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

By Dietrich Orlow | Go to book overview
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CONCLUSION

it may be appropriate to end this analysis of the Dutch, German, and French Socialist parties with another reference to Ralf Dahrendorf's postulate that the twentieth century was the era of Social Democracy. It is now clear that if that assessment has any validity at all, it should be limited to the second half of the century. Only after the Second World War were the Socialist parties able to influence and sometimes dominate the political agenda of western Europe.

The Socialists' new role became possible only after the parties remade themselves and honestly addressed their historic shortcomings and failings. Here the SPD faced a particularly formidable challenge. Before the Nazis came to power it had been the largest and best organized of the West European Socialist parties. But the SPD's much vaunted organizational strength failed to prevent the Nazi Machtergreifung (seizure of power). Like the SPD, the Dutch SDAP was also an outsider in the Dutch zuilen-dominated politics for most of its history, although in the course of the 1930s the party was making its way into The Netherlands' political mainstream. The SDAP was still rejected as coalition partner by the dominant bourgeois parties until the last weeks before the war, but the Dutch Socialists were accepted as full partners in the national effort to combat Holland's indigenous Fascists. The French SFIO was traumatized by the split of 1920. The party was torn between the desire to carve out a position independent of the Communists and the hope that the estranged brothers might come together again. The Popular Front and their joint Resistance activities against the Vichy regime and the Nazi occupation perpetuated illusions about a reunited French working class party even beyond 1945.

After the Second World War virtually nothing was the same. The three parties had to adapt all aspects of their institutional

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