Can the ‘Manifesto for Peace’ help end the Scholz government’s Ukraine war policy?

Sahra Wagenknecht, one of the authors of the Manifesto for Peace (Photo: DIE LINKE/CC)

A public appeal made in Germany for mass support for a ‘Manifesto for Peace’, calling for “a ceasefire and peace negotiations” to stop the war in Ukraine (published on February 10th), is one of the clearest signs of opposition to the German government’s increasingly belligerent policy, although it does not oppose that government’s huge rearmament programme. This, and the Manifesto’s failure to clearly oppose the capitalist governments on both sides of the conflict, indicates the mixed political character of the Manifesto’s authors and initial supporters.

Sahra Wagenknecht, one of the two well known figures initiating the Manifesto,  is a former leader of the left wing within DIE LINKE (Left Party), who has moved steadily rightwards, mixing populist language with an acceptance of capitalism, and now describes herself as a “left conservative”.

Alice Schwarzer is a well-known German journalist who was prominent in the fight for the legalisation of abortion but turned into a bourgeois establishment feminist who has made Islamophobic statements.

Nevertheless, their call for a February 25th rally in Berlin could attract significant numbers looking for an alternative to the war. Sol, the CWI in Germany, will be present at this rally, arguing for building opposition to the war on an anti-capitalist, internationalist and socialist basis in Germany and internationally.

Sahra Wagenknecht, Alice Schwarzer and others, have published a ‘Manifesto for Peace’, which was signed by nearly 500,000 people within a week and triggered a fierce backlash. They are calling for a rally in Berlin on 25 February. As many workers and youth as possible should take part in this rally, because it will be able to set a clear counterpoint against the militarists and rearmament fetishists in the established bourgeois parties. However, left and socialist forces should participate in the demonstration with their own positions and counter the rally’s initiators’ helpless and nationalist appeal addressed to the federal government, with an internationalist and anti-capitalist position.

In Germany, today, if you stand up for a ceasefire in Ukraine, for peace negotiations and against arms deliveries to a war zone, you are denounced as “Putin’s servants” and “second-hand war criminals”, and hear accusations from Green party warmongers that you support “Putin and his people attacking innocent Ukrainians, imprisoning them, raping women and abducting children”. 

Such reactions to the Manifesto for Peace are proof of the old saying: the first casualty of war is the truth…because a factual debate about the causes of the Ukraine war and the possibilities to end it is hardly possible any more, since every questioning of the German government’s policy is interpreted as support for Putin.

Yet many millions of people will support the core demands of the appeal by Sahra Wagenknecht and others, and be relieved that a voice against the uncritical military support of the Zelensky government will be heard. Indeed, Wagenknecht appears in the political mainstream as a voice of reason in the face of the prevailing Russophobic war mania. She argues for ceasefire and negotiations to end the war. Her assessment that Ukraine will not be able to win the war against Russia is probably correct, as is the warning about the danger of nuclear escalation. A mass participation in the peace rally on 25 February, called for by this manifesto’s first signatories, will shift the public debate in the right direction, not least because they also demand an end to arms deliveries. 

But that is the positive effect of this appeal, because not only is its content weak, but it is also formulated in such a way that it can be connected to right-wing forces. No wonder that the far-right AfD leader, Tino Chupralla, announced that he had also signed the appeal. This is true, even though Sahra Wagenknecht has declared that AfD representatives, and right wing banners, are not wanted at the 25 February rally, and accusations that those calling the rally represents a “cross front” with right-wing extremists are unjustified.

The fact that Sahra Wagenknecht has sought for comrades-in-arms mainly in middle-class circles and not among trade unionists, leftists and anti-war activists, speaks volumes. For this appeal not only refrains from establishing a connection between war, capitalism, imperialism and the social question, but culminates in the reproach to German Chancellor Scholz for not living up to his oath to “turn harm away from the German people”. Taking the “German people” instead of the international working class, as a reference point, is nationalism. Above all, however, the appeal is a helpless appeal to precisely those forces – the federal government and the warring parties – to end the war, which they are obviously not prepared to do so while they attempt to secure their aims.

How to end the war?

Of course, it is not wrong to call for an end to hostilities, but to give the impression that it is about convincing the rulers that they should rather rely on diplomacy instead of war is tantamount to spreading an illusion. The hour of diplomacy in capitalist wars usually comes only when one of the warring parties has achieved its goals militarily or when there is not much left to gain militarily for either of the warring parties. And it must not be forgotten that the capitalist governments under Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Scholz and Co. never represent the interests of the working people, but those of the capitalist classes of their respective countries. This means that they are incapable of eliminating the causes of wars and military conflicts, and under capitalism the rule is: after the war comes the next war. 

A contribution to an early end of the war could above all be provided by mass protests, which become a political threat to the rulers. Therefore, it is important to support the anti-war movement in Russia, as well as those in Ukraine who oppose conscription into the army and protest against the draconian punishments for conscientious objectors and deserters. Opposition to Putin’s regime does not mean silence about Zelensky using war as a cover to continue attacks on Ukrainian trade unions and workers, pushing forward with neo-liberal policies and further limiting the rights of national minorities within Ukraine. 

It is necessary to build an anti-war movement in Germany, Britain, the USA, etc., which names the co-responsibility of the Western imperialist states – both with regard to the policy of NATO expansion to the East and integration of Ukraine into the sphere of influence of the EU, and the role of the London and Washington governments opposing the start of peace negotiations in the first phase after the invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine (this recently became known via the former Israeli Prime Minister Bennett). It is also necessary to build a mass movement that demands an end to the rearmament and arms deliveries to the Zelensky government.

Such positions could be the basis for an anti-war movement that also targets the causes of war and militarism – capitalism and imperialism – and that explains wage depression and social cuts and wars (two sides of the same capitalist coin). This is the task of leftists and socialists in the current situation. The fact that Sahra Wagenknecht does none of this and instead allies herself with the Islamophobic Alice Schwarzer and a former Bundeswehr [German army] general to call the rally, shows in which political direction the self-proclaimed “left conservative” is developing. 

Criticism of Wagenknecht is more than justified. However, those in the Left Party who are ranting against Wagenknecht over her Manifesto and want to use it to wage an inner-party power struggle should remember that when it comes to the war in Ukraine, the support of prominent Left Party representatives for the supply of weapons to Ukraine is truly the greater scandal. The rejection of such actions by Left Party leaders, through the call for a rally on 25 February, at least provides a basis to take to the streets together. Leftists and socialists should do this, but at the rally they should stand up for their own anti-capitalist positions and the building of an effective anti-war movement, while challenging Sahra Wagenknecht and her friends on content.


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February 2023