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The SPD's Future (September 6, 2009)
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A Small “Grand” Coalition

But all of that is water under the bridge, a glacier melting in a global warming. [ . . . ] Although no one expects the Left Party to catch up with the SPD on the federal level, it will probably be able to snatch enough votes to push the SPD well below the 30 percent mark.

In the case of parties of this size, it is not a question of whether they want to be large mainstream parties. They cannot be, because they are not mainstream. The arithmetic is simple: with three leftwing parties in the parliaments – the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left Party – the SPD can currently only govern in a coalition with the two others or with the CDU/CSU. Everyone knows this. The only remaining hope is that the Social Democrats will oust the Left Party or become united a second time with that product of a forced marriage, the former Party of Democratic Socialism/Socialist Unity Party.

Mercilessly Pressured

Will the Left Party disappear? On the other hand: why should it? It has a geographical base in the East that has turned out to be quite stable. It plays the role of a large mainstream party there, at least by habit, in a way that the SPD does not. When it comes to clearing hurdles in the West, it has enjoyed some success. This is certainly due to Lafontaine, and the Social Democrats seem to hope that he either dies or becomes disenchanted with politics (not because they bear a grudge, but because they still cling to the dream that the Left Party will then lose support in the West). But what’s done is done. Once in parliament, the party can show its voters the value of their vote, thereby creating new reasons for them to cast their vote for it again.

[ . . . ]

Even the rigorous programmatic demarcation from the Left Party does not make the Left Party weak but strong – and widens the divide that cuts across the SPD. As Müntefering put it, “The mistake has been made.” But the mistake was not the fuss that Beck made, but Agenda 2010. The SPD could not tolerate Schröder’s reform policy, even though it was correct – or perhaps because it was correct. But now it cannot be undone. And this is why Agenda 2010 was wrong, at least if the criterion is the SPD’s desire to remain a large mainstream party. No matter. The chapter has been written, and it will be closed in the upcoming elections.

One should listen closely to the left-wingers of the Left Party: Lafontaine, Bisky, and Ramelow. Their statements exude a solid self-confidence. They show how sure they are that they see the SPD more realistically than the SPD sees itself. Lafontaine openly names his constituents: the unemployed, the fearful, and – please take note! – retirees. It is a group of people who surely do not have control over whether they do well or badly. And Lafontaine promises the SPD an option for wielding power, one that many SPD members are quite pleased about. They believe that the dream of a structural “leftwing majority” – a dream that has been inspired by surveys over the past thirty years – is now within easy reach. A zero sum game is more probable. One way or the other: the SPD has ceased to exist as a large mainstream party.

Source: Volker Zastrow, “SPD im Dauertief: Requiem für eine Volkspartei” [“The SPD in a Lasting Slump: Requiem for a Large Mainstream Party”] FAZ.NET, September 6, 2009.

Translation: Adam Blauhut

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