Germany 1871-1929


German Empire pre 1871

  • 1800 - 400 states known as Holy Roman Empire - own ruler of each state
  • 1815 - number of states reduced to 39 (German Confederation)
  • Prussia and Austria competed for leadership
  • 1934 - Prussia set up free trade
  • 1862 - Bismarck became chancellor of Prussia - worked to exclude Austria from German affairs
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Unification Wars 1864 - 1871

  • 1864 - Defeat of Denmark
  • 1866 - Defeat of Austria
  • 1870-71 - Defeat of France in Franco Prussian War
  • Creation of German Empire in 1871
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The Constitution of the Second Reich


  • King of Prussia
  • Appoint/dismiss chancellors
  • Dissolve the Reichstag
  • Control foreign policy


  • Give assent to all laws
  • Decided outlines of policies with Kaiser/Bundesrat
  • Highest official in Reich


  • Federal council
  • 58 representatives (17 from Prussia)
  • 14 votes needed on constitutional/Military issues
  • Consent required when passing new laws
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The Constitution of the Second Reich


  • Elected by all males over 25
  • Limited powers to initiate new legislation
  • Elections every 3 years by indirect voting system
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Strengths and weaknesses of Bismark's control


  • Held position of Prussian Prime Minister, the foreign minister, Reich chancellor and head of the Bundesrat
  • Manipulated the Kaiser
  • Interfered with appointing of ministers and gave them limited power so they could only follow his instruction


  • Had to answer to the Kaiser - he needs his support in order to stay in power
  • Individual states of confederation still retained a lot of independence and power
  • He couldn't ignore the Reichstag as he needed them to approve the army budget when it was renewed
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Strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution


  • Reichstag was elected by males over 25
  • Members of the Bundesrat were nominated by states
  • Independent rule of the states
  • Bismarck needed the liberals so couldn't have an absolutist government


  • Prussia had 17 seats in the Bundesrat and only 14 were needed to veto laws so they had a lot of power
  • The Kaiser was Prussian and help the power to dissolve the Reichstag
  • Power of the Junkers was big because they owned large amounts of land so they had a large influence as a result
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Political Parties

National Liberals (NL)

  • Formed 1867 by those supporting Bismark's unification
  • Protestant middle class
  • Supported by wealthy, educated men
  • Favoured free trade, a strong Germany and a constitutional liberal state
  • After 1875 - grew more conservative - members felt threated by the strength of SPD
  • The biggest political party winning 125 seats and 155 seats in 1874

Zentrum (Centre Party)

  • Founded 1870
  • German Catholic and minorities who opposed Bismarck
  • Strong in Southern German states (Bavaria and Rhineland)
  • Determined to preserve position of Catholic Church, especially in education
  • Conservative regarding constitution, favoured greater decentralisation
  • Liberal with social reform attitudes
  • Based on religion, not class/region
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Political Parties

Social Democratic Party (SPD)

  • Founded in 1875 despite already being a socialist grouping (1871)
  • Represented working class, worked with trade unions
  • Supported reduction in power of elites and extension of welfare reforms
  • Most extreme member wanted total overthrow of constitution and a republic
  • Majority prepared to work in existing systems to bring better conditions for masses

German Conservative Party (DKP)

  • Conservative elements adopted by DKP in 1876
  • Represented Protestant and aristocratic Prussian Junker landowners
  • Most right wing of all parties
  • Detested Reichstag as it was elected by universal suffrage
  • Dominant in Prussian Landtag elected under three-stage system
  • Supported Bismarck but not keen on legalisation and didn't like unification
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Political Parties

Free Conservatives/Reichspartei (FKP)

  • Formed 1871
  • FKP represented landowners, industrialists and businessmen
  • Members were strong supporters of Bismarck
  • Geographic base bigger than DKP

Progressive Party

  • Believed in Liberal, constitutional state
  • Disliked centralism and militarism
  • Not supportive of Bismarck
  • Members wanted to extend powers of Reichstag
  • Opposed government in Reichstag over expenditure
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  • Over 100 laws passed for unification of Germany
  • Turned Prussian state bank into Reichsbank
  • Established single currency (mark 1876)
  • Abolished tariffs on all international trade
  • Harmonised weights and measures
  • Extended and joined railway networks across empire
  • Harmonised postal system
  • Began process of standardising law based on Prussian law codes
  • National penal code introduced 1972, full codification of civil law not completed until 1900
  • Established uniform of commerce - rules of business
  • Established single court system

Bismark's relationship with Reichstag successful, he cooperated with the National Liberals. He didn't always agree with them but worked with them to achieve unification

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Septennial Law

Septennial Law

  • Law meant the Reichstag reviewed and vote on military budget every 7 years
  • Passed as it acted as a compromise between Reichstag and Bismarck
  • Meant Reichstag still had some control which kept the NL pleased but Bismarck still had a lot of power
  • Law allowed Bismarck to please both the Junkers and the Reichstag
  • With the 7 year review, Reichstag lost a means with which to bargain with Bismarck
  • Reich's income - mainly from indirect tax and contributions of the constituent states, losing right of regular approval of military spending was another limitation to Reichstags power

Can be seen as a defeat for Bismarck as he didn't get what he wanted (the Reichstag having no control over the military budget) however it meant he showed the Junkers he has no bond with the NL which would have increased the support they had for him

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Press Law

Press Law - 1874

  • Allowing government to prosecute editors who published material that they didn't approve of
  • It undermined the Liberals principle of freedom of the press
  • Also thwarted the Reichstags attempt to reduce Junker influence in Prussian government
  • Bismarck had to try persuade Reichstag to grant money for army on a permanent basis so military matters could be taken out of Reichstags control in 1874
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German Economy


  • Germany was modern, scientific and well developed by began to break down and not work as well
  • Even though doing well in beginning (large economic growth and expansion of trade) they were doing everything behind Britain and France
  • Germany was industrialising later but hence was more modern
  • Don't have such big empire as Britain and don't have an empire as big as they thought they should have
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Kaisers attitudes to economy

Kaiser and economy:

  • Kaiser and elites not doing as well for country as Germany could perform - didn't understand that peace was important for domination politically and economically
  • Growing economy but not happy as they didn't have an empire; they were strong economically but not politically
  • "Under Kaiser Wilhelm II it assumed an arrogant air", "did not see peace was key to Germany's eventual domination" - thought war could make Germany powerful (as they didn't have an empire) but peace was already doing so
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Old and New Industries


  • Germany's 'first industrial revolution' which happened pre 1971, based on textiles, coal, iron steel and railways, known as 'old industries'
  • From 1890 development of 'new industries' - more advanced technology, electricals, chemicals, machinery and motor car
  • Transport system maintained similar growth: railway length grew - around 41,000km in 1890 to 60,000km in 1913
  • Merchant marine grew to three times of that of USA though still only quarter size of Britains navy
  • Abundant reserves of coal and potash became basis for numerous chemical productions, by early 20th century, Germany produces more than three-quarters of world's chemical dyes (establishing virtual monopoly)
  • German scientists discovered number of new chemical processes at end of 19th century, and pyrites, common salt, potassium salts and heavy chemicals used in manufacturing as agricultural fertilisers
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Old and New Industries


  • Germany led way in pharmaceuticals, artificial fibres, some photographic materials, plastics and new explosives
  • Electrical industry grew most quickly in Rhine area, generators could be powered by waste gas from steelworks
  • German firms led way in production of electrical components like dynamos
  • Electrical energy production increased by 150% between 1901 and 1915
  • 1913 - Germany controlled half world's trade in electricals - exported £11 million in comparison to USA and Britain put together exporting £8 million
  • Machinery industry in Germany followed American example
  • Motor industry less significant advances being made by Daimler, Diesel, Benz and Mercedes and in the aviation industry by Zeppelin
  • Much more of German industrial development from 1890 driven by Kaiser Wilhelm II's desire for prestige and glory of Weltpolitik - included developing Germany's military resources
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  • Rapid industrialisation did not mean agriculture was no longer important
  • 35% of population still employed in this sector in 1907 and German forestry employed more people than entire chemical industry
  • Large estates of Junkers in East produced rye and beet, smaller peasants holding across Germany produced cereals, crops, fruit
  • 4 million acres of virgin land tilled and yields and output both rose to meet demands of growing population
  • Number of livestock increased and by early 20th century, Germany produced 40 million tonnes of potatoes a year
  • Agriculture had to be protected by heavy tariffs - lowered by Caprivi in 1890’s, rose under Bulow in 1902 and remained in force until war
  • Tariffs helped farmers by preventing cheap Russian and American grain imports from flooding German market but kept food prices high for German consumers
  • ’Synthetic’ foods, new processes, and refrigeration all challenged traditional farming practices
  • Costs rose and rural labour supply fell and new products such as fertilisers and machinery became more essential - rural debt increased
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Trade and Wealth

Trade and Wealth:

  • Industry grew, so did overseas trade
  • German merchants distributed goods across Europe and penetrated America, Africa, Asia
  • Sold chemicals, metal goods, machinery, textiles and col, profits helped to pay for imports of food, raw materials and manufactured goods
  • By 1913 - Imperial Germany was major trading and exporting nations of world
  • Volume of exports and imports had grown by four times between 1880 and 1913
  • 1890 Germany buying nearly £200 million worth of foreign goods and selling £153 million
  • By 1913 imports had risen to £526 million and exports to £495 million
  • Although there was a ‘trade gap; the difference was easily made up by the ‘invisibles’
  • This comprised money earned through foreign investment, worth over £1000 million and considerable revenues brought in shipping and banking
  • 60% of German exports went to Britain. France and Russia - much of remained went to areas known as ‘informal empire’ (Latin America, South Africa etc)
  • Germany was a ‘world power’ when it came to trade
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Actions Against Socialism

Actions Against Socialism:

  • Anti-socialist bill passed in October 1887, supported by Conservatives and most National Liberals
  • Included the banning of socialist organisations, including trade unions, breaking up socialist meetings and outlawing socialist publications
  • 1878-1890 - 1,500 socialists imprisoned, many emigrated
  • Didn’t prevent SPD members from standing for election and they won increasing support in 1878, by 1890 had over a million votes and 35 seats
  • Bismarck's attack on socialism was no more successful than his attack on Catholic Church
  • His measures may have helped to increase SPD support and ensured that moderate and revolutionary socialists fractions remained united
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State Socialism

State Socialism:

  • To weaken working classes from socialism, introduced various welfare measures, designed to assist German workers
  • General belief in Prussia and other parts of Germany was that one of the state's most important moral objectives was the promotion of the material well-being of its citizens
  • 1883- proposal for state socialism became law
  • Sickness Insurance Act provided medical treatment and up to thirteen week’s sick pay
  • Workers paid two-thirds of contribution and employers one-third
  • Workers who permanently disabled/sick for thirteen plus weeks was given protection by the Accident Insurance Act of 1884 (financed by employers)
  • 1889 - Old Age and Disability Act - pensions for over 70’s and disablement pension for those younger (paid by workers, employers and state)
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Success of State Socialism


  • Bismarck's hope that working class could be won over by state socialism not fully realised
  • Workers thought it was a ‘sham’ particularly as the government still opposed the formation of trade unions
  • Welfare legislation not particularly generous
  • Bismarck didn’t grant unemployment insurance
  • Many workers continued under to labour under harsh conditions
  • Bismarck believing that employers must control their factories, opposed demands for state intervention to regulate working hours and limit child land female employment 
  • Bismarck's measures laid foundation of welfare state in Germany, also first of their kind in world and became model of social provision for other countries
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Role of Reichstag

Struggle between autocracy and democracy:

  • Bismarck's relationships with the Reichstag could be stormy
  • Constitution offered form of democratic government, but only due to Bismarck believing the mass of conservative Germany peasantry would be loyal to monarchy and state
  • Hadn’t bargained for the rise of industry and the economic shifts leading to increasingly urban and industrial population
  • They wanted real democracy where they had their voice heard and acted upon through elected representatives
  • Bismarck didn't like listening to others ideas and never shared power with other ministers, they were simply known as secretaries
  • They were not allowed to develop into a responsible cabinet
  • Reichstag approval was necessary for legislation so Bismarck was forced to align himself with different political groups
  • Personal preference leaned towards autocracy, not democracy
  • Had little patience with demands of political parties
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Role of Reichstag

Bismarck and Reichstag:

  • 1870-78 - Bismarck relied on the NL
  • Junker supporters expressed their concern about unnatural alliance
  • Jealous of growing power of merchants, businessmen and factory owners, fearing liberal domination would harm interests of Prussian landowners
  • Clashes over Press Law, military budget, economic protection and measures to curb socialism brought alliance with NL to end
  • After policy changes 78-9, Bismarck turned to more natural supporters (conservatives and Zentrum) playing on fears of socialism
  • 1880 Bismarck considered setting an alternative ‘Reich Council’ which could bypass the Reichstag
  • From 1881, Progressive gained most seats
  • 75% of Reichstag deputies were hostile to Bismarck's government and challenged almost every measure
  • Between 1881-86, neither a Conservative-Centre coalition nor a Conservative-National Liberal one could command a majority in Reichstag
  • Bismarck had to try and create majorities from various disparate groups 
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Role of Reichstag

Bismarck and Reichstag:

  • In 1886, Bismarck sought Reichstag's support for a 10% increase in taxation to finance army growth
  • He had Reichstag dissolved in Jan 1887 and artificially contrived a war scare crisis to get support he needed in the new Reichstag
  • Elections produced a pro-bismarck combination of two conservative parties and the NL, taxation was duly granted
  • Government remained unstable and unreliable
  • Oct 1890 Bismarck proposed new permanent Anti-Socialist Bill which would permit strong police action
  • Provoked heated debate and he rashly suggested that perhaps he should allow the Socialists to rise in rebellion so the army could be called upon to crush them once and for all
  • Reichstag rejected the bill and another general election was held
  • It increased representation of SPD and Progressive party and was to be Bismarck's last as Chancellor
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War Scare Crisis

War Scare Crisis

  • 1886 General Georges Boulanger appointed as French Minister of War
  • He wanted revenge for French defeat in 1971 and the return of Alsace-Lorraine
  • When Germans arrested a French official in 1887, he made some warlike threats
  • Bismarck used these as evidence of an imminent war with France
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Kaiser Wilhelm II


  • Wilhelm II was 29 when crowned, grandson of Queen Victoria, cousins included Russian Tsar Nicholas II and UK’s King George V
  • Described in various ways - biographer calls him ‘bombastic and impetuous’ and ‘a curious mixture of bombast and affability’ 
  • Referred to himself as a ‘modern man’ 
  • Tastes in art were resolutely conventional and detested all modern trends in painting
  • Had in mind interests in public education and social welfare
  • Interested in science - led to foundation of Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science under his patronage
  • His success in 1888 brought many political changes
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Bismarck and Kaiser


  • Clashed with Bismarck as soon as he inherited throne
  • Wilhelm felt Bismarck was out of touch and too conservative, especially on social policy
  • 1889 - Bismarck planned to use military force against striking coal miners in Silesia
  • Wilhelm didn't want start of his reign to be marked with German blood and threw out idea
  • Wanted to exert his authority
  • Influenced by British example, Wilhelm II wanted to find overseas colonies, something Bismarck had no interest in
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Chancellor Caprivi 1890-1894


  • Intelligent
  • Held mildly progressive views
  • Military figure 
  • Bismarck’s successor
  • Middle-aged soldier 
  • Little experience of politics
  • Hoped uniform would give him authority
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Caprivi and Socialists


  • Introduced the ‘New Course’
  • End to anti-socialists law, bribing the press was ended, Sundays were compulsory rest days, industrial courts established, women didn’t have to work more than 11 hours and children under 13 couldn’t work, minimum wage introduced allowed schools in Polish dominated Prussia to teach in Polish again


  • Reforms welcomed by working classes, socialists, industrialists, Zentrum and Liberals
  • Allowing Polish in schools, gained him support of Centre Party and they supported State Socialism in Reichstag
  • Concessions signified move away from authoritarian government of Bismarck


  • State Socialism was a failure in winning the moderates who saw measurers as being a response to socialist pressure and SPD continued to grow
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Caprivi and Commercial Treaties

Commercial Treaties:

  • Signed with various countries to reduce tariffs
  • Progressive income tax introduced in Prussia


  • Tariffs boosted economy and allowed them to be Europe’s leading industrial nation
  • Progressive income tax led to fairer distribution of wealth and help to alleviate social tension


  • Measures incurred the wrath of the wealthy, Junkers hated new spirit of foreign competition and cost of progressive income tax
  • 1893 Agrarian League (pressure group) demanding economic privileges for landowners (¼ million members, effective, well organised)
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Caprivi and Army Bill

Army Bill:

  • 1892, provided 84,000 new recruits, reduced conscription from 3 to 2 years and reduced army grant debate from 7 to 5 years


  • Reichstag passed bill to increase size of army by 84,000 leading to extension in the influence of army (Schlieffen Plan 1892)
  • First steps in the massive military build-up
  • Reichstag has more power over army (cutting years down)


  • Found Kaiser difficult to work with as he interfered a lot (e.g. when Caprivi tried to allowed Protestant and Catholics to have more control over education, the bill had to be withdrawn)
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Chancellor Hohenlohe 1894-1900


  • 75 years old
  • Catholic 
  • Little more than a puppet for the Kaiser - called him “straw doll”
  • Posed no political threat to those who surrounded the Kaiser
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Hohenlohe and Sammlungspolitik

Sammlungspolitik (concentration)

  • The policy of concentrating middle-class support against socialists. Supported by increasingly powerful pressure groups 
  • Dismissed progressive ministers, replacing them with army, military Junkers
  • Introduced two bills to curb Socialist ‘subversion’ (1894 Subversion Bill and the 1899 Anti-Union Bill)


  • Was never popular in Reichstag, rejected Subversion bill and Anti Union Bill
  • Conservative support fell by 21% in Reichstag
  • Antagonised SPD however socialists careful not to provoke confrontation and generally supportive of appeals to patriotism
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Hohenlohe and Reactionary Rule

Reactionary Rule:

  • SPD officer in Berlin was ransacked and party leaders arrested
  • Wilhelm wanted to forcibly repress SPD
  • Reichstag rejected all anti-SPD legislation
  • By 1897 state of deadlock between government and Reichstag


  • Reichstag rejected all anti-SPD legislation
  • State of deadlock between government and Reichstag by 1897
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Hohenlohe and Weltpolitik

Weltpolitik (world policy)

  • Was embarked upon by Wilhelm to divert attention away from troubles at home and party to appeal his own vanity, court favourites believe this would unite people. Powerful industrialists encourage search for new markets and materials
  • Building up army and navy, Three Navy laws of 1898, 1900 and 1906
  • By time of 3rd one, Germany building 3 battleships and 6 cruisers every year and the Kiel Canal was being widened to accommodate Dreadnoughts


  • Led to expansion of the Navy, army and power
  • Succeeded because had greater popular support than Caprivi’s ‘new course’


  • Divided country due to ‘clumsy, rude and obsessive’ manner in which it was conducted
  • Budget cost rising. Tried indirect and inheritance tax but both voted down in Reichstag
  • Army disliked as they felt like they were neglected in favour of the Navy
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Chancellor Bulow 1900-1909


  • Born 1894
  • Foreign secretary 1897-1900
  • Chancellor 1900
  • Aristocratic Prussian Junker
  • 1887 supported ethnic cleansing of all Poles in German empire
  • Philipp zu Eulenburg keen to promote him
  • Nicknamed 'eel'
  • Groomed by Wilhelm's inner circle
  • Went out of his way to flatter Emperor
  • Trusted by Kaiser
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Bulow and Socialists


  • Revived Caprivi’s policy of state socialism to win over moderate left from SPD
  • All of Bismarck's insurance schemes (sickness, old age and accidents at work) extended and restrictions on child labour
  • Secret ballot introduced (1904) and payment for Reichstag deputies in 1906


  • Policies introduced after consultation with party leaders, signifying another move towards cooperation between government and Reichstag


  • Policies failed to halt growth of socialism
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Bulow and Tariffs


  • Reintroduced by Posadowsky in 1902 due to right-wing pressure (‘steel and rye’ alliance)
  • Kept low to prevent foreign trade being affected but led to SPD to poll extra 1 million votes


  • Kept low to prevent foreign trade being seriously affected


  • SPD party gained 1 million votes in 1903 elections
  • Prices were rising for the working class
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Bulow and Minorities


  • Enforced Germanization in East
  • Germany only language in Prussian schools
  • 1908 passed law that allowed for confiscation of Polish property
  • Increase in Anti-Semitism


  • Law passed that allowed for confiscation of Polish property


  • Increase of Anti-Semitism
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Bulow and Hottentot Crisis

Hottentot Crisis:

  • 1907 - Arose when Bulow was forced to dissolve Reichstag after it refused to grant money to German colonial rulers who had reportedly treated South-West Africans with brutality


  • SPD lost 38 seats - the Centre Party and the SPD had been portrayed as ‘unpatriotic’, this swung the vote against them
  • Bulow took steps to Parliamentary democracy by forming ‘Blue-Black Bloc’ of anti-socialist parties to maintain government domination in Reichstag Bulow gave the parties some say in affairs of the government
  • Highlighted increasing control of Reichstag and remained a promising development despite collapsing within a year


  • Socialists had increased their popular vote by 240,000 - SPD quickly recovered from the seats they lost
  • Blue-Black Bloc’ collapsed within a year, but it remained a promising development
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Bulow and Daily Telegraph Affair

Daily Telegraph Affair 1908

  • Wilhelm made tactless comments to a British newspaper - increased European tension
  • Bulow failed to pick up on this, despite the fact the Daily Telegraph passed the article on to him for approval
  • Led to serious discussions of Wilhelm’s power after Kaiser gave interview to British newspaper on German foreign policy


  • Reichstag get an apology from Kaiser and he promised to stay out of domestic affairs, shows they have power as make him do something he doesn’t want to
  • Rejecting the bill of increased direct taxation highlighted the Reichstags increasing powers


  • Demonstrated the constitutional limits of the Kaiser’s power, Reichstag outraged, Wilhelm forced to make an apology
  • Bulow only resigned in order to avoid being dismissed by Kaiser who had detested him since the start of the Daily Telegraph Affair
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Bethmann-Hollweg 1909-1917


  • Earnest and sincere
  • Not expected to interfere in Kaiser’s Weltpolitik
  • Resigns July 1917 as they cannot decide on the outcome of war. He didn’t want peace without victory
  • Imperial chancellor 1090-1917
  • End of Kaiser's attempt to personal rule the domestic affairs
  • Strength was forging coalitions and finding acceptable compromises
  • Developed reputation for being too pliable and soft
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Bethmann-Hollweg and Constitutional Reform

Constitutional Reform:

  • Wanting to halt growth of the SPD he produced a moderate plan to change the Prussian parliament that was dominated by Junkers, but it had to be dropped because Conservative Junkers and Catholics opposed
  • Proposed in 1910 following working-class demonstrations, hoped to strengthen position of growing middle class but was defeated by Zentrum and Conservatives who were worried it would strengthen proletarian vote at expense of upper class


  • SPD still failed to command an overall majority
  • Highlighted that constitutional change could not be put off forever


  • Plan was dropped because Conservative Junkers and Catholics were opposed
  • Discontent heightened following introduction of democratic government in Alsace Lorraine and the SPD polled 30% of popular votes in 1912
  • Showed upper class still overruled the working classes in political power
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Bethmann-Hollweg and Zabern Incident

Zabern Incident 1913 - 

  • Reichstag vehemently demanded that certain officers should be punished for their brutal treatment of the inhabitants of Zabern, Alsace


  • Demonstrated the joint power of the army and the Kaiser over the Reichstag
  • Shows Kaiser's joint relationship with the army and he sides with them


  • Kaiser was unwilling to take action and guilty officer was actually decorated for his behaviour after being acquitted by a court-martial
  • Reichstag put forward a vote of no confidence in the chancellor and demanded his resignation but he stayed as he had Wilhelm’s support
  • Could show that the army (dominant elites) are preserving its own power and status
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Bethmann-Hollweg and Army Bill

Army Bil 1913:

  • Strengthen the position of the army further by providing extra 4000 officers, 15,000 NCO’s and 117,000 men at a cost of a billion marks


  • Only due to support of SPD, who accepted the bill because it would be funded by a progressive tax on wealth
  • Dismissal of Eulenburg and other ministers saw him appoint more military men in their place


  • By 1914 only 52% of senior ranking officers were aristocratic, compared to 80% in 1880’s
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Role of Reichstag

Struggle between autocracy and democracy:

  • Disputes of 1880 to 1914 period ultimately revolved around issue of where power resided in the Empire
  • 1871 constitution which remained essentially unchanged until war years, had placed final authority with Kaiser
  • Wilhelm had no only come to power determined to exert that authority; he had also maintained very personal involvement in government, almost to extent of overstepping his constitutional position
  • Kaisers decisions regarding appointment and dismissal of chancellors, while breaking from tradition established by Wilhelm I, were essentially constitutional
  • When a chancellor lost Wilhelm II's confidence he was forced from office
  • Controversy over Wilhelms actions between 1897-1908, mainly during Bulow, when Kaiser reached peak of personal rule
  • He dictated policy and controlled all appointments, legislations and all diplomatic moved
  • Can be argued he was doing nothing more than the constitutional allowed, his behaviour provoked considerable difficulties with the other essential cog in the constitution (Reichstag)
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Role of Reichstag

Struggle between autocracy and democracy:

  • Although Reichstag could not itself introduce, or even amend, legislation, it nevertheless possessed a very important right; a Reichstag majority was necessary to appoint or reject a law
  • Government could only work through a system of agreement or at least compromise between Reichstag majority and Kaiser’s ministers
  • Deputies in Reichstag saw this logic in reverse
  • If majority in Reichstag wanted a particular policy or law, they felt that ministers should be prepared to respond to their views
  • Obstruction of Reichstag and increasing separation between Kaiser’s government and demands of masses, as reflected by growing Socialist vote - make the 1871 constitution increasing difficult to operate
  • Reichstag might have been able to exert still more power had political parties been able to cooperate, but while they were divided, chancellors had room for manoeuvre
  • Interference of Wilhelm II increased pressure on his chancellors
  • Two incidents, in particular, suggested that the Kaiser's viewed his autocratic powers very differently from the way his Reichstag saw them (Daily Telegraph Affair 1908 and Zabern Affair 1913)
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Reichstag influence

Does have influence:

  • Has more power when reducing army bill from 7 to 5 years (1982) and increasing size of army, however, the influence of the army grew due to this
  • Rejected bill of increased direct taxation
  • Weltpolitik - budget cost rising, both indirect and inheritance tax voted down
  • Reichstag rejected all anti-SPD legislations

Doesn't have influence:

  • Zabern affair 1913- Reichstag demanded that certain officers should be punished for their brutal treatment of the Zabern inhabitants. 
  • The Socialists continued to grow as a result of state socialism and conservative Junkers and the Agrarian League  
  • Bulow formed the Blue-Black-Bloc of anti-socialist parties.  Bulow gave the Reichstag some say- formed a coalition
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Social Changes

Class hierarchy:

  • Population growth and industrialization many people had to come to terms with fundamental changes
  • Good deal of social readjustment but remained divided along traditional class lines
  • Elites: ‘old’ landed aristocracy at top, Prussian Junkers, many military officers, lived in spacious homes/country estates run by servants, active in politics
  • Industrial managers, highly-skilled experts and educated professionals grew increasingly prominent, forming ‘upper’ middle class, comfortable homes, paid for children's education
  • White-collar workers: clerks, small businessmen, shopkeepers, known as ‘Mittelstand’, formed lower middle class, not substantially wealthy, proud of position as non-manual employees, aspirational, wanted children to be educated, leaned towards Conservatives
  • Growing urban working class divided - top was foremen and highly-skilled workers who were conscious of superiority over their workers
  • Middle consisted of semi-skilled workers - coal miners were better paid of this group and were keen to support movements of reform
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Social Changes

Class hierarchy:

  • ’Lower working class’ of unskilled workers was most vulnerable to economic fluctuations and layoffs - described by Marxists as ‘Lumpenproletariat’, largely apolitical and uninterested in revolutionary advancement
  • Peasants worked in countryside and status varied between substantial peasant proprietors who employed others and the landless labourer's whos life was
  • precarious
  • Interests sometimes coincide with those of Junkers and tended to have quite Conservative outlooks
  • Also victims of industrial change and whilst those serving industrial centres did well, growing populations and practice of dividing estates between sons forced increasing number to leave land and ‘drift to the towns’ where they joined working-class ranks
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Social Changes

Position of women:

  • Higher ranks had more leisurely life - taking on charitable work if there was sufficient income to leave house and children to a servant
  • Slightly lower ranks more directly involved with running of home, household accounts but still dependant on husband for income and status
  • By 1914 this changed - those in middle-ranking seized new opportunities presented by office work but number of working women was still small
  • Working-class and peasant women far more likely to be manual labourers
  • Urban dwellers traditionally performed piece work in own home or in small workshops
  • Industrial change presented new outlets here too and some women got jobs in larger factories - led to ‘horror stories’ about growing number of illegitimate children in industrial cities and believed spread of prostitution
  • 1890’s - some intellectuals began to question position of women - they had no vote and legal sŧatus was severely reserved; their property became their husbands on marriage
  • The Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (1894) was umbrella organisation that campaigned for women’s rights and increased educational opportunities
  • August Bebel wrote tracts on female equality and SPD campaigned for female voice unsuccessfully
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Social Changes

Elitisim and culture of militarism:

  • From beginning of second Reich, culture of elitism was encouraged
  • Bismarck was a Junker and the elites shared common interests in building up new united Germany and extending their own wealth and power within it
  • Elites cooperated in ‘alliance of steel and rye’ and proved important backbone in Empire
  • Exerted considerable influence through participation in politics and in various nationalist right-wing pressure groups of 1890’s onwards
  • Elitist anti-Semitism:
  • Several pressure groups expressed anti-Semitic views (Pan German League)
  • Called for ban on Jewish influence for growing ‘liberalism’
  • Prussian officer corps and military assumed central role in Second Reich - partly because of Prussian military tradition and part of army played in wars on unification, but also enhanced by inclinations of Kaiser
  • Troops took personal oath of loyalty to Kaiser rather than state, and for the Kaiser a strong military presence was a sign of power
  • Wilhelm II loved tradition, military uniforms, decorative and ritualistic practices, and the male dominated culture
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Social Changes

Elitism and culture of militarism:

  • Felt more comfortable with military personnel than civilians and his ambition for Germany - to win colonies and have German power respected abroad
  • Expansion of military influence in this period was both the cause and product of Germany’s search for world power
  • Dominance of officer corps also lined to power of aristocracy
  • Higher ranks of army filled with Junkers and more than half of all officers had titles
  • From 1874 - army only voted on by Reichstag every seven years
  • Zabern Affair showed how military could override civilian authority with impunity
  • Despite disputes over military budget, Germany had army of 4 million men by 1914 and expenditure reached £60 million between 1913-14
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