How strong was Germany in 1900
Germany in 1900 was under the influence of the Second Reich with reforms made economically, socially and politically. Economically, there were drawbacks but also a whirlwind boom period with the introduction of Kartels, which protected a German association of manufacturers or suppliers maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition. In politics there were a number of factors which resulted in a major realignment. Society in Imperial Germany had made advances but there were also tensions by 1900, where class divisions were prominent and social mobility could be seen as stagnant.
Imperial Germany was a place where economic development, social change, and cultural achievement were unmatched. By 1900, Germany had the largest economy in Europe. One important factor in German economic growth was Kartels. German industry reacted to increased foreign competition by demanding protection and forming Kartels, controlling prices and working conditions. Kartels were of enormous importance in the German economy as they were able to take control of the economies of scales and by 1900 there were over 275 Kartels.
Exports of Germany had quadrupled in value from the 1870s to the 1900s. The extension of Kartels also allowed more funds to be directed into research and development, leading Germany to become the world leader in chemicals and dyes and discovering important breakthroughs. With a increasing population, white collar workers and a growing pool of labour, this enabled the production of raw materials to grow rapidly with developments in electrical, chemical and precisions engineering industries. However, there were also drawbacks in Germany’s economy.
Germany’s agriculture was neglected with land not being cultivated leading to a fall in income, upsetting peasants. The Kartels also had a negative impact as they kept wages low and prices high creating controversy between different parties with different ideologies about the price. Bismarck hoped the Kartels would lead to a form of “corporatism” in Germany which would undermine the role of the Reichstag by narrowing the gap between the left and right. The opposite results happened as there was a hostility created and the Socialist Party grew with favour.
There were tensions for different parts of society but Germany was able to establish itself as a world leader in industrialisation with a powerful and rapid growing economy. Political processes also underwent dramatic change during the Wilhelmine era. Politically, the state of Prussia enjoyed a privileged status in the federal system with Prussia was too powerful to out rule by the Bundesrat. Voting in Germany was also archaic, where it divided electors into three classes based on the amount of tax paid. The discrimination allowed aristocracy (Junkers) and big businesses to have more political influence.
The former chancellor of Germany, Bismarck, relied on coalitions and alliances of major parties which became increasingly worrying as the Reichstag became more fractious and chancellor post Bismarck struggled to control it. The Kaiser, Wilhelm II, tried to be involved in the busy new pace of politics and the central issues that divided the country. His interventions into political affairs signalled a determination to preserve or extend his autocratic powers at the expense of the democratic national parliament, even as social groups – farmers, employers, Catholics, workers, and ethnic minorities – mobilized in defence of their own interests.
However, there were also positives to Germany’s political structure. Despite, Prussia’s dominant rule, each state retained control over education, justice, agriculture, direct tax and local government. Germany was also a multi party state. The restrictions on the power of the Reichstag still allowed mass political parties to flourish because of the introduction of the universal male suffrage. Wilhelmine Germany was also not a state where there was censorship or limitations to express political opinions freely.
There was a free press that could be strongly critical of the government with newspapers and satirical magazines being published daily e. g. Simplicissimuss. Pressure groups also flourished as it was virtually impossible to achieve reform through party politics and they sought to influence the parties in the Reichstag to adopt their policies however, they made the political system even more confusing. Germany underwent dramatic change during the Wilhelmine era but it was still archaic in some aspects and a confusing political structure and political tensions weakened the efficiency of Germany as a powerhouse.
Society in Germany was growing with the population increased by 40% by 1900, increases particularly of the populations in industrial towns. Migration to towns was beneficial to the German economy but workers were poorly integrated into Germany society with people living in ghettos and 30% living in poor and squalid conditions. Additionally, Prussia’s dominance in Imperial Germany caused resentment for non-Prussians emphasising Germany’s social divisions and regional differences. German society was also divided by traditional class lines with prejudice keeping the barriers intact.
Social status maintained values of German society and social mobility was possible but only within classes, impacting education, businesses and the army. Women were treated as second class citizens and couldn’t inherit property freely and they were banned from attending political meetings until 1908. Prejudice also extended to immigrants. The vast German Empire had a significant number of national minorities. Polish people lived poor and were attempted to be removed from German society with 3. 5 million Polish immigrants not being allowed to speak their mother tongue.
Gypsies were forced to abandon nomadic life and anti-Semitism grew. With rigid class divisions and societal tensions, German society was able to flourish to some extent. Despite Prussian influence, each area had its own distinctive histories and people were very loyal to their individual regions. The growing German population migrated to towns where industrialisation expanded to working and middle classes, which led to higher wages for workers. The middle class was also becoming more numerous and in greater demand.
The German working class was also able to form their own tight knit subculture which made cultural and educational provision for supporters. Women were also allowed to participate in work and labour where women worked in domestic industries and by 1900 30% of the workforce was female. There were encouraging aspects to German society; however, Germany was ruled by the Conservative Elites, with social status being essential to maintain the values of German society and the working class, women and minorities suffering.
In conclusion, Germany was the economic powerhouse of continental Europe and excelled in foreign industries with German society and politics having significant advances but still a lot of segregation regarding class and social status existed. Imperial Germany’s constitutional structure remained autocratic in critical respects, while the country’s ruling class, the landed Prussian nobility, not only dominated the army and councils of state, but also left its imprint on broader values and attitudes, as the country underwent its economic and social modernization.