Summary of Bismarck’s domestic policy in Germany, 1871-90


-What was the ‘red menace’ in Germany?



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-What was the ‘red menace’ in Germany?

*The socialists had been a thorn in Bismarck’s side ever since they had opposed the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the new German Reich following the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war – socialists were very much internationalists who believed that the inevitable result of capitalist dominance was war between the profiteering (middle and aristocratic) and productive (working) classes rather than between individual state governments. Bismarck, a proud and committed Junker, strongly believed in the old-fashioned system of deference among the labouring classes for their superiors and hated socialism accordingly. By 1871, two important socialist organisations existed in Germany – the A.D.A.V. (General German Workers’ Association) led by Ferdinand Lassalle and the S.D.A.P. (the Social Democratic German Workers’ Party) led by Karl Liebknecht. Both groups advocated the redistribution of wealth and the abolition of private property, their main point of divergence being that Lassalle believed in achieving these goals through cooperation with the state whereas Liebknecht’s organisation was prepared to advocate revolution (thereby following the teaching of Karl Marx) in order to achieve them. In 1875, realising the limiting nature of their rivalry, these two organisations joined together to form the S.P.D. (the German Social Democrat Party, who would later, under Friedrich Ebert, go on to form the first Weimar Government in 1919). By 1877, the S.P.D. had 13 deputies in the Reichstag, having received a worrying 500,000 votes in that year’s national elections. Meanwhile, also worrying to Bismarck, was the rise in the Trade Union movement in Germany (and also the liberal-party sponsored Hirsch Dunker Unions) which had over 50,000 members by the end of 1877.
*Bismarck’s excuse to move against the socialists came in May 1878 when an anarchist attempted to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm I (Bismarck, quite unjustifiably, made no distinction between socialists and anarchists). Although this did not prove sufficient for the Reichstag to pass a bill criminalising incitement to class war and placing tight restrictions on the press, a subsequent assassination attempt, which this time left the Kaiser badly wounded, allowed Bismarck the chance to dissolve the Reichstag and call for new elections. The elections saw big gains for the Conservative Party and big losses for the National Liberals, who, as liberals, had been standing in the way of Bismarck’s proposed repressive legislation. With Conservative backing in parliament, Bismarck was then able to pass an ANTI-SOCIALIST LAW which: banned all socialist and communist meetings; giving all the various state police forces the power to expel socialist activists; and allowing the police to declare ‘a state of siege’ where they could operate locally under emergency decree for up to a year. A legal loophole did, however, exist, meaning that the S.P.D. could stand for election.
*In the following years, the state-sponsored persecution of socialists continued across Germany: 45 of the 47 socialists newspapers were, for example, closed down; Sixty-seven leading socialists were expelled under a ‘state of siege’ from Berlin in 1879, with a similar state of siege the following year in Hamburg, which saw 100 activists expelled, leading to many emigrating to the U.S.A.; prior to the 1881 election, 600 S.P.D. members were arrested forcing the leaders August Bebel and Karl Liebknecht to stand in 35 and 16 separate constituency elections respectively.




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