Saturday, June 08, 2013

The German SPD at 150-plus

Die SPD war als Befreiungsbewegung, als Bildungs- und Demokratiebewegung erfolgreich. Sie ist die erste und größte Bürgerinitiative der deutschen Geschichte, sie hat aus Proletariern Bürger gemacht. Die Sozialdemokratie hat Deutschland verändert, auch auf ihren Ideen baut das gesamteuropäische Gesellschaftsmodell. Auf ihren Ideen gründet der Sozialstaat, fußt die gemeinsame Vorstellung davon, dass soziale Ungleichheit nicht gottgegeben ist. Dieser große sozialdemokratische Konsensus fast aller politischen Kräfte nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg war eine Frucht, die afn Baum der SPD gereift ist.

[The SPD was successful as a freedom movement, as an educational and democratic movement. It is the first and greatest citizens' initiative of German history, it made proletarians into citizens. The Social Democracy changed Germany, and on its ideas the general European social model is constructed. The social state was founded on its ideas, which contained the general concept that social inequality is not God-given. This great social-democratic consensus of nearly all political forces after the Second World War was a fruit that ripened on the tree of the SPD.]
That fulsome praise for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the occasion of its 150th birthday this year is from Heribert Prantl in "Genosse Sisyphos" Süddeutsche Zeitung 18/19/20.05.2013.

But as Prantl implies in that article and in SPD und Sozialistische Internationale: Auf Distanz zur Tradition Süddeutsche Zeitung 23.05.2013, the SPD celebrated the occasion almost as though they were more embarrassed about their history than proud of it. Even their chief opponent in this year national parliamentary elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel who is ruling the eurozone in the grim tradition of Herbert Hoover and the "Hunger Chancellor" Heinrich Brüning, was there in the front run as a special guest at the official event on May 23. The SPD at least had the semblance of dignity not to invite her to speak. But she did offer her praise for service of the SPD to German democracy. Which she should, since the SPD has sheepishly supported her Hoover-Brüning policies. Her first Chancellorship was at the head of a Grand Coalition government with the SPD. The current SPD Chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, uh, distinguished (?) himself as a firm advocate of the Grand Coalition's successful effort to raise the German retirement age from 65 to 67, which his friend Merkel-Brüning recently cynically praised this way:

A person who is 70 today is like a 60-year-old 25 years ago. Aging alone is not a reason for a society to stop being innovative. Fortunately attitudes toward aging are changing. Staying active and life-long learning are becoming increasingly important. Many old people have a great deal of experience to contribute. This was not sufficiently taken into account when early retirement programs came into effect in Germany. Because we want to maintain our standard of living, we decided to extend the retirement age to 67, so that people can work longer than in the past. Many can and want to do so. (Angela Merkel on Europe: 'We Are All in the Same Boat' Spiegel International 06/03/2013)
Steinbrück himself defended that position just last year with a version of the Thatcherite catchword TINA (There Is No Alternative), the hallmark of neoliberal depoliticizing of critical social issues. (Rente mit 67: SPD-Revolte gegen Peer Steinbrücks Rentenpolitik Focus 06.01.2012). According to Steinbrück, mathematics made it necessary: the aging population, blah, blah, the same argument we hear endlessly in America from the Pete Peterson Foundation and its various front groups who would dearly love to privatize Social Security. The EU (read: Merkel) is pushing the rest of the eurozone to adopt the same retrograde, cruel policy.

Albrecht von Lucke wrote earlier this year, "One thing that cannot be said of the SPD Chancellor candidate: that he hasn't done everything to help Angela Merkel attain a third Chancellorship." He is most likely hoping to return the SPD to its role as junior partner in a second Grand Coalition with Merkel to help her preside over the crushing of the southern European countries and the end of the euro. Though ending the euro is neither his intent nor Merkel's. They want to keep the eurozone together because Germany benefits tremendously (at the end of other eurozone members) by the euro being a cheaper currency than a new D-Mark would be and because the end of the euro would leave the Bundesbank holding the bag for hundreds of billions in useless assets under the euro-specific Target 2 clearing mechanism. But saving the euro looks highly improbable with the Hoover-Brüning austerity policies both Merkel and Steinbrück support.

This timidity was reflected in the painfully "safe" history the SPD presented of itself. This DPA article, Mehr als nur die alte Tante: Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie wird 150 Jahre alt Leipziger Volkszeitung 22.05.2013, hits the high points of the SPD's history in a way that probably wouldn't make even Peer Steinbrück uncomfortable. Names like Karl Marx, who was far more influential in the early decades of the SPD than Ferdinand Lasalle who the SPD now celebrates as its founder, and the brutal Gustav Noske, were not much in evidence in the celebratory historical sketches. The Old Aunt ("alte Tante") in the article's title is a good indication of how the SPD is looking these days to a lot of voters. The DPA piece touches on these high points in SPD history:

  • Founding of the Allgemeine Deutsch Arbeiterverein (ADAV) by Ferdinand Lasalle on May 23, 1863
  • Fight for the 8-hour day
  • Bismarck's Anti-Socialist Law of 1878-1890, during which time the SPD grew to become the leading party
  • The decades-long party leadership of "Arbeiterkaiser" ("Workers' Emperor") August Bebel
  • The SPD's fight for workers' rights, parliamentary democracy and equality for women
  • The SPD's split over support of the Kaiser's war effort during the Great War (World War I); the DPA report ludicrously blames the antiwar faction for setting the SPD up as the scapegoats of the postwar stab-in-the-back legend (Dolchstoßlegende)
  • Establishment of the Weimar democracy by the SPD
  • Winning women's suffrage in Germany
  • Providing the first female member of the German parliament in 1919, Marie Juchacz
  • The SPD's 1925 call for a United States of Europe, which is seen as one of the milestones on the way to the European Union
  • The SPD's last-ditch stand against Hitler's Emergency Law, which gave him dictatorial powers with results that are well known; DPA does note that the forerunners of today's CDU/CSU and FDP parties voted for the emergency Law
  • Post-Second World War SPD leader Kurt Schumacher calling Konrad Adenauer the "Chancellor of the Allies"
  • The Godesberg Programm of 1959, which DPA notes was a "farewell to Marxist goals" (which the article doesn't previously note that it ever held)
  • Anti-Nazi resistance fighter Willy Brandt's Chancellorship and his Ostpolitik of easing relations with the eastern European Communist countries
  • Helmut Schmidt and the "German autumn," the most intense period of the terrorism of the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion)
  • SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's neoliberal "Hartz reforms" that weakened workers' security and lowered wages, part of Schröder's Agenda 2010 program, which former Chancellor Schmidt praises in the article as being a wonderful accomplishment

The May 23 celebration was held in Leipzig and the Leipziger Volkszeitung has a webpage collecting a number of articles on the event, SPD Jubiläum in Leipzig.

I have discussed the history of the SPD in various posts here, including:

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