Heinrich Brüning was born in 1885 and died in 1970. Brüning was one of the major political forces in Weimar Germany and attempted to bring Weimar through the impact of the 1929Wall Street Crash. By the early 1930’s, the Wall Street Crash was having a devastating impact on Weimar’s economy and Hindenburg, the president, appointed Brüning as chancellor to solve these problems.
Brüning was born into a middle class family and received a sound education. He got a doctorate in economics and in World War One got a commission into the Machine Gun Corps. In 1918, he won the Iron Cross First Class. He entered politics after the war and joined the Centre Party. In 1924, he was elected to the Reichstag. His rise up the ranks was very rapid as he gained a very good reputation for his knowledge of economics and, more important, solving economic problems.
In March 1930, President Hindenburg – as the Weimar Constitution allowed – appointed Brüning Chancellor. It was hoped that BrüningBruning could solve Germany’s chronic economic situation and that this would also help to stop the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Brüning did not have majority support in the Reichstag. Though this may have seemed odd, such a situation was allowed by the constitution. To rule Brüning needed to use presidential decrees and for this he had to rely on the increasingly difficult Hindenburg.
BrüningBruning most feared social disorder caused by the despair of economic depression. Unemployment was rising and Russia had been in a similar situation that had lead to the first revolution in March 1917. In such despair and with no apparent improvement in sight, Brüning feared that people would take to the streets and that this would play into the hands of the Nazis.
Brüning realised that unemployment in the major cities was the key problem. The feeling of hopelessness could only benefit the extreme parties that existed in Weimar. Brüning’s plan was to break up the vast landed estates in Prussia – many of which were bankrupt anyway – and parcel them out to families from the cities to work on. The theory behind this plan was simple:
It looked as if the government was at least trying to do something constructive for the people of Germany
It would take people out of the cities and lessen the chance of social upheaval.
It would give people a stake in the way Weimar was being run as now they had a very good reason to support the government as they were land ‘owners’.
Brüning’s plan could have made some difference to Weimar but it was never put into practice. The landed class was still powerful in Germany and many labelled the plan as ‘agrarian bolshevism’. The major problem was that the plan had no support from Hindenburg. The president was himself a major land-owner in Prussia and here was his chancellor wanting to break-up these very estates that Hindenburg owned. It is also probable that Hindenburg was somewhat senile at this time and that people played on his fear of communism and used the phrase ‘agrarian bolshevism’ deliberately as they knew it would provoke a response from the ageing president.
Hindenburg dismissed Brüning in May 1932. Such an abrupt dismissal was fully legal under the constitution. He was replaced by Franz von Papen.
Brüning remained an outspoken critic of Hitler and Nazism and in 1934 he fled to Holland and made his way to America. Here, he lectured at Harvard but returned to Germany in 1947 where he lectured at Cologne University.