The following is a translated and slightly edited version of an article which was first published in German at www.sozialismus.info
WASG Left opposition meeting condemns national leadership attacks
Given the short period of three weeks between the WASG’s (Election Alternative Work and Social Justice) national party conference, where the idea of a left opposition meeting was born, a turn-out of 280 members from across the country at the first WASG Left meeting, held on 20 May, was a success.
Those attending expressed their discontent and indignation at the National Committee’s undemocratic methods and decisions to suspend the WASG’s Regional Committees in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In a declaration passed at the end of the conference, the participants demanded a party which was not built “top down” and a party which 100% defends the interests of the “non-capital owning” majority of the population against the neo liberal attacks on all social foundations of our society. The meeting also called for a party which considers itself plural and inclusive. A big part of the speakers referred positively to the decisions of the WASG in Berlin and Mecklenburg Vorpommern to stand independently (and therefore also against the Left Party.PDS (Left Party.Party for Democratic Socialism), which is part of the government in those regional states and, therefore, carrying out cuts). The speakers referred to the independent candidacies as a means to debate the content and programme upon which a new Left in the country should be built.
Across the board, the WASG’s national party conference, held late in April, was regarded as a break with party principles. Inge Höger, Vice Chair of the joint WASG and LeftParty.PDS parliamentary group, called “The Left”, reminded the opposition meeting that the WASG’s was meant to be a party which aimed to “not be like other parties”. She explained that the national WASG leaders broke with that objective. She also criticized the suspensions of elected Regional Committees and the imposition of two parliament Deputies (MPs) to run the WASG in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
It was not clear from the outset that the opposition meeting would be so widely supportive of the independent candidacies. Both Thies Gleiss, a member of the National Committee and member of the international socialist left (ISL) Mandelite organization, spoke out against standing independently in the two federal states, while, at the same time, opposing the administrative measures against the Regional Committees. Gleiss recommended withdrawing the nominations to stand to not endanger the “process of building the New Left”. The LeftParty.PDS was needed in this process “as it stands”, explained Gleiss, and was hackled from the floor.
In her introduction, Lucy Relder, the number one candidate on the WASG Berlin slate, and member of Socialist Alternative (SAV – Socialist Alternative/CWI), explained that the independent candidacies would act as an important contribution towards building a New Left, which conducts genuine left policies and, therefore, offers a political alternative. Given the attacks by the national grand coalition government, the increase in VAT, attacks on the health service, and a debate over further cuts in unemployment benefits etc, there is a need for a left force that is part of the resistance against those attacks. Supporting the LeftParty.PDS in the Berlin and Mecklenburg Vorpommnern regional elections, as put forward by the WASG National Committee, would equal the support of further cuts and privatisations. Cuts in wages for public sector workers, as well as redundancies in the public sector and privatisations, have been part of the LeftParty.PDS’s policies, as part of the regional governments. It is a policy which they want to continue and regard as successful.
Most of the speakers in the debate supported this view and the idea that the WASG should be build upon the support of those affected by social cuts. They also shared the view that the WASG needs to organize joint activities and resistance with those affected by neo-liberal policies. The broad support for this position from many ordinary WASG members from outside Berlin clearly encouraged the members from Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Taking part in governments
Further political questions were only touched on at the conference, which was mainly due to lack of time. However, questions were touched upon as key for further discussions. SAV members pointed out that putting forward anti-neo liberal demands would not be enough to combat the plans of the government. The struggle against attacks needs to be combined with a struggle for genuine reforms, such as a proper minimum wage and an end to privatization. However, every demand for genuine reforms today shows the limits of what is possible within capitalism. This is especially true given the state of capitalism today, which compared to the post war boom period is characterised by increased competition, slower growth rates and smaller profit margins. This leaves very little space for the ruling class to allow genuine reforms for the working class. It is, therefore, necessary to go beyond anti-neo-liberal and anti-capitalist demands and to start a discussion about the socialist alternative to the capitalist system. This means learning from the experience of the Stalinist states and to draw the necessary conclusions from those experiences.
The opposition meeting also touched on the more general question of taking part in governments. Inevitably, taking part in any capitalist government means taking part in driving down living standards and in attacking all the achievements the working class has struggled for in the past.
Taking away those reforms is the aim of the ruling classes internationally: The giant multinational companies can only increase their profit margins by increased exploitation of the working class internationally. It is the task of national, regional and local governments across the globe to prepare the ground and the conditions for the increased exploitation of the working class.
Subsequently, political parties that side with the working class must not take part in capitalist governments. Instead, those parties have to help and ignite struggles against those attacks. Elected representatives have the task to use parliament or local government councils as a platform to organise resistance.
As part of the meeting discussion, the independent candidacies were also put in the context of the WASG’s founding principles. “The regions’ decision to not stand on a joint slate with the LeftParty.PDS in the respective regional states, is in line with the WASG’s programme, which states that the WASG will not tolerate or form a government which carries out social cuts and privatization”, states the meeting Declaration.
Due to the pressing issues of Berlin and Mecklenburg Vorpommern, and the respective actions of the National Committee, the discussion on the prospects and further developments of the WASG were pushed to the background. The next meeting will have to pay more attention to those issues.
Another positive aspect of the meeting was that most participants agreed to build stronger links. This is an important step in the whole process of forming the new left.
It as agreed to hold a working conference that will have the task to prepare for the next WASG national conference in the autumn. A conference, hopefully including the “anti-capitalist Left”, made up of lefts in the WASG, and in the LeftParty.PDS, grouped around a document, ‘For an anti-capitalist Left’, which is due to be held late in the autumn, will also continue the discussion on programme and content.
The proposal to hold a conference in Berlin, as part of the support for the Berlin election campaign, got a good response but needs to be tied down.
The meeting’s lively debates, both in the plenary discussions, as well as in the commissions on Berlin, and on taking part in governments, and on party democracy, is reflected in the Declaration - which the conference passed without any votes against. The Declaration states that despite “The authoritarian measures of the National Committee and the tight majorities [for the NC’s position] at the national party conference are no reason for resignation or withdrawal but just another reason to jointly defend and strengthen the WASG’s founding principles, through a public and open network of resistance in both the WASG and the LeftParty.PDS.”