The following resolution was adopted by the Federal Conference of Sol (CWI Section in Germany) on the 9 December 2023.

World & Europe

What the CWI formulated at the beginning of this year (2023) still remains fully valid, namely that: “The capitalist equilibrium has been shattered in all its aspects: economically, geopolitically, socially and in class relations. Shocks and unrest are the result of this and are reflected in a strong polarisation on all continents. In some countries, there is an upsurge in class struggle, but also in national and ethnic conflicts and wars (both military and trade wars). In some countries, there are strong signs of social disintegration or even the collapse of society. This is the age we are living in now.”(‘Capitalist society convulsed and in turmoil: new challenges and tasks for Marxists and the working class’, January 2023)

We are living in an era of capitalism unlike any other. What we have been describing for some time as a multiple systemic crisis has serious consequences for the world and the class struggle. In 2019, a new crisis began to develop in the global economy. Previous crises had not solved structural problems, but accumulated them. The corona pandemic fuelled it massively. Since then, the world has been in a permanent state of crisis. Various crisis hotspots overlap and replace each other, only to explode again at a later point in time. This has a massive impact on the consciousness of all social classes. We must realise that these are only the first chapters of a new era in the protracted death throes of capitalism. The CWI, like no other political force, identified the extent of these developments early on and recognised that there is no way back to the past period.

The current period is still characterised on the one hand by this deep crisis and growing instability and polarisation, and on the other by the crisis of the left and the workers’ movement, its leadership, its consciousness – in other words, the subjective factor. This presents enormous challenges, but also opportunities to build a revolutionary force to overthrow this system.

The global economy has cooled down further. The increase in key interest rates by the central banks, which is intended to dampen inflation, is exacerbating the recessionary trends. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of 3 per cent in 2023 and 2024, which is well below the average of 3.8 per cent in the first two decades of the 2000s.

The IMF chairwoman recently spoke of the growing possibility of a “soft landing” for the global economy – in other words, a slowdown in the economy without plunging many countries into a deep recession and bringing down inflation at the same time. But capitalism will neither be able to escape recessions due to its internal contradictions, nor will it (as we have explained elsewhere1 ) simply get rid of the danger of inflation – especially not in most countries of the neo-colonial world. The cautious optimism of parts of the ruling class can quickly evaporate. Economic shocks are possible at any time, as the banking crisis at the beginning of the year showed – as are political and geopolitical shocks that could have an impact on the global economy. These could dramatically exacerbate the situation in a short space of time. The global economy is sitting on ticking time bombs, particularly due to the high level of debt.

Tensions between the capitalist nations (but also within many of them) have increased further. Even if the mutual dependencies also set limits to the conflicts, this increase will continue. The main line of conflict is between the USA and China – beyond this, there are regroupings and reorganisations of different, yet unstable blocs. German imperialism, which is still embedded in the Western bloc, finds itself partly caught between two stools. The growing tensions are caused by parts of capital that are dependent on the Chinese market. However, tensions with the USA could also increase again, especially if Trump is re-elected president. Since the start of the Ukraine war, the world order has become even more unstable and multipolar. Together with the economic outlook, this also has a major impact on the situation and perspectives of German capitalism and the class struggle in Germany.

There is still potential for crisis in the European Union – even if the problems have recently been discussed less prominently. The EU is a club of capitalist states: Where their interests diverge, tensions develop. These can jeopardise the project in its current form if there are further upheavals. The debate on the reform of EU debt rules (and in this context the conflicts between Italy, France and Germany, among others) is an expression of the centrifugal forces within the EU. Next year’s parliamentary elections could lead to a further strengthening of right-wing populist forces.

Global capitalism is sitting on countless economic, political and social powder kegs. The massive escalation of the national conflict in the Middle East has shown how quickly such developments can change not only the affected region but also the entire world, and also the potential extent to which they can take on. The largest and deadliest Hamas attack to date, with over a thousand Israeli civilians killed, which must of course be seen in the context of decades of oppression, displacement, occupation and siege of the Palestinians, has prompted the Israeli government to launch a massive military counter-attack. Over 18,000 Palestinians (as of 12 December) have been killed by the Israeli military and over a million people have fled to southern Gaza.

The war is not only causing unimaginable suffering, but is also fuelling instability in the region and within Israel. The situation is critical and various factors are influencing developments, making it impossible to make an accurate prediction. It is within the realms of possibility that the entire region could develop into a conflagration if other states become involved in the war. In any case, this will not be a short war and the developments, including their effects in Germany, will be with us for a long time. The images from Gaza have not shown us for the last time in this century that the fundamental fork in the road for humanity is indeed labelled “socialism or barbarism”.

The escalation in the Middle East is not only a humanitarian catastrophe but also a major political challenge for all political formations, especially in view of the massive propaganda campaign by the German bourgeoisie. It was and is necessary to swim against the tide and reject the slander that any solidarity with Palestine is anti-Semitic. At the same time, the conflict has also highlighted the completely wrong and damaging approach of many organisations belonging to the revolutionary left, which have defended or not clearly criticised the terror of Hamas and have no strategic clarity as to how the legitimate struggle of the Palestinians can be led to success. This requires an internationalist and socialist class position that not only defends the Palestinians’ right to resistance and self-determination, but also the security needs and class interests of the Israeli Jewish working class in an Israeli society divided along class lines. As the CWI and Sol, we have developed a unique Marxist position and stance on the revolutionary left that addresses the great challenges of the national question, addresses the consciousness of different sections of the working class and the oppressed, and shows that a life of self-determination, peace and security is only possible through workers’ unity and socialist change.

Tensions are rising in West and Central Africa, imperialist states (including Germany) are vying for influence and a series of military coups have also taken place in this context (since 2020 in Gabon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Chad and Sudan). Another powder keg is the tensions that have been simmering for decades in the Pacific region, particularly between China and US imperialism, which is in decline. Chinese President Xi Jinping is endeavouring to reunite Taiwan with China. US military and intelligence officials have stated that China is preparing for a military confrontation – while the USA itself has built up a network of military bases in the Pacific. The Taiwan conflict could escalate within the next few years and even a direct military confrontation between China and the USA or Western powers cannot be ruled out. Various scenarios are conceivable, including a blockade of the island with serious consequences for international relations. If war were to break out, it would claim large numbers of victims among the working class in the countries concerned and would be tantamount to a major earthquake for the political and economic situation in the world – but it would also trigger global anti-war sentiment and protests.

The climate crisis is a constant companion of the multiple crisis. This year saw another global temperature record. In addition to rising CO2 emissions, the El Niño phenomenon is also causing temperatures to rise. Extreme weather events will increase in the coming years and the climate crisis will have a major impact on political and economic developments. An increase in armed conflicts over access to dwindling resources and mass migration from areas where human life will no longer be possible are to be expected. The climate crisis, together with other forms of environmental destruction (such as nuclear radiation, various toxins, land sealing, species extinction…), which have their causes in the capitalist mode of production, have the potential to permanently and qualitatively worsen the living conditions of large sections of the working class and the poor worldwide. In some parts of the world, human life will probably no longer be possible due to flooding and rising temperatures. Under capitalist conditions, the serious consequences of environmental degradation can make a decent life impossible for large parts of the world’s population. In fact, only under socialist conditions is it conceivable that scientific and technical possibilities will continue to develop to such an extent that environmental destruction and the climate crisis can be reversed or that the effects can be made manageable for humanity. Ecological issues always turn out to be class issues. The poorer sections of the world’s population, who have contributed the least to the climate crisis, are suffering the most and will face even greater problems.

A solution to these problems is an illusion as long as the fight for maximum profits is paramount, i.e. “green capitalism”. This is because bourgeois politicians can only act within the narrow confines of the economic corset of capitalism – but any necessary climate protection measures would have to take on the super-rich, banks and corporations and, above all, the capitalist mode of production itself. Consequently, climate policy is either implemented with the handbrake on at the expense of workers and the poor, or the measures taken even have the opposite, climate-damaging effect (e.g. the switch to e-mobility). Millions are already suffering from “green climate policy”. Where such measures are presented as supposedly “climate policy” with no alternative, the anger about them increases, sometimes tipping over into general opposition to climate protection measures in general. Born out of the desire to counter these supposed constraints, even conspiracy narratives according to which the climate catastrophe is a lie are on the rise. With Trump, Bolsonaro and Milei, such positions have made it to presidential level – with fatal consequences, both ecologically and socially. In recent years, we have often warned against the mistake of playing climate protection and social security off against each other. To this day, key players in the climate movement are still defending anti-social measures such as the carbon tax or even calling for more stringent measures. Some groups, such as ‘Letzte Generation’ (Last Generation), go against the majority of the population with many of their actions. In view of the faltering climate policy and increasing repression, further radicalisation is to be expected. The move by hundreds of activists to join DIE LINKE (the Left Party) is welcomed in principle, because a political party is needed that links the climate struggle with all the struggles of the working class and the oppressed. However, it is unclear to what extent such a realisation prompted activists to take this step. Financial motives are also likely to play a role in fighting to save DIE LINKE as its crisis endangers the future of the support which the climate movement received from the party and its Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The climate movement has lost some of its mobilisation strength in the last two years. This may change again, but there are very different ideas within the movement about the political and organisational lessons to be learned. As long as banks and corporations are not placed at the centre of their protest and large sections contribute to dividing the working class through false political demands or forms of action, it will remain a toothless tiger.

 

German economy

With its export-orientated industry, German capitalism is particularly affected by developments on a global level. Germany will be the only leading industrialised nation to experience a recession in 2023 – growth forecasts have had to be continually revised downwards in recent months. The horror scenario of a drastic slump, as discussed due to the uncertain energy supply following the outbreak of the Ukraine war, has not materialised. Nevertheless, German capitalism is facing growing economic challenges that were already inherent before the pandemic and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

Today, these include a slowdown in global trade and economic activity with important trading partners such as China; increasing competition in certain parts of the global market such as the automotive industry and in new technologies; high energy prices and continued high general inflation, which is depressing private consumption; a self-inflicted, growing labour shortage; and infrastructure that has been cut to the bone. It is being discussed whether Germany is facing a new phase of deindustrialisation.

The rate of general price increases is declining when compared with the same months of the previous year because it is then measured against last year’s drastically increased prices. If you compare the consumer price index with the base year 2020 used in the official statistics, it was 117.8 in September and October – which corresponds to an increase of 17.8 per cent since the end of 2019 and is a new price peak. Real wages for employees covered by collective agreements fell by 1.4 per cent in 2021 and by 4.7 per cent in 2022. The working class – and the poorer sections of the class in particular – feel the disproportionately strong rise in food prices more than the average. Although there have been larger nominal wage increases, these do not compensate for the loss of purchasing power (even in recent years). Capitalism continues to make the broad masses pay through falling real incomes. On the other hand, the profit shares of many corporations in price increases remain very high. At the same time, the effect of inflation has been cushioned by one-off state payments and certain increases in social welfare as well as the 49-euro ticket. This does not alleviate worries about the future, but has played a large part in the lack of major social protests to date.

As we have explained elsewhere2 , capitalism has entered a new era and there are therefore many arguments against the return of inflation rates to the central banks’ target level in the coming years as predicted by economic institutes. The working class certainly cannot rely on this. Recessions like the one we are currently experiencing can have a dampening effect on inflation. But there is also some evidence that new geopolitical and economic shocks can fuel inflation again, for example by disrupting supply chains or increasing oil and other commodity prices. Should the global economy deteriorate drastically, a zigzag policy by central banks, which could halt their tighter monetary policy, could also fuel new price increases – particularly through its influence on supply and demand.

German capitalism is facing particular economic challenges – in the face of a multipolar world order and increasing protectionism, tougher competition for international sales markets and structural problems at home. (Geo)political developments can very quickly exacerbate these challenges, as we have seen in recent years. Sooner or later, this raises the need for greater attacks on the working class in this country too. This can take place on various levels: Company closures and even mass redundancies are to be expected, especially in the event of a drastic economic slump. Capital organisations, such as the Federation of German Industries (BDI), have been demanding not only tax cuts for companies and a “leaner state” for years, but also an increase in weekly working hours, a postponement of the retirement age and attacks on the right to strike. At the political level and in the budgets of the federal, state and local governments, major cuts are looming in the coming years – some of which are already being implemented. Nevertheless, Germany remains the strongest economy in Europe. This also gives those in power greater room for manoeuvre when it comes to state responses to crisis situations, for example.

 

Politics

These problems of German capitalism are the material basis for the major changes in the political landscape that have already developed in recent years. 57 per cent stated in September that they do not trust any party to deal with the problems in Germany. The coalition government is in an enormous crisis. Whether it’s the heating law, basic child protection or the budget, the self-proclaimed “progressive coalition” has continued to argue about everything. 79 per cent were dissatisfied in September, while the governing parties together only scored 37 per cent in the latest polls. In November, only a third were in favour of the continuation of the government.

The deeper reason for this is that this government is also pro-capitalist and is unable to find solutions to the multiple crises of our time. On the one hand, it reflects the conflicts among the ruling classes and finds it difficult to formulate a unified policy on many issues. On the other hand, the real projects are ultimately not in the interests of the majority of the population, the working class and middle classes, and lead to opposition.

All the coalition parties are suffering as a result. In the liberal FDP, which is fearing a return to the Bundestag, voices are being raised calling for an end to the coalition. The SPD social democrats is approaching historic electoral lows. The crisis is also affecting the Greens, who are not far below their election result in the polls, but against whom more and more anger and hatred is developing. Even if this is partly fuelled by right-wing and right-wing populist campaigns, it is also a logical reaction from sections of the class and middle classes to the combination of their moral arrogance and policies aimed at the masses.

While the Growth Opportunities Act meant billions for the capitalist class and will not least worsen the financial situation of local authorities, the ‘traffic light’ (Ampel) coalition had already presented the first budget cuts in years before the judgement of the Federal Constitutional Court. This already marked a trend reversal, even if it was not yet a general attack on the working class. However, these planned cuts in the federal budget to youth social work projects, support for the long-term unemployed, etc. will hit some of the most marginalised sections of the class hard.

The judgement of the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on the so-called “Climate and Transformation Fund” (KTF) has plunged the ‘traffic light’ government into the most serious crisis since its inception and ruined its financial planning. However, the dimension of the judgement goes beyond deepening the government’s crisis. It is a catalyst for political instability, cuts at all levels of government in the near future and also the already existing recessionary tendencies in the German economy.

The judgement affects the previous budgetary policy of the federal government, but also of some state governments – as it goes beyond the 60 billion euro borrowing authorisations in the KTF that were directly cancelled by the judgement. It has triggered a new debate about the ‘debt brake’ that was added to the constitution in 2009, a law which severely limits government borrowing and has been an instrument for social cuts and low government spending ever since. A stop has been put to the practice of governments circumventing the brake through various debt-financed special funds. Some of these ‘pots’ were set up in recent years and became the cement of the ‘traffic light’ alliance, which was intended to bridge the political differences between the parties: The FDP was able to boast about adhering to the debt brake, while the Greens and SPD were able to sell investments and subsidies for companies, sometimes questionable climate protection and a few social cushions. The majority of this state spending served to secure private profits for capital through debt – it was not a truly social investment programme in the interests of the working class, which would, for example, have remedied the many emergencies in public services, the provision of affordable housing and so on.

Even before the court judgement, representatives of the traffic light coalition had announced a return to “budgetary normality” with the current budget and anchored harsh cuts in it, including for social projects. However, the Karlsruhe judgement could become the starting point for a general attack on the living standards of the working class and social achievements, even if this is not directly caused by this weak government. It may also have consequences at state and municipal level. Cuts were already planned beforehand and led to protests, as recently in Berlin-Neukölln and Wiesbaden. This could come to a head in the coming months.

The federal government has decided on a new “emergency situation” for 2023, which is intended to suspend the debt brake for the fourth time in a row in order to make the higher new borrowing that has become necessary as a result of this year’s judgement possible. Whether this step is legally permissible is disputed – as a result, it could also be overturned by Karlsruhe.

The negotiations on the 2024 budget are becoming a crucial test for the traffic light coalition. The FDP has so far refused to reform the debt brake, which would require a 2/3 majority in parliament with the CDU/CSU anyway, and to declare an emergency situation for 2024. According to the FDP Finance Minister Lindner, this would require 17 billion euros in cuts – the Federal Audit Office assumes 48.5 billion euros because it includes the economic plan of another special pot. The SPD and Greens do not want to do without the billions in subsidies and investments for capital and also fear that overly harsh social cuts will cost them votes.

It remains to be seen whether and how this conflict will be resolved. Another emergency situation in 2024 is a possibility, but could lead to a revolt in the FDP, where a membership vote on whether or not to remain in the coalition is already pending. An emergency situation would not be in contradiction to simultaneous severe social cuts, such as those already being demanded by the FDP and CDU/CSU with regard to the unemployment benefits or basic child support.

The Bundeswehr special fund will not be affected by this. With the “Zeitenwende” (turning point), the Ampel pushed ahead with militarisation and rearmament on a massive scale. However, the 100 billion special fund, which has already been fully utilised, will not be the last step on this path. There are repeated calls for an increase in the special fund and further armament. The so-called Defence Minister Pistorius (SPD) is driving this forward massively with his demand that Germany must become “fit for war”, among other things. According to reports, the German government wants to achieve NATO’s two per cent target next year. German imperialism’s desire for greater military capabilities and greater independence from the USA will necessitate more such public offensives and billions more.

The disputes over the budget also show the rift between the governing parties, which express the tensions and differences within the ruling class in dealing with the crisis. Some want to invest and subsidise on credit (without seriously asking the rich to pay and thus postponing the financing problem into the future), while others want to curb government spending following the large rescue packages. This is why the current form of the debt brake is being questioned by some sections of the SPD and Greens, and also CDU regional minister presidents, who are calling for more room for manoeuvre. The far right AfD (Alternative for Germany), FDP and the CDU national leadership around Merz are strictly opposed to this and also have an eye on the effects of this debate at EU level, where German capitalism is vehemently in favour of limiting the debt of other countries and austerity policies. In the medium term, however, a reform of the debt brake that gives German capitalism more flexibility is likely. Both camps agree that sooner or later the working class will have to pay. Finance Minister Lindner emphasised in his Bundestag speech even before the Karlsruhe ruling: “Beyond the horizon, not yet visible to us, there is an iceberg, not to say: an iceberg field”. This was a barely concealed declaration of war for even more extensive cuts in the coming years and with the judgement from Karlsruhe, the Federal Government is taking a very big step in the direction of this iceberg field.

This may also trigger new debates about the debt brake – as well as the precarious situation of many local authorities, whose financial deficits increased sharply in the first half of the year. Cuts are already being planned and are leading to protests, as those in Berlin-Neukölln and Wiesbaden have already shown.

Deteriorations are sometimes passed off as improvements. For example, the “hospital reform” initiated by Karl Lauterbach preserves the DRG flat rate per case system, despite assurances to the contrary. According to the German Hospital Federation, a quarter of all hospitals could go bankrupt by 2030. This would not only further jeopardise the security of care. There is also the threat of further privatisation of prime assets or socialisation of losses by local authorities (with an impact on their budgets) and further deterioration in working conditions with an impact on staff shortages.

The crisis of the traffic light government gives room for those who are in opposition. However, due to the disastrous state of the DIE LINKE, the parties on the right in the Bundestag are benefiting. The strongest party according to the polls is the CDU/CSU, which is swinging ever further to the right under Friedrich Merz. At the same time, the CDU/CSU poll ratings are not much higher than its result in the 2021 Bundestag elections.

However, Merz is by no means uncontroversial within his own party. His recurring populist statements are causing unease among the wing of the CDU/CSU that was in charge during the Merkel era. The Union is divided: Merz represents the hardcore neoliberal and increasingly populist wing, which wants to gain political support by borrowing from the rhetoric of the AfD. Others, such as Minister Presidents Wüst and Günter, stand for the continuation of Merkel’s course, which combines neoliberal policies with the involvement of trade union leaders and takes a liberal stance on socio-political issues. The debate on the debt brake has also brought these dividing lines to light. There is also, in Bavaria, the CSU and Markus Söder, who also has a populist stance and is likely to have ambitions to run for chancellor.

The current “strength” of the CDU/CSU in the polls is therefore very relative and will not protect the party from the disputes about its substantive course, which could erupt again at the latest with the debate about the next chancellor candidacy. The relationship between parts of the eastern CDU and the AfD, where there is increasing openness to cooperation at least at local level, but also how to deal with a new Wagenknecht party, offers explosive material for the party.

For the first time in its history, the AfD has not only cracked the 20 per cent mark nationwide, but has also appointed the first district administrator and the first mayor and is well on its way to becoming the strongest party in the state elections in eastern Germany in September 2024. In eastern Germany in particular, but also in the west, most recently in Bavaria and Hessen, it has been able to capitalise on widespread dissatisfaction and distrust of the established parties and state institutions for years and present itself as an alternative to the establishment. In recent months, it has benefited above all from concerns about the heating law. And it was often the only perceptible opposition to the government’s course on the war in Ukraine.

The state elections in Hessen and Bavaria were a moderate earthquake for the traffic light coalition. The shockwaves of the escalation in the Middle East quickly pushed them into the background again and the traffic light parties deliberately used this to try and distract attention from their own crisis. Nevertheless, for the first time they have seriously raised the question of the coalition’s continued existence until the end of the legislative period and have had massive consequences. They have once again brought to light the massive dissatisfaction with the coalition and the widespread concerns among the population. The gains made by the CDU/CSU, AfD and Freie Wähler (Free Voters) understandably give rise to fears of a further shift to the right at the political-parliamentary level and in the public debate.

The next regular federal elections are scheduled for 2025. In view of the rampant dissatisfaction before the Karlsruhe judgement, it was already very possible that the traffic light coalition would break up before then. This has now become more likely. It is possible that the coalition will fall apart over the 2024 budget. Markus Söder has brought new elections into the discussion at the same time as the EU elections in June 2024, which is not out of the question. The outcome of the EU elections in the summer and the state elections in eastern Germany in September could be further triggers. Decisive factors for this could be that the FDP wants to save its skin by breaking with the coalition, that the bourgeoisie wants to push through a different governing coalition or that new elections should limit the rise of a Wagenknecht party. Attacks by the right-wing opposition have also already helped to weaken the traffic light system.

But the question is also: what could come next? The Karlsruhe judgement has removed or restricted an important instrument for any new pro-capitalist government constellation to postpone tougher attacks. The last elections have already shown how unstable the situation is and how quickly polls and coalition constellations can change. The current polls are in favour of a CDU-led government, which could need two other parties to form a coalition depending on the outcome of the election. This also depends on how many parties make it into the Bundestag. The next government formation is likely to be complicated and we need to be prepared for all eventualities. A CDU-led government favoured by capital would have a tailwind from the Karlsruhe ruling for much harsher social cuts and attacks on the working class, possibly a general attack on pensions, working hours or similar. One argument in favour of including the SPD in a grand coalition is its ability to include the vast majority of the trade union bureaucracy in order to dampen the expected uproar of the organised working class. The FDP could act as an auxiliary force. But that alone could be a major challenge, depending on the outcome of the election. This has a lot to do with the relative strength of the AfD, whose inclusion in a federal government does not correspond to the interests of the capital majority and is very unlikely at this point in time. A Wagenknecht party could further complicate the issue of government majorities and options. The populist rhetoric of CDU leader and potential chancellor candidate Friedrich Merz has made a black-green coalition in the federal government much more difficult and unlikely – although this cannot be ruled out either, possibly with the involvement of the FDP.

The strengthening of the right-wing and right-wing populist forces at parliamentary level does not mean that there is also a broad increase in support for right-wing and racist ideas among the working class. Surveys suggest that the AfD has not yet been able to significantly increase its voter potential, although it has made gains in opinion polls. On the other hand, there are indications that public concerns about the effects of the increase in migration are not (yet) leading to a widespread increase in aggressive racist sentiment, arson attacks, etc. to the same extent as in 2016 or the 1990s. However, this may change in the future.

Nevertheless, there is a risk of an increase in racism and division. The migration debate that has been going on for several months, in which all parties except DIE LINKE are effectively in favour of further curtailing the rights of refugees, is intertwined with the debate on the Middle East conflict and the massive propaganda campaign by those in power, which discredits any form of solidarity with Palestine as anti-Semitism and massively restricts democratic rights. DIE LINKE publicly distances itself from the restrictions on asylum rights, but supports them, for example, in the Thuringian state government which it heads. The public debate and the policies of the established parties are shifting further to the right and the rhetoric against refugees is intensifying in the slipstream.

After the Hamas attack, those in power deliberately tried to create an atmosphere of insecurity and intimidation in order to suppress critical positions on the Israeli war. The trade union leaders have largely allowed themselves to be drawn into this and have supported the one-sided pro-Israel positioning without organising a major discussion on the issue among the membership.

The aims of those in power are to restrict democratic rights, to use generalised suspicion and hate speech against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims to push ahead with restrictions on asylum rights and to distract attention from their own government crisis. The generalised accusations of anti-Semitism against protesters and migrants – together with the sometimes dehumanising reporting on the suffering in Gaza – represent a massive humiliation of Arab and Muslim people. This can fuel further protests, but also provoke outbursts of anger and exacerbate ethnic polarisation and division in Germany – which could also benefit forces of right-wing political Islam.

This could complicate the overall political situation in the coming months. Awareness of the war in the Middle East is in flux. In the meantime, the proportion of those who are critical of Israel’s conduct of the war has grown – although opinions are still polarised. According to ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll from the beginning of November, supporters and critics of Israel’s war policy were evenly balanced at 43 and 41 per cent respectively. If people without German citizenship were also surveyed in such polls, the result would certainly be different. Many people are primarily concerned about an expansion of the conflict. As a result, consciousness will continue to change depending on developments.

Unlike other leftists, we do not simply speak of a “shift to the right” in society. While shifts to the right are taking place at the level of government policy, election and poll results and in terms of increasing repression by the state, it looks different in the consciousness of the working class and youth. Concerns about and opposition to more immigration may be directed more against the government than against migrants themselves, and may be accompanied by support for left-wing demands on many other issues. Our analysis of a progressing polarisation of society remains correct. The right-wing part of this polarisation is currently finding political expression and may continue to grow, but we should not become impressionistic and overlook the left-wing potential. This is shown, among other things, by the large wave of warning strikes and the number of new members joining trade unions. There are also no signs so far that the strengthening of the CDU and AfD in the polls is also based on growing support for attacks on social security systems, pensions and the like. Polls that show a majority of the population in favour of the debt brake and spending cuts in general must be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to their validity, as they are generalised. There have been no attacks and cuts that affect the masses on a large scale in recent years, but they can quickly lead to great resentment. The same applies to attacks on sections of the poorest or most disenfranchised, whereby we will also experience that a section of the working class will fall for the propaganda against welfare recipients. At the same time, there is much to suggest that there is great sympathy among the population for left-wing demands for higher wages, massive state investment in hospitals, daycare centres and the like, wealth redistribution and even re-nationalisation – but this has no left-wing political expression.

Social movements in Germany are in varying states of health, but so far there is no sign of an upswing. The ‘Fridays for Future’ (FFF) demonstrations are getting smaller and older on average. The actions of the ‘Last Generation’, which were not only extremely politically limited but also sought to contradict the mass of the population, have severely damaged the reputation of the climate movement. However, some groups, including FFF, are drawing the positive conclusion from the lack of success in recent years to focus on the working class and trade unions, for example in the context of the upcoming collective bargaining round in local transport. So far, however, this has been limited to public transport workers, whose sector is central to the fight against the climate catastrophe, as well as in Munich at Bosch or GKN in Zwickau. However, there is no general orientation towards the working class, trade unions or their struggles.

The tenants’ movement has been weakened in many cities. As expected, the second expropriation referendum in Berlin has been delayed and is in danger of being buried by the black-red Berlin Senate (city government) through a pseudo-framework law. The initiative itself has been weakened – not least due to the identity politics enforced by the Interventionist Left movement. It is more than doubtful that the new legislative referendum will be successful. However, the developing crisis in the construction and property sector and the increase in energy prices will further exacerbate the housing problem, particularly in metropolitan areas, and push up rents. Sooner or later, tenants will have no choice but to organise and fight back again on a larger scale.

 

LINKE, Wagenknecht and the Labour Party

A socialist workers’ party is more urgently needed than ever in view of the multiple permanent crises of capitalism. If DIE LINKE had lived up to the demands of being such a party in recent years, it would not now be facing the threat of irrelevance, but on the contrary could benefit from the crisis of the coalition government.

The causes of DIE LINKE’s crisis cannot be reduced to the disputes between the party leadership and Sahra Wagenknecht, who has now made an organisational break by leaving the party in October and founding the association “Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht” (BSW). Even before that, DIE LINKE and none of its main components pursued socialist policies. The public’s perception of DIE LINKE as part of the political establishment, especially in east Germany, has increased in recent years, just as confidence in the party’s ability to make a fundamental difference has diminished. The alliance between the Bewegungslinke (movement left) grouping and a large part of the party right-wing in DIE LINKE’s executive is in favour of continuing this development.

The split between Sarah Wagenknecht and nine other members of the parliamentary group had been expected by us for at least two years. Since then, she and her fellow campaigners have once again confirmed that they are taking a deliberate step away from socialist politics and class struggle. The founding press conference did not include a call for resistance, self-organisation or strike solidarity – instead, it included commitments to “more competition” and “meritocracy”. Since then, Wagenknecht has reappeared with anti-immigration and divisive statements. She is not only in favour of further restrictions on refugee rights and a reduction in the proportion of migrants in certain districts, but also criticises excessive expenditure on asylum seekers, which “a pensioner could only dream of”.

We analyse the programme of the new project in more detail elsewhere. Within itself the BSW combines pro-market, socio-political, populist positions with appeals for peace and diplomacy and more “sovereignty” from the USA. The organisation is run completely undemocratically from above and is not open to new members. The name alone makes it clear that the public orientation of the BSW will be characterised above all by Wagenknecht. This is also an attempt to prevent unreliable, right-wing forces from gaining too much influence in the party. However, this will be more difficult to control in a party than in an association.

Her latest statements indicate that she wants to drive the current migration debates and use them to build support with anti-immigration and anti-migrant positions. This makes her an additional complicating factor in the public debate, but also for the development of awareness. If she continues on this course, left-wing supporters will ask themselves whether they can support such a project.

But there is a political vacuum that a Wagenknecht party could go a long way towards filling. It capitalises on the widespread dissatisfaction with the established parties and could raise hopes of a change in policy among sections of the working and middle classes. It has caught the attention of many as a “voice of reason” in relation to the war in Ukraine, where it was one of the few to voice clear opposition to government policy. Various opinion polls have indicated a large potential electorate for a party led by Sahra Wagenknecht, for example 14 per cent nationwide and 11 per cent in the event of a state election in Brandenburg.

However, high poll ratings are no guarantee of high election results. However, it is to be expected that a Wagenknecht party will achieve a good result in June’s European elections, especially if Wagenknecht herself is the lead candidate. In the three upcoming state elections in the autumn, the organisational substructure and capable and employable personnel will play a greater role, things which has not yet been presented. Nevertheless, under the given conditions, it can be assumed that a Wagenknecht party will be able to enter all three state parliaments from the start. Should there be an early general election next year, the organisational challenge will be much greater because a nationwide candidacy requires state associations in all federal states and city states and corresponding state lists. However, it can be assumed that a party led by Wagenknecht will achieve a parliamentary breakthrough next year. Whether this will be followed by a stable party structure, however, is another question.

However, it is clear that these are relative hurdles and that the foundation of the BSW has the potential to fundamentally change the party landscape in Germany. All parties could lose seats in parliament if they lose voters to a Wagenknecht party and this party mobilises former non-voters. Coalition building could become more difficult and new options could emerge.

There are various studies that see the voter potential of a Wagenknecht party as greater, but also lower than that of DIE LINKE. What is particularly striking here, however, is that DIE LINKE’s potential is significantly lower than it was a few years ago. The fact that DIE LINKE would lose less than other parties if a Wagenknecht party were to take office, as several polls confirm, is above all an indication of how much support the party has already lost. Nevertheless, the formation of a Wagenknecht party could destroy DIE LINKE parliamentarily at federal level, in western Germany, but also in some of the east German states. The dissolution of the parliamentary group in the Bundestag will be an opportunity for those in power to give representatives of DIE LINKE even less of a voice in the public debate. In addition, parliamentary participation is restricted, e.g. in committee work and funding. The fight for survival is likely to further strengthen the dominant position of the DIE LINKE right-wing in parliamentary groups from municipal to federal level and many (sometimes supposed) party leftists will avoid substantive conflicts even more.

It is unlikely that the more than 2,000 new members who have joined DIE LINKE since the Wagenknecht camp split will change this. But in the short term, there may be a certain dynamism and a better mood in some local organisations. It remains to be seen what effect the 2,000 new members from radical left-wing groups and social movements will have. Even if they represent some good positions in their entry declaration (opposition to government coalitions with the SPD and Greens, among others), it is to be feared that they will also strengthen identity-political positions in the party and not strengthen the orientation towards the working class as a whole. The rerunning of parts of the 2021 general election in Berlin in February 2024 could massively increase the party’s crisis. Depending on the extent of the re-run, a DIE LINKE direct mandate in Berlin could be jeopardised. Winning this third constituency seat in 2021 made it possible for the vast majority of LINKE MPs (including Wagenknecht supporters) to enter parliament in the first place. If this took place all but the other two directly elected LINKE MPs could lose their seats.

The AKL (Anticapitalist Left, the leftwing inside DIE LINKE) remains the current in DIE LINKE that represents fundamentally better positions on important political issues. This applies above all to the rejection of government participation with pro-capitalist parties and also to a fundamentally better stance on the war in Ukraine. At the same time, the AKL had an uncritical position towards the “Bewegungs Linke” (‘Movement Left’), which went so far that leading AKL members joined the “Bewegungs Linke”. This was one reason why the AKL could hardly benefit from the debates and polarisation in the party. In its state organisation with the largest number of members in NRW, the AKL has also developed strongly in an eco-socialist direction. Leading members have also taken part in the one-sided campaign against Sahra Wagenknecht, partially blurring their distinction from the party’s right-wing. Organisationally, the AKL has been weakened in recent years and has little ability to mobilise. This is also reflected in the fact that no AKL representative is on the party executive or has a parliamentary mandate. It is not to be expected that the AKL will strengthen itself in the process of DIE LINKE’s decline and become a pole of attraction for critical party members.

The character, composition, programme and impact on the class of a future Wagenknecht party have not yet been determined. From today’s point of view, however, it would be necessary to apply the united front method towards her or the “left” parts of the party. In view of the great dissatisfaction with the coalition government and the existing political vacuum, we should not underestimate the fact that many workers could support her, at least at the electoral level, because of her anti-establishment stance. One of our tasks will be to address this, while at the same time explaining the inadequacy and dangers of Wagenknecht’s policies and pointing out a socialist alternative.

It will take larger movements and class struggles to lay the foundations for a new attempt at a mass socialist party. The “dual task” (alongside and with the building of the revolutionary organisation, contributing to the reconstruction of a socialist workers’ movement and political representation of the class) remains an important part of our work – even if the form changes. We will work for this and on the development of these struggles in the most diverse places. The success or failure of future broad left-wing party projects and attempts at a workers’ party will depend not least on the extent to which Marxist forces can influence them.

 

Industrial and trade union work

2023 saw an upswing in trade union struggles in the collective bargaining rounds in the public sector, postal services, railways, retail, airports, etc., among others. These marked an important reaction of these sections of the working class to inflation. Of great importance were the high demands in these disputes, which went far beyond the demands of IG Metall (metal workers union) and IG BCE (chemical workers union) last year and reflected the upswing in self-confidence and the increased willingness to fight.

The union leaders, especially from ver.di (the public and service union), adopted a combative tone verbally before and during the warning strikes. Ver.di representatives not only hinted at the possibility of an unlimited strike in one area, but also the coordination of strikes in different collective bargaining rounds. There was the “mega-strike” day organised by ver.di and EVG (train workers union). There was the joint strike day organised by ver.di and ‘Fridays For Future’, which also took on an explicitly political dimension. There was more involvement of colleagues, particularly in the public sector (ver.di) and the railway (EVG). In some districts, such as Berlin, there was a local, cross-company strike delegate system in the public sector.

This had a positive impact not only on the trade unions and activists, but also on their image in society and the public debate. ver.di alone has gained 140,000 members this year. For the first time in decades, the downward trend in membership figures for some trade unions could be halted. This confirms two things: firstly, that despite their often bureaucratic structures, trade unions remain a central means of resistance for the working class. Secondly, that the more the union and its leadership communicate a willingness to genuinely fight for the interests of workers and demonstrate their utility, the greater the appeal.

However, the union leaders were ultimately not prepared to follow up their militant words with action and enforced strikes. The results then amounted to real wage losses for most employees. This confirms the assessment of the last national conference that, in the absence of an organised opposition or left-wing leadership in the trade unions, it is unlikely that pressure from below alone will be sufficient to force strikes in this year’s bargaining rounds. The majorities in the federal collective bargaining commissions and leaderships of ver.di, EVG, IG Metall and IG BCE stand for a social partnership approach that ultimately amounts to abandoning mobilisation of workers’ fighting power.

However, the outcome of the collective bargaining rounds also provoked rejection in parts of the membership and was reflected in polarised results in the ballot at Deutsche Post and in the member survey in the public sector on the acceptance of the negotiation results and in members resigning their union membership. Our interventions in ver.di and EVG have also contributed to the development of opposition. There is a small and barely networked or organised, but growing layer of militant activists who are critical of the leadership in some trade unions. This applies above all to ver.di, but also to EVG. This year’s collective bargaining rounds were also an expression of these developments.

This development is not without contradictions. At the ver.di national congress, we saw on the one hand the success of the leadership in watering down decades of ‘peace’ policy positions. This is part of the attempt by those in power to integrate the trade unions into the “Zeitenwende” and a German imperialism that will be more aggressive in the future. At the same time, this was the most polarised ver.di federal congress in many years and a significant minority of delegates made their displeasure clear, for example, about the proximity to the government or collective bargaining policy issues. Our two comrades present played an important role in making this discontent visible at the congress and were able to use the intervention to make a number of new contacts for the “Network for a militant and democratic ver.di”.

The IG Metall trade union, which is not due to hold a new round of collective bargaining in the largest metal and electrical sector until October 2024, is also mobilising the rank and file. The demand for a reduction in working hours to 32 hours or 4 days per week with full pay compensation is gaining momentum. However, without mass pressure from below, the leadership, which is orientated towards social partnership, will not be willing to push this through with enforced strikes. In view of the continuing inflation, a reduction in working hours in an industry that is already in crisis must not be bought at the expense of real wage losses. There were also disputes in IG Metall over the softening of its peace policy programme, which ended with compromise formulations that left room for interpretation (arms exports, for example, were to be “handled restrictively and transparently”) The ‘defined contribution’ pension, the so-called social partner model, which the leadership had campaigned for and worked out with the employers for inclusion in collective agreements, was clearly rejected by a two-thirds majority.

Through the network for a combative and democratic ver.di, we have played an important role in developing a programme and a strategy for the full implementation of the demands in the various collective bargaining rounds. Where the bureaucracy has shied away from the fight, the network has brought together critical colleagues and helped to make opposition visible within the union. This was particularly successful in the public sector, but our members at Deutsche Post were also able to express their dissatisfaction in their region and establish local and national contacts. We were also able to establish nationwide contacts and raise our profile through petitions and by intervening at the ver.di national congress. This offers us great opportunities to drive forward the development of a critical network within ver.di, which is not only made up of left-wing political activists but also of colleagues who have not previously been politically organised.

The Karlsruhe judgement, the impending cuts and the debate on the debt brake make a response from the trade unions necessary. However, trade unions, DIE LINKE, social organisations and other social movements must not wait for those in power to swing the axe, but must take action immediately and send a clear signal to those in power: there will be massive resistance from millions against any attempt to cut social and workers’ rights!

The disputes over city allowances and partial retirement in North Rhine-Westphalia and Stuttgart, for example, show that despite the restrictive right to strike, there are opportunities for trade unions to raise demands for which there is currently no collective agreement and therefore no obligation to maintain peace, and to take industrial action. With increasing internal union pressure in the face of falling real wages, this may become increasingly important. We support such steps, call on ver.di to coordinate them and intervene in corresponding struggles.

The various conflicts that have developed within the trade unions on both collective bargaining and political issues are an important development, even if they have not yet progressed that far. However, they are also an expression of the potential for the trade unions to develop into a new political force for the working class. With the decline of DIE LINKE and the dwindling electoral support of the SPD, the question of a political alternative for workers will arise sooner or later.