Bismarck's Germany

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  • Created on: 08-04-13 11:58

The German Constitution - 1871

The Kaiser 

  • Wilhelm I King of Prussia appointed Kaiser of the new Germany
  • He had the power to appoint and dismiss the chancellor and dissolve the Reichstag
  • Controlled foreign policy
  • Had a say in domestic laws in consultation with his government

The Chancellor

  • Government headed by chancellor Otto van Bismarck, with support of ministers
  • Decided domestic policy in consultation with the Kaiser

Bundesrat (Upper House)

  • Members not elected, consisted of 58 representatives from 25 states (Prussia had 17)
  • Headed by the chancellor and could veto legislation (apart from the budget)

Reichstag (Lower House) - Members (397) elected by electorate (Men over 25)

  • Parliment gave consent to all laws, it could not amend laws or dismiss the Chancellor
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Bismarck's role in the government

Bismarck was so important in the new government because:

  • He held a pivotal position at the centre of the government. He controlled the governments of Prussia and the German Empire and he was at the centre of policy making
  • If the Reichstag did not accept his proposals he sought the Kaiser's permission to dissolve the lower house and hold new election
  • The Kaiser was dependant on Bismarck and his services, therefore if there were differences of opinion, Bismarck could usually get his way by threatening to resign
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Bismarck's aims and the Constitution

Bismarcks Aims:

1. To retain as much power as possible for the Kaiser and the Chancellor

Both the Kaiser and Chancellor had a large majority of the power. Kaiser in charge of foreign policy and Chancellor in charge of domestic policy. Kaiser and Chancellor had signifcant control of the Reichstag and Bundesrat

2. To limit the influence of the German Parliment

  • Reichstag - Although gave consent to new laws, it could not amend existing laws or dismiss the chancellor. Influnence was limited
  • Bundesrat - Prussia was the largest state and had the most representatives, meaning the Kaiser had control. The Chancellor headed this upper house (could initiate and veto legislation) therefore the Chancellor limited the influence of the Bundesrat

3. To ensure a pre-eminent position for Prussia 

(Kaiser the King of Prussia, Bismarck the Prime Minister) Prussia had a strong position in the Bundesrat - could initate and veto legislation with a majority vote. 

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Political Parties

Conservatives (DKP and FKP) - Represented protestant Prussian junker landowners, industrialists and buisnessmen. Were in favour of Prussian dominance, disliked Bismarcks early alliance with liberals and detested the democratic element of the Constitution (Elected Reichstag). Supported Bismarck in the period 1878-1890

The Centre - Represented German catholics in west (Alsace Lorraine) east (Poles) and South. They aimed to preserve the position of the Catholic Church. Were attacked by Bismarck (Kulturkampf) 1871-1878 but after this Centre became a support base for Bismarck

Liberals (NL and DFP) - Represented protestant middle classes and the wealthy well educated. It stood for free trade, a strong Germany and a liberal state. Welcomed unifcation and supported Bismarck 1871-1878 until his economic turn to protectionism.

Social Democrats (SPD) - Represented working class and social revolutionaries. Wanted a reduction in the power of the elite and welfare reforms. Extremist members wanted an overthrow of the constitution. Bismarck became obsessed with the threat of socialism and attacked them with the Anti-Socialist bill in 1878. 

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Phases of Bismarcks Rule


  • Consolidaion of the German Empire
  • Alliance with the National Liberals in order to bring about economic reforms needed to gain greater unity for Germany
  • Free trade - (This pleased the National Liberals)
  • Kulturkampf, attack on catholicism and the centre party
  • From 1873  - The Great Depression but industrialisation and urbainsation continued,


  • Following the Great Depression there was a calling for protectionism 
  • This allowed Bismarck to break his alliance with the National Liberals. 
  • There was a creation of a conservative/centre support base for Bismarck in the Reichstag
  • There was an attack on socialism with the Anti-Socialist Laws, the attack was measured with State Socialism to keep working classes on side
  • The economy continued to grow rapidly
  • In 1888 Wilhelm II became Kaiser and this ultimately led to the end of Bismarck who resigned in 1890
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Motives for the Kulturkampf

Bismarck launched a campaign against Catholics in Germany - 1871-1878

Bismarck's Motives:

  • Was worried about the catholic minority (39%) He wanted them to put the loyalty of their state above anything else (Religion)
  • Bismarcks anti-catholicism was a reaction the development of the Centre party. Set up in 1870 to protect catholic interests. Won 58 seats in 1871 and influence continued to grow. Bismarck feared the party would encourage civil disobedience
  • Catholic Agression. In 1864, pope had declared the catholic church was opposed to liberalism and nationalism, these ideologies had helped unify Germany
  • In 1870, Pope proclaimed the "Doctrine of papal infallibility" which stated that the pope could not be wrong -  this placed catholics in a difficult position. They would have to choose between the demands of their Church and Country
  • Catholic minorities had voiced their desire for increased rights, Kulturkampf offered Bismarck the oppurutnity to remove these demands.
  • Political advantages - Bismarck by launching Kulturkampf had full support of the national liberals who wanted to replace religious education with state controlled education.
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The Kulturkampf

1871 - An anti-catholic and anti-centre party attitude started to develop within Germany. Hostile articles in the press and clergy banned rom mentioning politics while preaching

1872 - Diplomatic relations were broken with the Vatican. Jesuit religious order (tried to spread catholicism) were forced out of Germany

1873 - Kulturkampf intensifies with the introduction of Falk Laws. They brought the Catholic Church closely under the government. Catholic Education became under state supervision. Only people born in Germany could becom preists and existing preists had to prove their loyalty to Germany. Appointmentof clergy was to be made by the state not the church.

1874 - 1000 priests suspended. Regristation of births, marriges and deaths given to the state. Banned priests caught preaching could be arrested or expelled from Germany.

1875 - State subsidies could be suspended cutting off a source of funding for the Church

1878 - Death of Pope Pius XI and election of more conciliatory Leo XIII (willing for chang and agreement, to work with Bismarck)

1879 - Dismissal of Falk Laws marks the end of the Kulturkampf

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Negative Impact of the Kulturkampf

Could be argued that the abondment of the campaign was a defeat for Bismarck and the immediate effects of the Kulturkampf were negative for Bismark.

  • Despite the repression the Catholic Church continued to thrive. Persecution created martys which encourage resistance
  • Catholics flocked to the Centre Party to defend their interests. Centre party organised meetings and resistance tours to fight the Kulturkampf. In 1874 they became the second largest party in the Reichstag
  • Kulturkampf intensified divisions within the new Empire rather than helping unify it. Poles in the ast and the people of Alsace Lorraine in the west continued to voice demands
  • Decline of relations with Catholic Austria. 
  • The ending of the campaign in 1879 seemed a defeat for Bismarck. 
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Positive Impact of the Kulturkampf

  • The Kulturkampf can be argued as not a defeat for Bismarck, it was a tactical withdrawal in order to deal with more important issues - to tackle the threat of socialism
  • He had important reasons for ending it - he wanted a closer alliance with Austria, he wanted to abandon free trade and this would loose him national liberal support. Bismarck could not afford to have the Centre Party against him aswell. He also needed support of the Protestant conservatives
  • Bismarck was worried about increasinjg working class support for socialists and its threat to German unity. He wanted to be able to use both the Centre Party and the Catholic Church against this threat.
  • The death of Pope Pius XI and his more conciliatory replacememt Leo XIII provided Bismarck with a way out
  • In the long term Kulturkampf did not harm Bismarcks position and in fact strengthend unity in the Reich.
  • An alliance was formed with Austria in 1879 thanks to the support of the pope and the Centre party
  • The change in policy allowed Bismarck to make himself more independant from the national liberals.
  • Kulturkampf highlighted Bismarcks political skill. He was able to change policy when the time required it to strengthen his position in the Reichstag
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Conclusion on Kulturkampf

While the immediate effects of the Kulturkampf may have been negative for Bismark such as the strengthening of Catholic and Centre party opposition, the long term effects of the Kulturkampf were not as serious as might have been the case., Relations with the Catholics and centre party imporved and this allowed Bismarck to embark on new policies and abandon the liberals. It also allowed him to improve international relations with Austria. 

It can be argued that the abandonment of the campaign in 1879 was a defeat for Bismarck but he reasons to abandon it. It was a tactical withdrawal used to gain support for the increasing threat of socialism to the unity of the Reich.

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Free Trade and Protectionism

Free Trade -  Having few or no tariffs on imports or exports. Those who supported it (National Liberals) believed in encouraged economic growth and kept the price of raw materials low which in turn reduced the cost of manufactured goods.

Protectionism - The introduction of tarrifs (especially) on imports. This would increase the price of imported goods which would encourage customers to buy home produced goods (with no tariff). It could however lead to retaliation with other countries introducing similar tariffs and have an adverse effect on exports. 

Throughout the 1870's Bismarck had followed a free trade economic policy in order to keep the support of the National Liberals. 1878-9 marks a turning point where he moved away from his allies in the Reichstag (National Liberals) and began new policies designed to win over the Conservative and Centre Parties. The first stage in this turning point was the reintroduction of protective tariffs on foreign good.

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Reasons for Bismarck's reintroduction of Protectio


  • 1873 marked a serious world economic crisis and prices began to fall. This alarmed many German manufactures.
  • By the late 1870's most European countries had established tariffs on foreign goods.
  • There was pressure from many German manufactures to implement tarrifs to stifle foreign competition. 
  • Agriculture was stuggling at the end of the 1870s. There had been a series of bad harvests and there was increased competition from cheap Russian and American wheat. Peasants and landowners began to worry for their incomes and survival. 
  • As a Junker landowner himself, Bismarck was sympathetic to agricultural demands. He didn't want their economic position undermined.
  • Tariffs would provide the goverment with much needed revenue since there was not direct taxation on German civilians. Since all other taxes had to be approved by th Reichstag, bismarck favoured any means of getting an income which did not rely on the annual Reichstag vote. 
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Reasons for Bismarck's reintroduction of Protectio


  • Bismarck fazvoured German self sufficiency especially in wheat, He wanted the country to be able to feed itself in the event of a war.
  • Bismarck wanted to abandon his alliance with the Liberals and work more closely with the Conservatives and Centre Party. He wanted their support against the growing threat of socialism
  • Russia had recently adpoted a policy of protectionism. Relations with them had recently deterioated and the imposition of tariffs on Russian wheat could act as a form of retaliation.
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Results of Economic Protectionism

Politically - It was a great sucess

  • His aim of abandoning the alliance with the Liberals after they were seriously weakened and split over tariffs.
  • This futher benefited Bismarck as he was able to form a new alliace with the Conservatives and Centtre Party who dominated the Reichstag in the 1880s
  • Less pressure on Bismarck to move to a more representative form of government
  • It once again demonstrated his political skill and oppurtunism, making and breaking alliances in the Reichstag

Economically - Results were mixed

  • Tariffs on agricultural goods did help Germanys farmers and in turn landowners became firm supporters of Bismarck
  • Industrialists abandoned their support for fre trade and the National Liberals and increasingly supported conservatives - alliance of "Steel and Rye"
  • However, German consumers suffered from the artificial high prices imposed on basic food like bread, effecting living standards for the poor
  • In turn this lead to many looking to the socialists for help, lifting their support which was one of Bismarcks greatest fears
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The Gotha Programme

In 1875 two groups met at gotha and united to form the Social Democratic Party (SPD)

  • ADAV - 15,000 members, wanted a redistribution of wealth and to abolish private property
  • SDAP - 9,000 members, were a more marxist revolutionary organisation

A Gotha programme was drawn up in which their main aims were included

Some of their aims would alarm Bismarck:

  • Legislation by the people - would remove Bismarcks power to create domestic laws
  • A progressive income tax to replace indirect taxing - would affect landowners
  • The right to form trade unions
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Motives for Anti-Socialist Laws

It is clear that Bismarck saw the Social Democrat Party as a rising threat to his position and the unity of th Reich

  • Bismarck saw the socialists as enemies of the Reich and to its unity. He also saw socialism as a threat to a traditional German society.
  • Socialism had strengthened and unified in the 1860s and 1870s. 
  • The strength of the SPD had grown in the Reichstag. In 1877 it had 12 seats bu thtere was a worry it would continue to increase
  • The ideology of the SPD was worrying to Bismarck who saw it as a direct threat to his government. The Gotha Programme wanted trade unions and less state control in the short term. In the long term the SPD wanted a workers republic 
  • Bismarck was worried about the threat to his Junker class (landowners) caused by the socialists as well as the threat to factory owners
  • An attack on the socialists would win Bismarck support amongst the Conservatives in the Reichstag
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Anti-Socialist Laws

Two assassination attempts on the Kaiser triggered an increaeed anti-socialist feeling. This gave Bismarck the oppurtunity to pass the Anti-Socialist Law in October 1878.

It Declared

  • Socialist organisations dedicated to revolution were banned
  • Publications like socialist newspapers calling for revolution were banned.
  • Members of these forbidden organisations could be fined or arrested, including their leaders
  • Public meetings promoting social revolution or the otherthrow of the government were banned.
  • Police powers to search and arrest were increasd.

Bismarck hoped to ban the SPD itself but this was stoppped by opposition from both the National LIberals and the Centre Party in the Reichstag. SPD continued to take part in elections in the Reichstag

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How Successful was the Anti-Socialist Laws


  • The socialist groups rallied against the repression. Groupsmet in secret and socialist newspapers were smuggled into Germany. Meetings were also organised abroad
  • The SPD vote increased and by 1890 it had 35 seats in the Reichstag. Socialist repression encouraged the SPD to drop its more extremist ideas and so it therefore gained more popular appeal
  • Trade unions in the long term strengthened and this led to a series of strikes
  • Some of the working class resented the attack on "their" party. SPD pushed for workers rights and reforms and so this made them more popular with the working classes. Bismarcks popularity with the working class masses decreased
  • Bismarck had become obssesed with the socialist threat and in 1889 he tried to make the law permanant, however he was defeated


  • In the short term it did weaked the socialists. Trade unions were crused and membershop of the SPD declined. Many of its leaders were arrested or exiled
  • Many publications and newspapers were suppressed (45/47)
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Motives for State Socialism

Bismarck realised that repression alone would not reduce support for the SPD. A carrot as well as a stick was required to show workers that the state was concerned with their welfare.

There was also economic motives, by improving the welfare of the poor it would in turn make Germany stronger by improving its labour force.

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What was State Socialism

Bismarck introdued a series of social reforms desined to ais the poorest sections of German Society - The Working Class

  • 1883 - medical insurance was introduced. This was paid jointly by the employer and employee and covered 3 million workers
  • 1884 - accident insurance introduced. Paid for by the employers and privided grants for thos inhured at work
  • 1889 - Bismarck brough in old age pensions for people over the age of 70
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How Successul was State Socialism?


  • Bismarcks scheme was extremely innovative. It was also a lot more extensive that might have been the case. Much of the population were enthusiastic about the reforms.


  • Generally State Socialism did not have the desired effect for Bismarck. 
  • Politically it did little to stop increasing support for the SPD
  • Some workers were not taken in by the reforms, encouraged by extremist socialisms that it was a sham organised by an autocratic government.
  • Many criticised the reforms for not being extensive enough (Pensions not paid out till 70)
  • Employers complained about the extra paperworl and workload required bu the new reforms
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Bismarcks Control of the Reichstag

Bismarck had created a Reichstag with limited power. But without Reichstag support he could not carry out his policies.

  • The Septennial Law - 1874 - The Reichstag could discuss and ebate military spending every 7 years. This decreased Bismarcks power
  • Reich Council - 1880 - Bismarck considered setting up an alternative Reich Council whicoul would bypass the Reichstag. The scheme was rejected by the Reichstag and many members of the Reichstag were hostile to the government
  • Boulanger Crisis - 1886-7 - Bismarck wanted a 10% increase in army budget. He exploited the Boulanger Crisis of 1886 in France to create a war scare and in January 1887 he dissolved the Reichstag. The subsequent election brought gains for those parties who supported Bismarck
  • Anti- Socialism Bill - 1890 - Bismarcks position less secure. Bismarcks proposed a new (permenant) anti-socialist bill it contained a clause for the expulsion of Socialist revolutionaries. Liberals refused to support it yet the Conservatives said they would not support if this clause was removed. Bismarck rashly suggested it was better to allow socialist rebellion to rise and then they could be crushed by the army. The Reichstag rejected the bill and another election was held.
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Bismarcks Successes

  • His constitution met all of his aims. He was able to secure himself and the Kaiser a huge amount of power. He also ensured Prussia dominated the new state.
  • He helped introduce a new democratic element into the constituion in the form of the Reichstag and universal male suffrage. Genuine political discussion between parties.
  • Bismarck had been the architect of German unification. 
  • Bismarck had helped build Germany into one of the great, industrial poweres in Europe. It had a strong economy which had expanded. There was also a large well equipped army.

Waller - argues that the Reichstag had lively political debate and did have some power. Political awareness was more widespread that in GB. Germany did have political education

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Bismarcks Failures

  • His domestic policies usually had the oppostie effect from what he had hoped. E.g Kulturkampf strengthened Centre Party, Socialism Struggle helped SPD
  • Domestic policies were short term and reactive to percieved enemies in the Reich. Bismarck became obbsessed withe Socialist menace and this contributed to his downfall
  • He created a constitution that was authoritarian and Prussian dominated. This gave far too much power to the Kaiser. This was crucial when Wilhelm II became Kaiser.
  • His policies were oppressive and stopped the development of democracy within Germany. He gave no real power to the Reichstag
  • Bismarck encouragd divisions and "enemies" within the political system
  • Legacy of the rise of socialism within the Reichstag to which directly contributed. By 1914 the SPD was the largest party in the Reichstag
  • He had a unstable relationship with the Reichstag which was often brought on by him. E.g the experiment of the Reich Council which lost him support in the Reichstag
  • Bismarck unleashed the forces of nationalism, liberalism and modernisation that he could not control. 
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Bismarcks Relations with the Kaisers

Wilhelm I: 1871-1888

  • Enjoyed good relations with the first Kaiser
  • Wilhelm I was more of a soldier than a politician and was happy to allow his Chancellor to run things, he began to rely on Bismarck and was dependant on him
  • Bismarck was therefore skillful in manipulating the Kaiser in appointing ministers, Bismarck would get his own way by threatening to resign
  • There were some misunderstandings and disagreements, Wilhelm I was initially unhappy about Kulturkampf

Wilhelm II: 1888-1890 

  • The two had different opinions in many issues: Wilhelm II wanted more personal control over domestic policies and wanted to reduce Bismarcks power. Wilhelm II wanted to be percieved as the "Peoples Emperor" Wilhelm II disagreed with the Anti-socialist law and wanted to win over support of working classes in a different way. 
  • Relations declined and this was worsened bu the 1890 elections which saw gains for the SPD. Wilhelm II rejected Bismarcks call for a permenant socialist ban causing Bismarck in March 1890 to hand in his resignation.
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Why did Bismarck resign in 1890?

Decreased Relations with Kaiser Wilhelm II  

  • Wilhelm II had an idea of personal rule, different to Wilhelm I who had entrusted a lot of power and rule to Bismarck
  • Bismarck wanted control of policy making taking his power for granted and made no attempt to develop a friendly relationship with Wilhelm II
  • Bismarck had no care for popularity, whereas Wilhelm II wanted the love of his people. Therefore there was a clash over the Anti-Socialist bill.

1890 Election

  • Saw and increase in seats for SPD. Conservatives (Pro Bismarck) lost seats. 
  • Bismarck was desperate and tried to introduce another anti-socialist bill which would ban socialists and was intended to be permenant. He also tried to introduce another bill to increase the army.
  • He knew that the Reichstag would object, the chancellor seemed to have lost touch of reality as he saw a chance to change the constitution. 
  • The measures he had proposed would have wrecked the Empire he had created and Wilhelm II rejected this scheme.
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alex porter


would be a great source is proof read. 

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