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Crisis in the Social Democratic Party (October 5, 1981)

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Schmidt notices that he no longer sweeps people along with him and that his governing artistry has become limited to administration.

He discovered rather late that it was a mistake not to secure the government course within the party and that it was wrong to have never dealt intensively with the party program. Now Schmidt is facing the danger that his critics in the SPD might start rocking the government down to its foundations. “The chancellor,” one of his advisors says, “feels like the rug is being pulled out from under his feet.”

The guilty parties, as far as Schmidt can see, are not primarily the declared adversaries of his policies, like Eppler, Lafontaine, and Jansen. He believes the very fact that his critics could become a serious threat at all is attributable to Willy Brandt, who he says is loyal to the government outwardly, but who, in reality, stirs up the mood against the coalition and the chancellor by way of ambiguous statements.

[ . . . ]

But this time Brandt was on guard, having been caught unawares by the vehemence of the attack a day earlier. In the 1960s, he said, coolly defending his course of integration, he had not realized until very late that the youth rebellion was just a symptom of societal changes.

It was right for the SPD to open up to the protest generation, he said: “The party has not become more boring or weaker as a result.” If the Social Democrats were to abandon the youth in order not to unsettle their regular voters in the working class, then the SPD would have no future.

Brandt then made it clear that he was willing to face the confrontation with Schmidt. “I want to tell you honestly that you will not change me. There will only be change when you feel the time has come to decide who should be the [next] chairman of the Social Democratic party.”

For his part, Schmidt is trying to break the power of the functionaries and party bosses who he feels are responsible for the SPD’s desperate state of affairs. [Helmut] Rohde, head of the SPD intra-party taskforce on employee matters (AfA), should help him in this.

[ . . . ]

Source: “Die SPD ist doch nicht euer Eigentum” [“Die SPD ist doch nicht euer Eigentum”],Der Spiegel, October 5, 1981, pp. 17-21.

Translation: Allison Brown

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