Guest Author

Where now for the SPD?

Guest Author

In September’s election to the German Bundestag, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) received 32.9% (2013: 41.5%) of the votes. This was followed by the Social Democrats (SPD) with 20.5%, (2013: 25.7%), their worst election result since the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1947. The third most powerful force, and new in Parliament, was the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) with 12.6%, a party, situated on the far right, which got many protest votes. The FDP (liberals) got 10.7% and Die Linke (the Left) 9.2%. The Greens got 8.9%.

Voters have not forgiven or forgotten the changes in the SPD. Their neoliberal Agenda 2010,announced by SPD Federal Chancellor Gerhart Schröder in 2003, led to a drastic reduction in state services. Schröder boasted in Davos in 2005: "We have liberalized our labour market. We have built one of the best low-pay sectors in Europe."

The SPD, transformed into a neoliberal party, raised the pension age to 67, which meant poverty in old age for those who do not manage to work until 67. It built a large low wage sector, more temporary employment contracts and reduced unemployment benefits. The unemployed had to use up their savings before  benefits were paid. All this increased poverty, even in the middle class.

Thousands of voters left the SPD. As a result, those Social Democrats who left the party and the Socialist Unity Party (SED – from the old GDR) merged to become today's Die Linke (the Left), which now got  9.2%, compared to  20.5% for the SPD in the German Bundestag.

The SPD entered the election under Martin Schulz, formerly President of the EU Parliament for many years. In the SPD he is part of the conservative wing and, at the beginning of the election campaign, was praised by Schröder, who oversaw the decline of the SPD.

Schulz spoke about justice for all, about necessary changes in health policy (citizen insurance) but was not prepared to change any of the Hartz laws, which cut benefits, Agenda 2010 or even the pension at the age of 67. His announcements lacked credibility - especially as he did not suggest with whom he intended to implement his ideas.

The SPD once again rejected contact with those forces representing progressive ideas in the Bundestag over the last four years, in particular the Left. On the contrary, the SPD mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, called Sahra Wagenknecht, one of the two leading politicians of the Left, a conspiracy theorist, because she dared to say low wages, old-age poverty and injustice resulted from political decisions. It was the SPD, in government for many years, first with the Greens, then with the CDU/CSU, which was responsible for the decline of the welfare state in Germany.

As long as the relationship with the Left Party is not clarified, there can’t be leftwing majorities in the Bundestag. Only once has the SPD used a majority of MPs to the left of the CDU/CSU, when a majority of the SPD, the Left and the Greens agreed with a few CDU members to support gay marriage. Mostly the SPD weep crocodile tears, because they can’t have much effect on the coalition with the CDU. But who actually forced the SPD for a second time to build a coalition with the CDU/CSU?

After this not unexpected electoral defeat, the SPD attributed its failure solely to being junior partner in the Grand Coalition. It’s now trying to reinvent itself as the opposition. This will be difficult, given who is involved. Proposing Andrea Nahles, member of the party leadership, current Minister of Labour and former leader of the young socialists, as the new chair means there will be no new beginning. As Minister of Labour she achieved the introduction of the minimum wage, but also a law which makes it difficult for small trade unions to successfully fight for the demands of their members. Meanwhile Martin Schulz, who is responsible for this historic defeat, remains in office and has already, announced his intention to stand as a party chair again. 

As early as 2009, the SPD had the opportunity to revert to the opposition benches, but the desire for political power easily corrupts people. As current developments in the SPD’s sister party in Britain show, things need not be this way.