To what extent was rapid economic growth the cause of divisions within Wilhelmine Germany 1890-1914?
In Wilhelmine II’s Germany, society was extremely hierarchal. By 1890 Germany had already completed the ‘take-off’ into sustained economic growth and industries such as coal, iron and textiles increased output by over 25%, leading the way in Germany’s mass industrialisation. This caused Germany’s net national product to rise from 23,676,000,000 (marks) in 1890 to 51,563,000,000 in 1912 and a population growth of 15 million over 20 years. Though this economic growth led to changes in terms of the structure of the Labour force and created new classes such as the industrial bourgeoisie, Germany still remained divided over inherent class divisions. Class divisions were furthered by the economic growth, creating a new class of the Industrial Bourgeoisie and neglecting traditional workers; with divisions in religion, regional and national identity continuing to be very powerful influences that cut across all classes of society. The political structure of Germany emphasised the divisions caused by Bismarck’s constitution, particularly the lower houses of German parliament: the Reichstag. The Reichstag had influence over areas such as financial affairs and the constitutional position of the Reichstag meant that the Kaiser required their support to pass government legislation.. Known as the ‘lower house’ of parliament, it was made up of a group of representatives, consisting of 8 major political parties, elected every five years by men over the age of 25 in a secret ballot. Though this balloting system showed relative equality allowing all males to vote, in reality the make up of the Reichstag was corrupted. In 1878 under Bismarck laws had been introduced that aimed to curb the socialists (including outlawing the Social Democratic party) reducing left-wing power and therefore the government could rely on the backing of the right wing: Deutschkonservative Partei (German Conservative party) and the Nationalliberable Partei (National Liberal party who despite their name were becoming increasingly conservative in their policies). However Bismarck’s anti-socialist legislation was abolished in 1890 and the SPD’s influence rose rapidly, for in the 1887 election the Conservative parties in total won 48% of the vote and 220 seats, however by 1912 their share of the vote had fallen further to 26% and 102 seats, less than half which showed that traditional support for the imperial government was slowly being eroded, increasing the problem of finding majority support to ratify legislation, to enable the passing of laws. In reality the Reichstag were an example of the Second Reich’s ‘sham democracy’ for they could only discuss and agree to legislation, however laws would be ultimately passed without their consent. This as well as no wages for MP’s , allowed only a certain class of citizens to apply and by not allowing members to apply for governmental positions unless they resigned their seat from the Reichstag, ensured the ranks of Germany’s parliament remained elitist.
The Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party) were a German Marxist party, who stood for the trade unionists and the working class. Outlawed until 1890 by anti-socialist legislation in Bismarck’s constitution, support for the Socialist Democratic party increased from 10.1% of the vote gaining 2.8% (11) of the seats in 1890 to 34.8% and 27.7% (110) by 1912. This sizeable political rise, in what were once relatively minor parties, for the socialist Deutsche Fressinage Partei (the German free thought parties) percentage of the ballot, dramatically increased from 35 seats in the Reichstag in 1890 to 110 seats in 1912, demonstrated that by 1912, traditional ‘imperialist’ rule of the Kaiser was coming to a gradual end and Germany was becoming far more democratic. However, though the parties remained committed to bringing about revolutionary changes in...
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