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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The evolution of German social democracy Kopsch, Hartmut


It is the purpose of this thesis to study the evolution of German Social Democracy from its early origin as a "social-movement party" to its development as a "modern pragmatic party" in the post-1945 period. This investigation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) utilized both party documents and a wide selection of secondary material. The study was divided into three periods, each of which represented a fairly distinctive stage in the evolution of the SPD. In the early period (1890-1913) it was suggested that the SPD evolved from a "social-movement party" to an "aspiring Volkspartei" (people's party). The transition was indicated by a gradual shift in the emphasis placed on Social Democratic goals. Increasing concentration on electoral victory and a decreasing emphasis on Social Democratic ideology characterized the SPD's evolution in the early period. In the second period (1914-1933) party leaders sought to extend the influence of Social Democracy in the state, and attempted to escape from the electoral consequences of sn exclusively working-class orientation. An examination of the goals pursued by the SPD leadership indicated that efforts were made to convert the SPD into a genuine Volkspartei. An attempt was made to discover why SPD leaders failed to secure this objective. Party leaders failed to transform the SPD into a genuine VoIkspartei primarily because the intensity of ideological cleavages in German society prevented any political party from gaining substantial support from all electorally significant social groups. An examination of the goals pursued by Social Democratic leaders in the third period (post-1945) suggested that the SPD developed as a "categorical opposition party" under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher. By 1960, however, the SPD was no longer recognizable as "Schumacher's party" and had adopted a programme and a strategy which were based on one overriding goal — political power. The SPD's emergence as a pragmatic political party was indicated by the willingness of party leaders to subject considerations of principle or ideology to the goal of attaining responsibility for the over-all conduct of government.

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