The recent national conference of the WASG (Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice) in Germany, held on 18-19 November paved the way for a merger of this new left-wing party with the ex-Stalinist L.PDS (Left Party/Party of Democratic Socialism – the former Stalinist state party in the former East German state (GDR)). It was a contradictory conference. The delegates passed a number of left-wing resolutions and elected the most prominent opponent to the merger, SAV member, and leader of the Berlin "rebel" WASG, Lucy Redler, onto the National Committee. But when it came to practical consequences, the delegates made clear that they see no alternative to a coming together with the L.PDS.
The merger has been a major point of controversy amongst the WASG membership over the recent period. While almost everyone, including the members of SAV, in general, welcome every step towards the building of a united and broad left-wing party, the question was: on what political basis should such a party be formed.
The L.PDS, while carrying “socialism” in its name, has begun to participate in social cuts, wage cuts, privatisations and job destruction in many East German councils and also in two federal state governments (Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). During September’s regional elections in these two states the party lost many voters but overwhelmingly decided to stay in the regional government in Berlin with the now neo-liberal SPD.
This so called “red-red” coalition in Berlin will continue to cut jobs in the public sector, break collective bargaining contracts, privatise homes etc. The WASG (Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice) conference passed a resolution which criticised this policy and stated that the WASG could not sign the coalition agreement. But instead of demanding a break with this pro-capitalist regional government, it only asked the Berlin L.PDS to re-negotiate some questions.
This was a characteristic of the entire congress: radical in words but modest in deeds. The position of the SAV members who spoke at the congress was that there should be a number of minimum conditions to a merger, particularly opposition to joining any government with the neo-liberal SPD which participates in social cuts and privatisations. While the most prominent WASG leader and chair of the Left (the joint WASG and L.PDS) parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Oskar Lafontaine, also said that a left party must not agree to social cuts, job losses and privatisations, he added that these demands were not to be made into preconditions for the formation of a joint party.
Debate on socialism
Lafontaine also argued for the right to a general strike and said “demonstrations are not enough” and called on the new party to be “democratic socialist.” This also was a point of controversy. Some of the delegates argued against “democratic socialism” being part of the new party’s programme because, in their opinion, this could limit the party’s appeal to new people joining. This argument is supported by the German sister organisation of the British SWP (ISO), Linksruck.
SAV members argued for the party to be socialist because only on a socialist basis can a left-wing party withstand the pressures of capitalism, let alone change society. At the same time, SAV members argue that a discussion on what is socialism has to be conducted and that it has to be made clear that the Stalinist dictatorships of the past have nothing in common with socialism. But also that socialism means fighting for a different society, and not simply a set of moral values like many of the L.PDS leaders argue because, in reality, they have no perspective to overcome capitalism.
Lucy Redler elected
Different left-wing candidates for the National Committee issued a joint declaration that called on a new party to be really left-wing. But only Lucy Redler openly stated that she will vote against a merger with the L.PDS, if a number of minimum conditions are not met. She was, however, one of two of the left-wing candidates who got elected on the National Committee.
This reflects the contradictory mood amongst many members of the WASG who want clear left-wing policies but see no perspective for the WASG to maintain an independent existence. It also is a compliment to the principled position Lucy and the WASG Berlin, with the support of SAV, maintained in the last year when they stood independently in the regional elections and were not prepared to support the Berlin L.PDS which was part of a government of social cuts and privatisations.