By 56 to 44 per cent the delegates at the German SPD’s Extraordinary Party Congress (Sunday 14 January) approved coalition negotiations for a new “Grand Coalition” (GroKo). But this will not end the crisis of social democracy: on the contrary.
After the Young Socialists (JuSos) and smaller SPD state associations had tried to stop the GroKo, Martin Schulz and the entire SPD party leadership had to go in with all guns blazing to win delegates to give special permission for coalition negotiations with the right-wing CDU and CSU parties. Always the same message: the results of consultation might not be perfect, but everything would be worse without the SPD in government.
2013 had seen similar discussions around the idea of a GroKo, in which it was widely predicted that entering a Grand Coalition under Merkel would lead to the downfall of the Social Democracy. In the end, as today, the party leadership prevailed. But 46 per cent opposition to the leadership motion is a tangible expression of a crisis of orientation in the SPD.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper pointed out “[this is] a confrontation between the party leadership (or the ‘promise’) and the party base.... But even if the ‘promise’ had the upper hand, the situation remains uncertain. Firstly, the coalition negotiations must be approved by a decision of the whole membership — far from a sure thing — and secondly, with or without a GroKo, the question of the SPD’s future is being posed more and more acutely.”
Martin Schulz swore after the vote: “The [CDU/CSU] Union parties will have to adjust themselves to the fact that the coalition negotiations will be just as hard as the consultation negotiations.” But, whether the few extra breadcrumbs that might result from these talks are tempting enough for the party base remains to be seen.
But the opponents of the GroKo also have a problem. Refusing the GroKo does not an alternative project make. Their perspective is limited to staying in opposition for four years (or more) and then coming back to power stronger.
According to the Welt, the overwhelming sentiment of the Congress was “it’s just got to be yes. This describes the Social Democracy’s entire self-conception which, devoid of ideas, has fallen into narrow ‘just got to govern’-ism And it’s in the name of that point of view that the SPD keeps bowing lower and lower to the interests of German capital. Or, as taz sarcastically put it: ‘Merkel remains head of the SPD’.”
Many are now speculating as to whether, in the — likely — event of a new Grand Coalition being put together, a part of the SPD may go rogue. It is possible that some will find their way into Die Linke, others will stay behind in the SPD, gnashing their teeth, and others still sink into political apathy. The fact is, the Social Democracy no longer has any positive, overarching project to offer. And so the slow and inexorable death of Social Democracy is set to continue.
The political representation crisis, of which the crisis of the SPD is only one part, could hardly be solved by a new GroKo.