Social Democratic Party of Germany

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Social Democratic Party of Germany

Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
Leader Saskia Esken
Norbert Walter-Borjans
General Secretary Lars Klingbeil
Deputy Leaders Klara Geywitz
Hubertus Heil
Kevin Kühnert
Serpil Midyatli
Anke Rehlinger
Founded23 May 1863(157 years ago) (1863-05-23)
Merger of General German Workers' Association
Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany
Headquarters Willy-Brandt-Haus D-10911 Berlin, Germany
Newspaper Vorwärts
Student wing Juso-Hochschulgruppen
Youth wing Jusos
Women's wingAssociation of Social Democratic Women
Paramilitary wing Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (1924-1933)
Membership (December 2019)Decrease2.svg 419,300 [1]
Ideology Social democracy [2]
Centrism [3]
Democratic socialism [4]
Social liberalism [5]
Third Way [6]
Political position Centre-left [7]
European affiliation Party of European Socialists
International affiliation Progressive Alliance
European Parliament group Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Colours     Red
152 / 709
21 / 69
State Parliaments
465 / 1,868
European Parliament
16 / 96
Ministers-president of states
7 / 16
Party flag
Flag of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.svg

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (German : Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD; [zoˈtsi̯aːldemoˌkʁaːtɪʃə paʁˌtaɪ ˈdɔʏtʃlants] ) is a social-democratic, [8] [9] [10] 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).


Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans have been the party's leaders since the 2019 leadership election. The SPD 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 party is a junior member of the federal government along with the CDU/CSU; this government was first formed after the 2013 election and renewed in 2017. The SPD is a member of 11 of the 16 state governments of Germany, 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 left in 2013 after criticising its acceptance of authoritarian parties. The party subsequently founded the Progressive Alliance, [11] [12] [13] which 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.

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. [14] 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. 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, the SPD was banned in 1933, and operated in exile as the Sopade.

After the Second World War, the party was re-established. In East Germany, it merged with the Communist Party to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. In West Germany, the SPD became one of two major parties alongside the CDU/CSU. In its 1959 Godesberg Program, the party dropped its commitment to Marxism, becoming a big-tent party of the centre-left. The party 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.


SPD membership statistics (in thousands) since 1945 SPD Mitgliederentwicklung.svg
SPD membership statistics (in thousands) since 1945

The General German Workers' Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein) founded in 1863 and the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands) founded in 1869 later merged in 1875 under the name 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 won German election by popular votes, although it did not govern until 1918. [15]

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 the most votes and the most Reichstag seats of any German party. Despite the agreement of the Second International to oppose militarism, [16] 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 such as the Spartacus League (1914–1919) and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (1917–1931) while the more conservative faction became known as the Majority Social Democratic Party of Germany (1917–1922). The Social Democrats came to power during the German Revolution of 1918–1919, dominating the Council of the People's Deputies interim government. The party's paramilitary wing Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold was founded in 1924 to defend parliamentary democracy against internal subversion and extremism from both the left and right. It was banned along with the party in 1933 by the Nazi Party and was turned into an association for political education in 1953. The party's current student wing Juso-Hochschulgruppen was founded in 1973. It was preceded by the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (1946–1961) and the Sozialdemokratischer Hochschulbund  [ de ] (1961–1972).

From 1918, the SPD played an important role in the political system of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich Ebert was its first president, serving from 1919 until his death in 1925. However, the SPD took part in coalition governments only for a few years (1918–1921, 1923 and 1928–1930), being the main opposition for the remainder. Adolf Hitler banned the SPD in 1933 under the Enabling Act and the Nazi regime 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 of Germany was blocked from voting. In 1945, the Allied administrations in the Western zones allowed the re-establishment of the SPD. In East Germany, the Soviet occupying power forced the social democrats to merge with the communists in 1946. This resulted in the communist-dominated Socialist Unity Party of Germany that ruled East Germany in a quasi single-party system from 1949 to 1989. In West Germany, the SPD remained independent and one of two major parties, alongside the Christian Democratic Union. In its 1959 Godesberg Program, the party dropped its commitment to Marxism, becoming a big tent party of the centre-left, also appealing to middle-class voters.

After being in opposition to centre-right governments for 17 years, it participated in a first grand coalition from 1966 to 1969. SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt ruled in coalitions with the liberal FDP from 1969 to 1982. The party's popularity peaked in 1972, when the SPD won 45.8 percent of votes. Subsequently, the Social Democrats were in opposition for another 16 years. Shortly before the German reunification in 1990, the East German Social Democratic Party (founded during the 1989 Peaceful Revolution) merged with the West German SPD. The party returned to power under Gerhard Schröder in a coalition wth The Greens from 1998 to 2005. Afterwards, the SPD was either the junior partner in coalitions with the centre-right CDU/CSU (2005–2009 and since 2013) or in opposition (2009–2013). The party share of votes halved from 40.9 percent in 1998 to 20.5 percent in 2017.

Party platform

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" [17] and the Godesberg Program of 1959 which aimed to broaden its voter base and move its political position toward the centre. [18] 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. With the Godesberg Program, the party evolved from a socialist working-class party to a modern social-democratic party working within liberal capitalism.

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany (2013-2018) and former chairman of the SPD SPD Bundesparteitag Leipzig 2013 by Moritz Kosinsky 021.jpg
Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor of Germany (2013–2018) and former chairman of the SPD

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. [19]

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.[ citation needed ] 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. [20]

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 Btw17spd.svg
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. 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.

Election results

Election results and governments since 1949 German parliamentary elections diagram de.svg
Election results and governments since 1949

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 yearConstituency votesParty list votes% of
overall votes (until 1912)
party list votes (as of 1919)
Overall seats won+/–Government
1877 493,4479.1 (4th)
13 / 397
In opposition
1878 437,1587.6 (5th)
9 / 397
Decrease2.svg 4In opposition
1881 311,9616.1 (7th)
13 / 397
Increase2.svg 4In opposition
1884 549,9909.7 (5th)
24 / 397
Increase2.svg 11In opposition
1887 763,10210.1 (5th)
11 / 397
Decrease2.svg 13In opposition
1890 1,427,32319.7 (1st)
35 / 397
Increase2.svg 24In opposition
1893 1,786,73823.3 (1st)
44 / 397
Increase2.svg 9In opposition
1898 2,107,07627.2 (1st)
56 / 397
Increase2.svg 12In opposition
1903 3,010,77131.7 (1st)
81 / 397
Increase2.svg 25In opposition
1907 3,259,02928.9 (1st)
43 / 397
Decrease2.svg 38In opposition
1912 4,250,39934.8 (1st)
110 / 397
Increase2.svg 67In opposition
In coalition
In coalition
1919 11,509,04837.9 (1st)
165 / 423
Increase2.svg 55In coalition
1920 6,179,99121.9 (1st)
102 / 459
Decrease2.svg 63Providing parliamentary support
In coalition
Providing parliamentary support
In coalition
In opposition
May 1924 6,008,90520.5 (1st)
100 / 472
Decrease2.svg 2In opposition
December 1924 7,881,04126.0 (1st)
131 / 493
Increase2.svg 31In opposition
Providing parliamentary support
In opposition
1928 9,152,97929.8 (1st)
153 / 491
Increase2.svg 22In coalition
1930 8,575,24424.5 (1st)
143 / 577
Decrease2.svg 10In opposition
July 1932 7,959,71221.6 (2nd)
133 / 608
Decrease2.svg 10In opposition
November 1932 7,247,90120.4 (2nd)
121 / 584
Decrease2.svg 12In opposition
March 1933 7,181,62918.3 (2nd)
120 / 667
Decrease2.svg 1In opposition
November 1933
Banned. The National Socialist German Workers Party was the sole legal party.
Banned. The National Socialist German Workers Party was the sole legal party.
Banned. The National Socialist German Workers Party was the sole legal party.
1949 6,934,97529.2 (2nd)
131 / 402
Increase2.svg 11In opposition
1953 8,131,2577,944,94328.8 (2nd)
162 / 509
Increase2.svg 22In opposition
1957 11,975,40011,875,33931.8 (2nd)
181 / 519
Increase2.svg 19In opposition
1961 11,672,05711,427,35536.2 (2nd)
203 / 521
Increase2.svg 22In opposition
1965 12,998,47412,813,18639.3 (2nd)
217 / 518
Increase2.svg 14CDU/CSU–SPD
1969 14,402,37414,065,71642.7 (2nd)
237 / 518
Increase2.svg 20SPD–FDP
1972 18,228,23917,175,16945.8 (1st)
242 / 518
Increase2.svg 5SPD–FDP
1976 16,471,32116,099,01942.6 (2nd)
224 / 518
Decrease2.svg 18SPD–FDP
1980 16,808,86116,260,67742.9 (2nd)
228 / 519
Increase2.svg 4SPD–FDP
1983 15,686,03314,865,80738.2 (2nd)
202 / 520
Decrease2.svg 26In opposition
1987 14,787,95314,025,76337.0 (2nd)
193 / 519
Decrease2.svg 9In opposition
1990 16,279,98015,545,36633.5 (2nd)
239 / 662
Increase2.svg 46In opposition
1994 17,966,81317,140,35436.4 (2nd)
252 / 672
Increase2.svg 13In opposition
1998 21,535,89320,181,26940.9 (1st)
298 / 669
Increase2.svg 43SPD–Greens
2002 20,059,96718,484,56038.5 (1st) [21]
251 / 603
Decrease2.svg 47SPD–Greens
2005 18,129,10016,194,66534.2 (2nd)
222 / 614
Decrease2.svg 29CDU/CSU–SPD
2009 12,077,4379,988,84323.0 (2nd)
146 / 622
Decrease2.svg 76In opposition
2013 12,835,93311,247,28325.7 (2nd)
193 / 630
Increase2.svg 42CDU/CSU–SPD
2017 11,426,6139,538,36720.5 (2nd)
153 / 709
Decrease2.svg 40CDU/CSU–SPD

European Parliament

Election yearNo. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
1979 11,370,04540.8 (1st)
33 / 81
1984 9,296,41737.4 (2nd)
32 / 81
Decrease2.svg 1
1989 10,525,72837.3 (1st)
30 / 81
Decrease2.svg 2
1994 11,389,69732.2 (1st)
40 / 99
Increase2.svg 10
1999 8,307,08530.7 (2nd)
33 / 99
Decrease2.svg 7
2004 5,547,97121.5 (2nd)
23 / 99
Decrease2.svg 10
2009 5,472,56620.8 (2nd)
23 / 99
Steady2.svg 0
2014 7,999,95527.2 (2nd)
27 / 96
Increase2.svg 4
2019 5,914,95315.8 (3rd)
16 / 96
Decrease2.svg 11

State Parliaments (Länder)

State ParliamentElection yearNo. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
Baden-Württemberg 2016 679,87212.7 (4th) Decrease2.svg
19 / 143
Decrease2.svg 16Decrease2.svg 4thOpposition
Bavaria 2018 1,317,9429.7 (5th) Decrease2.svg
22 / 205
Decrease2.svg 20Decrease2.svg 5thOpposition
Berlin 2016 352,36921.6 (1st) Decrease2.svg
38 / 160
Decrease2.svg 10Steady2.svg 1stSPD–Left–Greens
Brandenburg 2019 331,23826.2 (1st) Decrease2.svg
25 / 88
Decrease2.svg 5Steady2.svg 1stSPD–CDU–Greens
Bremen 2019 365,31524.9 (2nd) Decrease2.svg
23 / 84
Decrease2.svg 7Decrease2.svg 2ndSPD–Greens–Left
Hamburg 2020 1,554,76039.0 (1st) Decrease2.svg
54 / 121
Decrease2.svg 4Steady2.svg 1stSPD–Greens
Hesse 2018 570,16619.8 (3rd) Decrease2.svg
29 / 137
Decrease2.svg 8Decrease2.svg 3rdOpposition
Lower Saxony 2017 1,413,99036.9 (1st) Increase2.svg
55 / 137
Increase2.svg 6Increase2.svg 1stSPD–CDU
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 2016 246,39330.6 (1st) Decrease2.svg
28 / 71
Decrease2.svg 2Steady2.svg 1stSPD–CDU
North Rhine-Westphalia 2017 2,649,20531.2 (2nd) Decrease2.svg
69 / 199
Decrease2.svg 30Decrease2.svg 2ndOpposition
Rhineland-Palatinate 2016 771,84836.2 (1st) Increase2.svg
39 / 101
Decrease2.svg 3Steady2.svg 1stSPD–FDP–Greens
Saarland 2017 157,84129.6 (2nd) Decrease2.svg
17 / 51
Steady2.svg 0Steady2.svg 2ndCDU–SPD
Saxony 2019 167,2897.7 (5th) Decrease2.svg
10 / 119
Decrease2.svg 8Decrease2.svg 5thCDU–SPD–Greens
Saxony-Anhalt 2016 119,37710.6 (4th) Decrease2.svg
11 / 87
Decrease2.svg 15Decrease2.svg 4thCDU–SPD–Greens
Schleswig-Holstein 2017 400,63527.2 (2nd) Decrease2.svg
21 / 73
Decrease2.svg 1Steady2.svg 2ndOpposition
Thuringia 2019 90,9848.2 (4th) Decrease2.svg
8 / 90
Decrease2.svg 4Decrease2.svg 4thLeft–SPD–Greens

Party leadership

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

The current leaders are Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. The previous leader was Andrea Nahles. She announced her pending resignation on 2 June 2019.

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-Württemberg Andreas Stoch
19 / 143
In opposition
Bavaria Natascha Kohnen
22 / 205
In opposition
Berlin Michael Müller
38 / 160
In coalition
Brandenburg Dietmar Woidke
30 / 88
In coalition
Bremen Sascha Karolin Aulepp
30 / 83
In coalition
Hamburg Melanie Leonhard
51 / 121
In coalition
Hesse Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel
37 / 110
In opposition
Lower Saxony Stephan Weil
55 / 137
In coalition
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Manuela Schwesig
26 / 71
In coalition
North Rhine-Westphalia Sebastian Hartmann
69 / 199
In opposition
Rhineland-Palatinate Roger Lewentz
39 / 101
In coalition
Saarland Anke Rehlinger
17 / 51
In coalition
Saxony Martin Dulig
18 / 126
In coalition
Saxony-Anhalt Burkhard Lischka
11 / 87
In coalition
Schleswig-Holstein Serpil Midyatli
21 / 73
In opposition
Thuringia Wolfgang Tiefensee
13 / 91
In coalition

See also

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Federal elections were held on 22 September to elect the members of the 18th Bundestag of Germany. At stake were all 598 seats to the Bundestag, plus 33 overhang seats determined thereafter. The Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel won their best result since 1990, with nearly 42% of the vote and nearly 50% of the seats. However, their coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), failed to meet the 5% vote threshold in what was their worst showing ever in a federal election, thus denying them seats in the Bundestag for the first time in their history.

History of the Social Democratic Party of Germany aspect of history

The foundation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany can be traced back to the 1860s, and for much of the 20th and 21st centuries it has represented the centre-left in German politics. Nevertheless from 1891 to 1959 the Party at least theoretically espoused Marxism.

2017 German federal election General election to the 19th German Bundestag

Federal elections were held in Germany on 24 September 2017 to elect the members of the 19th Bundestag. At stake were all 598 seats in the Bundestag, as well as 111 overhang and leveling seats determined thereafter.


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Further reading