(1) The "New Course" of
Wilhelm II and Caprivi 1890-4
The new chancellor, Caprivi, soon proved himself
to be more astute and independent-mined than the
Kaiser had bargained for.
He stoke of embarking on a "new course", with a more consultative
approach to government and a conciliatory attitude to previously
hostile forces, such as the Centre Party and the Social Democrats
The Anti-Socialist Laws lapsed. Caprivi was able to depend
on a fair degree of backing from the Reichstag. This allowed
him to push through a number of social measures in 1891:
Sunday work was Prohibited
Employment of children under
13 years of age was forbidden.
Women were not allowed to work
for more than 11 hours a day.
Industrial courts were set up
to arbitrate disputes.
Caprivi's success paved the way for
an even more important change - the
reform of Germany's tariff policy
To encourage the export of German manufactured goods,
Caprivi negotiated a series of commercial treaties with
Austria-Hungary, Italy and Russia. These treaty's were bilateral.
These agreements led to a reduction on agriculture tariffs in
return country would lower there manufacturing tariffs
They not only acted as a vital spur to the growth of German
economy, but also represented a political triumph for Caprivi.
His tariff reform saw broad support from most
party, except the Conservatives, they
recognised the benefits of lower food prices
The Kaiser had been so taken by the success of
tariff reform that Caprivi had been given the noble title
of count. However powerful voices raised doubts:
To start with, Wilhelm II himself backed Caprivi's social
policy in the belief that the improvements would
discourage people from supporting the socialists.
Yet, Wilhelm II's sympathy began to wane and many of Wilhelm's advisers at
court disagreed with Captivi's "socialist" policies. Some encouraged the
Kaiser to ditch him and to assume a more authoritarian "personal rule"
They were upset by the commercial treaties
since they threatened to reduce their profits.
In 1893 the Agrarian League was formed to put pressure on
parliament an to win support and privileges for landowners .
It quickly grew into an effective and well-organised lobby
of a third of a million members that acted as a powerful
pressure group on behalf of the conservative parties.
In 1893 there had also been resentment in military circles when Caprivi
made concessions over the Army Bill in the Riechstag by reducing the
length of conscription for national service from three years to two.
The army bill was actually rejected, resulting
in the Reichstag being dissolved and the
following election brought things to a head.
There were conservatives concerns about anarchist outrages across Europe and the
increase in the increase in the total number of Social Democrat seats to 44. Opponents
of Caprivi now reinforced Wilhelm II's own doubts about his Chancellor's suitabiltiy for
office and Wilhelm II pressed Caprivi to draw up an anti-socialist Subversion Bill
The Chancellor refused and this led to an extraordinary plan by Wilhelm II and his
supporter, Eulenburg. Their plan was to set aside the powers of Reichstag, crush
socialism and establish a more authoritarian system centred on the Kaiser himself
Caprivi successfully talked the Kaiser out of such a course of action,
but he lost the will to carry on - he resigned on October 1894
Caprivi's four years as Chancellor neatly illustrated the difficulties of trying to
cope with the pressures of the various political forces in Imperial Germany
In his attempt to create a genuine base of parliamentary support for the government, Caprivi
showed his understanding of the need, in a modern industrial society, for a political aproach
that recognised the concerns and aspirations of the mass of the population.
However, Caprivi's "new course" foundered because it was opposed by the established
forces of power and influence. He was subjected to considerable abuse from the
conservatives press and he was the focus of opostion intrigue at court
In the end, he could not rely on the consistent support of the Kaiser
whose delusions of greatness were now taken up with thoughts of
"personal rule" and Weltpolitik.