Germany: Concrete steps towards formation of new party

Against the background of increased attacks on living standards and working conditions, important sections of the working class in Germany have drawn the conclusion that an organisational and political alternative to the neo-liberal policies of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Co. needs to be built.

In a relatively short period of time, 6,000 people have joined "Election Alternative Work and Social Justice" (WASG). In opinion polls, up to 20% have indicated that they would vote for it.

This enthusiasm, generated even before it was clear whether WASG would actually constitute itself as a party, is a clear indication of the huge potential that exists to build a new, left party in Germany today.

National conference paves way

THE FIRST national conference of WASG took place at the end of November. Important steps were taken to prepare the founding of a new party. (Currently, members are being balloted on that question.) The conference, which at this stage does not have the right to take any binding decisions, also expressed its intention to stand in the important regional state elections of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, in 2005.

The congress declared its solidarity with the Opel workers, who took an unofficial, seven-day long strike at Opel Bochum against General Motors threat to sack 10,000 jobs in Germany and against the worsening of working conditions. The conference also called for the immediate withdrawal of the troops in Iraq.

Lack of political and programmatic discussion

Unfortunately, the conference agenda did not allow a discussion on the political programme. A broader conference scheduled for early next year will discuss the programme before the party is officially launched in May.

The debate on the programme will be crucial for the future development of the party. Today, the main protagonists of WASG are limited to a programme of ’reformism’. ie a policy that was conducted by social democracy in the 1970s when capitalism could afford to buy social peace by making concessions to workers. Then, ’reforms’ meant real progress for the working class and not the break up of the welfare state as it does today.

Capitalism is now in a period of decay, economic stagnation and recession. That is why it is an illusion to believe you can simply go back to the ’good old days’. The opposite is taking place at the moment. In order to secure their profits, the bosses are on the offensive against the working class. Every concession won by the workers’ movement in the past 150 years is in jeopardy.

Need for a fighting and socialist party

Socialist alternative (SAV – cwi, Germany) believes that the programme of the new party needs to go beyond criticising the government and its current policy. The government is acting on behalf of big business and its unstoppable greed for profits. Clashing with the neo-liberal policy of the government in effect means a direct clash with the interests of big business and the principles of capitalism in general.

Ursel Beck, SAV member and delegate to the WASG conference explained: "Against the background of the deep crisis of capitalism, every struggle of the working class, be it for the slightest improvement or against the attacks by the bosses, will pose the question of who is in control over the economy. This will then inevitably raise the question about what kind of society we need."

SAV members believe it is important to combine the fight back against the immediate attacks of the government with the struggle for a socialist society.

Leaders opposed to socialism

The leading reformists in WASG denounced SAV for its firm promotion of socialist ideas. "Groupings who can hold their meetings in phone boxes shouldn’t be allowed to influence the politics of the WASG", was the cynical comment of Klaus Ernst, a middle ranking IGMetall union official and member of the WASG executive.

This fits in with the "open door policy" of the leadership. They use the understandable desire for unity of the membership and the working class in general to argue the case for not wanting to build an explicitly left party. According to them, a left party would frighten off a lot of people they want to engage in the new party.

They go as far as saying that they want the party to be open for people like Heiner Geissler and Norbert Blüm. They are members of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and were government ministers under the anti-working class Kohl government!

That it is possible, however, to win credible support for socialist ideas was reflected in the votes Christine Lehnert, SAV member and councillor from Rostock, received when standing for the WASG National Committee. Her vote (86 out of 250 votes) showed that socialists have a role to play within WASG.

SAV members are confident that by seriously building WASG on the ground and by skilfully explaining the necessity for socialism, the influence of socialist ideas will increase. Developments in the objective political situation may even push some of today’s leaders to the left.

Tasks ahead

If WASG decides to stand in the regional state elections in North Rhine Westphalia, it is possible that it could grow very quickly in the next period.

Providing it offers leadership and support, WASG could become an important pole of attraction to workers in struggle. It could play an important role in the process of building an opposition inside the trade unions. The fact that 17 Opel Bochum workers, amongst them one of the leading strike activists, have recently joined WASG is a clear indication of that.

Important sections of the working class as well as important sections of the trade union movement in Germany have started to break the traditional links with social democracy. This is a huge step forward.

However, WASG will only be able to play a decisive role and win the trust of the working class if it actively supports and initiates protests against the bosses’ and governments’ offensive. The former chair of IGMedien received widespread applause when he stated that a general strike was long overdue in Germany.

SAV members will help to build WASG as a fighting and democratic party on the ground.

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December 2004