Who are the liberal radicals and conservatives

Organization and politics of the liberal and conservative parties of the empire in comparison

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. The liberal parties in the empire
2.1 The left liberals
2.2 The National Liberals

3. The conservative parties in the empire

4. Organization of the Liberals

5. Organization of the Conservatives

6. Relationship of the Liberals and Conservatives to Bismarck

7. Summary

8. Bibliography

1 Introduction

The present work compares the conservative and liberal parties in the German Empire. I tried to compare the organization of the two political camps and to work out their similarities and differences. Why the Liberals with the Conservatives?

In order to be able to answer this question, both terms must first be defined. The term conservatism"Is a political worldview that emphasizes the strength of tradition".1It tries to preserve the existing political and social order. The guardians of this order mostly belong to the elite of society, but at the same time emphasize the necessity of the lower classes. Conservatives are often critical and cautious about radical changes.2

The liberals, especially the left-wing liberals, were the enemy of the conservatives in the empire. If you define liberalism, you can already see the great ideological difference between the two terms. In contrast to the tradition of the conservatives, liberalism emphasizes the freedom of an individual and grants him political, intellectual and social freedom.3 In the empire the liberals represented the bourgeoisie, but remained powerless due to their inner turmoil and disagreement and were very susceptible to social change. The history of the Liberals has been shaped by mergers and splits.

The importance of the parties in the empire and competencies must also be mentioned at this point so that one can understand the peculiar developments among the liberals and conservatives. Why were the Conservatives badly organized, why were the Liberals so prone to change in society? When examining the Imperial Constitution of 1871, it is noticeable that the parties are not mentioned in it. The right to vote at the time was universal, equal, secret and direct. Although there was a right to vote, the political parties had very little room for maneuver to satisfy their voters. Your most important task, namely the"Shaping politics"4the parties were not entitled to. In the German Empire, parties were only critics of the government, but their criticism could not achieve anything. But the existence of the parties was still necessary because the Reich Chancellor could only negotiate disagreements with a “group”.5 So MPs had to be assigned to parties. The injustice towards the parties was also evident in the division of the constituencies. The constituencies remained unchanged from around 1869-1918, although the population changed more and more over the years. Only parties that had a dominant position in smaller cities and in the countryside and had a solid electoral base, such as the Conservatives, benefited from this system. People in the country always chose their home parties because there was no competition with other parties. But parties with voters in larger cities, such as the Liberals, were penalized by this type of constituency.6

In the entire history of the parties in the Empire, none of them had a majority in the Reichstag. From 1882 on, the importance of industry in the empire increased more and more. With such a change, the structure of society changed as well. The nobility was no longer the leading class, but the property bourgeoisie.7 The empire did not take notice of the social change, although the nobility no longer had the predominant position.

In principle, politics could do without parties, since the Reichstag suffrage did not even know the existence of the parties and excluded them from the Reichstag.8 Their most central task of exercising power and helping to determine the guidelines of politics was not theirs.

If you look at the different definitions of the term "party", then you can rightly claim that there were no parties in the German Empire, as in today's sense, but a kind of debating club in which people came together to discuss and to be part of this socially to become a political entity. Looking at these facts, one can probably understand the split between the parties.

2. The Liberal Parties in the Empire

2.1 The left liberals

Liberalism is characterized by its diversity. The left-wing liberals have seen numerous splits and mergers in the course of their history. In their opinion they were representatives of the bourgeoisie, but their opponents saw it quite differently. Because for them the left-wing liberals were more like the representatives of the financially strong class.9 In left-wing liberalism there were very many competing parties and associations within.

The German Progressive Party (DFP) was founded on June 6, 1861. Your election platform insured that"Loyalty to the King"10,a united Germany under Prussian leadership. This rather modest program contained neither economic nor socio-political demands, although some party members rejected universal and equal suffrage. The German Progressive Party is now considered to be"The first modern party in Germany"because from the name of the party one could see that it saw itself as a German and not a Prussian party. Despite the few demands, the DFP had a fixed program. In the elections to the House of Representatives in 1861, the DFP was able to secure 109 seats11 and was thus the strongest party in the Prussian state parliament.12 The founding of the party was caused by financial demands by parliament and the dispute over the form of the army. Socially, the DFP was made up of the wealthy bourgeoisie, which is why they are not interested in the three-class suffrage.

In 1910, left-wing liberal parties united: the Liberal Association, the Liberal People's Party to form the German People's Party.

2.2 The National Liberals

The history of the National Liberals is clearer and the course more continuous. Politics was somewhat paradoxical because the party supported the Kulturkampf and the socialist laws, which are not at all compatible with liberal ideas.13 The National Liberals were alongside the Conservatives as well

the political support of Bismarck. They were particularly successful in 1871 with a share of 30% of the vote. The program is not particularly worth mentioning, but rather "typically liberal" the loyalty to the emperor and empire was emphasized and the program adapted to the daily politics, as well as in the case of the socialist laws. They also entered into an electoral alliance with the Conservatives in 1897. Sympathizers of the National Liberals were the educated middle class, big industrialists and others. The biggest problem of the National Liberals was that on the one hand they were approaching the politics of Bismarck and on the other hand they tried to include current politics in their program.14

3. The conservative parties in the empire

There were two large conservative parties, the German Conservative Party and the Free Conservative Party. The program of both parties was similar, for example they approved the Socialist Law. The Free Conservative Party was founded in 1866. The German Conservative Party was founded in 1876. The German Conservative Party subordinated itself to Bismarck's policies. The cooperation with the National Liberals came about because both parties agreed to the protective tariff, and the labor movement and socialism were a common enemy. The 1892 program was radically conservative and prone to anti-Semitism. Agricultural interests were at the fore in the program. The Reich and Free Conservative Party had no independent program and pursued the same goals as the government, supported Bismarck, was in favor of a German Empire with Prussian leadership and against social democracy. In addition, this party had a special relationship with the farmers' union. In the First World War, too, the party program was in line with the politics of the day. The expansionist goals were supported and opposed to the democratization of the empire.

The German Fatherland Party, founded in 1917, had anti-Semitic features and was in favor of the peace in victory during World War I, despite the miserable military situation. The farmers' union also represented radical anti-Semitic opinions. But the farmers' union was an organizational model. The election campaigns were directed from Berlin and attempts were made to expand the electorate through the press and activating members. The German Conservative Party was supported in the funding of candidacies and this was also dependent on the support. Because the German Conservatives were hardly organized themselves. But the farmers' union was also dependent because it tried to enforce its agricultural interests. The Christian Social Party must also be mentioned here as the pressure maker of the conservatives. This intensified its anti-Semitic tendencies after a poor result in the Reichstag in 1878. But they remained meaningless and later belonged to the German Conservative Party. Unfortunately, in the 1880s, anti-Semitism took its further course in the German Empire and many other anti-Semitic associations followed, which were conservative.15

4. Organization of the Liberals

The local organization had three forms among the Liberals: the committee, the electoral assembly and the electoral association. Forming the committee was, in principle, very simple and smooth. Politically interested people came together for this purpose and pushed ahead with the preparations for the elections. Members of the committee were respected people in the respective place who at the same time had a respected profession and had a certain influence in their city. Most of the time, the leadership, dignitaries, among them were e.g. judges or professors. There was almost no competition for the leadership position in the committee, because if someone had already been appointed, then that person would also be accepted by all the other members. The reasons for this smooth formation of the committee are easy to see, because there were hardly any liberal dignitaries. It was particularly difficult to find them in the country.16 There were no committees in the country, where rural dignitaries, such as teachers, took on the task of winning voters and distributing ballot papers. When the elections were over, the committee disbanded and the next election was mostly the same men. But from 1880 the election committees became an integral part of the Liberals and thus belonged to the party organization.17

Compared to the Conservatives, it was easier for an “ordinary” citizen to climb the committee's leadership group. The prerequisites for this were to be politically active in associations. That way you showed interest and could become a member of the Liberals. In addition to the election committees, there was an electoral meeting in larger cities.18 The candidate list was democratic. The election of the candidates was public and open to the people. The candidates were proposed by the conveners of the assembly and possibly also by the assembly itself. Finally, the candidate with the highest number of votes was elected. The electoral committee could also decide on electoral alliances and programs. Reasons why the Liberals made such primaries publicly and fairly “democratically” accessible to all were that the Liberals believed that the people would vote liberally by themselves because the Liberals stood up for the current problems and interests of the people. But this system could only work where the choice of a liberal was certain.

The electoral assemblies were replaced by associations after the National Liberals split off because the National Liberals sometimes organized their own assemblies. After the founding of the associations one was better able to organize the party supporters and to recruit new members. Although membership recruitment was free, not everyone could become a member, because you chose the right ones in the club yourself and they were invited.19 Clubs played an important role, especially in larger cities. Because there were also more politically interested and active people to present interests and opinions and to discuss political matters with like-minded people. Contrary to what you might think, these associations were hardly politically active and rarely tried to make a difference. Clubs had the character of a get-together!

Over time, many such clubs no longer existed and their lifespan was short. Another task of the associations, besides the organization of party supporters under one roof, was the representation of the liberals. In particular, the representation of the leadership was very important for the Liberals. The supporters wanted to be represented by the leadership in order to be able to identify with the party and probably also to be recognized by society. The association fulfilled the task of representation in two ways. Firstly with the membership recruitment and secondly, the party members elected the board of directors and thus determined their "representative body ".But probably the most important task of the association was the election campaign. Because, as already mentioned, like-minded people met and with the membership recruitment one also reached the undecided voters. The clubs conveyed a feeling of togetherness and gave the members the chance to become politically active by influencing their environment and thus increasing the electorate of the Liberals. Election campaigns were driven by such active persons and associations thus became an indispensable organ of a party.20

5. Organization of the Conservatives

In the case of the Conservatives, however, the organization was very different. In principle, they did not have to form committees or associations to win voters. The conservatives had their strongholds in the east and the big landowners there were accordingly conservative and influenced the voting behavior of those around them. They used their power over their subordinates in the countryside because the people were dependent on the landowner. Therefore, neither organization nor advertising was necessary, the voters were always secure. Other factors were that farm workers had no chance to obtain political information or were not allowed to. Newspapers were all conservative. The elections were not conducted in secret, the conservatives distributed their ballot papers in their areas and the voters were in part controlled by the landowner. The dependence on the landlord went so far that it was impossible for other parties to organize meetings in their areas. Because the landlords and hall owners were not allowed to rent anything to the competition. So there were no anti-conservative tendencies to be feared in the country. The Conservatives didn't even need electoral associations because they also had few active party members. The choice of candidate was very simple. Large landowners came together and chose a candidate. These relatively spontaneous committees sometimes led to competition among themselves when two conservative parties met. This spontaneity was dissolved over time and the committees gradually developed into electoral associations, especially in Eastern Elbe, but compared to the Liberal associations, the Conservative associations were still very backward. It can be said that conservatives knew no organization at all, and based on the facts mentioned, it was not essential for their survival either. The isolated clubs that existed did not have a real function and did not even try to recruit members. The clubs therefore had few members.

What did the Conservatives do to reach their voters in the village in East Elbe? In order to win these voters over, they called on shop stewards who spread the conservative ideas in the East Elbe areas. Organizationally, things looked different in big cities. Due to the political competition with the liberals, one was forced to form clubs. This competition also led to active decisions being made in the meetings. But the big decisions were still made by the committee or the party executive. They introduced the candidate, which only had to be approved by the shop stewards. In large cities, the conservatives tried very hard to recruit members because they did not have a large number of members. However, clubs were still not the right way to get into politics for politically interested people. Since clubs, like the Liberals, often had the features of a debating club, where a lot was talked but very little was put into practice.21

6. Relationship of the Liberals and Conservatives to Bismarck

The German Empire existed from 1871-1918. The emperor was at the head of the empire, who appointed the imperial chancellor.The Reich Chancellor was the chairman of the Bundesrat and was also the sole minister. The Reichstag and the Bundesrat were involved in the legislative process. The emperor had the right to dissolve the Reichstag, but needed the approval of the Federal Council for this. The Reich Chancellor did not have to give account to the Reichstag because he was appointed by the Kaiser and always followed the guidelines of the Kaiser.22 Politically, the emperor could not have acted wrongly and was under no obligation to the Reichstag.


1 http://www.bpb.de/popup/popup_lemmata.html?guid=KM023X.

2 Ibid.


4Tormin, Walter: History of the German parties since 1848, Stuttgart et al., 1968, page 71.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid, page 72.

7 Ibid, page 73.

8 Ibid.

9 Thompson, Alastair P., Left Liberals, the State, and Popular Politics in Wilhelmine Germany, New York, 2000, 28.

10Tormin, Walter: History of the German parties since 1848, Stuttgart et al., 1968, page 52.

11Ibid, pp. 52-53

12Allemann, Ulrich: The party system of the Federal Republic of Germany, Opladen, 2000, page 19.

13 Lösche, Peter: Brief history of the German political parties, Stuttgart, 1993, page 46.

14 Allemann, Ulrich: The party system of the Federal Republic of Germany, Opladen, 2000, page 19-20.

15 Lösche, Peter: Brief history of the German parties, Stuttgart, 1993, pages 50-53.

16 Nipperdey, Thomas: The organization of the German parties before 1918, Düsseldorf, 1961, pages 42-43.

17 Tormin, Walter: History of the German parties since 1848, Stuttgart et al., 1968, page 54.

18 Nipperdey, Thomas: The organization of the German parties before 1918, Düsseldorf, 1961, pages 55-56.

19 Tormin, Walter: History of the German parties since 1848, Stuttgart et al., 1968, pages 54-55.

20 Nipperdey, Thomas: The organization of the German parties before 1918, Düsseldorf, 1961, pages 74-78.

21 Nipperdey, Thomas: The organization of the German parties before 1918, Düsseldorf, 1961, pages 241-247.

22 http://www.bpb.de/popup/popup_lemmata.html?guid=29TDEI

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