The political establishment in Germany succeeded in maintaining the political status quo through a policy of moderate reform. How far do you agree with this statement? The political establishment during the Second Reich in Germany were successful in maintaining the political status quo between the years 1871 and 1918. It can be argued however, that they were successful in doing so through more than just a policy of moderate reform. During these years, Germany abided by a rigid constitution which allowed power to ultimately be firmly held in the hands of the Kaiser.
A great sense of nationalism and patriotism also existed in Germany and the vast majority of the German population heavily valued the Kaiser. Furthermore, the constitution favoured the traditional elites and they pushed for a nationalist foreign policy in order to unite against any threats to the status quo. This essay will look at the aforementioned aspects of the Second Reich, in order to dispute the statement that the political establishment in Germany succeeded in maintaining the political status quo through a policy of moderate reform.
Firstly, it is fair to say that moderate reform did exist in Germany during this period; however it arguably played a more minor rule in maintaining the status quo. It must be noted that moderate reform did appease the demands of the socialists for social reform and the demands of the liberals for constitutional reform. Laws such as to extend accident insurance, to give longer and more generous hours to workers in poor health, and to reduce the amount of factory work demonstrate how social reform was granted to the socialists through this period.
Caprivi (chancellor of Germany between 1890 and 1894) embarked on a ‘new course’ with a more consultative approach to government and a conciliatory attitude to previous hostile forces. Anti-Socialist laws were lapsed. Social measures were introduced; for example, Sunday work was prohibited. However, Caprivi’s ‘new course’ foundered as it was opposed by the established forces of power and influence. In the end, he lost the support of the Kaiser whose thoughts were taken up with his ‘personal rule’ and ‘Weltpolitik’.
In 1902, during Von Bulow’s chancellorship, the Tariff Law was introduced which put higher duties on imported grain and thus raised food prices. Despite the Kaiser heavily approving of the Tariff Law, it served to turn worker support away from the Kaiser’s system and to the SPD. This can be seen in the sharp rise of votes in the 1903 general election. This may suggest that moderate reform was never the mechanism to keep power in the hands of the old elites or maintain the status quo.
However, the threat of Socialism was undoubtedly overestimated by the political establishment who were under the misconception that the Socialist movement was wholly revolutionary. It may therefore be argued that since the threat of the socialists was smaller than perceived, it was in fact the existing structures of the Kaiserreich that maintained the political status quo. It could be argued that under Bulow’s chancellorship, the fact that he carried such an interest and passion in foreign policy, allowed stability to remain as policies such as Weltpolitik and Sammlungspolitik helped to reduce conflicting interests on the domestic front.
However, Bulow was confronted with the difficulty of financing Weltpolitik as the government had been in deficit since 1900. Bulow’s proposition to raise indirect taxes and introduce an inheritance tax created immediate opposition. Bulow proceeded to form the ‘Bulow Bloc’ consisting of conservatives and liberals in an attempt to counter the opposition of the Socialists and the Centre Party. It was an uneasy alliance however, with the Left Liberals demanding the kinds of social reform which the conservatives found intolerable.
It may therefore be seen that ultimately, moderate reform in the Second Reich was lacking in substance and efficiency. This is demonstrated once again in the chancellorship of Hollweg when he failed to reform the Prussian voting system, the ‘3 class franchise’ in 1910. He was defeated by the Conservatives and so the proposals had to be dropped. Overall, the lack of any real depth to any reform, together with the lack of success in some of its implementation clearly show that moderate reform only played a small role in maintaining the status quo in Germany.
Secondly, an alternative argument is that the rigidity of the constitution in Germany is what allowed the political establishment to maintain the status quo. The German constitution was entrenched in Prussian dominance; demonstrated by the fact that Prussia held 17 out of 58 seats in the Bundesrat. In the 1908 Prussian election, 418,000 votes meant 212 Conservative seats, whereas 600,000 votes meant 6 SPD seat.
This shows how representation was heavily skewed, and this made it difficult for the political status quo to even be challenged. Constituency boundaries had also not changed since the 1870s, and this is what allowed the Bulow-bloc to be successful, thus countering the emerging opposition towards the chancellor. Furthermore, it can be argued that opposition did not emerge against the Kaiser because he was seen as a pillar of strength and the figurehead in the midst of squabbling and the failed coalitions between political parties.
As well as the admiration for the Kaiser, since the chancellor was answerable to the Kaiser and not to the Reichstag, the Kaiser was able to remove Bulow after the Daily Telegraph affair when he was blamed for failing to censor the interview between the Kaiser and the British. The Kaiser was also surrounded by a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism, and this served as a unifying political factor in a nation which looked after sectional interests; the Kaiser was the only common dynamic that they had.
These feelings primarily emerged following the nationalist foreign policies which were carried out during this period, and they undoubtedly helped to preserve the status quo and leave the Kaiser unchallenged. It is therefore clear that the layout and rigidity of the constitution, as well as the strong sense of nationalism and patriotism that protected the Kaiserreich was very significant in maintaining the status quo, more so than the policy of moderate reform. A third and final argument is that the aggressive foreign policy which the Second Reich undertook may also be responsible for succeeding in maintaining the political status quo.
During Bulow’s chancellorship, a fear of the threat of socialism was emerging and so a policy was introduced in order to ally the traditional elites (as well as new elites such as the Conservatives and Junkers) with the Liberals and Industrialists, in order to make a strong unified front against socialists and towards the current political system. This policy was known as Sammlungspolitik; literally the policy of concentration. Bulow wanted the front against socialism to be achieved through the creation of a policy of protectionism and the rallying of Germans from all sections of society through Weltpolitik. Bulow also ncouraged the development of Flottenpolitik; the building of a navy to rival that of Britain in order for Germany to be taken seriously as a ‘Great Power’, and to show the strength that an appeal to nationalism could have. Germany attempted to further the size of the navy through a law that would build 38 battleships in twenty years. This not only pleased the Naval League but industrialists too, who profited from the commissioning of so many new ships. The navy had become a focus for popular patriotism and nationalism which soaked up the pressure and tensions of the political status quo’s potential challenges.
However, Weltpolitik also had its limitations; the Herero uprising can be seen as evidence to contradict the power that nationalism had. This is because the use of the policy of genocide by execution and concentration camps was used as revenge against an uprising of people against their colonial oppressor. This served to split the coalition as the Centre party were appalled by events. Despite this, the patriotic and nationalistic foreign policies were undoubtedly crucial in maintaining the political status quo.
This is also shown by Bulow managing to gain a victory for his ‘Bulow-Bloc’ in the next election by portraying the socialists and Catholics as unpatriotic. Thus, the aggressive foreign policy at this time in Germany can be seen as more responsible for maintaining the political status quo than the moderate reform. In conclusion, judging by the evidence, it can be deduced that it was the role of the nationalistic foreign policy and patriotism in Germany at this time that allowed the political establishment to succeed in maintain the status quo.
Although moderate reform occurred, it was overall limited and lacking in depth. The fear of socialism prompted the chancellors of Germany to unite the country by rallying support from both the middle and upper classes and their political representatives in the Reichstag behind the Kaiser and the government. Therefore, not only did nationalism and patriotism soak up the tensions that existed within Germany, thus eliminating the possibility of substantial opposition, but it also allowed the Kaiser to exploit these national feelings in order to retain his own power and maintain the political status quo.