Kurt Schumacher - Schumacher Versus Adenauer

Schumacher Versus Adenauer

The Federal Republic's first national elections were held in August 1949. Schumacher was convinced he would win, and most observers agreed with him. But Adenauder's new CDU had several advantages over the SPD. Some of the SPD's strongest areas in pre-war Germany were now in the Soviet Zone, while the most conservative parts of the country - Bavaria and the Rhineland - were in the new Federal Republic of Germany. In addition both the American and French occupying powers favoured Adenauer and did all they could to assist his campaign; the British remained neutral.

Further, the onset of the Cold War, and particularly the behavior of the Soviets and the German Communists in the Soviet Zone, produced an anti-socialist reaction in Germany as elsewhere. The SPD would very plausibly have won an election in 1945; by 1949 the tide had turned. The social democrats themselves were extremely critical of the Eastern German governments, including Schumacher who once labeled the Communists "red-painted fashists". He had therefore problems to point out to the public opinion the differences in his vision of "democratic socialism" and the realities in East Germany. Another thing was the recovery of German economy, thanks mainly to the currency reform of the CDU's Ludwig Erhard. Matters were complicated by Schumacher's ill-health: in September 1948 he had one of his legs amputated. Germans admired Schumacher's courage, but they doubted that he could carry out the duties of federal Chancellor.

Although Schumacher's SPD won the most seats of any single party in the election (though the CDU and its sister party, the CSU, together won more seats), the CDU was able to form a coalition government with the Free Democratic Party, the Christian Social Union, and the German Party, and Adenauer was voted Chancellor. This was a shock to Schumacher. He refused to co-operate in parliamentary matters and denounced the CDU as agents of the capitalists and foreign powers.

Schumacher opposed the emerging new organisations of European co-operation, the Council of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Defence Community, which he saw as devices for strengthening capitalism, and for extending Allied control over Germany. This stand aroused the opposition of the other west European socialist parties, and eventually the SPD overruled him and sent delegates to the Council of Europe.

During the rest of Adenauer's first term in office, Schumacher continued to oppose his government, but the rapid rise in German prosperity, the intensification of the Cold War and Adenauer's increasing success in getting Germany accepted in the international community all worked to undermine Schumacher's position. The SPD began to have serious doubts about going into another election with Schumacher as leader, particularly when he had a stroke in December 1951. They were spared having to deal with this dilemma when Schumacher died suddenly in August 1952.

Adenauer admired Schumacher's integrity, willpower and courage, even while opposing his policies, and was shocked at his death. "Despite our differences", he said, "we were united in a common goal, to do everything possible for the benefit and well-being of our people."

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