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"New Left" (October 4-5, 1962)

Hoping to constitute a “New Left” distinct from the old labor movement, the 17th delegate conference of the Socialist German Student Association [Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund or SDS] discussed the need to drastically reform university structures and to modernize Marxist theory in order to overcome the democratic capitalism of the Federal Republic.

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Conformism and Nonconformism

The SDS [Socialist German Student Association] founded independent social democratic university groups in Heidelberg, Cologne, and Saarbrücken as early as late summer of 1959. On March 26, 1960, the SDS federal board decided to accept the petition by the Saarbrücken Social Democratic Student Association (SHB) to join the SDS under the condition that they accept the resolution on the incompatibility of membership in [other student] corporations with membership in the SDS. Since the SHB group rejected this, they were not admitted. On May 2, the SDS federal board also suspended the Saarbrücken SDS group because they had refused to exclude members Gerhard Lambrecht and Hans Schurze from their association. (Both were accused of having contact with the German communist party, which had been banned. At the time, both had already been excluded from the SPD.) Consequently, there was no longer any SDS in Saarbrücken.

On May 6, the Albert Schweizer Group in Bonn decided by majority vote to withdraw from the SDS and no longer to participate in the delegate conference. Part of the membership left the Bonn group and remained in the SDS. Just one day after the secession of the Albert Schweizer Group, two representatives from the Bonn SHB participated in the conference of the SDS state association of North Rhine-Westphalia in Düsseldorf. There they voted – along with the Düsseldorf delegates and Heinz Niedrig, chair of the state SDS group – against the Cologne delegates and the rump SDS group from Bonn for the state association to secede from the SDS and join the SHB. The delegates of the SDS university groups in Cologne and Münster protested the decision since the Bonn SHB members had also voted, although they had just decided to secede a day earlier.

The conflict between the SHB, which conforms to the [official SPD] party line, and the SDS also had organizational consequences in other state associations. For example, the SDS group at the Otto Suhr Institute (OSI) of the Free University of Berlin voted out its chairman Manfred Geßner on May 6, 1960, because of “incompetence that could no longer be denied.” Subsequently, on May 7, former SDS members Manfred Geßner, Waldemar Ritter, Hans Adolph, Hermann Klag, and Udo F. Löwke founded an SHB group at the OSI. Geßner was named provisional chair of the planned SHB state association in Berlin, Ritter became a delegate of the not yet formed federal board in Bonn, and Löwke became the OSI group chairman.

On the morning of May 9, 1960, Jürgen Maruhn announced to the press the founding of the “Social Democratic Student Association” (SHB) in Bonn by “fifteen social democratic student groups throughout the Federal Republic and Berlin.” Jürgen Maruhn (Bonn) was named provisional chair. His two provisional deputies were Waldemar Ritter (Berlin) and Peter-Paul Henckel (Saarbrücken). The SHB founders expressly declared their support of the new statement of principles of the [Social Democratic] party. In addition, the SHB wanted to be involved primarily with practical higher education policy and to participate in the political education within the party. Basic educational goals were “a critical discourse on communism,” on the one hand, and “spreading the idea of democratic socialism,” on the other. The SHB initiators had grown weary of the eternal carping of left-wing intellectuals. They demanded something positive.

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