THE SOCIAL DIMENSION - "FOUNDERS" AND "ENEMIES OF THE EMPIRE"
The constitution of the German empire was proclaimed in April 1871 and went into effect on 4 May. This new political beginning and the billions of gold francs paid by France in war reparations caused an economic boom known even at that time as the Gründerzeit. The "founders" (Gründer) were primarily industrialists, bankers, businessmen, as well as broad circles of the middle class who now invested heavily in a wide variety of economic spheres sometimes without having a very clear idea of their chances on the market and their prospects for the future.
In the main, it was the part of the economy powered by large factories that took off. The best-known representatives of big industry included Krupp, Stinnes, and Haniel in the Ruhr; Stumm and Röchling in the Saar; Henckels and Mannesmann in the Bergisches Land; Maffei in Bavaria; Henschel in Kassel; as well as Borsig and Schwartzkopffin Berlin. As the economy grew, so did their political influence. The Rhenish entrepreneurs in particular tended to be liberal in their economic and social views, but a fundamental change in this pattern occurred as a result of the economic slump that hit after 1873 (Gründerkrise). Many major industrialists joined forces with the large landowners in advocating economic and social protectionism. Henceforth, the life style of the industrial bourgeoisie also became oriented more and more to the old elite the aristocracy. The new villas of the manufacturers were no longer situated on the grounds of the factories as before; they became more like country estates. The type of ostentatious living involved was so striking that it is still described with a special term: the Gründerstil.
In the boom years from 1871 to 1873, 103 new incorporated commercial (joint-stock) banks, 25 railroad companies, and 102 construction and assembly firms were created - 843 corporations in all. Stock-market speculation was unprecedented. The "great crash" came in May 1873 on the Viennese stock market, and in late summer the precipitous fall in prices were felt in Berlin as well. By 1876, 61 banks, 4 railroad companies, and 115 industrial enterprises had collapsed. Bismarck hoped to stabilize the economy with protective tariffs, which covered agricultural and industrial products from 1879 on. Only the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen, whose economic efficiency was based on a liberal trade policy and open, international markets, were able to retain their privileges in this sphere until 1884. Until that point they were not yet members of the Customs Union and were thus not subject to imperial regulations on foreign trade. In both Hanseatic cities change in the status quo was stiffly resisted in the 1880s for fear that they would lose important civil liberties if they became members of the Customs Union. The mayor of Bremen, Otto Gildemeister, spoke of an "attack on civic self-government."
The newly founded German Empire embraced Prussia, which had a special status in many ways; the kingdoms of Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg; eighteen lesser states, the three free cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck; and the so-called Reichsland (imperial territory) of Alsace-Lorraine. Although the empire was constitutionally a federal state, it was in fact dominated by Prussia in several respects. Until the first imperial institutions were established in 1878, their responsibilities, including the preparation of draft legislation for the empire, were handled mainly by the various Prussian offices and ministries. In the Federal Council (Bundesrat) - the legislative organ - Prussia had over seventeen of the fifty-eight votes (Bavaria had six; Saxony and Württemberg, four each), and according to the constitution no changes could be made in military or customs affairs without Prussian consent.
The Reichsland of Alsace-Lorraine, territory ceded to the German Empire in the Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871, was given a special status. Contrary to German hopes, the population of Alsace-Lorraine did not merge quickly with the new Empire. Accordingly, the Reichsland was denied a seat in the Federal Council, remaining without its own voice in the circle of federal states until 1911. The territory was governed and administered directly through Bismarck's office until 1879, when central administration was transferred to Strasbourg and placed in the hands of an imperial governor-general instead of the chancellor of the Reich. The first Regional Committee comprising members of Alsace-Lorraine's three district councils (previously called conseils genéreaux) was elected in Strasbourg in 1874. Initially, this body had only an advisory function in the legislative process and the passing of the budget; the decisions were made in Berlin.
To stress the affiliation of the Reichsland of Alsace-Lorraine with the German empire, Strasbourg received a number of major public buildings - the central train station; imperial post office; imperial palace; Regional Committee and Ministerial building; a lecture hall; and the regional library also serving the university, which was refounded in 1872. As with the plans for the national parliament building (Reichstag) in Berlin, those for the imperial palace in Strasbourg were accompanied by lively debates on the question of "the German style."
In the Reichstag, the deputies from Alsace-Lorraine and the representatives of Prussia's Polish provinces constituted their own factions. Unlike the Prussian House of Deputies, which was elected according to the three-class voting system and thereby had correspondingly strong conservative representation alongside liberal forces, the Reichstag was based on universal, equal suffrage for men at least twenty-five years of age. The rights of the Reichstag, though not insignificant, were limited in key aspects, for the ministers answered politically only to the chancellor, who, in turn, was responsible to the emperor alone. However, the Reichstag did have full power over the state budget and the legislative process, the importance of which became greater and greater.
The spectrum of the parties represented in the Reichstag ranged from the German Conservative Party (Deutschkonservative) and the Free Conservatives (known outside Prussia as the Deutsche Reichspartei) on the right to the Socialists on the left. In the first years of the German Empire, the liberals had the greatest appeal, with 202 of the 382 deputies in the first Reichstag belonging to the liberal factions the National Liberal Party (Nationalliberale Partei) and the Progressive Party (Fortschrittspartei). To the right of the liberals was the Catholic Center Party, or simply Center, a confessional party founded in 1870-71 primarily to represent the Catholic population in Prussian-dominated Germany, which was largely Protestant. Two of the party's leading figures were Ludwig Windthorst and the Bishop of Mainz, Wilhelm von Ketteler, the latter of whom called for a Christian social policy. The Center increasingly gained in political importance by virtue of its sharp opposition to Bismarck during the so-called Kulturkampf, the struggle between church and state from late 1871 to 1887.
The conflict with the Catholic Church dominated the early years of the new empire. After the "Catholic Department" in the Prussian Ministry of Culture was abolished, a nation-wide campaign against the church opened with the passage of the Pulpit Paragraph (Kanzelparagraph) at the end of 1871. With the aid of this law, which was emphatically supported by the liberals, Bismarck intended to put an end to the political influence of the clergy, which he saw as a threat particularly in the Polish provinces. The School Inspection Act (Schulaufsichtsgesetz) of 11 March 1872 placed all local and private schools in Prussia under government control, and the Jesuit Act (Jesuitengesetz) of 4 July 1872 forbade any further Jesuit activity on German soil. This legislation was followed in 1873 by Prussia's May Laws (Maigesetze) which made the ordination of clerics dependent on their successful completion of a university education and state examinations in philosophy, history, and German literature. In addition, the state retained the right to veto the installation of clerics. Civil marriage was made compulsory in Prussia in 1874, a law that was adopted by the empire in 1875. Further laws were passed in the struggle against the church, including one affecting ecclesiastical custody of property. Bishops and priests not obeying the May Laws were prosecuted.
The disputes were not confined to the legislative level and to persons or groups directly affected; the conflict escalated into a clash pitting the fundamental world views of liberalism against those of the Catholic Church and the Catholic movement. Denunciation of domestic opponents as "enemies of the empire" and aggressive nationalism became part of the political legacy of this bitter fight. Bismarck contributed to the increasing friction and ultimately came to be haunted by the passions he had unleashed. Speaking of the German legation at the Vatican in the debate of 14 May 1872, for example, he formulated the memorable sentence that became a familiar dictum: "Do not worry, we will not go to Canossa, either in body or in spirit!" The reference was quite familiar to his contemporaries: With only a few escorts, the German king, Henry IV, set out for Italy in January 1077 to be absolved after Pope Gregory VII had excommunicated him for refusing to renounce the practice of lay investiture. For three days Henry stood in the garb of a penitent sinner in the bailey of the Apennines castle of Canossa before the pope lifted the ban. Regarded unilaterally in the nineteenth century as the nadir of German imperial glory, as the state's ignominious prostration before the church, Canossa was repeatedly invoked as a warning in national liberal circles, in the press, and in the pubs.
The conciliatory policies of Leo XIII, who had succeeded the late Pius IX, did much to help settle the dispute between church and state. In subsequent years, all laws pertaining to the Kulturkampf were repealed, except those on misuse of the pulpit, state supervision of schools, civil marriage, and the ban on the Jesuits.
In Prussia's eastern regions, the Kulturkampf coincided with a policy of Germanization, which was intensified by resettlement in the 1880s. Bismarck had made his anti-Polish stance known in drastic statements written to his sister as early as 1861:
Beat thc Poles until they despair of living [.] . . . I have all thc sympathy in the world for their situation, but if we want to survive we can do nothing othcr than wipe them out. The wolf cannot help it, either, that God made him the way he is, and one shoots him dead anyway for it if one can.
Spreading anti-Semitism also played a role in the deportation of Polish immigrants ordered in 1885 one third of the people expelled were Jews.
The strong impetus toward industrialization in the Gründerzeit was accompanied by the political rise of social democracy. In the years during which the empire was founded, two competing workers'parties initially existed: Ferdinand Lassalle's Universal German Workers' Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) and the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, SDAP) founded by August Bebel and Karl Liebknecht. However, only the SDAP was able to enter the Reichstag by winning two seats in the elections of 1871. Upon Bebel's repudiation of the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and his support for the Paris Commune on 25 May 1871, Bismarck labeled both parties "enemies of the Empire" and "dangerous to the state."
Criminal charges were brought against social democrats for the hrst time in 1872, when Bebel and Liebknecht were tried for high treason in Leipzig, found guilty, and sentenced to two years in prison. Numerous local bans on parties, imprisonment for editors of social democratic newspapers, and deportations followed. In 1875 both workers'parties responded by uniting as the Socialist Workers' Party (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei), which gained considerable support by winning 9.8 percent of the vote in the Reichstag elections of 1877. At first, Bismarck had turned against the Center and social democracy with equal ferocity. But when he abandoned liberal economic policies and began to embrace protectionist measures, he started moving toward the Center party in the search for new majorities.
By contrast, the chancellor used new weapons to continue his strategy of isolating the social democrats. After two attempts in quick succession were made to assassinate the emperor in the summer of 1878, Bismarck managed to foment middle-class fears of revolution so shrewdly that the Reichstag was eventually willing to pass an exceptional bill against social democracy. The Socialist Law (Sozialistengesetz) was originally supposed to remain in effect only until 31 March 1881 but was renewed until 1890. The intent of this law was to eliminate the influence of the Socialist Workers' Party. To this end, all socialist organizations, assemblies, and publications were banned and many social democrats expelled from their local communities. Under the imperial constitution, however, deputies were elected as individual representatives of the people rather than as members of a party slate, so social democrats could nevertheless continue to be elected to the Reichstag and even form a social democratic faction there. Another key reason that the party was able to survive was that it quickly succeeded in maintaining its organizational cohesion despite the ban on all social democratic newspapers by founding the Sozialdemokrat, which was printed in Zurich.
The number of votes cast for the Socialist Workers' Party in the Reichstag elections steadily grew regardless of the measures used to repress it. The dual experience in the period of persecution - exclusion and suppression on the one hand, electoral success on the other resulted in the passage of a Marxist program at the party convention in Erfurt in 1891, one year after the repeal of the Socialist Law. The belief in the inherent inevitability of the progressive demise of the bourgeois, capitalist social order was expressed by Bebel in Erfurt in his prophecy: "Indeed, I am convinced the realization of our goals is so close at hand that few of you in this hall will not live to see it."
Leonore Koschnirk and Agnete von Specht