The Fall of Social Democrats

The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Martin Schulz makes a phone call during the party congress of the SPD on December 9, 2017, in Berlin.
Germany’s Social Democrats, the country’s second strongest party, agreed to kick off exploratory talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives that could lead to a new coalition government early next year. / AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL

In 1875, when the General German Workers’ Union (led by Ferdinand Lassalle) and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (led by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht) merged, the two parties formed what we today know of as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) (Conradt 2018). No one could have imagined the path forward the party and the newly unified Reich would take. The Social Democratic Party’s (SPD’s) survival all these years is particularly surprising given the history of Germany and the geopolitical region. I argue that the fall of the SPD can be directly credited to actions taken by the party and its inability to respond to the political currents of the nation.

Below, I first provide a brief historical sketch of the SPD. I then discuss the political currents of Germany leading to its actions that I believe has led to the fall of the party. Finally, I provide some possible corrections that may have led to the party’s revival.

Shortly after the Social Democratic Party (SPD) formed, from 1878 to 1890, the party was officially outlawed. Despite being outlawed, the party became the largest party elected to the Reichstag (“Imperial Diet”) in 1912 (Conradt 2018). Nonetheless, their dominance did not last long because of the party’s action in 1914 supporting the war credits for World War I which led to an internal split in the party. The centrists formed the Independent Social Democratic Party while the leftists formed the Spartacus League, which in 1918 became the Communist Party of Germany (KDP) (Conradt 2018).

By 1933, the party held only 120 of the 647 seats in the Reichstag to the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party/Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) 288 and the Communists’ 81 (Conradt 2018). The NSDAP (Nazis) used their new power to elect Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany and outlawed the SPD.

Following the fall of the Third Reich and of Hitler’s power in 1945, the SPD was revived. It became the only political party that survived both the years of the Weimar Republic and the atrocities of Hitler and the Third Reich.

Jumping ahead to the 1957 election the SPD initiated a reassessment of the party. Many voters were satisfied with West Germany’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Economic Community (EEC). The party’s emphasis on reuniting the country with a more neutralist foreign policy did not reach many voters and was thrown out. Therefore, at the Bad Godesberg 1959 special party conference, the SPD ended its commitment to socialism and instead embraced the market economy. The party also endorsed the NATO alliance (Conradt 2018).

Finally, from 1961 to 1972 the SPD made great improvements in their vote share in the federal elections by increasing their vote from 36 to 46 percent (Conradt 2018). The party in 1966 entered a grand coalition (Gross Koalition/GroKo) with the Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) or in German Christlich Demokratische Union-Christlich Sozial Union.

Later, from 1969 to 1982 the SPD formed a coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) or in German Freie Demokratische Partei (Conradt 2018). But the coalition was doomed. Beginning in the late 1970s the coalition had to deal with the rise of the environmentalist Green Party (Grüne Partei) (Buck 2018). The final blow to the coalition that brought it down was in 1982 when Chancellor Schmidt indicated his support of the NATO plan to deploy Pershing II nuclear missiles on West German land. This was followed by the FDP ousting the SPD and the election of the CDU’s Helmut Kohl as chancellor (Conradt 2018).

Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and reunification in 1990. With it came a new political rival to the SPD, the former Socialist party of East Germany (German Democratic Republic (GDR) or in German Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)). That party then morphed into Die Linke (the Left) and thus the SPD was attacked from the left (Buck 2018). The response from the SPD was to move to the center and adopt a more centrist agenda.

In 1998, the SPD under Gerhard Schröder was able to form a coalition with the Green Party. His platform included lower taxes and cuts in government spending. He was narrowly reelected in 2002 when thousands of SPD party members left in protest of the cuts to unemployment benefits and health care. This led to devasting parliamentary election results in 2009. The party won 23 percent and only won 146 of their previous 222 seats (Conradt 2018).

Therefore, I come to the most recent federal election in Germany, the election on 24 September 2017. In this election, the SPD lost more than 1.7 million votes (Buck 2018). The party’s vote share dropped to 20.5 percent, the worst result since the creation of the federal republic in 1949 (Buck 2018).

I believe that the SPD can be directly credited to actions taken by the party and its inability to properly respond to political currents that led to its fall. I believe the first mistake that led to this path was when the party leadership supported the NATO plan to deploy the Pershing II nuclear missiles in West Germany. The second was SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s centrist agenda including the Hartz IV programme. Hartz IV refers to a reform of welfare and unemployment regulations named after Peter Hartz. It includes deep cuts to unemployment benefits and made payment conditional on tighter rules for job search and acceptance (Buck 2018). And finally, I believe that the SPD has a youth problem. The party does not know how to include and lift up these voices, the next generation of voters.

First, I believe that the SPD should have listened and lifted up the concerns of the people in opposition to the NATO plan to deploy the Pershing II nuclear missiles. I believe that would have given the peace and environmental movements a place within the party instead of forming the Green party.

Second, which I believe was the SPD’s most harmful mistake was to adopt a centrist agenda including the Hartz IV programme. “The SPD has a leadership problem and a narrative problem,” said Andrea Römmele, a professor at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance (Buck 2018). “The party has no story to tell the voters, and a story is what voters need.” Andrea is correct, the path to the center, I believe led to a loss of identity or an identity crisis for the party.

The SPD previously stood for, “all social and political equality,” lifting “exploitation in all its forms,” according to the Gotha programme (Buck 2018). The party called for no work on Sundays, universal suffrage, free and universal education and freedom of speech. But, now it seems to be about fighting to prop up the status quo, capitalism, and Chancellor Merkel.

Generation after generation the party fails to listen and lift up the voices of the youth, who are the next generation of voters. The party failed in the 70s-80s and in the early 2000s, and now again. The SPD youth wing was opposed to the plan by SPD leadership to form yet another GroKo with Merkel’s conservatives.

“For the first time in many years, we have a young generation where many sense that they will not automatically be able to live better than their parents. People on low salaries have seen their wages stagnate, or even fall. They can afford less than they could at the end of the 1990s. I don’t need to have a big macroeconomic debate with them: they know they do not belong to society’s winners,” said Kevin Kühnert, the chief of the SPD youth wing (Buck 2018).

The SPD must return to its core principles, the social welfare state; that the strong bear some responsibility for weaker members of society; and that everyone should have the same opportunity to fully participate in society (Mayr, et. al. 2018). I believe returning to these principles and reminding the voters of the many accomplishments of Social Democrats in shaping Western Europe will go a long way in bringing the party back.

Nevertheless, while returning to their core principles, I believe the SPD must do more to actively engage young people. I believe the party cannot do that without recognizing that it is the policies of centrism and Merkel’s conservatives that have led to young people, minorities, and union members being left behind. According to a poll by Civey for Spiegel Online, only about 13 percent of the 18 to 29-year-olds would vote for the SPD (Hagen 2018).

That same age group just under 28 percent would instead vote for the Greens, with the CDU/CSU in second place (Hagen 2018). Therefore, in a snap election, it is the Greens that could overtake the SPD as Germany’s largest left-wing force (Weise 2018).

If the SPD continues its current course, it may be the Greens turn to be the party of the youth and of the future. “The Greens got their ideas on digitization and infrastructure across very well,” said Svea Windwehr, a 26-year-old student from Munich (Weise 2018). Svea goes on to say, “Those are topics I care about, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to vote for them [the Greens]. It was also a vote against the SPD, because of what went on in government (Weise 2018).”

In 2000, Social Democratic Parties were part of the government in 10 out of the 15 countries that made up the European Union (EU) at that time (Mayr, et. al. 2017). Currently, Social Democratic Parties are part of the government in 7 of the current 28 EU member states. Those states include Germany, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic (Mayr, et. al. 2017). However, if the SPD in Germany is unable to win back voters from Die Linke and Die Grüne, I believe the SPD will become a splinter party.

This paper illustrates a brief historical sketch of the SPD and Germany, illuminated by the impact of some key events and actions taken by SPD leadership, that I believe directly led to the fall of the party. In this paper, I have provided possible course corrections that may have changed the path that the SPD took to get where they are today with its lowest showing in the Bundestag (German Parliament).

References

Abe, et. al. (16.2.2018). German Politics Enters Era of Instability. Der Spiegel http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-political-landscape-crumbling-as-merkel-coalition-forms-a-1193947.html, 25.11.2018

Buck, Tobias. (16.10.2018). How social democracy lost its way: a report from Germany. Financial Times http://www.ft.com/content/a1f88c3c-d154-11e8-a9f2-7574db66bcd5, 2.12.2018

Conradt, D.P. (2018). Social Democratic Party of Germany. Encyclopedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Social-Democratic-Party-of-Germany, 2.12.2018

Hagen, Kevin. (3.12.2018). SPON-Wahltrend Jüngere würden Keine GroKo Mehr wählen Der Spiegel http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/spon-umfrage-grosse-koalition-punktet-nur-noch-bei-alten-a-1241657.html, 4.12.2018

Mayr, et. al. (22.9.2017). The Slow Death of Europe’s Social Democrats. Der Spiegel http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-demise-of-social-democracy-in-europe-a-1168670.html, 25.11.2018

Weise, Zia. (23.11.2018). Germany’s new Green Divide. Politico https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-green-party-haidhausen-munich-elections-social-democrats-spd-is-the-new-red/, 2.12.2018

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Progressive Political Organizing & Cystinosis

As you may be aware, I live with an ultra-rare disease called cystinosis. Cystinosis is a metabolic genetic disease afflicting more than 2,000 people worldwide. The disease impacts all the organ systems in the body leading to kidney failure, muscle wasting, diabetes, blindness, pulmonary deficiency, hypothyroidism, and neurological damage.

I was diagnosed with cystinosis at around 10 months old. Little did I or my family know that I would face a lifetime of poking, prodding, nagging, cutting, and examining. And because of living with cystinosis, I have been hospitalized many times in my 27 years on this Earth. I have even had about 13 surgeries some of which were major including my kidney transplant and some that were minor. Furthermore, several times throughout the year I have appointments with specialists including nephrology, neurology, cardiology, pulmonary and others.

Recently, I decided to do more for the cystinosis community and therefore I am volunteering with the Cystinosis Research Network (CRN) and joining their group Future by Design (FBD).

FBD is a group of adults living with cystinosis who’ve come together to pave a brighter future for the children, teens, and adults touched by cystinosis.

Along with my participation in FBD, I plan to continue to be an advocate and work to push people in power to recognize the importance of fighting for those who don’t have a voice and fight for equality.

However, living with cystinosis means that to create change and find a cure for cystinosis, I must be my own advocate and to do that takes time, effort, and money.

One example is an upcoming conference with the Cystinosis Research Network and Future by Design next year in Philadelphia.

At the conference, I will learn new research findings, receive updates from cystinosis organizations from around the world, have the opportunity to participate in research studies, and interact one on one with many of the world expert clinicians treating and researching cystinosis.

Nonetheless and in addition to my work with the FBD and on cystinosis, I plan to fight for Medicare for All, transgender equality, and Free College for All.

Therefore, I humbly ask you to make a small donation to help further my work on these causes.

To make a contribution please go to my gofundme page or if you would like to become a sustaining member of my work and make a small monthly contribution please visit my patreon page.

Future by Design & Progressive Political Change

Hello Everyone,

As you already are aware, my name is Mika Jayne Covington.

I am 27 years old (which is an accomplishment in itself because of the cystinosis) and I live with cystinosis. I was diagnosed with cystinosis at around 10 months old. Cystinosis is an ultra-rare genetic disease that causes cells in the body to crystallize and die. Cystinosis slowly destroys the organs in the body especially the kidneys, eyes, liver, lungs, muscles, and brain.

Recently, I decided to do more for the cystinosis community and therefore, I am volunteering with the Cystinosis Research Network (CRN) and joining their group Future by Design (FBD)

FBD was created to help make the cystinosis journey easier. FBD is a group of adults living with cystinosis who’ve come together to pave a brighter future for the children, teens, and adults touched by our rare disease.

One major project of FBD is their Outreach program that works to connect individuals and build relationships within the cystinosis community.

Along with my participation in FBD, I plan to continue to volunteer and work for progressive political change.

As a transgender person, I plan to continue working to end anti-LGBTQIA+ bias and helping fill the education gap in Iowa on LGBTQIA+ issues and history. I plan to fight for Free College for All, Medicare for All, and transgender equality. 

Volunteering on these issues takes time, effort, and money. One example is an upcoming conference with FBD in Philadelphia and I will need to pay for travel. This is just one example of my need for support.

Therefore, I humbly ask you to make a small donation to help further my work on these causes.

To make a contribution please go to my gofundme page or if you would like to become a sustaining member of my work and make a small monthly contribution please visit my patreon page.

Transgender Equality & Progressive Wins @ Iowa Democrat’s State Convention

On Saturday, June 16, the Iowa Democratic Party State Convention stood strong and unanimously passed the resolution on gender identity and gender expression nondiscrimination. You can find the full text of the resolution here.

The Convention body officially took a bold progressive position on transgender and gender non-binary equality.

The Iowa Democratic Party officially supports the following:

  • the passage of laws and policies protecting the rights, legal benefits, and privileges of people of all gender identities and expressions;
  • full access to employment, medical and mental health care, housing, education, and restrooms regardless of gender identity and expression;
  • encourages legal and social recognition of transgender and gender non-binary individuals consistent with their gender identity and expression, including access to identity documents consistent with their gender identity and expression which do not involuntarily disclose their status as gender non-binary or transgender;
  • calls upon public and private insurers to cover gender transition treatments for appropriately evaluated individuals; and
  • amending the Charter and Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States to ensure the full inclusion and non-discrimination of gender non-binary and transgender people so that they are not forced to choose between a binary gender of man or woman to run for Party offices such as State Central Committee or Democratic National Committee person.

The Convention also amended the Party Constitution to include all persons regardless of gender identity or expression. Specifically, the Convention amended the State Party Constitution to provide for the election of non-binary, agender, and genderqueer persons to Party offices.

Before the amendments, only people who identify as man or woman were allowed to be elected to Party offices. This does stand in opposition to the Charter and Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States.

Additionally, the Convention adopted a platform that endorses LGBTQIA+ and progressive issues.

The following are the progressive platform planks that were adopted at the Convention:

  • We support:
    • Paris Climate Accords
    • electric-vehicle infrastructure
    • “living wage” replacing minimum wage
    • expanding Davis-Bacon Act to include publicly-funded projects
    • Dodd-Frank
    • 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act
    • national universal basic income
    • eliminating Social Security wage cap
    • taxing high-frequency trading
    • breaking up “too-big-to-fail” banks
    • minimum 6% Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for PreK-12 education
    • post-secondary programs tuition and debt free for at least 4 years, including vocational programs, regent state universities, and community colleges
    • state mandates requiring all public schools include instruction in physical, mental health, and sex-positive and comprehensive and research-based sexual and health programs (including LGBTQIA+)
    • student-loan forgiveness
    • 100% tax-deductible interest on post-secondary loans
    • automatic and same-day voter registration
    • legalizing cannabis
    • an updated version of the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, restricting: silencers and suppressors, bump-stocks, high capacity magazines, and fragmentary-rounds
    • mandatory safety and proficiency training
    • firearm transfer universal background checks
    • state and federal DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), TVDL (Temporary Visitor’s Driver’s License), and UAFA (Uniting American Families Act)
    • undocumented immigrant Driver’s License and vehicle registration
    • comprehensive, universal, single-payer healthcare for all
    • transgender healthcare
    • medical end-of-life options
    • full-service VA healthcare for LGBTQIA+
    • equal rights for LGBTQIA+ residents in all areas
    • all-gender restrooms
    • protection of all genders’ rights from discrimination/harassment/retaliation
    • expanding gender options, including opt-out, on government forms
    • ending violence against woman and sexual/gender minorities, including genital mutilation/honor killings/forced marriage/rape/property confiscation
    • equal human rights/health/welfare for Palestinians and Israelis
    • right to return/just compensation for displaced Palestinians
    • rights of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions)
    • Palestinian statehood/UN membership
    • peaceful efforts to achieve separate secure Israeli and Palestinian states respecting the rights of all persons
  • We oppose:
    • open-carry
    • discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people
    • sex-assignment surgeries at birth for intersex people
    • religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, including LGBTQIA+ protections
    • racial/religious/sexual orientation/gender identity persecution

I would like to thank everyone who was able to attend the Convention and who advocated for and voted for the amendments, resolution, and platform.

Mika for Stonewall Vice Chair

I am a candidate for Stonewall Vice Chair and I would like to earn the privilege of serving you and lifting up your voices.

I am a student at the University of Iowa studying psychology and German. I have served on the Pottawattamie County Democrats Central Committee and as Affirmative Action Chair.

I grew up in Nebraska and six years ago I moved to Iowa to work for President Barack Obama, to attend college and to get a kidney transplant at the University of Iowa Hospitals.

I experienced significant discrimination and oppression growing up in Nebraska which is where my passion for politics and equality comes from. This past taught me that if you want to see change you must step up and create that change.

Since 2009 to 2014, I was involved with the Iowa Pride Network and from 2010 to 2013 I was on the College Leadership team, organizing and leading the Southwest Iowa GSA Network, fighting anti-LGBTQIA+ bias on campus and helping fill the education gap in Iowa and Eastern Nebraska on LGBTQIA+ issues and history.

Additionally, in Nebraska, I worked with State Senator Sara Howard to pass her bill LB 380, which would have allowed all couples to adopt regardless of marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

I firmly believe that we must consider and include ideas from everyone, not just those who have been involved in the Party for years. We must face the fact that a greater number of young people – the next generation of voters – are independents and therefore, we must ask ourselves why that is. Then, we must create an action plan to either bring them into the Party or open it up to them in other ways.

As a transgender person, I know that the Democratic Party has room to grow to become fully inclusive and welcoming of gender non-binary and transgender people.  Therefore, making the Party more inclusive and welcoming is a major priority of mine, second only to electing Democrats and ensuring that Democrats take back Iowa.

I know that I will be a powerful addition to the Stonewall Caucus and the Iowa Democratic Party because I have experience within my life, as well as through the work I have done on issue, advocacy, and political campaigns.

I would be honored to have your support and represent you as Vice-Chair of the Stonewall Caucus. I will be a strong, compassionate and dedicated voice for LGBTQIA+ Iowans.