The Political Situation
by PETER VON ZAHN
THE Weimar Republic suffered from too many political parties, Hitler‘s one-party Third Reich from too few. If Germany is to survive in freedom it must find a middle road between the anarchy of the one and the tyranny of the other. Next fall the Federal Republic will have its third general election. The outcome cannot yet be predicted, but it seems likely that most voters will choose between the two big parties—the Christian Democrats, who are now in power, and the Social Democrats, their major opposition – with only scattered support for the extremists of left or right and the other small splinter parties.
Since 1949 the Christian Democrats have dominated the Bundestag and, with some coalition support, run the government. The CDU is very much Konrad Adenauer’s party. His personal leadership brought Protestants and Catholics together and welded into a political instrument of great flexibility the farmers of the South, the Ruhr industrialists, small businessmen, Catholic trade-unionists, refugees, and the large professional classes. These groups, now united, leant a free-enterprise economy and have steadfastly supported European economic integration, the NATO alliance, and, in consequence, a limited rearmament. Their approach to the great burning question German politics—reunification—has always been that nothing should be done to endanger the ties with the West.
The Social Democratic Party, led since the death of Kurt Schumacher by Erich Ollenhauer and Carlo Schmid, would be willing to bargain with the Soviets, loosening the military ties between Germany and the NATO powers in exchange for a reunified Germany within an all-European security system. Domestically, the Social Democrats stand for an economic system along welfare-state lines.
The SPD rests on the hundred-year-old traditions of the German workers’ movement. But it should be emphasized that it is not a revolutionary Marxist movement any longer. It does not lean toward Moscow and is perhaps closest to the British Labor Party. Its followers are strong believers in personal freedom and the constitutional methods necessary to protect it.
In next September’s elections the smaller parties will be fighting for survival against the trend toward a two-party system similar to that in the United States. Of these minor parties, the Free Democrats get the most headlines. They combine the anti-clerical tradition of 1848 with the free-enterprise philosophy of the European liberal movement. If neither the CDU nor the SPD wins a clear majority, the Free Democrats might be able to control the balance.
The extremist groups are, at the moment, ineffectual. The Communist Party and a small party of former Nazis have been, outlawed by the Supreme Court. The present temper of the German voter does not run to violence or passion. The German of today wants political parties that are businesslike, sober politicians, and statesmen who govern methodically and without clamor.