Is Germany a socialist country?
Short answer; No. Germany is not a “socialist” country – not even close.
Is Germany socialist or capitalist?
Short answer; Capitalist – and quite successful too.
Germany is a social democracy that possesses one of Earth’s largest capitalist economies. That said, Germany has a history with socialism and socialist ideas stretching back over a century which pose questions for those unfamiliar with politics, economics, and German history.
Let the debate end here: is Germany a socialist government?
Show Table of Contents
- What’s Socialism?
- What’s the difference between socialism and communism?
- What’s a Social Democracy?
- What’s Capitalism?
- Germany’s Socialist History
- Pre 1918
- Is Germany a Socialist Republic after 1918?
- Is Nationalist Socialism (Nazism) a form of socialism?
- Is Germany a Socialist State after WW2?
- Is Germany a Socialist Democracy after Reunification?
- Why do people ask “is Germany socialist?”
Websters defines Socialism as;
- “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods” – e.g. The government is the owner and operator of the turnip farm you work at, and the owner and operator of the railway that delivers the turnips to the grocers, AND the owner and operator of the grocers. The economy is based on the need of the people.
- a) “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property” – e.g. The governing body owns everything; homes, food, power, transportation – private businesses do not exist.
b) “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state” – Y’know this sounds a lot like the first definition…
- “a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done” – The last step before true communism – if you work longer or harder than most, or your job is more “important” to the betterment of the state and its people, you are afforded better pay, better-living accommodations, and better goods and services by the state.
Socialist states are best defined by a combination of definitions 1 and 3.
While authoritarianism isn’t necessarily a component of socialism, socialist states are almost always authoritarian in practice. Because the government controls the production and distribution of everything, they generally also control speech, to prevent discontent with the system.
Certain socialist principles (like universal healthcare, state pensions, education, public transportation, “social safety nets”) are compatible with democracy and are present in the vast majority of Western and other liberal democracies.
Communism, as defined by Karl Marx, is the result of the rejection of religion, the proletariat (working classes) rising up and completely overthrowing all capitalist structures and institutions within a state (often by force), re-engineering these structures to state ownership, the abolition of social classes, and enforcing an “equal society” on the people through authoritarian, totalitarian means.
In theory, no one “outranks” anyone, everyone gets the same food, house, healthcare, schooling, car, etc, but in practice, this is largely impossible because every person is different from birth and someone somewhere is going to have to be in charge of something i.e. the governing body. If you’re part of a governing body, how can you be equal?
What’s a Social Democracy?
Websters describes a Social Democracy as;
- “a political movement advocating a gradual and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by democratic means” – Something most Western and liberal democracies have been moving towards over the 20th and 21st century to address the inequities stemming from totally capitalist economies.
- “a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices” – THIS description best defines the political system in place in Germany, along with the vast majority of Western and liberal democracies on Earth. Politically, it’s left-center.
Well, it’s not a political system; it’s economic.
Websters describes Capitalism as;
“an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free-market” – People can own property (capital goods), start companies, trade freely in a non-government regulated economy where they can control their own prices. People produce and purchase for profit, rather than need. Monetary Darwinism; survival of the richest.
Germany’s economic system is a form of capitalism known as Social Capitalism (or Rhine Capitalism) combining a free-market capitalist economy with social policies that establish fair competition within the market and a welfare state.
Their economy contains elements of a free-market economy, (ownership of private property, free foreign trade, controlling your own prices) with some government social policies to ensure people are protected from the potential ills free-market economies can bring.
This means the German economy can grow and house competitive players, but there is government support for all Germans who need it, not just those who can afford it.
Germany’s Socialist History
You can trace Germany’s socialist history to the German Revolutions of the 1840s.
In a rejection of feudalism and authoritarian rule over Germans by lords, princes, and kings under the umbrella of the German Confederation, Germans rose up, demanding a unified state that bettered all Germans, not just the wealthy or the gentry, resulting in German unification in 1871.
See Related: The German National Anthem: Das Deutschlandlied
Is Germany a Socialist Republic after 1918?
No, but she was a socially democratic republic. Following Germany’s humbling defeat in World War One, the Russian Revolution, and the ensuing Civil War, lasting from 1917-1923, Germany dissolved its monarchy and empire and formed what became known as the Weimar Republic.
For all intents and purposes, the Weimar Republic was a social democracy; a liberal and progressive government that may have thrived had Germany not been bankrupt, humiliated, and in a precarious social position making her war-weary, embittered populous vulnerable to the false promises of extremists, who told people what they wanted to hear: support our cause and we’ll return the glory that was stripped from old Germany.
No. The only thing socialist about nationalist socialism is the inclusion of the word socialism. The Nazis were and are as far-right on the political spectrum as possible. Nationalist Socialism is fascism – plain and simple.
Whatever you say about the Nazis, they knew the value of propaganda on vulnerable people (i.e. the ENTIRE German population after WW1) and were proficient in its use from their beginnings as the German Workers’ Party.
Despite the communist-y name, the tiny German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or DAP) was always anti-Marxist and therefore anti-socialist. The founding members of the DAP and the Nazi Party and the big money backers behind the Nazi Party were all vehemently anti-socialist.
The DAP’s problem was unpopularity, their biggest competition being the more popular Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or SPD). The solution? Attract supporters from the SPD by tacking the word “socialist” onto the party name in 1920 – to the ignored objections of Adolf Hitler who loathed the idea. Amazingly, it worked.
After 1933, all traces of socialism and unlucky socialists associated with the Nazis were…dispatched. Often brutally.
You could argue (with difficulty) that once the Nazis consolidated power in 1933, their nationalization policies for certain industries was similar to socialism (often coined Prussian Socialism), but these policies adhered to fascist ideals under a rigid class system and the Leader Principle – i.e. your boss is always right and it’s your duty to do whatever your boss says, without question.
If anything, Prussian Socialism is essentially Corporatism; the organization of society into corporate groups, based on common functions or goals, working for a whole – like the organs around your body working to keep you alive.
Realistically, if anyone is saying Nazism is socialism, or vice-versa, either doesn’t understand Nazism, doesn’t understand socialism, or is deliberately inviting a false comparison to argue against socialism.
Is Germany a Socialist State after WW2?
After Germany’s Second World War defeat in 1945, the nation was carved in two between the western Allies and the USSR in the east. East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR) became a Soviet puppet state and between the years 1949-1990 existed as a Socialist Republic – the only time in history that any part of Germany has been socialist.
The state took total control of its economy, trade, transportation, food production and distribution, communications, healthcare, childcare, news, television, radio, and education – even the church wasn’t immune, being augmented with the communist idea of State Atheism.
The GDR was a police state, with the despised secret police taking deep interest in every GDR citizen’s activity to ensure acquiescence with state law.
There were different parties for people to vote for in elections, but all were varying degrees of socialist and had to join the National Front of Democratic Germany; a coalition of parties subservient to the dominant Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands or SED), which remained the ruling party for the entirety of the nation’s existence.
While it was possible to own some private property or purchase luxury goods, all legitimate sales were highly regulated by the government. Some things, like cars, were initially only sold to people the state deemed were in need of them. Once regulations were relaxed, you’d have to wait years before you could own a car after you expressed the wish to purchase one, birthing the popular GDR joke;
Why are there no bank robberies in the GDR?
Because you have to wait 12 years for a getaway car.
See Related: Fun, Interesting Facts About the Berlin Wall
Is Germany a Socialist Democracy after Reunification?
With reunification in 1990, the GDR ceased to exist and rejoined West Germany, forming the Germany we know and love today.
In rejoining, the former GDR was able to benefit from West Germany’s social democracy and capitalist economy, which had been nurtured by the allies after WW2 and turned into an international powerhouse by the West Germans.
Politically and economically, Germany is now pretty similar to the US. Both are democracies that hold regular elections that all citizens can participate in, and both possess capitalist economies.
See Related: Best German Christmas Markets to Visit
From the German words “Ost” (East) and “Nostaligie” (Nostalgia), Ostalgie is the term for nostalgia for the GDR and essentially, the socialist system abandoned with reunification. There’re still many nostalgic Germans in the former GDR who still vote for hard-left wing, even communist parties.
Nowadays, it’s tricky finding former East Germans who genuinely want to bring back the authoritarian monster in place of liberal democracy – most of this nostalgia comes from remembering simpler times.
Simpler? Like queuing for bread or waiting years to qualify for car ownership?
Well, yes, simpler. Because the GDR controlled everything, choice for necessary items like food, schools, healthcare, etc. were limited to what was affordable and necessary. Making decisions about virtually anything was easier, because the few choices available were state-regulated. True, it’s a dubious thing to miss, but being bombarded with options can be stressful if you’re just looking for something simple.
Childcare in the GDR was excellent, with mothers being given financial assistance for every child born and free nursery space for EVERY child in East Germany.
In these nurseries, each child was afforded free meals and even given Christmas presents by the state! On top of that the GDR had “Mothers’ Milk Stations” for lactating women to donate breast milk to women who couldn’t lactate.
These childcare institutions meant East Germany had a much higher percentage of women in the workforce compared to most nations.
The GDR was one of the first nations to pioneer recycling, albeit to compensate for the country’s lack of raw materials rather than environmentalism. The system was incredibly well organized and catered to all, from businesses to kids earning pocket money – yes; you got PAID by the state to recycle.
Over 16,000 recycling centers operated in East Germany and good money was paid for scrap or waste goods. After reunification, the government stopped paying out for recycling and the amount of recycling in Germany plummeted by 90%.
Then there’re those who miss the camaraderie of living under a socialist system. Unlike most democracies that celebrate individualism, socialist states readily encourage the virtues of brotherhood and working towards a common cause creating powerful bonds. Again, it’s hard finding many Germans these days who’d give up the freedoms they enjoy in exchange for friendlier neighbors.
See Related: The Flag of Germany: Colours, Meaning & History
Short answer; ignorance.
There’s no evidence to support the idea that Germany is a socialist country. Even if you asked that question between 1949 and 1990, at best the answer would be “well, only a bit of it.” Put it this way; if Germany was socialist, there’s no way Mercedez-Benz would still be making luxury cars, let alone selling them all over the world!
Germans enjoy the same freedoms, liberties, and opportunities as Americans and people of other liberal democracies. Their economy is the fourth largest on Earth. Disposable income for the average German is about the same as the average American and Germans pay less tax, despite their government providing them with universal healthcare and a social safety net.
Their economy ensures no business will dominate all others and some industries are regulated so that corporations don’t screw over everyday folks, and everyone is afforded amenities like healthcare, decent pensions, trash removal, and so on without having to pay another bill to another company.
The only reasons someone might think Germany is a socialist state are:
- They’re still vague on what “socialist” or “socialism” mean
- They forgot/didn’t know East Germany no longer exists
- They believe a comprehensive welfare state capable of supporting any citizen/resident in need is socialist
- They believe universal healthcare is socialist
- They believe any government regulation is socialist
- They believe anything other than a completely free-market economy is socialist
- They don’t understand the difference between a socialist government and a social democracy
- They equate anything with the word “social” with “socialism”
- They are under the impression that National Socialism is still the form of government in Germany AND also confuse Nazism and socialism
See Related: Best Car Museums in Germany
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James is a British-American writer and editor for Via Travelers who has been writing since he was wee. As someone who has spent much time trotting around the globe, James appreciates traveling smart and comfortably, and has every intention of helping VT’s readers do the same!