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East Germany

Bismarck's Fall

After 1879 Bismarck struggled to defeat the aristocraticmonarchical order. The Military Cabinet and the General Staff, by Bismarck's authorization, were elevated to the status of independent agencies responsible only to the emperor. In the Reichstag, however, the Conservative coalition soon dissolved, and democratic opposition grew in strength. The dynamic industrialization of Germany after 1871 altered the political scene in the 1880s. German liberals abandoned authoritarianism; the Secessionists left the National Liberal Party and in 1884 united with the democratic Progressives, forming the German Free Thought Party. In addition, the SPD emerged as a political force.

Bismarck's attempt to regain German liberal support resulted in the revival of Machtpolitik, and soon German nationalistic sentiment was stirred with promises of "world power" status. In the mid-1880s, Germany joined the European powers in the scramble for overseas colonies, simultaneously maintaining its position within the European balance of power. The Bulgarian crisis of 1885-87, a clash between Austrian and Russian interests in the Balkans, provided an opportunity to install a progovernment majority in the Reichstag. When the Reichstag rejected the new armaments bill, Bismarck dissolved that body, called for new elections, and appealed to the German nation, claiming that Germany was threatened by both Austrian and Russian expansionism.

Bismarck's policies toward the SPD reflected the proverbial conservative fear of the masses. The Social Democrats had only minor representation in parliament, but the party grew steadily. Bismarck endeavored simultaneously to pacify and eradicate the Social Democrats. As early as 1878, he had introduced antisocialist legislation outlawing all Social Democratic workers' clubs, organizations, assemblies, and trade unions. The Social Democrats remained in parliament, however, and by means of the Sozialdemokrat, a party newspaper published in Switzerland, continued propaganda activities in Germany. After 1881 Bismarck passed comprehensive social legislation; in 1889, however, he presented a new antisocialist law that included a provision for loss of property on suspicion of subversive activities. The new German emperor, Wilhelm II, and the Reichstag opposed the bill; Bismarck, however, remained adamant. In the February 1890 elections, the pro-Bismarck parties were decisively defeated, and Bismarck, prodded by the emperor, resigned.

Data as of July 1987