“To What Extent Was Rapid Economic Growth The Cause Of Social Tensions In Wilhelmine Germany?”

1952 words - 8 pages

“To what extent was rapid economic growth the cause of social tensions in Wilhelmine Germany?”

In Wilhelmine Germany, an industrial revolution was taking place. By 1910, Germany had almost caught up with Britain on the production of industries such as coal and steel, with the rate of growth overwhelmingly surpassing that of the Britons. Germany was also home to new industries, like that of chemicals, which quickly saw 90% of the world’s hair dye exported from Germany alone. However, the impact of a healthy economy was not entirely positive. Rapid economic growth brought an increase in class divisions, as the traditional system came under threat as a result of changing methods. Further, ...view middle of the document...

The Junkers were considered the traditional rich, landowning social force. However, between 1871 and 1910, coal production increased more than fivefold, and steel production nearly nine fold. Consequently, agriculture was in relative decline, and those who did not employ modern methods were likely to decrease their financial standing. The Junkers were desperate to maintain their social superiority, and looked to keep the German Army officer corps under their control; to the point where they actually rejected an expansion of the army in case it diluted their power. The Industrial bourgeoisie, who managed the industrial side of Germany, posed a threat to the supremacy. Despite the Industrial bourgeoisie, according to research, wanting to ‘copy’ the Junkers rather than replace them, tensions between the two stood firm. The lower middle classes (Mittelstand) contained skilled workers and small traders who felt the blow of the industrial growth, as it took away a lot of business; as a result, the majority looked towards the pre-Industrial age as a golden era, and became attracted to extreme right-wing parties who promised a return to the times in which they prospered. Class tensions within Germany were especially dangerous because the country was still under the official control of the Kaiser, meaning that it was near impossible for Wilhelm II to pass policies that would please the entire population. Therefore, tensions were uneasy to be rid of, due to the unavoidable circumstance that the matter was one of many different opinions. Henceforth, class divisions were not only a cause for tensions, but also helped to maintain them.

Another product of German economic growth was urbanisation. By 1910, 60% of the population were living in towns of over 2000 people, as opposed to just 36.1% in 1871. Cities became hugely overcrowded, which meant that living conditions fell, in 1871, there were 774,498 people living in Berlin, by 1910, there were 2,017,907. The fall in living conditions saw the supply of clean water reduced, leading to an outbreak of disease. In Hamburg in 1892, 8,600 people died from Cholera over a ten week period. Although employment rates were very good and unemployment only rose above 3% in one year between 1900 and 1914, the discontent over living conditions saw a rise in trade union membership over these years; in 1890, just 357,000 people were part of German trade unions, by 1913, that figure was over 3,000,000. For the majority of people at the time, urbanisation had led to a working life that was divided over long hours in unhealthy workplaces. Nonetheless, being that the average wage increased by 25% between 1895 and 1913, and that work was readily available, people decided to stay in the cities, and urbanisation continued. It is clear that people felt more obliged than willing to relocate to the cities, because of the fact that they put up with the poor standard of living, that in itself would have created a tense atmosphere, not...

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