The Second German Reich

Society and Politics in Germany 1900 - 1914


The Second Reich: Society and Politics


  • The growth in German industry helped to stimulate a population boom.
  • However: the move from rural to urban caused overcrowding in many cities, with poor living and sanitary conditions.
  • BUT: some results were positive - I strive for better hygene led to improved rates of infant mortality.
  • Tramways were formed to allow people to live further out in the suburbs.
  • After 1896 real wages increased.
  • Living standards began to increase.
  • The number of industrial workers in Germany double between 1882 - 1907.
  • HOWEVER: all was not good for everyone - homelessness became a big problem.
  • The cycle of unemployment was dictated by the cycle of the economy.
  • Indeed: the unemployment figure rose from 1.35 million in 1882 to 3.45 million in 1907.
  • The number of lower middle class 'white collar workers' increased'.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics


  • There was a contadiction between economicmodernisation and the lack of political reform - Democracy was very much restricted.
  • Frustration was caused by uneven economic growth - rising prices and rising unemployment.
  • There became an explosion of interest in German politics.

The Socialist Movement:

  • The Anti-Socialist Laws of 1878-90 did little to dampen working class enthusiasm in politics.
  • The establishment viewed Socialism as revolutionary and damaging - this view is key in appreciating what made Socialism such an issue!
  • By 1914 the German SPD were the largest socialist party in the world.
  • SPD's growth is reflected in the growth of the Trade Union movements which had 3 million members by 1900.
  • PROBLEMS: the SPD was largely divided between the moderates (seeking constitutional reform) and the radicals (hoping for a marxist revolution)
  • The Kaiser was a staunch anti-socialist and many within the elite feared the socialists and their motives, viewing them as destructive revolutionaries.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

Pressure Groups:

  • Another consequence of social and economic changes - highlight the tensions and divisions in Germany.

Nationalist Pressure Groups: (Influenced policy)

  • The German Colonial League: was concerned with gaining German colonies - also in charge of ruling some of the empire - South West Africa 1884.
  • The Pan German League: Committed to Imperial expansion and dominance in Europe. This group had strong support from the establishment with 60 members of the Reichstag also PGL members by 1914.
  • The Navy League: was highly involved in the expansion of the German navy to rivak Britains.

Economic Pressure Groups:

  • The Central Association of German Industrialists: to protect industrial interests.
  • The Agrarian League: wanted to protect traditional Prussian values and agriculture.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

Political Developments: to protect the position of the ruling elites.

  • Aggressive Foreign Policy
  • The demand for Constitutional Reform: The Liberals wished for this and for the strengthening of the Reichstag - Bismarck had successfully divided the Liberals, thus allowing for their pushes for political reform to be muted.
  • The demand for Social Reform: Although the Anti-Socialists laws were dropped only limited social reform took place.

Foreign Minister and Chancellor Von Bulow - protect the elite:

  • Sammlunspolitik: Aim was to build an alliance of Conservative interests in the Reich - between Conservatives and Liberals, Junker and Industrialist - creating a broad front against Socialism.
  • This would be achieved through protectionism and Weltpolitik.
  • Integral to Weltpolitik was the building up of the German Armed forced - along with Von Tirpitz the Naval was developed under Flottenpolitik - navy built to rival Britain.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics


  • Von Bulow's strengths lay in foreign and not domestic policy.
  • However a series of reforms were intorduced to appease the Liberals and Socialists:

The Old Age and Invalidity Law: amended in 1899 to increase old age pensions and to extend compulsory insurance to various new groups. In 1900 Accident insurance was also extended to new occupations.

The Sickness Insurance Law 1903: ameneded to give longer and more generous help to worler's in ill health, extended to 26 weeks rather than 13.

1908 Law passed to limit factory hour work for children: No child under 13 was to be employed, a six hour day for children aged 13-14 and 10 hour day for 14 -16yr olds.

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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

Increased Tension

Limitations of Weltpolitik:

  • Despite growing pressure to expand the empire by the Colonial League, the oppotunities to do so were limited after 1900.
  • A tension arose from the pressure for expansion on the one hand and the limited oppotunity to do so.

The Herero Uprising:

  • SPD were strongly against colonial expansion when much reform was still needed in Germany.
  • In 1904 the Herero people of South West Africa revolted against their repressor, but were defeated.
  • They were then subjected to a diliberate policy of genocide - before the rebellion the population had been 80,000 in 1911 it was just 15,000.
  • Enivitably such actions were unpopular within the coalition government.
  •  Centre Party was appalled by Colonial policy and tensions within the government increased.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

The Hottentot Election:

  • 1906: the Centre Party voted alongside the SPD against the production of a new railway line in South West Africa.
  • The Reichstag was dissolved and the 'Hottenton' election of 1907 was fought on the issue of nationalism.
  • Von Bulow suggested that if his 'nationalist' alliance were voted out, the public face a coalition of Centre and SPD - thus the German public backed his 'Bulow Bloc'.

The Breaking of the Bulow Bloc:

  • Increased military spending meant that the government needed to raise 380million marks.
  • Bulow suggestes an increase on property or inheritance tax - this was strongly opposed by both the Centre Party and Conservative parties.
  • The Bulow Bloc broke.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

The Daily Telegraph Affair 1908:

  • The Kaiser gave an interview to the DT in Oct 1908.
  • He gave the impression he wanted a close alliance with Britain.
  • The Reichstag objected suggesting that the Kaiser formed foreign policy without consultation and he was criticised.
  • The Kaiser blamed Bulow for not censoring the interview - the Kaiser lost confidence in him.
  • Bulow was forced to resign in 1909.

Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg:

  • In 1910 he attempted to reform the voting sustem as it was unfair - Parliment full of elite.
  • However in the face of opposition he dropped the proposals.
  • In 1911 he attempted to intergrate Alsace-Lorraine with the rest of Germany by giving them a constitution.
  • His appointment as Chancellor exemplified the authority - Hollweg was not strong on Foreign policy, leaving the Kaiser to take the intiative.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

The Zabern Affair 1913:

  • Highlighted the influence of the conservative groups and underlined the weakness of the Reichstag.
  • Hollweg had attempted to tie Alsace Lorraine (AL) closer to the Reich in 1911  -a positive step.
  • BUT: A German army officer (staying in Zabern) made some derogatory remarks about the local people to the colleague - this was then printed by the press.
  • The Governor of AL tried to persuade the army to transfer the officer, bu this was refused.
  • When the officer appeared back on the streets he was jeered at - Colonel Von Reuter had these people imprisoned.
  • As a result, a state of seige hung over the city.
  • The Kaiser remained unmoved by the reports of unrest in AL.
  • The Kaiser refused to speak to the Governor of AL claiming it was an army matter.
  • The Reichstag were frustrated with the army and the fact that Hollweg did not side with the politicians.
  • The Reichstag passed a vote of no confidence against him, but Hollweg survived as (by the constitution) he was only repsonsible to the Kaiser.
  • Powers of the Reichstag were seen to be serverly limited.
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The Second Reich: Society and Politics

Extent of Constitutional Change 1900-14? 


The constitutional boundraises did not chnage despite urbanisation. In 1907 the SPD and Centre Party recieved the most votes but faced a defeat in the number of seats gained.

No political party would challenge the power of the Kaiser for fear of being viewed as unpatriotic. Even the SPD were loyal to him.

Parties only acted as interest groups, promoting the interests of those who voted for them - this made collaboration between parties difficult; parties did not trust one another!

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