Migration and Inequality in Germany 1870 – 1913

TitleMigration and Inequality in Germany 1870 – 1913
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsMiletić, Aleksandar R.
Author(s) of reviewed materialGrant, Oliver


PublisherNew York: Oxford University Press Inc.
PagesVI + 406
ISSNISBN-13: 978-0199276561
Review year


Full Text

Oliver Grant has written an extended and remarkable study on the historical role played by internal migrations in Germany during the period of industrialization between 1870 and 1913, emphasizing that migration was one of the most important aspects of the economic and political development of the Second Reich. The influx of a new labor force from the countryside to urban areas fuelled the ongoing processes of industrialization but also had some unwanted side-effects. The state of continuous labor surplus had a negative impact on the average level of workers’ wages which did not keep pace with the rising profits of industry and the consequent frustration of laborers was articulated through the rising political support for the Social Democratic Party. Inequality thus enabled unprecedented rates of industrial development but supposedly it was simultaneously contributing to the destabilization of the very foundation of the system. It is this intriguing dichotomy that Grant examines in Migration and Inequality in Germany 1870 – 1913
The study is based on both the immense amount of secondary literature and relevant statistical sources. Grant also applies a highly sophisticated econometric approach to various relevant aspects of the economic, social and demographic performance and features of German society. This approach enables him to establish the interrelations between migration, inequality and the overall state of the society. His final results and overall conclusions are rather surprising: according to Grant, massive population movements and rapid rates of industrialization led to less social and economic tensions in Germany than might have been expected. This is actually the point where Grant openly challenges the so-called Kehrite schoolof German historiography. 
By the Kehrite School, Grant refers to scholars who followed Eckart Kehr’s 1931 study of the far-reaching implications of the internal weaknesses of Wilhelmine Germany. Allegedly, there were so many internal socio-political conflicts and the society was so deeply divided that a way out could only be found in pursuing an aggressive foreign policy. Grant’s findings contradict this crucially important thesis. According to him, German society had already gone through the most traumatic phases of industrial development prior to 1913. At the end of the period under review, “industrialization under labor surplus” was coming to an end, as predicted by the Lewis Model of developmental economics. Germany was approaching a situation when workers’ salaries were to increase. The agricultural sector had also demonstrated huge transitional accomplishments. With hardly any increase in manpower, some branches managed to double or even triple their productivity. Grant considers this as key evidence of a pre-industrial pattern of “institutionalized underemployment” which existed at the beginning of the period. What actually happened is that rural areas had released the labor surplus and accommodated to the rules of market economy. Discussing political developments, Grant points out the changes in the social background of the socialist candidates. While in 1907 about one third of socialist candidates were workers, by 1912 only 14.3 per cent of them belonged to this group, with private sector managers and entrepreneurs constituting the majority. In public life, the party tried to play a loyal and constructive role.  
Taking all these facts into account, Germany might be taken as an example for successfully conducted rapid industrialization and the overall transformation of society. Why then has there been so much emphasis on German exceptionalism, Sonderweg, incomplete modernization, etc.? Grant suggests that this perception came from a wrong perspective of comparison: The Wilhelmine Germany as transitional, developing society has been compared with the mature states of Western Europe. Compared to other historical examples of developing economies, the German case appears to be a highly successful one both in terms of social and economic transition. Grant carries this thesis to an extreme conclusion: “Imperial Germany was not moving towards an internally generated catastrophe, but was a society with as good a chance of achieving full economic maturity, social modernization, and political democratization as any other.”