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The Challenge of Modernity: German Social and Cultural Studies, 1890-1960
By Adelheid von Saldern
University of Michigan PressCopyright © 2002 Adelheid von Saldern
All right reserved.
CHAPTER 1 - Party Centers and Party Hinterlands: The Trend to Centralization and Hierarchism in the Wilhelminian SPD
Anyone who examines the economic, social, and cultural development of various regions of Germany in the nineteenth century cannot fail to notice how different the conditions were. Strong disparities persisted despite the movement toward greater political unity after the founding of the German Empire in 1871 and the creation of a single national market and a relatively uniform legal system. It still made an enormous difference whether one lived in Berlin, Hamburg, or Leipzig or in Gottingen, Tubingen, or Marburg.
The differences in regional development were due largely, though not exclusively, to the asynchronous expansion and intensification of capitalism and the market economy. Asynchronous development is an important characteristic of modernity. It is caused not only by differences in flows of capital and trade but also by the tenacity of old mentalities and habits. The use of the term asynchronous does not imply that development moves in linear fashion. There are tendencies of course toward uniformity and standardization in modern, capitalist societies, between regions, for example, or between town and country.
However, these tendencies are not the product of linear predispositions but rather of dialectical processes that can generate peculiar conditions in each case. These "peculiar conditions" need to be explored further in order to determine how people both shaped them and were shaped by them.
Various organizations played a role in this shaping process. The labor movement developed in the nineteenth century along very different lines in different places and regions. Centers of industry and commerce generally spawned regional or local labor movements, thereby becoming potential party centers as well, at least insofar as the local authorities were not especially effective at suppressing the labor movement or the workers did not remain closely attached to a Catholic milieu, as in the Ruhr.
The labor movement in Germany did not develop and spread from one central location but rather from a number of different locales, especially the Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg, and Braunschweig areas. It tended therefore to be organized in a polycentric way. In the early decades of the German Empire, Berlin did not play an especially prominent role in the Social Democratic Party, although it was an important center of innovation, much as Mannheim became in later days for southern Germany. The Socialist Laws (1878-90) reinforced the polycentrism of the party. With the end of these laws in 1890 and the rescinding of the ban in Prussia on freedom of association, the situation changed, although not very dramatically. Henceforth, a powerful party apparatus could be developed with the full sanction of the law, and this incipient process tended to magnify the importance of the imperial capital of Berlin within the SPD. However, the generally polycentric structure of the party did not change, and the expansion of the party bureaucracy tended in fact to strengthen the regional centers and thus reinforce polycentrism.
The terms party centers and party hinterlands are nothing more than vague constructs used here to facilitate our analysis. They are employed in both a broad sense, in reference to general sociocultural differences, and a narrow sense, in reference to more organizational differences. The purpose is to detect general trends, although counterexamples can usually be found that qualify and differentiate the trends. Although the "party centers" and "hinterlands" were often the same in both the sociocultural and organizational senses, some differences did exist. In other words, local associations that were sociocultural hinterlands did not usually develop into organizational centers, but they did in some cases when there was no alternative. Conversely, local associations that were sociocultural centers usually became organizational centers as well, although there were some exceptions in highly industrialized regions such as Saxony and the Ruhr, where a number of towns in close proximity were in the running to become the district organizational center and a choice had to be made.
We will look now at how the relationship between party centers and hinterlands developed in Wilhelminian times. This line of research was prompted by the realization that the evolving organization of the Social Democratic Party must be seen in connection with the processes at work in society as a whole. For instance, communications of all kinds were improving, from railroads to mass-circulation newspapers, providing new ways to intensify the contacts between party centers and hinterlands and paving the way for a more hierarchical party structure. In practical terms, the issue boils down to whether the sociocultural differences between party centers and hinterlands and the organizational dependencies between them intensified or weakened during those years of mounting urbanism and the rapid organizational rise of the party. Did the party hinterlands become more reliant on the developing regional centers? What role did "urbanity" or various concepts of "urbanity" play in this, particularly in a party such as the SPD, which was considered not only a party of highly industrialized areas but also of big cities and urban culture?
We look subsequently at developments in the relationship between party centers and hinterlands from the point of view of party membership, organization, and sociocultural infrastructure; the various proletarian publics; labor unions and strikes; and the working-class milieus that developed in particular areas of cities.
In both its centers and hinterlands, the SPD was definitely a proletarian party from the point of view of the membership, of which 80 to 90 percent was workers. However, some differences can still be seen between the members in the centers and in the hinterlands. For instance, worker-farmers were much more common in the hinterlands, where the party had a more rural, plebeian character, while the centers were more urban proletarian. We assume, therefore, that the new values of capitalist, industrial society were mixed up in the party hinterlands with the precapitalist, more plebeian values of the "moral economy," forming a synchronous-asynchronous blend that differed from the values of the party centers.
Petits bourgeois, especially self-employed tradesmen, shopkeepers, and lower-level salaried employees, accounted for only a small percentage of party members in both the centers and the hinterlands. However, petits bourgeois members were still much less frequent in the hinterlands. For instance, they accounted for only 4.3 percent of all members in Gottingen, 4.4 percent in Marburg, and 5.7 percent in ¨Frankfurt in comparison with 8.6 percent in Nuremberg and 7.2 percent in Harburg (excluding the salaried employees of the labor unions and the SPD itself). In Munich, a city with relatively little heavy industry, petits bourgeois accounted for 21.6 percent of all members in 1906, although Munich was an anomaly and the differences between party centers and hinterlands were usually not so pronounced. In general, however, it is apparent that relatively few petits bourgeois joined the party in the hinterlands, and the connection they provided between the working and middle classes was therefore relatively weak. As a result, the social and political confrontation between these classes tended to be sharper in the hinterlands.
Unskilled workers, on the other hand, accounted for a relatively high percentage of party members in the hinterlands. In the party center of Nuremberg, only 9.3 percent of members were listed as unskilled workers in 1894, in comparison with 25 percent in Gottingen in 1906-7 and 21 percent in Celle in 1898. The fact that unskilled members were more common in the hinterlands probably weakened their position within the party as a whole, which was more influenced by skilled workers and tended to reflect their interests more. There were, however, some exceptions to the rule. In Harburg, a "Social Democratic city" and therefore a potential party center, unskilled factory workers made up 22 percent of all members and were therefore strongly represented in the local association.
Another difference between the party centers and hinterlands was in the number of members from the middle and upper bourgeoisie, especially academics and intellectuals. If they joined the party at all, it was almost always in the centers and only rarely in the hinterlands, even in university towns such as Tubingen or Gottingen. This was due primarily to the fact that the middle-class academics in the universities tended to share the generally illiberal, anti-Social Democratic views that predominated there. In the big cities, there were other kinds of intellectuals as well, such as writers, artists, and newspaper editors, who in some cases were quite sympathetic to the SPD. The party centers therefore had more "cultural capital" (Pierre Bourdieu's term) at their disposal than the hinterlands. Writers and artists often encouraged the development of labor movement culture or sought to ensure that the working classes had as much opportunity as possible to partake of middle-class culture. The presence of members from the intelligentsia in the party centers helped to instill confidence in the cultural potential of the labor movement, despite all the conflicts, and this cultural confidence tended to rub off on political matters as well when conditions were right. Jewish intellectuals played a particularly prominent role in the party centers. Finding themselves cultural outsiders to some extent on a personal level, they were often particularly critical of contemporary manifestations of Germany's militaristic, bureaucratic, imperialistic, and capitalist society. This led them to oppose the system and embrace alternatives, especially socialism and Social Democracy.
There was also a gender aspect to the differences between the party centers and hinterlands. Although the Associations Act of 1908 had enabled women to join the party, it continued to be male dominated. The percentage of female members tended to be higher however in the hinterlands, such as in Gottingen and Goppingen, where women accounted for as many as one-third of the members, in comparison with only 13.4 percent in the party as a whole. In party strongholds such as Hamburg, where there were three associations, women made up less than 10 percent of the members in 1907-8. The preceding comments about the effects of the concentration of unskilled party members in the hinterlands apply as well to women. The higher proportion of female members in the hinterlands did little to enhance the influence of their sex in the party centers and was disadvantageous in view of the male dominance of the party as a whole.
The party centers and hinterlands differed as well, to some extent, in the occupations of most of their members. Some party centers, for instance Dusseldorf, were dominated by metalworkers because of the concentration of metalworking industries in the area. In 1907, metalworkers accounted for 35 percent of the members in this city. These workers had a distinct social profile because their work still had not been de-skilled to any great extent and they often enjoyed a relatively high degree of independence on the job. They tended therefore to have a strong sense of self-worth and progressive views of the future, which distinguished them from the general run of workers. In addition, metalworkers were often recruited from skilled workers who had intentionally abandoned their social and cultural roots in the countryside and wanted to work in industry and live in the city. They had broken with traditional rural life and moved to the city as young workers, and they were open to fresh ideas. Their occupational skills, cultural orientations, and relatively strong position in the social world of the factory led them to identify strongly with being workers.
In the party hinterlands, it was usually not metalworkers who led the way but construction and lumber workers. In Celle, for instance, they accounted for 50 percent of the SPD members. Construction and lumber were still not heavily industrialized, and construction in particular was very vulnerable to the vagaries of the economy. Many small lumber companies were having a hard time competing with larger companies and the machinery those competitors could afford. We can assume that the dismal prospects of the smaller companies affected their employees, who faced much darker or at least more uncertain futures than workers in the metal industries. Construction workers still often had many ties to rural life, not least of all because of the short-term contracts they usually had, and therefore did not identify as easily as metalworkers with the strongly urbanized labor movement.
Another important difference between the party centers and hinterlands lay in the proportion of workers who joined the SPD. In Goppingen, for instance, only 6 percent of all workers were members in 1910, and in Augsburg, only 3.9 percent were members in 1908 and 5.5 percent in 1911. The highest proportions could be found in Greater Berlin, where 11.6 percent of all workers had joined by 1906. The relatively high percentage of members in some cities becomes even more apparent in light of the average for the entire Reich. According to the official statistics for 1895 and 1907 respectively, 1 percent and 4.5 percent of all workers were members of the SPD. The figures for artisans and industrial workers were respectively 2 and 7 percent. A more crucial issue than the proportion of workers who joined the party was whether their absolute number in a given city, together with workers who joined only the union, was enough to create a potential or actual counter-force to the hegemony of the bourgeoisie. It made a real difference whether the local SPD had only about 200 members, as in Gottingen in 1908; 6,693 members as in ¨Munich in 1900; or 11,000 members as in just the sixth Berlin constituency association in 1905. The disparities between regions were as striking as the disparities between cities. Some regions were party backwaters, such as Posen, West Prussia, Pomerania, and East Prussia. These four regions together accounted for only 2.58 percent of all party members in 1914. On the other hand, 28.4 percent of all party members lived in just Greater Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, and Schleswig-Holstein. On the level of constituency organizations, this concentration meant that more than one-third of all party members (36.53 percent) belonged to the eighteen largest organizations. The number and size of the organizations in various regions led to pronounced differences in the importance of these regions to the party as a whole.
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