German Politics under Bismarck

  • Created by: OriC13
  • Created on: 04-01-19 16:25

Bismarck's Power

Bismarck's Power:

  • Didn't share power with other ministers, leading them to be called "secretaries"
  • Could dissolve the Reichstag at any time with the consent of the Kaiser and did so in 1886 when they refused to pass an increase in military spending
  • He was Prussian Prime Minister (largest state in the Reich)
  • Presider over the Bundesrat
  • Foreign Minister so in charge of foreign policy
  • WIlhelm I allowed him to do as he wished
  • Got what he wanted by threatening to resign
  • Did not consult with others or use a Cabinet
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Bismarck's Limitations

Bismarck's Limitations:

  • Needed the Reichstag to approve all laws
  • Had to rely on political parties to form alliances and gain a majority in the Reichstag
  • Could not bypass the Reichstag as they would veto any attempys
  • Answerable to the Kaiser and so had no power in his own right
  • Individual German states had lots of independence
  • Day to day decision making was limited by his own ill health, which kept him from Berlin
  • In 1881 the Progressives had a majority in the Reichstag, leading to disagreements and the pace of legislation to reduce
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Political Parties- Left Wing

Social Democratic Party (SPD):

  • Founded 1875
  • Represented the working class, with strong links to Trade Unions
  • Supported the reduction in power of the elites and extension of welfare reforms
  • Extreme members wanted to overthrow the constitution and form a republic, but most were happy to compromise
  • Only had 2 seats in 1871 but by 1890 had 35


  • Believed in a liberal, constitutional state
  • Disliked centralism and militarism so were not very supportive of Bismarck
  • Wanted to extend the powers of the Reichstag
  • Had 47 seats in 1871 and 76 in 1890
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Political Parties- Centre

National Liberals:

  • Formed in 1867 by supporters of unification
  • Protestant, middle-class, wealthy and educated men
  • Favoured free trade, a strong Germany and constitutional liberal state
  • By 1875 they were growing more Conservative as they felt threatened by the SPD
  • Had 125 seats in 1871 but only 47 in 1890

Zentrum (Centre Party):

  • Founded in 1870
  • Represented German Catholics
  • Strong support in Southern Germany
  • Determined to preserve the position of the Catholic Church, especially in education
  • Conservative regarding the constitution and favoured greater decentralisation
  • Liberal in regards to social reform
  • Had 58 seats in 1871 and 106 in 1890
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Political Parties- Right Wing

Free Conservatives:

  • Founded in 1871
  • Represented landowners, industrialists and businessmen
  • Strong supporters of Bismarck
  • Had a larger geography base than the German Conservative Party
  • Had 37 seats in 1871 but only 20 in 1890

German Conservative Party:

  • Founded in 1876
  • Represented Protestant and aristocratic Prussian junkers
  • Hated the Reichstag because it was elected by Universal Suffrage
  • Had 57 seats in 1871 and 76 seats in 1890
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Liberal Era (1871-79) and Further Unification

Liberal Era:

  • Most liberals applauded Bismarck's success in creating a united Germany
  • They wanted to help him consolidate national unity
  • Together Bismarck and the liberals created a Reichbank, a national system of currency and were united against the Catholic Church

Further Unification:

Bennigsen (leader of the National Liberals) co-operated with Bismarck to further Unification. They introduced:

  • Uniform laws for commerce
  • Abolition of tariffs on internal trade between Länder
  • A single nationalised system of weight and measures
  • A national postal and telegraph system
  • A national currency through the Reichbank

However Bismarck was by no means a Liberal, he did not want to extend the powers of the Reichstag and they opposed his plans to fund army expenditure from the states

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The Septennial Law and Press Law 1874

The Septennial Law:

  • Passed when the Reichstag refused to grant money for the army on a permanent basis, meaning they would no longer have any control over the military
  • Last time the army budget had been agreed was in 1867
  • This was a tactic by Bismarck to show Conservatives that he was not controlled by the National Liberals
  • The Septennial Law was a compromise between the Reichstag and Bismarck
  • The Reichstag woul vote on the military budget every 7 years
  • Meant the Reichstag had lost a means with which to bargain with the Chancellor and was yet another limitatuon to the Reichstag's power

The Press Law:

  • Pushed through by Bismarck once again to show he was not beholden to the NL's
  • It allowed the gov to prosecute editors who published material they did not aprove of
  • Undermined the Liberal principle of freedom of the press
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The Kulturkampf (Long Term Causes)

The Rise of the Centre Party:

  • 1871= 58 seats in the Reichstag
  • 1874= 91 seats
  • 1881= 100 seats
  • 1890= 100 seats

Why Bismarck Was Concerned About This:

  • He believed Germans should be loyal to the state above all else
  • 1870 Doctrine of Papal Infallibility= the Pope can do no wrong (5,000 "Old Catholics" refused to accept this and broke away from the Church
  • 39% of Germans were Catholic (mostly Southern states)
  • 61% of Germans were Protestant (inc. Bismarck, Prussians and Junkers)
  • The Zentrum were attracting support of the Reichsfeinde- B's political enemies (Poles in the East, the French in Alsace-Lorraine and Catholics in the South)
  • 1878, under Ludwig Windhorst they became the 2nd largest party in the Reichstag (94 seats to the National Liberals 99)
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The Kulturkampf (Trigger Causes)

The Trigger Cause:

  • After the "Old Catholics" broke away from the Church in 1870, all teachers and professors who did this were sacked by the Catholic Church
  • Bismarck condemned this, as he believed everyone should chose the State over religion, and started the Kulturkampf
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The Kulturampf (1871 and 1872)

Attacks on the Catholic Church in the Press (1871):

  • Zentrum portrayed as the "home of the Reichsfeinde" in an orchestrated press campaign
  • The Catholic section of the Prussian Ministry of Religion and Education was abolished
  • Clergy were forbidden from any mention of politics whilst preaching

Treatment of Jesuits (1872):

  • May, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were broken off
  • Jesuits were forbidden from preaching and from entering Prussian schools 
  • They were later stopped from entering schools across the Empire
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The Kulturkampf (1873 and 1874)

May/Falk Laws:

  • Introduced in May by Prussian Minister of Religion and Education, Adalbert Falk and only applied in Prussia
  • Catholic education came under state supervision
  • Only those who had studied in Germany and passed a state exam could become priests
  • Existing priests were required to retrain and prove their loyalty to the state
  • Appointment of the clergy made by the state and not the Pope
  • Civil marriage cermonies became compulsory (later applied throughout Germany)
  • All Catholic religious orders were dissolved (throughout the Empire in 1875)
  • State aid to the Catholic Church was ended
  • Prussian Catholics were deprived of certain legal and civil rights


  • State made responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths rather than the Church (Prussia only)
  • All states were given the right to restrict freedom of movement of the clergy and any banned priests caught preaching could be placed under house arrest or expelled from Germany
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The Kulturkampf (Consequences)

Consequences of the Kulturkampf:

  • By 1876 all Catholic bishops of Prussia, and all Polish bishops had been imprisoned or exiled
  • 1400 of 4600 Catholic parishes were without priests
  • Catholicism thrived, with the Kulturkampf creating martyrs and encouraging greater resistance
  • There was increased support for the Centre Party due to Windhorsts "national resistance tours"
  • Greater divisions in German society- Bismarck faced assasination attempts, and the Kulturkampf alienated minorities and some Protestants

Failure of the policy and Bismarck's own poor health forced him to repeal the Kultrukampf by the late 1870's, however, Jesuits were still not allowed in Germany

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The Kulturkampf (Why It Was Repealed and Consequen

Why Bismarck Repealed The Kulturkampf:

  • He wanted a closer alliance with Catholic Austria and he feared anti-Catholic laws would stand in the way
  • He suspected the Centre Party were giving support to French seeking revenge for the seizure of Alsace-Lorraine
  • He wanted to change his economic policy and end free trade, which would alienate the NL's so he needed Zentrum support
  • He felt Socialism was a greater threat
  • Pope Pius IX died in 1878, and the new more liberal Pope, Leo XIII, petitioned for reconciliation

Consequences of the Repeal:

  • Bismarcks relationship with Leo XIII was strong which facilitated an alliance with Austria in 1879
  • Zentrum became a purely religious party and was no longer seen as a refuge for the Reichsfeinde (Leo XIII encouraged unity to the German Empire)
  • Bismarck distanced himself from the NL's, showing him as an opportunist, who would move between parties to enable policy change
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Bismarck Changing Political Alliances

Decline of the National Liberals:

  • They supported the Kulturkampf, which betrayed their own philosophy, undermined the confidence and morality of the people and brought about their own decline
  • 1871= 125 seats in the Reichstag
  • 1874= 155 seats
  • 1878= 99 seats
  • 1881= 47 seats

Bismarcks Political Changes (1878-79):

  • Ended his political alliances with the National Liberals
  • Created a Conservative/Centre support base in the Reichstag
  • Reintroduced tariffs on the imports of foreign goods
  • Abandoned the Kulturkampf
  • Began a new political struggle against Socialism
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Bismarck Changing Political Alliances (Cont.)

Bismarck's Political Realignment:

  • June 1878 Bismarck called an election aimed at depriving the National Liberals of more seats
  • The NL's were paid off because they lost 29 seats and the Conservatives and Zentrum emerged with an overall majority
  • 1879, Bismarck introduced legislation to impose tariffs
  • Bismarck aligned himself with the industrilaist and Junkers through the tariffs- aka an "alliance of steel and rye"
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Free Trade vs. Protective Tariffs

Free Trade:

  • Being able to trade with any country without tariffs on imports/exports
  • Cheaper than Protectionism
  • Costs of products are cheap
  • Other countries reduce import duties in return
  • Sometimes doesn't protect own farmers
  • Can undercut own products
  • Supported by National Liberals


  • Putting tariffs on goods coming into the country in order to protect home industries
  • Tariffs provide the government with much needed revenue
  • Gain money from taxation
  • Encourages people to buy local products
  • Expensive
  • Supported by German manufacturors, peasants, landowners, industrialists and Junkers (in the German Conservative Party)
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Protective Tariffs

Bismarck's Tariffs:

  • 1879, Bismarck proposed tariffs on iron, iron goods and grain
  • Tariffs were passed in the Reichstag by the German and Free Conservatives, Zentrum and 15 "tariff rebels" from the National Liberals
  • Before this, economic matters were in the hands of Rudolf Debruck who advocated Free Trade

Why Bismarck Introduced Tariffs:

  • Germany should be able to feed itseld in case of wars and not be dependent on other countries
  • Provided the government with much needed income
  • Protectionism could act as a form of retaliation against Russia introducing their own tariffs
  • Allowed Bismarck to work more closely with the right wing paries (including Junkers and factory owners), which would help to combat the growing threat of Sociailsm
  • A threat to agricultural incomes would undermine the economic position of the Junker aristocracy (Bismarck's own class)
  • The price of wheat and rye were declining (Wheat cost 238 marks per tonne in 1871 but only 198 marks in 1879)
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Outcomes of Protective Tariffs

Outcomes of Bismarck's Realignement and Protectionism:

  • The National Liberals split and lost influence
  • Bismarck was strongly supported by the Conservatives, landowners and big industrialists (the beginning of an "alliance of steel and rye")
  • The Reichstag became more united in its support of protectionism
  • Tariffs raised the cost of living for workers, making them more inclined to support Socialists
  • Bismarck had demonstrated his political skill and opportunism, as well as his control of the Reichstag
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Why Bismarck Introduced Anti-Socialist Legislation

Why Bismarck Introduced the Anti-Socialist Laws:

  • The SPD were gaining support in the Reichstag (1871= 2 seats, 1877=12 seats)
  • The National Liberals were declining in power so if people wanted a left-wing group they were more likely to vote for the SPD
  • Wilhelm I faced two attempted assasinations (May and June 1878), the first by an ex-member of the SPD, Max Hodel, and the second by Dr Karl Nobiling (had no connection with the SPD but said he was sympathetic to their cause)
  • The SPD became seen as Reichsfeinde
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The Anti-Socialist Laws 1878

Anti-Socialist Laws:

  • Organisations which through Socialist activities aim to overthrow the established state were forbidden
  • All meetings in which Socialist activities appear to be dedicated to the overthrow the existing state shall be dissolved
  • All publications in which Socialist influences appear to be aimed at overthrowing the established state by breaching the public peace are forbidden
  • Anyone who takes part as a member of a forbidden organisation will face a fine of up to 500 marks or imprisonment of three months
  • Therefore, meetings, including TUs and publications were banned
  • Police powers were increased to search for evidence of Socialist activities
  • Punishment could be fines, imprisonment or exile
  • Opposition from the NL, Centre and Progressive parties meant the SPD still existed and could sit in elections
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Anti-Socialist Laws Were Successful

How They Were Successful:

  • Membership of the SPD initially declined
  • TUs were crushed
  • Before the 1881 election, 600 socialists were arrested, meaning that one member- Bebel- had to stand in 35 constituencies
  • Many Socialists were exiled or imprisoned with hard labour
  • The Cabinet and civil service were purged in 1880 to remove Liberal sympathisers
  • Many Socialists chose to emigrate, especially to the USA
  • The Prussian Police expelled 67 leading Socialists from Berlin (1876), and prominent Socialists were driven from Breslau (1879), Hamburg (1880) and Leipzip (1881)
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Anti-Socialist Laws Were Unsuccessful

How They Were Unsuccessful:

  • The Socialist vote nearly doubled between 1878 and 18887
  • Within a few years Trade Unionism was revived (there was a series of strikes in industrial and mining areas and by 1890 membership reached 278,000)
  • A new party newspaper, the Social Democrat, was published in Zurich and smuggled into Germany by the "Red Postmaster", Julius Motteller
  • Strong leadership rallied the SPD and organised the resistance- in 1880 the SPD rejected anarchism and terrorism
  • Groups met in secret to discuss policy developments and collect financial distribution
  • Secret conferences were organised in foreign countries, inc Switzerland (1880) and Denmark (1883)
  • The SPD encouraged great loyalty from its members by organising educational courded, libraries and sports clubs
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State Socialism

State Socialism:

  • Bismarck wanted to appeal to working classes in order to control them and make them less radical (also it was him surrendering to the fact that the Anti-Socialist laws were largely unsuccessful in the long term)
  • May 1883= medical insurance, paid by both employees and employers, covered the payment of medical bills for workers and their families. This covered 3 million workers
  • June 1884= accident insurance, paid entirely by employers, provided benefits and funeral grants to those injured at work. In 1886 it extended to cover 7 million agricultural workers
  • May 1889= old age pensions, introduced for over 70's despite most people not living this long
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Right-Wing Majority of 1887

How Bismarck Established a Right Wing Majority in 1887:

  • In 1886 the Boulanger Crisis occurred
  • Boulanger was a right wing French General, appointed Minister of War in 1886
  • He wanted revenge on Germany for the 1871 Franco-Prussian war, which lost France Alsace-Lorraine
  • A French official was arrested on the border of Alsace-Lorraine and Boulanger threatened war, although nothing came of this
  • Therefore, the 1887 election wad fought in an atmosphere of artificially contrived crisis, bringing gains to Bismarck's right wing supporters, who then passed the Army Bill, which increased the army budget by 10%
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Bismarck's Resignation 1890 (The Kaiser)

The Kaiser:

  • Wilhelm I died in 1888
  • Friedrich (Wilhelm's son) became Kaiser but died later that year
  • His Grandson (Wilhelm II) became Kaiser instead

Bismarck's Differences With The Kaiser:

  • Bismarck wanted to control policy making and maintain his position of power, but Wilhelm II believed in personal rule and wanted to reduce the Chancellors power
  • Bismarck wanted to repress Socialism, whilst the Kaiser was more sympathetic to the workers
  • Bismarck wanted ti remain close with Russia but WII favoured Austria
  • The Chancellor didn't care about popularity and wanted to fight the Reichsfeinde, WII wanted to be loved by all and seen as the "people's emperor"
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Bismarcks Resignation 1890 (Cont.)

Problems With The Reichstag:

  • Bismarck wanted to alter the 1871 Constitution so that the Reichstag would lose most of its powers and voting rights
  • WII rejected this outright

Prussian Cabinet Order 1852:

  • Bismarck attempted to use an out of date order which stated that all ministers could only approach the Kaiser if they went through the Chancellor
  • WII demanded the removal of this

"Meddling In Foreign Affairs":

  • Bismarck told WII that he could not visit Russia as B had received unfavourable reports from the ambassador there

Anti-Socialist Laws:

  • Bismarck attempted to increase the army and introduce more extreme anti-socialist laws
  • This was opposed in the Reichstag and in the 1890 election, both the SPD and the Progressives increased their seats
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