Hal Draper 1968

Review: David Childs, From Schumacher to Brandt

Source: New Politics, Volume 7, no 2, Spring 1968. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

David Childs, From Schumacher to Brandt: The Story of German Socialism 1945-1965, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1966

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An account of the transmogrification of the German Social-Democracy since the Second World War was published by Douglas Chalmers in 1964; and the present book on the same subject by the leftish Laborite David Childs has the advantage of treating the subject from a quite different slant, with fresher material. But neither, it must be said, comes even close to being a definitive or even satisfactory treatment of this very important subject. The measure of their inadequacy can best be taken by comparing them with the brilliant job done by Kurt Shell on the same theme taking the Austrian Social-Democracy as the object of investigation, in The Transformation of Austrian Socialism (1962).

There are many single aspects that are done well in Childs. His first chapter makes clear ‘What the SPD Never Was’, viz, a Marxist party. His second has some excellent discussion of the ‘completed’ bourgeoisification of the leadership of the party, and of the dominance of the ‘Apparat’ and the parliamentary group, though he makes far too strong a distinction between these two as if they were basic competitors for control. One of the most interesting chapters, ‘Bonn Is Not Weimar But...’, is devoted to summarizing the facts about the continuing role of Nazis (formally ‘ex-Nazis’, of course) in the West German government, but no attempt is made to link this chapter up with the subject of the book, except as national background; he is not claiming that this tendency is significant inside the SPD. He has a chapter making clear that the trade-union movement is to the left of the party, but he does not seem to be interested in asking why. He likewise makes clear, like Chalmers, that this social-democratic party has abandoned anything recognizable as a socialist program – even a reformist one. And he has a useful summary of how the system of ‘co-determination’ has merely meant the integration of the trade-union apparatus into management.

In other words, it is a useful book on the subject, provided you do not expect too much from it. For example, the most interesting and important question of all does not seem to have occurred to him: why this could have happened – what are its socio-political dynamics. He writes, ‘It is not fruitful to trace the step by step abandonment of the last shreds of Marxist ideology in the SPD'; and while a step-by-step demonstration might have been too much to expect, he does not provide even a summary attempt at an analysis. Perhaps more astonishing still, there is next to nothing on the resistance to this process from the left, and on remaining left-wing elements in and outside of the party, such as the expulsion of the student section which developed into the German SDS that carried on the recent struggles gaining international attention.

Mr Childs’ lack of interest in the revolutionary socialist elements in West Germany is evidently related to his naive and uncritical praise of the East German regime and his standard-type eulogy of Russia’s ‘industrial progress’. He even has a burble for East Germany’s advances in ‘personal and cultural freedom’, although this regime is known to be one of the least liberalized (let alone democratized) in the Communist bloc. The picture that emerges is: nothing but black reaction in West Germany, while the dawn rises over Ulbricht and Moscow. The publisher’s blurb says Mr Child is a British Laborite. If he ever works out the why and wherefore of the complete degeneration of the German Social-Democracy, it would be interesting if he tried to apply the analysis to Harold Wilson.