Unification 1862-1871
Foreign Policy

The Kaiserreich : Domestic Policy, 1890-1914

A.) Changing Cabinets

In 1890 Bismarck was ousted by Emperor Wilhelm II., who believed himself destined to exert strongg influence on German policy. Bismarck's successors in the office of Reich chancellor administrated German policy rather than shaping it. Often, a change in office resulted in a change in policies; the stability experienced under Bismarck was a matter of the past.
Chancellors were appointed by the Kaiser, who chose them from the Junker class, i.e. from (Prussian-Lutheran) nobility. They pursued a policy in general supporting the owners of landed estates (i.e. Junkers) by keeping import tariffs on grain high, a policy alienating the country's growing working class.

A.) Emerging Political Parties

Political parties had been founded earlier, but hitherto they had had limited membership numbers as well as limited political influence. Bismarck had succeeded in splitting the liberal camp into a Progressive Liberal Party opposing him and a National Liberal Party supporting him. Liberalism never again would rise to be among Germany's leading political movements. Bismarck's policy of attacking Catholicism and Social Democracy had only resulted in strengthening the political organizations of these camps; the SDAP (social democrats) and Zentrum (Catholics) had seen a steady rise in membership and representation in parliament. These parties were, in general, opposed to government policy and developed programs for a different policy, programs, which for the moment seemed utopian as both the constitution limited the influence of parliament, and Prussia's election law placed those with lower income at a disadvantage when it came to parliamentary representation. Under chancellor Georg von Caprivi discontinued the Anti-Socialist-Laws by permitting them to expire; however the government continued to regard the social democrats as suspicious elements.
Yet German Catholicism proved its strength by organizing the collection of funds to finish the construction of Cologne Cathedral (interrupted in the 15th century), and Social Democracy challenged state and society in a number of large-scale strikes, among them the great coal miners' strike of 1905. Both the Zentrum and the SDAP were strengthened by state oppression. The parties supporting the government, the conservatives (the Junkers' party) and the National liberals, lost out, in spite of the Dreiklassenwahlrecht placing the mass parties (SDAP, Zentrum) at a disadvantage.

A reform was necessary, yet outdated structures lived on - all chancellors were selected from Germany's nobility; the Dreiklassenwahlrecht in Prussia remained unreformed; parliament had little influence on politics. Despite massive population shifts in consequence of industrialization and urbanization, the constituencies were not reformed after 1871. The military, widely respected (the most vocal critics were the social democrats) had achieved a position where it seemed no more under control of the civilian administration.

DOCUMENTS Programm der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands beschlossen auf dem Parteitag zu Erfurt 1891, from PSM - Data Geschichte
Documents from psm-data geschichte, in English translation :
The German chancellor Georg Leo Count von Caprivi on the fight against Social Democracy in summer 1890
Address held by Kaiser Wilhelm II. on the Occasion of the Swearing-in-Ceremony of the New Recruits of the Potsdam Garderegiment 1891
Statistical Table Featuring Sentences Passed against Workers for "Political Crimes", 1890-1912
Statement of the Ruhrgebiet's miners' organizations of January 7th 1905, pertaining to the strike on the Bruchstrasse mine
The German Social Democratic Party's executive board appeals for support for the striking miners in the Ruhrgebiet, January 17th 1905
Amtliche Streikstatistik 1899-1914 (Official statistical table on strikes, Germany 1899-1914), from PSM - Data Geschichte
Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, Erfurter Programm, 1891, posted by Marxists' Internet Archive; in German
Postcard advertising the 8-hours workday, issued May Day 1900, from HDBG
REFERENCE Price Collier, Germany and the Germans (1913), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Stanley Shaw, William of Germany (1913), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Algernon Bastard, The Gourmet's Guide to Europe (1903), posted by Gutenberg Library Online, chapters VI-VII pp.110-151 on Germany
Frederic Augustin Ogg, The Governments of Europe (1913), posted by Gutenberg Library Online, Pt.2 pp.193-282 on Germany
Article : Germany, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1913 pp.1008-1024 (on events of 1912) [G]
Article : German Empire, in : Statesman's Year Book 1895 pp.530-645, 1898 pp.528-644, 1901 pp.612-734, 1905 pp.679-798, 1910 pp.821-917 [G]
Article : Germany, in : International Year Book 1898 pp.353-360, 1899 pp.364-371, 1900 pp.386-395 [G]
Article : Germany, in : New International Year Book 1907 pp.306-315, 1908 pp.284-296, 1909 pp.285-295, 1913 pp.284-293 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events 1894 pp.313-322 [G]
Joseph Kürschner, Kürschners Jahrbuch, issues 1912, 1913, in German

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First posted in 2000, last revised on October 6th 2008

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