Opinion polls in the last weeks before the September 26 German general election have shown rapid changes, especially for the two main contenders – the conservative christian democrat CDU/CSU bloc and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). These two parties, currently jointly running Germany in a grand coalition, have seen big swings in their standing. The christian democrats’ support is down by a third since 2017 and, in some polls, is currently under 20% – their lowest ever. The SPD, who just over 2 years ago were as low as 12% in the polls, have recovered and are now polling around 25%, a big improvement but still way below the 38.5% they won in 2002.
The left party, DIE LINKE, has seen its support drop to between 6% and 8%, perilously close to the 5% bar to get into the national parliament and seriously down on the 9.2% they won in 2017. DIE LINKE failed to gain from the previous sharp fall in the SPD’s support and now, in desperation, its four national leaders have rushed out an “emergency programme” which they hope can make DIE LINKE be seen as a potential coalition partner by the SPD and Greens and thereby worth voting for.
Sascha Staničić, the national spokesperson for Sol (CWI in Germany) and a LINKE party congress delegate for the AKL (Anti-capitalist left) current, writes on the significance of this development.
Undemocratic procedure of the party leadership is an own goal and endangers entry into the Bundestag
As a delegate to the national party congress of DIE LINKE one wonders these days why they bothered to read an election programme, discuss amendments, hold a special party congress in June and finally vote on it. September 6 saw four people, the party and parliamentary group leaders, present an “immediate programme for a change of policy” which effective threw the party’s election programme into the political dustbin.
The issue is not only about what is in this emergency programme, which not even the party executive could read, let alone discuss, before it was published. It is about the signal sent out by this publication. Whoever thinks that this signal is a clever move to mobilise votes in the last weeks of the election campaign is mistaken. The opposite will be the case: if anything, such signals will cost votes. And thus endanger DIE LINKE being returned into the Bundestag.
For this latest paper is about nothing other than this message: DIE LINKE is prepared to slim down its programme even before election day, in the hope that with a slimmed-down and de-radicalised programme it will be recognised by the SPD and the Greens as a party capable of governing alongside them.
Maximum willingness to compromise
The content of the paper is summed up in a commentary by Stephan Hebel in the Frankfurter Rundschau: “It is a coalition offer that should make serious negotiations easy for the SPD and the Greens. Those who demand more willingness to compromise are either asking DIE LINKE to throw itself in the dust or playing with unfulfillable demands because he or she simply does not want the reform alliance.
“In Bartsch and Wissler’s ‘immediate programme’, the deviation from Red-Green (13 instead of 12 euro minimum wage) becomes a ‘proposal’. The complete abolition of Hartz IV unemployment system becomes an increase in the standard rates and a renunciation of sanctions. In the case of pensions, the ‘first step’ is no longer a complete restructuring, but an increase in the level. The abolition of the debt brake on government spending is transformed – also in the ‘first step’ – into ‘leeway’ for investments, for example through funds outside the regular budgets. (…) But there is also the matter of Nato, and no: DIE LINKE understandably does not throw itself so far into the dust that it would listen to the calls from the SPD for a ‘commitment’ to the alliance. The Social Democrats are obviously only demanding these symbolic ‘commitments’ because the accusation that DIE LINKE wants to leave Nato tomorrow no longer holds water. Instead, according to DIE LINKE, the ‘first step’ looks like this: The arms budget is to be reduced by ten billion to the level of 2018, foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr are to be ‘put to the test’, nothing more, and by no means all arms exports are to be stopped, but only those ‘to crisis areas’.” One could add a few more things: for example, that the central demand of hospital workers, who have been struggling for years, for a statutory staffing level in line with what is needed is missing …
Electoral own goal
So while DIE LINKE’s leadership is making it clear that three weeks before election day it has stopped trying to mobilise as many votes as possible for its official election programme and that its main concern is to form a government with the SPD and Greens, parties with a pro-capitalist agenda. SPD deputy leader Kevin Kühnert is reacting confidently on all media channels and calculating that a majority of its own is within reach for the SPD and Greens. That is true.
What will be the effect of this fact and also that DIE LINKE leadership declares on all occasions that the most important goal is to keep CDU/CSU and FDP (the pro-market liberals) out of government ? Precisely it will be that those who are persuaded by this argument will go on to consider whether they should not help make a coalition of the SPD and the Greens more possible by actually voting for these two parties. This is all the more so because the leading candidates of these two parties have made it very clear in recent days that they can hardly imagine a coalition with DIE LINKE. Even the leading SPD leftist Saskia Esken said that DIE LINKE was “not capable of governing” because of its abstention on the Afghanistan mission. This is no coincidence, because from the point of view of the class that the leaderships of the SPD and the Greens represent in the last instance – the class of the owners of the means of production and large shareholdings – there is currently no reason to bring DIE LINKE into the government.
DIE Zeit writes: “For SPD candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz – as well as for his opponent from the Greens, Annalena Baerbock – DIE LINKE is simply not fit to govern. This is due, on the one hand, to the misguided foreign policy (no to NATO, distance from the EU, proximity to Putin’s Russia), which many on the left see as their core values and therefore, contrary to Scholz’s demands, will not be put up for discussion. And secondly, the fact that the proportion of professional fundamentalists from the West in the new parliamentary group is likely to increase – an ultra-stoic (emotionless?) rationalist like Scholz will not even embark on the adventure of governing with the unpredictable. A left-wing alliance, even left-wingers say, would need a large majority in the Bundestag to be able to absorb the dissenters in the votes – and that is not in sight. Neither is there a common narrative about why this coalition is urgently needed right now. So there is no foundation, superstructure and message – in other words, everything a left alliance needs to be a left alliance.”
The immediate programme is therefore an electoral own goal, quite apart from the fact that a government alliance with the SPD and the Greens would be a voluntary political retreat – the abandonment of left programmes and of the actual mission of a left and socialist party to propagate an alternative to the capitalist system and to organise and activate people for it. All experience with government participation of left parties in coalitions with pro-capitalist parties shows this.
What would be necessary
If DIE LINKE wants to get out of its present hole, it must make its role clear to those who no longer feel represented by the established parties. It must make it clear that it does not belong to the political establishment, which fewer and fewer people trust. But because they want to belong to the club of those who can govern, DIE LINKE’s main leaders eat humble pie and have a reflex reaction to soften policies when faced with any accusation of being too radical.
For example, the recent vote on the Afghanistan evacuation mission: the abstention of the majority of the Left parliamentary group was already a signal of uncertainty. It was foreseeable that those who were responsible for this war would use this vote to accuse DIE LINKE of not wanting to save the people at Kabul airport. One should have reacted offensively to this and with indignation denounced the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie. There is no doubt that a “no” vote would have been even harder for many people to understand than abstaining. But it would have sent a clear signal, just as the idea of boycotting this vote and instead holding a rally against war outside the parliament would have been a way of expressing the uncompromising anti-militarist stance of DIE LINKE. At the same time the formulation of demands for evacuation, legal escape routes and rescue of refugees (not only in Afghanistan) under civilian command and democratic control, would have made clear that DIE LINKE is, of course, not against the rescue of threatened people.
Janine Wissler on the Anne Will TV talk show
Another of example of political retreat was seen on Anne Will TV talk show last Sunday, September 5. There Janine Wissler (co-chair of DIE LINKE) was confronted with her not so long ago past as a member of the Marx21 network when Anne Will read out a long quote from Marx21’s general socialist principles which said many right things about the need to overcome capitalism.
But the co-chair of DIE LINKE did not respond confidently and offensively to the challenge. The principles of the political current to which Wissler belonged for twenty years are suddenly, according to her, now just “some internet pages”. In particular, Wissler emphasised that what had been read out had nothing to do with her own position on a government coalition with the SPD and the Greens. After all, Wissler pointed out, she herself had held exploratory talks in the federal state of Hesse and had demonstrated her willingness to form a coalition there.
Why didn’t she say: “You know, Ms Will, this country and this world could do with a revolution. That means nothing other than a fundamental change of circumstances. This includes changing the distribution of wealth, the power relations in society and yes, also the ownership of resources to end the situation where a few dozen banks and large corporations control the world economy and thus determine the lives of billions of people. I have no confidence that the SPD and the Greens want to change anything fundamental. They have had long enough and often enough opportunities to do so. I think something will only change if people stand up en masse, like in the GDR in 1989 or in the Arab Spring or in Chile last year. So that the millions of hard-working cleaners, bus drivers, call centre workers, construction workers, educators and care workers finally get wages they can live on, so that rents finally go down, so that climate change is stopped and armaments and wars are ended. All this is a product of the capitalist system. It is clear to me that the ladies and gentlemen here do not want to talk about it. They profit from it. That’s why it’s so important that there is DIE LINKE, which doesn’t take part in this game and wants to change the conditions.”
But Janine Wissler cannot say anything like that because, with DIE LINKE sitting in coalitions in the federal states of Thuringia, Berlin and Bremen, and the party leadership begging Ms Baerbock and Mr Scholz, the leading candidates of the Greens and SPD, to recognise its ability to govern, the party’s actual practice contradicts making any statements on the above lines. It is precisely the problem of DIE LINKE that its drive for coalitions with pro-capitalist parties contradicts its claims to be a socialist party in action and not just in its formal party programme.
Government doesn’t matter?
All this does not mean that DIE LINKE should say that it doesn’t matter whether the CDU/CSU or the SPD provide the next chancellor (or the Greens the chancellor, which seems increasingly unlikely). It is understandable that a part of the working class and the youth would like to see a change in the chancellor’s office and the government. This is also because the SPD and the Greens are once again slightly turning left and offering small reforms in this election campaign. Even the mass media are clearly reporting that the tax models of the CDU/CSU, FDP and far right AfD would relieve the rich and top earners, while those of the SPD, the Greens and of course also DIE LINKE would burden them more and relieve average and low earners.
DIE LINKE should therefore make it clear that a change of government would not fail because of it. When a possible new government does not have a parliamentary majority of its own it is possible, in a third round of parliamentary voting for a new government, for a relative majority to elect a chancellor. DIE LINKE MPs could make this possible through abstention or even limited votes in favour, should these be necessary, while at the same time declaring that DIE LINKE will support every measure of a Red-Green minority government that is in the interests of the working class and the socially disadvantaged, climate protection, every law on disarmament and demilitarisation and the extension of democratic rights.
However DIE LINKE must not to chain itself to such a government via a coalition or through a toleration agreement. This is because all experiences with the SPD and the Greens show that these parties ultimately pursue anti-working class policies, something seen in their 1998-2005 coalition which introduced the neo-liberal ‘Agenda 2010’. A policy of DIE LINKE making case-by-case decisions on supporting or opposing measures proposed by a Red-Green minority government would make it clear that a change of government and policy would not fail because of DIE LINKE. DIE LINKE must make clear that any attempt by the SPD or Greens to carry out any attacks on the working class, whether they be big or small, would be vigorously opposed inside and outside parliament. If the LINKE leadership were to aggressively propagate this position and accompany it with a campaign for its own central demands, it could reach and mobilise voters wavering between the SPD/Greens and DIE LINKE as well as previous non-voters. The latter are crucial for DIE LINKE to achieve better election results and a stronger basis for struggles after the election.
In this sense, we call on all members and supporters of the party to fight together with us and other socialists in the party, such as the Anti-Capitalist Left (AKL), for DIE LINKE to take a militant, non-conformist and socialist course. Without this the party’s very future can be at stake. It is also necessary to put an end to the unspeakable practice of party and parliamentary group leaders to themselves create facts on decisive questions by bypassing the democratically elected bodies of the party. The party executive, which has been seen as a “left” executive since its election in February, should call its two chairpersons and the parliamentary group’s two chairpersons to order and end this method of operation.