Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
Band XLIII/ 2003 - Summaries

Dietmar Süß,

Grandchildren on the Barricades. The Young Socialists in the SPD in the 1970s

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Klaus-Uwe Benneter, Gerhard Schröder: In the 1970s, these three were among the leaders of the Young Socialists (Jusos), the Social Democratic Party's Youth Organisation, and they personified the generational and programmatic change, which radically transformed Social Democracy and its youth organisations during the era of Brandt and Schmidt. One can thereby distinguish between two phases: The first, which lasted from approximately 1969 - with the Jusos' "turn to the left" - until 1973/74, was characterised, above all, by a growing political influence of the SPD's youth branch within the party itself, a considerable mobilisation-potential, as well as broad public attention. A second phase lasted from the mid- to late 1970s/early 1980s, when the SPD's youth wore themselves out in internal struggles between the different political camps, when their level of social charisma sank and the Young Socialists increasingly lost touch with the new social movements. The essay examines the rise and the loss of significance of the Young Socialists, their relationship to the mother party and the changing interpretive horizons of the SPD's youth from the late 1960s to the end of the social-liberal era. The essay clarifies a number of those new experiences and ideas of political participation, communication and local politics shared by many of the young SPD members in the early 1970s, which were supposed to contribute to giving the SPD a different, grass-roots-, radical-socialist appearance. At the same time, this expansion of democratic culture was accompanied by an often complacent and illiberal political and communicative culture, to which - in spite of assertions to the contrary - nothing was more alien than open, non-domineering discourse and tolerance towards the political opponent. This "Janus-faced character", as well as the transformation from the euphoria for social reforms to the perception of a ubiquitous threat and crisis, are amongst the essential characteristics of the 1970s - in particular for the history of the political left.


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