The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD – Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) is the second oldest political party of Germany still in existence and also one of the oldest and largest in the world, celebrating its 140th anniversary in 2003. Rooted in the workers' movement, it is left-of-center and subscribes to social democracy.
The SPD is a member party of the Socialist International.
Members of the party who are younger than 35 are organized in the Jusos.
The party considers itself to be founded on May 23, 1863, by Ferdinand Lassalle under the name Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (ADAV, General German Workers' Association). In 1869, August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht founded the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (SDAP, Social Democratic Worker Party), which merged with the ADAV in 1875. Otto von Bismarck had the party outlawed for its pro-revolution, anti-monarchy sentiments; but in 1892 it was legalized again.
SPD election poster, 1932. Translation: "Against Papen
, Hitler, Thälmann; List 2, Social Democrats"
After World War I, the Social Democratic Party and the newly founded Communist Party of Germany (which consisted mostly of SPD defectors) became bitter rivals, not least because of the legacy of the German Revolution (see Weimar Republic). The leader of the Prussian government in Berlin, socialist Otto Braun was ousted by military coup on July 20, 1932 and the party was banned by the Nazis in 1933. It takes a certain pride in being the only party that voted against the 1933 Enabling Act.
The SPD was recreated after World War II. In West Germany, it was initially in the opposition, but led the federal government under Chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt from 1969 until 1982. In its 1959 Godesberg Program the SPD abandoned the concept of a class party and Marxist principles while continuing to stress social welfare programs. Although the SPD originally opposed West Germany's 1955 entry into NATO, it now strongly supports German ties with the alliance.
In the Russian sector which later became East Germany, the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Germany were forced to merge to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). During the fall of Communist rule in 1989, the SPD was re-established as a separate party in East Germany and then merged with its West German counterpart.
The SPD emerged as the winner in the September 1998 elections with 40.9% of the votes cast. Gerhard Schröder led the party to victory in 1998 on a moderate platform emphasizing the need to reduce unemployment. The SPD has a powerful base in the bigger cities and industrialized Bundesländer. Oskar Lafontaine, elected SPD chairman November 1995, resigned from his party and government positions in March, 1999. Schröder succeeded Lafontaine as party chairman. In the September 2002 elections, the SPD reached 38.5% of the national votes, narrowly winning the elections. The European elections of 2004 were a disaster for the SPD, which reached its lowest level in public support for a decade with 21.5% of the vote.
For many years the membership of the SPD has been declining. Down from a high of over 1 million in 1976, there were about 775,000 members at the time of the 1998 election victory, and by August 2003 the figure had dropped to 663,000.
Leading members of the SPD before World War I
Interwar leaders of the SPD
Chairmen of the Social Democratic Party
- Party official website (http://www.spd.de/)