Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
Band XLIII/ 2003 - Summaries

Bernd Faulenbach,

The 1970s - a Social Democratic Decade?

From 1969 to 1982 the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany were led by the Social Democratic Chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. Yet, to what degree were the Social Democrats able to leave their mark on this decade? This question will be investigated by contrasting the political development of the 1970s with that of the previous and the following decades and of the post-war years as a whole. What was the relationship of Social Democratic policies with the great political issues of the day? The Ostpolitik (the new policy of détente towards Eastern Europe), commenced by Willy Brandt and continued by his successor, will receive special attention. Furthermore, political concepts like the European détente and the expansion of the European Community will also be discussed, for both of these concepts were clearly shaped by Social Democracy.
As the core of the reform policies of the late 1960s and early 1970s we will identify the notion of "Democratisation", which - although being an ambiguous and contestable concept - corresponded to Social Democratic ideas, as well as a growing public demand for more political participation, a "fundamental politicisation" of society. Without doubt, however, this democratisation also led to a politicisation of opposing social forces. Unmistakably, this political approach increasingly receded into the background from the mid 1970s on, when the impacts of world economic turbulences emerged as new political challenges. Helmut Schmidt attempted to overcome these problems through a co-ordinated joint strategy of the industrial nations, an approach, which could - with reservations - be interpreted as a new stage of global governance with Social Democratic origins. The Social Democratic government's stand on the problematic ecology issue, as well as Helmut Schmidt's conduct in dealing with the rearmament question were even more difficult to categorise and fit in theoretically. Whereas, after 1969, the SPD at first tried to join all the different reform concepts together, the latter subsequently began to compete within the party. Had the SPD been able, in the early 1970s, to integrate part of the young generation, this proved largely impossible with the Ecology- and Peace-Movement, which in fact began to draw people away from Social Democracy. However, the erosion of Social Democratic power was also aggravated by the increasingly virulent appearance of neo-liberal ideas within the FDP. All in all, regardless of all the differences between the Brandt- and Schmidt-Eras, the seventies can be regarded, with some reservations, as a decade, in which Social Democracy was at the heart of German and - in part - of European politics; it was able to influence these politics, but it was likewise taken captive by the central themes of the decade.


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