Change is something that is ever present in the world and it has been since the beginning of time. Politics and political systems have not by any stretch of the imagination been immune to this. Merriam-Webster simply defines change as making different in some particular. Political change is the shift in institutions, processes, values, leaders, and culture within a political system within a region. Countries have gone through different levels of change through the generations. You can see an interesting comparison when taking a country such as Germany, which has gone through rapid change over the past 150 years through several political systems, sets of values, and institutions compared to a country such as England, which has undergone minimal change in almost 1000 years. The factors that cause the levels of instability and speed at which they occur are many. Again, Germany is a great example of a country to study because of just how much change it has undergone.
Since 1871, Germany has been through eight separate government styles and structures. In the latter parts of the 19th century into the 20th century it was an empire. Following the end of the empire, Germany's government structure was the Weimar Republic. This led into possibly the most infamous of all governments, which was the third Reich fascist Nazi dictatorship. This led into one of the most unsettling times of any country not only in Europe, but also, in the world. From 1949-1990 there were concurrent governments in Germany. The west was a blossoming democracy while the east was an oppressive communist regime. This dichotomy, which was the center and poster child of the Cold War, lasted until 1990. At the end of this, Germany finally was reunited as working towards the democratic government that it has today.
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That kind of change can really make people wonder. Countless political scientists have studied it over the past century trying to figure out what it is that makes a country such as Germany remain in so much turmoil. There have been many theories as to why this has been so. It has been postulated that the reason they have undergone so much change is that they never had their middle class revolution. It has also been argued that Germany is just a "sick nation", and many people argues that Germany as a whole must perish for the good of society.
The type of change that occurred
To examine the changes on the German political systems one must take them on a case-by-case basis. Each of these regime changes has been different in their very nature. The German Empire, which was a constitutional monarchy in structure, was founded on January 18, 1871. The Germany Empire was brought to an end at the close of the First World War. The Weimar Republic succeeded it. The Weimar Republic was a parliamentary republic. It emerged from the German Revolution that took place in November 1918. The name came from the city that the constitution was drawn up in. No matter the intentions or the drive that was behind the Weimar Republic, many considered it to be doomed from the start. Due to the catastrophic financial burdens of the Treaty of Versailles, the government lapsed into tremendous debt and hyperinflation. Despite a few reformative victories for the government, it never was able to have a transformative effect that could lead to any semblance of stability. The radicalism that the turmoil caused led directly to the regime that replaced the Weimar Republic.
Sources of the changes
The totalitarian dictatorship of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or "Nazi" party, is perhaps the most infamous era of government in the past thousand years. The transformation from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi government was one of relative peacefulness. It was started through election into the Reichstag Parliament and eventually the dissolution of parliament. After the dissolution of parliament, Adolf Hitler was officially sworn in as chancellor. After his election, Hitler sought to have uninterrupted totalitarian power and introduced legislation that would eventually lead to this such as the Enabling Act which allowed governmental decisions to be made without the approval of the Reichstag even if they went against the constitution. In this way the change of government was done all within the bounds of the previous government and their regulations. Following the Treaty of Versailles crippling effects of the country as well as the general discontent that overtook Germany post war, the changes offered by the Nazi party represented hope and prosperity to the German people regardless of their means of doing it and their true agenda. For all of the issues Germany had after the war, the Nazi government was able to accomplish much in the way of getting Germany back on track after the crippling effects of the treaty. The government rewrote the laws of the country to benefit Hitler's agenda. Hitler even appointed himself President on top of the position of Chancellor after Paul von Hindenburg's death, gaining even more power and leaving him with true totalitarian powers. Hitler did many things in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles but was never stopped. Whether it was the rearmament of the Germany military or the retaking of many territories, Germany was building itself back from the oppressive Treaty. Nobody can accuse the Nazi government of lacking ambition as they marched across Europe, heading the start of the Second World War that would eventually lead to it's own demise.
Consequences of the changes
The close of the Nazi government is obviously most noted by the close of the Second World War. Once again the losing country seen to be at fault, Germany was doomed to be torn up again at the mercy of the victorious side. To begin with the country was split up into four regions, each controlled by one of the four victorious countries Russia, America, France, and England. Eventually France, England, and America merged sections of Germany leaving what was known as West Germany, while the Soviets kept their side, East Germany. This transformation was not the dramatic uprising of powers or hostile takeover of the past. It was seen as an inevitable consequence of once again being the losing side to a war. Post war West became a budding democracy while the East fell under communistic Soviet control. This dichotomy in such a small country, smaller than the size of Texas, is seen as the poster child for the entire Cold War. Military governments were the norm in all German lands in the immediate aftermath of the war.
The East fell under a socialist regime that was headed up by the Russians. While by 1949, the government of the British, American and French zones had combined to create West Germany, with it's capital in Bonn. The two sides moved in opposite directions over the coming decades. Eventually by the mid 1980's the West was a prospering democracy and the East was crippled under the reign of the Russians financially and with overall quality of life. When the Berlin wall fell and the East was reunited with the West, there was and still is to an extent a period of attempting to bring the East to par with the west in terms of democracy and capitalism. Through all of the trials and tribulations in the past 150 years however, Germany has gone from the poster child of the Cold War to a poster child of democracy and capitalism and how a country can change it economic and political stars in order to provide a better life for it's citizens.
Russia is another example of a country that has undergone a fair amount of changes throughout its history. It has not been as rapid or as dramatic as the changes that have occurred in Germany by any stretch, but the country to this day is far from a stable democracy. The lands that represent Russia have been under various reigns and control throughout history that includes the Mongolians and several small ruling groups due to the vast expanse of land that is Russia. Perhaps an acceptable time to look at the beginning of Russia political transformation is the formation of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Type of change that occurred
Prior to the Russia Revolution, Russia had been a tsarist autocracy. The region had undergone many formations and regimes over the thousands of years it has been in existence but the time of Ivan the Terrible is widely recognized as the time when the position of the tsar had grown the most in power and in scope. Under a tsarist autocracy, the tsar is the supreme ruler. He has a large ownership of everything from land to enterprises.
The source of the changes
In the early 20th century, the Russian people became increasingly dissatisfied with the tsarist rule. Between the embarrassing defeats suffered in the First World War to the defeat In the Russo-Japanese War, things were not performing at a peak level on the international scale. Things inside the borders of Russia were not much better. There was growing dissatisfaction with the living conditions and people such as Rasputin increased the levels of discontent with the current system as it was in place. In a series of bloody revolutions, the country was able to overthrow the final tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. His family and him were then eventually brutally murdered, including his thirteen-year-old son. This was not a smooth transition into a stable government that took place. The Russian Revolution led off the Russian Civil War, which lasted until 1923. The provisional government however, which was a republic by nature with a President and many ministers, only lasted until October of 1917, just a few short months after Nicholas had been abdicated.
Consequences of the changes
In October of 1917, in a joint effort of the Bolsheviks and the Red Army, overthrew the provisional government and implanted their own in another revolutionary attack. They then implanted their communist government, which became the biggest and most powerful communist government that this world has probably ever seen. With the world being fully entrenched in World War I as well as the internal fighting of Russia, between the Red and White armies, the Bolsheviks attempted to enact a form of wartime communism. This lasted until the White Army was defeated finally. Full-fledged communism, with a complete lack of private industry did not take effect until the country had stabilized from the Civil War and Stalin took office in 1928. This government was both famous and infamous at the exact same time. The quality of life was never of supreme concern to the communist regime. It was made up of several parts. The leader, or first secretary, was the head of the party. There was also the Politburo, the group that made decisions, which was made up of many different groups. There was also the Central Committee, which was essentially the top of the party body, which was in charge of all activities of the party.
This governmental regime lasted almost six decades before it began to collapse. Due once again to a poor quality of life, but also the failure of their efforts in Afghanistan and catastrophes such as Chernobyl caused many within Russia to become weary once again with the government in place. These many events lead to the corrosion of the communist government, as it no longer had the support of the people it was governing, and Russians longed for a change. Gorbachev made many attempts at reform to stabilize the government but despite a few minor policy successes, it was largely a failure that was the final straw leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse took almost two full years to be complete with many of its constituents breaking off and forming their own independent governments. There was much violence in the times of this change in countries such as Lithuania. A coup d'état was attempted to overthrow Gorbachev made by many members of the Soviet government that lasted three days. It ultimately failed but this led to the even further weakening of his powers. As this had shown up to this point, the change of political systems throughout the former Soviet Union was very heated and drawn out through much area and time. On December 31st of 1991 Russia was officially accepted as the successor to the Soviet Union.
The Russian Federation, as it is now known, has undergone change since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a government that is riddled with corruption and this has hampered much of the attempts to modernize and democratize the country to the levels of the Western world. The mafia and other groups make the democratization of the country very difficult as well. Despite what the country is considered to be governmentally, it is a subject that is up for much debate as to how we should really classify the Russian government. It has been titled a Federal semi-presidential republic. There is a president but the prime minister appoints him. The prime minister still maintains a vast array of powers and abilities to manipulate the government to follow through with his wishes including the ability to disband the Duma, or legislative body, if his pick for president is denied on three occasions. There are also many ministers in the Russian government, which act to head several departments within the government such as finance and defense. Although the political culture and structure is still riddled with corruption and issues, Russia is considered to be among the four large developing or BRIC countries, along with India, China, and Brazil. The future of the Russian government is one that has a lot of questions, as even the citizenry of the country, who are used to a strong head of state, are not truly unanimous in support of democracy. One thing is for certain though, Russia is a country that has undergone much political change in the past century and that it will continue to grow and change as time moves forward in hopes of moving towards a stabilized democracy as many in the country do still strive for.
If these examples of governmental change can prove anything, is it that there is much variation in types, scope, and longevity of political change. There are few specifics that ring true throughout time and between multiple countries and their political changes. There are a few general ideas one can take from just looking at countries such as Germany and Russia. One is that when things get bad enough, a countries electorate can rise up and take the steps it feels necessary to settle the country to be better for all that live there. Revolutions have a powerful effect on government and it can be seen in many countries around the world that often structure the country so as to prevent revolution as much as possible in order to keep the status quo intact. Also, the outside pressures that the geopolitical world around a country exerts can have an enormous effect on what goes on within that country. Often these forces are directly on the government itself, but often it is just the very presence of the outside world that leads to malcontent with government and can cause the needed desire to create change politically in a country. Even as you look at the political climate today in our own country, you can see much of the same things ringing true in our stabilized democracy, which is seen as the end game of political development. Movements such as the Tea Party Express show how grass roots efforts in a short period of time can turn into something, and when you put it on a larger scale of discontent with the government such as seen through different times in Germany, Russia, and to an extent England, the dramatic and lasting effects that it is capable of having. All of these cases across the board in the end show that change is ever present in the world and in government be it an unstable blossoming colonial government or a stabilized and powerful democracy, the world never stops turning and changing, and those that refuse to embrace it, either in government or as a general rule, will collapse.