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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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!

Leaving Nebraska and Forward Equality

That Rally that started a lot of internal drama within the Omaha LGBT Community over my grassroots organizing.
That Rally that started a lot of internal drama within the Omaha LGBT Community over my grassroots organizing.

I decided to leave Forward Equality and most progressive grassroots organizing in Nebraska because I need to focus on my own well-being. Forward Equality has been a project of mine for about four years. Several friends and I formed Forward Equality in 2010 to work on progressive issues, at the time mostly queer issues. However, in the past couple of years moved to be focused on a variety of progressive issues.

Making the decision to leave Forward Equality and conclude all Forward Equality operations was very difficult for me. I personally invested a lot of my time and energy into Forward Equality and the progressive issues. Many of the issues were very personal for me.

tumblr_m6cqwlbVTa1qzhkvho1_500For instance, I am very passionate about healthcare being a universal human right because I personally know that continuous treatment for chronic medical conditions saves lives and so does preventive healthcare services. I am also very passionate about workers’ rights and a living wage because I have seen firsthand how poverty hurts children and families. Not to forget how discrimination, harassment, and bullying affects all humans especially youth and how it is literally killing our youth. 

 

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Having an awesome time rallying against HATE

In addition, it is difficult for me to leave Forward Equality and the progressive community in Nebraska because Nebraska is my birthplace. I grew up there. I don’t want to give up on making Nebraska a safe and welcoming place. I don’t want to let Nebraska continue to be a place that I feel shameful to be from. I want to someday be proud of coming from Nebraska. 

Me in Pre-op with Diane and family
Me in Pre-op with Diane and family

All of these progressive issues are so important to me, I cannot even use words to express how it feels to have worked on them for so long and then need to move on. However, after some discussions with my support network and healthcare team, I decided to conclude all of my progressive grassroots organizing in Nebraska. 

In these discussions, I also had to decide if I wanted to disclose why this is needed. I am still not sure the answer to that or if there is a right or wrong answer. Therefore, I will say this; Nebraska in general contains a lot of painful and hurtful events and statements. This includes many of the attitudes and lack of inclusion I faced there while organizing around many of the progressive issues I cared greatly about. Overall, some of what happened there and what was said was harmful to my health. Nevertheless, there was still a lot of empowering and awesome events and statements that helped me learn and grow. 

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Having an awesome time with Forward Equality volunteers rallying for equal marriage rights and the defeat of Nebraska’s superhate marriage amendment (416).

 

From April of this year on, I will be moving forward and working on those progressive issues that do not hurt my well-being. Thus, I will focus my progressive grassroots organizing in Iowa and I will only exert the physical and emotional energy that is within my ability. 

Survival

Pyramid_of_Capitalist_SystemSurvival in this world is most difficult, especially if you weren’t born into a well off privileged family. 

Many people in this world don’t have food, water, or shelter. Yet, there are many people in this world that have more then enough food, water, and shelter. Why is that? I have an answer for you, it’s simple, because of capitalism. 

Capitalism is a mode of production based on private ownership and greed as a means of production. Capitalists produce commodities for the exchange market and to stay competitive must extract as much labor from the workers as possible at the lowest possible cost. The interest of capitalism is to pay the workers as little as possible to make a large profit. In other words capitalism is the exploitation of the workers. (hesta)

Capitalism is what creates the environment in this world where a majority of us are just struggling to survive. We or the us do not have the ability to just go out and fully enjoy life by spending our Thanksgiving buying away at retail stores. We cannot afford to because many of us would be choosing from either paying bills or feeding ourselves or our children.  In this world, there is about 1% of the world’s population that owns 40% of the world’s wealth, there are about 34,000 children dying every day from poverty and preventable diseases, and there are about 50% of the world’s population living on less than 2 and a half dollar each day. (theguardian)

I personally am effected by the destruction of capitalism. I grew up with a family that would rather spend their money out buying things then saving their dollars to help pay for my college education or to help pay for my future medical expenses even though they knew very well that one day I would need a kidney transplant. (I am trying very hard to not bash anyone in particular)

20130107-graph-poverty-on-the-rise-in-americaEven, when I was in high school capitalism was hurting me. I needed to get a job to help pay for things I needed and as any high school student wants to have money to spend on things that they want, which I know is a form of greed. Thus, I got a job at Burger King and I was paid $5.55 an hour. You know, for just a part-time after school job it wasn’t the worst but still that was very little. I barely had any money to do anything with. Then, I get to 11th grade, now I really need to take care of myself with buying food, paying for things for school, and then paying for gas to get to work. Thus, I get a job at SpeeDee, paying at $8.00. That is over the minimum wage at that time, but it still isn’t nearly enough for me to pay for my pills which weren’t a lot and buy food, plus pay for gas to get to work. I couldn’t save any money and I worked every day of the week and on holidays. Then, we get to my Senior year in high school, now, I am needing to fully take care of myself and I was making $7.75 at JCPenney. Again, barely was making it. All of this was because of capitalism and how these private ownerships were exploiting me to get the most labor out of me while paying me the bare minimum. 

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Yes, I am a survivor of my illness but not of capitalism. Capitalism is literally killing our children. It is starving our elders. Capitalism is killing God’s creation. 

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Image from google

This leads me to what I believe we can do to end the starvation, and exploitation.

I believe we need socialism and so does Albert Einstein,

“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. (MontlyReview)

I am a strong supporter of Democratic Socialism. Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet public needs, not make profits for a few. We do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. We believe that social and economic decision should be made by those whom they most affect.

I believe that a people have a right to a job, education, healthcare, secure retirement, living wage, in addition to civil rights. I believe that socialism is the extension of democracy to all parts of society. Leading to the general improvement of humanity.

While, I am aware, that we cannot just throw capitalism in the trash over night, I do believe that we can take steps to ease the hardships of millions of people. I believe some steps that we can take is passage of H.R. 676 the Single Payer Health care Plan, H.R. 1010 the Fair Minimum Wage Act, and passage of right to strike bills.  

Please visit forwardequality.wordpress.com to learn more about progressive issues and ways to act. 

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