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'Inept and Unsuccessful'. How Valid is this Comment on Bismarck's handling of Domestic Policy from 1871-90?
From her formal unification at Versailles in 1871, Bismarck, the first German Chancellor, took control of his new German State. Yet twenty years later, the 'Bismarckian era' in German history had ended, culminating in Bismarck's departure. With unification complete at least geographically, by 1871, Bismarck's next challenge lay with domestic policy and the running of the new German constitution.
In the early 1870s, Bismarck relied on the support of the National Liberals in the Reichstag as they were the largest single party. Bismarck acted to strengthen the newly created state in order to ensure its prosperity, and succeeded in establishing the State bank (Reichsbank) and adopting the gold standard. Bismarck also formed a National Court of Appeal that helped to promote feelings of a united state. With industry and economy booming, one could say that Bismarck was relatively successful during 'foundation time', opposing the suggestion.
Yet Bismarck was a pragmatist, and just as he had changed policies prior to 1870, so he continued to change his line of attack in the post-1870
period. Following the impact of the 'Great Depression' in Europe, the political basis upon which Bismarck had founded his power was undermined, and so Bismarck was forced to return to more protectionist policies. Added to the fact that in the Balkans there had been split alliances, the National Liberals and Bismarck were further split here. Not only did they oppose his rule of parliament, constitutional rule, but they were opposed to the policy of protectionism that Bismarck proposed, being in favour of free-trade. Bismarck had his reasons; to gain the support of industrialists, landowners, Conservatives and Centre Parties, creating income for the people, and it wasn't an unusual European trend. This shows that such a policy was not of inept thinking or of unskilful judgement. To add to this, Bismarck was successful in carrying out his policy.
Bismarck managed to convince the people at the 1878 election that protectionism was the way forward and subsequently the National Liberals were defeated. Tariffs were imposed, and a new political pattern of Conservative dominance emerged, which Bismarck had hoped for. Bismarck also managed here to strengthen German unity by showing the people that it was in German interests from Europe competition. Hence a successful policy for Bismarck, and not as suggested by the comment.
The 'Kulturkampf' that emerged during the 1870s brought Bismarck his first major political defeat. This 'struggle for civilisation' within Germany, were Bismarck's attempts to hold off the threat he saw as Catholicism. Bismarck's aim in domestic policy was for a united Reich, socially and politically. To achieve this, he had to rid of threats to Protestantism, so as to create the Protestantized Germany that he wanted. The Catholics were 'something to hate for unity'.
Most of the southern and Rhine states were Catholic. The new empire mixed Protestants and Catholics, yet the Catholics were still in a minority. They had formed the Centre party, and won 57 seats in the 1871 election. Bismarck saw this party as a grave danger to the unity he wanted to create, especially as he knew they would always obey Rome and not Berlin. In one sense here, it can be said that Bismarck's execution of the 'Kulturkampf' was not inept or even a wrong decision to take. Bismarck had his aims and merely tried to establish them, whilst eradicating possible threats to them.
However one could not say that Bismarck was successful in this course of action, backing up the suggested comment. Bismarck had
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