27 JANUARY 1956, Page 4


By Our German Correspondent Bonn

ONE of the best turns in a cabaret show in Cologne recently mimicked in robust fashion the cocktail-party manners of Bonn's politicians. Heavily-bemedalled ministers exchanged the latest jokes about Dr. Adenauer; suddenly a hierarchial figure robed in scarlet silk soutane glided into the room and the irreverence melted into genuflections of hushed subservience. Few cabaret companies other than the well-established Kommodchen of Dlisseldorf would have dared to stage such a scene in the shadow of Cardinal Frings's own cathedral towers for fear of meeting the fate of the distinguished Berlin artiste who was recently banned from the Bonn stage for a sally of disrespectful remarks about the Adenauer regime. The Cologne audience delighted in the stage cardinal. That was because they were in fact 500 leading functionaries of the Social Democratic Party, gathered in Cologne for a two-day conference to receive the line for the 1957 election campaign. Their delight reflected at the same time one of the essential weaknesses of their party which they have not yet shown any desire to reinforce. The leaders refuse to face the fact that anti-clericalism in Western Germany does not pay. The SPD has been in a sad plight ever since the death of Dr, Schumacher in 1952; it has lost its leadership, its .originality and its punch, and it can as yet see no way of breaking out of the chalk circle of. 30 per cent. which has inhibited the party ever since it first participated in national elections. Herr 011enhauer, the present leader, has apparently neither the authority nor the political sex-appeal to spring-clean the party's dusty tenets or to make them appetising to wider groups in the electorate.

The Germans are an unimaginative people; they are also very religious. Their courage only comes to light in defence of ideas which are securely accepted by the majority. They therefore need desperately a beacon of some sort to give them orientation. Since 1949 this beacon has been Dr. Adenauer and the Adenauer ethos, founded firmly on Christian morality and fed with the solid fuel of bourgeois prosperity. Whether they are buying a hat or joining a defensive alliance the post-war Germans want to be 'safe,' and the Adenauer system provides this safety.

This is something which only a minority of the Social Democrats seem to understand or be willing to accept. They fought the elections of 1949 and 1953 as the straightforward champions of the working classes and were surprised when only half the wage-earners voted for them. The rest found neither their economic theories nor their foreign policy 'safe.' The party's examination of conscience began two years ago but only some of the conclusions drawn have been in the right direction. The Social Democrats have, for instance, abandoned nearly all the expressly 'socialist' parts of their programme. In Cologne Dr. Deist, a co-management tycoon who is rapidly emerging as the party's economic expert, declared that Social Democracy now opposed planned economy and supported 'genuine' free competition. He never mentioned nationalisation —a slogan which never had any magic in Germany anyway since the State was always a big capitalist—and even conceded that the SPD was prepared to denationalise enterprises which had no political character. He attacked high tariffs with Cob- denite fervour. Dr. Arndt, the party's vice-chairman, carried the liberal motif farther with an onslaught against the `benighted spirits' in Dr. Adenauer's party and government. His witty vehemence against the weaknesses of Dr. Adenauer's system. its authoritarianism, its intolerance, its insistence on con- formity, were certainly calculated to make the free-thinking centre look up and listen. But are there so many free-thinkers In Germany as Dr. Arndt believes? The evidence of past elections, the evidence of the cram-full churches is against him.

The majority of West German electors think the Social Democrats are a godless party and Dr. Arndt, by attacking the hierarchy, the Reich Concordat of 1933 and religious edu- cation did not do much to disabuse them. even though his criticism was aimed at reform rather than revilement. Probably neither the Churches nor the State are served by the fact that religion has been brought into politics. But it is now a century- Old fact that cannot be altered. Western Germany is moving rapidity towards a two-party system and the party which has the pulpits against it catmot hope to win an absolute majority. Dr. Schumacher and Herr 011enhauer have in the past both made attempts to make peace at least with the Evangelical Church, but the attempts were short-lived and found no support along the hard core of old Socialists. The SPD should realise that unless it co-opts a few churchgoers into its front ranks It will never qualify for the ordinary elector as 'safe.'