Germany: Year-old Left Party third in polls

Capitalist crisis shows need for bold socialist policies and campaigning

More then a year ago, the former WASG (Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice), and the Linke/PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), fused to become the Left Party (DIE LINKE). Today, the Left Party is placed third in opinion polls. Its main demands for the introduction of a minimum wage, the removal of all troops from Afghanistan, and the reversal of all attacks against the unemployed are popular among the population. Since the merger, the Left Party has established parliamentary fractions in all German state parliamentary elections, apart from Bavaria. The existence of the Left Party, as a national party, standing in opposition to social cuts, and privatization, has increased the crisis within the SPD (Social Democratic Party), and has made stable two-party coalitions at a federal/national level less likely, in the future. The Left also plays an important role in ensuring that the neo-Nazis, at least on the electoral plane, do not gain further ground, and cannot successfully gain votes through their social demagogy.

The example of Austria, where the far-right racist parties won a third of the vote, shows the kind of difference it makes when there exists a strong party, which criticizes, and attacks, the policies of the pro-capitalist parties, from the left.

Despite all this, the Left Party does not fulfill its true potential, in supporting struggles, and recruiting new members. Millions of people have hopes for the Left. But whether these hopes will lead to disappointment, or not, depends on how the party develops. Will it, as is the case in Berlin, where it forms part of the state government submit to the so-called ‘necessary pressures’ of capitalism? Or will it develop into a fighting force, into which people enter, to fight for their interests?

One year of The Left Party

A year ago, SAV members (CWI Germany) put minimum conditions needed for a vote in support of the merger of both parties, including a rejection of all government participation leading to social cuts. But there was no majority for this demand, so SAV members then voted against the merger.

Despite this, west German SAV members joined the Left Party, because there it is seen as a part of opposition movements, and resistance. SAV members campaign within the Left Party, for a party which organises resistance against big business attacks, and their governments, and which stands for a fundamental transformation of power relations – for a socialist democracy.

Contrasting this, the Left Party, in east Germany, and Berlin, participates in governments at local and state level, and participates in carrying out social cuts. As part of the so called “red-red” Senate (city government) in Berlin, the PDS/Left Party has helped carrying out numerous attacks against the city’s working, and unemployed population, including direct wage cuts. Last May, 8,000 school students took strike action, against the Senate’s education policies. At the moment, Berlin local government workers are fighting for a substantial pay rise, which the Senate refuses to implement. The policies of the ‘red-red’ Senate were one reason why the SAV supported the independent WASG candidature in the Berlin state elections in 2006. By standing Lucy Redler, the WASG fielded an SAV member, as their main candidate, who had fought against the anti-social policies of the Berlin Senate and it won 52,000 votes and representation in 7 of Berlin’s 12 district councils.

Because of the aforementioned reasons, workers and youth in east Germany, and Berlin, still do not see the Left Party as an instrument of struggle against social cuts, and are not significantly attracted to it. This is why SAV members in east Germany, and Berlin, did not join the Left Party, at the time of last year’s merger. In Berlin, the SAV participated in the formation of a WASG-Berlin successor organization, the BASG, to further strengthen political opposition, against the red-red Senate.

SAV joins the Left Party in east Germany and Berlin

However, in September, east German and Berlin SAV members also entered the Left Party. With the decision to be represented within the Left Party, on a national scale, the SAV is hoping to strengthen the forces in the party who stand for a socialist programme, a campaigning approach, and against all government participation with the neo-liberal SPD. In entering the Left Party, the SAV is not taking back any of its criticisms against the PDS/Left Party in Berlin and east Germany. On the contrary, SAV justifies entering the Left Party, because it is easier to fight together with many others within the Left Party, for a fundamentally different, socialist party, than would be possible from the outside.

Also, even in east Germany, and Berlin, the Left Party is increasingly seen as an opposition party on a national level. In Berlin, the Left Party increased its percentage in opinion polls for the next state parliament elections, from 13% to 20%, reversing the previous fall in the PDS’s support. These gains are being won not because of, but despite, the Left Party policies in the Berlin Senate, and due to it is being seen as part of a national party opposing the federal government.

In its declaration regarding entering the Left Party, the SAV wrote:

“The national party, and Oskar Lafontaine, also make themselves felt in the east, and in Berlin. This is why the BASG project (successor to the WASG in Berlin), could not develop. We expect that the importance of the Left Party, in the run up to the general elections, and with the developing economic crisis in east Germany, and Berlin is bound to increase. During the last few years, there was an increase of strikes, and protests in east and west Germany. In the light of mass redundancies, and sharply increasing social cuts, bitter class confrontations are to be expected. Political questions will be very sharply posed, as part of these conflicts. More and more workers, and unemployed people, will search for answers, and will look towards the Left Party for a way out.”

The SAV stands for building a Marxist opposition inside the Left Party, fighting for the following demands:

  • No to any form of social cuts, job cuts, and privatization.
  • No to participation in government with parties carrying out social cuts – whether via coalitions or tolerations. Instead, parliamentary support for any measures should be decided only on a case by case basis according to the interests of the working population.
  • The Left Party should leave the ‘red-red’ Senate in Berlin.
  • Active participation in struggles on the street, and in the workplaces. For mass mobilizations and resistance to stop the attacks of the ruling class!
  • Against war, and imperialism: Stop all foreign interventions of the German army – including UN mandates.
  • The fight for improvements has to be combined with the fight for a socialist democracy. Neither do we want the dictatorship of the banks, and big business, nor do we want the rule of a detached, privileged bureaucracy, as was the case with the GDR (German Democratic Republic – the former Stalinist state in East Germany)
  • For internal party democracy: The right to elect, and recall all functionaries. For a workers’ wage for all party representatives, and officials.

The SAV calls on all social movements, and trade union activists, as well as on former Berlin WASG members, to join the Left Party, and join in the fight for a fighting, socialist party.

First reactions

The first reactions regarding the decision by the SAV to enter the Left Party were mostly positive. There was a lot of interest in the SAV declaration, and well-known SAV member, Lucy Redler’s press release. The number of individual hits on the SAV website increased from 35,000, to 55,000, over one day. Over 100 people turned up to a public meeting about the SAV’s entry into the Left Party, featuring Lucy Redler, and other Berlin WASG activists. The SAV received dozens of emails, welcoming the decision. Lucy Redler was interviewed by a number of daily Berlin newspapers. Some national newspapers also reported briefly about Lucy Redler joining the Left Party. In an interview for the German "TAZ" newspaper, Lucy talked about SAV’s entry into the Left Party and was asked about her views regarding the international financial crisis:

TAZ: One programmatic point of the SAV is the demand to nationalise the banks. Would you not rather be in the USA at the moment, where they actually nationalised large banks?

Lucy Redler: “I am in favour of nationalising banks – but not in the way it is being done in the USA. These are nationalizations to socialise the losses. The chief ideologues pretend that the neo-liberal mantra they have preached, during the last 20 years, with almost evangelical fanaticism, never existed.”

TAZ: Is this a step towards the end of finance capitalism?

LR: “No, this is just an attempt to save the ailing banks. This has happened time after time, during the course of capitalist history. These nationalisations are not in the interests of workers, and small savers. As Marx said, the state will attempt to safeguard the profits of the banks, and big business in times of crisis. What is fascinating is that those people in Germany who will loose their jobs in the coming economic crisis will ask themselves: if the state can intervene to save a bank, why can they not intervene to nationalise my factory, in order to save my job?” (…) “Marx assumed that capitalism would not end by itself. Within the economic crisis, lies the political crisis of capitalism. People start questioning the functioning of the capitalist system. This is why the Left Party needs an anti-crisis programme, demanding the nationalisation of all banks, and key industries under democratic control, combined with a drastic shortening of the working week, to 30 hours per week, with full compensatory wage increase. This is the only way to prevent working people having to pay the price for this crisis. At the end of the day, only a socialist society can lead to an end to all crises.”

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