Social Democratic Party of Germany

Published 19th September, 2013

The Social Democratic Party of Germany or SPD has a long history which can be traced back to 1863 and the General Association of German Workers (ADA) and 1869 when the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDAP) was founded. In 1875 these two forces were merged to form the Socialist Labour Party of Germany, but this was outlawed from 1878 by Chancellor Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws. Legal once more in 1890 the party changed its name to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

The party describes itself as Centre-left and believes in Social democracy and the Third Way.

By 1912 the SPD was the largest party in the Reichstag. During World War One the party split into a pro-war and an anti-war faction. The anti-war faction later became the Communist Party of Germany whilst the other faction played an active part in the post-war Weimar Republic.

After World War Two the SPD was re-established in both the Western and Soviet occupation zones but by 1949 it had been forced to merge into the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In the West the SPD did well in the first federal elections to the Bundestag in 1949 emerging as the largest single party with 131 of the 402 seats.

They were, however, unable to form a government because the CDU and CSU with 139 seats formed a coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) on 52 seats. The SPD were to remain out of office until 1969 despite being the largest or second largest single party in the Bundestag during that period.

In 1959 the SPD decided to adopt the Godesberg Programme which abandoned Marxist theory, embraced private ownership and reversed the party’s opposition to NATO and European Economic Community (EEC) membership.

In October 1966 the SPD entered into coalition with the CDU/CSU and Willy Brandt became Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister. In 1969 the SPD broke the 40% barrier for a federal election for the first time and won 237 of the 518 seats in the Bundestag. For the first time they were in a position to take power which they did with the support of the FDP.

Brandt became West German Chancellor and led the party to further victory in 1972 when they took 45.8% of the vote and 230 of the 496 seats in parliament. In 1974 Brandt was forced to resign when it was discovered that a member of his secretariat was an East German spy; Brandt was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt. Under Schmidt’s leadership the party won the 1976 and 1980 federal elections but the government finally collapsed in 1982 when the FDP withdrew their support and joined a coalition with the CDU/CSU.

The SPD support trailed off and it lost the 1983, 1987, 1990 and 1994 federal elections. Reunification of the two Germanys also saw a reunification of the two SPDs in 1990. However they were not able to capitalise on their renewed strength until 1998. In March that year they elected Gerhard Schröder as their Chancellor candidate and in September the SPD won 298 of the 669 seats in the Bundestag with 43.8% of the vote and were able to form the first Red/Green coalition with the Greens.

Bad press for the CDU meant that the SPD were able to win once more in 2002 and they confirmed a new coalition deal with the Greens.

In 2005 the result was a nail biter with the SPD on 222 seats and the CDU/CSU on 226 seats. After several months of negotiations the CDU/CSU and SPD agreed a ‘Grand Coalition’ deal where the CDU leader, Angela Merkel would become Chancellor and the two parties would share eight seats each in the 16 member Cabinet.

Despite what was described as a boring election, the CDU/CSU prevailed in 2009, taking 196 seats compared with the SPDs 146 seats (the SPD lost 76 seats in that election) and the CDU/CSU went on to form a government with the FDP. The SPD were back in opposition.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a member of the Progressive Alliance and of Socialist International. It is also a member of the Party of European Socialists and in the European Parliament where it holds 23 of the 99 national seats the party is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group.

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