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International Socialism, Winter 1965/66


Stephen Castles

The Notebook:


From International Socialism, No.23, Winter 1965/66, pp.6-7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Stephen Castles (Frankfurt) writes: Safety! Safe is Safe! Completely Safe! Safety through Disarmament! These four slogans, respectively that of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrats (SPD), the neo-fascist NPD, and the pacifist DFU, characterise the lack of difference between the parties in the West German parliamentary elections of 19 September. Only the Free Democrats (FDP) showed any difference with: Politicians with Responsibility! its policy however was no different.

The parties had understood the mood of the electors and their wish to maintain the stability and prosperity of the past ten years. No clear political change of any kind can be said to have come out of the elections. The previous coalition and its policy will be continued — if anything, the new cabinet shows a very slight trend towards the Right. Both major parties made slight gains at the expense of the smaller parties, particularly of the Free Democrats. This is a further sign of the wish for ‘safety,’ for it was only the smaller parties, none of which got more than one or two per cent, which showed any important political differences from the main parties. As it is necessary under German electoral law to poll at least five per cent of the total to achieve representation in the Bundestag, this means, as before, that there will be little real political discussion and conflict there.

The SPD had hoped in the 1961 elections that the 1959 Bad Godesberger Programme which rejected class struggle and neutralism would make them respectable enough to break into the growing middle class, while remaining progressive enough to retain their working-class and intellectual support. On both points they were disappointed: although they gained a few per cent, they remained in opposition. The white-collar workers and civil servants retained their old distrust of the SPD as the party of the working class, despite the mass expulsion of the student organisation, the SDS, and many professors and others who supported it, to demonstrate there was no place for Marxism in the SPD. But the Bad Godesberger Programme looks radical today when compared to the practice of the SPD in the past few years. On all major questions, the CDU and SPD differences are insignificant:

  1. The SPD is against recognition of East Germany and the Oder-Neisse line, and has friendly relations with the revanchist pressure groups of refugees from the eastern areas of the former Reich.
  2. Although the demand for the extension of ‘joint control’ (Mitbestimmung), which already exists in the coal and steel industries, is still in the Bad Godesberger Programme, the SPD persuaded the Left-wing Chemical Workers and other unions to postpone their campaign for this until after the elections, and have shown they will not give the campaign any support even now.
  3. SPD opposition to the proposed Emergency Laws before the election was due to tactical calculations (cf. IS 22, p.26) and will almost certainly now be dropped.
  4. The Lower Saxony SPD Land Government has reached a Concordat with the Catholic Church, giving it special rights in education, etc. However, the slight SPD gains in Catholic areas in the election were offset by losses in Protestant areas, particularly big towns, the traditional SPD strongholds.

The election became a power struggle with personal rather than political content, and thus the CDU victory is really the victory of Erhardt over Brandt. The depoliticisation of public opinion is extreme: politicians were sold like soap powders with advertised specifications, responsibility, experience, etc. Although no radical post-election change in the SPD policy is to be expected, there has been some heart-searching in the party, particularly in the Berlin SPD, but its strength should not be overestimated. On the other hand, a new socialist party is out of the question, for the working class still tends to support the SPD and nearly all trade-union officials are in the party. The chances of changing the party policy are very slim, given the commanding position of the established bureaucracy. The best opportunity for a Left policy lies in the trade unions, strong through the system of industrial unionism but also centralised and bureaucratic. Because some of the most political and class-conscious workers become union functionaries, the bureaucracy leans to the Left. Some of the big unions, particularly the Chemical and Metal Workers, do attempt a class policy in the interests of their members, although there are other large unions that follow the SPD.

The first test case will be in the renewed struggle against the Emergency Laws, expected in the coming months. If, as is expected, the SPD accepts these laws, it will no longer be possible to conceal the divergence between the SPD and the unions. The important question will then be whether the unions will look for new ways of protecting the interests of their members.

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