Center Party

   Founded in the Prussian Abgeordnetenhaus in 1858 as Fraktion des Zentrums, the Center Party was the political voice of Prussian, and later German, Catholicism. Although plans were conceived in the Republic's early months to change its name and to appeal to Protestants* and workers—the Center campaigned in January 1919 as the Christliche Volkspartei (Christian People's Party)—such ideas were abandoned when it became clear that fears of a socialist Kulturkampf(Bismarck's policy of branding Catholics* subversives and denying them civil rights) were chimerical. Thus there was little in the Weimar years to distinguish the Party from its imperial counterpart (its Bavarian branch, favoring federalism above centralization, became known as the Bavarian People's Party*). Other than that its membership was Catholic, the Center's electorate, especially after the enfranchisement of women,* was a mi-crocosm of Germany. Since the country's Catholic population was reduced by the Versailles Treaty* in far greater proportion than its Protestant population, the Party's Reichstag* faction dropped by just under a quarter. Moreover, throughout the Weimar years it experienced a steady loss of electoral support. Meanwhile, studies of voter patterns indicated that women's suffrage provided the Center with a more stable base of support than would otherwise have been the case—a fact that annoyed the old hierarchy.
   As a party representing both a religious minority and a broad socioeconomic spectrum, the Center generally supported positions favoring toleration and de-mocracy during the Weimar years. But open-mindedness came at a price: many priests, intellectuals, and Catholic landowners, repelled by democracy and the Party's inclination to work with socialists, deserted the Center in favor of the DNVP. At the same time, however, only the most reactionary Catholics regretted the passing of the Hohenzollern monarchy. Ultimately, by tolerating the Repub-lic, the Center became one of the Weimar Coalition* parties with the SPD and the DDP.
   The Center's religious basis served increasingly as a handicap to political compromise, especially where issues of church and state were entangled. Grow-ing ambivalence with parliamentary democracy led the Center from solidarity with the SPD during Weimar's early years (e.g., in passage of the 1922 Law for the Protection of the Republic*) to association with the DNVP (inspired by a resolution to maintain separate confessional schools). Moreover, its loose al-liance with the liberal Windthorstbund, a Catholic youth group linked with the Party since the 1870s, became increasingly uncomfortable. Internal discord erupted in 1927 when Finance Minister and Party colleague Heinrich Kohler* drafted a provocative civil-service salary increase; damned by Adam Stegerwald,* leader of the Catholic labor movement, the bill divided the Party's Reichstag faction. Germania, the Party's official newspaper, struggled through-out the Weimar era to define Center policy; its editorial pages mirrored the political conflict between leftist and rightist proponents.
   The analysis of the Center Party by Ellen Evans accents an important point: founded originally as a defender of Catholic interests, the Center was so suc-cessful at shaping the Weimar Constitution,* thereby giving Catholics every-thing for which they had toiled for five decades, that its role as advocate for a threatened minority became anachronistic. Gradually comprehending the change, its leadership grew conservative and turned to the Right. In 1933, under the dubious leadership of Ludwig Kaas,* the Party surrendered its parliamentary responsibility by voting for Hitler's* Enabling Act.*
   REFERENCES:Ellen Evans, "Center Wages Kulturpolitik" and German Center Party; Morsey, Deutsche Zentrumspartei and Untergang; Scholder, Churches and the Third Reich.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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