To What Extent Was Wilhelmine Germany an Entrenched Authoritarian State?

Topics: German Empire, Prussia, Social Democratic Party of Germany Pages: 5 (1941 words) Published: October 10, 2011
To what extent was Wilhelmine Germany an entrenched Authoritarian state? Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power in 1888 after Wilhelm I died and a brief reign from Frederick III, his behaviour could be unpredictable and although he was the grandson of Queen Victoria he was anti-British, however he admired them at the same time. He believed in the divine right of kings, the theory claimed that, kings were only answerable to God, and it was sinful for their subjects to resist them. Wilhelm II was determined to exercise much more direct control over government than his grandfather, this was apparent in 1890 when Wilhelm disagreed with Bismarck’s anti-socialist policies, colonial expansion and relations with Russia, consequently Bismarck retired ‘because of his health’. Wilhelm II was determined to reinstate the importance of the imperial throne, as opposed to the country being run by parliament, he wanted to demonstrate how important an all-powerful monarch was. This can be seen by Germany having 4 chancellors under Wilhelm II and each for less than ten years; Wilhelm II wished to have weak chancellors that he could easily control. Kulturkampf, was an attempt by Bismarck, to suppress the Catholic Church, he feared that because the German Empire established in 1871 had a substantial minority of Catholics that their loyalty to Rome would conflict with their loyalty to the empire. Consequently he conducted a struggle with the Catholics, by the May laws of 1873-5 education was bought under state control and state approval was required for the licensing of priests. Bismarck’s anti-Catholic campaign backfired after the Catholic Centre Party made gains in the Reichstag elections of 1874 and 1877. And since Bismarck required their support against the Liberals over tariffs, he toned down the Kulturkampf and removed some of the May Laws. However, once Wilhelm II was Kaiser the differences between the state and the church were set aside in an attempt to oppose socialism at all cost, this is an example of Wilhelm’s determination in suppressing socialism. The most the monarchy was challenged came from the newly formed Social Democratic Party of Germany in the 1890s which advocated Marxism, which was the ideology of Karl Marx, who believed that the working classes will overthrow the ruling classes by revolution. This was after anti-socialist laws were ended with the death of Bismarck and the party grew significantly as a result. The threat of the SPD caused the state to attempt to soothe tensions by initially trying to crack down on socialism as well as motivating the government to form some sort of social reforms. Continuing, to support the view that Wilhelmine Germany was an authoritarian state, was that regardless of the public vote the Kaiser still got to choose who had seats in cabinet. This is evident in the 1912 election result, when despite being the largest party the Social Democratic Party still had no seats in the cabinet. Demonstrating just how truly threatened the government felt by them. However, even though the Social Democrats had no cabinet seats, their election success meant that there was more diversity in the Reichstag, allowing the Kaiser to be challenged, also highlighting that the Reichstag was the democratic element of the constitution. In 1893 Caprivi made concessions over the Army Bill in the Reichstag by reducing the length of conscription for national service from three years to two years. The Reichstag rejected the Army Bill, resulting in them being dissolved. Opponents of Caprivi now reinforced Wilhelm II’s own doubts and the Kaiser tried to get Caprivi to draw up an anti-socialist Subversion Bill after the increase in SPD seats, however, he refused. He had successfully talked the Kaiser away from this course of action, however Caprivi had lost the will to carry on and resigned and gladly retired in 1894. The Tariff reform in 1902 caused tensions between the Chancellor, Bulow and the Conservatives and Agrarian...
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