Democratic socialism

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As Democratic Socialism political objective is known that democracy and socialism considered inseparable, together to be realized unit. The term developed around 1920 and has since been used by social democratic , socialist and communist groups and parties. Efforts towards democratization in countries of real socialism are also called reform communism .


In his draft program for the League of Communists of November 1847 (a preliminary draft for the Communist Manifesto of 1848), Friedrich Engels referred to some representatives of early socialism as “democratic socialists”. Like the communists, they strived to overcome misery and abolish class society , but were satisfied with a democratic state constitution and a few subsequent social reforms. Therefore practical alliances for common partial steps as well as discussion with them about further measures for communism are necessary.

The expression “democratic socialism” became common around 1920 as a result of the division in the European labor movement that had now occurred . He should distinguish the reformism of social democracy , that is, the progressive democratization of all areas of society within the framework of a pluralistic democracy, from Marxism-Leninism . In 1919 Lenin equated the Marxian term “ dictatorship of the proletariat ” with the conquest of state power by a (his) revolutionary proletarian party and the subsequent violent reshaping of the relations of production by it, and differentiated it from social democracy. Josef Stalin raised Lenin's theory from 1924 as " Leninism " to the state ideology of the Soviet Union in order to secure and justify his rule. In this ideology, the terms socialism and communism , which Karl Marx only vaguely distinguished, were understood as legally determined, successive epochs of every social development, and socialism was defined by the sole rule of a communist party, the gradual nationalization of the means of production and the introduction of a centrally controlled planned economy .

Since then, social democratic and socialist as well as communist groups, parties and governments have labeled different policies as "democratic socialism". The SPD sees democratic socialism since the Godesberg Program in 1959 as a social market economy with a fair distribution of profits, expected to open the same opportunities in life. The term has been used since around 1970 in reform communism in Eastern Europe, in Eurocommunism in Western Europe, in some Latin American states and in 1989 by parts of the GDR opposition . There it was sometimes referred to as the third way between capitalism and "real existing socialism" .

Joseph Schumpeter described democratic socialism in his work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) as a democratic transition from capitalism to socialism without revolution and violence. According to the political scientist Thomas Meyer , all theories of a democratic socialism represent an egalitarian concept of justice, affirm the democratic rule of law , strive for welfare state safeguards for all citizens, want to limit private property in a socially acceptable way and to integrate the economic sector into society and regulate it politically.



Wilhelm Liebknecht , Marxist and one of the founding fathers of the SPD, understood democracy and socialism since 1869 as inseparable and complementary aspects of a free and just future society:

“Socialism and democracy are not the same, but they are just a different expression of the same basic idea; they belong to one another, complement one another, can never contradict one another. [...] The democratic state is the only possible form of socially organized society. [...] Because we have understood the inseparability of democracy and socialism, we call ourselves social democrats. "

Accordingly, the expression “democratic socialism” does not appear in the first SPD programs in the German Empire . In 1875 the Gotha program of the predecessor groups ( VDAV and ADAV ) united to form the Social Democratic Workers' Party said:

“Proceeding from these principles, the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany strives with all legal means for the free state and socialist society, the breaking of the iron wage law by abolishing the system of wage labor, the abolition of all forms of exploitation , the abolition of all social and political inequality . "

Economic exploitation and political oppression were understood here as inseparable features of capitalist class society that can only be overcome together. Socialism should eradicate them both everywhere and thus realize human rights . Ferdinand Lassalle coined the expression “ bronze wage law ” in 1863 and understood it in the sense of the statements of the Communist Manifesto of 1848 on wages. In it, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made the "free development of the individual a condition for the free development of all" and thus for their part linked to the declaration of human and civil rights of 1789. Nevertheless, they sharply criticized the Gotha program in 1875, among other things because of the limitation to funds that were legal at the time.

After the repeal of the socialist laws, the now permitted SPD retained this objective in the Erfurt program of 1891. In the theoretical part, written by Karl Kautsky , it was said: Due to scientifically ascertainable laws of economic development, the workers in capitalism would inevitably become proletarians without possessions who only had to offer their labor for a living. From this it was concluded:

“Only the transformation of capitalist private ownership of the means of production [...] into social property, and the transformation of commodity production into socialist production operated for and by society, can result in large-scale enterprise and the ever-increasing profitability of social labor for those previously exploited Classes from a source of misery and oppression to a source of the highest prosperity and all-round, harmonious perfection. "

The practical part of the program, written by Eduard Bernstein , called in the first place for universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage for men and women, some protective rights for workers and some other political and social reforms. Little more was demanded than general civil rights , which have been on the political agenda since the French Revolution . A way to realize it and to eliminate the diagnosed inevitable economic bondage was not described. This made it clear that parts of the SPD at that time only understood the global democratization of the relations of production as a theoretical long-term goal with no concrete impact on practical everyday politics and that there was no programmatic clarification of the relationship between goal and path. From 1896 this led to the revisionism debate within the SPD, in the course of which the party leadership under August Bebel theoretically maintained the Social Revolution as a party goal, but kept the reformists in the party.

On August 4, 1914, the SPD under Friedrich Ebert approved the war credits for the First World War , which began on August 1, and decided on a civil peace policy for its duration. This war alliance between the SPD and the imperial monarchy broke up the Socialist International and led to the split in German social democracy. The key terms “democracy” and “socialism”, which had previously been largely used synonymously, were now differentiated and both were defined differently. While the majority SPD (MSPD) relied on acceptance among the bourgeoisie and a gradual legal enforcement of parliamentary participation and wanted to use this for social reforms after the war, the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) , founded in April 1917, advocated the immediate End the war, if necessary through a social revolution . She welcomed the Russian October Revolution of 1917 as an impetus for a comprehensive democratization of the economy, state and society in Germany, partly in the sense of a soviet republic . However, the USPD did not have a unified economic program; it united reformists like Bernstein and Marxist theorists like Kautsky with revolutionary socialists of the Spartacus group , who clung to the pre-war goals of the SPD and the Socialist International.

Rosa Luxemburg , the founder and spokesperson of the Spartacus group, delimited her understanding of socialism during the First World War in her prison essays against the reformism of the SPD and against Lenin's concept of the party and revolution. In her 1918 pamphlet "The Russian Revolution" she affirmed the necessity of dictatorial interventions by the proletariat , not a party elite, in the economic order to carry out the revolution under the given circumstances of Russia and at the same time sharply criticized the actions of the Bolsheviks :

Rosa Luxemburg

“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party - no matter how numerous they may be - is not freedom. Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently [...] Without general elections, unrestrained press and freedom of assembly, free struggle of opinion, life in every public institution dies out, becomes a sham life in which the bureaucracy alone remains the active element. Public life is gradually falling asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless idealism direct and rule, among them in fact a dozen brilliant minds are in charge, and an elite of the working class is called to assemblies from time to time to applaud the speeches of the leaders to clap, to unanimously approve the resolutions presented, basically a clique economy - a dictatorship, to be sure, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, i. H. Dictatorship in the purely bourgeois sense, in the sense of Jacobin rule [...] It is the historical task of the proletariat when it comes to power to create socialist democracy in place of bourgeois democracy, not to abolish all democracy. Socialist democracy does not only begin in the promised land, when the foundation of the socialist economy has been created, as a ready-made Christmas present for the good people who have now faithfully supported the handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins at the same time with the dismantling of class rule and the building of socialism. It begins when the socialist party seizes power. It is nothing other than the dictatorship of the proletariat. "

For the author, the broadest democratic participation and awareness-raising of the working population was the only guarantee for a successful construction of socialism in Russia and in Europe and the world in general.

Weimar Republic

In the November Revolution, which ended the First World War, the SPD and USPD formed a transitional government with equal representation on November 10, 1918, the Council of People's Representatives . This offered a historic opportunity to build democratic socialism in Germany. At the Reich Council Congress on December 16, 1918, a large majority of the delegates resolved early parliamentary elections and the immediate socialization of industry, especially the branches of industry that were important to the war effort. The Transitional Council broke up on December 29, 1918 because of irreconcilable differences between SPD and USPD representatives about its goals and competencies. They led to the January uprising on January 4, 1919 , which the SPD leadership and the imperial military had bloodily suppressed from January 6 to 12. In the following elections to the National Council on January 19, 1919, the SPD and USPD together did not receive a parliamentary majority, so that the Weimar Constitution of August 1919 protected private ownership of means of production and only permitted social interventions. The USPD quickly lost its importance and disbanded in 1922.

The Spartakusbund, founded on November 9, 1918, and other left-wing radical groups founded the Communist Party of Germany on January 1, 1919 as a revolutionary alternative to the SPD and USPD. The KPD decided on the program of the Spartakusbund formulated by Rosa Luxemburg at the beginning of December 1918 and thus a democratic path to socialism:

"The Spartakusbund will never take over government power other than through the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian masses in Germany, never other than by virtue of their conscious approval of the views, goals and methods of struggle of the Spartakusbund."

This statement tied the KPD to a broad social movement and was directed against notions of being able to enforce a Soviet republic through a coup against a majority of the population if necessary.

After Rosa Luxemburg's murder on January 19, 1919, however, the KPD soon leaned against Lenin and later on Stalin without criticism. In 1919 she joined the Comintern , which was founded in Moscow and later completely dominated by the CPSU , which aimed for a world proletarian revolution under Soviet leadership. In 1920 the KPD decided on an "offensive strategy" with the approval of the Comintern and tried in 1921 to use the March fighting in Central Germany for a coup against the government coalition. Rosa Luxemburg's confidante Paul Levi then published her essay on the Russian Revolution in order to get the KPD to change course and to question its position against the SPD left. The KPD then ruled Levi out. From then on, Stalin and the CPSU devalued Rosa Luxemburg's positions as “Luxemburgism”. In 1928 the KPD adopted Stalin's thesis of social fascism , according to which social democracy should be regarded as the stirrup holder of fascism and should be fought with priority.

The antagonism between the SPD and the KPD remained unbridgeable throughout the entire Weimar period. This favored the rise of the NSDAP , which under the term National Socialism occupied the term socialism and reinterpreted it in its opposite. Only the Left Opposition of the KPD , the small SAP founded in 1931 and the International Socialist Combat League (ISK) since 1932 advocated cooperation between communists and social democrats in the fight against the NSDAP. The co-founder of SAP Willy Brandt understood socialism as the material realization of the ideal of equality through practical solidarity: "For us socialism was synonymous with the fight against injustice and exploitation, oppression and war: left, where the heart beats." At that time he rejected a capitalist class society, but from 1935 in exile in Norway affirmed that the Norwegian Workers' Party would enter government in order to implement reforms for fairer living conditions. At the same time he advocated international cohesion of all socialists against war and fascism. This attitude has always shaped his understanding of democratic socialism.

time of the nationalsocialism

After its so-called seizure of power on January 30, 1933, the Nazi regime banned the left-wing parties, murdered or imprisoned their executives, brought the German unions into line and thus destroyed all democratic organizations of the German labor movement. Thereupon the persecuted and severely decimated KPD turned away from the social fascism thesis in 1934 in order to build an effective united front of all anti-fascists in the underground or in exile.

But after Stalin's “ Great Terror ” (1936–1938), which also killed thousands of fled German communists, and the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact , most of the socialists and social democrats who were also persecuted were completely disillusioned. In March 1941, under the leadership of the Sopade , the “Union of German Socialist Organizations” was formed in London, consisting of the exile SPD, SAP, ISK and the Neu Beginnen group . This union emphasized a democratic socialism “without bureaucratic dictatorship” in order to distinguish itself from Stalinism . A united front with exiled communists was discussed there, but not realized, as the exiled KPD remained loyal to Stalin, often denounced the social democrats as an “agent of Hitlerism abroad” and justified the expulsions and conquests of the Red Army without criticism. During this time, “democratic socialism” remained primarily a collective term for all socialists persecuted by the Nazi regime, who thereby set themselves apart from all Stalinist communists and their offshoot parties in Europe.

Western zones and Federal Republic

For the SPD, newly founded by Kurt Schumacher in the three western zones in 1946 , “democratic socialism” and “social democracy” were synonymous. The term stood for the preservation of their traditions and for the demarcation from monopoly capitalism , which Schumacher saw as the root of fascism responsible for the failure of the Weimar Republic. In order to prevent its return, the political abuse of economic power must be permanently ruled out through fundamental social changes: "Germany [...] without socializing all the places where large amounts of capital can be collected is impossible for the future." He turned also against Soviet communism and the SED program . Against the establishment of a unity party from the experiences of Weimar, Schumacher upheld the principles of democracy: These are more important than an alliance with the communists. He also implemented this view in the newly founded Socialist International. In their declaration of July 1951 it then said: “There is no socialism without freedom. Socialism can only be realized through democracy, democracy can only be completed through socialism. "

After several electoral defeats and the West Union enforced by Konrad Adenauer , the SPD recognized the social market economy designed by Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard and only demanded that the state should distribute its income fairly. In their Godesberg program of 1959, “democratic socialism” remained the guiding but newly defined central concept. The introduction emphasized the fundamental contradiction between highly developed productivity and the unjust distribution of profits: at present, “enormous fortunes” have been accumulated “without giving everyone a fair share of this common achievement”. The prerequisite for this is that humans “use the daily growing power over natural forces only for peaceful purposes” and “ prevent the arms race ”. That could "for the first time in its history enable everyone to develop their personality in a secure democracy [...] to a life in cultural diversity, beyond need and fear." That is to guarantee, to secure world peace and to resolve the mentioned contradictions Task and goal of the SPD: “Only through a new and better order of society can people open the way to freedom. This new and better order is striving for democratic socialism. ”This was understood on the one hand as an international peace order, on the other hand as a future democratic and pluralistic world society without misery, as participation of all people in prosperity, self-determination, education and social security. The program tried to present the term as a better alternative to Marxism and undemocratic real socialism of the Eastern Bloc as well as to the antisocial tendencies of Western capitalism, in order to underpin the SPD's claim as a governable left people 's party . At the same time, the party left was involved with the help of this model. The goal of democratizing the relations of production and the means of production, which had a central position in the early SPD programs, was missing.

In response to this and the grand coalition formed in 1966 , an extra-parliamentary opposition and student movement formed . This largely lacked social anchoring and approval from workers and unions. The SDS , which the SPD had excluded in 1961, turned to neo-Marxism . From around 1969 so-called K-groups were formed , which were oriented towards Lenin, Leon Trotsky , Stalin and / or Mao Zedong and dogmatized their understanding of socialism. The Socialist Bureau that emerged from the collapse of the SDS represents a democratic socialism .

After the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948 , Willy Brandt, who was elected Chancellor in 1969, declared at the 1949 Berlin SPD party congress: Because people are at the center of the social order sought by the SPD, there can be no socialism without democracy, humanity, freedom, individual rights and moral rights Give norms. “Only by saving the irreplaceable values ​​of Western culture can we hope to ascend to higher forms of human coexistence.” Democratic socialism is not a “closed system”, but is based “on the commitment to freedom, humanism, the rule of law and the social Justice. ”From there he has been calling for more corporate co-determination and democratic participation since the 1960s and announced in his government declaration in 1969 that he would“ risk more democracy ”. In terms of foreign policy, he aimed to overcome the Cold War and a pan-European peace order.

Since his resignation as Federal Chancellor in 1973, Brandt, together with Bruno Kreisky and Olof Palme, tried to build an international network of democratic socialism that should include the Third World . At the Mannheim party congress in 1975, an "Alliance for Peace and Progress" was founded on his initiative, which was supposed to bring together non-communist left-wing parties in Third World countries. As the newly elected chairman of the Socialist International , Brandt announced in 1976 advances for a just New World Economic Order. In 1977 he founded the North-South Commission and commissioned its North-South Report , which appeared in 1980. The report emphasized the interdependence of industrialized and so-called developing countries and called for the industrialized countries in particular to gradually reduce global injustice, which it understood as a central social issue. Brandt emphasized that this should not impose the western model of society on developing countries, but should allow them to have independent policies that are appropriate to their situation and needs.

In the 1969 Bundestag election with Willy Brandt as the top candidate, the SPD was able to win over and involve parts of the student movement. Since Brandt's successor as Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt pushed the NATO double decision (from 1979), the SPD has lost its cohesion and large parts of the younger generation of voters who were active in the peace movement . In 1982 the former SPD members of the Bundestag Karl-Heinz Hansen and Manfred Coppik founded the Democratic Socialists party , the first German party to bear this name. Their program took up extra-parliamentary demands on peace, economic and legal policy and wanted them to take effect in parliament against the SPD leadership, which was regarded as frozen, incapable of criticism and reform. However, the new party failed to make it into the Bundestag because most of the supporters of the peace movement turned to the Greens , which had already been founded in 1979 , and the DS did not gain its own economic profile. This attempt was short-lived, also because from 1983 the SPD again took over many positions of the party left in the opposition.


In July 1945, the social democrat Hermann Brill founded a "League of Democratic Socialists" in Thuringia as a new, common successor party for Social Democrats and Communists in the Soviet Zone . As its program he co- wrote the Buchenwald Manifesto . However, the Soviet military government demanded that the party name and the program be given up and that the party be subject to the guidelines of the Berlin Central Committee of the SPD . For his part, in June 1945, he called for “democracy in state and community, socialism in society and economy”. The occupiers pushed him into the role of a leading organ of the entire Eastern SPD and later, under pressure from the occupying power, affirmed a communist-led unity party in the Soviet occupation zone.

The Social Democrats of the Eastern Zone, led by Otto Grotewohl , founded the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) together with communists in April 1946 . This defined "democratic socialism" in the GDR, which it ruled alone, as a synonym for idealistic, merely moral and therefore illusory "social democracy":

“In contrast to scientific communism, the conception of“ democratic socialism ”is limited to a moral condemnation and to a moral justification of the demand for socialism. “Democratic socialism” is interpreted as an ideal that is to be striven for continuously without profound social changes. […] Instead of the class struggle, the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for political power, the representatives of “democratic socialism” propagate the change in capitalist society through reforms […]. Their declared aim is not the social ownership of the means of production, but the control of the monopolies by the “class-neutral” state, not the revolutionary overthrow of the imperialist state, but the achievement of a parliamentary majority.
The experiences of the class struggle confirm that “democratic socialism” is an illusionary conception of society; unable to implement fundamental social and political changes in the interests of the working class. "

The SED used this devaluation as a propaganda tool for the Cold War until the 1970s.

Attempts at reform in the SED have been suppressed since June 17, 1953 and because of the lack of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of organization in the GDR, they did not gain any public response. Wolfgang Harich demanded in 1956 in the course of the de-Stalinization after the XX. Party congress of the CPSU a programmatic democratization of the SED. Representatives of the GDR opposition such as Robert Havemann , Wolf Biermann and Rudolf Bahro , who saw themselves as democratic socialists or communists, were however excluded, excluded from the SED, were banned from working , house arrested , imprisoned or expatriated . Rosa Luxemburg's writings were only published in full in the GDR from 1974 and commented on in line with the SED doctrines. Their criticism of Lenin, their understanding of democracy, their concept of party and revolution continued to be repulsed as "Luxemburgism".

Opponents of Stalinism, on the other hand, often invoked their criticism of Lenin. Civil rights activists planned to take part in the state-ordered Liebknecht-Luxemburg-Demonstration on January 15, 1988 with critical poster inscriptions, including the famous Luxemburg quote "Freedom is always [also] freedom for those who think differently." their expatriation. Erich Honecker , then Chairman of the GDR State Council , was then reminded of this rally at home and abroad and confronted with the Luxembourg quotation.

The turning point in the GDR in 1989/90 removed power from the SED. From October 1989, its members first removed the entire leadership team and then expelled them from the party. The opposition groups New Forum and Democratic Awakening sometimes referred to their concepts of a reformed, non-aligned GDR as “democratic socialism”. When the SED under Hans Modrow also adopted this term, the civil rights activists distanced themselves from it, however, because they saw it as an attempt at appropriation to restore SED power.

SPD since 1989

The SPD's Berlin program, which was largely written by Oskar Lafontaine in 1989 and was valid until 2007, named democratic socialism as one of several traditions in the party's history:

"Social democracy continues the tradition of the democratic popular movements of the nineteenth century and therefore wants both: democracy and socialism, self-determination of people in politics and the world of work."

This presupposed a duality of political and economic self-determination. The Godesberg program has drawn new and correct conclusions from historical experience:

"It saw democratic socialism as the task of realizing freedom, justice and solidarity through the democratization of society, through social and economic reform."

The "failure of communism" - the collapse of the regimes of the Eastern Bloc in 1989–1991 - had confirmed the social democrats that social justice and individual freedom were inseparable:

“The goal of a free, just social order based on solidarity cannot be separated for all future from the guarantee of human rights as a prerequisite for political and social equality. The decision of the democratic socialists to achieve a better order in society on the basis of democracy and human rights has proven to be the right path for the future too. "

The goal was thus equated with the way there, human rights were not used as a task that had to be guaranteed internationally, but as an existing guarantee for the correctness of the previous path. In the following, the program names the “spiritual roots” of democratic socialism in Europe: Christianity , humanism , the Enlightenment , Marxian theory of history and society, experiences of the workers' movement and the ideas of women's liberation . These ideas from the 19th century took more than 100 years to take effect. Based on this historical experience, democratic socialism should continue to form the foundation of the SPD's policy for freedom, justice and solidarity, which were understood as fundamental values.

Under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder , the SPD leadership hardly used the term, neither for programmatic nor for practical goals. This was due to the realpolitical departure from the Berlin program since the Schröder-Blair paper (1999) and the “ Agenda 2010 ”. In August 2003, before the 140th anniversary of the SPD, the then General Secretary Olaf Scholz suggested that the term be completely deleted from the future SPD basic program:

“There is no state with this name that will follow our market-based democracy. So we shouldn't create such illusions. "

In the 21st century, the party must “change direction”. The term suggests the error that the SPD represents a concept beyond capitalism.

Scholz triggered a fierce internal party debate. For the party chairman Franz Müntefering , the initiative came “at the wrong time”; he did not contradict the content. Many simple party members and representatives of the left wing of the party protested against giving up the goal of a better economic and social order. The SPD vice-chairman at the time, Wolfgang Thierse , stated that correct knowledge of the present “is always the result of a learning process that connects the past with the future”. Therefore, one should explain the term historically, not delete it. For Andrea Nahles , Scholz's proposal was an attack on the identity of the SPD, comparable to the demand on the CDU to remove the C from its party name. The former SPD program author Erhard Eppler , who had successfully campaigned for Schröder's controversial agenda policy at a special party congress the same year before, declared that without democratic socialism in the program, the SPD would be like a “church that no longer had Easter celebrates. ” Tilman Fichter , member of the SPD party executive from 1987 to 2001, accused Schröder and Scholz of“ historical ignorance ”. The SPD has to deal with the susceptibility of global capitalism to crises. Scholz was right in saying that the Berlin program used the term democratic socialism, but no longer defined it.

The Hamburg program approved on October 28, 2007 once again emphasizes the term as a tradition of the SPD and an objective for society as a whole:

“Our history is shaped by the idea of ​​democratic socialism, a society of the free and equal, in which our basic values ​​are realized. It demands an order of economy, state and society in which civil, political, social and economic basic rights are guaranteed for all people, all people can lead a life without exploitation, oppression and violence, i.e. in social and human security. The end of Soviet-style state socialism did not refute the idea of ​​democratic socialism, but impressively confirmed the orientation of social democracy to basic values. For us, democratic socialism remains the vision of a free, just and solidary society, the realization of which is an ongoing task for us. The principle of our action is social democracy. "

This program also declares "lasting peace", "securing the ecological basis of life", "equal rights and self-determination for all people", "a peaceful and just world order", "sustainable progress", "the preventive welfare state" and " Civil society [solidarity] ".

In the "Guideline for the Activities of Working Groups in the SPD", which was last adopted in 2012 by the SPD party executive, the working groups of the Young Socialists , the Social Democratic Lawyers and Education are expressly entrusted with the task of "for", "in the sense of" or To work “for the goals of” democratic socialism.

The Young Socialists (Jusos) also orientate themselves on this term and understand it as the goal of the greatest possible freedom of the individual within the framework of comprehensive social solidarity, which demands a democratization of all areas of life and a guarantee of prosperity for everyone through the fair distribution of goods, income and educational opportunities. But they represent democratic socialism more strongly as a social alternative to capitalism and therefore do not rule out alliances with other left-wing parties and social forces.

PDS / Die Linke since 1989

In December 1989 an SED party congress majority added the party name, and in February 1990 made the addition of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) the new party name. The successor party to the SED thus claimed for itself those social democratic traditions of the USPD and the SPD left that were directed against the majority SPD 's affirmation of war and then against the “democratic centralism” of Lenin and Stalin. Their 1993 program emphasized a society whose development should bring about peace, nonviolence and social justice, abolish exploitation of humans and overcome overexploitation of nature. In contrast to the SPD, democratic socialism was elevated to a general political objective and understood as a social order that should not only tame capitalism, but should replace it. The dominance of the free market and the pursuit of profit in all areas of life and all interpersonal relationships should be abolished. Democratic socialism was therefore not necessarily seen as the opposite of classical Marxism.

In a program draft of the PDS from 2003 it said:

“The socialist idea has been damaged by its abuse as a justification for dictatorship and oppression. The experiences of the GDR, including the insight into the causes of its collapse, oblige us to re-establish our understanding of socialism. [...] The PDS strives for a socialist society that guarantees the right to self-determination of all people and peoples. It realizes a democracy that extends to political, economic, ecological and cultural conditions. It requires the subordination of the mode of production, distribution and consumption to the principle of providing all citizens with the conditions for a self-determined life based on solidarity. "

The successor party of the PDS, Die Linke, is also committed to democratic socialism in its party program. A mixed form of planned and market economy is sought, from which a non-capitalist society should result overall. The banking system and key industries are to be transferred to public or cooperative hands. Small and medium-sized private companies should be able to continue to exist, with the form of ownership as a cooperative being strongly promoted. This form of society is to be protected from renewed abuse of power through the separation of powers, democratic control by parliaments and extra-parliamentary movements.


Several politicians from the Polish Socialist Party were represented in the Polish government-in-exile in London . A leading theoretical head was Adam Ciołkosz (1901–1978), who sharply demarcated himself from the Polish communists and published several books and articles on democratic socialism.


In the Prague spring of 1968, KPC leader Alexander Dubček tried to mix the planned economy installed by the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia with free market economies . He lifted media censorship and allowed autonomous unions. The Czech-Swiss economist Ota Šik had conceived this mixed economic model since 1960 and began to implement it as Minister of Economics under Dubček. He later described it as the “ third way ” of a democratic socialism, which could be an alternative to state communism in the East and capitalism in the West and thus become a promising model for all of Europe.

Dubček's and Šik's reforms were often referred to in the West as “socialism with a human face” and welcomed as a model of democratic socialism. The relationship between liberal-market economy, democratic and socialist components in Sik's concept remained controversial. Some representatives of the New Left in Western Europe welcomed it and advocated it with their own additions, such as Ossip K. Flechtheim and Arnold Künzli , while others questioned it as insufficiently socialist, such as Hans-Jürgen Krahl . Some saw Sik's model as capitalism complemented by cooperative elements; the legal anthropologist Wolfgang Fikentscher defined it as “employee capitalism”.

After the transition to a market economy in 1989, a communist party remained in Czechoslovakia, from which a minority split off in 1990 and founded a party of democratic socialism .


The communist parties of Western Europe bordered each other around the XX. CPSU party congress in 1956 gradually diverged from Soviet communism and developed its political programs at different speeds in the direction of an independent democratic socialism, which since 1975 has been called "Eurocommunism". They recognized the civil rights of freedom of expression, assembly and organization, parliamentary democracy, party pluralism, the market economy and private ownership of the means of production and rejected any ideological and political claim to leadership of the Soviet Union and thus Marxism-Leninism and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Mind Lenin. Since 1973, the CP of Spain under Santiago Carrillo has also rejected intra-party democratic centralism as undemocratic and non-Marxist. In 1976, 26 Western European Communist Party leaders in East Berlin also rejected “proletarian internationalism ”, which traditionally had meant taking practical advantage of Soviet interests. They maintained the goal of radical social change to create economic and material equality, but emphasized that it can only be achieved through the democratic conviction of the majority of the population and that this cannot and should not be cemented by subsequent party dictatorship. They also counted on an internal change in Soviet communism.

To what extent their goals and means still differ from those of social democracy, leading Eurocommunists could often no longer make clear, despite attempts at theoretical profiling. This is one of the reasons why the eurocommunist parties have lost political influence, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Latin America

In Latin America there have been attempts in several states since 1970 to build democratic socialism. They differed from Fidel Castro's policy in Cuba , who, after his successful revolution in 1959, leaned against the Soviet Union in terms of foreign policy and ideology and, domestically, had implemented a planned economy and a one-party system against the aims of most intellectuals and leadership cadres.

The Marxist Salvador Allende , with an explicit demarcation from Cuba's model, advocated a constitutionally compliant, nonviolent path to socialism that was gradually legitimized by democratic majorities, which for him remained inextricably linked to the rule of law, freedom of expression and freedom of organization. With the electoral alliance Unidad Popular he won a broad parliamentary majority in Chile in 1970, which was increased when he was reelected in 1972. With this he nationalized the key industries, especially in copper mining, expropriated foreign, especially US-American corporations, gave smallholders shares in real estate with a land reform and promoted nutrition, health and education with large-scale state programs. His attempt failed, however, because of the inflation that followed, economic sanctions by the USA, mass strikes by the miners, some of which were violently suppressed, and the violence of strong opposition forces. They disempowered him in 1973 with a military coup supported by the CIA and smashed the left-wing parties in Chile with terror and mass murders.

Michael Manley ruled Jamaica from 1972 to 1980 with a similar program to Allende and was then voted out of office democratically and non-violently. In Peru under Juan Velasco Alvarado , in Argentina under Alejandro Agustín Lanusse and Bolivia under Juan José Torres , attempts were made to build up their own socialism before right-wing military dictatorships took over in these states from 1973. In retrospect, the years 1968 to 1973 were therefore referred to as an era of democratic socialism in Latin America.

In Grenada , Maurice Bishop came to power in 1979 with a bloodless coup and broad popular support and then tried to build grassroots socialism. He was overthrown and murdered in 1983 by his pro-Soviet deputy Bernard Coard .

The Sandinista in Nicaragua came to power under Daniel Ortega , who saw himself as a Marxist, after a sacrificial civil war in 1979 and then undertook socio-political interventions in the previous feudal capitalist economic order, including land reform, a literacy campaign and the establishment of a national health system. They called these measures, as opposed to Cuba, democratic socialism and tried to legitimize them through democratic elections. In theoretical writings, representatives of the Sandinista saw democratic reforms as a transition to a fully realized socialism of the future, in which cooperative, fiscal and central planning elements should be connected. In order to end the US-sponsored contra war , they made far-reaching concessions to the opposition, media and election observers. In 1990 they were then democratically voted out.

Whether the Sandinista wanted a democratic socialism is controversial. Soviet influence claimed by the US government has not been proven. The West European solidarity movement viewed the Sandinista revolution as democratic socialism in the sense of the Czechoslovak Third Way; similarly also opposition civil rights activists in the GDR. German representatives of the left wing of the SPD such as Günter Grass saw the Sandinista policy as an impetus for a thorough reform of the SPD program and called for a turn away from the growth and consumption ideology, a new world economic order, unselfish solidarity with the Third World, disarmament, dissolution of the European military alliances as well as full integration of ecology into the production budgets of industrialized countries.

Hugo Chávez pursued a policy in Venezuela similar to that of the Sandinista, which he called Bolivarianism . Even Bolivia under President Evo Morales based on this course. Chavez also relied on the theory of socialism of the 21st century by his former advisor Heinz Dieterich , which combines Marxist value theory with grassroots democracy . In 2007 Chavez tried to anchor his politics as democratic socialism in a new draft constitution; however, he did not get a majority in the referendum. His advance was also criticized by democratic socialists in Europe. Dieterich distanced himself from Chavez in 2008 because he preferred to surround himself with yes-sayers and shy away from political debate.

Political scientist Raul Zelik emphasizes that Chavez was elected by a majority of the population in 1998 and defended decentrally against coup attempts in 2002. Afterwards, his government implemented relatively successful social programs for marginalized groups and strengthened grassroots participation among the poor. However, mobilization effects have been partially blocked again since 2005 due to state bureaucratic interests, clientele politics and orientation towards the state socialism of Cuba. Chavez avoids a social debate about the causes of the failure of earlier attempts to combine democracy and socialism, and through his personalistic leadership style he promotes subsidized instead of self-supporting projects and thus traditional expectations of the state as a provider. Only radical democratization can force a more transparent distribution of oil profits, overcome authoritarian power structures, corruption and dependence on the world market.

Additional information

See also


Historical development and prospects

  • Heinz Dieterich : The socialism of the 21st century . Kai Homilius Verlag , Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-89706-652-1 .
  • Dieter Dowe (ed.): Democratic socialism in Europe since the Second World War. Lectures and discussions at an international conference of the discussion group on the history of the workers' movement, University of Bochum . Historical Research Center, Bonn 2001, ISBN 3-86077-984-2 .
  • Donald F. Busky: Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger Frederick, 2000, ISBN 0-275-96886-3 .
  • Walter Euchner : The Formation of the Concept of “Democratic Socialism”. In: Herfried Münkler (Ed.): The chances of freedom. Basic problems of democracy. Piper, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-492-11545-4 .
  • Thomas Meyer (Ed.): Democratic Socialism. Spiritual foundations and ways into the future . Olzog Verlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-7892-9854-9 .
  • Udo Bermbach, Franz Nuscheler: Socialist pluralism. Texts on the theory and practice of socialist societies. Hoffmann and Campe, 1985, ISBN 3-455-09065-6 .
Relationship to social democracy
  • Thomas Meyer: Democratic Socialism, Social Democracy. An introduction . Dietz-Verlag, Bonn 1991, ISBN 3-87831-357-8 .
  • Horst Heimann, Thomas Meyer (Ed.): Reform Socialism and Social Democracy. On the theoretical discussion of democratic socialism in the Weimar Republic: Report on the scientific congress of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung “Contributions to the reformist theory of socialism in the Weimar Republic” from October 9th to 12th, 1980. JHW Dietz, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-8012- 1125-8 .
  • Christian Fenner: Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy. Reality and rhetoric of the social discussion in Germany . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-593-32190-4 .
  • Horst Heimann, Karl Heinz Blessing (ed.): Social Democratic Traditions and Democratic Socialism 2000 . Bund-Verlag, Cologne 1993, ISBN 3-7663-2454-3 .
  • Gesine Schwan (ed.): Democratic socialism for industrial societies . European Publishing House , Cologne 1979, ISBN 3-434-00405-X .
  • Richard Löwenthal (ed.): Democratic socialism in the eighties. Willy Brandt on his 65th birthday, December 18, 1978 . European Publishing House, Cologne 1979, ISBN 3-434-00380-0 .
  • Francesco Di Palma : Liberal Socialism in Germany and Italy in Comparison. The example of Sopade and Giustizia & Libertà . Metropol, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-940938-81-7 .
  • Kurt Schumacher, Erich Ollenhauer, Willy Brandt: The mission of democratic socialism: Theory and practice of German social democracy. Dietz Verlag JHW successor, 1972, ISBN 3-87831-051-X .

New left

  • Vladimír Klokočka , Rudi Dutschke : Democratic Socialism. An authentic model . Konkret-Verlag, Hamburg 1969.
  • Christian Fenner: For an introduction to the theory of democratic socialism: University Initiative Democratic Socialism. 2nd edition. European Publishing House, 1979, ISBN 3-434-45081-5 .
  • Malte Ristau, Martin Gorholt: Democratic Socialism: Contributions to Understanding. Schüren Presseverlag, 1991, ISBN 3-924800-74-X . (Critical Yearbook of the Forum Democratic Socialism)
  • Karl Theodor Schuon, Bernhard Claussen: Political theory of democratic socialism: an introduction to the basic elements of a normative-critical theory of democratic institutions. (= Series of publications of the university initiative Democratic Socialism. Volume 19). SP-Verlag N. Schüren, 1986.

Relationship to Christianity

  • Adolf Arndt, Gustav Gundlach: Christianity and democratic socialism . Zink-Verlag, Munich 1958.
  • Herbert Wehner , Rüdiger Reitz (Ed.): Christianity and Democratic Socialism. Contributions to an uncomfortable partnership . Dreisam-Verlag, Cologne 1991, ISBN 3-89125-220-X .
  • Franz Klüber: The upheaval in thinking in Catholic social teaching . Pahl-Rugenstein, Cologne 1982, ISBN 3-7609-0728-8 .
  • Theodor Strohm: Church and Democratic Socialism . Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich 1968.
  • Herwig Büchele , Harry Hoefnagels, Bruno Kreisky : Church and democratic socialism . Europa-Verlag, Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-203-50659-9 .

PDS / Left Party / Die Linke

  • Sebastian Prinz: The programmatic development of the PDS: Continuity and change in the politics of a socialist party. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2010, ISBN 978-3-531-17215-6 .

Prague Spring / Third Way

  • Arnold Künzli: Democratic Socialism in Search of Its Identity. In: Ulrich Gärtner, Jiri Kosta (Hrsg.): Economy and society. Criticism and alternatives. Celebration for Ota Šik on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Berlin 1979, ISBN 3-428-04473-8 , pp. 267-282.
  • Helmut Dahm, Wilhelm Dörge: Democratic socialism. The Czechoslovak model. Leske, Opladen 1971

reference books

Web links

Individual evidence

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