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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Nebraska Medical Center and the Dominant Narrative

I live with a very rare genetic condition called cystinosis which slowly destroys my organs including the eyes, kidneys, liver, muscles, and brain. Because of this, I needed a kidney transplant in 2011.

At the time, I lived in Republican-controlled Nebraska where I went to the Nebraska Medical Center to get the transplant. However, the dominant narrative got in the way. This narrative says that society does not need to treat transgender people with dignity and respect.

On several occasions, while sitting in the waiting room at the Nebraska Medical Center Holly Fox, the transplant nurse coordinator would call my name. Instead of calling me by the name I identify with or the gender pronouns I prefer she called me Michael and Mr. Covington. Many of the staff there fought with me over their issue with the dominant narrative that says those who are different do not deserve to be treated as a human being. They even made excuses for their behavior and they claimed that it was illegal for them to use my preferred name and pronouns.

There was little for me to do because I accepted the dominant narrative and let them demean me.

The dominant narrative led to me not fighting when the Nebraska Medical Center staff treated me like shit and refused to do the kidney transplant. They even pretended to get ready for the surgery by actually scheduling it and having me go through all of the pre-operative appointments. Then at the last minute, they canceled the surgery. All of this happened even though I had a living donor ready to do the transplant. All they needed to do was perform the damn surgery.

These medical professionals obeyed the dominant narrative that said I am not worthy of life.

Because I did not get the treatment that I needed I was forced to have a less effective treatment that did not benefit me and in the long run hurt me.

Thus, because I did not get the transplant I needed I was forced to go on dialysis to extend my life. And because I did not get the transplant several complications occurred that was 100 percent preventable.

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I had many surgeries that I did not need. Some of the surgeries were dialysis catheters that were placed in my chest for access to perform dialysis. I experienced many complications that led to me going to the hospital and having even more procedures. It led to needing to switch to another form of dialysis which meant more surgeries.

Everything I went through for three years was 100 percent preventable. None of this benefited me and I could have died waiting for the transplant.

Because of the medications, surgeries, and dialysis, years may have been cut off my life.

Who benefited from this and from me accepting the dominant narrative? The hospital, the medical supply companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, and everyone who made a profit off my suffering. These people and institutions made hundreds of thousands of dollars off the unnecessary medical procedures and medications.

This happened because of the dominant narrative and because I and others were not fighting it.

Nevertheless, I have the power to change this and so do you. Together we can win the fight for universal health care as a human right and we can win basic human rights for all people regardless of your gender identity or gender expression.

Take action now! 

I am a Socialist

I am a socialist. I believe in socialism because I believe in equality for all. I am a socialist because I believe it should be common sense that we have democracy in the workplace and in schools. I am a socialist because I believe in basic needs, including housing, food, healthcare, education and energy and I believe they should be affordable to all and not the means for profit.  I am a socialist because I believe in full federal equality for LGBTQIA individuals, including amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” I am a socialist because I believe that gender is a social construct and the government should remove gender/sex from government forms, state IDs/licenses, and voter registration. I am a socialist because I believe in universal access to child care, family leave, paid sick and vacation. I am a socialist because I believe in a universal basic income and a living wage of at least $20 per hour.

We need socialism because capitalism is failing. The U.S. is failing its citizens when it comes to healthcare. Even with the ACA, many Americans cannot afford the copayment, deductibles, payroll deductions and denial. Many people skip their prescription medications and avoid going to the doctor because they do not have the money to cover the deductibles. Further, of the 1.4 million Americans who file for medical bankruptcy each year, 75 percent have health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), did help and did increase the number of insured Americans. Unfortunately, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2023 31 million people will still lack coverage. However, having insurance does not solve all the problems because having insurance does not guarantee access to care or protection from financial ruin due to health care costs.

Just look at this example, one of my medications, Procysbi, costs over $72,000 for a 30-day supply. This is a 3,000% increase compared to the original drug, Cystagon.

Not everyone is failing with capitalism. Corporate American is doing great with capitalism, they are even providing slave labor to foreign workers all over the world. Furthermore, wages are stagnant or falling, costs of child care and college continue to rise exponentially, and full-time jobs are hard to come by.

Yet, political pundits are surprised when they learn that the American people do not support capitalism. According to an April 2016 Harvard University poll, 51 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 reject capitalism and 33 percent support socialism.

We need socialism because there should be no profit in health care. We need a health care system that works for all. We need a system where all people can get the care they need to maintain and improve their health when they need it regardless of age, color, creed, economic status, ethnic identity, familial status, gender identity/expression, genetic information, marital status, national origin, physical disability, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

That system to solve all of these problems associated with health care is single payer health care and because the federal government appears unable to act, the State of Iowa must take a stand and protect their people.

We need socialism because no one should go into debt while trying to get an education. We need tuition free and debt free college. We need an education system that is a right to every citizen.

Go here to fight for single payer health care: IASinglePayer

Red and Black!

Who are you really?

Do you really know what you stand for and will fight for? Are you really what you say you are?

I believe that we do not really know who we are until we are faced with a serious even and our realities are challenged, when our lives are thrown upside down. These are the times that define us all.

Personally, I believe that the majority of us do not know who they are. I think this is because of society and how it teaches us to fit into the perfect model of a consumer and where we live to work. To the point that we do not challenge the way things are in the world.

Many people similarly situated to myself, who are and have faced death, have had their eyes forced open, they realize that having the newest Iphone or best dress is not important. That what is important is enjoying life and getting the most experiences out of it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately (depends on how you look at it), this may have made many of us a bit blunter or “lacking social cues” because we don’t quite see the need for unnecessary pleasantries in social situations or politics because life just maybe too sort.

Maybe we have also seen how that fighting over the little things like voting for a third party candidate over a so called “major party” candidate and the person that they are thworing their vote away is just not necessary. Even how there is this huge fight over making sure that Hillary Clinton is elected when she cannot do much if we do not have a progressive House and Senate.

Just the grossness in politics and society is a problem and at least for me it is sometimes very hard to deal with people because fo the experiences I have had that has given me a different perspective on life when I just don’t see the logic in even worrying about stuff like that. Such as getting the latest car, a great house, or the fancy clothes.

This is who I am.

I am a fighter, a transgender woman, a Democrat, a sexual assualt surivior, a feminist, and a student.

Let’s fight on and change this world! Let’s challenge the social norms!

The Revolution continues!

Is Sen. Bernie Sanders a Marxist?

In my opinion, Senator Bernie Sanders uses Marxist sociological theory in his political activism. Does this make him a Marxist? I don’t believe it does. While Bernie uses Marxist theory in his political activism, I don’t think he is a Marxist. Instead, he uses the theory to better understand the world and the conflict between the rich and poor. Therefore, what is Marxism? It is a sociological analysis of class relations and social conflict.

History of Bernie Sanders

bernie_2Bernie’s story began in Brooklyn, New York where he attended high school and later college before he transferred to the University of Chicago. Within Bernie’s first year at the University of Chicago, a scandal erupted when an interracial group of students uncovered the systematic housing discrimination at the university-owned apartment buildings. At the time, Bernie was a chapter leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (which organized the Freedom Rides) and launched sit-ins at the office of the university’s president to end the policy. After 15 days, a compromise with the administration was reached.

This was Bernie’s first experience with class conflict. In this case, socially constructed classes were forced against each other. the classes included white students with the privilege of being able to live in the apartments, the people of color who were not, and the property owner (the University, with the most power). In this situation, Bernie chooses to be a participant and take direct action or revolt against the property owners (bourgeoisie).

Additionally, Bernie has been politically active since college. He witnessed racial and economic inequality which pushed him to find answers. Bernie used his passion for justice and equality to become Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He did this while even self-describing himself as a “socialist.” He also was elected to the U.S. House and then U.S. Senate in 2007. Bernie has become the longest-serving independent politician in Congress.

Inequality and Exploitation

Bernie has proved that throughout his life, he has been fighting for the working class and against the exploitation of the workers. He has done this through his work as Mayor of Burlington, Congressperson, and Senator. He has been talking about income inequality and injustice, and his message hasn’t wavered. He understands the struggles of the poor and the working class, including the origins of injustice and inequality. Therefore, I believe that Bernie uses Marxist theory to help him understand these complex inequalities.

Thus, during Bernie’s political life and campaigns he has shown that he does indeed see the problems of capitalism. This is evident in his work and his messaging during his campaigns. More on this later.

Bernie’s Understanding of Marxist Theory

During the Democratic primary for president, Bernie called out the bourgeoisie for their growing power over the government. “We are living in an increasingly undemocratic society in which decisions are made by people who have huge sums of money,” said Sen. Sanders (Kruse). I believe that what Bernie is saying here is similar to the same idea that Marx had about capitalism and its control over the government. And this is what both Sanders and Marx were getting at. “It has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralization” (Marx in Calhoun 2012, p. 159).

Furthermore, Bernie calls for a political revolution. “I am talking about bringing in the voices of millions who have given up on the political process,” said sen. Sanders (Johnson). He works for this because he understands that the only way for the proletariat to gain equality in all forms of life is to acquire political supremacy. This is an idea that many revolutionaries get from Marx. “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of word” (Marx in Calhoun 2012, p.169).

He also calls out the exploitation of the work who works longer hours for low wages even though technology has made productivity increase. “Do you think it’s right that despite an explosion of technology and an increase in worker productivity, the average worker is working longer hours for low wage?” said Sen. Sanders (Kruse). This is another point that shows his influences by Marx where he believes that as productivity increases so should pay.

“Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of monetary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce” (Marx in Calhoun 2012, p. 160). This quote from Marx is talking about where we are at today. It is talking about why we have so many poor. It is because of the phenomenon in capitalism where people must work to live, and their lives revolve around work, where prices continue to go up, and profits for the wealthy continue to rise, but wages are stagnating.

Marx saw this then and Bernie sees it now. “Is it right that the middle class continues to disappear while there has been a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the top one-tenth of 1 percent? Trillions of dollars in the last 30 years have flowed from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, ” said Sen. Sanders (Kruse).

Summary

Is Bernie Sanders a Marxist? No, he is not. However, he is influenced by Marxist theory in a way that helps him understand the world and the exploitive effects of capitalism. He uses class conflict in his campaigns where he explains how the working class’s interests are inherently different from that of the top 1 percent to mobilize millions of people to stand up and get involved in the political process to create the change that they seek.

Works Cited

Kruse, Michael. “14 things Bernie Sanders has said about socialism” politico.com. POLITICO, 17 Aug. 2015 Web. 9 Oct. 2016.

Johnson, Dav. “Sanders’ Socialism Speech: America is For All of Us, Not just Wealthy” ourfuture.org. Campaign for Ameria’s Future, 19 Nov. 2015 Web. 9 Oct 2016.