What Impact did Social and Economic change have upon Germany, 1870 – 1914?

The unification of Germany in 1871 acted as a catalyst for industry that enabled a period of rapid growth and change. This growth in industry changed Germany forever socially and economically and it was this change that was to make Germany a great nation, even rivalling Britain itself by 1890.

As soon as the Reich was established in 1871, the German economy took off. Germany possessed huge mineral wealth and this was manipulated to build an incredibly strong economy. Germany possessed areas such as Alsace-Lorraine that contained Europe’s largest source of iron ore that was essential to its growing steel industries. In fact Germany was totally independent due to the abundance of all resources that were necessary for an industry at the time. Germany was developing industrially at an incredibly rapid rate and this is shown through its outputs (fig. 1). However it was not until later that Germany began to found colonies that showed exactly how powerful it had become.

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Another resource Germany possessed was manpower and plenty of it (fig. 2). In 1870 Germany’s total population was around forty one million, already nine million more than Britain. This total however increased yet further and by 1890 Germany had an even larger population of forty nine million. This huge population provided an incredibly large labour force that could be drawn from as industry continued to grow.

The industrialists themselves became very wealthy as industrialisation took hold of Germany. Labour was cheap and so were the raw materials lending to ever increasing profits that rivalled the wealth of the Junkers. Unlike the Junkers however the industrialists did not have any political power and this was what caused future problems.

In 1875 there were eight German cartels however as the industrial expansion began to slow and times became ever harder the numbers began to increase. In 1885 Germany boasted ninety such cartels and two hundred and ten just five years later! These cartels began to exercise enormous influence over the development of the Reich and they began to make demands for things such as protective tariffs and later for naval and colonial development. This is where the industrialists began to taste power and the cartels enabled politically minded individuals a chance to have an influence over Germany’s ruling and development however minor. This was all the power someone from the middle class could possess due to Germany’s static class system.

Germany was a conservative state and so naturally change was frowned upon. What remained of Germany’s past during the industrialisation was that of the Junkers political monopoly. Bismarck himself was a Junker and one of his main political aims was to maintain the superiority of this upper class. The Junkers also continued to obtain great wealth due to their hold over agriculture. Without the food stuffs that the Junkers provided, Germany would not have been able to grow in the manner that it had.

As well as industrialisation, urbanisation was taking place at the same time as Germany’s population was moving from rural areas to cities in search of employment.

These people that came in search of work became known as the working class, an entirely new level of German society. It was the industrialists however who actively attempted to draw people from the countryside into the cities. Drawing such large numbers into the cities however created problems such as over crowding which in turn created even more problems such as chronic disease epidemics.

As more and more people were drawn to the cities the working class itself grew and as it grew so did it’s political influence. People within the class began to think of ways to improve their lives and began asking for better conditions such as better accommodation and wages. If managed badly the working class could easily revolt and cause untold problems for the government so the authorities began to pay ever more attention to the growing voice of the working class.

Both regional and religious differences were perpetuated within the new German State meaning Germany at this time was not totally unified. Each region had its differences. These differences were normally minor in nature however some were greater than others were such as language or religion. The southern areas of Germany were Catholic and the Protestant members refused to totally collaborate with them. This led to political and social arguments that could not easily be resolved. The authorities had to watch how tensions rose and fell between both sides so as to avert any possible serious problems that may have arisen.

At this time industrialists began to make demands for expansion within the navy and the founding of colonies. This would create even more trade because of a captive market that only German industry would be involved in. By obtaining naval contracts and supplying the colonies themselves a company could make a lot of profit. However at this time, countries such as Britain and France had taken all the colonies of worth. The only way Germany would gain such useful assets would be to take them by force from their custodians. This action could easily lead to war however and so called for a more aggressive foreign policy that in the future would contribute to Germany’s involvement in world war one.

In conclusion the social and economic changes had a massive effect on Germany. Germany began to change into a whole new place and towards the end of the period it also began to develop it’s own identity. Although some problems arose none were too serious as to stop Germany becoming a great nation. The leadership Bismarck supplied enabled Germany to pass through troubled times with ease and differences began to become less of an issue as time went on. However it is ironic that while Bismarck suspected Catholics and Socialists of trying to destroy Germany, it was to be the demands of the industrialists and financiers that led to the downfall of his conservative system.

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