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III. Privation and Ferment on the Home Front
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Overview: Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914   |   I. Economic Development   |   II. Society and Culture   |   III. "Modern Life": Diagnoses, Prescriptions, Alternatives   |   IV. State and Society   |   V. Politics   |   VI. Germany in International Affairs   |   Germany at War, 1914-1918   |   I. Battle   |   II. Mobilization of the Home Front   |   III. Privation and Ferment on the Home Front   |   IV. Seeking an End to the War

Mobilization profoundly affected the balance of social and political forces in Germany. Because it recognized that the war could not be won without the active support of the labor movement, the German government made significant concessions to the trade unions, a principal part of which was Social Democratic in orientation (Docs. 1, 2, 3). As a consequence, industrial workers were in some respects better able to deal with the growing material shortages that set in everywhere, most ominously in the supplies of food and coal. Rationing failed to prevent either inflation or the burgeoning of the black market, nor did it halt the general deterioration of popular morale (Docs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). In these circumstances, political opposition took shape within the radical wing of the Social Democratic party, particularly after revolution visited Russia in 1917, to suggest a model for bringing the war to an end (Docs. 11, 12, 15, 19). In the spring of 1917, the founding of the Independent Social Democratic Party marked the rupture of the German Socialist labor movement (Doc. 16). The effort to counteract growing opposition to the war included the more vigorous repression of agitators and an attempt to re-mobilize public opinion behind the idea of a victorious peace (Docs. 14, 17). By 1917, questions of foreign and domestic policy were thus interlocked. The proponents of a more moderate, compromising peace were also the advocates of turning Germany into a parliamentary democracy, while those who called for a Siegfrieden [freedom through victory] included the champions of an authoritarian political system (Docs. 18, 20, 21, 22, 23).

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