Common Destiny: A Comparative History of the Dutch, French, and German Social Democratic Parties, 1945-1969

By Dietrich Orlow | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
EUPHORIA, DISILLUSIONMENT,
AND ADAPTATION, 1945-1949

Western Europe's Socialists perceived the Continent at the end of the Second World War as a place of both devastation and opportunity. The very magnitude of the problems facing Europe in 1945 convinced them that they were standing on the threshold of a new era, the age of Democratic Socialism. They came to this conclusion through an historical analysis of the developments that in their view had led to Europe's present sad state of affairs. The Socialists were convinced that the cumulative effect of First World War, the Great Depression, the rise and rule of fascism and the destruction wrought by Second World War —in short the course of twentieth-century European history—had finally and convincingly demonstrated the political, economic, and moral bankruptcy of nineteenth-century liberalism, conservatism, and capitalism. At the same time, the rise of Stalinism showed that the Soviet model of dictatorial one-party rule and state capitalism was not a viable alternative. With "dialectical near-certainty" they concluded the only answer to Europe's problems was Democratic Socialism. 1

Leaders (and rank-and-file activists) of the three parties did not tire of reiterating that the Socialist parties would be given a democratic mandate to effect fundamental changes in European society. The Dutch PvdA spoke of a "societal restructuring" in The Netherlands. The SPD insisted even more dramatically that unless the Social Democrats became the decisive voice in Germany, the country and Europe would remain a center of violence and decay. After Léon Blum, the leader of the French Socialists, returned to France

-44-

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