"Time for a change in Germany", was the title of last week’s right wing magazine, The Economist (London). This reflected the wish of the international and German capitalists for a new coalition government of the conservative CDU/CSU and the liberal FDP that could accelerate attacks on the welfare state in the coming years. But these parties failed to win power and the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens was able to win the election, albeit with a very small majority. For the working class and youth this will however mean another bout of social cuts, privatisations, and right-wing policies.
Over the last months most opinion polls had predicted a victory for the conservative/liberal camp. Continued mass unemployment, economic crisis, and cuts in social services led to an evaporation of support for the Schröder government. But the government’s fortunes changed mid-way through the election campaign, and mainly because of two events: the devastating floods, and the US war plans against Iraq.
The government reacted quickly after the floods and successfully presented itself as acting in the interest of the victims. And on the question of the war against Iraq, Schröder adopted an anti-war position and went into conflict with the Bush administration in Washington DC. This was not because of a principled anti-war position by the government. After all, the same administration decided to send German troops abroad seventeen times in the last four years and participated in the military campaign against Serbia and in Afghanistan. The Chancellor’s anti-war rhetoric was a tactical manoeuvre to mobilise support for the social democrats during the elections. It also reflected the interests of the German ruling class that sees the incalculable consequences of a war against Iraq and is unhappy about the unilateralist approach of the Bush administration. On the basis of these factors, the so-called ‘red-green’ government stopped their decline and gained some ground. Although the SPD’s vote went down from the last general elections, in 1998 (see table below), this new surge in support was enough to allow the SPD and Greens to form the next government, which will probably be unstable and could enter crisis very soon.
PDS is the big loser
The big loser in the elections was the left-wing PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism – ex-governing state party in the Stalinist GDR). They lost 600,000 votes and failed to make the five percent hurdle that is the minimum to get into parliament.
This is a setback for the Left but it is not based on a rejection of socialist politics. Quite the contrary, in fact: the PDS lost the elections in East Germany, where it has a mass base, because of the right-wing policies it has implemented in local government over the last years. The party had joined the SPD in coalition government on federal state level and participated in social cuts and privatisations. Their most prominent leader, Gregor Gysi, had to step down as Berlin’s minister for economy following a scandal involving Gysi pocketing lucrative ’air miles’ while on business trips.
The experience of many voters is that the PDS is not at all different to the established parties. Once the PDS joined local government and carried out cuts, many former supporters turned their back on the party.
Christian Ströbele, who stood in a Berlin constituency, proved that left-wing politics could be attractive and successful. Ströbele is a well-known left-winger who stood for the Green Party. He considers himself a socialist and campaigned on social and anti-war issues. He even has a profile as someone who will criticise the conservative Green Party leadership. This record enabled Ströbele to become the first Green candidate ever to win in the constituency.
Socialist Alternative (SAV), the CWI section in Germany, stood in seven constituencies and gained 2,192 votes. We stood to present a clear socialist programme and to spread the idea of the need for a new mass workers’ party. This idea will become more important now and will reach more ears following the disastrous experience of the PDS, and as the new SPD/Green government attempts to carry out more anti-working class policies.
German general election results 2002 (change from 1998)
A more detailed analysis of the German elections will be posted later this week