging its existence and acting as a pcrma* ncnt Reichstag; (b) that this Assembly was manifesting an inclination to revise the constitution in respect of the election of the President of the Republic so as to make the election lie with the Reichstag instead of with the electorate of the country. There was something in these complaints, and in the sequel the date of the general election for the first republican Reichstag was hastened and was fixed for the following June, while all attempts to change the method of election for the presidency of the republic were abandoned.

The Government had no troops whom it could trust to put down the Kapp insurrection, but the working classes of Berlin took the matter into their own hands, and by a universal strike rendered the continuanceof the Kapp "Government" impossible. The leading generals of the army, with the exception of Ludendorff, had at the same time informed Luttwitz that his position and action were entirely irregular and that he must resign in the interests of the country.

Kapp saw that the game was up, and on the evening of March 17 he and Luttwitz fled from Berlin in motor-cars. The insurrectionary Government had lasted four days.

The National Assembly met on March 18 in Stuttgart, whither the Government had removed, and denounced the Putsch as a monstrous crime against the German nation. Warrants for the arrest of Kapp and Luttwitz and for that of their leading accomplices on the charge of high treason were issued. Luttwitz entirely disappeared, but Kapp remained in hiding for a time on his East Prussian estates, and ultimately managed to escape by aeroplane to Sweden. Among these accomplices were Col. Bauer (a right-hand man of Ludendorff), Capt. Ehrhardt and the former Berlin prefect of police, von Jagow, who for a few days during the Putsch had played the part of Minister of the Interior. In the sequel disciplinary measures were taken, and a number of officers and officials were dismissed. The rank and file of the participators in the movement, however, were let alone. The prosecution of the chief conspirators was ultimately fixed to take place at the end of 1921.

The Kapp enterprise had been started with an incredible degree of political ignorance, and must be regarded as having amounted to an attempt at a monarchist revolution. It may be asserted, however, that none of the parties represented in the Parliament, including the Dcuischnationalcn (Conservative) party, participated in the movement. During the Putsch days there were sanguinary collisions in various towns between workmen and those bodies of troops which had declared for Kapp. Nine officers were murdered at Schoneberg, a suburb of Berlin, and a number of persons were shot on the departure of the so-called Baltic Corps at the Brandenburg Gate. In consequence of these events there was a new outbreak of the extreme revolutionary movement.

The Kapp movement was confined to parts of north Germany, but the effects of the Kapp coup throughout Germany were more lasting than in Berlin. On the one hand it led to a succession of Communist insurrections, of which the most serious was that which was suppressed by reactionary troops and with reactionary severity in the Ruhr region, March-April 1920. On the other hand it left a rump of military conspirators such as Col. Bauer, Maj. Pabst and Capt. Ehrhardt, who found refuge in Bavaria under the reactionary Government of Herr von Kahr (itself an indirect product of the Kapp coup) and there attempted to organize plots against the republican Constitution and Government of Germany. The crisis in the relations of Bavaria with the Reich (Aug.-Sept. 1921) which ended in von Kahr's resignation was a further phase of the same trouble.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:55 ZULU