WW1 History - Bismarck and his Policies

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Bismarck and the German Political Parties 1871-1890

Aspects of European History 1789-1980, Stephen J. Lee

Page 111

  • Constitution of the Second Reich (1871) gave Germany universal suffrage - an elected Reichstag (lower chamber
  • New state was a conglomeration of several different interests - industrial and agrarian, Protestant and Catholic - major advance - favour the growth of political parties
  • Bismarck - wanted to prevent the evolution of parliamentary sovereignty on the British model - accountability of the executive to the legislature. 
  • He disliked the prospect of party politics
  • No intention of attaching himself permanently to any single faction
  • Avoided long-term commitments - preserve maximum freedom to manoeuvre between various party leaders.
  • Described his objective as ‘an understanding with the majority of the deputies that will not at the same time prejudice the future authority and governmental powers of the Crown or endanger the proficiency of the army’
  • He pursued Realpolitik

Bismarck and the Conservatives

  • Bismarck was a Junker - close attachment to the Prussian Conservatives during the 1860s
  • with their help Bismarck purged the Prussian ministry of liberalism - increased size go German army - preparation for German unification
  • Bismarck and conservatives - love-hate relationship.
  • Free conservatives - offshoot from main party - guaranteed him permanent support.
  • Conservatives themselves initially feared for the future of Prussia - because German unification had been achieved.
  • Bismarck believed: unification meant that Germany would be absorbed into Prussia 
  • Conservatives: considered that Prussia was being poured into Germany, suffering dilution in the process.
  • Concerned about 2 of Bismarck’s policies in the 1870s:
  • 1. Flirtation with the National Liberals to complete the unification of Germany’s legal institutions and currency - undermine Prussian predominance by removing the possibility of Prussian separatism
  • 2. Bismarck’s struggle with the Centre Party. Kulturkampf - roundly attacked by the Conservatives - state’s anti-clerical measures could also recoil on Protestant interests - conservatives claimed to uphold
  • A conservative publication - Kreuz-Zeitung: criticised Bismarck as an opportunist upstart - held by many right-wing Prussians - felt Bismarck and abandoned interests altogether.
  • 1878 - signs off reconciliation: Bismarck turned back on liberals - agreed with Kaiser Wilhelm: more conservative rule needed.
  • Bismarck pursued a combination of economic, social and political objectives - largely succeeded in reassuring the conservatives. 
  • Economic policy - tariffs introduced in 1879
  • Popular with Junkers of East Prussia - faced heavy competition from large American and Russian grain imports.
  • Junkers saved by this protection
  • Move away from free trade - benefitted industrialists - pleased the Free conservatives.
  • Aristocrats (industrial and agrarian) confirmed in their control over German society
  • Bismarck’s efforts to eliminate the threat of socialism - earned sympathy from Conservatives - confirmed that he and they still had common ideological objectives. 
  • Political changes 1880s
  • Recast government institutions - re-establish influence of Prussia
  • Ejected remaining liberals from civil service - vacancies filled by right-wingers

Bismarck and the Liberals

  • Disliked liberalism since his own conversion to conservatism after the failure of the Frankfurt Parliament (1848-1849)
  • 1862: clashed with Prussian liberals over military expenditure


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