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Social Democratic Party of Germany

Social Democratic Party of Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD; [zoˈtsi̯aːldemoˌkʁaːtɪʃə paʁˌtaɪ ˈdɔʏtʃlants]), is a social-democratic[2][3][4][5] political party in Germany.

Led by Andrea Nahles from 2018 to 2019, the party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in Germany along with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Social Democrats have governed at the federal level in Germany as part of a grand coalition with the CDU and the Christian Social Union (CSU) since December 2013 following the results of the 2013 and 2017 federal elections. The party participates in 11 state governments and 7 of them are governed by SPD Minister-Presidents.

The SPD is a member of the Party of European Socialists and initiated the founding of the international Progressive Alliance for social-democratic parties on 22 May 2013[8][9][10] after criticising the Socialist International for its acceptance of authoritarian parties. Established in 1863, the SPD is by far the oldest existent political party represented in the German Parliament and was one of the first Marxist-influenced parties in the world.

Social Democratic Party of Germany

Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
LeaderMalu Dreyer
Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel
General SecretaryLars Klingbeil
Deputy Leaders
  • Ralf Stegner
  • Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel
  • Olaf Scholz
  • Manuela Schwesig
  • Natascha Kohnen
  • Malu Dreyer
Founded23 May 1863 (1863-05-23)
Merger ofADAV and SDAP
HeadquartersWilly-Brandt-Haus D-10911 Berlin, Germany
Student wing
  • Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund
  • Sozialdemokratischer Hochschulbund
  • Juso-Hochschulgruppen
    (since 1973)
Youth wingJusos
Women's wingAssociation of Social Democratic Women
Membership (July 2019)Decrease426,000[1]
Political positionCentre-left[7]
European affiliationParty of European Socialists
International affiliationProgressive Alliance
European Parliament groupProgressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
152 / 709
21 / 69
State Parliaments
475 / 1,867
European Parliament
16 / 96
Ministers-president of states
7 / 16
Party flag
Flag of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
www.spd.de [20]
  • Politics of Germany
  • Political parties
  • Elections


SPD membership statistics (in thousands) since 1945

SPD membership statistics (in thousands) since 1945

The General German Workers' Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) founded in 1863 and the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SDAP) founded in 1869 later merged in 1875 under the name Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SAPD). 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. In the years leading up to World War I (1914–1918) the party remained ideologically radical in official principle, although many party officials tended to moderation in everyday politics. In the 1912 German federal election the SPD claimed not only the most votes but also the most Reichstag seats of any German party.

Despite the agreement of the Second International to oppose militarism,[11] the Social Democrats supported war in 1914. In response to this and to the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 in Russia, members of the left-wing and of the far-left of the SPD formed alternative parties, first the Spartacus League (1914–1919), then the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD, April 1917–1931) while the more conservative faction became known as the Majority Social Democratic Party of Germany (MSPD, 1917–1922). From 1918 the SPD played an important role in the political system of the Weimar Republic, although it took part in coalition governments only in few years (1918–1921, 1923 and 1928–1930). Adolf Hitler banned the SPD in 1933 under the Enabling Act and the National Socialist régime imprisoned, killed or forced into exile SPD party officials. In exile, the party used the name Sopade. The Social Democrats had been the only party to vote against the Enabling Act, while the Communist Party was blocked from voting.

In 1945 the Allied administrations in the Western zones initially allowed the establishment of four parties, which resulted in the (re-)formation of the Christian Democratic Union, the Free Democratic Party, the Communist Party and the SPD. In the Soviet zone of occupation the Soviets forced the Social Democrats to form a common party with the Communists, resulting in the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In the Western zones, West Germany's Federal Constitutional Court later banned the Communist Party (1956). Since 1949, the SPD has been one of the two major parties in the Federal Republic of Germany, alongside the Christian Democratic Union. From 1969 to 1982 and from 1998 to 2005, the Chancellors of Germany have been Social Democrats whereas in other years the Chancellors were Christian Democrats. Shortly before the reunification of Germany in 1990, the East German Social Democratic Party (founded in 1989) merged with the West German SPD.

Party platform

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany (2013–2018) and former chairman of the SPD

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany (2013–2018) and former chairman of the SPD

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"[12] and the Godesberg Program of 1959 which aimed to broaden its voter base and move its political position toward the centre.[13] After World War II, under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher the SPD re-established itself as a socialist party representing the interests of the working class and the trade unions. However, with the Godesberg Program the party evolved from a socialist working-class party to a modern social-democratic party working within liberal capitalism.

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, thus 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.[14]

Internal factions

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.[15]

Base of support

Social structure

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).

Geographic distribution

2017 federal election SPD results

2017 federal election SPD results

Geographically, much of the SPD's current-day support comes from large cities, especially of northern and western Germany and Berlin. 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 was re-elected in 2005) 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 (Hans Eichel was mayor of Kassel, then Hesse's Minister-President and finally Finance Minister in the Schröder administration while Brigitte Zypries served as Justice Minister), parts of Palatinate (Kurt Beck was party leader until 7 September 2008) and the Saarland (political home of one-time candidate for federal chancellor Oskar Lafontaine, defected from the SPD in 2005).

Election results

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 after 1949 when it was 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 mixed system thereafter), the suffrage (women vote since 1919), 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 yearConstituency votesParty list votes% of
overall votes (until 1912)
party list votes (as of 1919)
Overall seats won+/–Government
1877493,4479.1 (4th)
13 / 397
In opposition
1878437,1587.6 (5th)
9 / 397
Decrease4In opposition
1881311,9616.1 (7th)
13 / 397
Increase4In opposition
1884549,9909.7 (5th)
24 / 397
Increase11In opposition
1887763,10210.1 (5th)
11 / 397
Decrease13In opposition
18901,427,32319.7 (1st)
35 / 397
Increase24In opposition
18931,786,73823.3 (1st)
44 / 397
Increase9In opposition
18982,107,07627.2 (1st)
56 / 397
Increase12In opposition
19033,010,77131.7 (1st)
81 / 397
Increase25In opposition
19073,259,02928.9 (1st)
43 / 397
Decrease38In opposition
19124,250,39934.8 (1st)
110 / 397
Increase67In opposition
In coalition
In coalition
191911,509,04837.9 (1st)
165 / 423
Increase55In coalition
19206,179,99121.9 (1st)
102 / 459
Decrease63providing parliamentary support
In coalition
providing parliamentary support
In coalition
In opposition
May 19246,008,90520.5 (1st)
100 / 472
Decrease2In opposition
December 19247,881,04126.0 (1st)
131 / 493
Increase31In opposition
providing parliamentary support
In opposition
19289,152,97929.8 (1st)
153 / 491
Increase22In coalition
19308,575,24424.5 (1st)
143 / 577
Decrease10In opposition
July 19327,959,71221.6 (2nd)
133 / 608
Decrease10In opposition
November 19327,247,90120.4 (2nd)
121 / 584
Decrease12In opposition
March 19337,181,62918.3 (2nd)
120 / 667
Decrease1In opposition
November 1933Banned. National Socialist German Workers Party sole legal party.
1936Banned. National Socialist German Workers Party sole legal party.
1938Banned. National Socialist German Workers Party sole legal party.
19496,934,97529.2 (2nd)
131 / 402
Increase11In opposition
19538,131,2577,944,94328.8 (2nd)
162 / 509
Increase22In opposition
195711,975,40011,875,33931.8 (2nd)
181 / 519
Increase19In opposition
196111,672,05711,427,35536.2 (2nd)
203 / 521
Increase22In opposition
196512,998,47412,813,18639.3 (2nd)
217 / 518
Increase14In coalition
196914,402,37414,065,71642.7 (2nd)
237 / 518
Increase20In coalition
197218,228,23917,175,16945.8 (1st)
242 / 518
Increase5In coalition
197616,471,32116,099,01942.6 (2nd)
224 / 518
Decrease18In coalition
198016,808,86116,260,67742.9 (2nd)
228 / 519
Increase4In coalition
198315,686,03314,865,80738.2 (2nd)
202 / 520
Decrease26In opposition
198714,787,95314,025,76337.0 (2nd)
193 / 519
Decrease9In opposition
199016,279,98015,545,36633.5 (2nd)
239 / 662
Increase46In opposition
199417,966,81317,140,35436.4 (2nd)
252 / 672
Increase13In opposition
199821,535,89320,181,26940.9 (1st)
298 / 669
Increase43In coalition
200220,059,96718,484,56038.5 (1st)[16]
251 / 603
Decrease47In coalition
200518,129,10016,194,66534.2 (2nd)
222 / 614
Decrease29In coalition
200912,077,4379,988,84323.0 (2nd)
146 / 622
Decrease76In opposition
201312,835,93311,247,28325.7 (2nd)
193 / 630
Increase42In coalition
201711,426,6139,538,36720.5 (2nd)
153 / 709
Decrease40In coalition

European Parliament

Election yearNo. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
197911,370,04540.8 (1st)
33 / 81
19849,296,41737.4 (2nd)
32 / 81
198910,525,72837.3 (1st)
30 / 81
199411,389,69732.2 (1st)
40 / 99
19998,307,08530.7 (2nd)
33 / 99
20045,547,97121.5 (2nd)
23 / 99
20095,472,56620.8 (2nd)
23 / 99
20147,999,95527.2 (2nd)
27 / 96
20195,914,95315.8 (3rd)
16 / 96

State Parliaments (Länder)

State ParliamentElection yearNo. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
Baden-Württemberg2016679,87212.7 (4th)Decrease
19 / 143
Bavaria20181,317,9429.7 (5th)Decrease
22 / 205
Berlin2016352,36921.6 (1st)Decrease
38 / 160
Brandenburg2019331,23826.2% (1st)Decrease
25 / 88
Bremen2019365,31524.9 (2nd)Decrease
23 / 84
Hamburg20151,611,27445.6 (1st)Decrease
58 / 121
Hesse2018570,16619.8 (3rd)Decrease
29 / 137
Lower Saxony20171,413,99036.9 (1st)Increase
55 / 137
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern2016246,39330.6 (1st)Decrease
28 / 71
North Rhine-Westphalia20172,649,20531.2 (2nd)Decrease
69 / 199
Rhineland-Palatinate2016771,84836.2 (1st)Increase
39 / 101
Saarland2017157,84129.6 (2nd)Decrease
17 / 51
Saxony2019167,2897.7 (5th)Decrease
10 / 119
Saxony-Anhalt2016119,37710.6 (4th)Decrease
11 / 87
Schleswig-Holstein2017400,63527.2 (2nd)Decrease
21 / 73
Thuringia2014116,88912.4 (3rd)Decrease
12 / 91

Leadership of the Social Democratic Party

The party is led by the Leader of the Social Democratic Party. They are supported by six Deputy Leaders and the party executive.

The previous leader was Andrea Nahles. She announced her pending resignation on 2 June 2019. The current Deputy Leaders are Manuela Schwesig, Ralf Stegner, Olaf Scholz, Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, Natascha Kohnen and Maria Luise "Malu" Dreyer. Dreyer, Schwesig, and Schäfer-Gümbel are currently serving as acting leaders of the party.

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:

Baden-WürttembergAndreas Stoch
19 / 143
In opposition
BavariaNatascha Kohnen
22 / 205
In opposition
BerlinMichael Müller
38 / 160
In coalition
BrandenburgDietmar Woidke
30 / 88
In coalition
BremenSascha Karolin Aulepp
30 / 83
In coalition
HamburgMelanie Leonhard
58 / 121
In coalition
HesseThorsten Schäfer-Gümbel
37 / 110
In opposition
Lower SaxonyStephan Weil
55 / 137
In coalition
Mecklenburg-VorpommernManuela Schwesig
26 / 71
In coalition
North Rhine-WestphaliaSebastian Hartmann
69 / 199
In opposition
Rhineland-PalatinateRoger Lewentz
39 / 101
In coalition
SaarlandAnke Rehlinger
17 / 51
In coalition
SaxonyMartin Dulig
18 / 126
In coalition
Saxony-AnhaltBurkhard Lischka
11 / 87
In coalition
Schleswig-HolsteinSerpil Midyatli
21 / 73
In opposition
ThuringiaWolfgang Tiefensee
13 / 91
In coalition

See also

  • 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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