The SPD faces a directional decision that is characteristic of the party. On Saturday decides who will lead the Social Democrats in the future - and the two candidate teams that stand for election represent almost prototypically two contrary attitudes, which run like a thread through the history of the almost 160-year-old party.
On one side is the duo Scholz / Geywitz. They want to continue the grand coalition and defend the previous work of the government. Their rivals, Walter-Borjans and Esken, want the opposite: a consequent departure from the previous program and an end to the joyless compromise lifting with the Union.
Of the "two souls of social democracy" speaks the Göttingen party researcher Franz Walter in his standard work on SPD history. Already in the empire, already in Weimar, already in the Adenauer years: always there was a wing in the party, which demanded the "radical break" with the existing system, which dreamed of the classless or at least fair society - and was not ready to dilute these visions through consensual government action.
And there have always been pragmatists and realists who profess responsibility and sense of duty. They would rather work with laborious reforms on the big party goals, than fainting in the Opposition impotent. These conflicting principles often led to inner-party strife, even to secession. But they also gave the party a permanent dynamism and discourse readiness, which contributed to the longevity of the SPD. More political systems has survived no party in Germany.
Is opposition "crap"?
In addition, this contest of the two "souls" produced two different party leader types in regularity. Namely, to formulate it plastically, if a little woodcut-like: the pragmatists and the visionaries.
A prototype of the pragmatists of the recent past is Franz Müntefering. He coined the paradigmatic phrase of this stream: "Opposition is crap." Only in the government could one achieve something for one's own clientele. Pulling yourself out and commenting dandy on the sidelines, that contradicts the political understanding of this cohort.
Scholz would be an upper-realo
The two former SPD Chancellors, Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Schmidt, can be assigned to this Realo camp. The problem with these leaders, however, has always been that they were anything but popular at the party base. The Pragmatiker would betray in their orientation to center and majority the ideals of the party, so the regular complaint reads. No coincidence that Schmidt was never party leader. And that Schröder still has no place of honor in party history.
Olaf Scholz would also be such a party leader, an upper-realm. No wonder then that the hearts of the base are far from flying. From his sober pragmatism, many comrades feel downright provocative. If he and Klara Geywitz are still selected, that would be a head, not a gut decision.