Social democracy

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Social democracy is a political movement and political ideology of the left that sees itself - sometimes more, sometimes less pronounced - as a form of reformist democratic socialism . Social democracy, as it sees itself today, advocates a socially just society with democratic and social or welfare state means . Until the early 1960s, the partial nationalization of the means of production was one of the generally recognized goals of the social democratic movement in West Germany - a goal that was largely abandoned there with the Godesberg program of the SPD in 1959.

Political location

From the beginning of the 20th century, the originally revolutionary-socialist social democracy increasingly differed from communist movements in that it tried to solve social problems not through a revolution of the working class , but through democratic reforms . Corresponding theses advocated in Germany, especially by Eduard Bernstein from the late 1890s (see revisionism theory ), gradually gained acceptance in social democracy against the initially revolutionary majority until after the First World War at the latest . This led to splits in the social democracy, which in 1919 led to the founding of the revolutionary KPD . In some countries, social democracy is close to left-wing liberalism , which however does not assign the state - like social democracy - the decisive role in solving political problems. In its early days, social democracy was also more oriented towards social class structures , especially the working class of the time . The Social Democrats were repeatedly favored by communists because of their renunciation of the revolution, their parliamentary-democratic orientation , the formation of compromises with the bourgeois classes and parties and the temporary cooperation with counterrevolutionary or right-wing extremist military (for example, during the violent suppression of the Spartacus uprising in Germany in 1919) Accused of “ betrayal ” of the working class. On the other hand, social democracy was often equated with the communists by right-wing circles, and its pluralistic-democratic orientation was defamed as a cover.

Core political orientation

The German Social Democracy is based, according to its statement of principles on a humanistic man. Furthermore, it basically strives for a social change towards a solidary socialist and pluralistic society in which every person enjoys equal opportunities and an equal degree of political freedom and welfare. Major social democratic theorists, e.g. B. Karl Kautsky , saw this image of society as a utopia , with which the idea of ​​the path as the goal increasingly prevailed within the social-democratic organizations.

State image

Even if the social democrats' image of the state was and is subject to considerable changes, it can be said today that the social democrats see the state as the main guarantor of social justice and solidarity. According to the German view, its task is to remove the roots of social inequality, while Scandinavian social democrats consciously strive for a material redistribution with a view to a welfare state for all. Anglo-Saxon Social Democrats, on the other hand, see the task of the state primarily in guiding the economy and taking care of their workers.


Right from the start, social democracy did not see itself as tied to a single nation , but always had the right to be an international movement. The Socialist International (SI) is the worldwide union of socialist and social democratic political parties and organizations (see also Labor Party ). A total of 168 parties and organizations belong to it. The organization has its roots in the International Workers' Association (IAA) initiated by Karl Marx , which was founded on September 28, 1864 and broke up in 1876.

The new Socialist International, which established the tradition of the SI that exists today, was founded on July 20, 1889 in Paris as the Second International. In its early years, the SI campaigned primarily against nationalism, which was intensifying with an imperialist colonial policy, and the armament policy in the states of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as for the strengthening of the labor movement worldwide. With the start of World War I, the International broke up in 1914. The German SPD, the Austrian SDAP, the British Labor Party and others. a. Most of them accepted the political positions of their respective national governments (see Burgfriedenspolitik ).

Today the SI consists of a heterogeneous collection of parties and movements, mainly from Europe and Latin America, which, due to their origins and their careers, often have different views. On the one hand there are former liberation movements like the African National Congress , the Sandinistas or the Farabundo Martí , and on the other hand parties like New Labor , the traditional but modernized parties like the German and Austrian Social Democrats, the French Parti Socialiste , Spain's PSOE , Italy's Democratici di Sinistra and the Swedish Socialdemokraterna . There are also post-communist parties that embarked on a democratic-socialist path after the end of the Cold War .


History of the German Social Democracy

The social democracy in Germany had its beginnings in the failed March Revolution of 1848. At this time the first workers' associations emerged, which however could not achieve any lasting political effect and were banned in 1854. In 1863 Ferdinand Lassalle founded the General German Workers' Association (ADAV) in Leipzig . In 1869 the Marxist- oriented Social Democratic Workers 'Party of Germany (SDAP) was founded in Eisenach by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht , which merged with the ADAV in 1875 to form the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAP). The SAP renamed itself in 1890 - after the repeal of the socialist laws that had existed for twelve years - in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Despite the fight against social democracy by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck , for example with the socialist laws that forbade social democratic activities outside the Reichstag between 1878 and 1890 , it became the strongest political force in Germany by 1912. During this time, the social democratic movement was to be equated with the socialism that arose from it. Social democracy as a term and as an ideology also found increasing supporters in the English Workers 'Party and the French Workers' Party. The SPD supported the war effort of the empire with the truce policy . Many social democrats saw the war economy as a step towards socialism. On August 4, 1914, the SPD parliamentary group voted unanimously in favor of the war credits, which enabled the German Empire to mobilize completely after its declaration of war on Russia on August 2. On December 2, 1914, Karl Liebknecht was the only Social Democrat to vote against the first extension of the war credits.

In the course of the war defeat and the November Revolution , the SPD came to power in 1918. During the war, its left wing split off from the SPD as the USPD (Independent SPD) in protest against the peace policy of the mother party . When the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was founded in the course of the November Revolution at the end of 1918 / beginning of 1919 , the German Social Democrats had finally split into two different parties: a reform-oriented SPD and a revolutionary-socialist or communist party . The communist movement, which had also emerged from the social democratic movement, was now the radical opposite of the more moderately oriented SPD . In other countries too, after the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia , in which communists had seized power, communist secession from social democracy in the form of communist parties had taken place. During the Weimar Republic , the SPD was the largest democratic party to support the state. The great revolutionary wing of the USPD merged with the KPD in 1920 (see VKPD ). Another part of the USPD returned to the SPD by 1922. The remainder of the USPD formed only a splinter party until its dissolution in the SDAP, which was newly founded in 1931, and can be viewed as a separate part of the social democratic movement.

The SPD parliamentary group was the only parliamentary group in the Reichstag to reject the Enabling Act in 1933, despite massive threats from the National Socialists . It was banned by the National Socialists in 1933. The other parties either dissolved themselves or were smashed, including the KPD. Many of its members and supporters were arrested, interned in concentration camps , or went into exile . Those who remained in the country fought the dictatorship of German fascism from underground .

After the war, the SPD initially took on the opposition role in the Federal Republic of Germany , and from 1966 also assumed government responsibility, initially in a grand coalition with the CDU / CSU and from 1969 first under Chancellor Willy Brandt , and since 1974 under Helmut Schmidt , in a social-liberal coalition . During this time there was a complete turning away from communist ideals and the rejection of the real existing socialism in the GDR. In the Soviet occupation zone , later the GDR , the SPD and the KPD were forced to unite to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which became the ruling state party in the GDR until 1989. In 1998 the reformed Social Democrats ( Neue Mitte ), together with a Green Party, which was also subject to social democratic traits, gained a majority in the Bundestag and elected Gerhard Schröder as the seventh German Chancellor .


Today, according to its own claim and according to political parlance, the SPD is the embodiment of social democracy in Germany. From the point of view of political philosophy , on the other hand, the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk judges that because of the fundamental agreement of the political goals of all German parties - social market economy, social justice and civil rights - "the German party system offers voters a choice between four types of social democracy".

The SPD's commitment to the market economy has only been in force since the Godesberg program turned away from Marxism. As a result, the SPD opened up to new groups of voters and, as a people 's party , addressed broad sections of the population. In addition, the social situation of the workers in the Federal Republic of Germany has improved significantly over the decades (" economic miracle "). In particular, the educational expansion accelerated by the SPD in the seventies has led to workers' children also achieving higher educational qualifications. The social rise of large sections of the working class reinforces the trend that the electorate and party base of the SPD increasingly come from the middle class . Due to the increasing dissolution of traditional social democratic skilled workers' milieus, the SPD is currently in a phase of programmatic and personnel change ( Neue Mitte ).

The policy of the so-called “ Agenda 2010 ”, which began in 2003, was associated with a considerable loss of identity for the SPD. As a result, it was defeated in several state and federal elections, and many members resigned from the party. Social Democrats disappointed in their party's politics joined a new party founded in early 2005, the WASG , which in 2007 was largely absorbed by Die Linke . Other parts founded the Social Alternative for Justice (SAG) party and the Berlin Alternative for Solidarity and Counter- Defense (BASG). The SPD got into an ongoing dispute over the evaluation and continuation of these reforms.

After the federal election in 2009 , the SPD left the government after 11 years and went into the opposition . From 2013 to 2017 she was again part of the grand coalition . After 78.4% of the SPD members took part in the vote on the coalition agreement in 2018 and 66% of them approved the coalition agreement, the SPD is again a member of the government. At the end of the 2010s, German social democracy found itself in severe turbulence and an existence-threatening crisis. In 2017, the SPD suffered a devastating defeat in the federal election, in the Bavarian state election in 2018 it was only the fifth strongest party, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Sigmar Gabriel, Martin Schulz and Andrea Nahles each resigned the unhappy party chairmen. The main causes are internal party turmoil, the difficulties in profiling oneself in a grand coalition, dealing with the refugee crisis and the lack of success in solving social problems (including rents, pensions, low wages) in times of economic prosperity. The disastrous result in the European elections on May 26, 2019, in which the SPD was only the third strongest party nationwide with 15.8% for the first time, exacerbated the crisis. After Andrea Nahles resigned in June 2019, the SPD initiated a process lasting several months to find the new dual leadership with equal representation. In December 2019, Saskia Esken and Norbert-Walter-Borjans were elected as new party leaders, which was generally seen as a punishment for the party establishment and a clear shift to the left. The SPD declared itself to turn away from Hartz IV, to more investments and the reintroduction of the wealth tax.



The Austrian Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP) was founded in 1888 and was characterized by Marxist approaches until the 1930s. There were two wings within the party:

  • the social democratic wing was the more moderate left- wing liberal wing of the SDAP and stood for a welfare state, liberal democracy and a fixed minimum wage for workers.
  • the Austromarxist wing was shaped by revolutionary ideas. Norbert Leser describes his tension in his book “Between Reformism and Bolshevism ”, 1968; 2nd Edition. of the central part 1985.

After the SDAP was banned in 1934 in the Austro-Fascistcorporate state ” and during the Nazi era (1938–1945), it was re-established in 1945 as the Socialist Party of Austria (SPÖ).

At the beginning of the Second Republic, it was part of the grand coalition with the ÖVP until the mid-1960s. In 1966 the party was weakened by the Olah affair , which led to internal problems, a decisive loss of votes in the National Council election and to a sole government of the ÖVP.

From 1970 the SPÖ provided the Federal Chancellor with Bruno Kreisky, with the tolerance of the FPÖ as the sole ruling party . From 1971 to 1983 there was even an absolute majority in the National Council. During this time under Kreisky, a modern welfare state was established, but the vote on the commissioning of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant was lost .

After the National Council election in 1983, Kreisky resigned, followed by Fred Sinowatz at the head of the party. The SPÖ remained in the government, but you had to go into a coalition with the FPÖ under Norbert Steger, as you could no longer defend the absolute majority. In 1986 the SPÖ dissolved the coalition because of protests against the new FPÖ boss Jörg Haider . This was followed by another 13-year grand coalition, but for the first time in the Second Republic under the leadership of Chancellor Franz Vranitzky . In 1991 the party was renamed the Social Democratic Party of Austria in order to give itself a more modern profile in line with Western European customs. In 1997 Viktor Klima replaced Vranitzky as chancellor and party chairman and continued the coalition with the ÖVP until 2000. Between 2000 and 2006 the SPÖ was in opposition because the ÖVP had switched to a coalition with the FPÖ and, after 2005, with the BZÖ .


In contrast to other social democratic parties, the SPÖ has been rejecting economic or neoliberalism since 1998 and sees the state as the bearer of an active economic policy. Combating unemployment and achieving full employment is the SPÖ's top priority.

Since October 1, 2006 , after four years, it has become the strongest parliamentary group again, but lost this position to the ÖVP after the 2017 National Council election. In addition, she had won back the electorate of the workers in this National Council election .

One of the demands of the Social Democrats is, for example, a needs-based minimum income of € 800 and the introduction of a capital gains tax. The Social Democrats partially prevailed on these points, but were unable to reach an agreement with the ÖVP on issues relating to the Eurofighter and tuition fees .

From January 11, 2007, after a seven-year break, the SPÖ again appointed the Federal Chancellor ( see Federal Government Gusenbauer ). Since the National Council elections in 2008 , the SPÖ has again appointed Werner Faymann as Federal Chancellor , despite considerable losses . After his resignation on May 9, 2016, Christian Kern took over this office, but not only lost the 2017 National Council elections in 2017, but also left the government after the ÖVP had formed a government with the FPÖ. Since then, the SPÖ has been the largest parliamentary group on the opposition bench in the National Council.


Before today's Social Democratic Party was founded in Switzerland, various workers' organizations such as the Swiss Trade Union Confederation (1880) and several parties with a social democratic orientation were founded in the 19th century. However, these workers 'parties mostly only existed for a short time until the Swiss Workers' Day on October 21, 1888, decided to found the Swiss Social Democratic Party . The Berner Albert Steck wrote the pledged democracy party program, which canceled revolutionary aspirations, and which also came from Bern Alexander Reichel was first elected party president.

Two years after the party was founded, Jakob Vogelsanger was elected to the National Council as the first social democrat . The moderate party program was replaced at the Aarau Party Congress in 1904 by a Marxist program written by Otto Lang .

Today the SP is the second largest parliamentary group in the Swiss parliament and has two representatives in the government. In its new program, too, it sticks to “overcoming capitalism” and the idea of ​​“democratic socialism”.


In the second half of the 20th century, social democracy was, alongside Christian democracy and conservative parties, one of the two determining directions in many democracies in Europe, especially in Scandinavia and Spain , but also in phases in France , Italy and the United Kingdom . As people 's parties, the parties belonging to it combined elements of both socialism and liberalism as two of the three classic political orientations. The Social Democrats found their electorate mainly in less religious and urban milieus as well as among workers, employees and pensioners.

After the turn of the millennium, the influence of social democratic parties decreased across Europe, on the one hand because the binding force of their traditional milieus decreased or sometimes disappeared in the course of increasing individualization . On the other hand, new political competitors emerged such as the programmatically related green parties on the one hand and the populist parties aimed at traditional social democratic voters on the other.

In the post-socialist states of Eastern Europe, social democracy usually only plays a subordinate role, sometimes their parties emerged from the formerly socialist state parties, in other countries they are also newly founded. In Russia and Poland, for example, social democratic parties are politically insignificant, while in Slovakia , for example, the content orientation (authoritarian / nationalistic) differs greatly from that in Western Europe, or in Romania the Social Democratic Party is seen as corrupt and oligarchical , and in the eyes of its critics above all personal enrichment of their leading representatives.

See also


Web links

Wikisource: Social Democracy  - Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: social democracy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Social Democracy  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Donald F. Busky: Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, Connecticut, USA 2000, p. 8, "The Frankfurt Declaration of the Socialist International, which almost all social democratic parties are members of, declares the goal of the development of democratic socialism"
  2. Hamburg program. The SPD's basic program ( Memento of October 20, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (2007; PDF; 2.2 MB), p. 13f (accessed on August 22, 2012)
  3. Confused people pass on confusion. In: Der Spiegel . 35/2004, August 23, 2004.
  4. Zacharias Zacharakis, Ludwig Greven, Lisa Caspari, Marcus Gatzke, Catherine Schuler, Alexandra Endres: SPD: The Agenda trauma. In: Die Zeit , March 7, 2017.
  5. ^ Daniel Friedrich Sturm: Steinmeier's SPD defiantly goes into the opposition. In the world . September 27, 2009.
  6. We decided together! Retrieved March 8, 2018 .
  7. SP Ö. Party program: Chapter 3.1.2, p. 8, 1998.
  8. Democratic socialism as a vision of the SP Switzerland. on: