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Social Democratic Party of Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or SPD; [ˌzɔtsi̯alˈdeːmɔkʁaːtɪʃə paʁˈtaɪ̯ ˈdɔʏtʃlants]) is a social-democratic[2][3][4][5] political party in Germany.

Social Democratic Party of Germany
Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
Abbreviation SPD
Leader Andrea Nahles
General Secretary Lars Klingbeil
Deputy Leaders
Founded 23 May 1863 (155 years ago) (1863-05-23)
Merger of ADAV and SDAP
Headquarters Willy-Brandt-Haus D-10911 Berlin, Germany
Newspaper Vorwärts
Student wing
Youth wing Jusos
Women's wing Association of Social Democratic Women
Membership (January 2017) Increase 457,700[1]
Political position Centre-left[6]
European affiliation Party of European Socialists
International affiliation Progressive Alliance
European Parliament group Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Colours      Red
153 / 709
20 / 69
State Parliaments
522 / 1,821
European Parliament
27 / 96
Prime Ministers of States
7 / 16

Led by Andrea Nahles since 2018, the party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in Germany along with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Social Democrats have governed at the federal level in Germany as part of a grand coalition with the CDU and the Christian Social Union (CSU) since December 2013 following the results of the 2013 and 2017 federal elections. The party participates in 14 state governments and 7 of them are governed by SPD Minister-Presidents.

The SPD is a member of the Party of European Socialists and initiated the founding of the Progressive Alliance international for social-democratic parties on 22 May 2013[7][8][9] after criticising the Socialist International for its acceptance of authoritarian parties. Established in 1863, the SPD is by far the oldest extant political party represented in the German Parliament and was one of the first Marxist-influenced parties in the world.



Membership development after 1945

The General German Workers' Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) founded in 1863 and the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SDAP) founded in 1869 later merged in 1875 under the name Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SAPD). From 1878 to 1890, any grouping or meeting that aimed at spreading socialist principles was banned under the Anti-Socialist Laws, but the party still gained support in elections. In 1890, when the ban was lifted and it could again present electoral lists the party adopted its current name. In the years leading up to World War I, the party remained ideologically radical in official principle, although many party officials tended to be moderate in everyday politics. By 1912, the party claimed the most votes of any German party.

Despite the agreement of the Second International to oppose World War I, the Social Democrats voted in favor of war in 1914. In response to this and the Bolshevik Revolution, members of the left-wing and of the far-left of the SPD formed alternative parties, first the Spartacus League, then the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) while the more conservative faction was known as the Majority Social Democratic Party of Germany (MSPD). After 1918, the SPD played an important role in the political system of the Weimar Republic, although it took part in coalition governments only in few years (1918–1921, 1923 and 1928–1930). Adolf Hitler prohibited the party in 1933 under the Enabling Act and party officials were imprisoned, killed or went into exile. In exile, the party used the name Sopade. The Social Democrats had been the only party to vote against the Enabling Act while the Communist Party was blocked from voting.

In 1945, the Allied occupants in the Western zones initially allowed four parties to be established, which led to the Christian Democratic Union, the Free Democratic Party, the Communist Party and the SPD being established. In the Soviet zone of occupation, the Soviets forced the Social Democrats to form a common party with the Communists (Socialist Unity Party of Germany or SED). In the Western zones, the Communist Party was later banned by West Germany's Federal Constitutional Court in 1956. Since 1949, the SPD has been one of the two major parties in the Federal Republic of Germany, with the other being the Christian Democratic Union. From 1969 to 1982 and 1998 to 2005, the Chancellors of Germany were Social Democrats whereas the other years the Chancellors were Christian Democrats.

Party platformEdit

The SPD was established as a Marxist party in 1875. However, the Social Democrats underwent a major shift in policies reflected in the differences between the Heidelberg Program of 1925 which "called for the transformation of the capitalist system of private ownership of the means of production to social ownership"[10] and the Godesberg Program of 1959 which aimed to broaden its voter base and move its political position toward the centre.[11] After World War II, under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher the SPD re-established itself as a socialist party representing the interests of the working class and the trade unions. However, with the Godesberg Program the party evolved from a socialist working-class party to a modern social-democratic party working within democracy.

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany (2013–2018) and former chairman of the SPD

The current party platform of the SPD espouses the goal of social democracy, which is seen as a vision of a societal arrangement in which freedom and social justice are paramount. According to the party platform, freedom, justice and social solidarity form the basis of social democracy. The coordinated social market economy should be strengthened and its output should be distributed fairly. The party sees that economic system as necessary in order to ensure the affluence of the entire population. The SPD also tries to protect the society's poor with a welfare state. Concurrently, it advocates a sustainable fiscal policy that does not place a burden on future generations while eradicating budget deficits. In social policy, the Social Democrats stand for civil and political rights in an open society. In foreign policy, the party aims at ensuring global peace by balancing global interests with democratic means, thus European integration is one of the main priorities of the party. The SPD supports economic regulations to limit potential losses for banks and people. They support a common European economic and financial policy and to prevent speculative bubbles as well as environmentally sustainable growth.[12]

Internal factionsEdit

The SPD is mostly composed of members belonging to either of the two main wings, namely the Keynesian social democrats and Third Way moderate social democrats belonging to the Seeheimer Kreis. While the more moderate Seeheimer Kreis generally support the Agenda 2010 programs introduced by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the Keynesian social democrats continue to defend classical left-wing policies and the welfare state. The classical left-wing of the SPD claims that in recent years the welfare state has been curtailed through reform programs such as the Agenda 2010, Hartz IV and the more economic liberal stance of the SPD, which were endorsed by centrist social democrats.[citation needed] As a reaction to the Agenda 2010, there was in 2005 the ascension of an inner party dissident movement which led ultimately to the foundation of the new party Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (Arbeit & soziale Gerechtigkeit – Die Wahlalternative, WASG). The WASG was later merged into The Left (Die Linke) in 2007.[13]

Base of supportEdit

Social structureEdit

Before World War II, as the main non-revolutionary left-wing party the Social Democrats fared best among non-Catholic workers as well as intellectuals favouring social progressive causes and increased economic equality. Led by Kurt Schumacher after World War II, the SPD initially opposed both the social market economy and Konrad Adenauer's drive towards Western integration fiercely, but after Schumacher's death it accepted the social market economy and Germany's position in the Western alliance in order to appeal to a broader range of voters. It still remains associated with the economic causes of unionised employees and working class voters. In the 1990s, the left and moderate wings of the party drifted apart, culminating in a secession of a significant number of party members which later joined the socialist party WASG, which later merged into The Left (Die Linke).

Geographic distributionEdit

Geographically, much of the SPD's current-day support comes from large cities, especially of northern and western Germany and Berlin. The metropolitan area of the Ruhr Area, where coal mining and steel production were once the biggest sources of revenues, have provided a significant base for the SPD in the 20th century. In the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the SPD has governed without interruption since 1949. In southern Germany, the SPD typically garners less support except in the largest cities. At the 2009 federal election, the party lost its only constituency in the entire state of Bavaria (in Munich). Small town and rural support comes especially from the traditionally Protestant areas of northern Germany and Brandenburg (with notable exceptions such as Western Pomerania where CDU leader Angela Merkel was re-elected in 2005) and a number of university towns. A striking example of the general pattern is the traditionally Catholic Emsland, where the Social Democrats generally gain a low percentage of votes, whereas the Reformed Protestant region of East Frisia directly to the north, with its strong traditional streak of Anti-Catholicism, is one of their strongest constituencies. Further south, the SPD also enjoys solid support in northern Hesse (Hans Eichel was mayor of Kassel, then Hesse's Minister-President and finally Finance Minister in the Schröder administration while Brigitte Zypries served as Justice Minister), parts of Palatinate (Kurt Beck was party leader until 7 September 2008) and the Saarland (political home of one-time candidate for federal chancellor Oskar Lafontaine, defected from the SPD in 2005).

Election resultsEdit

Election results and governments since 1949

General German electionsEdit

The SPD, at times called SAPD, participated in general elections determining the members of parliament. For the elections until 1933, the parliament was called Reichstag, except of the one of 1919 which was called the National Assembly and after 1949 when it was called Bundestag. Note that changes in borders (1871, 1919, 1920, 1949, 1957 and 1990) varied the number of eligible voters whereas electoral laws also changed the ballot system (only constituencies until 1912, only party lists until 1949 and mixed system thereafter), the suffrage (women vote since 1919), the number of seats (fixed or flexible) and the length of the legislative period (three or four years). Lacking are entries for general elections before 1875, when labour parties unified to only form the SPD (then SAPD, current name since 1890) and under Nazi rule or communist rule, when candidates who identified with the SPD were banned at all from running for votes and seats.

Election year No. of
constituency votes
No. of
party list votes
% of
overall votes (utill 1912)
party list votes (as of 1919)
No. of
overall seats won
+/– Government
1877 493,447 9.1 (4th)
13 / 397
In opposition
1878 437,158 7.6 (5th)
9 / 397
  4 In opposition
1881 311,961 6.1 (7th)
13 / 397
  4 In opposition
1884 549,990 9.7 (5th)
24 / 397
  11 In opposition
1887 763,102 10.1 (5th)
11 / 397
  13 In opposition
1890 1,427,323 19.7 (1st)
35 / 397
  24 In opposition
1893 1,786,738 23.3 (1st)
44 / 397
  9 In opposition
1898 2,107,076 27.2 (1st)
56 / 397
  12 In opposition
1903 3,010,771 31.7 (1st)
81 / 397
  25 In opposition
1907 3,259,029 28.9 (1st)
43 / 397
  38 In opposition
1912 4,250,399 34.8 (1st)
110 / 397
  67 In opposition
In coalition
In coalition
1919 11,509,048 37.9 (1st)
165 / 423
  55 In coalition
1920 6,179,991 21.9 (1st)
102 / 459
  63 In opposition
In coalition
In opposition
In coalition
In opposition
1924, May 6,008,905 20.5 (1st)
100 / 472
  2 In opposition
1924, December 7,881,041 26.0 (1st)
131 / 493
  31 In opposition
1928 9,152,979 29.8 (1st)
153 / 491
  22 In coalition
1930 8,575,244 24.5 (1st)
143 / 577
  10 In opposition
1932, July 7,959,712 21.6 (2nd)
133 / 608
  10 In opposition
1932, November 7,247,901 20.4 (2nd)
121 / 584
  12 In opposition
1933, March 7,181,629 18.3 (2nd)
120 / 667
  1 In opposition
1949 6,934,975 29.2 (2nd)
131 / 402
  11 In opposition
1953 8,131,257 7,944,943 28.8 (2nd)
162 / 509
  22 In opposition
1957 11,975,400 11,875,339 31.8 (2nd)
181 / 519
  19 In opposition
1961 11,672,057 11,427,355 36.2 (2nd)
203 / 521
  22 In opposition
1965 12,998,474 12,813,186 39.3 (2nd)
217 / 518
  14 In coalition
1969 14,402,374 14,065,716 42.7 (2nd)
237 / 518
  20 In coalition
1972 18,228,239 17,175,169 45.8 (1st)
242 / 518
  5 In coalition
1976 16,471,321 16,099,019 42.6 (2nd)
224 / 518
  18 In coalition
1980 16,808,861 16,260,677 42.9 (2nd)
228 / 519
  4 In coalition
1983 15,686,033 14,865,807 38.2 (2nd)
202 / 520
  26 In opposition
1987 14,787,953 14,025,763 37.0 (2nd)
193 / 519
  9 In opposition
1990 16,279,980 15,545,366 33.5 (2nd)
239 / 662
  46 In opposition
1994 17,966,813 17,140,354 36.4 (2nd)
252 / 672
  13 In opposition
1998 21,535,893 20,181,269 40.9 (1st)
298 / 669
  43 In coalition
2002 20,059,967 18,484,560 38.5 (1st)[14]
251 / 603
  47 In coalition
2005 18,129,100 16,194,665 34.2 (2nd)
222 / 614
  29 In coalition
2009 12,077,437 9,988,843 23.0 (2nd)
146 / 622
  76 In opposition
2013 12,835,933 11,247,283 25.7 (2nd)
193 / 630
  42 In coalition
2017 11,426,613 9,538,367 20.5 (2nd)
153 / 709
  40 In coalition

European ParliamentEdit

Election year No. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
1979 11,370,045 40.8 (1st)
33 / 81
1984 9,296,417 37.4 (2nd)
32 / 81
1989 10,525,728 37.3 (1st)
30 / 81
1994 11,389,697 32.2 (1st)
40 / 99
1999 8,307,085 30.7 (2nd)
33 / 99
2004 5,547,971 21.5 (2nd)
23 / 99
2009 5,472,566 20.8 (2nd)
23 / 99
2014 7,999,955 27.2 (2nd)
27 / 96

Leadership of the Social Democratic PartyEdit

The party is led by the Leader of the Social Democratic Party. He/she is supported by six Deputy Leaders and the party executive.

The current leader is Andrea Nahles. The current Deputy Leaders are Manuela Schwesig, Ralf Stegner, Olaf Scholz, Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, Natascha Kohnen and Maria Luise "Malu" Dreyer.

As Germany is a federal republic, each of Germany's states have their own SPD party at the state level.

The current leaders of the SPD state parties are the following:

State Leader Seats Government
Baden-Württemberg Leni Breymaier
19 / 143
In opposition
Bavaria Natascha Kohnen
42 / 180
In opposition
Berlin Michael Müller
38 / 160
In coalition
Brandenburg Dietmar Woidke
30 / 88
In coalition
Bremen Sascha Karolin Aulepp
30 / 83
In coalition
Hamburg Melanie Leonhard
58 / 121
In coalition
Hesse Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel
37 / 110
In opposition
Lower Saxony Stephan Weil
55 / 137
In coalition
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Manuela Schwesig
26 / 71
In coalition
North Rhine-Westphalia Sebastian Hartmann
69 / 199
In opposition
Rhineland-Palatinate Roger Lewentz
39 / 101
In coalition
Saarland Anke Rehlinger
17 / 51
In coalition
Saxony Martin Dulig
18 / 126
In coalition
Saxony-Anhalt Burkhard Lischka
11 / 87
In coalition
Schleswig-Holstein Ralf Stegner
21 / 73
In opposition
Thuringia Wolfgang Tiefensee
13 / 91
In coalition

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Mitgliederzahl". DPA. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b Nordsieck, Wolfram (2017). "Germany". Parties and Elections in Europe.
  3. ^ a b Merkel, Wolfgang; Petring, Alexander; Henkes, Christian; Egle, Christoph (2008). Social Democracy in Power: the capacity to reform. London: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-43820-9.
  4. ^ a b Almeida, Dimitri (2012). The Impact of European Integration on Political Parties: Beyond the Permissive Consensus. CRC Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-136-34039-0. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b Ashley Lavelle (2013). The Death of Social Democracy: Political Consequences in the 21st Century. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-4094-9872-8. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  6. ^ "Greek debt crisis: Violence in Athens ahead of Germany vote". BBC News Online. 26 February 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  7. ^ "Progressive Alliance: Sozialdemokraten gründen weltweites Netzwerk". Der Spiegel. Hamburg, Germany. 22 May 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  8. ^ "Sozialdemokratie: "Progressive Alliance" gegründet". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 22 May 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  9. ^ "Sozialistische Internationale hat ausgedient: SPD gründet "Progressive Alliance"". 22 May 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  10. ^ Brustein, William (1996). Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party 1925–1933. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 131.
  11. ^ Cooper, Alice Holmes. Paradoxes of Peace: German Peace Movements since 1945. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. p. 85.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 October 2012. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  13. ^ Nils Schnelle (2007). Die WASG – Von der Gründung bis zur geplanten Fusion mit der Linkspartei. Munich.
  14. ^ "Schroeder wins second term". Retrieved 17 October 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Orlow, Dietrich. Common Destiny: A Comparative History of the Dutch, French, and German Social Democratic Parties, 1945–1969 (2000) online.
  • Carl E. Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905–1917: The Development of the Great Schism (Harvard University Press, 1955).
  • Vernon L. Lidtke, The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy in Germany, 1878–1890 (Princeton University Press, 1966).
  • Berlau, Abraham. German Social Democratic Party, 1914–1921 (Columbia University Press, 1949).
  • Maxwell, John Allen. "Social Democracy in a Divided Germany: Kurt Schumacher and the German Question, 1945-1952." Ph.D dissertation, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1969.
  • McAdams, A. James. "Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification." Princeton University Press, 1992 and 1993.
  • Erich Matthias, The Downfall of the Old Social Democratic Party in 1933 pages 51–105 from Republic to Reich The Making of the Nazi Revolution Ten Essays edited by Hajo Holborn, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972).
  • Eric D. Weitz, Creating German Communism, 1890-1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
  • David Priestand, Red Flag: A History of Communism," New York: Grove Press, 2009.

External linksEdit