The Modern Nation State

Nation building in Europe effectively concluded with the unification of Germany and Italy. Most of Europe was organized into strong national states; the only exceptions being border areas such as Russia, Austria-Hungary, the Balkans, and Ireland. Mass politics emerged and mass loyalty to the national state became an element of European life. Ordinary people felt increasingly loyal because more people could vote. By 1914, universal male suffrage had become the rule, rather than the exception. Ordinary men were no longer denied the vote because they lacked wealth or education. They believed that they could influence the government to some extent, and were in fact part of "the system." Women also gained the vote, first in the United States in 1913 and by the end of World War I, women could vote everywhere in Europe.

The spread of the right to vote had its effect on politicians and parties who suddenly became more responsive to the common person. Many countries had multi-party systems with no party capable of a majority. As a result, coalitions of parties, often which shifted from one direction to another gave individual parties leverage to benefit their supporters. At the same time, skilled politicians such as Bismarck knew how to manipulate national feeling to create a sense of unity and divert attention away from underlying class conflicts. An example is that conservative or moderate politicians could induce socialists to "rally around the flag" if a diplomatic crisis arose, or if a foreign territory were seized, such as in Africa or Asia, even if the value of the acquired territory was doubtful. Governments often channeled national sentiment into anti-liberal and militaristic directions to keep down domestic conflict; but they did so at the risk of increasing national tension, which ultimately erupted in 1914.

The German Empire: The new German Empire consisted of Prussia and 24 smaller states. Although local governments handled most everyday business, there was a strong national government with a chancellor (Bismarck until 1890) and a popularly elected lower house, the Reichstag. Bismarck tried to maintain a parliamentary majority, but refused to be bound by one, another example of his realpolitik.

In 1870, Bismarck attacked the Catholic Church, the so-called Kulturkampf. ("Struggle for civilization.") It had begun when Pope Pius IX issued a bull claiming papal infallibility, which seemingly asked German Catholics to put loyalty to church above loyalty to the nation. The Kulturkampf had some success in Protestant areas, but Catholics uniformly voted for the Catholic Center Party which blocked passage of national laws hostile to the church. Bismarck finally abandoned his attack in 1878, and entered into an alliance with the Catholic Center, largely for economic reasons.

German parliamentary elections are by party. One votes for the party, not the candidate. Seats in the Parliament are apportioned according to the percentage of votes the party receives. Since it is rare for any party to receive 50%, it must form a coalition with another party to have the necessary majority. Obviously, some concessions must be made to seal the coalition. Bismarck was forced to negotiate with the Catholic Center Party, but also had support from the National Liberal Party. The two together formed a majority.

In order to raise money, Bismarck instituted higher tariffs. He found lots of support there, as European grain markets had been in a squeeze for several years due to cheap grain from the U.S., Canada and Russia. Steel and Iron magnates also wanted protection from cheap imported steel. The demand for protection worked nicely for Bismarck, who was able to impose protective tariffs and raise money in the bargain. Protectionism became commonplace in Europe; and resulted in loyalty to the governments that imposed protective tariffs; however there was a price. Higher tariffs led to trade wars and international name calling.

Bismarck tried to stop the growth of Socialism, as he feared its revolutionary language, and the fact that it called for international workers unity rather than national solidarity. When two attempts were made on the life of Wilhelm I by radicals (who were not really socialists, but who was counting anyway?), Bismarck relied on the national outrage to push laws through the Reichstag that outlawed the Social Democratic Party, which was Marxist in its philosophy. He only succeeded in driving it underground. He then decided to take a page from the Social Democrats on book, and proposed social measures designed to win the support of working class people. This was quite a stance for a conservative nationalist. Among his changes: National sickness and accident insurance in 1883; and old age pensions and retirement benefits in 1889. This was a national Social Security system paid for by compulsory contributions, much similar to that in the U.S. today; but the U.S. would not institute its own such system until fifty years later in the dregs of the Great Depression.

Bismarckís system did not prevent workers from voting Socialist; but it did give them a stake in the stability of the government; all as a result of political competition and Bismarckís desire to win popular support. His Realpolitik was essentially that the end justifies the means. Even so, socialism and the Social Democratic Party were increasingly important issues in German politics.

In 1890, Wilhelm II succeeded his father as Kaiser, and opposed Bismarckís attempts to renew the law outlawing the Social Democratic Party. Wilhelm was young and idealistic, and a bit unstable. He was determined to rule in his own right rather than under Bismarckís shadow, and forced him to resign as Chancellor. This changed German foreign policy, mostly for the worse; but the government did pass laws to aid workers and legalized socialist political activity. In the end, Wilhelm was no more successful at getting the German people to abandon socialism than had been Bismarck. Socialist ideas spread like wildfire, and many were elected to the Reichstag in 1890 elections. Still, the party could not successfully oppose German nationalism. The Social Democrats opposed a colonial war in German Southwest Africa, and lost seats in the next election as a result. In order to broaden its base, the Social Democrats, a la Bismarck, broadened their base and embraced patriotic, nationalist programs. In the 1912 elections, they were the largest party in the Reichstag, which shocked conservatives; yet the Social Democrats became less and less revolutionary, and more and more nationalist. They became even more so as World War I approached.

Republican France: When Napoleon III was captured in the Franco-Prussian War, French Republicans in Paris proclaimed the Third Republic, and vowed to fight on, even after Franceís disastrous defeat at Sedan. They defended Paris for weeks, living off rats and zoo animals until they were starved into surrender by the Prussian Army in January, 1871. National elections sent a large majority of conservatives to the National Assembly, and the new leaders decided that there was no choice but to cede Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. When this happened, Parisians proclaimed the Paris Commune in 1871. The leaders said they would rule without interference from the countryside; but the National Assembly was determined to regain control. The Assembly ordered the French Army into Paris and crushed the Commune. Twenty thousand people died in the fighting of French against French, as in the Revolution of 1848.

The Third Republic remained, and a new national unity slowly emerged, partly out of sheer luck. There had been monarchists who had wished to restore a Bourbon to a constitutional monarchy; however the only candidate would not rule unless he could do so under the ancestral Bourbon white flag; which the Assembly flatly refused to do. Most Frenchmen felt that the Third Republic might avoid the excesses of Robespierre and the Committee on Public Safety. The Assembly President, Adolph Thiers, commented that this was "the government which divides us least."

The moderate republicans sought to preserve the government by winning the hearts and minds of the next generation of Frenchmen. Trade Unions were legalized and a colonial empire was built in Africa and Asia. Compulsory education was established for boys and girls, and tax supported public schools were expanded. Previously, elementary and most secondary education had been in Catholic parochial schools, which had been hostile to the French republics and the secular life. Free secular education became free Republican education. Teachers impressed nationalistic fervor upon their charges rather than Catholic catechism. Their hope was that the French would never again vote en masse for dictators as the two Napoleons.

Unlike most areas, including the United States, the French did not forbid teachers to be married; in fact they encouraged it, and offered to assign them teaching jobs near their partnerís location. They did this for three reasons: married teachers with their own children were in marked contrast to celibate nuns and priests. Republican leaders also believed married people would better cope with the loneliness and social isolation of small towns and villages, especially where the local Catholic school was strong. Also, French politicians worried about the low birth rate in the country, and believed combining womenís careers and motherhood would set a good example for the country.

All the governmentís efforts at modernization and acceptance of change ended with the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus Was a captain in the French Army falsely accused and convicted of treason. He was accused of spying for Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, based on a scrap of paper found in a wastebasket. The handwriting did not appear to be his, but Dreyfus was the only Jew on the General Staff. Because Jews were considered people without a country, his loyalty was immediately suspect. Dreyfus seems to have been convicted primarily because he was Jewish. He was publicly stripped of his braids and insignia and his sword broken, after which he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devilís Island, His family, who never doubted his innocence, gained support from prominent republicans such as Emile Zola; however the army continued to manufacture evidence to support the charge, even when the real culprit was known. In 1898-99, the country was torn apart, with the army and anti-Semites together with most of the Catholics who believed that the honor of the country could not be sacrificed for the sake of a Jew on one side, and civil libertarians and the radical republicans on the other. Dreyfus was eventually declared innocent, but republican feeling against the church was revived. The government severed all ties with the church; salaries of priests and bishops were no longer paid by the government, and control of local churches was given to local committees by lay Catholics. Catholic schools were put on their own financially, and soon lost one third of their students. Now only the socialist movements stood in the path of republicanism.

Great Britain and Ireland: The extension of the franchise in Britain occurred gradually. By 1884, the Third Reform Bill gave the right to vote to almost every adult male. Autocratic conservatism in the House of Lords finally gave way to popular democracy in the Commons once and for all. The Liberal Party, under the leadership of David Lloyd George, substantially increased taxes on the rich which helped to pay for national health insurance, unemployment benefits, old age pensions, etc.

Still, the question of Ireland remained unanswered. A revolutionary movement in Ireland had erupted after the famine of 1840. The English slowly granted concessions, such as abolition of the Anglican Church and bills were introduced to give Ireland self government in 1886 and 1893, although they failed to pass. Irish nationalists in the British Parliament supported Liberals who supported a home rule bill for Ireland. Independence seemed on the horizon.

The problem beneath the surface was that although most of Ireland was Catholic; a substantial minority around Ulster were Protestant, and bitterly opposed independence. They refused to submit to Catholic rule. England was unable to resolve the problem before the outbreak of World War One.

At the same time, Sweden was unable to prevent Norway from separating itself into a nation of its own in 1905, and the Ottoman Empire, comprised of numerous nationalities, had no hope of containing or satisfying them; thus earning it the title of the "Sick Old Man of Europe." Serbs, Bulgarians, and Romanians were also poised to break away. The continent was on the verge of a devastating war.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire: Magyars in the Austrian Empire had tried several times in the nineteenth century to break away and establish an independent Hungarian Republic, but each time the effort was put down savagely. When Prussia defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks War, Austria was forced to strike a compromise with the Magyars, and a "dual monarchy" was established, with the Magyars having virtual independence in Hungary. Each half of the empire agreed to deal with its own "barbarians" (meaning minorities) as it saw fit. They were joined only by a shared monarch and common ministries of finance, defense, and foreign affairs.

During this time, the mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910, Dr. Karl Leuger, often called for "Christian Socialism" in speeches laced with anti-Semitic rhetoric. His message appealed very much to the German lower classes in Austria, and particularly to a failed artist living on the streets: Adolf Hitler.

Nationalism weakened (and ultimately destroyed) the Austro-Hungarian Empire; much as it had strengthened other nation states. In Hungary, the Magyar nobility rammed through laws promoting use of the Magyar language in schools and campaigned for total separation from Austria. The Romanian and Croatian minorities within the country bitterly resented these efforts, and dreamed of independence on their own.

Marxism and the Socialist Movement: Socialism seemed to grow despite efforts to contain it. Bismarckís efforts to co opt many of its programs did not stunt its growth as he had hoped. By 1912, the German Social Democratic Party was the largest in the Reichstag, and had over one million voting members. Efforts in Russia and France were less successful; however, eventually the Marxist Socialist parties linked together in an international organization. This was very much in keeping with Marxís own teaching that "the working men have no country." Marx had also urged working people to rise up against their governments.

In 1864, Marx, living in London on the generosity of Friedrich Engels, founded the First International of socialists, known as the International Working Menís Association. He later gained control of the organization and used it to spread his "scientific" doctrines of the inevitable socialist revolution. He embraced the uprising of the Paris Commune as a giant step toward social revolution; but his action frightened away many more Moderate British labor leaders, and the First International collapsed.

In 1889, the Second International was founded, and lasted until 1914. It was a federation of national socialist parties but had great psychological impact. Every three years, delegates met to interpret Marxian doctrine and plan action. May 1 (May Day) was declared an international one day strike, a day of marches and demonstrations. Socialism was growing.

Unions and Revisionism: Despite its revolutionary rhetoric, most socialist movements were decidedly moderate. They worked more for gradual change and steady improvement in working conditions than for a revolution. Workers were less and less inclined to follow radical programs. They had gained the right to vote and participate politically in the nation states of Europe, and focused their attention more on elections than on revolutions. As they won real benefits, the process simply redeemed itself. Many workers were patriotic, and responded positively to aggressive foreign policy and parades, even though they always voted for socialist candidates. In fact, workers were not a single unified social group. Additionally, (and importantly) their standard of living rose slowly but substantially after 1850. In Great Britain, workers could buy twice as much with their wages in 1906 as they could in 1850. (The exception to this rule, of course, was Russia.) Workers therefore became more moderate and less likely to erect barricades and take to the streets to win their demands.

The movement toward moderation was largely the result of the growth of labor unions. Unions had once been considered subversive bodies which should be crushed. During the French Revolution, all guilds and unions were declared illegal in the name of "liberty." British unions were considered criminal conspiracies after 1799. Changes occurred early in the 19th century, however. In 1825, British unions won the right to exist, but not the right to strike. Union leaders concentrated on winning concessions through collective bargaining and compromise rather than radical action. The moderate approach paved the way for unions to gain acceptance. In 1870, British unions won the right to strike without being held legally liable for any financial damage inflicted on employers.

Germany was the most industrialized, socialized and unionized country by 1914. Socialist leaders were not interested in union activity; they believed in the Iron Law of Wages and the need for political revolution. Such unions as did exist were frequently harassed by the government as fronts for socialist groups. Less than one per cent of the workforce was unionized in 1895. However, membership skyrocketed in 1912 with German industrialization storming ahead.

German unions increasingly focused on bread and butter issues rather than pure socialist doctrine. Collective bargaining had been denounced by socialist radicals as a sellout; but was soon acceptable.

German trade unions and their leaders were in fact revisionists. This term was a swear word to Marxists; an effort to "update" Marxís doctrines to reflect the realities of the time. Moderation caught on elsewhere also. Although Marx and the radical socialists had called for international unity, in reality it did not happen. Most workers realized effective gains without the necessity of revolution. Furthermore, when war broke out, almost all socialist leaders loyally supported their governments rather than abandon them for the "world wide revolution."