Germany: Electoral success for left

Now is the time to organise resistance!

"For the economy, these election results are a disaster", says the chief executive of Altona AG, Nikolaus Schweickart. The hopes of the capitalists to restart general attacks on the rights of workers and unemployed people under a conservative/liberal coalition government have for now sunk into the chaos of post-general election Germany. The only victor is the left and the protest movement against the neo-liberal Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV during the years of 2003 and 2004. Sascha Stanicic, general secretary of Sozialistische Alternative (SAV – CWI Germany), reports.


The result speaks in very clear language: There is no majority for the neo-liberal attacks of the previous red/green government of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, or the even harsher ones proposed by Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle of the CDU and FDP. The gains made by Schröder’s social democratic SPD during the last weeks before the elections are based on the fears among working people of what the conservative CDU/CSU and the liberal FDP might have in store for them. Many people voted once more for the ‘lesser evil’ to prevent a Merkel government. But without the rather dishonest so-called ‘move to the left’ by the SPD during the election campaign, without the lip service it paid to workers’ rights, like national pay bargaining and legal protection against being sacked, the announcement of plans to tax the rich, its verbal opposition to a poll tax in the health care system, and its declaration against a grand coalition, it would have ended up with the 25% share of the vote predicted at the beginning of the election campaign.

The election on 18 September 2005 is a defeat for social cuts and neo-liberal policies. But Schröeder is acting like a doped boxer who, after being sent to the floor three times in a row, still manages to score a victory: The SPD got its second-worst result for 40 years. The process of traditional SPD voters defecting from social democracy continues. Both large so-called ‘people’s parties’, CDU and SPD, got less then 70% of the vote, the first time this happened since 1949. Participation in elections has sunk further as the alienation from bourgeois parties and institutions continues to grow. The capitalists cannot really be happy about the electoral success of the FDP, the little party of big business, because it does not even out the losses suffered by the CDU/CSU, which recorded its worst vote since 1949. The attempt by CDU/CSU voters to prevent a grand coalition by giving their second vote to the FDP failed. For the third time in a row, there is a majority to the left of the traditional bourgeois parties of CDU, CSU and FDP.

Although the fascist NPD bettered its election result, it remained below what was expected or feared after its electoral successes in the state of Saxony. For now, the NPD’s progress has been stopped. This is mainly due to the candidature of the WASG and the Left Party/PDS. Their contribution to the public debate played a part in ensuring that, rather then scapegoating immigrants for unemployment and social problems, government and big business were taken to account instead. This is why the racists and the fascists were put on the defensive in most areas. But the electoral success of the NPD in Saxony, where it achieved 4.6%, proves that the danger from the far-right has not been overcome. Should the Left Party and WASG not fulfil the hopes of ordinary people, the far-right would rise again.

The election result deepens the political instability and crisis in Germany. The success of the Left Party is an expression of the growing polarisation between the capitalists and the working class. Rising mass unemployment, Agenda 2010 and growing poverty have massively increased the hatred and anger felt against the rich and powerful. Less and less people believe that neo-liberal ‘reforms’ are needed to create jobs in the future. The result will also motivate all those who have fought in recent years against Agenda 2010, Hartz IV, mass redundancies and privatisations. Now electoral success has to be turned into social resistance. A party has to be built that will actively fight for working-class interests.

What is to be done?

The electoral alliance of Left Party/PDS and WASG is the true victor of these elections. For the first time since the immediate post-second world war period there exists a strong parliamentary group to the left of the SPD. (In 1949, in the first election in West Germany, the ‘communist’ KPD won 15 seats with 1.36 million votes.) Fifty-four MPs now have the chance to raise their voice against cuts, war and environmental destruction. The 8.7% share of the vote is definitely a success. The support given by WASG for the ‘open lists’ of the Left Party/WASG, as well as the candidature of Oskar Lafontaine – a former SPD minister who recently joined WASG – who became a leading figure with a great impact on the masses, were the deciding factors for the success. Germany’s political landscape has changed because of this success. The old song, There is No Alternative to Neo-liberalism, cannot be sung anymore.

Now there is a need to use this electoral success to strengthen the resistance against social cuts, redundancies and war, and to build strong political representation for workers, unemployed people, youth and pensioners. There remains an urgent need for this, as the future government, whatever it will look like, will carry out the orders given it by the organisations of the bourgeoisie. This means a continuation of social cuts and the destruction of workers’ and trade union rights. Only massive resistance on the streets and in the workplaces can prevent this, as well as the building of a strong political party of and for workers and the unemployed. It is therefore to be welcomed that, at the end of election day, Lafontaine publicly and on TV called on people to organise themselves and to become active.

The parliamentary group and its MPs can play a vital role in organising resistance against the continuation of neo-liberal policies. They can use parliament as a stage to spread arguments and counter proposals. They can use their authority to support calls for demonstrations and strike action. They can offer the support of their apparatus to help organise protests.

SAV has submitted the following immediate proposals to the new parliamentary group:

1: During the first session of the new parliament, it should move a motion calling for the immediate withdrawal of Hartz IV. This should be combined with a call for a national demonstration in support of this proposal.

2: The group should also move a motion calling for the introduction of a national minimum wage of €1,500 a month. It should call on the trade unions to organise action in the workplaces to support this.

3: The MPs should participate in and practically support the action conference of social movements taking place on 19/20 November, as well as the conference of the trade union lefts on 1 October.

A number of working-class people voted SPD in order to stop a Merkel government. Some will ask whether the left should tolerate an SPD-Green coalition to prevent an even more right-wing government. This could only be an option if the SPD changes course and breaks with its neo-liberal agenda. But it is committed to supporting Schroöder and is determined to carry on with neo-liberalism. Leading Left Party candidate, Gregor Gysi, and Lafontaine have correctly stated that they will not tolerate a red/green coalition bent on carrying on with Agenda 2010 and that they are not prepared to help Schröder become chancellor on that basis. It is wrong, at the same time, to give the impression that a grand coalition would be a lesser evil. It could be that under a conservative/liberal coalition government, anti-working class policies would have been delivered at a quicker pace. But a grand coalition will also attack workers and the unemployed, and the SPD will use its influence on the trade union leaders to put a brake on resistance in the workplaces and the trade unions.

Realising the potential

A few weeks before the election, the Left Party had a rating of 12% in opinion polls. With the election result of 8.7% only a part of this potential was mobilised. It succeeded in convincing 360,000 non-voters to vote left. The number of non-voters increased during this election, however, and the number of spoiled ballot papers increased to 759,000, from 586,000 in 2002. This also shows that a lot of existing potential was not used. The Left Party did not achieve 5% in the west. And it is only the third-strongest force in the east. Why?

WASG is the dynamic part of this alliance. Without it, the PDS would probably have continued its development into a regionalist east German party. The three most important aspects of the WASG are: Firstly, it is a new political force. Secondly, it does not participate in neo-liberal measures at any level. Thirdly, it is strongly connected with trade union activists and the social movements. The Left Party/PDS does not share any of these features. To this comes the opposition to the Left Party/PDS from parts of the population – mainly, but not only, in the west – because of its past as the Stalinist party governing the GDR (East Germany). So far it has not managed to overcome this opposition because it still describes the GDR as a socialist state. It does not distance itself from the essentially anti-socialist, one-party dictatorship which existed there.

SAV, which was actively involved in building the WASG, declared in recent months that an independent candidature of the WASG in the west could mobilise more votes then an alliance under the banner of the Left Party/PDS. In regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia last May, WASG achieved 2.2% of the vote. At the time, it was still unknown, had almost no financial means, a lot less members and Lafontaine had not yet joined. During the latest election campaign, many people said at WASG stalls that they would have voted WASG but were not prepared to vote for the PDS/Left Party.

The election posters of the Left Party lacked clear content. You would search in vain for demands to take back Hartz IV and Agenda 2010, defend workers’ rights, like national pay structures, tax banks and big business or defend jobs. There were also signals that did not help mobilising activists: Lafontaine’s proposal to lower the minimum wage demand and the decision to drop the demand to completely take back all Hartz IV attacks did not give the impression that this was a radical new force beginning a fight-back against the established parties. It rather fed concerns that this was the next party beginning its long march into conformity and the establishment. Because of this, the dynamism and enthusiasm of June and July, which led to thousands of people joining the WASG, were completely lost.

In particular, the participation of the PDS in cuts, mass destruction of jobs and the privatisation of public services while in coalition with the SPD in the states of Berlin and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, visibly contradict the declaration of wanting to fight against those same policies on a federal level. It destroys the credibility of the Left Party/PDS.

Left Party leader, Lothar Bisky, has now declared that he wants to unite his party with the WASG as quickly as possible. The question of the Berlin state parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2006 will be at the centre of conflict. The Berlin branch of WASG correctly decided to stand independently, against the SPD-Left Party/PDS local government coalition which introduced the social cuts and attacks on trade union rights. As long as the PDS participates in job losses in the public sector, wage and social cuts, and privatisation, it prevents the possibility of a united candidature of the left.

This is, however, not a Berlin-only problem. The question is: What kind of a party is to be created? SAV calls on all activists in the WASG, Left Party/PDS, trade unions and social movements to actively participate in a discussion process about the foundation of a new left party in Germany. They should join our fight to ensure that this party never participates in social cuts, job losses and privatisation but rather fights together with workers, the unemployed and the youth. This means to demand that the Left Party/PDS changes course and breaks with the coalition governments in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Berlin. We need a party that is an active part of the resistance against neo-liberal policies and the capitalist profit system. And we need a party that provides a real alternative. This is why SAV fights for the foundation of a workers’ party with a socialist programme.

A political earthquake

This has never happened before. At the end of election day, both leading candidates from CDU/CSU and SPD, although they had obviously lost the elections, declaring that they will be the new chancellors of Germany. Germany is in political turmoil and no one knows how this is to be ended.

The US Wall Street Journal writes: "The ‘sick man of Europe’ will probably be confined to bed for a while longer". The journal alludes to the economic phase of crisis and stagnation which has engulfed Germany for years. Now the political reality seems to mirror the economic one. One big-business boss after another expresses their ‘bitter disappointment’ with the election result. No wonder. The calculations of the rich and powerful did not materialise. They wanted to gain a new government prepared to take out the baseball bat and launch a ‘final battle’ with the trade unions. The aim was to decisively batter them so that the attacks on workers’ rights and social rights could be continued. Instead, the capitalists paint the ghost of ‘standstill’ caused by a grand coalition against the wall. At the same time, they decorate this glorious painting with the demand to carry on with the so-called ‘reforms’. There is no question that the bosses and bankers do not want to wait until they can carry on picking our pockets. Without doubt, they will pressurise any new government, no matter what it looks like, into attacking the quality of life of the mass of the population.

The election result underlines the inability of capitalism to maintain political stability in times of structural crisis. Germany is nearing the conditions seen in Italy in the past: unpredictable voting patterns, more frequent changes of government and political instability. At the end of the day, this is the expression of a continuing polarisation between the classes, between capitalists and workers or the unemployed. The former can only raise their rate of profit by cutting down wages. The latter do not believe that suffering such cuts will get them any benefits in the long run.

When this article was written, just two days after election day, it was impossible to guess what the government will look like. Schröder and Merkel are playing a risky game of poker with each other, both pretending to be firm. This will probably carry on until 2 October, when there is a follow up election in Dresden. At some point, however, the banks and big business will put on enough pressure to enforce the formation of a new government.

Only if personal and party political interests cannot be overcome can completely new elections become a possibility. From the point of view of the capitalists, in reality the true rulers of Germany, this would mean the danger of further political destabilisation and the risk of a further growth of the Left Party. A ‘Jamaica coalition’ cannot be ruled out, as the Greens, FDP and CDU/CSU are not that different where questions of economic and social policy are concerned. Whether the Greens could survive the tensions this would create within their own party is questionable, though. A grand coalition is most likely at this point, no matter who becomes chancellor in the end. The differences between SPD and CDU/CSU are limited and, where the realisation of Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV is concerned, there has been a de facto grand coalition anyway. From the capitalists’ point of view, such a coalition would pave the way to start the next ‘reforms’.

This means that the plans of the bourgeoisie have been delayed, not destroyed. The working class has to prepare for coming battles. This has to start now. There will be attacks from the side of the government as well as from the bosses in the workplaces. The announcement of job cuts at Siemens, Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler show the way. Within the trade unions, preparations for mass mobilisations against the coming government and against job cuts have to begin. The lessons of the protests against Hartz IV and Agenda 2010 have to be learned: without strikes there is no chance to stop big business and the government. The IG Metall trade union has a responsibility to draft a pay demand for the national pay negotiations next year that would lead to a real wage rise. This would have a mobilising effect on the trade union membership. The left MPs have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the resistance and has to support and build it. And not only against the laws of the new government. They have a responsibility to show an alternative to job losses and have to play a role in linking up the struggles of the Siemens, VW and Daimler workers.

(Thanks to Christian Bunke for translating these articles.)

This article will be published in the next issue of Socialism Today, 

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September 2005