1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kapp, Wolfgang

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KAPP, WOLFGANG (1868-       ), German conspirator, the author or chief instrument of what is known as the Kapp coup d'état (or Putsch) of March 13 1920, was born 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. Friedrich wrote books which had a considerable vogue on the history of German immigration into the United States and on the question of slavery. 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 World War made himself their mouthpiece in an attack on the Imperial Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg published in 1916 under the title of Die Nationalen Kreise und der Reichskanzler. This pamphlet appeared about the same time as the attacks of “Junius Alter” and evoked an indignant reply from Bethmann Hollweg in the Reichstag, in which he spoke of “loathsome abuse and slanders.” Kapp continued his campaign against the Government, and was one of the chief founders of the Vaterlandspartei under the auspices of Tirpitz. For a brief period before the Revolution he was a Conservative member of the Reichstag.

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 Lüttwitz 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 Lüttwitz at the head of the troops which suppressed the Communist risings in Berlin. Lüttwitz, 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 Döberitz 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.” 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. Meanwhile 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 permanent 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 continuance of the Kapp “Government” impossible. The leading generals of the army, with the exception of Ludendorff, had at the same time informed Lüttwitz 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 Lüttwitz fled from Berlin in motor-cars. The insurrectionary Government had lasted four days. The legitimate Government on its return to Berlin issued warrants for the arrest of Kapp, Lüttwitz and their associates. Lüttwitz entirely disappeared, but Kapp remained in hiding for a time on his East Prussian estates, and ultimately managed to escape by aeroplane to Sweden.

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 Bavarina under the reactionary Government of Herr von Kahr (itself apn 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.