German Alliance Behavior before 1914
The First World War is known in history as the greatest disaster having no analogues in scope and impact. On the eve of the First World War, Germany was in second place after the United States according to the level of industrial development. It outpaced Britain and France, although the path of the capitalist development came here much later. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany was in the center of international crises, continuously provoked by different countries, each of which was pushing Europe closer to the Great War. The inconsistency and complexity of the political situation in Germany led to the character of its further development and subsequent participation in armed conflicts on the continent.
The German Empire was a union state, which included 25 independent political units (four kingdoms, six grand duchies, four duchy eight principalities, three free cities – Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck), and the special province of Alsace-Lorraine controlled by the imperial governor. The collective bearer of sovereignty was represented by 22 German monarchs and the Senate of three free cities, but not the people or the emperor. The jurisdiction of the individual states was dependent on their constitution and electoral system, justice and administration, finance, education, and culture. “Land use and land cover in Germany changed substantially, albeit gradually, over the last 125 years”.
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Imperial Constitution adopted in March, 1871, in a hidden form ensured the hegemony of Prussia, the population and the territory of which accounted for two-thirds of Germany. Kaiser could only be the King of Prussia who disposed of the armed forces and represented the state in the international arena. Only the Bavarian Army in a peaceful time obeyed the king; however, in the case of war, it passed to the command of the Kaiser.
The emperor owned the right to approve or reject all legislation and convene or dissolve the imperial parliament – the Reichstag. The only all-German Minister – Chancellor at the same time was the Minister President of Prussia and was responsible for their activities only to the emperor who decreed the sight compulsorily to the Chancellor. Individual departments were headed by State Secretaries who, by their official position, were not independent ministers but assistants to the Chancellor. Since 1878, the all-German authorities were assigned to the relevant Prussian ministers. “The German constitution specified that the powers “to declare war and to conclude peace” rested solely with the kaiser”.
The Federal Council - Bundesrat, which included representatives of all German states (61 MPs) that performed the highest legislative function, was represented only by 17 votes from Prussia. Nevertheless, Bundesrat had the right of veto on the most important constitutional and military issues. In addition, there were always small states that obediently followed Berlin. As a result, a key position in the Empire was taken by the highest Prussian bureaucracy.
On the other hand, the Reichstag was already a political institution of mass democracy, since it was elected for a term of five years on the basis of universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage. However, it was applied only to men over 25 years, for women had not the right to vote in Germany. In addition, the electoral districts in the empire were organized on a territorial principle, although the number of voters in the districts had changed significantly over time. As a result, the sparsely populated rural district turned equated to much more inhabited urban areas, which were placed on the selection of various political organizations and parties at a disadvantage. Thus, the constituency of Berlin VI had about 700 thousand inhabitants, and the District of Schaumburg-Lippe – only 43 thousand people. However, each of them was represented in the Reichstag by one deputy.
The Reichstag in conjunction with the Bundesrat exercised legislative power, approved the budget, and had the right of legislative initiative. However, it could not be the real body of the parliamentary system because it did not possess any right to appoint or revoke the Chancellor. Therefore, in the German Empire, the executive power had a clear advantage over a representative government. As a result, the powerful and advanced economic system and social structure were opposed by the archaic political system of the authoritarian corporate type. The army and bureaucracy were outside the control of the Reichstag.
Imperial Germany was not only constitutional but also the party state. At the same time, having not yet received the parliamentary democracy, the empire had already gained its shortcomings. The main shortcoming was the predominance of the selfish interests of the party goals over the entire German society. Moreover, as in the nineteenth century, the dominant economic sector in Germany obviously changed from agriculture to industry (Sarferaz and Uebele 370).
The right flank of the sociopolitical system of the Empire was represented by the two parties. The Free Conservative Party (later – the Imperial Conservative) represented the interests of the large landowners of East Prussia and the magnates of heavy industry Rhine-Westphalia region. In practice, it did not have popular support and was based on personal prestige and high social prestige of big industrialists and landowners.
The German Conservative Party was created in 1876 by the ultra-Prussian Junkers to fight for the economic course of the state, in which their privileged political position and specific interests would be retained. Conservatives relied on the prosperous peasants and interested in the social demagogy populist middle classes in the cities of East Prussia, Pomerania, and Mecklenburg. Conservatives strongly supported established in 1893 the Union of Farmers, the leading position in which was occupied by large landowners.
A special place among German political parties belonged to created in 1875 Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which defended the interests of the working class and the educated "Center" of the Catholic Party in 1871. The party "Center" expressed not so much religious but anti-Prussian sentiment widespread among the population of South West Germany, particularly in Bavaria. Leading positions in the party "Center" were taken by the Catholic aristocrats, clergy, and some representatives of the big bourgeoisie. It had an impressive support of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, workers, and peasants of the Catholic religion.
The party center was represented by the National Liberal Party that was created in 1867 after the split of the anti-Bismarck liberal opposition. It was based on the wide circles of the intelligentsia and industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, especially in Protestant regions. The party had been mixed since the mid 70-ies of the nineteenth century. It faced a controversy of the left minority and the right liberal majority.
Left-liberal principles were defended by the German Progressive Party that advocated for free trade policies, the creation of the rule of law, and the parliament nature of the Empire. On most issues, "progressives" supported regional bourgeois-democratic German People's Party, which activity was limited to the South West Germany.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the German economy continued to develop at a rapid pace. If by 1900, its share in the world industrial production was only 16%, then by 1910, the level of industrial development of the Empire came in second place in the world after the United States. In general, the volume of industrial production in 1893-1914 increased by almost half. Germany reached the second place after the UK in trade where it accounted for 13% of world trade. “Post-Bismarck Germany coveted the overseas territories that Iron Chancellor had regarded as mere fool's gold”.
Already on the eve of nineteenth-twentieth centuries, profound structural changes started in the German industry. The share of small enterprises had been steadily declining while the number of large-scale enterprises increased more than three times compared to the beginning of the 80s of the nineteenth century. Although the total number of industrial enterprises accounted only 1.3%, they were employing more than five million workers of almost twelve million of the German proletariat. The number of large companies (over 1000 employees) increased from 127 in 1882 to 506 in 1910, which continued mass migration from the eastern agricultural areas to the industrial areas of Central and West Germany. “The different regions of Germany made different experiences”.
Foreseeing the inevitability of armed conflict, the German government led vigorous preparations for war. The number of the army had increased to 748 thousand men, two new institutions were formed, and several regiments of heavy artillery and infantry divisions were formed in the field artillery. The German Parliament in 1913 was very different from the previous one. In the elections of 1912, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was far ahead of other parties according to the number of obtained votes (4.2 million people). The Social Democrats became the strongest parliamentary faction, without which it was impossible to make any laws and regulations. This success was achieved not only by the growing influence of the party among the masses but also thanks to the cooperation with the left Liberals. Convergence was facilitated by the fact that the leadership of the SPD group created a new generation of socialists who believed that socialism could become reformist by parliamentary-democratic means rather than through violent social revolution.
The situation was complicated by the Chancellor. In further carrying out social reforms, he had to rely on the Left in the Reichstag fraction, which insistently demanded the introduction of a parliamentary system of the Empire. This course meant a conflict with conservatives and was supported by the higher bureaucracy and the officer corps. The refusal from further reforms could only lead to an increase in conflicts and social tensions, which the Cabinet of Ministers on the eve of the impending war tried to avoid.
The Conservatives accused Bethmann-Hollweg in weakness they saw in his cautious stance. They believed in the Chancellor’s disastrous policy in the country because the government had decided to task worthy according to conservatives, traders, missionaries, or scientists but not great people.
The left-liberal and social-democratic opposition criticized the government mainly for domestic politics. Like the Conservatives, the Left Opposition denounced the decisions of Bethmann-Hollweg, but with opposite positions. It was believed that the Chancellor’s policy met not enough democratic spirit of the times and often gave way to the pressure of right-wing parties.
However, the compromise nature of Bethmann-Hollweg reflected not only the indecisive manner but also a certain political course. The government had set itself the task not to hurt the interests of the conservative-monarchist circles closer to the liberal bourgeoisie and strengthen the position of the reformists in the Social Democratic Party.
Concluding the alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879, Germany tried to isolate France and vigorously sought a new ally in Italy. Austria-Hungary, wanting to secure its rear in case of war with Russia, was also interested in strengthening the cooperation with Italy. As a result of negotiations in Vienna on 20 May 1882, a treaty of alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy was signed.
They committed themselves for five years not to take part in any agreements or alliances directed against any of those countries, to consult on the political and economic nature, and to each other’s full support. Germany and Austria-Hungary pledged to provide assistance to Italy if it was attacked by France. Italy had to do the same to Germany in case of an unprovoked attack on France. Austria-Hungary was assigned the role of reserve in case of entry into the war against Russia. “While France and Russia were mutually suspicious of each other and feared abandonment, Germany and Austria were even more desperate for an alliance and, despite their poor reputations, continued to bind themselves ever more closely together” (J. Furman 191).
The contract provided that the unprovoked attack on one or two participants in the agreement of two or more great powers not participating in the contract led to entering the war with all three parties of the agreement. In an unjustifiable assault on one of the members of the agreement with respect to one of the considerable forces not included in this alliance (except France), two different members swore to keep up neutral towards its associate under assault. The contract provided for the provisional agreement between the parties on joint actions in case of a threat to one of them. The parties promised not to conclude an armistice or a treaty of peace except by common consent between them in all cases of mutual participation in the war.
Germany was ahead of the rest of the European powers on the common military spending and increased its indicators from 1910 to 1914 by almost half. However, the share of national income spent on the armed forces was higher in Russia, France, and Austria-Hungary.
In foreign policy, Germany could hardly do better than did its diplomacy. It made some big mistakes, but the objectives set in such conditions were impossible to achieve while the contradictions between Germany and its opponents could not be resolved through negotiations. However, if the Pan-German groups and generals confident in their quick victory were eager to battle, the Liberals and the Chancellor himself feared the war without being so convinced of its favorable outcome.
Thus, in Germany in 1913, the possibility of a common socio-political crisis had sharply increased. The rate to stabilize the situation of the empire crashed, which had to provide external expansion and limited internal modernization. Imperial Germany was hardly reforming. Such situation was one of the main reasons that prompted the leadership of the country in the summer of 1914 to support the allied Austria-Hungary and decide to join the Great War.
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