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German Political Parties

German Political Parties Beginning in the mid-18th century a strong movement set in across middle Europe to form associations. The decisive requisite was the formation of new interests and needs within civil society, providing the background for the Enlightenment. Towards the end of the 18th century civil society already activated, classified, and mobilized into innumerable societies. This great increase in constituting societies was an expression of the new social conduct and action. It was mainly limited to the burgher social stratum which until then hardly represented a social phenomenon and now sought a new form of social self expression. The foundation consisted of the gradually evolving modern state with its bureaucracy and the beginning emancipation of the bourgeoisie in administration, learning, and the economy. The various enlightened societies for the first time transcended confessional borders, state and estate interests in the aspiration to embrace and unite the entire society.

The new groups at the beginning of the 19th century called themselves almost uniformly societies (Gesellschaft). Only in Vormärz was the label replaced by the name "union" (Verein), "association" (Assoziation) and or "confederation" (Bund).

After the politization of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution the courts and administrations developed an increasing mistrust of the emergent associations. One could not overlook the increasingly political role of the unions, at first in an increased need for political information an d conversation and only later in public discussion, which finally experienced its strongest outlet in the anti-Napoleonic struggle. The movement to found patriotic unions against Napoleon continued in the academic fraternities (Burschenschaften), until their forceful suppression as a consequence of the Karlsbad Decrees. Founding of politically motivated associations only resumed after the July Revolution. But these groups of the Vormärz had a different character tha n the earlier unions. Above all, membership in the public associations also included the engaged petty bourgeoisie, drawing together a bourgeois mass movement in a regional and national coalition.

Parallel to this formation of societies after 1835 ran the development of a pluralistic system of political groupings. that replaced the earlier conflict between conservatism and early liberalism. It formed a five headed party existence consisting of conservatism, liberalism, democratic radicalism, political Catholicism, and socialism. The new political divisions were very strongly oriented toward theory and ideology. The five-party system included many temporary and circumstantial divisions. Doubtlessly the principle of political parties in civil society was a basic need of the times. During the Vormärz civil society got the upper hand after a long struggle with the old feudal corporate society. Thus political parties were an important instrument, since they were a mediator be tween state and society.

Political parties' most important characteristics included free formation and fluctuation; the independence of their members from status of birth, property, and employment; the competition among parties; the unfettered struggle of interests, ideas, power, and influence; as well as the conquest of as many members as possible. Parties were organized groups, whose objective was to influence state and public opinion and to send representatives to a parliament. Conservatism espoused a monarchical-corporate organized state as opposed to the democratic-liberal constitutional state. The power of kings ought not be limited by a parliament elected by universal suffrage, rather by hierarchically organized estates. In addition to the romantic and corporate-patrimonial conservatism, in Prussia a conservatism of Hegelian state philosophy developed. The basis of the political catholic movement embodied the renewal of faith following the French Revolution and secularization. From the beginning it could never reach the totality of Catholics, rather only a certain ecclesiastical direction. The radical democracy and socialism, in contrast to conservatism and liberalism, overcame framework of a tension between preservation and progress and ultimately found an answer in changing economic, political, and confessional structures.

The developing division between radical democracy and liberalism was consummated during the Vormärz principally on two levels, political-strategic and theoretical. In its essence democratic theory posed possible differences between possessors of state power and those who would overthrow their power, presuming a collusion between the sovereign and the people. This was the consequent result of popular sovereignty, which can lead to a violent struggle. The chief constitutional principles of radical democracy consisted, in addition to the idea of popular sovereignty, the concepts of a unified national state, the republic, parliamentary government, and equality. In contrast, liberalism wanted to guarantee liberty by reforms that would prevent misuse of sovereignty by constitutional guarantees, by division of powers, and by rule of law. It developed a political theory based on the inalienable rights of the individual and the recognition of state bonds to the extent that the existence of personal freedom was untouched, rather protected. Indeed it saw the state as a necessity, thus simultaneously it was concerned in maintaining the authority and power of state in order to insure personal freedom. A further important characteristic of liberalism was the endorsement the idea of the national state. In contrast, socialism during Vorm„rz found its most important expression in the nascent worker movement, particularly among emigrant associations in France, Switzerland, England, and Belgium, and it was a consequence of industrialization, social changes and class society during Vormärz.

The beginning of the 1848 revolution was characterized by a community of political interests between the democratic republicans and constitutional liberals for the establisment of a parliament . As the revolution developed, the existing loosely organized political groups were transformed into relatively strong organizations in parliaments, and other political groupings formed as extra-parliamentary organizations of the parties. At the end of the revolution then the five principal political tendencies of democracy, liberalism, political catholicism, conservatism, and the worker movement were politically organized. Actually only the labor movement had its own parliamentary representation. Conservatism was principally supported by separate associations in Prussia, while in southern Germany right-liberal and conservative powers, which often combined in a common organization, now exerted only limited parliamentary activity. Parallel to this, the theory of parties and parliament, reaching back into Vormärz, were modified. Whereas hitherto the dualistic conception of parliament as the institutionalized permanent opposition to overlook the administration dominated, now also the building of a government from the elected parliamentary majority and thereby the internal organization of parliament into a governing party or coalition on the one hand and an opposition on the other was theoretically legitimated. In practical politics a pragmatic parliamentary form of government was to a great extent accepted.
Helmut Reinalter (translated by James Chastain)


W. Boldt Die Anfänge des deutschen Parteiwesens. Fraktionen, politische Vereine und Parteien in der Revolution von 1848 Paderborn 1971.

O. Dann, "Die Anfänge politischer Vereinsbildung in Deutschland," in Soziale Bewegung und politische Verfassung Engelhardt (ed.)., Stuttgart 1976, 197 ff.

O. Dann.(ed), "Vereinswesen und bürgerliche Gesellschaft in Deutschland," Historische Zeitschrift-Beiheft IX, Munich 1984.

H. Gebhardt Revolution und liberale Bewegung: Die nationale Organisation der konstitutionellen Partei in Deutschland 1848/49 Bremen 1974.

D. Langewiesche, "Die Anfänge der deutschen Parteien. Partei, Fraktion und Verein in der Revolution von 1848/49," Geschichte und Gesellschaft IV (1978), 324 ff.

K.-E. Lönne, Politischer Katholizismus im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert Frankfurt/M. 1986.

Th. Nipperdey, "Verein als soziale Struktur in Deutschland im späten 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert," Gesellschaft, Kultur, Theorie Göttingen 1976, 174 ff.

J. Paschen, Demokratische Vereine und preussischer Staat Munich-Vienna, 1977.

G.A. Ritter, Die deutschen Parteien 1830-1945 , Göttingen 1985.

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