This book traces the development of the German left since 1945, concentrating on what was West Germany. The main difficulty of democratic socialism in Germany, the authors argue, is the success of a welfarist version of capitalist democracy in the Federal Republic. A socialist reconstruction of German society was impossible, but a very large measure of social decency and political democratization were institutionalized. That was largely the work of a Social Democratic party that has recently stumbled over its own triumphs. The projects with which it set the agenda of German society during its years in power (1969-1982) are either out of date or no longer exclusively its own. Much of the German right accepts the welfare state, and the practice of parliamentary democracy has at last been domesticated east of the Rhine. Meanwhile, a new political formation has arisen. The Greens are the offspring of a German left once entirely dominated by the Social Democrats. They consider themselves both postcapitalist and postsocialist The question that perplexes the authors is: who are democratic socialism’s heirs, and what are their ideas?
The book uses the story of the rise of the Greens to reflect the postwar course of the left as a whole, but concentrates on the period that began with the rise of a large extraparliamentary opposition in the mid-sixties. Rather schematically, the authors’ argument follows.