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The Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei DeutschlandsSPD) is Germany's oldest political party. The party governed at the federal level in a grand coalition with the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union from 2005 until October 27, 2009. It conceded defeat in the federal election of September 2009, with its share of votes having dropped from 34.2% to 23%, compared to 2005, and became the largest opposition party represented in the Bundestagmarker. The party participates in seven state governments, of which five are governed by SPD minister-presidents. The SPD is a member party of the Party of European Socialists and the Socialist International.

Party platform

The SPD was established as a socialist party in 1875. However, the SPD underwent a major shift in policies reflected in the differences between the Heidelberg Program of 1925, which "called for the transformation of the capitalist system of private ownership of the means of production to social ownership", and the Godesberg Program of 1959, which aimed to broaden its voter base and move its political position toward the center. After World War II, under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher, the SPD re-established itself as a socialist party, representing the interests of the working class and the trade unions. With the Godesberg Program of 1959, however, the party evolved from a socialist working class party to a social democratic party.

The current party platform of the SPD espouses the goal of social democracy, which is seen as a vision of a societal arrangement in which freedom and social justice are paramount. According to the party platform, freedom, justice, and social solidarity, form the basis of social democracy. The coordinated social market economy should be strengthened, and its output should be distributed fairly. The party sees that economic system as necessary in order to ensure the affluence of the entire population. The SPD also tries to protect the society's disadvantaged with a welfare state. Concurrently, it advocates a sustainable fiscal policy that doesn't place a burden on future generations while eradicating budget deficits. In social policy, the SPD stands for civil rights in an open society. In foreign policy, the SPD aims at ensuring global peace by balancing global interests with democratic means. Thus, European integration is one of the main priorities of the SPD.

Internal groupings

The SPD is mostly composed of members belonging to either of the two main wings: keynesian, left-wing, social democrats, and the centrist, moderate social democrats belonging to the Seeheimer Kreis. While the moderate, Seeheimer Kreis social democrats strongly support the reformist programs introduced by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the keynesian, left-wing social democrats continue to defend classically left-wing policies such as the expansion of the welfare state. The classically left-wing of the SPD claims that in recent years the welfare state has been curtailed through reform programs such as the Agenda 2010 and the more economically liberal stance of the SPD, which was endorsed by the moderate social democrats.

Base of support

Social structure

Before World War II, as the main non-revolutionary left-wing party, the Social Democrats fared best among non-Catholic workers as well as intellectuals favoring socially progressive causes and increased economic equality. Led by Kurt Schumacher after World War II, the SPD initially opposed both the social market economy and Konrad Adenauer's drive towards western integration fiercely, but after Schumacher's death, it accepted the social market economy and Germany's position in the Western alliance in order to appeal to a broader range of voters. It still remains associated with the economic causes of unionized employees and working class voters. In the 1990s, the left and moderate wings of the party drifted apart, culminating in a secession of a significant number of party members, which later joined the socialist party The Left (Die Linke).

Geographic distribution

Geographically, much of the SPD's support nowadays comes from large cities, especially of northern and western Germany and Berlin. The metropolitan area of the Ruhr Area, where coal mining and steel production were once the biggest sources of revenues, have provided a significant base for the SPD in the 20th century, and in the state of Bremenmarker, made up of the cities of Bremenmarker and Bremerhavenmarker, the SPD has governed without interruption since 1949. In southern Germany, the SPD typically garners little support except in the largest cities; at the 2009 federal election the party lost its only constituency in the entire state of Bavariamarker (in Munichmarker). Small town and rural support comes especially from the traditionally Protestant areas of northern Germany and Brandenburgmarker (with notable exceptions such as Western Pomerania, from where Angela Merkel was handily re-elected in 2005) and a number of university towns. A striking example of the general pattern is the traditionally Catholic Emslandmarker, where the Social Democrats generally gain a low percentage of votes, whereas the Protestant region of East Frisia directly to the north is one of their strongest constituencies. Further south, the SPD also enjoys solid support in northern Hessemarker (Hans Eichel was mayor of Kasselmarker, then Hesse's minister president, then finance minister in the Schröder administration, while Brigitte Zypries serves as Justice Minister), parts of Palatinate (Kurt Beck was party leader until September 7, 2008), the Saarlandmarker (political home of one-time candidate for federal chancellor Oskar Lafontaine, defected from the SPD in 1999), and southwestern Baden (Marion Caspers-Merk, Gernot Erler).


After its establishment in 1869, a milestone was the merging of the General German Workingmens' Society (1863) and the Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1875, under the name Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei. From 1878 to 1890 the party was banned, but it still gained support in elections. In the last year that the party was banned was the same time when its current name was founded. In the years until World War I, the party remained ideologically radical, although many party officials tended to be moderate in everyday politics. By 1912, the party became the strongest by votes.

Despite the agreement of the Second International to oppose the First World War, the SPD voted in favor of war in 1914. In response to this and the Bolshevik Revolution, members of the far-left of the SPD formed alternative parties, first the USPD (Independent SPD) and later the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). After 1918 the SPD played an important role in the political system of the Weimar Republicmarker, although it took part in coalition governments only in few years (1918-1921, 1923, 1928-1930). Adolf Hitler prohibited the party in 1933 under the Enabling Act - some party officials were imprisoned, killed or went into exile. In exile, it used the name SOPADE.

In 1945, the allied occupants in the Western zones initially allowed four parties to be established, which led to the Christian Democratic Union, the Free Democratic Party, the Communist Party of Germany, and the SPD being established. In the Soviet Zone of Occupation, the Soviets forced the Social Democrats to form a common party with the Communists (SED). In the Western zones, the authorities re-instated the Nazi ban on the Communist Party. Since 1949, in the Federal Republic of Germany, the SPD has been one of the two major parties, with the other being the Christian Democratic Union. From 1969 to 1982 and 1998 to 2005 the chancellors were Social Democrats.


  1. Brustein, William. Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party 1925-1933. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996. p. 131.
  2. Cooper, Alice Holmes. Paradoxes of Peace: German Peace Movements since 1945. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1996. p. 85

See also

Further reading

  • Carl E. Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905–1917: The Development of the Great Schism (Harvard University Press, 1955).
  • Vernon L. Lidtke, The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy in Germany, 1878–1890 (Princeton University Press, 1966).
  • Abraham J. Berlau The German Social Democratic Party, 1914–1921 (Columbia University Press, 1949).
  • Erich Matthias, The Downfall of the Old Social Democratic Party in 1933 pages 51–105 from Republic to Reich The Making of the Nazi Revolution Ten Essays edited by Hajo Holborn, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972).

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