How successful was Bismarck in maintaining his political control in Germany in the years 1878 to 1890?
Bismarck set about trying to achieve his political objects by always siding with the party that would help him facilitate his needs. The years from 1871 to 1878 were known as Bismarck’s “Liberal Era” because Bismarck was sided with the National Liberal Party. He sided with the liberals and appeased them by introducing a number of reforms. He created a single currency the Mark; he set up the Reichstag Bank. Bismarck also abolished internal tariffs within the empire, standardised commercial law and other legal proceedings. The reason that Bismarck was allied with the Liberals was not because he believed in Liberal ideologies, far from that. Bismarck sided with the liberals at this point in time because they were the largest party in the Reichstag and he needed their support to introduce his administrative reforms and help launch the Kulturkampf. After 1878, Bismarck no longer needed the support of the Liberals so he cut ties from them.
Bismarck had a new enemy; he had set his sights upon The SPD, the Socialists. Carr noted that “Socialism, like Catholicism had allegiances beyond the Nation state which Bismarck could neither understand nor tolerate.” The whole of Europe was already fearful of the events that took place within Paris, and even though the socialists were hastily quashed, they managed to overthrow a major European power albeit for a very short period of time. Socialism was on the rise in Germany, and Bismarck was unhappy with this as the current order was under threat. In order to attack the Socialists, Bismarck now needed to set up ties with a different political party on the spectrum and this was the Conservatives. Bismarck learned to a certain extent that he could not use his “Blood and Iron” approach like he did with the Catholics; he needed to take a much more subtle and less outright oppressive approach. As Germany was becoming more and more industrialized, there was a creation of a large working class which inevitably led to a rapid growth in socialism. Like Catholicism, Bismarck saw the socialists as a threat to the social and political unity of Germany as well as Europe as a whole. He accused them of having un-German interests and greatly disliked the international nature of their movement.
In order to appease the masses and to try and draw support from the ever growing SPD, Bismarck implemented a series of social reforms himself seen as a “carrot and stick” approach. He simultaneously used repression whilst trying to gather the support of the masses. Williamson wrote that Bismarck wanted “to reconcile the working classes to the authority of the state.” Bismarck perfect opportunity arose when two assassination attempts were made upon the life of the Kaiser. Although there was no tangible evidence that the assassin had any association with the SDP, Bismarck was set to launch an attack on the Socialists, and this was a two pronged attack which included the anti socialist laws and state socialism. Bismarck introduced a series of measures known as “Sozialistengesetz.” This law which passed the Reichstag in October 1878, didn’t ban the SDP outright, it merely tried to indirectly cripple the party by banning any group or meeting purposed to spread socialist messages, it outlawed trade unions which is where socialism was flourishing and closed down fourty five newspapers. This was the “stick.” The other phase of Bismarck’s attack on the Socialists, the “carrot” was Bismarck’s implementation of Socialist measures. These were designed to undermine the Socialists and draw support away from them towards himself, further unifying Germany under himself. As the Socialist threat was mainly coming from the newly formed industrial worker sector, most of these were mainly aimed at them. In 1883 a measure was introduced that compensated workers during illness. In 1884 an accident insurance law was introduced to...
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