The discussion about government coalitions with the pro-capitalist parties – the SPD (former social democrats) and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (the Greens) – mirrors the debate about the future of the party Die LINKE (The Left). Does it become a combative and socialist party of workers, the marginalised and the exploited – like the SPD at the end of the 19th century - with the growing support of millions of workers, deep roots in society and the ability to mobilise the masses? Or does it repeat the experience of the SPD in the 20th and 21st centuries, and accommodate itself to capitalism, lose members, voters, and backing in wider society? SASCHA STANICIC (Sozialistische Alternative – CWI Germany) reports.
DIE LINKE’s programme aims to improve the situation of the majority of the population, build an ecologically sustainable model for the economy, abolish poverty, give access to education for all, prevent wars and fight against discrimination. In a society where ‘those at the top’ and ‘us at the bottom’ have diametrically opposed interests it aims to represent the interests of the large majority of those depending on wage labour, whether they are currently in employment or not, including pensioners and youth. The question is: can the party fulfil the tasks it has set itself?
The August 2009 federal state elections in Thüringen and Saarland showed that there are certain hopes in coalitions involving DIE LINKE among sections of the population. In both federal states there was a realistic perspective for a governmental change: throw out the CDU and form a new government with a strong DIE LINKE presence. This mobilised voters. Although non-voters were still the largest group, these results showed that it is possible to reverse the long-term trend towards growing abstentionism. This would suggest that a similarly realistic perspective for change would have led to a similar growth in electoral participation and maybe 15% (rather than 11.9%) for DIE LINKE in the September 2009 general elections.
However, this does not represent enthusiasm for a ‘red-red’ (SPD-DIE LINKE) or a ‘red-red-green’ coalition. Rather, it reflects opposition to CDU-led governments and the vague hope that a government including a strong DIE LINKE would soften the attacks against working people and the socially marginalised, and might even lead to certain gains, like the abolishment of university tuition fees.
Such a mood for governmental change can also happen after mass movements and working-class struggles, even when these develop the independent action and self-confidence of the working class. If, for example, there is a trade union based, mass campaign against the introduction of a ‘poll tax’ in the health service, and the SPD, Greens and DIE LINKE speak out against the tax, illusions can be sown in a change of government. Does this mean that those on the left and socialists should support such a new coalition?
Lesser evil is still evil
The logic of the lesser evil is being put forward more or less openly, especially by the wing dominating DIE LINKE’s leadership and parliamentary fraction. “A government without DIE LINKE participation would be more unsocial”, is the credo. But all experiences of left-wing and socialist parties participating in pro-capitalist governments show that small evils become big ones and do considerable damage to left parties and the workers’ movement as a whole.
No wonder. Once those in government start implementing measures which they opposed before taking power, they lose the most important aspect for the building of a new left party: credibility and trust. This is the experience of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, one of the two parties which formed DIE LINKE in 2007), which tolerated the SPD-led state governments in Sachsen Anhalt (1994-2002), went into coalition with the SPD in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (1998-2006), and has been in coalition in Berlin since 2002.
Fighting for Change
The idea that the implementation of social cuts or improvements is decided first and foremost through parliamentary majorities or clever tactics at the negotiating table is wrong. Whether a minimum wage is introduced or unemployment benefits are cut, whether education facilities are privatised or tuition fees abolished are decided, primarily, through the struggle of the relevant social forces – in short, the class struggle. This struggle sometimes takes place openly, for example when there are strikes and demonstrations. At other times, it takes on a hidden form, for example when ‘public opinion’ is influenced behind the scenes.
Parliamentary decisions are primarily the result of such struggles, not the cause of change. This was the case when tuition fees were abolished in the federal state of Hessen. There, a massive students’ movement was the decisive factor. A short-lived SPD-Green-DIE LINKE parliamentary majority was able to formally push through the abolishment of tuition fees. This was important but was also, in itself, an expression of the development of the class struggle at the time. Significantly, the now re-established conservative government of Roland Koch does not dare to retract this because a majority in society is against tuition fees. Koch fears new mass movements should he reintroduce the fees.
Improvements for the masses have to be fought for, through movements, demonstrations, strikes, etc. This is even more true in times of capitalist crisis. The policies of a left-wing party need to represent this need and should not stand in the way of it.
Goal: Socialism – Way: Build a mass party
In a capitalist society, national and local governments are the attorneys for the banks and big business. They serve to keep the system going and establish the best possible conditions for making profits. Governments and the other parts of the state machine (police, courts, army, etc) defend the interests of the national economy - for example, by using the police against picket lines, backing military intervention in Afghanistan or through a court reaffirming the sacking of a supermarket worker who allegedly stole a coupon worth €1.30.
Lasting improvements for the majority of the population, peace and an ecologically sustainable economy are not possible in a system driven by the need to maximise profit. The fight for immediate improvements therefore needs to be combined with a perspective of replacing capitalism with a democratic socialist society. This requires the development of a socialist consciousness among working people and a strong, mass socialist party with millions of members and supporters.
DIE LINKE can neither contribute towards developing a mass socialist consciousness nor can it turn into a mass party if it helps in the administration of the unsocial capitalist system and takes responsibility for the continuation of the Hartz IV benefit cuts, job cuts in the public sector, military interventions in other countries or the deportation of refugees. Inevitably, participation in a pro-capitalist government leads to such policies as it is based on attempting a class compromise where class struggle is necessary.
Toleration? Deciding on each case?
For all those reasons, DIE LINKE should refuse on principle to enter a government with the SPD and Greens. But the principle should not be crude ‘opposition’, rather the “staunch representation of workers’ interests”.
This also rules out formal agreements to tolerate minority governments, including agreements binding DIE LINKE to support the government, because this would cement that support. In such situations, support for parliamentary motions would not depend on their content. However, that is what is needed. DIE LINKE can argue that it will vote for any motion in parliament that improves living conditions for the majority of the population, the environment, democracy and against war. This can mean, as in Hessen in 2008, voting down a CDU minister president.
The way in which such a principled stance is presented is another question. Of course, hopes in a changed government need to be taken into consideration. The impression should not be given that DIE LINKE does not want to take responsibilities. Rather than using negative formulations against a coalition with the SPD and Greens, DIE LINKE should say clearly that it is only prepared to form a government which will represent the interests of ordinary people. Therefore, it will not back social cuts, the erosion of workers’ rights, privatisation, job cuts, the use of the police against demonstrations, deportations, etc.
DIE LINKE should not make offers to the SPD and Greens as these parties have been associated by the public for the last 11 years only with Agenda 2010, Hartz IV and military interventions in other countries. This would give the impression that, without the SPD and Greens, no social change is possible, something which parts of DIE LINKE’s leadership formulate openly.
Instead, the party should defend its programme and emphasise that it is prepared to mobilise for and govern with this programme. This is different to formulating minimal conditions that would make a coalition with the SPD possible, as demanded by sections of the left within the party. These tendencies put forward very minimal conditions on the understanding that the SPD and Greens would not accept such demands. In this way, they argue, the SPD and Greens can be shown as the guilty parties for the failure to form a government. The pro-capitalist parties are capable of signing anything in order to keep power. From the point of view of the capitalist parties, however, putting such promises into practice would fail, because of so-called political constraints: the claim that the public purse is empty, capitalists threatening redundancies or investment boycotts, etc. Furthermore, minimal conditions always include the possibility that worsening conditions are accepted in other areas.
Break with Capitalism
DIE LINKE has to say clearly: We want to govern this country, but differently to any government over the last 60 years! We will only form a government that is not a servant of Deutsche Bank and Daimler. We will put human beings not profit at the centre of our policies. We will not be blackmailed by the bosses’ threats of outsourcing and investment boycotts. To create jobs, expand health services and education, to rescue the environment and prevent wars we will use the collectively created wealth in the interest of the whole society.
This is only possible in conflict with the small minority of big-business shareholders, capitalists and the super rich. To win this conflict, the working population needs to be mobilised. In order for it to be mobilised it has to be able to democratically participate in all key decisions. This is why we want democracy in all areas of society including the economy. This is only possible when we take the banks and big business into public ownership under democratic control. This means breaking with capitalism. This is why we will only participate in a government prepared to make this break.