Germany: “Marx is Muss”

On the policies and practice of Linksruck (the German equivalent of the British Socialist Workers’ Party)

This leaflet written by Socialist Alternative (SAV, the CWI in Germany) was distributed at the final closing rally, attended by around 180 people, of this year’s Rosa Luxemburg Tage, the discussion weekend organised by Linksruck, the German affiliate of the British SWP. The rally was noteworthy for the complete and total absence of even a mention of the words “socialism” or “socialist” apart from in the contribution from the floor by Sascha Stanicic from Socialist Alternative (SAV).

This is a translated and slightly edited version of a leaflet which was distributed at Linksruck’s annual Rosa Luxemburg Days, held in Berlin.

The original version in the German language can be found on

“Marx is Muss”

Marxism is a must – in theory and practice

Many visitors to this year’s Rosa Luxemburg Days will either already agree that “Marx is Muss – for the New Left” or will want to know what Marxism has to offer.

The offensive against living standards by both the Schröder and Merkel governments has sharply posed the questions of how to resist and what is the alternative. We are sure that the audience at the Rosa Luxemburg Days will hear many attacks against the system and calls to build the left. But what will happen in practice after this weekend?

The SAV believes that many people at this event will be disappointed when they learn about the day to day activities of Linksruck.

Berlin: “Left Unity” or stopping struggles?

Much will be said about the possibilities for the “New Left” and especially of the planned merger between the WASG and L.PDS. Many activists hope and strive for a new left force that can oppose the neo liberal CDU/SPD/FDP/Greens “unity party”. Certainly, the over 4 million votes for the left at the last general election show the potential that exists. But the question is not only how this potential can be harvested but, equally important, what will any new left force actually do.

Linksruck argues that political differences should be debated during and after the WASG-L.PDS fusion process. On the surface one cannot object to this – but it ignores the concrete questions which arise from the LeftParty.PDS’s participation in social cuts as part of the regional governments in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.This is a concrete question which is posed before the WASG: In Berlin and Mecklenburg Vorpommern, should the party stand independently or support the LeftParty.PDS?

In this debate, SAV and Linksruck are on opposite sides. SAV argues for an independent candidacy in both regional states because there has been no change in the LeftParty.PDS’s policy. Linksruck argues that the WASG should run candidates on the L.PDS lists no matter what the L.PDS’s policies are. Linksruck believes it is easier to fight the LeftParty.PDS’s “neo-liberal governing practice” as part of a merged party.

The reality here in Berlin is that in the name of “left unity”, Linksruck demands that the Berlin WASG stands on the L.PDS list without any conditions to help the WASG-LeftParty.PDS merger. In contrast the majority of the Berlin WASG said they are only ready for a joint candidacy if the L.PDS showed clearly that it would not longer support wage cuts, social cuts and privatisations; policies it has helped carry out since they entered the coalition government with the SPD in 2001. This has not benefited either the people of Berlin or the LeftParty.PDS itself. Support for the LeftParty.PDS in Berlin has collapsed from 22.6% in 2001 to around 15% in opinion polls today. Many reject it as a party that once talked left, but then acted right as soon as it got into government.

The Berlin WASG had discussed with the L.PDS the basis for a possible common list. But the Berlin WASG made a clear anti-neo-liberal policy a precondition for a joint candidacy. The Berlin LeftParty.PDS was not prepared to fundamentally change its policies let alone make a self-criticism of the job cuts, social cuts, wage cuts and privatisations it had helped implement.

April’s “Inhaltlichen Positionen”[Positions on content], a joint statement by the national WASG and the Berlin L.PDS leadership was presented as a foundation for a joint election campaign in Berlin and, on the basis of it, Linksruck demanded that the Berlin WASG does not stand independently. Linksruck presents this joint statement as a shift to the left by the L.PDS in Berlin. In fact, despite some fine sounding phrases, it is nothing of the kind. The Berlin LeftParty.PDS themselves say that this statement allows a continuation of their previous policies. That is the case. This is shown by the fact that there is no commitment within the statement to abolish “one euro jobs”. The statement does not entail objections to the senate’s plans to axe another 18,000 jobs by 2012 and the additional job losses that are taking place at the Berlin Transport Company, Vivantes (hospital), public housing associations and others. Let’s be honest: If you only speak out against the privatisation of entire council housing associations, one still accepts the privatisation of individual flats. You end up with a policy of the “lesser evil”, in other words, the policy of the Left.Party.PDS in Berlin.

Despite the fact that the Berlin L.PDS has not fundamentally changed its policies, Linksruck continues to demand that the Berlin WASG drops its plans for an independent list. Since the Berlin WASG refused to do this, Linksruck supported the WASG national committee closing down the Berlin regional committee, and also for the same reason the WASG Mecklenburg-Vorpommern regional committee. Linksruck may say that these are local problems that should not stand in the way of an all-German left party, but really they pose the question on what basis should a new left party be built.

The WASG national committee could have said to the LeftParty.PDS leadership: “We want to unify, but first you must stop your representatives carrying out neo liberal policies”. Instead they attacked their own members who wanted to carry the anti-neo liberal fight into the Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern elections. This was also meant as a clear warning to all other potential opponents within the WASG not to oppose Lafontaine and his grouping. Linksruck’s support of these measures put them to the right of Joachim Bischoff [former member of the WASG’s national committee who resigned as a result of the undemocratic intervention of Lafontaine and others into the WASG national party conference at the end of April] who declared at the WASG national party conference “I am an old leftwinger without the smell of social democratic stable. I have the impression that this stable smell is crap”

The new course of the party introduced at the party conference and which was brought about with the help and support of Linksruck, weakens the Left and makes many critical and left members leave the party. It is now more likely that the result of a development which started as a process of “newly forming the left” is going to lead to a pure merger of the LeftParty.PDS and a weakened WASG. This will probably lead to a “PDS plus” [A LeftParty.PDS which will dominate the merged party and is not likely to attract wider layers].

A party, which in its methods and practice would not be different from the LeftParty.PDS can hardly be called “a new Left”. It would continue with a policy of the “lesser evil”. This, in addition with their bureaucratic and undemocratic inner party regime, will lead to disappointment with the electorate and to passivity with a lot of members. The will also affect the attraction of the party. Due to a lack of alternative and the role of Oskar Lafontaine, electoral successes are possible. However, it is doubtful whether this can turn the party into one with an active mass base, as the SPD used to be when it was first set up. Because of Linksruck’s unconditional and uncritical support of the Lafontaine leadership will have to be held partly responsible for such a development.

The battle in Berlin, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, is not about sectarianism and unwillingness to compromise. The SAV regularly makes “compromises” with others during the course of struggles, for instance in local election campaigns in Aachen, Kassel and Cologne that saw SAV members, among others, win mandates. But these “compromises” are over demands and proposals; they are not compromises to accept neo liberal cuts. That is the crucial difference; it is the question of which side are you on? Linksruck is asking working people in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to vote, for the sake of the “bigger picture” of “left unity”, for leaders have and will attack their living standards.

In reality Linksruck is completely throwing overboard any principles it once had and is sharply turning to the right.

Whose side would Rosa be on?

Shamefully, Linksruck tries to invoke the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg in support of disciplinary measures against the Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern WASG leaders. In a very recent text, “Keine Angst vor der Neuen Linken!”/ “Don’t be afraid of the New Left”, (3 May 2006) two Linksruck leaders wrote about Rosa supporting, in 1903, the expulsion of the Baden and Bavaria right wing from the then still Marxist SPD. But, as this text partly explains, the reason for Rosa’s proposal was because these leaders had voted, in the name of “lesser evil” politics for bourgeois parties’ federal state budgets.

But what then would Rosa’s attitude today be towards the L.PDS that has helped implement a policy of Berlin leaving the national wage negotiations body so that, for example, they could force public sector workers to accept a 10% wage cut? Would Rosa support forcing the WASG, a party founded on the basis of opposing neo liberalism, into an election alliance with a party led by wage and job cutters? The mere fact that these Linksruck leaders could attempt to enlist Rosa as one of their supporters shows how far they have fallen into the “realpolitik” swamp.

“Weekend Socialism” or advocating socialism on a daily basis?

Despite the “Marx is Muss” title the daily practice and “theory” of Linksruck is to reject as “sectarian” any attempt to bring socialist ideas into the everyday activity of struggle and discussion. It seems for Linksruck socialism can only be mentioned in magazines or at events like the Rosa Luxemburg Days.

In contrast the SAV argues that it is both necessary and possibly to link together the immediate issues working people and youth face with striving to win support for socialist ideas. The SAV has argued for a long time that a new workers’ party is needed. We welcomed the WASG’s formation as a step in that direction while at the same time striving to explain that a new party needs to adopt socialist policies if it is not going to end up as a “SPD mark 2”.

This policy was rejected by Linksruck as sectarian and limiting the appeal of the WASG. They argue that day to day campaigning and propaganda should be restricted to dealing with the immediate issues. Why? Because of a low socialist political consciousness? This is said despite the many opinion polls in which a majority of the population express sympathy and openness with socialist ideas. In that respect, Lafontaine is more to the left than Linksruck is. In his draft for a founding manifesto, he positively refers to “democratic socialism”.

Linksruck believes that it is not possible to be both part of broader movements and argue for socialist ideas. In this regard they reject the Communist Manifesto’s statement that Communists, (not Stalinists), have the task “In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.“ In today’s language the “property question” is capitalism and the need to replace it.

The SAV does not present socialist ideas as an ultimatum, as a precondition for joint struggle on immediate issues or to take concrete steps to build a new left force. But we have to see that last year’s 4 million votes for the left are no guarantee for the future. In many countries there have been very good election results for the left which then, tragically, have been wasted as the left parties’ leaders compromised with capitalism. The SAV argues that the key to successfully build new parties that actually change society is a combination of a determination to struggle and the adoption of a socialist programme.

Linksruck’s “socialism”, in contrast to this weekend’s “Marx is Muss” title, is almost totally abstract. In daily practice Linksruck’s leaders make no attempt to extend and strengthen socialist ideas amongst working people and youth.

This is one reason why today, in the WASG, Linksruck is almost indistinguishable from the party’s right wing. Scandalously they completely support the administrative measures the WASG right wing are using to force Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern WASG to stand on election lists headed by wage and social cutters. At no time during the WASG’s last national congress did Linksruck members put forward their own policies – perhaps this is because a number of Linksruck’s leaders have been given jobs in the Bundestag and elsewhere by the WASG leadership? Linksruck’s help for the WASG leaders’ attacks on the Berlin WASG and SAV will rebound later when Lafontaine and Co. no longer need "left sounding" allies and then uses the same administrative measures against them.

The SAV calls on all those wanting to build a serious movement that consistently fights for the interests of working people to support the decision of the Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern WASG to run anti-cuts lists in September’s elections.

The SAV strives to build a new party of the left, we stand for such a party to be build from activists in the workplaces, social and youth movements, the WASG and L.PDS. But we warn that a new left force will only be successfully build if it is principled, rejecting all neo liberal measures, and only achieved a lasting solution to the many problems humanity faces if it adopts socialist policies. In this sense the SAV stands for building a movement that applies today the best traditions of Marx, Engels, Bebel, Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Lenin and Trotsky.

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May 2006