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The Minister of the Interior on Domestic Reform (May 1915)

The consensus in favor of the war was precarious from the beginning, despite the impression of popular unity. The chancellor was responsible for preserving the domestic truce forged in the summer of 1914, but he was constrained by forces on both the Left and Right. Many members of the Left advocated democratization at home. As this memorandum by the State Secretary for the Ministry of the Interior suggests, popular aspirations for reform centered on the suffrage system in Prussia – the Prussian Diet privileged members of the old order and did not have truly universal male suffrage. Reformers also advocated recognizing unions and granting them the legal rights to collective bargaining, which was unavoidable if organized labor was to participate in the mobilization for war.

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In connection with my discussion today with Undersecretary Wahnschaffe, I am honored to present Your Excellency with a short note about the new orientation in our domestic policy. The note presents neither all the questions that need to be resolved nor specific suggestions for their resolution. Instead, it offers Your Excellency simply some points of reference for upcoming discussions with representatives of the parties. [ . . . ]

Last year, on the fourth of August, His Majesty the Kaiser addressed the members of parliament, who were gathered in the White Hall, with these words: “I no longer recognize any parties; I recognize only Germans.” These words, which have often been quoted since, have been the signature of domestic policy since the beginning of the war. Their underlying premise has found expression in the so-called Burgfrieden, the “peace in the fortress.” [ . . . ]

Some have construed the words of His Majesty the Kaiser to mean a promise for the postwar period as well, and they have demanded legal guarantees that the government’s conciliatory position remain in force even after the peace. In deference to these wishes, the Chancellor, the Prussian Minister of the Interior, and the Federal State Secretary of the Interior have repeatedly proclaimed, more or less concretely, a new orientation in our domestic policy; they have, however, refused to discuss the details of this question until the war has ended. This promise will to have to be fulfilled, and the question is apt whether the lengthening war will not make it necessary to deal more intensively with the wishes that the parties have expressed. It will in any event be necessary during the war to reach a degree of agreement within the government about what should be done to meet the wishes of the parties, for it seems absolutely necessary that the government go public with a definite program once peace is concluded, and that preparations for implementing such a program be far enough prepared that it can be quickly implemented. It is necessary to do so because public complaints must in all circumstances be avoided that the Kaiser failed to keep a solemn promise. It would, however, also represent an act of both political good sense and justice to acknowledge emphatically that all the people, without regard to ethnicity or party membership, have placed their full energy in the service of the Fatherland, and particularly that the economic organizations of the working class, whatever their party affiliations, have performed valuable services for the Fatherland since the beginning of the war. Nevertheless, it will not be easy to fulfill promises that have been made or to meet expectations that have grown out of these promises.

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