Germany's oldest and proudest party, the more than 145 year old Social Democrats (SPD) are probably in their worst crisis since the end of WW2. The SPD was the major force is the establishment of the first Republic in 1919, was the only party voting against Hitler's enabling act in 1933, used to win between 30% and 45% of the votes after 1949 and governed the country between 1969 and 1982, as well as from 1998 to 2005 -- the Chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder were all SPD members. It used to be the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) major rival, Germany's major center-left party and a "people's party" (unlike the small parties, with a large voter and member base). In 2005, it won 34.2% and thus #2 slightly behind Angela Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU (35.2%); the SPD now is junior partner of the CDU/CSU in the currently governing "great coalition" in Germany. But now, the SPD is facing a major crisis -- never before in post-war history, the party's and its chairman's approval rates were as low as these days: According to this new poll, 24% only would vote for the SPD -- more than 10% less than in 2005 (Merkel's CDU/CSU reaches 34%, libertarian FDP 13%, Green Party 12% and the socialist-populist Left Party 14%). SPD chairman Kurt Beck has hit a new low, when it comes to individual approval. SPD Chairman Kurt Beck When asked who the Germans would elect, if the Chancellor were to be directly elected by the people, Chancellor Angela Merkel outclasses Beck 70% to 12% only! Even the SPD's currently most popular politician, Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Steinmeier, only reaches 30% against 56% for Merkel. Where does this crisis stem from? It all started when Chancellor Schröder (SPD), from the right wing of his party, began with serious painful social reforms, to streamline the bloated welfare state in 2003. There was a major outrage against the alleged "neo-liberal attack on social fairness", the SPD party base, traditionally in favor of strong welfare, was irritated. Thousands quit SPD membership, the party lost dozens of thousands of members. And then, the Left Party rose: Union activists and SPD defectors from the left wing of the party split off from the SPD and united with the reformed former East German communist state party, most important Oskar Lafontaine, who had been SPD candidate for Chancellor in 1990 and chairman from 1995 to 1999 -- ever since then, the SPD is under harsh pressure from the left, by the Left Party which in a most populist manner proposes for social welfare and handouts for basically everybody, without any ideas whatsoever regarding the question who is supposed to pay it. The Left Party scored one victory after the other: In the national election 2005, the SPD lost about 5% to the Left Party, which more than doubled its result to 8.7% of the votes. In the east German states, the Left Party reaches up to 30% of the votes and already is the #2 party, stronger than the SPD. And now, the Left Party has also managed to enter four of the 10 West German state parliaments. Within the SPD, a struggle emerged: Should the party cling to its own reform program and the "third way" pragmatism of Chancellor Schröder, which is highly unpopular among left-leaning voters and party base? Or should the SPD become more leftist again, develop a stronger, classically "left" profile? Beck attempted the latter. In November 2007, he lead the SPD clearly leftwards again on a major party convention, with the intention of preventing the Left Party from winning even more votes. At the same time, he aggressively attacked the Left Party and categorically outruled any form of cooperation with the Left Party, or even a coalition. But this strategy failed: Despite Beck's attempts, the Left Party managed to enter four West German state parliaments in early 2008. In the state of Hesse, the SPD top candidate required support by the Left Party in order to get elected -- and Beck gave his green light, violating his promise to the voters there will be no cooperation. Since then, Beck has the label of a reckless liar and incompetent communist-appeaser attached to him (because the Left Party is still very hated and despised among large parts of the West German population, because of their past connected to dictatorship and Berlin Wall). Beck's approval rate collapsed. But that's not all: Beck attempted to limit the damage by claiming while there may be SPD-Left Party cooperation on state level, he categorically denies a coalition on federal level after the 2009 election. The problem is, nobody believes him anymore, after he broke his promise on state level. And another discussion burdens Beck and the SPD: Although in a coalition with the CDU/CSU, the SPD decided to run with a candidate on their own against current Federal President Köhler (a merely representative office), who is a CDU member and supported by Chancellor Merkel's CDU/CSU and the libertarian FDP. That's nothing unusual -- opposing candidates against an acting President are common. But, the problem is: The SPD candidate Schwan only has a chance of beating Köhler when she gets the votes of the Left Party. And she already declared she will actively address them in order to get their support. The election of Federal President will take place May 2009, only 4 months before the federal election -- and everybody would interpret the Left Party voting for a SPD candidate as a declaration the SPD will form a coalition with the Left Party, if possible, in September 2009. Again, Beck's credibility is severely damaged. The SPD is in a miserable condition -- the voters don't know who has the say in the SPD, the moderate "third way" wing (among them the Vice Chancellor and several ministers in the government) or the left wing, which pushes for cooperation with the Left Party. Nobody knows what they vote for, if voting SPD. The party is not united, but the different wings battling against each other. The chairman's credibility and popularity is not just damaged, but completely crushed. And nobody believes the SPD would not cooperate with the Left Party, a major reason for a huge number of moderate voters to turn away from the SPD. It remains to be seen if the party manages to regenerate until the federal election in September 2009 -- but it doesn't look good at all for Germany's "grand old party".