It is not fair to state that Bismarck failed domestically, however it is true to some extent that his foreign policies, in terms of success and to some extent importance, did overshadow his practically and theoretically limited domestic policies. It could be argued that these limitations were not because of Bismarck’s political mismanagement but because of the social and political situation Germany held at the time. Bismarck was confronted by several impediments. The fact that Bismarck was faced with a religiously and socially disjointed federal state, holding several different political parties within the Reichstag, offered only hardship for domestic control. His position was further weakened due to his absence from Berlin, as a result of his poor health, reducing his control of the every day decision making. After 1871, Bismarck was persistently thwarted in his efforts to shape the domestic developments of the Reich.
Bismarck’s main domestic aim was to achieve unity within Germany. There was urgency for the need of legislation to establish an economic and legal framework for the Empire. Bismarck’s influence over William gave him an immensely strong position, which he exploited. Bismarck ensured that other ministers were little more than senior clerks, carrying out his orders. Being a democracy the promotion of mass political parties with popular appeal had negative effects on Bismarck’s authority.
The Chancellor was under no threat of a democratic expulsion, for the Reichstag did not have the authority to do so, however, it was in Bismarck’s interests to receive support for his own legislative proposals. Bismarck grudgingly accepted that the co-operation of a popularly elected body was almost essential in order to achieve an efficiently running modern state. Yet, Bismarck was only ready to work with the Reichstag on condition that it accepted his proposals or an acceptable compromise was made. If no compromise was made Bismarck would usually dissolve the Reichstag and would call for fresh elections, he was also prepared to use all the means at his disposal, to swing public opinion in elections to secure contentious legislation. Amazingly, the Reichstag became very troublesome for Bismarck, often criticising and undermining his plans. Bismarck decided to work with, the biggest party in Germany at the time, the National Liberals.
There was much support from many members, whom applauded him for his success in creating a united Germany and were eager to consolidate national unity in the early 1870’s. However, there had always been an uneasy relationship between Bismarck and the National Liberals which delayed domestic political action. Bismarck did not agree with their hopes for the extension of parliamentary government. He resented having to rely on them to ensure the passage of legislation and became increasingly irritated as they opposed a number of his proposals. A major dispute was over the military budget, at first agreeing in 1867, that the budget should remain at a fixed level outside Reichstag control until 1872. After the Franco-Prussian war in 1874, Bismarck presented a law which stated that an army of over 400, 000 men would be automatically financed by federal expenditure. The measure was opposed by the Liberal Democrats due to the threatening deductions on monetary powers. Evidence of Bismarck’s authority is shown by threats to call new elections, thus a compromise was made that the military budget would be fixed for seven years at a time, rather than voted for annually or fixed permanently, this was a major diminution of the Reichstag’s power.
Bismarck successfully passed legislation, getting rid of a great deal of legal and economic anomalies. A national system of currency was introduced, a Reichsbank was created, all internal tariffs were abolished and there was much legal standardisation. In the early 1870s Bismarck had left all economic matters in the hands of Delbruck, a capable administrator who continued the free trade policies of the Zollverein. However, in 1879, Bismarck ditched both free trade and the National Liberals. Turning to the Conservative and Centre parties, he supported the introduction of tariffs, or customs duties, protecting German industry and farming. Bismarck’s eagerness to use tariffs is justified by achieving strong economic and financial reasons. German agriculture was suffering from bad harvests in the 1870s and from the USA and Russia. As the price of wheat fell, German farmers suffered. Bismarck understood the dangers of a prolonged agrarian depression.
Bismarck also knew that relying on foreign grain would seriously weaken Germany’s strength in time of war. Bismarck took to Economic Protectionism aiding Germany’s self-sufficiency. This act was encourages by an industrial collapse in 1973, leading to produce a crisis of confidence in economic liberalism. The adoption of protective tariffs by France, Russia and Austria-Hungary in the late 1870s seemed to make it more desirable and perhaps showing signs of developing interests rather than economic understanding.
The federal government’s revenue raise from customs duties and indirect taxation was proving to be far too inadequate to cover growing costs of armaments and administration. Supplementary payments were to be made by individual states, Bismarck found this distasteful and hoped the new tariffs would give the federal government a valuable extra source of income ensuring financial independence from both the states and the Reichstag. Bismarck also realised that there were political advantages in abandoning free trade. By the late 1870s German landowners and industrialists were clamouring for protective tariffs, by declaring protectionist policies, Bismarck could win influential support. Bismarck saw the opportunity to break with the National Liberals and broaden his support, after the 1878 elections, when the National Liberals had lost some 30 seats. The combine strength of the two Conservative parties was now sufficient to outvote the National Liberals.
BY 1879 an all-party association for tariff reform, made up of mostly Conservatives and Centre Party members, had a majority in the Reichstag. Bismarck introduced a general tariff bill in 1879, was passed through the Reichstag, duties were to be imposed on imports. Bismarck had portrayed his capability as a political manoeuverer, firmly committing himself to the Conservative parties. The National Liberals had splintered, those who believed in free trade joined the Progressives forming a new radical party in 1884, the other remaining members remained loyal to Bismarck. Bismarck however was no more reliable on their backing and in that sense the Liberal era was over.
One of the major domestic problems Bismarck faced was the Kulturkampf. This was the confrontation between Bismarck and the Catholic Church. Two thirds of the German people, mainly those in Prussia and the north were Protestant. The remaining third, Poles, Rhinelanders and southern Germans were Catholic. During the late 19th Century Church and State had come into conflict in several countries. A Catholic revival had been pronounced, Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors had condemned every major principle for which liberals stood. In 1870 the Vatican Council enunciated the doctrine of papal infallibility, ruling that papal pronouncements on matters of faith and morals could not be questioned. It seemed certain that militant Catholicism would interfere in domestic affairs of states and support reactionary causes.
Bismarck was a sincere Protestant and soon came to view the Catholic minority with suspicion. Not only was there a religious aspect but more a political battle, Bismarck was still in favour of the National Liberals and had to deal with a newly established Catholic party the Centre party, 1870. In 1871, this party won 58 seats and became the second largest party in the Reichstag. It favoured greater self-rule for the component states of the Reich and objected to state interference in the Church’s traditional sphere of influence, education. There was much support on the continent for Bismarck to become threatened, the French in the west the Poles in the east, the Rhinelanders whom resented being ‘Prussian’ and more notably the southern German states who tended to identify with Austria rather than Prussia. Bismarck’s main domestic aim was to successfully unify Germany, and took the view that these minorities would pose a threat on this. This was dealt by reducing their political and social influence.
The Polish language was outlawed in education and law courts. Alsace-Lorraine became a special region under direct imperial rue with a governor and Prussian civil servants. The German Language was imposed in schools and local administration. However, this issue was not resolved, yet Bismarck saw the threat of the Centre Party in 1871 as a greater danger to the unity of the new Empire. He thought that the Party would encourage civil disobedience among Catholics whenever the policies of the state conflicted with those of the Church.
His suspicions further increased as he observed how rapidly the part became the rally point for all those opposing the Empire. Bismarck took action by persuading the Vatican and the German bishops to withdraw support from the Centre Party, only realising by 1872, that his attempts had failed did he sever diplomatic relations with the Vatican and intensify the campaign against the Catholic Church, with intentions to subordinate Church to state. This was not only a political advancement but a distribution of a Protestant crusade backed by the largest political part in Germany, the National Liberals, believing that the Kulterkampf was a ‘battle for progress against the forces of reaction1’.
5,000 Catholics, known as ‘Old Catholics’, refused to accept the decree on papal infallibility and broke with the church. When Old Catholics teachers and professors were dismissed by Catholic bishops, this was Bismarcks chance to attack the Catholic Church. Making sure the Prussian government was committed to the principle of religious toleration, condemning the actions of the Catholic Church in a series of newspaper articles in 1872, marking the beginning of Kulterkampf.
Much action was taken from the Prussian Landtag and the Reichstag. By 1872, Catholic schools were brought directly under control of the sate and the Reichstag had forbidden the Jesuit order. In May 1873, Dr. Falk, the Prussian Minister of Religion and Education, introduced a package of measures known as the May Laws. All candidates for the priesthood now had to attend a secular university before commencing training, and all religious appointments became subject to state approval, the penalty, if failure to comply, was imprisonment or expulsion. By 1876 all but 12 Prussian Catholic bishops were in exile or under house arrest and more than 1000 priests were suspended from their posts.
The result of Kulterkampf was not what Bismarck expected. Attempts to repress Catholicism had been difficult in Catholic areas. Only 30 out of 10,000 Prussian Catholic priests submitted to the May Laws, Catholic communities sheltered defiant priests, fought for their religious culture and identity. Bismarck’s plans to destroy Catholicism and the Centre Party had backed fired, it seemed that Catholicism was thriving on persecution. In 1871 the Centre Party won 58 seats, and in 1874 it had won 91 seats, Bismarck’s aims to hold a popular Protestant crusade had also failed to materialise and by 1878, had accepted his failure. Relations began to ripen, following the death of Pope Pius IX, 1878, Bismarck was able to negotiate with his successor, Leo XIII. Falk was dismissed and exiled clergy were allowed to return to their positions. However, it was not all victorious for the Catholics. Many of the May Laws remained in force, Jesuits were forbidden to remain in Germany and the State continued to oversee all permanent Church appointments. Once again, Bismarck uses his experience in turning failure into an alternative success, harnessing Catholic political power in the Reichstag to deal with a potentially bigger threat, Socialism.
Socialism was a threat to the kind of society that Bismarck intended to maintain. In 1869 Bebel and Liebknecht founded the Social Democratic Workers Party, a Marxist party committed to overthrow the bourgeoisie. IN 1875 moderate and revolutionary socialists united to form the German Social Democratic Part, the SDP. Its aim was to overthrow the existing order, but declared that it would use only legal means in the struggle for economic and political freedom. The party called for the nationalisation of banks, coal mines and industry and also for social equality.
It won growing support for industrial workers. Bismarck acted rather against his beliefs by introducing state socialism, intending on winning over the working classes. This act was not entirely a political attack but there were aspects of benevolence, being a devout Christian, and believing in the promotion of the material well being of German workers. In 1883, his first proposal for state socialism became law. The Sickness Insurance Act provided medical treatment and up to 13 weeks sick pay for three million low-paid workers and their families. The Accident Insurance Act was passed in 1884, allowing disabled or sick workers for more than 13 weeks protection, financed wholly by the employers and state. Finally in 1889 came the Old Age and Disability Act giving pensions to those over 70 and disablement pensions to those who were younger.
This action was well received by some workers but most thought it was a sham as the government still opposed trade unions. However, Bismarck overestimated the socialist threat. Yet, socialist support was growing, the SPD had won two seats in the Reichstag in 1871, and by 1877 had won 12 seats and won nearly 500, 000 votes. In 1876 Bismarck tried to pass a bill preventing the publication of socialist propaganda, this had failed, other measures to prosecute the SDP had also failed to get through to the Reichstag. There had been an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate William I, Bismarck saw this murder attempt as a red conspiracy. Bismarck’s efforts to push through an anti-social bill had once again been denied by the National Liberal and Centre parties concerned about civil liberties. After the second assassination attempt, Bismarck criticised the National Liberals for failing to pass the anti-socialist bill which may have protected the Emperor and dissolved the Reichstag.
His actions were a success, the electorate, shocked by the murder attempts, blamed the SDP and the National Liberals. The SDP vote fell from 493,000 in 1877 to 312,000, while the National Liberals lost 130,000 votes and 29 seats and the Conservative part gained 38 seats. Bismarck was finally successful and got his way in the new Reichstag. An anti-socialist bill supported by the Conservatives and most of the National Liberals was passed in October 1878. Socialist organisations, including trade unions were banned, their meetings were broken up and their publications outlawed. Between 1878 and 1890 some 1,500 socialists were imprisoned and a great many emigrated. However, it was not over, this discrimination served to rally the faithful and fortify them in their beliefs. The SDP went underground, moreover, the Law had not prevented SDP members from standing for election and speaking freely in the Reichstag and state legislatures. SDP support again grew and by 1890 it had won over a million voters and 35 seats. Bismarck’s attack on socialism was no more successful then the attack on the Church.
Bismarck was not interested in expanding Germany within Europe, believing that any attempt to disrupt the existing order of things by extending Germany’s frontiers in any direction would unite the other great powers against her. His main aim was to maintain peace, however, France had become the main threat to peace, the loss of Alsace-Lorraine sharpened their resentment, and many Frenchmen wanted revenge. France having no allies was not a serious danger, Bismarck was sure of another victory if necessary, but his main fear was that France may unite with either Austrian or Russian forces, meaning a war on two fronts. Bismarck was determined to avoid this by isolating France and remaining on good terms with Russia and Austria.
However, the main problem was the Balkan issue between Austria and Russia. Russia sought to assist Slavic resistance over Turkish authority and also to profit from Turkey’s weakness by controlling the Straits, the Bospherus and Dardanelle. Austria was opposed to the expansion of Russian power so close to her territories. Russia’s encouragement of Slav nationalism would also serve as a threat to national groups in the Habsburg Empire. Thus Austria wished to maintain the Ottoman Empire, fearing its collapse may have a knock on effect on her. Bismarck had no interest in the Balkans but need to ensure an alliance was kept between Russia, Austria and himself. Bismarck feared that if one nation was to fall out with the other, he would be faced with a choice and the other would seek France as the alternative.
Bismarck faced foreign problems, but enjoyed far more the control in foreign affairs than in domestic matters. However, not all of Bismarck’s foreign policies were a success.
Austria-Hungary, thought German intentions were pro-Russian acting against Austria, and therefore took the initiative in pressing for a Three Emperors’ alliance. Following a meeting in 1872, the Emperors of Germany, Russia and Austria reached an agreement known as the Three Emperor’s League, Dreikaiserbund. The term was somewhat vague, identifying republicanism and socialism as common enemies and promised to consult on matters of common interest or if a third power disturbed Europe’s peace. Bismarck, having hardly intervened, was happy, much suiting his purpose. However, France had begun to reorganise her armies, ensuring riddance of the Germany army of occupation by 1873. Bismarck alarmed reacted in 1875 by provoking a diplomatic crisis, prohibiting the export of horses to France, discouraging her from any further military expansion. Bismarck certain that the allied powers would react similarly, but was mistaken, Britain and Russia warned Germany about her provocative manner, forcing Bismarck to offer assurances that Germany was not contemplating war with France. This thus ended in diplomatic French victory.
There was still a Balkan Crisis, lasting until 1878. Bismarck, however, did not have much to do with diplomatic arrangements. It was lucky for Bismarck that Tsar Alexander II and his foreign Minister Gorchakov preferred international discussion to unilateral action. Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, Andrassy tried to collaborate with Gorchakov in attempt to end or limit tension of the crisis. Bismarck was asked to support both allies in an Austro-Russian war, but Bismarck refused. In January 1877, Russia managed to buy Austrian neutrality in the event of a Russo-Turkish war by agreeing that Austria would receive Bosnia-Herzegovina, and promising no large state would be set up in the Balkans. In April the Russians went to war with Turkey.
The Turks put up a good fight but were defeated. The Russians then threatened Constantinople, and imposed the San Stefano treaty, which improved Russian position in the Balkans and European Turkey was to be reduced to small unconnected territories by the creation of a Big Bulgaria. Russian action had gone against what was signed between Andrassy and Russia and seemed like attempts to expand Russian territory. Austria mobilised her army, Britain summoned troops from India, dispatching the fleet to Turkish water. Russia was in no state to fight a war against Austro-British hostility and agreed to an international conference to revise peace terms. Bismarck, reluctantly took part, knowing his allies would not be pleased.
The Congress of Berlin in 1878 became the most important meeting of the powers since 1856, taking place in Berlin, this was a sign Germany’s new power and Bismarck’s prestige. The outcome of this Congress was mixed. It had achieved Bismarck’s aim for peace however, the Russian’s blamed Germany for her diplomatic defeat. Russo-German relations quickly deteriorated and there was a great chance of a Franco-Russian alliance. Bismarck swiftly signed the Dual Alliance in 1879 agreeing with Andrassy to continue Russian hostility. The secret alliance was to last five years.
This agreement had become the cornerstone of German foreign policy, lasting until 1918. This alliance between Austria and Germany was seen as something of a landmark, being Bismarck’s greatest decision. This alliance would see that Russia, unwilling to ally with France, to sign a second Three Emperor’s alliance in 1881, securing peace between the three nation. Bismarck began to show great political capability, dealing with France by encouraging her to embark on colonial expansion. This would therefore alienate France from Britain, and later on from Italy. Bismarck saw the opportunity for again limiting Frances allies and decided to welcome Italy in an alliance, showing neutrality to Russia and Austria. Bismarck was able to restrain Italy in Africa and signed further agreements with Bulgaria. In 1884, Bismarck had managed to be on good terms with France, marking the zenith of his system.
A crisis in Bulgaria had shattered the Three Emperor’s Alliance. The issue over the Balkans had become another threat, however Bismarck refused to take sides in the dispute. As Russo-Austrian relations grew weaker, Bismarck’s fear of France grew stronger, he could sense a Franco-Russian alliance coming to play, where Nationalistic feeling was created. Furthermore, pro-French ministers in Russia seemed to be exerting great influence over the Tsar. In February1887 the Triple Alliance was renewed, Bismarck had persuaded Austria to promise to consult Italy on all matters affecting the Balkans, the Adriatic and the Aegean. In March 1887, with Bismarck’s full backing, Britain, Austria and Italy signed the First Mediterranean Agreement, committing themselves to the maintenance of the status quo in the eastern Mediterranean.
This action was very much anti-Russian. Events finally turned in Bismarck’s favour. France avoided Russian feelers and conservative diplomats won the upper hand in St. Petersburg. Tsar Alexander III accepted that an alliance with Germany was better than nothing and signed the Reinsurance Treaty in June 1887. The agreement was that if a third power went to war on Germany, Russia would remain neutral, and vice versa. This treaty did not contravene with the Dual Alliance and was seen to be a masterpiece of Bismarck’s diplomatic juggling. Finally, Bismarck secured peace in the Balkans and between the European powers by publishing the Dual Alliance in February 1888. This threatened Russia Germany would side Austria if war was to come about. This along with rumours of the Mediterranean Agreement persuaded Russia to leave the Balkans alone.
It is clear that Bismarck’s foreign policies had enabled safe guard to protect the German society and his aims were reached for peace in Europe. However if Russia had been a stronger force, war would have been inevitable. Bismarck’s domestic policies were to some extent a failure, he was unable to defeat the Catholic threat and rid Socialism in Germany, however Bismarck was able to boost Germany’s economy and able to secure his position and control radical groups. Significant ease in domestic tension was achieved and would be crucial to ensure stability in Germany. Without this stability, Bismarck would probably not have been able to control the Balkan Crisis and prevented a two front invasion on Germany.