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SPD – Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge)

The Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland (Social Democratic Party of Germany) was founded in 1875 by August Bebel on largely Marxist ideals and for most of the Weimar Republic time was the largest political party in the nation.

Although it was born as a workers’ party, the SPD often embraced a number of causes beyond the conditions of workers, calling for equal rights for women (finally realised by the republic) and a stop to the killing of natives in German colonies in the XIX century.

By 1912 the party had more than a million members and had achieved improvements in education and healthcare as well as in the condition of industrial workers. Around that time, the party started working together with Keiser Wilhelm II rather than against him to achieve further liberal laws for the nation.

Besides, this policy of agreement was going to be the main direction of the party. Bebel, just like his successor Friederich Ebert, believed that socialist improvement could be achieved by parliamentary discussion rather than by violence and revolution.

In 1914, the SPD voted against the resolution of war against France, which they considered an unnecessary, aggressive and imperialistic action. This caused the first fraction inside the party that, with over one million members, presented as it might be expected a vast range of opinions and positions. Many SPD members were imprisoned for their anti-war ideas. By 1917 many had also be expelled from the party for their radical position. A number of these – including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht – would then found the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

The SPD were the natural candidate to lead the Republic, and they did so for most of its history, though never from a majority position.
Over the decades, the SPD had been criticized for having agreed too often on compromises even with forces (like the reactionary Reichswehr and even more so the nationalistic Nazi party) that were clearly in opposition with their ideals and goals. This had long been seen as a weakness, possibly a capital sin that would eventually bring down the republic. Germans saw the willingness to compromise and the practice of parliamentary discussion as the incapability of the party to find solutions for the many problems of the nation. Unaccustomed to democracy, Germans failed to see that the SPD was threading a completely new path, one of inclusion and cooperation, based on discussion rather than imposition. In fact, historians have lately started to argue that if the republic hadn’t look for agreement and hadn’t accepted the compromises it did, its life would have been even shorter.

The SPD – which identified with the Weimar Republic – achieved many liberal laws that meant inclusion for a lot of society sections previously cut off form Germany's political life. Share on X

Despite the perceived failure (because after all the republic ended with the rise of the Nazi), the SPD achieved many liberal laws and provisions that meant inclusion for a lot of society sections previously cut off from the nation’s political life. The preeminence of the Jewish component among SPD members would be hard to oversee. Women also entered the political arena, not just as voters, but as parliamentary representatives as well.
The republic gave freedom of speech to everyone – including its enemies – and allowed avant-garde and alternative ways of life and thinking not just to exist, but to thrive.

In the good and the bad, the Weimar Republic is identified with the SPD government. After all, for very good reasons.


International Socialism – Divided they fell: the German left and the rise of Hitler
Alpha History – Social Democratic Party (SPD)
Encyclopaedia Britannica – Social Democratic Party of Germany
1914-1918 Online – Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)

Walter Laqueur, Weimar, A Cultural History 1918-1933. Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd. London, 1971

Weimar Germany - SPD (AtoZChallenge 2018) In spite of the perceived failure of the Weimar Republic, the SPD - which is edintify with it - actually achieved many liberal laws and provisions that meant inclusion for a lot of society sections previously cut off form Germany's political life.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 21, 2018 at 20:19

    As I think about the SPD, I wonder whether, like some of the other developments at the time, it was a case of being ahead of its time? Perhaps in a small part, it didn’t have more successes – at least not obvious ones – because many people saw inclusion and co-operation as weakness?

    • Post Author
      Posted April 24, 2018 at 16:55

      That’s what I understand.
      The Prussian culture – which had been very relevant under the Empire – was essentially a military culture which valued hierarchy, discipline, clear and unemotional thinking and resolution in decision-making. The fact to discuss matters so to take a decision together was indeed seen as weakness and undecisiveness.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 04:56

    They are, in some ways, 100 yrs ahead of their time and their ideas were great but to many others could not deal with it which allowed the Nazis to take control. Ughhh….so many ways that Germany could have gone differently

    • Post Author
      Posted April 24, 2018 at 16:57

      I’d rather say that, in the difficult circumstances Germany foudn herself in, many people hoped that one strong personality could achive more than many people discussing over everything.
      In different circumstances, the republic might have had a lot more chances to survive.
      But of course history isn’t made up of ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’ ;-)

  • Shari
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 15:54

    I enjoy reading and learning about history, sadly I have to confess that I don’t spend enough time doing it though. Great post, thank you for sharing.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 24, 2018 at 16:59

      I love learning history and I love sharing what i learn. That’s the beauty of life, we all have something different to offer ;-)

  • Kristin
    Posted April 22, 2018 at 18:09

    As nazi’s held a rally in Georgia, near Atlanta yesterday, I am conflicted about freedom of speech for hate groups. Not really conflicted, actually, but opposed to any sort of hate speech. It is so sad that the attempt in Germany of freedom and expansion of rights ended up where it did.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 24, 2018 at 17:04

      It is indeed a hard point. Hate speech may cause more hate, but if we start choosing who can speak and who can not, are we still living in a democracy?

  • Kat Seaholm
    Posted April 24, 2018 at 20:30

    The changes they made were amazing, war is such a devastating thing and leave no one and nothing untouched. Thanks for sharing.

  • Debs
    Posted April 26, 2018 at 17:33

    Interesting post, as always Sarah. Coincidentally, my military historian boyfriend and I have been watching a number of documentaries on this very subject. His particular interest is the cold war but, as so much is a reaction to what came before, it’s a subject we’ve been delving in to.

    A-Zing this year at:
    Normally found at:

    • Post Author
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 07:43

      Isn’t history fascinating that way? You think you’re interested in just one part of it… and you end up beign intereted in everything, because everythign is connected.

  • Hilary
    Posted April 27, 2018 at 20:44

    Hi Sarah – it’s interesting to see the time frame back to the mid 1870s … I do want to put all these posts into context in my ‘little’ brain … it is all amazingly informative – cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 07:44

      Sometimes isn’t easy to try and grasp an historical moment, because… well… because that’s not really a ‘moment’, but it’s a link in a longer chain of event.
      History is fascinating.

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