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Role of Bismarck in German Unification



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To what extent was Bismarck's domestic and foreign policy a success?

Otto von Bismarck's was the first Chancellor of the second German Empire which was declared in 1871. At this time German was run under the bi-cameral system. During his reign Bismarck introduced different domestic policies and foreign policies. Of these policies several were seen as failures and several proved to be successes.

Otto von Bismarck's domestic policies were not entirely faultless; however he did help to promote the consolidation of Germany. The German constitution (the principles on which a state is governed) that he created was an inspired compromise; Bismarck managed to find a balance between Centralism and Federalism and also between the forces of Conservatism and Liberalism. In the 19th century there was an unavoidable conflict between the state and the Church and also between the state and socialism. Whilst Bismarck's campaigns against "enemies of the state" were not successful, they cannot be seen as complete failures. Moreover, in the context of the time, were his measures particularly repressive. For most of the 1870s Otto von Bismarck worked closely with the National Liberal party, placing their Liberal programme into place. Bismarck initiated the idea of state socialism, his policies helped Germany to develop economically and the fact that he remained in power form 1871 to 1890 is proof of his political skills. Bismarck aimed to maintain Junker dominance. Junkers are Prussian landowners. Major events that affected Bismarck's domestic policies and also the details of his domestic policies are as follows:

The German Empire was created in 1870

The Economic Boom 1872-1873
The economic history of the Reich opened with a short period of "boom"; this was stimulated by the over-generous credit policies on the part of the German bankers and by the sheer amount of money pumped into the economy by French war reparations. This fuelled a wave of unsound investment projects whose eventual collapse, similarly to the Wall Street crash, would affect business confidence for a number of years. Production and economic growth recovered relatively quickly. The product level of 1872-1873 was fully restored by 1880. However, the psychological impact would prove to be considerable. Bismarck was faced by an enormously powerful coalition in favour of protective tariffs.

Kulturkampf 1872-1878
Kulturkampf is a German term that means "Culture Struggle" or "Struggle for Civilisation". The clash with the Catholic Church in the 1870's. For German Liberals, the Catholic Church was the "old enemy". For Bismarck, it was not so much a struggle between those who believe and those who do not believe it was more a matter of a conflict between the monarchy and priesthood. Bismarck felt that the defence of the state was at stake. Bismarck aimed to combat those who he felt genuinely the "Enemies of the Empire". The launching of the struggle offered Bismarck political advantages, such a, closer ties with the anti-clerical Italian Government, close ties with Russia, who were trouble at this time by Catholic Poles and finally a closer relationship with the National Liberals. In 1874-1875 the result of the Kulturkampf meant the Church and the state remained locked in conflict. Moreover, that 8 of the 12 Catholic Bishops were deprived of their offices and that 1,000 Priests were suspended. The desired political effect of the Kulturkampf was not
-achieved. The Centre Party in the Reichstag frustrated Bismarck's hope of a quick surrender by the Church. Bismarck's anti-catholic stance endangered good relations with Austria. The final result of the Kulturkampf was that only laws on civil marriage, state supervision of schools and those against the Jesuits remained. The Kulturkampf damaged Bismarck's earlier work of unification. Furthermore, it made the majority of German Catholics more sympathetic towards the Papal authority than they had been before. However, reconciliation did largely transform the Centre into a purely religious party. If Bismarck's aim was to preserve his state in the long term. Then maybe it should be accepted that Bismarck deliberately lost the Kulturkampf.

May Laws 1874
The May Laws were the spearhead of an attack on the Catholic Church under Bismarck's instructions by Adalbert Falk, the Prussian Minister of Religious Affairs

Anti-Socialist Law 1878
Bismarck's opportunity came in mid 1878 when two attempts upon the life of the Kaiser gave him the chance to raise the cry of "the fatherland in danger", to dissolve the Reichstag and to hold fresh elections. The real losers of the election were the National Liberals. A majority was returned in favour of economic protection, the repeal of the "May Laws" and the passage of Bismarck's anti-socialist measures. This law (19th October 1878) did not ban the Social Democratic Party directly, but crippled its organisation by banning any group or meeting aimed at the spread of socialist principles, outlawing trade unions and closing 45 newspapers.

Protectionism 1879
Protectionism was the economic practice whereby a country's domestic industries are protected from foreign competition by the imposition of high import duties placed upon foreign goods. Bismarck felt pressured to meet the growing demand for economic protectionism. At this time free trade remained an essential principle of the National Liberals. Moreover, demands for higher protective tariffs increased from other quarters. From the mid 1870s demands were made from the iron and steel industries. Prussian Junker landowners also added their voices to the argument. Instead of aiming at free access to the markets of Britain and France, Germany now found themselves threatened by the cheap grain arriving from the USA. The use of protective tariffs by France, Russia and Austria-Hungary over this same period seemed to make it desirable for Germany to follow suit. Protection would aid the growth of national self-sufficiency in the event of a future crisis. Tariffs provided the government with a valuable source of income independent both from the Reichstag and the member states. In 1876, Bismarck accepted the resignation of Rudolf von Delbrck. Head of the Chancellors offices, architect of the earlier free trade policies. The new tariff laws were enacted in the Reichstag in July 1879. Duties of between 5% and 7% were set on imported foodstuffs, 10%-15% on imported industrial goods. An amendment proposed by Freiherr zu Frankenstein limited Bismarck's triumph: it fixed an upper of 180 million marks in tariff income to be retained by the Reich. Any surplus money was to be distributed among the states.

Welfare Laws 1881-1889
Bismarck introduced the world's first welfare scheme which provided sickness, accident and old age benefits. His welfare scheme gave Germany the most advanced social legislation in Europe.

The idea of "State Socialism" was introduced. Bismarck realised that socialism could not be conquered by oppression alone. State Socialism involved measures taken to improve the conditions of German workers. In 1883, medical insurance and sick pay were introduced. In 1889, old age pensions were introduced two decades before their appearance in Britain. Pensions were only paid to those who reached 70.

Bismarck lost control of the Reichstag on various occasions including 1881-1884 and 1884-1887

Fall of Bismarck 1890
The late 1880s were a difficult period for Bismarck. Kaiser Wilhelm I was in his eighties and the advancing years of the Kaiser were casting a shadow over the plans of Bismarck. If Wilhelm were to die, Crown Prince Frederick, a man who had liberal views who was married to the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria would ascend the throne. It seemed likely that he would dismiss Bismarck and appoint a liberal chancellor. This would be welcomed by the Reichstag as Bismarck no longer held a majority. The tension between Bismarck and the Reichstag escalated in 1887 over the renewal of the army grant, which was not due to expire until 1888 but the international situation alarmed the generals, who pressed for an early renewal. Consequently in late 1886 Bismarck asked the Reichstag to agree substantial military increases. The Reichstag agreed but only on condition that in future it was allowed to review military expenditure every three years, instead of every seven. Bismarck was incensed and stated "The German army is an institution which cannot be dependant on short-lived Reichstag majorities".

While Kaiser Wilhelm I lived Bismarck's hold on power was never in question. Although their relationship became strained on occasion due to the often argumentative nature of their meetings. When Wilhelm I died in March 1888 he was succeeded for a brief period by his son Frederick. Frederick however died from cancer just three months later. As a result, Frederick's son Wilhelm II then became Emperor at the age twenty nine.

Wilhelm II was a convinced German nationalist and showed total commitment towards the belief that he ruled by divine right. This is evident when he declared "Remember the German people are chosen by God. On me as the German Emperor, the spirit of God has descended. I am his weapon, his sword, his vice regent". The character of Wilhelm II has two sides. Positively, he was intelligent, talented, cultured and energetic, however negatively he was overbearing, arrogant and erratic.

After Frederick's death, Bismarck's position as Chancellor seemed to be a secure one. Wilhelm publicly expressed his admiration for Bismarck. However, despite this the two argued as Bismarck assumed Wilhelm would not involve himself in government matters, but he did. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Otto von Bismarck were soon to confront each other over foreign policy. The questioning by Wilhelm about Bismarck's diplomacy and over the need to maintain links were with Russia made their relationship all the more strenuous. The pair also disagreed over social policy. Unlike Bismarck, Wilhelm II was convinced that he could win over the working classes by slightly improving the welfare system; this would include an end to child labour and working on a Sunday. Bismarck was in favour of repression. In 1889 Bismarck proposed to make the anti-socialist law permanent. Wilhelm did not oppose the proposal altogether as he feared socialism but he wanted Bismarck's proposal to be toned down. Bismarck refused to do so. In January 1890 Bismarck was let down by the Reichstag which rejected his entire bill. Bismarck was later sent an ultimatum, resigned or face dismissal. Otto von Bismarck sent a letter of resignation three days later. It was officially announced that Bismarck had resigned due to health reasons, however this was untrue.

Foreign Policy
Bismarck's foreign policies largely revolved around his attempts to keep peace in Europe. Bismarck wanted this as peace in Europe would mean there would be less threat to his aim of creating a strong German Empire. Major events that affected Bismarck's foreign policies and also the details of his foreign policies are as follows:

Dreikaiserbund 1873
For some years after 1872, the mainstay of Bismarck's delicate diplomatic balance was the understanding between the rulers of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary, known as the "League of the Three Emperors". The Dreikaiserbund was first projected at a meeting of the monarchs in 1872; it was confirmed the following year on 22nd October 1873. The Dreikaiserbund represented a natural union of conservative principles against disruptive forces such as nationalism and socialism. The league ensured that neither Austria-Hungary nor Russia was available as an ally for France. Preoccupied by domestic issues for much of the decade, Bismarck sought to ensure that Europe remained peaceful by leading a combination of three of Europe's five main powers.

Renewal of the Dreikaiserbund
This again involved the "League of the Three Emperors". The terms were that Austria and Russian defused tension in the Balkans through the acknowledgement of each others influence. The strengths are as follows Russia were in fear of diplomatic isolation and the reduction in tension between the rivals. However, the weaknesses were the collapses in 1886 over Bulgaria.

Eastern Crisis 1875-1878
The Eastern Crisis occurred between 1875 and 1878. The crisis was not of Bismarck's making. It arose from the general revolt of the South Slav people, with Bulgarian support against their Turkish overlords in 1875 until 1876. Panslavism and practical political interests encouraged successful Russian intervention and resulted in the Treaty of San Stefano on 3rd March 1878. By the terms of this treaty European Turkey was substantially reduced in size by the creation of large Russian "Client States" in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. Client States were nations receiving supporting money, services and weapons from a more powerful nation. Bismarck had disclaimed any interest in the Eastern Question, using the famous phrase that no Balkan issue was "worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer". The only alternative to war was a conference of the great powers and this met in Berlin in June-July 1878, under the presidency of Bismarck. At this conference he played the role of the "honest broker", not aiming for personal profit, but for a peaceful settlement between Russia and Austria-Hungary. The interests of other major powers, including Britain, ensured that Russia would not be able to maintain the San Stefano settlement.

Treaty of San Stefano 1877
Treaty of San Stefano was a peace treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, at the conclusion of the last of the Russo-Turkish Wars; it was signed at San Stefano, a village west of Istanbul, Turkey. The Ottomans surrendered to Russia parts of Armenia and the Dobruja; agreed to pay a very large indemnity; recognised the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro; and increased the territories of Serbia and Montenegro. Bulgaria was made a self-sufficient principality and was immensely enlarged, the Ottoman Empire promised reforms for Bosnia and Herzegovina as the treaty modified the Treaty of Paris of 1856 and greatly increased Russian influence in south Eastern Europe, the other great powers obtained its revision at an international conference, namely the Congress of Berlin.

Dual Alliance 1879
The Dual Alliance was between Austria and Germany. The terms of the alliance meant that they were committed to aid each other in the event of Russian attack; however Austria-Hungary was not committed to aid Germany in the event of an attack by the French. The alliance was strong in the sense that it would help Germany to avoid diplomatic isolation. The alliance was weak as Austria-Hungary were not obliged to aid Germany against France, this meant inequality.

Triple Alliance 1882
The Triple Alliance was between Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary. The terms of the alliance were anti-French. The alliance was strong for Germany as it provided Germany with a committed ally against France. The alliance was weakened by the fact that Austria allied with Serbia in 1881 and Romania in 1882.

Bulgarian Crisis 1885-1886
The Bulgarian Crisis refers to an event as part of the Balkan crisis between 1885 and 1888 which saw a conflict between the Germans and the Russians. In September 1885, a rebellion in Eastern Rumelia saw the people proclaimed a union with Bulgaria, which was a violation of the Berlin Treaty of 1878. A conflict resulted between Alexander Battenberg, the would-be German king for greater Bulgaria, and Alexander III, the Tsar of Russia, who denounced any German claim to the Bulgarian throne.

Reinsurance Treaty 1887
The Reinsurance Treaty was a secret agreement with Russia. Where, both powers agreed to remain neutral in the event of a dispute with a third power and also recognises Russia's interests in Bulgaria. Germany's position was strengthened by this treaty as it preserved Germany's power to arbitrate between two powers. The weaknesses of the treaty are the facts that in the event of a German attack on France, Russia can aid France and in the event of a Russian attack on Austria, Germany can and will help Austria.

Conclusion to Foreign Policy
If Bismarck's work as a diplomat can be criticised it is perhaps on the grounds that he monopolised power to such an extent that, after his fall, the diplomatic future of Germany would inevitably lie in the hand of less able men. Bismarck had achieved the isolation of France, maintaining peace in Europe and Germany was recognised as a great power. After 1871, the essential principles of German foreign policy underwent a substantial change. In the eyes of Bismarck the "kleindeutsch" settlement of that year was final and Germany was a state that did not have any further territorial ambitions. Bismarck's primary aim was to prevent external events from disrupting the settlement that he had created. From this, he was to achieve far less success than he had enjoyed in the first decade of his diplomatic career.

Conclusion to Domestic Policy
Otto von Bismarck's domestic policies were not entirely faultless; however he did help to promote the consolidation of Germany. The German constitution (the principles on which a state is governed) that he created was an inspired compromise; Bismarck managed to find a balance between Centralism and Federalism and also between the forces of Conservatism and Liberalism. In the 19th century there was an unavoidable conflict between the state and the Church and also between the state and socialism. Whilst Bismarck's campaigns against "enemies of the state" were not successful, they cannot be seen as complete failures. Moreover, in the context of the time, were his measures particularly repressive. For most of the 1870s Otto von Bismarck worked closely with the National Liberal party, placing their Liberal programme into place. Bismarck initiated the idea of state socialism, his policies helped Germany to develop economically and the fact that he remained in power form 1871 to 1890 is proof of his political skills.

More about this author: Dominic Sambrook

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