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Social Democratic Party of Germany
|General Secretary||Lars Klingbeil|
|Deputy Leaders||Klara Geywitz
|Founded||23 May 1863 (1863-05-23)|
|Merger of||General German Workers' Association
Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany
|Headquarters||Willy-Brandt-Haus D-10911 Berlin, Germany|
|Women's wing||Association of Social Democratic Women|
|Paramilitary wing||Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (1924–1933)|
|Membership (December 2019)||419,300|
|European affiliation||Party of European Socialists|
|International affiliation||Progressive Alliance|
|European Parliament group||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats|
152 / 709
21 / 69
465 / 1,868
16 / 96
|Ministers-president of states||
7 / 16
The Social Democratic Party of Germany (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD; [zoˈtsi̯aːldemoˌkʁaːtɪʃə paʁˌtaɪ ˈdɔʏtʃlants]) is a social-democratic political party in Germany. It is one of the two major contemporary political parties in Germany along with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU).
Established in 1863, the SPD is by far the oldest existing political party represented in the Bundestag and was one of the first Marxist-influenced parties in the world. From the 1890s through the early 20th century, the SPD was Europe's largest Marxist party and was consistently the most popular party in Germany. During the First World War, the party split between a pro-war mainstream and the anti-war Independent Social Democratic Party, of which some members went on to form the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The SPD played a leading role in the German Revolution of 1918–1919 and was chiefly responsible for the foundation of the Weimar Republic. SPD politician Friedrich Ebert served as the first President of Germany and the SPD was the strongest party until 1932. After the rise of the Nazi Party to power, it was banned in 1933 and operated in exile as the Sopade.
After the Second World War, the SPD was re-established. In East Germany, it merged with the KPD to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. In West Germany, the SPD became one of two major parties alongside the CDU/CSU. In the Godesberg Program, the SPD dropped its commitment to Marxism, becoming a big tent party of the centre-left. The SPD led the federal government from 1969 to 1982 and again from 1998 to 2005. It served as a junior partner to the CDU/CSU from 1966 to 1969, 2005 to 2009 and again since 2013. Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans have been the party's leaders since the 2019 leadership election. It is the second-largest party in the Bundestag with 152 out of 709 seats, having won 20.5% of votes cast at the 2017 federal election. The SPD is a junior member of the federal government along with the CDU/CSU which was first formed after the 2013 election and renewed in 2017. The SPD is a member of 11 of the 16 German state governments and is a leading partner in seven of them.
The SPD is a member of the Party of European Socialists and sits with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament. With 16 MEPs, it is the third largest party in the group. The SPD was a founding member of the Socialist International, but the party left in 2013 after criticising its acceptance of authoritarian parties. The SPD subsequently founded the Progressive Alliance and was joined by numerous other parties around the world. Previously, the SPD was a founding member of both the Second International and the Labour and Socialist International.
The SPD finds its origins in the General German Workers' Association, founded in 1863, and the Social Democratic Workers' Party, founded in 1869. The two groups merged in 1875 to create the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands). From 1878 to 1890, the Anti-Socialist Laws banned any grouping or meeting that aimed at spreading socialist principles, 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. The SPD was the largest Marxist party in Europe and consistently the most popular party in German federal elections from 1890 onwards, although it was surpassed by other parties in terms of seats won in the Reichstag due to the electoral system.
In the years leading up to World War I, the SPD remained ideologically radical in official principle, although many party officials tended to moderation in everyday politics. According to Roger Eatwell and Anthony Wright, the SPD became a party of reform, with social democracy representing "a party that strives after the socialist transformation of society by the means of democratic and economic reforms". They emphasise this development as central to understanding 20th-century social democracy, of which the SPD was a major influence. In the 1912 federal election, the SPD won 34.8% of votes and finally became the largest party in the Reichstag with 110 seats, although it was still excluded from government. Despite the Second International's agreement to oppose militarism, the SPD supported the German war effort and adopted Burgfriedenspolitik, refraining from calling strikes or criticising the government. Internal opposition to the policy grew throughout the war. Anti-war members were expelled in 1916 and 1917, leading to the formation of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD).
The SPD played a key role in the German Revolution of 1918–1919. On 9 November 1918, leading SPD member Friedrich Ebert was appointed Chancellor and fellow Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed Germany a republic. The government introduced a large number of reforms in the following months, introducing various civil liberties and labor rights. The SPD government, committed to parliamentary liberal democracy, utilised military force against uprisings involving more radical communist groups, leading to a permanent split between the SPD and the USPD (later the Communist Party of Germany). The SPD was the largest party during the first 13 years of the new Weimar Republic. It decisively won the 1919 federal election with 37.9% of votes, and Ebert became the first President in February. The position of Chancellor was held by Social Democrats until the 1920 federal election, when the SPD lost a substantial portion of its support, falling to 22% of votes. After this, the SPD yielded the Chancellery to other parties, although it remained part of the government until 1924. Ebert died in 1925 and was succeeded by conservative Paul von Hindenburg. After making gains in the 1928 federal election, the SPD's Hermann Müller became Chancellor.
Germany was struck hard by the Great Depression and, unable to negotiate an effective response to the crisis, Müller resigned in 1930. The SPD was politically sidelined as the Nazi Party gained popularity and conservatives dominated the government, assisted by President von Hindenburg's frequent use of emergency powers. The Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, the SPD's paramilitary wing, was frequently involved in violent confrontations with the Nazi Sturmabteilung. The Nazis overtook the SPD as the largest party in July 1932 and Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933. Of the parties present in the Reichstag during the passage of the Enabling Act of 1933, the SPD was the only one to vote against; most of the Communist deputies had been arrested ahead of the vote. The SPD was formally banned in June. Many members were subsequently imprisoned and killed by the Nazi government while others fled the country. In exile, the party used the name Sopade.
After the end of World War II, the re-establishment of the SPD was permitted in the Western occupation zones in 1945. In the Soviet occupation zone, the SPD was forcibly merged with the Communist Party in 1946 to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). The SED became the ruling party of East Germany until 1989. In West Germany, the SPD became one of two major parties, alongside the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In the inaugural 1949 federal election, it placed second with 29.2% of votes and led the opposition to the CDU government. In its 1959 Godesberg Program, the party dropped its commitment to Marxism and sought to appeal to middle-class voters, becoming a big tent party of the centre-left.
After 17 years in opposition, the SPD became the junior partner in a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU which lasted from 1966 to 1969. After the 1969 federal election, the SPD's Willy Brandt became Chancellor in a coalition with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). His government sought to normalise relations with East Germany and the Eastern Bloc, a policy known as Ostpolitik. The party achieved its best ever result of 45.8% in 1972, one of only three occasions in which it formed the largest Bundestag faction. After Brandt's resignation in 1974, his successor Helmut Schmidt served as Chancellor until 1982, when the SPD returned to opposition. During the Peaceful Revolution in East Germany, the East German SPD was refounded. It merged with the West German party in 1990, shortly before German reunification.
The SPD returned to government under Gerhard Schröder after the 1998 federal election in a coalition with The Greens. This government was re-elected in 2002, but defeated in 2005. The SPD then became junior partner of a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU until 2009. After a term in opposition, they again served as junior partner to the CDU/CSU from 2013 federal election. This arrangement was renewed after the 2017 federal election.
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" and the Godesberg Program of 1959 which aimed to broaden its voter base and move its political position toward the centre. After World War II, the SPD under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher re-established itself as a socialist party representing the interests of the working class and the trade unions. With the Godesberg Program, the party evolved from a socialist working-class party to a modern social-democratic party working within liberal capitalism. The SPD's latest Hamburg Programme of 2007 describes democratic socialism as "an order of economy, state and society in which the civil, political, social and economic fundamental rights are guaranteed for all people, all people live a life without exploitation, oppression and violence, that is in social and human security" and as a "vision of a free, just and solidary society", the realization of which is emphasized as a "permanent task". Social democracy serves as the "principle of action".
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 and 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.
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. 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.
Base of support
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).
Geographically, much of the SPD's current-day support comes from large cities, especially of northern and western Germany and Berlin. As of 2019, 10 of the country's 15 biggest cities are led by SPD mayors. 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 has her constituency) 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, parts of Palatinate and the Saarland. The social democrats are weakest in the south-eastern states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia, where the party's percentage of votes dropped to single-digit figures in the 2018 and 2019 elections.
General German elections
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 since 1949 the parliament is 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 a mixed system thereafter), the suffrage (women vote since 1919; minimum active voting age was 25 till 1918, 20 till 1946, 21 till 1972 and 18 since), the number of seats (fixed or flexible) and the length of the legislative period (three or four years). The list begins after the SPD was formed in 1875, when labour parties unified to only form the SPD (then SAPD, current name since 1890).
|Election year||Constituency votes||Party list votes||% of
overall votes (until 1912)
party list votes (as of 1919)
|Overall seats won||+/–||Government|
13 / 397
9 / 397
13 / 397
24 / 397
11 / 397
35 / 397
44 / 397
56 / 397
81 / 397
43 / 397
110 / 397
165 / 423
102 / 459
|63||Providing parliamentary support|
|Providing parliamentary support|
|May 1924||6,008,905||20.5 (1st)||
100 / 472
|December 1924||7,881,041||26.0 (1st)||
131 / 493
|Providing parliamentary support|
153 / 491
143 / 577
|July 1932||7,959,712||21.6 (2nd)||
133 / 608
|November 1932||7,247,901||20.4 (2nd)||
121 / 584
|March 1933||7,181,629||18.3 (2nd)||
120 / 667
131 / 402
162 / 509
181 / 519
203 / 521
217 / 518
237 / 518
242 / 518
224 / 518
228 / 519
202 / 520
193 / 519
239 / 662
252 / 672
298 / 669
251 / 603
222 / 614
146 / 622
193 / 630
153 / 709
|Election year||No. of
overall seats won
33 / 81
32 / 81
30 / 81
40 / 99
33 / 99
23 / 99
23 / 99
27 / 96
16 / 96
State Parliaments (Länder)
|State Parliament||Election year||No. of
19 / 143
22 / 205
38 / 160
25 / 88
23 / 84
54 / 121
29 / 137
|Lower Saxony||2017||1,413,990||36.9 (1st)||
55 / 137
28 / 71
|North Rhine-Westphalia||2017||2,649,205||31.2 (2nd)||
69 / 199
39 / 101
17 / 51
10 / 119
11 / 87
21 / 73
8 / 90
The party is led by the Leader of the Social Democratic Party. They are supported by six Deputy Leaders and the party executive.
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:
19 / 143
22 / 205
38 / 160
30 / 88
|Bremen||Sascha Karolin Aulepp||
30 / 83
51 / 121
37 / 110
|Lower Saxony||Stephan Weil||
55 / 137
26 / 71
|North Rhine-Westphalia||Sebastian Hartmann||
69 / 199
39 / 101
17 / 51
18 / 126
11 / 87
21 / 73
13 / 91
- Bundestag (Federal Assembly of Germany)
- Elections in the Free State of Prussia
- List of political parties in Germany
- Mierscheid Law
- Party finance in Germany
- Politics of Germany
- Weimar Republic
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