The ‘Prussification’ of Germany by 1920 brought about a huge economic and industrial expansion. In trend with this vast economic growth the German population shot from 41 to 65 million by 1910. Notably by 1914 around 60% of the population resided in the inner-city, driven there in search of industrial work and by the end of the First World War, Germany’s urban based workforce was second only to that of the United States of America. This period of frenzied economic and population growth created chasms within German Society, with severe consequences for class and religious ties.
Significantly by 1920 there were imposing class divisions within German Society, notably revolving around gap between the ostentatious conservative elites, whose stronghold was centred in the East Elbian provinces of Prussia and the German working class. The upper class echelons of the German industrial society centred mainly around the landowning aristocracy of the ‘Junkers’ and the steel and coal barons of the industrial area of the Ruhr, however also including the officer core of the Prussian Army. These so called elites were, in the main, small social groups who exerted the most power in Germany due to their position of wealth and influence.Typically they were hard, ruthless and domineering men, who on the whole believed that the rest of the German population and in particular the working class were no more than industrial soldiers, whose duty it was to serve the ‘Fatherland’ and more promiscuously to work tirelessly and unwaveringly for the good of the aristocrats of Germany. Notably this brought about huge social divisions as the conservative elites appeared to suggest that the working class were ‘a class apart’, whilst at the same time alienating themselves from the toils of an everyday German, which resulted in widespread hostility. Appreciably the direct discrepancies between the upper classes and the German working class are highlighted on four main fronts, housing, education, political parties and the way of life.
As the German population swiftly soared, the drive towards the inner-city was vastly accentuated by the rapidity of the industrialisation of Germany.By 1918 over 40% of the population was made up by the working class, although internally comprising of various diverse positions, and it was evident that the sudden surge had created a German state where the working class appeared to constitute a different population from that of the rest of Germany, where a separatist regime appeared almost present; whilst the working population lived in cramped, disease ridden ‘workers’ barracks’ the landed aristocracy of the conservative elites enjoyed their large estates in the Elbian provinces. Furthermore by 1918 it was also clear that the German education system had also become a two tier matter, in a state where social mobility was in decline the range of opportunities for the working class were becoming stemmed. The highly reclusive ‘Gymnasium’ had ensured that by 1918 less than 0.3% of the working population ever had the luxury of entering higher education, whilst the offspring of the far wealthier elites were virtually guaranteed such positions.Moreover the establishment in 1871 of the ‘German Social Democratic Party’ and the rise of it had ensured that the working class became politically opinionated and were also provided with an umbrella for life.
Significantly, connotations with Marxist ideology emanated from the SDP and this in particular concerned the conservative elites, horrified by the image of revolutionary principles. The gradual formations of Trade Unions ensured that the working class were able to support themselves and effectively removed any commitments of the aristocracy, who believed that the working class were simply unpatriotic and disloyal. Moreover the two classes also appeared to drift apart as it became clear that each respective group would severe its ties with the other and instead create whole new societies and ways of life for each individual class, leading to the formations of ‘SDP amateur dramatics’, ‘SDP sports clubs’, ‘SDP libraries’ with respective groups for the upper class and, by 1925 the inward looking attitude of the working class culminated in the ‘Workers’ Olympics’, suggestive of the fact that the working class believed themselves to be completely different from the rest of the population.The division within society in relation to social classes appears much greater than it is apparent on face value; both classes bitterly despised each other. By 1871 the working class had already become envious of the upper classes who, whilst were extremely rich and powerful, were more importantly viewed as the arbitrators of the ill treatment and exploitation which had made the lives of the working class become intolerable.
The gap, however widened greatly in the 1980’s when Otto Von Bismarck, the German Chancellor, tried to champion the destruction of the Socialist movement, to which the working class had great affinity to. The anti-socialist laws which were passed directly attempted to annihilate the Socialist party by preventing it from working on a day to day affair; Socialist meetings and speakers were banned.In addition the Welfare Legislation ,which was also passed by Bismarck ,also clearly indicated, although by more subtle means, that the working class were loathed by the conservative elites, who had attempted to remove the need for the Socialist party by providing incentives such as old age pensions and health insurance. Significantly however both attempts failed and it had become clear and apparent to the working class that the upper class had a vast distaste and hatred of them. Furthermore the gap between the two classes had also expanded as the conservative elites began to believe that the working classes were unpatriotic. By 1918, already anxious at the site of Marxist principles, the upper classes believed that the working classes were more likely to place their allegiances with worker solidarity as opposed to their own country, whilst the inexorable growth of the SDP increasingly worried them. Many historians have argued that this distrust was so great, that it was one of the decisive factors in the reason for Germany’s declaration of war, as the working class were forced to either support their country, culling their ties with worker solidarity, or turn its back on it.
By 1918 it was also apparent that German society had been cleaved in two on the issue of religion, where two-thirds of the population was Protestant and one-third Catholic. The North German Plane and Prussia were strongly Protestant regions, whilst Bavaria in the south was a Catholic state. In addition the area of the Rhineland and the German-Polish border were also largely Catholic. In Germany, Catholicism cut across all of the social classes, and significantly they had become, before the WW1, a persecuted minority. This persecution was a result of the Protestant belief that Catholic loyalty lay in the Vatican in the hands of the Pope, as opposed to with Germany.
This belief had resulted from the ‘Prussification’ of Germany by Prussia, where many self governing states with their own respective monarchies, including Bavaria and Saxony, had been amalgamated to form Germany and this therefore had lead to many separatist ideals amongst those who had lost their own national identity, in the majority those in the South who were Catholic. This ensured that the Catholics were the foremost critics of Germany and in the main wanted to split it up into their former respective states. Protestants in Prussia perceived these opinions to be disloyal to Germany and wanted to bring their Catholic counterparts into line with their own views. This lead to widespread and deep rooted divisions within Germany, which were increased considerably by the government and by Bismarck who created a policy of Kulturkampf. This was a direct attack on the Catholicism by Bismarck who wanted to create a cultural struggle in order to weaken the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church responded by forming their own political party, the Zentrum, a confessional religious based party whose sole aim was to ensure the protection of the Catholic Church. The Zentrum drew support from all Catholics and it therefore ensured that the Kulturkampf failed, however the experience of persecution lingered on in the minds of the Catholics, who had been made to feel second class and oppressed; and thus the Zentrum received support for several decades. The religious division within Germany had become significantly clear with Catholics made to feel a subjugated minority, which directly resulted in them forming their own sub-culture.
Catholic Trade Unions, social clubs, youth groups and leisure societies all came into existence and it was evident that Catholics wanted nothing to do with Protestants. Ultimately the religious division within Germany was a split between Protestants and Catholics, who were viewed with distrust and suspicion and responded fiercely by creating their own political party in order to protect themselves.In conclusion it is evident that within Germany there were deep rooted social divisions, which had resulted firstly from the issue of social class, where the conservative elites and the working class clashed, a division accentuated by the rapidity of the industrialisation of Germany, and secondly over religion which had resulted from the ‘Prussification’ of Germany and had left the country split down the middle, between Catholics and Protestants.