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1Drawing on research conducted on Germany’s Social Democratic Party’s Godesberg Programme adopted in 1959, this article proposes an analytical approach to political programmes. Taking an ecological [1] and socio-historical perspective, this approach seeks to situate political platforms within the network of historically structured social relationships that give rise to them. It likewise highlights the historical structuring of political interactions by arguing that behind the singular events embodied by each new party programme, we can decipher particular appropriations of accumulated experience. In fact, political programmes are themselves a historical form of politics that is as structurally decisive as it is resistant to change.

2The first objective of this article is sociological, following in the footsteps of studies that have sought to transcend the opposition between internalist and externalist textual interpretations. [2] Scholars no longer believe, as Jean Thibaudet once argued, that “politics is made up of ideas” and that political parties, “the expression of large families of political ideas”, have agendas that they achieve before “getting bogged down”. [3] The sociological analysis of political programmes renders political ideas tangible, permitting an examination of their production, diffusion and use. In recent years, the social history of political ideas in France has given rise to a number of studies using innovative tools to understand the dynamics behind the production of political ideas, primarily based on an analysis of how “trends” are established, as well as on the circulation and use of symbolic values. [4] Political programmes are therefore opportunities to observe the sociology of political ideas, so long as we view them not merely as texts to be interpreted, but more importantly as the product of strategies and actors situated in organisational, intellectual, and political spaces [5] (the latter including electoral competition and social protest). [6] They are also the basis for social interactions between actors who make use of the text in their exchanges: within a political party during their production (academic experts, propaganda and communications units [7]) or during their diffusion (activists, leaders, opponents, journalists, historians, etc.).

3This article proposes a socio-historical detour in order to challenge the “self-evident” nature of political programmes and properly understand their historical specificity and structure. [8] In a number of European countries, the nineteenth century heralded the invention of democracy, as well as its growing pains. In France, socio-historical research has already been conducted on voting, the electoral culture of political competition, [9] and how the link between voting and opinion is established. [10] Historiography has broadly explored the questions of politicisation – the creation of citizen-electors and the local adaptation of political competition [11] – as well as the issue of appropriate technologies for contemporary voting procedures. [12] The professionalisation of politics and the emergence of the modern politician have likewise recently been studied in history and political science. [13] However, political programmes have been largely overlooked, only indirectly addressed by studies that note their relatively scarce use in pre-modern electoral contexts (since, “ordinarily, electors do not vote for a policy” [14]), as well as in modern contexts, [15] with Claire Andrieu observing their rarity before the advent of the Third Republic. [16] Perhaps under the influence of the idea of Sonderweg, the sociohistorical current is less developed in German analyses. [17] There as well, following different timelines depending on the state in question, the second half of the nineteenth century was a learning period concerning voting and other modern forms of the electoral process. Historians have shown that social democracy, the product of the 1848 revolution, was an essential stage in Germany’s democratic apprenticeship. [18] It is thus useful to take German social democracy, viewed over the long term, as a microcosm within which to analyse the production and use of political programmes.

4Elaborating the socio-history of the political programme as a “practical and cognitive electoral” instrument [19] likewise means contributing to the analysis of the emergence of democratic action repertoires and other innovations that accompany the development of representative democracy. This perspective therefore invites us to shift the focus of the attention usually paid to political programmes away from the words used and the positions taken. Instead, we shall examine the processes that lead to the production of a text and its conversion into an agenda. This approach views political programmes as transactions: with an organisation and with its past, as objectified in actors, routines, and a pool of textual references; with norms that govern the writing and reading of texts; [20] and, in addition to voters, with various categories of actors relevant for those in charge of drafting programmes.

5This article seeks to highlight how actors appropriate the programme genre, slowly transforming it over time. Its approach echoes the work done by historians who have sought to analyse the elaboration of programme texts. In such studies, the granular description of the context of textual production relies on highly meticulous archival work. The history of the Conseil national de la Résistance’s (CNR – National Council for Resistance) political programme set out by Claire Andrieu, which traces the interactions that produced the text, is doubtless the most specific example of this, [21] but similar approaches can be found in contributions to the volume edited by Alain Bergounioux and Danielle Tartakowsky on the left’s unification and the 1972 “Programme commun” (“Shared Programme” of the French left-wing parties). [22] Both of these works attempt to root the texts that they analyse in their contemporary political and organisational culture. They also study the concrete strategies used by actors, the relationships between negotiators and their organisation, and the reception of the texts. Although they approach these programmes as singular events, these studies do not, however, offer a systematic analytical model for this kind of political text.

6Conversely, this article seeks to outline an alternative to the research trend in international political science embodied by the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP), initially focused around the work of Ian Budge, [23] and currently the gold standard in the field. Political programmes had, of course, attracted interest from political science researchers before this network was established, in particular in analyses of the “language of power” [24] and studies that pre-dated the CMP’s systematic endeavour of statistically analysing the textual data of political programmes. [25] Unlike CMP research, my approach refuses to subscribe to rational choice theories of democracy, [26] which transform political programmes into political offers designed to facilitate electoral choice. In that context, political programmes are viewed as the expression of preferences, and the manner in which they are produced is irrelevant. [27] Moreover, the CMP is interested in political programmes as indicators of parties’ positions, thus leading to the dematerialisation of what is considered as a “manifesto”. In seeking to fill the gaps in its corpus of official programmes, the CMP’s research practices also code declarations made by leaders, programme drafts, newspaper advertisements, and even the content of regional programmes and journalistic summaries of programmes. [28] From this article’s perspective, the meaning of a programme cannot be pinned down once and for all and coded in an “objective” manner. A text’s meaning emerges from the “process of reading”; [29] that is to say, as one of the effects of concrete actors appropriating an empirical text. [30]

7Beyond the methodological question begged by my approach, this project of contextualised research on political programmes is based on an analysis conducted on the Bad Godesberg Programme, not as an event marking a “rupture” with the social-democratic tradition, but as a text belonging to the long history of social-democratic programmes. To do this, I drew in particular on research conducted on political programmes of the 1920s (the Görlitz Programme of 1921 and the Heidelberg Programme of 1925) using the Bernstein archives (International Institute of Social History, IISH, Amsterdam, series N). To study Bad Godesberg specifically, I took advantage of the important archival collections held by various institutions (among others, the Archive of Social Democracy in Bonn (AdsD) and the IISH). [31] I likewise consulted publications, including pamphlets and academic texts published by commission members. Under the leadership of Erich Ollenhauer (1901-1963, president of the SPD from 1952 until his death), [32] in 1955 the SPD established a programmatic commission responsible for producing new party guidelines. In 1958, the commission submitted a preliminary version of a text, which was modified the following year before being voted on by SPD representatives at a convention in Bad Godesberg, in the suburbs of Bonn. My research benefited from the party’s bureaucratic structure, as well as the involvement in the programme’s writing of actors used to interpreting and producing published texts as well as letters and memoires. The availability of these archives stems from the decline in strategic interest in the transactions entered into in order to produce the 1959 programme: many documents bearing the stamp “confidential” reveal the importance of secret negotiations, even very late in the text’s production. Access to the archives had to be balanced against the fact that numerous actors who helped to produce the programme had since passed away; moreover the memory of the two individuals that I did manage to contact was hazy. Rather than interrogating them on the details of various arrangements within the programmatic commission, I opted for an open-ended interview, closer to a life-story interview, which allowed me to objectively describe their relationship with the party. I was able, however, to thoroughly explore the private collections of actors involved in producing the programme, in order to clarify the official documents and bureaucratic activity that surrounded its production and diffusion.


tableau im1
1875 Gotha Programme (German Social Democratic Party) 1891 Erfurt Programme 1921 Görlitz Programme 1925 Heidelberg Programme 1955-58 SPD Programmatic Commission 1958 Stuttgart Programme Draft May 1959-Autumn 1959 Second SPD Programmatic Commission 13-15 November 1959 SPD Convention in Bad Godesberg and adoption of the Programme


8This article is divided into three sections. First, it examines the codification of the programme genre in Germany and how those who drafted the programme appropriated these formal constraints in 1959. Second, it highlights the importance of taking organisational space into account in order to understand the production of a political programme, as well as the effects of the “scientification” of politics on doctrinal production. Finally, the article provides an open-ended reading of the text, paying special attention to the meaning(s) acquired by the Bad Godesberg Programme via the uses made of it in different social arenas.

The political programme as genre

9We are used to thinking of political programmes as familiar objects, as lists of measures and objectives proposed by parties during each election. This familiarity is the product of a slow process whereby this partisan form was defined. From a political science perspective, recognising that political programmes have a long history means that it is necessary to analyse the social conditions under which a written document is ultimately characterised and designated as a political programme. The emergence of programmes as a political form corresponds to the invention of a textual genre that complies with “known conventions” that define the extent of what readers expect, and thus constrain producers. [33]

10As the moments when practices are established shed light on the various elements that define them, [34] we shall first start by examining the emergence of this electoral instrument in the nineteenth century. [35] Here, I draw on manuals and collections of political programmes assembled by political actors, parties and historians during the era, at the turn of the century, when the history of political parties was institutionalised. Beyond questions of codification and emergence, I shall also attempt to demonstrate how the producers of the Bad Godesberg programme were “materially” confronted with the conventions of the programmatic genre. [36]

The standardisation of political programmes in the nineteenth century

11A linguistic detour may serve to illustrate the novelty of the programmatic genre when it emerged. The term only appeared in a political sense quite late, both in France and in Germany. In German, the word appeared as Programmata in the eighteenth century (Zeidler dictionary, 1712) and was later germanised as Programm in the nineteenth century. However, it only acquired its modern meaning of political proclamation in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1824, and again in 1856, the Brokhaus encyclopaedia (Allgemeine deutsche Enzyklopädie für gebildete Stände), a German-language standard reference work, limited its meaning to the loose-leaf posters or handouts that announced festivities or public (especially university) demonstrations. In its twelfth edition in 1886, the encyclopaedia listed “the exposition of political principles” as a derived meaning (which, however, the contemporary Grimm dictionary still did not recognise). [37]

12On their own, designations such as these do not stabilise meaning. For a long time, in addition to specific texts, programmes often referred to trends of thought that were not produced by a well-defined organisation: for instance, referring to “programmes” was a way to style the “opinions” proclaimed in bourgeois salons and newspapers, for example. It was only belatedly that the link between programmes and political parties, or electoral competition, was established. The “conservative programme” of German philologist Paul de Lagarde was thus not written in the name of any party. On the contrary, the text called for conservatives to rally round the programme outlined there, for, as Paul de Lagarde wrote, “each party is unified around a programme and from this it follows that as soon as a programme is written, the party that should be bound by this programme remains to be established”. [38] In 1891, a journalist for a number of social-democratic daily newspapers in the 1890s, Adolf Braun (1862-1929), [39] published a book that he presented as the first attempt to describe German political parties and their platforms. This social-democratic volume was produced in response to the practical interests of political professionals and provided a breakdown of the political landscape. As a member of the SPD’s programmatic commissions (in 1921 and 1925), Braun intended his work for “political practitioners” who must “take the content of programmes as so many attack points in the political struggle”. [40] Following Braun, in 1907 Felix Salomon, a history professor at Leipzig University, produced a two-volume work presented as “the first systematic and objective” (non-partisan) “overview” of the totality of German political programmes from 1844 until the beginning of the twentieth century. [41] More than a history of the programmes themselves, this is a history of political ideas as seen through programmes. Felix Salomon categorised the programmes by “schools of thought” (conservatism, liberalism, political Catholicism, socialism). Partisan programmes were just one of many kinds of texts that expressed these schools of thought; many articles from nineteenth-century intellectual journals were also presented as “programmes”.

13Following Salomon, the handbooks produced to outline party programmes included highly diverse texts in the nineteenth century (letters, newspaper or journal articles, speeches) whereas, during the Weimar period, the programmes compiled were relatively similar in form and designation. [42] The existence of an objective programmatic culture that differed from one party to another and was expressed in the publication of handbooks, the specialisation of party offices, and the diffusion and archiving practices of various organisations all make possible a “horizon of expectations” regarding political programmes. [43]

14This standardisation was linked to the generalisation of party programmes. Having a programme meant that a party could present itself as a unified entity. One telling element of this phenomenon was the disappearance of individual signatures on the programmes of electoral committees, often accompanied by information regarding the signatory’s social status (occupation, address) and sometimes numbering in the hundreds. [44] The “party-programme-nomination triad” [45] became a common concept and made such individual signatures superfluous. For the SPD, I was unable to find documentation showing programmes that had been endorsed by many people, due to the organisation’s age and its lack of prominent figures. On the other hand, the National-Liberal Party, one of the major parties of the imperial system and supported by many high-status individuals, perfectly illustrates this trend towards the depersonalisation of party programmes. In 1913, this latter party endorsed its first electoral appeal without individual signatures. [46] This collective endorsement was made possible by the spread of the convention as a tool to produce a collective voice. Political party conventions – in all their historical variations [47] – and the process of programme adoption are important topics of analysis: they are ways to make “the party” a visible and tangible entity. [48] Conventions transform political platforms from the projects of programmatic commissions and party leaders into a party programme. These programmes mean that the party speaks with one voice, as well as allowing it to exist independently of its individual incarnations.

15The spread of standardisation did not prohibit inter-organisational variation, however. In this regard, the SPD stands out as a result of its intra-party empowerment of specialists in programmatic rhetoric (the “theoreticians”). [49] Its programmes thus acquired a number of specific characteristics: the party “line”, or programme, was produced by the central party hub which mobilised these theoreticians. One of the most characteristic features of these social-democratic programmes was the importance of the “social diagnosis” (Zeitanalyse) that theoreticians outlined by drawing on specific party knowledge in the form of “Marxist science”. In the 1925 programme, this analysis, designated as a “fundamental” or “basic” element [50] by the official commentary, was followed by demands forming “a programme of action”; this explains why the Bad Godesberg Programme was “basic”, since it was intended to connect with a “programme of action” adopted in 1954. A party’s programme remains in force for several years: in fact, from 1891 to today, only six programmes of this kind have been adopted. This type of programme is thus different from government or electoral programmes, in particular because of the generality of its formulations. Theory specialists produced cheap pamphlets providing a commentary on the programmes, which were endorsed by the SPD’s steering committee.

Materiality: the writers and writing process of the 1959 programme

16As a textual form belonging to the “repertoire of party technology”, [51] the party programme remains the product of past human activity that “exists only and in so far as human activity continues to produce it”. [52] How, then, does one approach such programmatic texts, and why do actors use them? In the case of the 1959 programme, the question is particularly relevant.

17In fact, from the nineteenth century until the 1920s, social-democratic theoreticians constituted a relatively stable population; the genre’s stability was in some ways guaranteed by the continuity of the personnel that invented it, Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky being the most well-known of these figures. Their role in the programmatic commissions was key from the 1890s until the 1920s. Hermann Molkenbuhr (1858-1927) is another example: originally a tobacco worker, Molkenbuhr became a well-known expert in social statistics and a member of parliament from 1890 to 1924. He was also a member of the four programmatic commissions held between 1875 (the Gotha Programme) and 1925, and he chaired the 1921 commission. The 1959 programme, however, was drafted by an entirely new set of people.

18The writers of the Godesberg Programme made the corpus of past social-democratic programmes a central component of their work. As soon as the commission was established, the party’s head of cultural issues sent “material” to its members and instructed them to “study it”. [53] This material was composed of all of the SPD’s past programmes, including the Communist Manifesto. Willi Eichler (1896-1971), [54] the programmatic commission’s rapporteur (who was also in charge of programmatic questions for the SPD’s steering committee), noted in the preface to a collection of programmes reprinted in 1958 that “in discussing this project [the Stuttgart project], it seems particularly useful to understand the conceptions that guided past social-democratic programme writers, since objectively, they have always faced the same issues”. [55]

19Having access to texts does not necessarily mean using them. Nevertheless, the archives show that members of the commission did read them, with their involvement in commission work suggesting that they had mastered this material. Wolfgang Abendroth has commented on these programmes in his work. [56] Similarly, the president of the German sociological association, Otto Stammer (1900-1978), another member of the commission, held a seminar on the subject at Berlin’s Freie Universität. [57] More generally, past programmes were cited in marginal notes in the various documents deposited in the archives, but were also deconstructed regarding the structure of theory/demands governing their drafting. Walter Menzel, jurist and Bundestag representative (1901-1963), made the following remarks in a circular from 6 May 1955 sent to the party’s economic committee:


Those who have attentively read accounts of the party’s conventions, especially those of the Görlitz convention (1921), will agree with me when I say that we will not end up in a situation comparable to Görlitz, for example, with the partisan programme that we will submit during one of the upcoming conventions. [58]

21The fact that commission members read past programmes and convention accounts is also attested to in other sources. Hand-written on the back of one particular text, Menzel’s notes refer to a 1947 reprinting of the Görlitz Programme and to the comments made during the convention, which the new edition contains. [59] These notes refer to the material distributed to the members of the commission with specific page numbers: “comp. Heidelberg p.19” and “Heidelberg I” (in reference to the theoretical portion of the 1925 programme). [60]

22Fritz Sänger (1901-1984) was a schoolteacher turned journalist as a result of his involvement in the trade union press, then became the director of the West German news agency until he was laid off in the spring of 1959. He was the main author of the programme’s final version. Initially lacking in “exegetical skills”, [61] Fritz Sänger became familiar with the programmatic history of social democracy over the course of the few months that his task to “correct” the programme lasted (from May 1959 to November 1959). In a meeting with party leader Erich Ollenhauer regarding his possible involvement in the work of modifying the project, Sänger began by mentioning his lack of academic experience:


I have no academic background. The obligations of daily life have always led me towards political and union work. Thus I have never been able to say or write anything important on the theory of the workers’ movement. [62]

24This declaration reveals that Sänger saw theoretical mastery as the basis for drafting programmes. Beginning in May 1959, Sänger occupied himself with reading old programmes and the commentary concerning them. [63] Sänger needed to become familiar with this literature in order to justify the choices he made in re-writing the programme, as in his letter to Benedikt Kautsky (1914-1960): [64]


Dear Comrade Kautsky,
I am truly sorry that I was unable to respect the deadline that was planned for the basic programme draft. The quantity of work was simply too great and I was unable to finish any sooner. […]
In order to better understand the general context, I read – as far as was possible and accessible in such a short time frame – old commentary on the Erfurt and Heidelberg programmes. They supported my belief that many, if not most, of the reflections made by the party’s commissions should be put to one side. These were largely comments and not programmatic statements. This was particularly true for the section devoted to the organisation of the state, where concepts of an almost explicitly theoretical nature are discussed, but no declarations or specific statements are made. [65]

26It was necessary for Sänger to be recognised as an individual who could legitimately (in his own eyes, first of all) manipulate the programme as a symbolic good; once this legitimacy was acquired, it led him to work on previous programmatic texts.

“Known conventions”: the example of the “Preamble” in the 1959 programme

27In a number of ways, however, the Godesberg Programme marked a formal break from the tradition of social-democratic programmes. Hans Robert Jauss established the socio-literary notion of genre in order to reveal the departures from form that caused “scandals” and “literary revolutions”. [66] The “known conventions” that govern the writing of a programme are interpreted in terms of actors’ interests and their ability to influence interactions. In 1959, the programme abandoned the traditional social diagnosis (which had been the first section of each programme since 1891). Despite resistance from the commission’s academic experts, the steering committee agreed to limit the social diagnosis to the size of a brief, literary “preamble” to the programme (cf. Figure 1), designated by a variety of names (introduction, poem, preamble).

Figure 1

The “Preamble” to the Bad Godesberg Programme (official 1960 translation)[69]

Figure 1

The “Preamble” to the Bad Godesberg Programme (official 1960 translation)[69]

28Defence of the social diagnosis relied specifically on the rules of the programmatic genre; consequently, the nature of the preamble designed to replace the diagnosis was highly puzzling to many. Wolfgang Abendroth criticised it as “one of the strangest political declarations that [he] had ever read in [his] whole life”. [67] In 1978 (or fifteen years after the programme was adopted), another member of the commission, Gerhard Weisser (1898-1989), a professor of social policy in Cologne, asked Fritz Sänger, as the person responsible for drafting the final version of the programme, to explain why he had eliminated the social analysis:

Between the Stuttgart Convention (1958) and the Bad Godesberg Convention (1959), your editorial commission eliminated our development proposals for the social diagnosis without replacing them. Even at the time, I was never able to understand why this elimination without replacement occurred. I could only surmise that your commission found the Stuttgart project too long and concluded that we could skip the diagnosis. On principle, I have always refused to create conflict during a convention: conventions are always heated. But for me, at the time, the whole thing meant something to me, and that meaning has only grown.
At the time, for me this meant the failure of an action whose importance Kurt Schumacher [president of the SPD until his death in 1952] had instilled in me. He had insisted that the programme should contain an “axiomatic” development, what the programme called “fundamental values”. He also made me promise that I would do everything I could to ensure that the programme would retain the historical and theoretical analysis that all programmes have contained for a century. [68]
In this text, Weisser does not consider that the poetic preamble could be seen as replacing the rational analysis of society. He has mobilised the genre’s tradition to challenge this change: the scandal surrounding the form of the Godesberg Programme indicates the normative content of other programmes, of what “programmes have contained for a century”. This tension regarding the text’s content suggests the merit of exploring the dynamics of its construction, destroying the image of unity that the convention’s adoption of the programme conferred to its author.

The division of collective labour and the scientification of social issues

29Who was the author of the Godesberg Programme? On 23 December 1966, Fritz Sänger, who was in charge of the draft submitted to the convention, wrote to Willi Eichler, lamenting that a newspaper had named him as “the father of the programme”. The journalist, who was writing an article in honour of the 65th birthday of Sänger, former director of the German press agency (dpa), had, it would seem, made a mistake; it was in fact Willi Eichler who had established the programme’s intellectual foundations. [70] Since the 1970s, those involved in the work of programme writing, as well as biographers and journalists, have named a variety of authors for the Godesberg Programme. Eichler is often considered to be the “father of the Godesberg Programme”. [71] Harmut Soell’s work on Fritz Erler [72] opened up debate regarding the text’s paternity by pushing for “Fritz Erler’s role” in its production to be recognised. In turn, working from Soell’s comments, the press began to question Herbert Wehner’s importance with regard to the text. [73] Maasaki Yasuno has also sought to promote the role played by Erich Ollenhauer in the programme’s production. [74] Moreover, historians have also attributed the section dealing with the organisation of the state (staatliche Ordnung) to a number of different individuals. [75] This is likewise the case [76] with other economic sections of the programme, variously attributed to Karl Schiller and Heinrich Deist. The importance of Benedikt Kautsky is often mentioned, but just as often contested (for example, by Fritz Sänger). [77]

30These various attributions all stem from a heroic illusion [78] that seeks to measure the “influence” of an individual on a programmatic text without exploring the complexity of the relationships between individuals and the text. [79] Questions surrounding the “role” of different writers amount to so many paternity tests, which are almost always challenged. This problem stems from an individualistic vision of the production of political ideas. Working from Lucien Febvre’s call to isolate political theory from history and free the latter from impossible quests for paternity, [80] the histoire des mentalités school shaped its research programme by “consistently” challenging “the notions of influence, filiation and paternity”. [81] My own research into programmes does not intend to project onto the programme’s authors those categories that are specific to art criticism and the issue of individual creativity. Here the aim is to situate the actors and production mechanisms within a sociology of organisation. To quote Karl Mannheim, “the degree in which the individualistic conception of the problem of knowledge gives a false picture of collective knowing corresponds to what would occur if the technique, mode of work, and productivity of an internally highly specialized factory of 2,000 workers worked in a separate cubicle, performed the same operations for himself at the same time and turned out each individual product from beginning to end by himself”. [82]

31Establishing the social logic at work behind programmatic production means fleshing out the actors who produce the texts, both materially and socially (by lending the texts social recognition). Consequently, the “commissions” or “teams” in charge of the programme are ideal vantage points from which to observe two intricately linked phenomena: first, the organisation and division of labour within the party; and second, transactions between sections, and thus the relatively objective links established and regularly exploited by the groups mobilised, the organisations belonging to the party’s “consolidation network”, [83] party experts, and the actors officially in charge of a text’s production. With its various solicitations and hearings, [84] the programmatic commission or “team” in charge of the party’s platform represents, in this respect, a space for multi-sectoral collusive transactions. [85] These transactions allow representatives from different social arenas to have their sectoral interests recognised as programmatic issues.

The “scientification” of politics

32The production of programmes has been influenced by the growing “scientification of social issues” [86] – namely, the increased intervention of experts, the forms that such interventions may adopt, and the way in which their arguments and research are used in the political sphere. While the scientification of social issues was observed by historians as early as the nineteenth century, and the important role of social science continued unchallenged during the Nazi regime, [87] the beginning of the Federal Republic marked the “depoliticisation” of politics and the increased participation of social scientists [88] (and economists in particular [89]) in the production of policies in the multiple arenas constituted around the federal government. As Gabriele Metzler has shown, politics in the Federal Republic had tended to be the responsibility of scientific councils after 1945, in particular following the involvement of ordoliberal economists in the exercise of state power. What this analysis of the SPD shows is how a party dynamic of scientification was constructed in reaction to the depoliticisation of politics and economics at the level of state public institutions. Analysing programmes entails investigating the various forms of intervention of different categories of experts, some of which were established in response to political concerns (Marxist specialists, or specialists in various branches of socio-biology and scientific racism). [90]

33These “experts” were the product of specific socio-historical configurations. [91] With regard to the SPD, the rise in experts and the scientification of politics took a very different turn depending on whether we look at the 1920s or the 1950s. In 1891, the Erfurt Programme, the party’s first programme after the ban imposed by the Anti-Socialist laws was lifted, was relatively unspecialised. Karl Kautsky produced the theoretical sections, while the programme’s demands have been attributed to Eduard Bernstein. [92] The 1921 programme was drafted by a number of experts who divided up the various thematic sections. During preparations for this programme, SPD theoretician Eduard Bernstein stipulated that the revolution, with the socialisation of the law and the economy that it had engendered, led to the need for a more specialised “transformation of the programme’s organisation”. [93] According to Bernstein’s notes, ten specialised committees were created: 1/ general section; 2/ economic policy; 3/ financial issues; 4/ social policy; 5/ health policy; 6/ legal questions; 7/ cultural policy; 8/ constitutional issues; 9/ foreign policy, international union, and international relations; and 10/ women’s issues. [94] The committees almost all produced a chapter on their subject matter, with the exception of women’s issues and health policy, which were incorporated into broader social policy considerations. The committees were composed around a core of experts, largely trained through paid activism conducted for the party and its satellite organisations.

34To take one example, Heinrich Cunow (1862-1936) helped to draft the general analysis portion of the programme. Cunow had enjoyed a very typical political career as a social democrat, until he branched off into an academic career. First a commercial employee and then, following an apprenticeship, an accountant, Cunow was also a journalist for the socialdemocratic Hamburger Echo from the early 1890s. He worked with the party’s theoretical body and then, in 1898, became its employee. Like 75% of the 41 members of the programmatic commissions in the 1920s, he thus received his salary from the party’s press agency. Working within the theoretical journal, Cunow specialised in ethnological studies. His first reflections on the subject appeared in the context of analysing Engels’ views on the origins of the family and the state. Cunow referred to Spanish sources, learned Quechua and published a number of texts on Incan civilisation. Likewise, in a discussion on the developmental stages of human societies, Cunow also referred to studies on other primitive societies, including North American Indians and Australian Aborigines. [95] After 1918, he became a member of the constituent assembly and Prussia’s Landtag. Although he never received a doctorate, Cunow then became the director of Berlin’s municipal ethnological museum and obtained a position as a part-time professor at the Staatswissenschaften in 1918.

35This initial rise in party expertise during the 1920s was followed by expertise which drew on resources outside the party. In 1955, programme experts were essentially academics and expertise was based on the resources provided by various academic disciplines. After 1945, social-democratic organisations were established on new bases: the significant pool of editors from the hundreds of party newspapers was drying up, while the SPD had to counter the expertise of countless professors summoned to serve Konrad Adenauer’s Christian Democratic government. By the end of the 1940s, the SPD had 22 specialised committees (agriculture, economy, finance, law, reunification, etc.), with up to two-thirds of themembership of these committees made up of academics (professors, researchers, or those with doctorates). [96] Between 1920 and 1950, the SPD thus shifted from a party expertise model to a form of expertise that relied on resources provided by the academic sphere. In the 1920s, the members of the programmatic commissions were only rarely academics. While 21% of those drafting the programmes adopted during the 1920s had received college-level degrees (n = 41), in 1955 this number had risen to 68% (n = 61); those with doctorates only represented 14% in 1921, but 56% in 1955. In 1955, the president of the commission concluded that “we are forced to hire people who have studied specific topics in depth and nowadays, as you know, this increasingly goes hand-in-hand with academic positions”. [97] One member of the party’s steering committee went so far as to criticise the “conference of professors” led by Eichler for being responsible for “an almost illegible text” [98] (the 1958 programme draft).

36However, these actors were not solely academics. Programmes are created at the crossroads between the internal dynamics of a partisan organisation and the relationships that the latter has with the champions of external interests. In that regard, the Godesberg Programme is highly revealing: its production coincided with the orchestration of a struggle against “atomic death” (Kampf den Atomod) – in other words, against West Germany’s possession of a nuclear weapon – waged by organisations linked to the party. Walter Menzel led the inter-association committee in charge of organising this campaign. It was thus not surprising that the primary “fear of our age” mentioned in the Programme’s preamble was destruction by atomic weapons (cf. Figure 1). Similarly, other associations had a voice through members, such as Lorenz Knorr, who held dual positions: as members of trade unions (such as IG-Metall [the Industrial Union of Metalworkers], represented by its president Otto Brenner; and teacher and student unions), and representatives of SPD working groups and youth associations.

37However, even when actors were not academics, they were aware of the phenomenon of the scientification of politics and social issues. During our interview, Lorenz Knorr (b. 1921) described himself as a “working-class intellectual”. In 1945, he left Czechoslovakia, where he had been a printer, and settled in Bavaria, where he became involved in organising the socialist youth movement. As the federal secretary of the Socialist Youth (Sozialistische Jugend), Knorr promoted the “Republic of Children”, an educational model designed to develop personalities through the rational organisation of space, time and community spirit. [99] In particular, he founded a scientific council for the organisation, composed of academics, to provide a “solid foundation” – i.e. an academic one – for pedagogical work in order for it to move beyond a mere “representation of interests”:


KF: I also noticed that you were the president of the Youth’s scientific council…
LK: …the Socialist Youth. It was like this. I was the president of the Socialist Youth and in charge of pedagogy. And we constantly encountered problems where we would realise that political discussions were not enough, and that we had to approach things scientifically. So I proposed founding a scientific council with a number of academics, professors who worked with us, and I called up about ten people, ten professors and PhDs. They chose me as their manager, pretty much as the president of the council, and they tried to provide more solid foundations for the political work of pedagogy. KF: And could you describe these foundations? What was new? Why was it so important that scientists contribute to the discussion?
LK: In terms of politics,wewanted to knowmore about the disciplines and science in general, so that our policy would not be simply a representation of interests, so that everything would be on solid ground. We wanted to establish our pedagogy so that every one of us was dealing with a specific academic. For example, I dealt with Kurt Löwenstein, [100] a social-democratic educator from the Weimer Republic… [101]

39This phenomenon of scientification had a direct impact on the organisation of programmatic work.

“A programme is not propaganda”

40The Godesberg Programme illustrates these complex relationships, both of deference towards the academics who almost single-handedly wrote the first draft of the 1959 programme, and of defiance towards a text that the leaders could not understand and whose production process they did not control. When the academic committee submitted the draft programme for discussion in April 1958, after four long years of labour, the text was criticised for its complexity. The steering committee in turn demanded that the text be modified, not in terms of its content (which remained the responsibility of the academic experts), but in terms of its form. In 1959, the leadership appointed a select committee whose sole official objective was “simplifying” the programme’s style and language. During this process of simplification, the effects of the division of labour could be observed: those who possessed political capital (the members of the steering committee) were the only ones who had the power to endorse the text as an official programme. However, for the most part, they did not possess specialised knowledge of the law, economics, or social policy. When delegating the programme’s writing to experts, they thus gave up a certain number of their prerogatives in order to ensure the programme’s academic legitimacy.

41For their part, academics made technical accuracy a requirement for all arguments. Heinrich Deist (1902-1964), a jurist specialised in economic issues for the SPD, defended the need for technical explanations during a meeting of the SPD’s economic committee:


When people say that the programme is not comprehensible for the man in the street, this is not a valid argument against the programme. It is designed primarily for the party’s permanent staff members and to provide these individuals with the facts, arguments and political reasons necessary for intellectual discussion. A programme is not propaganda. [102]

43Heinrich Deist succinctly highlights the difference between how programmes are normally understood and their socially ingrained meaning. [103] The fact that the programme was not a piece of propaganda makes sense when we consider that the debate raging in the programmatic commission concerned the academic grounds for socialism, and that its basic programme was not first and foremost designed with the layperson in mind. The text’s “implied readers” were in fact long-standing activists and experts. [104] We can likewise understand why the party’s propaganda bureau was not associated with the programme’s production before the academic experts had handed in their draft text and the steering committee had regained control over the process. The academic experts, who generally had no mandates or leadership roles within the party, were not particularly involved in the “simplification” process – largely entrusted to two journalists – that took place between May and September 1959. Only the experts in social policy, declaring themselves “alarmed” by the project over the course of the summer, [105] tried to mobilise before the convention and succeeded in putting forward motions to modify the text submitted by the steering committee.

44This organisation of labour had an impact on the programme, and analysing this impact allows us to account for the intra-organisational relations between different groups of specialised actors, partisan policies being “the always uncertain result of constant bargaining, which protagonists – who are never permanently fixed – never completely master at the outset, or ultimately control”. [106] The division of labour between politicians and academics problematised interactions between various categories of actors. During the 1980s, the president of a programmatic commission thus lamented that some leaders thought “that the party is composed of two groups of activists: those who produce texts and those who file them away with a smile and then – peacefully and without changing a thing – return to their political activities, which are very different from what those who churn out paper believe them to be”. [107] The various relations of control, advice, deference and defiance between leaders and experts thus split actors into two camps at the respective ends of a spectrum: at one end, the providers of ancillary knowledge and the apologists [108] for a political programme that they in fact contributed little to; at the other, the “advisors to the Prince”, the eminences grises responsible for lending programmes credibility. [109]

45Viewing programmes as a vantage point for observing the social relationships centred on their production means that we can avoid analysing the programme’s “functions” and instead study how the party operates, and by extension how transactions between the party and society unfold, in addition to examining the relationships maintained between various categories of actors (experts, politicians, communications specialists) in the context of a division of partisan labour. This article thus highlights the variable nature of programme production procedures, and how the site of a programme’s production becomes the interface with the party sphere.

The contextual use of programmes: a programme and its readers

46The significance of a political programme is first and foremost produced by its social use. A text like the 1959 programme is the result of a number of patchwork operations. The document’s coherence, its meaning – as implied by the multiple meanings ascribed in France to the phrase “doing a Godesberg” [“faire son Bad Godesberg”] – was the product of post hoc structural efforts by actors who wished to use the text and impose a single meaning on it. The social significance of a text depends less on its author’s intentions, and more on the kind of “attention” that readers bring to it; that is, what they intend to use the text for, and thus how they interpret it.

47While it is possible to speak of “unsituated [texts], in spite of the historical substratum they carry within them”, one must add that the situations in which texts gain meaning are “composed by readers over the course of each reading”. [110] These “readers” are not only interpreters selected by the party, but a variety of individuals able to speak authoritatively regarding the text. Benjamin Lemoine has shown that the use of political programmmes goes beyond partisan social interactions, reaching a multitude of actors within the political sphere. [111] A political programme enjoys multiple existences: from its enunciation by a candidate to its denunciation by a think tank or sectoral organisation (for example, Catholic theologians with regard to the SPD programme); from notes with background information [112] to those provided by advisors to the president of the Republic; [113] from proposals made by a candidate to their expected effects or their recanted “promises” (including to sway administrative deliberation when developing public policies); [114] and from the practical use of a programme within the context of an electoral exchange by the activists who distribute it to its theoretical use within academia.

The sociology of programme usage

48This multiplicity of uses was evident in the trajectory followed by the 1959 programme. Starting with the 1958 draft, activists began to question the text’s complexity and the difficulty of using it to “approach workers”. As a programme’s usage is linked to its ability to style a party’s political identity, logically enough it can also be used to identify deviance from the party line (as was the case for the student association SDS, excluded in 1961), as “everyone should be familiar with the programme”. [115] The uses of the programme thus illustrate how this stylisation of party identity played a role in its constantly shifting meaning.

49In fact, there is a discrepancy between the historical experience of an event by its contemporaries, and the memory of that event. [116] Elsewhere, I have shown that the 1959 convention and official comments on the programme were part of a politics of memory unique to the SPD. [117] The aim was to situate the programme within the party’s ongoing theoretical reflection, thus using it to maintain the organisation’s identity during a convention that began with the statement that “at the basis of all social-democratic policy, one finds the 1848 Manifesto” [118] by Marx, whilst the official commentary, provided by Fritz Sänger, included numerous references to past theoreticians such as Marx, Engels, Kautsky and Bernstein.

50“Bad Godesberg” was not an “authoritative text” from the outset. SPD historian Peter Lösche observed that during the 1960s almost no one was interested in the famous Godesberg

51Programme, while by the 1970s only a handful of left-wingers were reluctant to refer to it. [119] As an approximation of the text’s uses in a specific social realm, Figure 2 below, created by counting the number of references made to the programme in two weekly German publications from 1959 to 2012, shows that the second half of the 1960s and in particular the 1970s marked the height of the programme’s influence; references to the text were less frequent between 1959 and 1966.

Figure 2

References to the Bad Godesberg Programme in two German political weeklies (1959-2012, n = 615 articles mentioning the programme)

Figure 2

References to the Bad Godesberg Programme in two German political weeklies (1959-2012, n = 615 articles mentioning the programme)

52The increase in references to the programme coincided with two events: on the one hand, the SPD’s entry into government in 1966 and in 1969 when Willi Brandt became the federal chancellor; on the other, growing intra-party tensions that resulted from the 1968 student movement and intense political mobilisation at universities during the 1970s. The increase in references to the programme in the press can be explained by the use of the text as a tool to justify the SPD’s change in strategy, once it became a part of the governing coalition. “Bad Godesberg” served to authorise meaning, to serve as a prophecy, to employ Brigitte Gaïti’s sense of the term. [120] Journalists latched onto the programme to explain the coalition strategy with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) adopted by the SPD in 1966 (in other words, to explain how a socialist party could agree to take part in a bourgeois government). Most importantly, the programme’s meaning was shaped by its polemical use within the party itself, which is explored in greater detail below.

A sociology of situated meanings

53Underscoring the temporality of reception is a necessary precondition for contextualising the “reading positions” of interpretive communities. [121] References to the programme reached their peak during the 1970s, when rival “interpretive communities” seized upon it to produce divergent readings – competing for authority over the text. On the left, the Young Socialists (sometimes nicknamed “Jusos”) called for the establishment of “the new economic and social order promised by the Bad Godesberg Programme”, criticising Willy Brandt’s government policies as too accommodating of capitalism. Thomas van der Vring (born in 1937, a teacher at Hanover’s Technische Universität, and a member of the Young Socialist presidency in 1969) lamented that “we could expect nothing from this government regarding the establishment of a socialist order as outlined in Bad Godesberg”. [122] On the right, the crumbling of the bastions of traditional social-democracy provoked by large-scale activist renewal – in which one-third of all militants in 1973 belonged to the Young Socialists – led to the development of a reformist strand within the SPD. This strand, originally called the Godesberg circle, became the Seeheim circle and mobilised philosophers and social science experts, both within the party and academia, in order to spread a reading of the 1959 programme that argued its incompatibility with Marxism. [123] Via this “appropriation”, the programme chose a side, so to speak. With these scholarly and political uses of the programme, one of the keys to the career of political theories seems to be revealed: through its analyses, academia takes what were originally just hastily assembled theoretical positions and ratifies them, elevating them to the status of theory.

54Beyond this German-centric history of the Godesberg Programme, there is a transnational history waiting to be written concerning how the text managed to cross borders, and how its arbiters bent its meaning in order to introduce it into new reference spaces. The programme’s arrival in France was therefore largely due to the efforts of “deuxième gauche” (“second left”) intellectuals attempting to rehabilitate social democracy. [124] A number of works transformed the programme into a social-democratic reference point essentially characterised by a mixed economy and co-operation between social partners; [125] or proposed a synthesis of social democracy and self-governance (as in Qu’est-ce que la social-démocratie?, a work that concludes with excerpts from the 1959 programme). [126] Beyond these efforts at importation, references to the Godesberg Programme were often stripped of all context, the programme becoming shorthand to signify the doctrinal renewal needed within parties of the left (and the jettisoning of out-of-date dogmas for parties of the right).

55The Godesberg Programme remains an exceptional text. Many programmes do not achieve canonical status. Although the SPD’s 1989 programme ultimately replaced Godesberg, five years after its adoption, the president of the committee in charge of drafting the programme, Hans-Jochen Vogel, lamented that “the Berlin Programme is pretty much treated like a top-secret document within the party”. [127] Similarly, if we exclude a handful of works by historians, the French Socialist Party’s 1992 “Arche de la Défense” programme is best known for the obscurity into which it has sunk.

56* * *

57It is thus informative for the sociology of political programmes, as set out in this article, to view programmes as vantage points for the observation of general political phenomena, and not merely as autonomous subspaces of discipline-specific knowledge. This approach prevents excessive fascination with the text (and its interpretation); it also brings the study of political programmes back into the fold of “normal” social science research, to paraphrase Thomas Kuhn. This article does not seek to present a methodological alternative to the Comparative Manifesto Project, as this type of intensive research would be impossible on a large scale. However, I hope to demonstrate that there exist many fruitful avenues for research with regard to the analysis of political programmes; avenues which may allow us to escape the “no-man’s-land” (to use Iser’s expression) of textual exegesis. In this sense, the multiple references to sociological, historical and political science works included here all stem from the desire to integrate the sociology of political programmes within the social science of texts, organisations and political ideas. This sociology of programmes seeks to establish cumulative knowledge based on its close ties with political social science.

58This article has sought to uncover the historically variable dimensions of programmes under their seemingly self-evident guises, in particular the different effects produced by the mobilisation of experts in the service of politics: otherwise known as the scientification of politics. As the result of intra-party bargaining, and of exchanges with society at large, political programmes become – at the cost of the various operations used to produce and enshrine them – “fetishes”, in the sense that their use as shorthand erases the concrete and individual conditions of production in order to make a collective declaration, whose use determines meaning and becomes a binding force for the actors involved. Consequently, the interest lies in observing them as elements of strategic enshrinement, as indicators not of functions, but of a party’s inner workings. If, as Gérard Genette claimed, there is much more that can be done with a text than just interpret it, this is because a text embodies a way of doing things and supports social relationships that can be described by contextualised analyses. [128]


List of the producers of the 1959 programme cited in this article

tableau im4
Name Occupation, mandate or party position (and highest education level) when the programme was produced Role in programme production Wolfgang Abendroth (1906-1985) Professor of political science, Marburg Member of the 1st commission Heinrich Deist (1902-1964) Member of the steering committee, member of parliament (PhD) Member of both commissions Willi Eichler (1896-1971) Member of the steering committee (no college diploma) Rapporteur for the 1st commission, member of the 2nd commission Fritz Erler (1913-1967) Member of the steering committee, member of parliament (high school diploma) Member of the 1st commission Lorenz Knorr (1921) President of the Young Socialists – The Falcons (Die Falken) Member of the 1st commission Walter Menzel (1901-1963) Member of the steering committee, member of parliament (PhD) Member of the 1st commission Erich Ollenhauer (1901-1963) President, member of parliament (no college diploma) Member of the 1st commission Fritz Sänger (1901-1984) Journalist (no college diploma; schoolteacher) Rapporteur for the 2nd commission Otto Stammer (1900-1978) Professor of sociology (Berlin) Member of the 1st commission Gerhard Weisser (1898-1989) Professor of social policy (Cologne) Member of the 1st commission Herbert Wehner (1906-1990) Vice-president, member of parliament (no college diploma) Member of the 1st commission


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    A table at the end of this article lists the contributors to the Bad Godesberg programme mentioned in this article.
  • [33]
    Hans Robert Jauss. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982). Translated into French as Pour une esthétique de la réception (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), quotation from “Histoire de la littérature”, 22-88 (56ff). Page numbers for this work in this article are to the French translation.
  • [34]
    On this point, cf. Michel Offerlé, “De l’histoire électorale à la socio-histoire des électeurs”, Romantisme, 135, 2007, 61-9 (66).
  • [35]
    For a detailed study of the genesis of programmes in France, see Karim Fertikh, Mathieu Hauchecorne, “Codification et genèses d’un genre programmatique. Les professions de foi des députés français de la Seine, du Nord et de la Vendée en 1881, 1907 et 1919”, in Karim Fertikh, Mathieu Hauchecorne, Nicolas Bué, Faire, défaire les programmes. Genèses, coproduction, usages, forthcoming.
  • [36]
    Roger Chartier, “Le monde comme représentation”, Annales ESC, 44 (6), 1989, 1503-20 (1513).
  • [37]
    Jakob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch (Leipzig: Verlag von S. Hirzel, 1889), vol. 7.
  • [38]
    Paul de Lagarde, Programm für die konservative Partei (Göttingen, Dietrichsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1881), 1 (my emphasis).
  • [39]
    Braun, an Austrian-born jurist became one of the leaders of the SPD during the 1920s, while he was a member of the Reichstag (1919-1929). He was also the SPD’s national secretary from 1920 until his death, and presided over the programmatic commissions in both 1921 and 1925.
  • [40]
    Adolf Braun, Die Parteien des deutschen Reichtags. Ihre Programme, Entwicklung und Stärke (Stuttgart: Dietz, 1893), 5.
  • [41]
    Felix Salomon, Die deutschen Parteiprogramme (Leipzig: Teubner, 1907, 2 vols).
  • [42]
    Wilhelm Mommsen, Günther Franz, Die deutschen Parteiprogramme (Leipzig: Teubner, 1932, 3 vols).
  • [43]
    H. R. Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic.
  • [44]
    See F. Salomon, Die deutschen Parteiprogramme.
  • [45]
    Michel Offerlé, “Le nombre de voix. Électeurs, partis et électorat socialistes à la fin du 19e siècle en France”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 71-72, 1988, 5-21 (11).
  • [46]
    Programmatische Kundgebungen der Nationalliberalen Partei, 1866-1913 (Berlin: Reichsverlag, 1913), 127.
  • [47]
    Alain Bergounioux, Frédéric Sawicki, Pierre Serne, “L’objet ‘congrès socialiste’ en débat”, Recherche socialiste, 12, September 2000.
  • [48]
    Christophe Prochasson, “Jaurès en congrès ou l’utopie délibérative”, Société d’études jaurésiennes. Cahiers Jaurès, 187-188, 2008, 63-85.
  • [49]
    T. Welskopp, Das Banner der Brüderlichkeit, 50-1.
  • [50]
    Karl Kautsky, “Grundsätzlicher Teil”, in Das Heidelberger Programm. Grundsätze und Förderungen der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin: Vorstand der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, 1925), 5-26.
  • [51]
    Michel Offerlé, Les partis politiques (Que sais-je?) (Paris: PUF, 2012), 36.
  • [52]
    Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (London: Penguin, 1991), 70.
  • [53]
    Bonn, AdsD, Walter Menzel, R42.
  • [54]
    Willi Eichler was a former commercial employee who learned theory through his work as an activist.
  • [55]
    Willi Eichler, “Vorwort”, in SPD-Unterbezirk Düsseldorf-Mettmann. Programme der deutschen Sozialdemokratie von 1863 bis 1925 (Düsseldorf: 1958), 5.
  • [56]
    Wolfgang Abendroth, Aufstieg und Krise der deutschen Sozialdemokratie (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein, 1978 [1st edn 1964].
  • [57]
    Bonn, AdsD, Otto Stammer, 035/7, Otto Stammer’s class (Übung: Demokratischer Sozialismus und Marxismus, 1960).
  • [58]
    Bonn, AdsD, Walter Menzel, R42.
  • [59]
    Sozialistische Dokumente. Das Görlitzer Programm (Offenbach: Bollwerk Verlag, 1947).
  • [60]
    Bonn, AdsD, Walter Menzel, R42.
  • [61]
    The term “exegetical skill” (“compétence exégétique”) is also used by Mohamed Tozy. Tozy shows that the relationships between Islam and politics in Morocco are established around the production of religious meaning and the reliance on a tradition that excludes the non-religious from constructing the religious system (166). These relationships also strengthen the position of religious associations and religious employees within the political sphere. Tozy labels these strategies for meaning-creation as “compétence exégétique” (235): Mohamed Tozy, Monarchie et Islam politique au Maroc (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1999). Cf. also Weberian religious sociology and the Brahmins’ control over access to the Vedas, which is at the heart of a “monopoly over knowledge that excludes” (Isabelle Kalinowki, “‘Ils ne songent pas à désirer le nirvana’. La sociologie des intellectuels dans Hindouisme et bouddhisme de Max Weber”, in Johan Heilbron, Rémi Lenoir, Gisèle Sapiro (eds), Pour une histoire des sciences sociales. Hommage à Pierre Bourdieu (Paris: Fayard, 2004), 181-201 (188-9)).
  • [62]
    Bonn, AdsD, Fritz Sänger, 53.
  • [63]
    Among others: the Heidelberg programme, the Communist Manifesto in a Moscow edition from 1945, the programmatic texts published in 1946 by the SPD (Erfurt, Lassalle), the 1958 project, and the 1934 Prague Manifesto (Bonn, AdsD, Fritz Sänger, 324).
  • [64]
    The son of Karl Kautsky; he had a PhD in economics and taught at university in Austria on his return from the concentration camps. He was a member of the SPD’s second programmatic commission in May 1959.
  • [65]
    Bonn, AdsD, Fritz Sänger, 53, letter to Benedikt Kautsky from 22 June 1959.
  • [66]
    H. R. Jauss, “Histoire et littérature”, 58.
  • [67]
    Wolfgang Abendroth, Ein Leben in der Arbeiterbewegung (Stuttgart: Suhrkamp, 1976), 249.
  • [68]
    Bonn, AdsD, Fritz Sänger, 59, letter from Gerhard Weisser to Fritz Sänger from 1 August 1978.
  • [69]
    SPD, Basic Programme of the Social-Democratic Party (Bonn: n.p., n.d.)
  • [70]
    Bonn, AdsD, Fritz Sänger, 59, letter to Willi Eichler from 23 December 1966.
  • [71]
    Thomas Meyer, “Willi Eichler, Vater des Godesberger Programms. Eine Erinnerung zum 20. Todestag”, Neue Gesellschaft. Frankfurter Hefte, 38(11), 1991, 1048-9.
  • [72]
    Hartmut Soell, Fritz Erler, Eine politische Biographie (Bonn: Dietz, 1976).
  • [73]
    “Stehen und fallen mit der roten Fahne?”, Der Spiegel, 23 August 1976.
  • [74]
    Masaaki Yasuno, Die Entwicklung des Godesberger Programms und die Rolle Erich Ollenhauers (Bonn: Schriftreihe der Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, 2010).
  • [75]
    Martin Wieczorek, “Martin Drahts Rolle bei den Beratungen über das Godesberger Parteiprogramm der SPD”, in Michael Henkel, Oliver Lembcke (eds), Moderne Staatswissenschaft. Beiträge zu Leben und Werk Martin Drahts (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2010), 177-95; Dieter Gosewinkel, Adolf Arndt, Die Wiederbegründung des Rechtsstaats aus dem Geist der Sozialdemokratie (1945-1961) (Bonn: Dietz, 1991).
  • [76]
    Franz Barsig, “Freiheit und Sozialismus. Der lange ‘Marsch’ der SPD nach Godesberg”, in Roderich Klett, Wolfgang Pohl (eds), Stationen einer Republik (Stuttgart: DVA, 1979), 93-110 (98).
  • [77]
    Bonn, AdsD, Fritz Sänger, 59, letter from Wedigo de Vivanco (a doctoral student in Italian history) to Fritz Sänger from 6 January 1976 (marginal notes by Sänger).
  • [78]
    Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1992 [1st edn 1986]), 79ff.
  • [79]
    “To think in terms of influence blunts thought by impoverishing the means of differentiation”. Michael Baxandall, The Patterns of Intention (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 59.
  • [80]
    Lucien Febvre, “Une question d’influence. Proudhon et le syndicalisme contemporain”, Revue de synthèse, 19(2), 1909, 179-93 (191).
  • [81]
    Philippe Poirrier, Les enjeux de l’histoire culturelle. L’histoire en débat (Paris: Seuil, 2004), 148.
  • [82]
    Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (London: Routledge, 1991 [1st edn 1936]), 26-7.
  • [83]
    M. Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques, 110.
  • [84]
    For a description of the production of programmatic “injunctions” within a contemporary campaign team: Émilien Matter, Xavier Schmitt, “La société civile, entre devoir d’alerte et droit au chantage”, Slate, 3 April 2012, <>.
  • [85]
    M. Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques.
  • [86]
    See the groundbreaking article by Lutz Raphael, “Die Verwissenschaftlichung des Sozialen als methodische und konzeptionelle Herausforderung für eine Sozialgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts”, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 22, 1996, 165-93.
  • [87]
    Carsten Klingelmann, Soziologie und Politik. Sozialwissenschaftliches Expertenwissen im Dritten Reich und in der frühen westdeutschen Nachkriegszeit (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 2009).
  • [88]
    Gabriele Metzler, Konzeptionen politischen Handelns von Adenauer bis Brandt. Politische Planung in pluralistischen Gesellschaft (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2005).
  • [89]
    Alexander Nützenadel, Die Stunde der Ökonomen. Wissenschaft, Politik und Expertenkultur in der Bundesrepublik (1949-1974) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005).
  • [90]
    L. Raphael, “Die Verwissenschaftlichung”.
  • [91]
    The socio-historical diversity of political expertise in terms of programmatic production has been studied with regard to France. Cf. Christian Le Bart, “Les partis politiques: quelle capacité programmatique?”, Les Cahiers français, 364, September-October 2011, 38-42; Philippe Zittoun, “Partis politiques et politiques du logement. Échanges de ressources entre dons et dettes politiques”, Revue française de science politique, 51(5), 2001, 683-706; Marie Ymonet, “Les héritiers du Capital. L’invention du marxisme en France au lendemain de la Commune”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 55, 1984, 3-14.
  • [92]
    Ingrid Gilcher Holtey, Das Mandat des Intellektuellen. Karl Kautsky und die Sozialdemokratie (Berlin: Siedler Verlag, 1986).
  • [93]
    Cf. Adolf Braun, Das Programm der Sozialdemokratie. Vorschläge für eine Erneuerung (Berlin: Vorwärts, 1920), in particular the introduction and chapter by Eduard Bernstein: “Zur Frage eines neues Programms der sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands”, 24-33 (25).
  • [94]
    Amsterdam, International Institute of Social History (IISG), Bernstein collection, N2.
  • [95]
    Heinrich Cunow, “Die Verfassung des Inkareichs”, Die Neue Zeit, 14(29), 1896, 75-81; Heinrich Cunow, Die Marxsche Geschichts-, Gesellschafts- und Staatstheorie (Berlin: Dietz, vol. I and II, 1920 and 1921). These volumes feature numerous references to primitive peoples, used to criticise or nuance the ethnological conceptions of Marx and Engels in the name of scientific truth (vol. II, 291 and 313-14, for example).
  • [96]
    SPD Jahrbuch, 1958/1959, 249ff.
  • [97]
    Bonn, AdsD, steering committee – secretariat Willi Eichler, 0 1699, letter from Willi Eichler to Heinrich Albertz from 15 March 1955.
  • [98]
    Hartmut Soell, Fritz Erler, Eine politische Biographie (Bonn: Dietz, 1976), 323.
  • [99]
    Lorenz Knorr, Moderne Zeltlagergestaltung (Frankfurt-am-Main: Verlag Schaffende Jugend, 1957).
  • [100]
    Kurt Löwenstein (1885-1939) received his PhD in philosophy in 1910. He became a socialist during the First World War and joined the SPD. He became a member of the Reichstag in 1920, and was considered an important pedagogue in the Weimer Republic’s educational movements.
  • [101]
    Interview with Lorenz Knorr, 31 July 2012.
  • [102]
    Bonn, AdsD, Heinrich Deist, 44, minutes of the meeting of the SPD’s economic policy committee (23 January 1959).
  • [103]
    An identical gap can be seen in the 1920s programmes. Their goal was not to address an electorate, but to raise cultural consciousness among the workers: “Our views are so specific, so different from traditional views, that no one can understand them without some effort. […] No one will be able to understand our programme unless he is, to a certain extent, familiar with our ideas in one form or another: through reading texts, listening to speeches in meetings, or participating in private discussions. Regardless of the efforts made, the programme will never be a funnel through which one can easily pour socialism into the public’s mind.” Karl Kautsky, Die proletarische Revolution und ihr Programm, cited by Albrecht Langner, “Introduction”, in Karl Kautsky, Texte zu den Programmen der deutschen Sozialdemokratie. 1891-1925 (Cologne: Jakob Hegner, 1968), 19.
  • [104]
    Wolfgang Iser, Der implizite Leser (Stuttgart: Suhrkamp, 1976).
  • [105]
    Bonn, AdsD, Ludwig Preller, 44-93, letter from 16 July 1959 to Walter Auerbach (copy).
  • [106]
    M. Offerlé, Les partis politiques, 71.
  • [107]
    Erhard Eppler, Grundwerte für ein neues Godesberger Programm (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1984), 8.
  • [108]
    Jacques Lagroye, La vérité dans l’Église catholique. Contestations et restauration d’un régime d’autorité (Paris: Belin, 2006).
  • [109]
    Frédérique Matonti, Intellectuels communistes. Essai sur l’obéissance politique. La Nouvelle Critique (1967-1980) (Paris: La Découverte, 2005).
  • [110]
    W. Iser, L’appel du texte, 58-9.
  • [111]
    Benjamin Lemoine, “Chiffrer les programmes politiques lors de la campagne présidentielle de 2007. Heurs et malheurs d’un instrument”, Revue française de science politique, 58(3), 2008, 403-31.
  • [112]
    Pascale Goetschel, “Le programme commun, l’opinion publique et le pouvoir”, in D. Tartakowsky, A. Bergounioux (eds), L’union sans unité, 133-46.
  • [113]
    Bernard Lachaise, “Les droites et le programme commun, 1973-1978”, in D. Tartakowsky, A. Bergounioux (eds), L’union sans unité, 119-31.
  • [114]
    P. Zittoun, “Partis politiques…”, 693.
  • [115]
    M. Offerlé, Les partis politiques, 94.
  • [116]
    Bernard Pudal, Claude Pennetier, “Le congrès de Tours au miroir autobiographique”, Le Mouvement social, 193, 2000, 61-87.
  • [117]
    Karim Fertikh, “Bad Godesberg dans le langage social-démocrate en 1959”, Cahiers d’histoire. Revue d’histoire critique, 11, 2011, 137-51.
  • [118]
    SPD, minutes of the Bad Godesberg convention (Protokoll der Verhandlungen), 36.
  • [119]
    Peter Lösche, “Is the SPD Still a Labor Party? From ‘Community of Solidarity’ to ‘Loosely Coupled Anarchy’”, in David E. Barclay, Eric D. Weitz (eds), Between Reform and Revolution. German Socialism and Communism from 1840 to 1990 (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1998), 532-45 (539).
  • [120]
    Brigitte Gaïti, De Gaulle prophète de la Cinquième République (1946-1962) (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1998).
  • [121]
    Martin Barker, “On being ambitious for audience research”, in Isabelle Charpentier (ed.), Comment sont reçues les oeuvres? Actualités des recherches en sociologie de la réception et des publics (Grenoble: Créapolis, 2006), 27-42 (33).
  • [122]
    Thomas van der Vring, “Schwein geschlachtet”, Der Spiegel, 15 December 1969.
  • [123]
    Titled “Bad Godesberg and the present”, the Seeheim Circle’s manifesto was devoted to proving this incompatibility: Godesberg und die Gegenwart. Ein Beitrag zur innerparteilichen Diskussion über Inhalte und Methoden sozialdemokratischer Politik (Bonn: Verlag Neue Gesellschaft, 1975). Other texts attempted to make the same argument, including the following philosophical interpretation from the Seeheim Circle: Alexander Schwan, Gesine Schwan, Sozialdemokratie und Marxismus. Zum Spannungsverhältnis von Godesberger Programm und marxistischer Theorie (Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1974).
  • [124]
    Christelle Flandre, Socialisme ou social-démocratie? Regards croisés français allemands, 1971-1981 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006), 231ff.
  • [125]
    Among others: Alain Bergounioux, Bernard Manin, La social-démocratie ou le compromis (Paris: PUF, 1979).
  • [126]
    Michel Rocard et al., Qu’est-ce que la social-démocratie? (Paris: Seuil, 1979.
  • [127]
    Sozialdemokratischer Pressedienst, 15 December 1994.
  • [128]
    I would like to thank Hélène Steinmetz, Paula Cossart, Mathieu Hauchecorne and Hélène Michel for their feedback.

This article presents a methodological proposal for the study of political platforms. It is based on the analysis of the emergence of political programmes as a form of writing in Germany, and on the study of the production of the 1959 Bad Godesberg programme of the German Social Democratic Party. It offers the tools for exploring programmes as production, hence as a result of the ways that a political party organises its work. Political platforms can be analysed through their production process, and through what this process reveals about the functioning of political parties and about the interactions that parties engage in with various sectors of society. Finally, it emphasises the variety of uses to which actors may put a political programme. These uses serve to forge social relations and construct the social meaning of the programme text.

Karim Fertikh
A researcher at the CNRS, Karim Fertikh is a member of the Georg-Simmel Centre on Franco-German Studies in the Social Sciences (UMR 8131, EHESS/CNRS) and is an associate of the “Savoirs, Acteurs, Gouvernement en Europe” (SAGE – Knowledge, Actors and Government in Europe) research unit (UMR 7363, Université de Strasbourg/CNRS). He leads a research group on the transformation of the social state in Europe within the Franco-German network “Saisir l’Europe/Europa als Herausforderung” (MESR/Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung). His publications focus on political parties, programmes and ideas, activism and social policy in Europe. On the same theme, he has published: “Le ‘nouvel ordre’ du programme de Bad Godesberg. Sociologie d’une construction sociale de l’économie”, Lien social et Politiques, 72, autumn 2014, 39-56; “Trois petits tours et puis s’en va… Marxisme et programme de Bad Godesberg du Parti social-démocrate allemand”, Sociétés contemporaines, 81, March 2011, 61-80; and “Bad Godesberg dans le langage social-démocrate en 1959”, Cahiers d’histoire. Revue d’histoire critique, 114, January-March 2011, 137-51 (German Historical Institute, 8 rue du Parc Royal, 75003, Paris).
Translated from French by
Sarah-Louise Raillard
Uploaded on on 09/09/2015
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