To what extent did social and political tensions that existed during the Second Reich increase during the First World War?

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To what extent did social and political tensions that existed during the Second Reich increase during the First World War?

On August 1st 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia, it seemed an united decision within the country. Yet, the longer the war went on, the more the social and political tensions increased as Germans started to realise they were being defeated. Many still believe that these tensions already existed before the war, as the country had only been united since 1871, hence causing social differences and a lack of stability in the country before the war had even started. However, it is clear to see that the ‘Great War’ had massive impacts on Germany’s political and social situation. So much so, that by the end of the war, a change in leadership began to develop, showing just how much of an impact the war had on the Second Reich.

A way in which political tension certainly increased was the emergence of the ‘silent dictatorship’ of Hindenburg and Ludendorff towards the end of the war. Although the Kaiser and the Chancellor held the most power previous to this, their ignorance and incapability during the war had allowed their power to slip through their fingers and into the hands of the Supreme Army Command for over two years. As expected, not only did this put a strain on the politics of the country, but created resistance among the people of Germany as they disliked having the army in charge of their country. Obviously, an army and its leaders encouraged and forced the country to continue fighting a losing battle, which was extremely unpopular to the left wing political parties. In 1916, a new law saw 2 million men mobilised and sent out to war, with the aim of sending any man who is capable of fighting to war. This caused growing discontent towards the government and their right wing politics as men who should be on the home front; farming and making means of fuelling the war were away. Furthermore, this led to a mass decline in grain supply resulting in a national famine. Around 293,000 died in 1918 alone due to starvation caused by the lack of workforce at home. These figures show just how much of an impact the war had on the social situation at home. Had these men not been fighting in a war that they didn’t wholeheartedly support, this famine or ‘turnip winter’ as it was nicknamed, would have been prevented and support for the government may have remained. It is the war and nothing else that meant Germany was deprived of its vital farmers and factory workers, therefore suggesting that these the war greatly increased the unease across Germany.

Additionally, Germany declaring 'total war' led to the polarisation of politics. Initially, during the first two years of the war a ‘Burgfriede’ was formed, literally translating to a party truce. This in the short term settled political tension by making sure no opposition to the

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