Bismarck and German Empire: 1871-1918, 2nd edition by L. Abrams

By L. Abrams

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The Reichstag then had limited independent power and could be dissolved by the Kaiser on the recommendation of the chancellor. Neither the government nor the chancellor was answerable to the Reichstag. The powers invested in the Kaiser included control of foreign policy, command of the armed forces and the right to declare war as well as internal martial law. In addition he had the power to appoint and dismiss chancellors and to interpret the constitution. In the last resort he was empowered to dissolve the Reichstag or even suspend it indefinitely, effectively amounting to a monarchical coup.

In the event Bismarck partially succeeded in the second of his aims as some liberals supported him while others voted against the anti-socialist 33 legislation, thus splitting the largest party. The Anti-Socialist Law introduced in June 1878 and which remained in force for twelve years had a similar effect on the labour movement as the Kulturkampf had on the Catholic community. The legislation did not outlaw the socialists altogether. The Socialist Workers’ Party was permitted to fight elections and its deputies were allowed to take their seats in the Reichstag, but all other extra-parliamentary activity was strictly suppressed.

Until the 1860s, artisans still outnumbered factory workers in most towns but German industrialization was founded on heavy industry’s exploitation of raw materials – coal, iron and steel and engineering were the leading sectors – so that by 1882 workers in industry constituted almost 40 per cent of the workforce. Traditionally it has been argued that the construction of railways acted as a catalyst for the development of other industries owing to the requirement for a high output of iron and steel and thereafter the stimulus to trade and communication they provided.

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