Less than five years after Willy Brandt’s triumphant reelection in 1972, the German Social Democratic party (SPD) finds itself in deep trouble. Under Brandt’s leadership, West Germany, the only major country on the continent without a significant Communist party, had achieved the “opening to the East.” This policy, at the price of de facto recognition of the East German DDR, had paved the way fora measure of economic, cultural, and personal exchange between the two Germanies—family visits and reunions, emigration to the West for older people, release of political prisoners purchased with economic concessions, etc. These things meant much to many people.
Brandt’s dynamic policy and open personality attracted the support of many intellectuals to the SPD (with Gunter Grass in the forefront), and it helped the party to reach out beyond the old working-class constituency to the new white-collar middle class of technicians, middle managers, public employees, and academics. In a sometimes precarious but on the whole successful coalition with the small liberal Free Democratic party (FDP), Brandt had demonstrated the SPD’s ability to handle the affairs of the nation. In the process, the SPD had completed its transformation from a labor party to a “people’s party.”...
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