Social Democratic Party of Germany

   The SPD was organized in 1875 at Gotha through a merger of Ferdinand Lassalle's Workers' Associations and the Socialist Work-ers' Party of Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel. Its members were soon branded Reichsfeinde (enemies of the state), intent on ruining Bismarck s new Reich. Subjected in 1878 to repressive antisocialist laws, the Party thrived under persecution. Thus, when the crusade ended in 1890, the SPD s organizational and electoral strength was superior to that of any other party. Its steady expan-sion over the next two decades revealed Germany s transformation into an ad-vanced industrial state.
   The revisionist movement within the SPD, centered on Eduard Bernstein in the decade preceding World War I, urged a nonrevolutionary path to socialism and thus created an ideological rift that threatened Party unity. Although the outbreak of war appeared to reunite orthodox Marxists and reformers in support of the Kaiserreich, the length and horrors of the war ultimately provoked schism. The first group to break with the SPD, comprising both orthodox Marxists and pacifists (including, ironically, Bernstein), formed the USPD in April 1917. This split in working-class solidarity was among the Republic s chief tragedies. By 1919 Germany had three mutually hostile socialist groups: the Majority Social-ists (the SPD during 1917-1922), supportive of the government and revisionist in outlook; the USPD, opposed to the war, but ideologically incoherent; and the Spartacus League*—soon the core of the KPD—opposed to the Kaiserreich, the war, and parliamentary democracy.
   Following the Kaiser's abdication, the SPD (chiefly Friedrich Ebert* and Gus-tav Noske*) was consumed with the need to restore order and establish the Republic s legitimacy. But with power unexpectedly thrust upon it, the Party failed to exploit opportunities for achieving the substantive changes necessary to guarantee the regime s future. Frightened by events in Russia and bewildered by manifold postwar problems, the SPD turned to Germany s old authorities for assistance. Thus encouraged, an antirepublican bureaucracy, military, and judi-ciary were restored; these groups arrested needed reforms in the Republic s early years, aided the regime s right-wing enemies in the middle years, and stood increasingly ready to expedite its demise after 1930. Yet it took great courage for men like Ebert, Noske, and Philipp Scheidemann* to assume the burden of responsibility in the Republic s opening months.
   In the 1919 elections to the National Assembly* the SPD gained 37.9 percent of the votes and 163 mandates. Although it was the largest parliamentary party—a status it retained until 1932—the SPD was forced to govern in a so-called Weimar Coalition* with the DDP and the Center Party.* Soon after the abortive Kapp* Putsch, the June 1920 Reichstag* elections seriously curtailed Party support (21.6 percent). Whereas its constituency never dropped below 20 percent until March 1933, it also never again surpassed 30 percent. Moreover, the SPD s tenacity was subverted by both the Kapp Putsch and the June 1920 election results.
   As time passed, the self-conscious patriotism of men such as Scheidemann and Noske gave way to the capable, if often-uninspiring, administration of Her-mann Müller,* Gustav Bauer,* and Otto Braun.* Forsaking idealism in favor of pragmatism, many of these men still hoped to build a socialist society in harmony with farmers* and the lower middle class. But until the rump USPD rejoined the Majority Socialists in 1922, the SPD s ideology was nearer Las-salle s state-based socialism than Marxism. Throughout the Weimar era the lead-ership valued skilled functionaries above charismatic ideologues. Finally, disagreement over the essence of socialism prevented the SPD from evolving an aggressive vision of what to do with power when it had it. With the onslaught of depression,* the increasingly successful campaigns of the KPD led the SPD to mouth Marxist slogans invalidated by prior practice. While the KPD gained converts by castigating the SPD as a party of "social fascists, Social Demo-crats struggled with compromises between the ideology of class struggle and the liberalism of Weimar democracy. Although its treasury was confiscated on 10 May 1933 and the Party was banned from further political activity on 22 June, it survived until 1945 via an exile committee established by Otto Wels* and Friedrich Stampfer.*
   REFERENCES:Breitman, German Socialism; Gates, "German Socialism ; Guttsman, German Social Democratic Party; Kolb, Weimar Republic; Mishark, Road to Revolution.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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