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Henry Judd

World Politics

The German Social Democracy

(17 January 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 3, 17 January 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week we pointed out a new series of steps by which the Allied occupation authorities have renewed their hold over Western Germany and have indicated a growing fear that nationalist trends are becoming too bold and must therefore be curbed. Not only did they indicate by these actions their intention to remain in Germany, in some form or other, for an indefinite period, but they forced upon all German political parties and groups the necessity of re-evaluating their attitudes toward the continuation of the occupation. This necessity, of course, is a good and necessary thing.

The concrete issue over which this restatement of attitude toward Allied occupation takes place is the new decision on the Ruhr, referred to in our previous article. Contrary to expectations, protests and declaimers have been mild. No one expects the type of mass, passive resistance movement which the Ruhr workers developed in 1923 against the French occupation of that region. The Ruhr Stalinists naturally demand such actions, but considering that they have just been humiliatingly defeated in all trade union elections for this area, it is unlikely that their slogans will have any results.

The attitude of the German capitalist parties (Christian Democrats and “Free” Democrats) can easily be explained. Since these two parties represent not so much big capitalists, industrialists and bankers as the badly-off German business man and small factory owner, together with the professional and middle class elements of the population, one could hardly expect a determined reaction from them. Their perspective is essentially a slow and tortuous one. implying years of revival and a gradual building up of the old German bourgeoisie. They are in ho condition, materially or politically, to lead a serious struggle against the occupation, nor is this their actual perspective.

Instead, they rely upon the division between America and Russia as making it possible for them to reassert themselves, step by step, since they feel confident that American imperialism must permit such an economic reconstruction and revival in Germany that the day will come when it can no longer be controlled by the occupation authorities because the rebuilt economy will have become an independent factor in both European and world capitalist economy. This explains their patience and persistence, as well as the fact that the Constitution they are now writing at Bonn is so loosely and vaguely worded that it may be considered an “Algebraic” Constitution, full of unknowns whose real value will be determined in the future. The future of such parties and what is left of German capitalism is subordinated to the occupation authorities and the most they will do is to take advantage of any situation to strengthen their hand.

An Inept and Leaderless Movement

But what of the German Social Democracy, that political party of the German working class which has made a truly astounding comeback since the end of the war and is now the mass party of Western Germany? Completely destroyed under Hitlerism, the Party now numbers close to 1,000,000 members and has a vast electoral and political influence which reached its height after the Berlin victory. According to the SPD-Jahrbuch 1947, which was presented at the Party’s annual convention in Duesseldorf in September, 1948, the Party has 9191 branches in the country, gained 200,000 new members in one year and has 1,000 youth groups (Jungsozialisten) with a membership of 100,000. In its traditional strongholds of the Ruhr, Westphalia, Hanover, etc., the Party dominates the local situation. The Party publishes no less than 15 papers, now has extensive contacts abroad and of 1,416 Landtag delegates throughout Western Germany, 563 belong to the Social Democracy.

Organizationally and in terms of influence among workers and the population as a whole, the German Social Democratic Party leads all others. At the very least, it should obtain a plurality vote in the elections that will later be held under the Bonn Constitution, with a possibility of a majority not excluded. Here, one would think, is a party with sufficient support and strength to establish itself as a leader of the entire nation in a struggle both against Stalinism and for national independence. The reality is far from this, unfortunately, and politically the SPD is surely one of the weakest, most inept and leaderless movements ever inflicted upon the working class.

In terms of leadership, with the exception of Kurt Schumacher, the Party is without any outstanding personality or authentic voice. For the most part, the leaders consist of ancient Social Democrats repeating their past, with all its former mistakes, under the new conditions of the occupation. Old professors, holders of doctorate degrees, union officials and minor bureaucrats operating in one or another capacity in the military government administration, form the bulk of the leadership. Uninspired and colorless, they retain their hold primarily because a new and dynamic leadership has not yet come forward, because there is insufficient political agreement and understanding among party members to develop such a challenge. As the report on the Duesseldorf convention puts it, “The Party is quite free of serious internal divisions.” And that’s precisely what is wrong with this loose and ill-formed mass.

Politically, the “official” stands of the Party are a disgrace to itself and all its professions. Naturally, everything is loosely interpreted and much local autonomy exists because “hardly anybody wants to abandon coalitions in such states where the socialists are indispensable for forming a majority and where the Christian Democrats, looking for the Catholic workers vote, even support socialist legislation ...” (Convention Report) In his speech to the Convention, Schumacher declared that “Social democracy is still on the lookout for partners in an alliance,” and that the question of a coalition after the coming elections would depend on the attitude of the other parties, not his.

Evade Occupation Issue

In a formal resolution adopted as to the new tasks of the Party, the issue of Germany’s occupation is evaded although the attitude, in practice, is clear enough. A struggle over the occupation on any front or at any level is to be avoided, no matter at what cost. “A legal basis defining the relations between Western Germany and the occupying authorities” is the principal goal of the Social Democratic leaderhip, who support without criticism the ERP program and the Marshall Plan. Naturally, other and harsher words are reserved for Russia and Stalinism whose efforts at expansion “will be met by the decisive and uncompromising resistance of the Social Democratic Party.” Essentially, the political approach of Schumacher and his supporters does not differ substantially from that of the German bourgeoisie who likewise demand “more responsibility” for themselves within the occupation framework and a legal defining of the occupational powers. This latter request will shortly be fulfilled – and in a clearcut fashion, too – by the “Occupation Statute” now being drafted by the Big Three. On the Ruhr issue, the Social Democrats conceal themselves behind a “nationalization formula” and blame the present situation upon ... Nazism!

The sad fact is that history has forced upon this shapeless party a task which is far too difficult and complex for it to handle – namely, organization of and leadership in the struggle for Germany’s rewinning of national freedom and independence. For lack of any other party, and in opposition to Stalinism, Germany’s working class has been obliged to rally behind this doddering and toothless image of the past. Yet this fact indicates the astounding possibilities in this situation. If ever a movement was thirsting for the organization of a militant left wing, based upon the youth groups and the party’s young elements, it is this Social Democratic Party.

Will such a left-wing come into existence in the near future? At the moment, there is no real signs of this because opposition voices are still too weak and scattered, but surely this is the direction of the future. Then, behind a program of clear-cut opposition to any and all forms of opposition, and for a genuine Constituent Assembly representing all of Germany which shall be protected by its own national workers’ and people’s militia from Stalinism and the occupation forces, one can expect a favorable and revolutionary turn in the affairs of Germany.

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