The GERMAN CENTRE PARTY (German : Deutsche Zentrumspartei or just
ZENTRUM) is a lay Catholic political party in Germany , primarily
influential during the Kaiserreich and the
In the early days of the Weimar Republic, the Center Party was the
second-largest party in the Reichstag. After the
Reichstag Fire in
early 1933, the Centre Party voted for the Enabling Act , which
granted dictatorial powers to
World War II
* 1 Origins
* 2 The Soest programme and the founding of the "Centre Party"
* 4 Attempts to broaden appeal beyond Catholics
* 5 Anti-Polish policies
* 6 In war and revolution
* 7 In the
* 15 Further reading
* 15.1 Historiography
* 16 External links
The Centre Party belongs to the political spectrum of "Political Catholicism " that, emerging in the early 19th century after the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, had changed the political face of Germany. Many Catholics found themselves in Protestant dominated states.
The first major conflict between the Roman
At that time, one of the founding fathers of Political Catholicism
The Revolution of 1848 brought new opportunities for German
Catholics. In October, the bishops had their first meeting in 40 years
THE SOEST PROGRAMME AND THE FOUNDING OF THE "CENTRE PARTY"
The official flag between 1870-1933.
Growing anti-Catholic sentiment and policies, including plans for dissolving all monasteries in Prussia, made it clear that a reorganisation of the group was urgently needed in order to protect Catholic minority rights, enshrined in the 1850 constitution, and to bring them over to the emerging nation state.
In June 1870 Peter Reichensberger called on Catholics to unite and, in October, priests, representatives of Catholic federations and the Catholic gentry met at Soest and drew up an election programme. The main points were:
* Preservation of the Church's autonomy and rights, as accepted by the constitution. Defense against any attack on the independence of Church bodies, on the development of religious life and on the practice of Christian charity. * Effectual implementation of parity for recognised denominations. * Rejection of any attempt to de-Christianise marriage. * Preservation or founding of denominational schools.
There were also more general demands such as for a more federal, decentralised state, a limitation of state expenditure, a just distribution of taxes, the financial strengthening of the middle classes and the legal "removal of such evil states, that threaten the worker with moral or bodily ruin".
With such a manifesto, the number of Catholic representatives in the Prussian Diet rose considerably. In December 1870, they formed a new "Centre" faction, also called the "Constitution Party" to emphasise its adherence to constitutional liberties.
Three months later, early in 1871, the Catholic representatives to
the new national parliament, the Reichstag, also formed a "Centre"
faction. The party not only defended the Church's liberties, but also
supported representative government and minority rights in general, in
particular those of German Poles, Alsatians and Hannoverians. The
Centre's main leader was the Hannoverian advocate Ludwig Windthorst
and other major figures included
Karl Friedrich von Savigny , Hermann
von Mallinckrodt ,
Burghard Freiherr von Schorlemer-Alst , the
Also in other German states Catholic parties were formed, cooperating with the Prussian Centre Party in the Reichstag:
* in Bavaria, the "Bavarian Patriotic Party", with a particularistic-conservative bent, since 1887 called the "Bavarian Centre". * in Baden, the "Catholic People's Party", since 1881 formally linked to the national "Centre Party" and since 1888 adopting the name "Centre Party".
Main article: Kulturkampf
In the age of nationalism, Protestant Germans, whether Conservative
Otto von Bismarck
The Centre party remained a party of opposition to Bismarck, but after his resignation in 1890, it frequently supported the following administrations' policies in the Reichstag , particularly in the field of social security.
ATTEMPTS TO BROADEN APPEAL BEYOND CATHOLICS
The Kulturkampf had reinforced the Catholic character of the Centre Party, but even during it Ludwig Windthorst had defended the party against Bismarck's accusation of being a "denominational party" in describing the Centre as "a political party with a comprehensive political programme and open to anyone, who accepts it". However, few Protestants took up this offer and the Centre remained, by the composition of its members, politicians and voters, an essentially Catholic party.
Loyal to the
Kulturkampf declined, debates about the character of the party
emerged culminating in the Centre dispute, in 1906, after Julius
Bachem had published the article "We must get out of the tower!" He
called upon Catholic politicians to fulfill Windthorst's word and get
out of their perpetual minority position by an effort to increase
Protestant numbers among their representatives in parliament. His
proposal was met with passionate opposition by the greater part of
Catholic public, especially since it also included the Christian trade
unions and other Catholic organisations. No side could win the upper
hand, when the outbreak of
World War I
After the war, Adam Stegerwald , leader of the Christian trade unions , made another attempt at transcending the party's exclusively Catholic character and uniting Germany's fragmented party spectrum. In 1920 he advocated the formation of a broad Christian middle-party, that would transcend denominations and social classes and which could push back the Social Democrats\' influence.
The Polish minority in
IN WAR AND REVOLUTION
The party boldly supported the imperial government in the years prior
World War I
The same year, the Centre's Georg Count Hertling , formerly
After the fall of the monarchy, conflict arose between the party and the new Social Democratic government. Adolf Hofmann, the Prussian minister for culture, attempted to decree a total separation of church and state, forcing religion out of schools. This stirred up a wave of protest among the Catholic population, and bishops, Catholic organisations and the Centre Party itself united to combat the "red danger". This conflict bridged internal tensions within the party and secured its continual existence despite the turmoil of the revolution.
The party however was weakened by its Bavarian wing splitting off and forming the Bavarian People\'s Party (BVP), which emphasised autonomy of the states and also took a more conservative course.
In the 1919 elections for the National Assembly the Centre Party
gained 91 representatives, being the second largest party after the
Social Democratic Party (SPD). The Centre's
Konstantin Fehrenbach was
elected president of the National Assembly. The party actively
cooperated with Social Democrats and left-liberal German Democratic
Party (DDP) in drawing up the
Weimar Constitution , which guaranteed
what the Centre had been fighting for since its founding: equality for
Catholics and autonomy for Roman
IN THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC
Presidium of the Zentrum, 1920
The Centre Party, whose pragmatic principles generally left it open
to supporting either a monarchical or republican form of government,
proved one of the mainstays of the
The party was a polyglot coalition of Catholic politicians, ranging
from leftists like
The Centre had a share of the odium attached to the so-called "Weimar Establishment" which was blamed, especially on the right, for the "stab in the back " of the German army at the end of the war, as well as for the humiliations of the Versailles Treaty and reparations. Erzberger himself, who had signed the armistice, was assassinated by right-wing extremists in 1921.
Although the parties of the
Weimar Coalition remained the base of the
Weimar Republic, they could not agree to resume a formal coalition
government, especially because of disagreements between the Centre
Party and the Social Democrats on issues like religious schools or a
After the break-up of the Weimar Coalition, in June 1920 the Centre's Konstantin Fehrenbach formed a new cabinet that also included the left-liberal DDP and the national-liberal German People\'s Party (DVP).
In May 1921 the
Weimar Coalition once again resumed government under
In August 1923 the DVP's
In January 1925 the non-affiliated
In the same year
In May 1926 Chancellor Luther resigned and Marx again assumed his former office.
In June 1928, the general elections had resulted in losses for the government parties and in gains for the Social Democrats and the Communists . The Grand Coalition of 1923 was resumed, this time including the BVP and the Social Democrat Hermann Müller became chancellor.
During the years of the
THE BRüNING ADMINISTRATION
Brüning and others at Corpus Christi Procession, 1932
In 1930 the Grand Coalition fell apart and
In the 1930 elections , the parties of the Grand coalition lost their majority, forcing Brüning to base his administration not on the support of a party coalition but on that of the presidential decree ("Notverordnung") of article 48 of the Constitution. This provided for the circumventing of parliament, and the informal toleration of this practice by the parties. For this way of government based on both the President and cooperation of parliament, Brüning coined the term "authoritative (or authoritarian) democracy".
The Centre consistently supported Brüning's government and in 1932
vigorously campaigned for the re-election of
Paul von Hindenburg
President Hindenburg, advised by General
Kurt von Schleicher
BETWEEN COUP D\'éTAT AND "AUTHORITARIAN DEMOCRACY"
Following Brüning's resignation, the Centre Party entered the opposition. Though they also opposed the National Socialists , their energies were directed mainly against the renegade Papen. Some Centre politicians were soothed by Hitler's strategy of legality into downplaying the Nazi threat. This hampered their ability of being a bulwark of the republic against the rising National Socialists.
In regard to the government, the Centre Party rejected a "temporal solution", such as Papen's presidial cabinets, and rather advocated a "total solution", i.e., a government according to the rules of the constitution. Since the Centre considered Papen's administration of being "in a dangerous way dependent on radical right-wing parties", chairman Ludwig Kaas advised the President to recognise this connection by basing the government on a coalition with the rising right-wing parties, the "logical result of current development". This would force the radicals to "take their share in responsibility" and "acquainting them with international politics". The Centre would then act as the party of opposition to this administration.
As Papen was faced with almost uniform opposition by the parties, he had the Reichstag dissolved. In the subsequent elections, the Centre Party campaigned on two fronts, against both the Papen government and National Socialists and reaffirmed their stance as the "constitution party" opposed to "any measure contrary to constitution, justice and law" and "unwilling to yield to terror". The July 1932 elections brought further losses to the mainstream parties and gains to the extremist parties. The National Socialists supplanted the Social Democrats as the largest party in parliament.
As Communists and National Socialists together had won the majority of seats, no government coalition could be formed without one of them. Papen tried to justify his authoritarian style of government by pointing out that parliament could no longer function properly. Countering this reasoning, the Centre and the BVP tried to re-establish a working parliament by cooperation with the National Socialists, since the three parties together had attained 53% of the seats. When Papen called upon the people to "reject the dictatorship of a single party", the Centre Party agreed "without reservation", but it also stated that "with the same resolution we reject the dictatorship of the nameless party, now in power … even if cloaked with the illusion of non-partisanship".
After Papen's attempts to attain Hitler's support for his
administration had failed, the Centre began their own negotiations
with the National Socialists. They started in the state of
The negotiations were bound for failure, since the aims of the two groups were largely incompatible. The Centre argued that the vote of July had "called Hitler not to dictatorship but to responsibility, to getting in line with law and constitution". They hoped to "build a strong government without touching the substance of the constitution", to create "clear responsibilities" and to "preclude anti-constitutional experiments". The Centre advocated a return to Brüning's "authoritarian democracy", which they considered up to the times and tested by experience, against Papen's "omnipotent state and independent leadership", while the Nazis would only accept a coalition that would serve their purpose of achieving total dominance. Not expecting a successful conclusion, Hitler used the Centre negotiations in order to put pressure on the Papen administration.
The negotiations were also met with criticism from within the Centre Party. Some rejected them as "currying favour with the National Socialists" and giving credence to Hitler's strategy of legality. The journalists Fritz Gerlich and Ingbert Naab dismissed as "illusionary" the attempt to "uphold the constitution and the legal order" with a man such as Hitler with his "unconditional propensity to evil". Instead of "driving out the devil by Belzebub", the Centre should act as the parliament's conscience. The party leadership answered their critics by calling it a "duty of conscience" to try to achieve a constitutional government.
Though Papen did not expect the negotiations to succeed, he was nonetheless concerned as a success would have led to a presidential crisis, as Hindenburg was unwilling to have a coalition parties dictate the administration. In September he ended all speculations by dissolving the Reichstag again, almost immediately after its first meeting.
Papen's act did not end the negotiations between Centre and NSDAP. In fact, it made further meetings possible, since the Centre Party's leadership blamed the failure not on the parties' incompatibility but on Papen calling for new elections. Since the NSDAP vote dropped again in the elections of November 1932 , the Centre Party considered their strategy successful and resumed negotiations, this time under the slogan of forming a "Notgemeinschaft" ("community of need"), even though the Centre, BVP, and NSDAP together no longer formed a majority in parliament.
Chairman Ludwig Kaas advised President von Hindenburg not to continue Papen's "administration of conflict"; he advocated "national concentration including the National Socialists", but did not comment on an alternative Chancellor, since he considered that the "personal prerogative of President". Hindenburg's negotiations with Hitler failed, however, as did Kaas' attempt to form a coalition in parliament. By avoiding a clear statement, Hitler managed to pin the blame for this failure on the DNVP's Alfred Hugenberg , who had rejected Kaas' proposals.
In December, the President appointed General Kurt von Schleicher Chancellor, since the cabinet had refused to support Papen's planned coup d'état, a permanent dissolution of the Reichstag. The Centre Party contributed to the failure of Schleichers " Querfront " policy, since it could not bring itself to supporting the new administration actively. This pushed the General-Chancellor further in the direction of Papen's proposed coup d'état, a move the Centre Party, as well as the other parties, refused to condone. Under these circumstances, President Hindenburg refused to back the coup and Schleicher accordingly resigned on 28 January 1933.
THE HITLER GOVERNMENT AND NEW ELECTIONS
Meanwhile, von Papen had formed an intrigue to oust his successor. He
conferred with Hugenberg and industrial magnates and bankers and after
a feverish night, in which the outcome was unclear to all
participants. On 30 January 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor with
Franz von Papen
Though seeing their adversaries Papen and Hugenberg join forces with Hitler, the Centre Party still did not give up building a broad coalition government. Since the new administration was still lacking a majority in parliament, the Centre was ready to support it, either by toleration or by coalition. Hitler intended to minimise non-Nazi participation, but feigned a willingness to cooperate with the Centre and blamed Papen and Hugenberg for denying cabinet posts to the Centre. When Kaas requested a broad outline of his government's objectives, Hitler used the questionnaire presented by Kaas to declare the talks a failure and obtain the President's approval for calling for new elections for the third time in about half a year.
These elections in March 1933 were already marred by the SA 's
terror, after the
Reichstag fire and civil rights had been suspended
by President Hindenburg through the
This result shattered the Centre Party's hopes of being indispensable for obtaining a majority in parliament. The party was now faced with two alternatives – either to persist in protesting and suffer reprisals like Communists and Social Democrats, or to declare their loyal cooperation, in order to protect their members. As shown by subsequent events, the party, though deeply uncomfortable with the new government, opted for the latter alternative.
THE ENABLING ACT
The government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act that would have vested the government with legislative powers for a period of four years. As the bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass and the coalition parties only controlled 340 of the 647 seats (52.5 percent), the government needed the support of other parties.
The Centre Party, whose vote was going to be decisive, was split on the issue of the Enabling Act. Chairman Kaas advocated supporting the bill in parliament in return for government guarantees. These mainly included respecting the President's Office retaining veto power, religious liberty, its involvement in culture, schools and education, the concordats signed by German states and the existence of the Centre Party. Via Papen, Hitler responded positively and personally addressed the issues in his Reichstag speech but he repeatedly put off signing a written letter of agreement.
Kaas was aware of the doubtful nature of such guarantees but when the Centre Party assembled on 23 March to decide on their vote, Kaas advised his fellow party members to support the bill, given the "precarious state of the party". He described his reasons as follows: "On the one hand we must preserve our soul, but on the other hand a rejection of the Enabling Act would result in unpleasant consequences for faction and party. What is left is only to guard us against the worst. Were a two-thirds majority not obtained, the government's plans would be carried through by other means. The President has acquiesced in the Enabling Act. From the DNVP no attempt of relieving the situation is to be expected."
A considerable number of parliamentarians opposed the chairman's
course, among these former Chancellors
The opponents also argued that
Catholic social teaching
In the end the majority of Centre parliamentarians supported Kaas' proposal. Brüning and his followers agreed to respect party discipline by also voting in favour of the bill. The Reichstag assembled under turbulent circumstances. SA men served as guards and crowded outside the building to intimidate any opposition while the Communist and some Social Democratic members of the Reichstag had been imprisoned and were thus prevented from voting. In the end, the Centre voted as planned in favour of the Enabling Act, as did all the other parties apart from the SPD, which was also the only party to speak against the act. The support of the Centre party proved to be decisive and the act was passed on 23 March 1933.
THE END OF THE CENTRE PARTY
With the passing of the Enabling Act the Centre Party had set in motion its own demise. As promised during the negotiations, a working committee chaired by Hitler and Kaas and supposed to inform about further legislative measures, met three times (31 March, 2 April and 7 April) without any major impact.
At that time, the Centre Party was weakened by massive defections by party members. Loyal party members, in particular civil servants, and other Catholic organisations were subject to increasing reprisals, despite Hitler's previous guarantees. The party was also hurt by a declaration of the German bishops that, while maintaining their opposition to Nazi ideology , modified the ban on cooperation with the new authorities.
The issue of the concordat prolonged Kaas' stay in Rome, leaving the party without a chairman, and on 5 May Kaas finally resigned from his post. The party now elected Brüning as chairman. The party adopted a tempered version of the leadership principle ; pro-Centre papers now declared that the party's members, or "retinue", would fully submit itself to Brüning. It was not enough, however, to relieve the growing pressure that it and other parties faced in the wake of the process of Gleichschaltung . Prominent members were frequently arrested and beaten, and pro-Centre civil servants were fired. As the summer of 1933 wore on, several government officials—including Papen—demanded that the Centre either dissolve or be closed down by the government.
By July, the Centre was the only non-Nazi party that had not been browbeaten into dissolving itself (or had been banned outright, like the SPD). On 1 July, Papen and Kaas agreed that as part of the concordat, German priests would stay out of politics. Earlier, as part of negotiations, it was agreed that the party would dissolve as soon as the concordat had been concluded. As it turned out, the party dissolved on 5 July—much to the dismay of Cardinal Pacelli , who felt the party should at least have waited until after the conclusion of negotiations. The day after, the government issued a law declaring the NSDAP the only legally permitted party in the German state.
REFOUNDING AND POST-WAR HISTORY
After the war, the party was refounded, but it was confronted with
the emergence of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a new party
formed as a Christian party comprising both Catholics and Protestants.
As many former Centre party politicians, such as
For some time, however, the party managed to hold on to regional
On the national level, in the elections of 1949 , it won ten seats in
This demise is at least partly because of
Helene Wessel . In 1949,
she was one of the Centre's representatives in the
Wessel resigned from her post and in November 1952 left the party. Immediately afterwards, Wessel and Heinemann turned the "Notgemeinschaft" into a political party, the "Gesamtdeutsche Volkspartei" ("Whole German People's Party" or GVP), that failed badly in the elections of 1953. In 1957, the GVP dissolved, and most members joined the SPD.
Meanwhile, the Centre Party tried to forge an alliance of small parties of Christian persuasion, to offer an alternative to disappointed CDU/CSU voters, but it gained only the support of the "Bavarian Party". The two parties joined forces under the name "Federalist Union", first in parliament since 1951 and in the 1957 the general elections, but the results were disappointing.
In 1988, the right wing of the party split and formed the "Christian Centre Party ". In 2003 the evangelical " Christian Party of Germany " (CPD) joined the Centre Party.
Since its demise on the national level, the party focuses on local
politics, while maintaining the same positions as in the post-war
period. The party is represented in some city councils in North
The chairman of the party is
Gerhard Woitzik , vice-mayor of the city
Despite its marginal numbers, the party emphasises continuity to its history by sometimes referring to itself as the "oldest political party of Germany". According to its statutes the official name of the party is "Deutsche Zentrumspartei – Älteste Partei Deutschlands gegründet 1870", which translates as "German Centre Party – Oldest Party in Germany founded in 1870".
* ^ David Blackbourn, "The Political Alignment of the Centre Party in Wilhelmine Germany: A Study of the Party's Emergence in Nineteenth-Century Württemberg," Historical Journal Vol. 18, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 821-850 in JSTOR * ^ Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006) pp 568-576 * ^ Ronald J. Ross, The failure of Bismarck's Kulturkampf: Catholicism and state power in imperial Germany, 1871-1887 (Washington, D.C., 1998) * ^ German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914 Helmut Walser Smith 2014, page 197-198 * ^ Edmond Paris, The Vatican Against Europe, '.R. Macmillan Limited (Fleet Street, London, United Kingdom, 1959), p.14 * ^ Evans, The German Center Party, 1870-1933 * ^ Evans, The German Center Party, 1870-1933 * ^ Zeender, (1984), pp. 428-441. * ^ Evans, (1981). * ^ http://zentrumspartei.de/partei/parteisatzung/index.html
* Anderson, Margaret Lavinia. Windthorst: A Political Biography (Oxford University Press, 1981). * Anderson, Margaret Lavinia. Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (2000) excerpt and text search * Bennette, Rebecca Ayako. Fighting for the Soul of Germany: The Catholic Struggle for Inclusion After Unification (Harvard University Press; 2012) * Blackbourn, David. "The Political Alignment of the Centre Party in Wilhelmine Germany: A Study of the Party's Emergence in Nineteenth-Century Württemberg," Historical Journal Vol. 18, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 821–850 in JSTOR * Cary, Noel D. Path to Christian Democracy: German Catholics and the Party System from Windthorst to Adenauer (1996) * Elvert, Jürgen (2004). Kaiser, Wolfram; Wohnout, Helmut, eds. A Microcosm of Society or the Key to a Majority in the Reichstag? The Centre Party in Germany. Political Catholicism in Europe 1918-45. Routledge. pp. 38–52. ISBN 0-7146-5650-X . * Evans, Ellen Lovell. The German Center Party 1870-1933: A Study in Political Catholicism (1981) * Ross, Ronald J. "Critic of the Bismarckian Constitution: Ludwig Windthorst and the Relationship Between Church and State in Imperial Germany," Journal of Church ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v
* t * e
Political parties in Germany until the end of
World War I
* General German Workers\' Association (ADAV)
* Social Democratic Workers\' Party of Germany (SDAP)
Social Democratic Party of Germany
* Centre Party (Zentrum)
German Progress Party (DFP)
* Democratic People\'s Party (DVP)
* German People\'s Party (DtVP)
* Liberal Union (LV)
German Free-minded Party
* National Liberal Party (NLP) * Imperial Liberal Party (LRP)
Free Conservative Party (FKP)
German Conservative Party
* Saxon People\'s Party
* v * t * e
Political parties in Germany in the
Communist Party of Germany
* Socialist * Social Democratic
Social Democratic Party of Germany
* Bavarian People\'s Party (BVP) * Centre Party (Zentrum) * Christian People\'s Party (CVP)
* Bavarian Peasants\' League (BB) * Agricultural League * Schleswig-Holstein Farmers and Farmworkers Democracy (SHBLD) * Christian National Peasants\' and Farmers\' Party (CNBL) * German Farmers\' Party (DBP)
* German National People\'s Party (DNVP) * People\'s Right Party (VRP) * Christian Social People\'s Service (CSVD) * Conservative People\'s Party (KVP)
* Völkische and Nazi
* German Workers\' Party (DAP)
* German Social Party (DSP)
German Socialist Party (DSP)
* National Socialist German Workers\' Party (NSDAP)-
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