1949 West German election posters
1949 Bundestag Election Posters

UCSB Hist 133c, L05:
German Political Parties
lecture on Jan. 20, 2006
(L04; L06)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
contact: marcuse@history.ucsb.edu
created Jan. 26, 2006, updated 2/14/06

Origins of Political Parties
Post-1945 German Political Parties
Weimar-era posters /
3 biographies

Introduction (back to top)

  • The guiding question underlying this lecture is:
    How can one organize a republic so as to mediate between many conflicting interests?
    The answer is: by using political parties to organize people with similar interests, and having the leaders and representatives of those parties compromise with other parties in governing the polity.
  • We started with "midterm" question 1:
    Ordered correctly from "left" (progressive, populist) to "right" (conservative, elitist) list any four German parties, giving their acronym, full name, and one fact about them.
    • Example:
      LLP: Lefty Liberal Party--tiny Weimar party formed coalition with MLP
      MLP: Moderate Liberal Party--largest Weimar party
      SCP: Somewhat Conservative Party--most important party in West Germany during the 1950s
      MCP: More Conservative Party--first made a coalition with the Nazi era Ultra-Conservative Party, then opposed it
  • After collecting the questions and discussing student answers, I talked briefly about the historical origins of modern political parties, and reviewed the histories and profiles of the major political parties in post-1945 Germany.
  • For the rest of the quarter it will be important to know what the acronyms mean, as well as the general orientation of each party
  • At the end of lecture I distributed and explained the Book Essay Handout

1. Origins of Political Parties (back to top)

  • In the modern era, as broader sectors of the populace began to take an interest in organizaing their own society, groupings emerged. Examples:
    • groups in the US revolutionary war: patriots, neutralists, loyalists
    • groups in the French revolution, for example Jacobins (met at the Jacobin monastery)
    • socialist "utopians" were quasi-political groupings in the early 1800s
    • 1848: Karl Marx condemned them, called his socialism "communist," based on "science"8 revolutions
    • groups in the 1848 Frankfurt National Convention
    • in the 1860s in Germany, modern political associations with programs began to emerge in Prussia
  • Since 1871 in Germany (the German empire), the Reichstag was elected by parties

2. Post-1945 German Parties across the Political Spectrum (back to top)

  • The party spectrum might be organized something like this (from left to right):
    West Germany
    KPD, DKP
    Greens , PDS
    CDU, CSU
    NPD, DVU, Reps
    East Germany
  • Acronyms (bold for current parties) [note: this is oversimplified]:
    • KPD: Kommunist Party Deutschland (west, prohibited 1956, originally founded 1918)
      DKP: Deutsche Kommunist Party (west, after legalized in 1968)
      SED: Socialist Einheit=unity Party (east, combination of KPD and SPD after April 1946)
      PDS: Party of Democratic Socialism (east, successor to SED after 1989)
    • Greens: Environmental party, founded 1979/80, 1983 into Bundestag
    • SPD: Socialdemocratic Party of Deutschland (oldest party, founded 1875 as union of 2 workers' parties, 1863 ADAV and 1869 SDAP; in led gov't 1969-82 and 1998-2005)
    • FDP: Free Democratic Party (west since 1948: economic liberals)
      LDPD: Liberal Democratic Party of Deutschland (east)
    • CDU: Christian Democratic Union (west: combined old Catholic Center party with Protestants)
      CSU: Christian Socialist Union (west: Bavarian "wing" of CDU)
    • BHE: Bund=Association of Homeland-expelled and Rights-deprived (west: refugees)
    • SRP: Sozialistische Reichspartei (west, prohibited in 1952)
      NPD: Nationdemocratic Party Deutschlands (west: neo-Nazi, 1964-1970s-present)
      DVU: Deutsche Volks-Union (west: neo-Nazi, 1971 assoc; 1987 party-present)
      Republikaner (west: 1983-present; CDU/CSU, now ruling, not patriotic enough)
  • For more information on West German political parties, see GermanCulture.com's Parties page (see esp. links to individual partz pages at bottom)
  • For profiles of the main Weimar-era parties, see Paul Bookbinder's Weimar Parties Page for facinghistory.org. The other "readings" links in the menu bar at left are interesting as well.

3. SPDSPD victory in 1890 (back to top)

  • 1869: August Bebel & Wilhelm Liebknecht: Social-Democratic Workers Party
  • 1878: anti-socialist law after assassination attempt on Wilhelm I
  • 1890: Wilhelm II let law lapse, led to large electoral gains (announced in the newspaper headlines at right)
  • 1917 split: USPD and MSPD (independent & majority)
  • 1918-20: USPD divided up, with some members co-founding the KPD, and a right-leaning group that went back to the majority SPD
  • Weimar coalitions; largest state Prussia led by SPD: "rock of democracy"!
  • March 1933: voted against Nazi take-over ("Enabling Act")

4. FDP (back to top)

  • origins 1861 DFP=German Progress Party, then National Liberals in Kaiserreich, and FVP
  • Weimar DDP=German Democratic Party (Gustav Streseman most prominent; 1926 Nobel Peace Prize biography page); renamed Deutsche StaatsPartei; see also DVolksPartei
  • closer to CDU/CSU on economic policy, and to SPD on social policy
  • averaged about 10% of vote from late 1940s until early 1990s--largest 3rd party until the Greens
  • best-known members: founder and federal president (1949-59) Theodor Heuss, Hans-Dietrich Genscher ( foreign minister 1974-1992, during unification)
  • 1953 scandal because of infiltration by former Nazis, known as Werner Naumann Affair

5. CDU/CSU (back to top)

  • constituency was drawn from the Catholic Center Party (Zentrum), but also from Protestants; CSU from BVP=Bavarian Peoples' Party
    also Catholic- and Protestant-identifying members of DDP, DVP & DNVP
  • Core of many Weimar coalitions
  • 1946 Jakob Kaiser: Christian Socialism was seriously socialist
  • Christian Democratic Union
  • BVP: Bavarian Volks Party of Weimar years became
    CSU: Christian Socialist Union (Franz Josef Strauss most prominent politician)

Some party posters of the Weimar years

1920-32 left-wing Germany party posters
1924-32 Right-wing German party posters

Three biographies representing the three main post-1945 political parties in West Germany
(actually presented in lecture 7)
Kurt Schumacher
Kurt Schumacher (1895-1952)
  • father in retail
  • 1914: emergency high school diploma
    wounded early in WWI, arm amputeted
  • 1918: studying law, joins SPD
  • 1920: editor of SPD paper
  • 1924: leadership in Stuttgart SPD and opposition leader in the Wurtemberg parliament
  • 1930: youngest SPD member in Reichstag
  • 1932: very outspoken against NSDAP
  • 1933-1943, 1944: in concentration camps (released for health reasons)
  • 1945: leadership of Hanover SPD, then West German SPD
  • 1949: elected to Bundestag, but not as chancellor or president
Theodor Heuss
Theodor Heuss (1884-1963)
  • son of an engineer
  • 1905: doctorate in macroeconomics
    reporter, then editor of a liberal paper (Friedrich Naumann, FVP, then DDP)
  • 1919 Berlin city council, professor, editor
  • 1924-28: DDP member of Reichstag
  • 1930-33: DSP member of Reichstag
  • 1932 book Hitler's Path banned and burned in 1933
  • 1933-45: writes biographies, cultural articles
  • 1945: Minister of Culture in Wurtemberg-Baden
  • 1946: member of constitutional convention in W-B.
  • 1949: beats Schumacher 47% to 39% in West German presidential election
Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967)
  • son of a Catholic church official
  • 1901: finished law school, begins legal career
  • 1905: joins Center party
    1906: Cologne city council
    1909: Cologne vice mayor
    1917: lord mayer (age 41)
  • 1918: delegate in Prussian parliament
  • 1923: possibility of independent Rhineland
  • 1926: possible candidate for chancellor
  • 1933-45: "inner emigration" (brief arrest)
  • 1945: mayor of Cologne
  • 1946: chairman of newly founded CDU
  • 1949: elected to Bundestag; obtains one more vote for chancellor than Schumacher

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Jan. 26, 2006, updated: see header
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