Germany: Electoral success for German left – now organise resistance!

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 conservative CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) and ‘liberal’ FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei).

‘For the economy, these results are a disaster’, said the chief executive of Altona AG, Nikolaus Schweickart. The capitalists’ hopes of stepping up attacks on the rights of workers and unemployed people under a conservative/liberal coalition government have for now sunk into the chaos of post-election Germany. The only victors are the left and the protest movements against neo-liberal policies. Sascha Stanicic, general secretary of Sozialistische Alternative (SAV – cwi Germany), reports.

Electoral success for German left – now organise resistance!

The gains made by Schröder’s social democratic SPD in the last weeks of the election were based on the fears among working people of what the CDU/CSU and the FDP had in store for them. Many people voted once more for the ‘lesser evil’ to prevent a Merkel government. But without the dishonest so-called ‘move to the left’ by the SPD during the campaign – the lip service paid to workers’ rights like national pay bargaining and legal protection against being sacked, announcing plans to tax the rich, its verbal opposition to a poll tax in the health care system, and its declaration against ‘a grand coalition’ with the CDU – it would have ended up with the 25% share of the vote predicted at the beginning of the election.

The 18 September result is a defeat for social cuts and neo-liberal policies. But Schröder is acting like a doped boxer who, after being sent to the floor three times in a row, still claims victory. In fact the SPD got its second-worst result for 40 years, and the process of traditional SPD voters defecting from social democracy continues. Both large so-called ‘people’s parties’, the CDU and SPD, between them got less than 70% of the vote, the first time this has 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. For the third time in a row, there is a majority to the left of the traditional bourgeois parties, the CDU, CSU and FDP.

Although the fascist NPD bettered its 2002 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 than scapegoating immigrants for unemployment and social problems, government and big business were called 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 polled 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 will 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, Schröder’s Agenda 2010 ‘reform programme’, 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, the ‘Hartz IV’ attacks on unemployment and other social provisions, 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 the 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/PDS, 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 in this success. Germany’s political landscape has changed. 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 in 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, however, if the SPD changes course and breaks with its neo-liberal agenda. But the SPD is committed to supporting Schröder 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’ of the SPD and CDU 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 opinion poll ratings of 12%. With the election result of 8.7% only a part of this potential was mobilised. It succeeded in convincing 360,000 former non-voters to vote left, but the number of non-voters increased during this election 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 realised. 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, argued before the election that an independent candidature of the WASG in the west could mobilise more votes than 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 repeal 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 in mobilising activists: Lafontaine’s proposal to lower the minimum wage demand, and the decision to drop the demand to completely reverse 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 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. However, the question of the Berlin state parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2006 will be a 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 implementing 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, the 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 demanding 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.

Translated by Christian Bunke

The Italianisation of politics?

This has never happened before. On election night, both leading CDU and SPD candidates declared that they will be the new chancellor – although they had obviously lost. Germany is in political turmoil and no one knows how it will end.

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 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 a new government prepared to launch a ‘final battle’ with the trade unions, to decisively batter them so that attacks on workers’ and social rights could continue.

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

Days after the election, it is impossible to guess what the new government will look like. Schröder and Merkel are playing a risky game of poker, both pretending to be firm. This will probably carry on until 2 October, when there is a by-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 be possible. 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 green, yellow and black ‘Jamaica coalition’ cannot be ruled out (the party colours of the Greens, FDP and CDU), as the three parties are not that different on economic and social policy. 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. The differences between the SPD and the CDU/CSU are limited and, on implementing Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV, there has been a de facto grand coalition anyway. For the capitalists, such a coalition would pave the way for 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 government as well as from the bosses. The announcement of job cuts at Siemens, Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler show this. Within the trade unions, preparations for mass mobilisations against the coming government and 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 leads to a real wage rise. This would mobilise trade union members. The left MPs have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the resistance and support and build it, not only against new government laws. They have a responsibility to show an alternative to job losses and to play a role in linking up workers’ struggles.

Translated by Christian Bunke

Political parties in Germany

The elections were for Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag – set up with the formation of West Germany in 1949. The upper house is the Bundesrat.

CDU: Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democrats). Conservative party led by Angela Merkel since 2000.

CSU: Christlich-Soziale Union. Conservative party in Bavaria led by Edmund Stoiber since 1999. Linked with CDU.

SPD: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands led by Gerhard Schröder, who first became German chancellor in 1998.

FDP: Freie Demokratische Partei. Free-market, liberal party led by Guido Westerwelle since 2001.

Left Party: Die Linkspartei. Formerly called the PDS (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus). PDS was previously the ruling party in Stalinist East Germany, when it was known as SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – Socialist Unity Party of Germany). It is led by Lothar Bisky and its most prominent public figure is Gregor Gysi.

WASG: Arbeit & Soziale Gerechtigkeit – Die Wahlalternative (Labour & Social Justice Party). Founded in 2004 out of two main groups of activists in opposition to Schröder’s neo-liberal policies, especially Agenda 2010: Initiative Arbeit und Soziale Gerechtigkeit (mainly Bavarian trade union representatives) and Wahlalternative (Electoral Alliance, from northern and western Germany). Its leading public figure is Oskar Lafontaine. WASG candidates who stood did so as part of the Left Party list.

SAV: Sozialistiche Alternative. German section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). One of the founding organisations of WASG, and actively involved in its development, defending the need for a clear and combative socialist programme.

Green Party: Bündis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens). Bündis 90 is the name given to the merger of East German civil rights groups in 1989/90. It subsequently merged with Die Grünen in 1993. Its leading public figure is Joschka Fischer and it formed the red/green governing coalition with the SPD in 1998.

NPD: Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands. Neo-Nazi party led by Udo Voigt.

REP: Die Republikaner. Far-right party led by Rolf Schlierer.

2005 Bundestag elections:

Allocation of Bundestag seats:

CDU/CSU: 225 (CDU – 179, CSU – 46)

SPD: 222

FDP: 61

Left Party: 54

Greens: 51

(Dresden vote delayed to 2 October, which will add 3 or 4 seats)

Direct seats, allocated from the first vote:

CDU/CSU: 19,219,054 first votes (40.9%) – 149 direct seats

SPD: 18,075,859 (38.4%) – 145

FDP: 2,200,915 (4.7%) – 0

Left Party: 3,733,390 (7.9%) – 3

Greens: 2,532,353 (5.4%) – 1

NPD: 853,742 (1.8%) – 0

REP: 38,650 (0.1%) – 0

Others: 374,782 (0.8%) – 0

Party list seats, allocated from the second vote:

CDU/CSU: 16,591,120 (35.2%) – 76 list seats

SPD: 16,148,240 (34.3%) – 77

FDP: 4,619,519 (9.8%) – 61

Left Party: 4,086,134 (8.7%) – 51

Greens: 3,826,194 (8.1%) – 50

NPD: 743,903 (1.6%) – 0

REP: 266,317 (0.6%) – 0

Others: 839,867 (1.8%) – 0

  • Registered electors: 61,597,724
  • Voters: 47,879,927
  • Turnout: 77.7%

2002 Bundestag elections

Allocation of Bundestag seats:

SPD: 251

CDU/CSU: 248 (CDU – 190, CSU – 58)

Greens: 55

FDP: 47

PDS: 2

Direct seats, allocated from the first vote:

SPD: 20,059,967 (41.9%) – 171 direct seats

CDU/CSU: 19,647,690 (41.1%) – 125

Greens: 2,693,794 (5.6%) – 1

FDP: 2,752,796 (5.8%) – 0

PDS: 2,079,203 (4.3%) – 0

Schill Party: 120,330 (0.3%) – 0

REP: 55,947 (0.1%) – 0

Others: 431,997 (0.9%) – 0

Party list seats, allocated from the second vote:

SPD: 18,488,668 (38.5%) – 80 list seats

CDU/CSU: 18,482,641 (38.5%) – 123

Greens: 4,315,080 (8.6%) – 54

FDP: 3,538,815 (7.4%) – 47

PDS: 1,916,702 (4%) – 2

Schill Party: 400,476 (0.8%) – 0

REP: 280,671 (0.6%) – 0

Others: 778,152 (1.6%) – 0

  • Registered electors: 61,432,868
  • Voters: 48,582,761
  • Turnout: 79.1%

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November 2005