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The period 1871-1890 Essay

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“In the period 1871-1890 Bismarck was better at crushing his opponents than at producing constructive new policies.” Explain why you agree or disagree with this statement.

“Better-pointed bullets than pointed words,” this quote by Otto Von Bismarck really shows his attitude to politics and how he dealt with problems and opposition. It also helps me in an extensive way to answer the essay question given. “In the period 1871-1890 Bismarck was better at crushing his opponents than at producing constructive new policies.”

Looking at an overview of Bismarck’s life and work it is very easy to agree with this statement and not question its accuracy at all, but after studying Bismarck in depth several queries arise as to whether this statement is totally accurate. The quote at the beginning of this paragraph shows which method of ruling Bismarck preferred, this was force and not democracy. It tells us that he would much rather crush the people questioning his leadership rather than listen to them and make appropriate changes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that because he preferred this method he was better at it. During this essay I will discuss whether he was better at crushing his opponents or whether introducing constructive policies was his strength.

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In 1871 the National Liberals were the largest party in the Reichstag, holding 155 seats. They were not in total opposition to Bismarck but they did not agree with many of his policies. They were in great opposition of his constitution that many said was a total sham. It simply disguised the fact that Bismarck held Germany in the palm of his hand along with all the power to go with it. The National Liberals wanted the constitution to be revised by a council made up of representatives from each party so it would share power evenly and take the leadership of the whole of Germany away from just one person. The authoritarianism of Bismarck was despised my many Liberals. Germany was seen by the world and many German civilians as a democratic country, but in reality the power was all in the hands of Bismarck. Many believed he had given himself even more power the Kaiser himself.

The Liberals wanted to revise he constitution not only so it played more in their favour but mainly to stop this authoritarian rule of Bismarck. Although they did feel strongly about these issues they did not challenge him as they were in agreement on other major policies, which followed the morals and wants of their party. Being Nationalist they were all for his unification idea. They were prepared to support him as far as hey could in making Germany a united country. They were also pleased with his economic and financial policies, his idea of establishing a national legal system and most of all his policy on free trade. Each of these policies would lead Germany ever closer to becoming one united country.

His policy on finance meant that not only could the individual states such as Bavaria and Prussia sort their own finances but they could also be ruled centrally from Berlin, edging the states financially closer to unification. A national legal system meant that each state had to follow the same laws, so if each state was following the same rules they would once again come closer to unification and finally free trade. This meant that states could import and export goods with no taxes making relations between the different states strong and slowly bringing them to one country. The Liberals saw these policies as a major move in bringing Germany together although they still had concerns about how Bismarck ran the Reichstag.

The Liberals did agree strongly with many of Bismarck’s policies but they felt unfairly treated in the Reichstag. As the largest single party there they felt they should have much more power in deciding how their country should be run. This feeling was fuelled in 1874 when Bismarck introduced a law stating that the minimum size of the army would be 400,000, which would be automatically finance by the government each year. This meant that the army took up around 80% of national money leaving only 20% of the national spending to be approved by the Reichstag. Bismarck predicted that there would be opposition to this law so he introduced the Septennial, mainly to please his largest threat the Nation Liberals. This said that every seven years the Reichstag would be able to vote on military spending.

Bismarck didn’t like the threat posed to him by the National Liberals and wanted rid of them. In 1878 his chance came. Europe had gone into depression so many countries had introduced protection on their trade. Many German landowners and businessmen asked the same of Bismarck. He agreed with the idea but the National Liberals were strongly opposed. In the 1878 election they lost 29 seats. Bismarck saw his chance to kick them while they were down. He introduced a tariff bill to put taxes on foreign imports. The National Liberals were divided in their opinions of this action and as a result the party split. Half joined the Progressive Party and the rest remained as the National Liberals but they were nowhere near as powerful as before.

In this instance Bismarck was very successful in crushing his main threat and opposition. He was patient in his plea to crush the Liberals and succeeded leaving the party split and virtually powerless. Although it is fair to say that he was also very successful in introducing constructive policies, which incidentally the Liberals agreed with. The idea of bringing Germany together with a national financial system and national legal system was very constructive and extremely popular especially between nationalists.

His free trade policy was also very good for both traders and his push for unification. Bismarck also showed that when he needed to he could change laws to not only suit himself but to protect Germany. He did this by introducing trade protection. This may have been his weapon to destroy the Liberals but it also protected Germany from the depression hitting the rest of Europe. I feel that although he was successful in crushing his opponents here he was better at introducing constructive policies to strengthen German economy and Germany as a country.

Even from the 19th century Germany showed the signs of moving toward fascism. May people criticise Hitler for his racial acts and mistreatment of the national minorities but Bismarck was no different. He did not go to the extremes of Hitler but his intentions were very similar. On the 14th of June 1866 Prussia went to war with Austria fighting a war for Schleswig-Holstein. The war ended seven weeks later with Prussia in total dominance. On the 26th of June a preliminary peace was put in place, which was soon followed on the 23rd of August by the Treaty of Prague. In this treaty the people of Schleswig-Holstein were promised a plebiscite to decide whether they wished to be Prussian or Danish. Bismarck made sure this never took place and assumed the occupants to be Prussian. This angered the Danes a lot.

Although Bismarck denied the Danes a right to choose their nationality he did not really mistreat or harm them – unlike the Poles. He did not like them at all, mainly because they were Catholic, a religion that he had had problems with in the past. He wanted to suppress their nationalism so he imprisoned the Prussian-polish Cardinal Ledochovski for 12 years simply for being Catholic and Polish. He imposed German as the language of education and forbade them to teach in Latin or Polish. In 1886 he expelled 34,000 Poles that had entered Germany from Austria and Russia.

Now he was rid of a major Polish figure, many Polish immigrants and parts of their culture he decided to take their land as a final push to crush them. He set up a government fund to buy land from Polish landowners. Once he had bought the land he claimed it as Germany’s. Even after this the Poles were not fazed. They continued to practice their religion and culture and were virtually unaffected by the loss of farming land as their farming measures and techniques were so good. After showing so much resistance to Bismarck, Polish nationalism and moral was not harmed at all, if anything it had been strengthened by the challenge.

There were 11/2 million people in Alsace-Lorraine, 3/4 of these were Catholic. Since the Franco-Prussian War this had become part of Germany, but this was very unpopular with the occupying French citizens. Due to this ill feeling the Germany did not rule the area locally. Instead it was ruled directly from Berlin. After 1874 the Alsatians were given the right to elect deputies into the Reichstag. Even though they were given this privilege the Alsatians felt they were being oppressed. Between the years of 1871 and 1914 400,00 people left the area to live in France. Bismarck was not happy with this mass migration of people who were meant to be part of his country, so he tried to win them back by appointing Edwin von Manteuffel as chancellor in 1879. He worked hard to improve relations between Bismarck and the Alsatians. To a certain extent he was successful, but the Alsatians were still in opposition to what they regarded as German occupation, and were particularly against the German troops occupying the area.

Out of the three national minorities mentioned here Bismarck really only tried to crush one of them, which was the Poles. He was very unsuccessful in doing this and if anything he strengthened the Poles as a unit rather than dividing them. While trying to suppress the Polish nationalism he didn’t actually make any constructive policies to aid Germany. This shows that although we have seen that he is successful when introducing constructive policies like he did when trying to remove the National Liberals he still prefers to crush his opponents. Although in the case of the Poles he failed miserably. In the case of the Danes he didn’t actually carry out any real action to crush them or introduce any constructive policies, he simply refused to carry out a promise for them.

This did give him some control of the Danes in a way but it did not crush them at all. The same can be said for the French occupants in Alsace-Lorraine, He didn’t crush them in anyway; he actually tried to persuade them to stay by giving them a popular governor. He did introduce a constructive policy in the eyes of the Alsatians by giving them the right to vote deputies into the Reichstag, which did improve relations slightly.

A quote that sums up Bismarck’s approach to the national minorities is this, “I regard them all as aliens and their treatment as a matter of war.” This shows clearly that he doesn’t accept anyone but his own people and he would much rather use aggression and force to solve any problems they give him rather than compromise with them and make democratic decisions with them. This can be seen in each example with the Danes, the Poles and the French in Alsace-Lorraine. He may not be more successful using force but it was certainly the approach he preferred.

The Kulturekampf, was another attempt by Bismarck to crush a group of people he saw as a threat, these were the Catholics. The KultureKampf was triggered by Pope Pius lX introducing the doctrine Papal infallibility in 1870.This said that whenever the priest was speaking publicly on ethics and morals he could never be wrong. Bismarck saw this as an attempt to draw Catholics away from the beliefs of their countries and towards the ideas of the Catholic Church. As over 1/3 of all Germans were Catholic at this time he felt very threatened by the doctrine, so much so he introduced the Falk laws in 1873. These laws aimed to make practising religion harder. All ministers had to have been educated in a German high school and university thus making it harder to train priests; and those that were trained would have national ideas.

This was the same indoctrination technique that Hitler used in his time of leadership. The government could veto any church appointment they didn’t like. The popes authority was ended in Prussia and the State took over church affairs, all school had to have lay inspectors, civil marriage was compulsory and all other religious orders were banned. These laws were basically ignored and were denounced by the Pope. Only 30 priests went along with the laws. Here Bismarck decided to crackdown on the religious orders. By 1876 all bishops had fled the country or were imprisoned. Out of 4600 parishes over 1/4 had no priest; however at the same time the Catholic Centre Party set up in 1871 to protect catholic interests was gaining strength. In the 1874 election they won almost 100 seats in the Reichstag.

Bismarck’s attempt to show his power failed. It produced a permanent distrust of the government by Catholics; it underlined the religious divisions in Germany and had the totally opposite affect as to that intended. Instead of crushing the Catholic Church it simply strengthened it. Bismarck totally underestimated the strength of the church and overestimated its threat. Bismarck saw how he had failed and after the hard time he had given the Church he decided he would have to try and improve relations again. He used the death of Pope Pius lX as an excuse to dispel the Falk laws apart from the banning of the Jesuits. After the elections of 1878 the Catholic Centre Party allied itself to the Conservatives to help the fight against socialism.

The kulturekampf was a clear sign that Bismarck was better at producing constructive policies than he was at crushing his opponents. He totally failed to even affect the practise of the Catholic Church and attacked a threat that wasn’t even there. This failure also had a long-term affect; even though the Catholic Centre Party had allied itself with the Conservatives who were great supporters of Bismarck they still didn’t completely trust the government again for a long time.

The Socialists were another group that Bismarck saw as a threat. They were represented in the Reichstag by the SDP, the Social Democratic Party. They were a far left party formed to help the poor and working class citizens. The party had a simple aim, to bring about change in Germany in favour of the poor and to improve their quality of life. They were no threat to Bismarck at all, but not all socialist groups in Europe would work through parliament like the SDP did. Instead they followed the ideals of Karl Marx who said, “The only way that working people would ever change society was through revolution.” Bismarck perceived the SDP as having these ideas and decided he must suppress socialism in Germany; once again showing that he would rather use aggression towards his opponents and try to crush them rather than compromise with them and listen to their ideas. In 1878 there were 2 assassination attempts on the Kaiser.

Neither had anything to do with the SDP, but Bismarck decided to blame them and used this as an excuse to destroy the SDP. So Bismarck dissolved the Reichstag and held a general election. The new Reichstag agreed to pass new laws against the socialist. This meant all socialist and communist group meetings and publications were banned and the government were given power to ban gatherings and banish individuals they saw as a threat. Initially the socialists were hit badly. 1300 publications were banned, 900 people exiled from Germany and 1500 people were imprisoned.

Even thought the socialists were hit hard through their followers there was nothing the Reichstag could do to ban the SDP by 1890 their following had trebled. In 1912 they became the largest party in the Reichstag. Just as with the Catholics, Bismarck had overestimated their threat and underestimated their strength. The socialists were no threat at all to Bismarck; they simply wanted some change in the country to make life better for the poorer members of society. There was no need for Bismarck to take the action he did against the socialists and once again after making the wrong decision he failed in his aims anyway. The SDP got stronger not weaker and socialism spread further. Repression therefore failed completely.

Throughout Bismarck’s rule we have seen examples of constructive policies, which he had put in place to improve Germany. These include the free trade laws, his economic policies that slowly brought Germany together and his protection laws to stop Germany going into depression, but at the same time as introducing these laws he also used his iron fist approach to crush other parties. After his failure to crush the socialists with aggressive methods Bismarck decided to introduce policies that would both improve Germany and, he hoped would, silence the Socialists. In 1883 he introduced a health insurance scheme for workers, a year later he made a law forcing employers to take out accident insurance for their workers and in 1889 he introduced old age pensions for the over 70’s. The government and employers would fund all of these. These were ground breaking social reforms and pleased the socialists, but not enough to silence them. They still pushed for even more social reform and better working conditions.

So if Bismarck was trying to get rid of them by doing this he failed, but in the process of doing so he introduced some of the best and most constructive policies of his career. These policies were totally ground breaking in Europe at the time. So much so that our present welfare system is based on these policies. W.N Medlicot said Bismarck’s social policies were, “his greatest claim to statesmanship.” This is very true and shows just how much better he was at introducing new policies than he was at crushing his opponents.

I feel the statement; “In the period 1871-1890 Bismarck was better at crushing his opponents than at producing constructive new policies” is totally wrong. Bismarck clearly favoured the method of crushing his opposition over introducing new policies but by no means was he better at it. The only opposition he succeeded in crushing was the National Liberals and even when he did this he introduced a policy to protect Germany from depression. His other attempts to crush groups of opposition failed, including his attacks on national minorities, the church and the socialists. In contrast to these failures his constructive policies were very successful.

His free trade policy made trading between Germany and other countries and between the inner states very easy. This is a factor that helped bring Germany towards unification along with his economic policies. His later policies of state socialism where so successful that they not only changed Germany at the time but have caused significant changes throughout the world right up to present day. In my opinion Bismarck was much better at producing constructive new policies than he was at crushing his opponents. This quote by the man himself, “Better-pointed bullets than pointed words” certainly shows which method he preferred, however he was much better at politics rather than ruling by an iron fist.

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