SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 130 - July/August 2009

No progress for The Left party in Germany

THE NEWSPAPER, Neues Deutschland, which is very close to Die Linke (The Left party), evaluated its 7.5% of the vote in the European elections as an "electoral setback". Its target was 10% plus. In the last general election in 2005 the formation, led by Oskar Lafontaine, got 8.7%. Compared with the euro elections five years ago, 100,000 votes have been lost in the east. There are real dangers that the result in the coming general election (27 September) again could be disappointing and that Die Linke is not exploiting the existing potential.

In the general elections four years ago the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) and the WASG (Electoral Alliance for Work and Social Justice) – which took off on the basis of mass protests against attacks on unemployment benefits in the summer of 2004 – stood together in an election for the first time. Led by Lafontaine, who was the chairperson of the Social Democracy (SPD) at the end of the 1990s, this platform reached four million votes. Now the fused party received only 1.97 million. In the west, 3.9% voted for Die Linke, 21.4% in the east. Overall, 21% of the unemployed and 10% of blue-collar workers voted for Die Linke. Backing was stronger amongst male voters and older people. Below the age of 45 years, Die Linke got only 6%.

As in the whole of the European Union, the turnout in Germany was 43%, a historically low level. Many voters turned their back on both parties of the grand coalition, the Christian Democrats and the SPD. Only one third of the electorate voted for the governing parties. The 20.8% result for the SPD was a disaster. Given that the former SPD chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, implemented the so-called Agenda 2010 and declared war on the unemployed, millions of workers and the poor are full of hatred towards the SPD.

But why was Die Linke unable to mobilise more of this huge layer of disappointed people? Why did the Green party benefit, with 12.1%, despite the fact that it was part of the red-green Schröder government and is implementing the same policies as traditional bourgeois liberals in Europe?

Because of its dependency on exports, Germany will be especially hard hit by the global recession. The OECD is expecting a contraction of GDP by more than 6% in 2009. Since the beginning of the year, more than two million employees have been put on short-time working. Immediately after the general election, at the latest, a wave of sackings is expected. The national debt will increase from about 60% to 80% in the next two years. Against this background, the government of Angela Merkel is planning cuts of nearly €40 billion for next year so far. The prospect of a dramatic deterioration of the benefit system, an ‘Agenda 2020’, and an increase of unemployment from three to five million (officially) until the end of 2010, will add to a prolongation and deepening of the crisis.

Many workers still hope against hope that they will not be affected by the onslaught of the bosses. But every real initiative for a fightback has so far found a good response. After two demonstrations organised by left-wing activists in the factories, trade unions, universities and social movements, in which 55,000 attended, the German TUC felt under pressure to mobilise more than originally planned to its national demonstration in Berlin on 16 May, part of the European Trade Union Confederation’s Europe-wide day of action. Thousands of child-care workers have been on strike for weeks. And, on 17 June, 250,000 took part in a national education strike. Against this background, Die Linke’s results are even more meagre.

In today’s global crisis the capitalists are not able to blame anyone else. For most people it is quite obvious that the profit system is responsible. There is more and more openness for anti-capitalist and even socialist ideas. That does not mean that a left-wing party automatically gains. What is urgently needed – and so far missing in relation to Die Linke – is a programme and policies which show a way out for workers and youth.

Confronted with the bankruptcy of companies and the closure of whole factories the question of ownership is becoming a key question. But the leaders of Die Linke desperately try everything to avoid the issue of nationalisation and democratic workers’ control and management, given that they are not prepared to challenge the trade union bureaucracy. In dealing with the 26,000 jobs which are at stake at Opel, Die Linke argues for the participation of the workforce in running the enterprise. The majority of Die Linke’s national committee is in favour of the steps taken by Opel’s management: that employees get 10% of the shares, while wages and holiday pay are cut. That means not only that the workers must pay for the capitalist crisis, but that – against the background of 40% overcapacity in the car industry – the question of sackings and closures is postponed not solved.

For the millions of workers and youth who abstained in the euro elections, it is still unclear if Die Linke is a credible alternative to the parties of the establishment. One main reason is the limited character of its programme. Another crucial point is the weakness so far in it becoming a driving force in support of struggles and protest movements, giving them practical help but also political advice. Take the education strike. Die Linke should have mobilised its nearly 80,000 members to campaign for weeks in support of the students. It should have taken advantage of its media coverage and parliamentary positions to explain the protestors’ demands and put forward corresponding resolutions in the Bundestag. It should have developed a strategy on how to achieve the demands and to strengthen the movement politically. In contrast, Die Linke stood on the sidelines, only participating in the demonstrations – and even then, in small numbers.

In the federal states of Saarland, Thüringen and Sachsen, länder (regional) elections take place on 30 August. In these states, leading figures in Die Linke hope to participate in governments with the SPD and, maybe, the Greens. At the national conference in June the issue of government participation dominated. It is no accident that it was organised in Berlin, where Die Linke – and, before it, the PDS – has been part of a SPD-led regional government since 2002. In their opening speeches, Berlin party leader, Klaus Lederer, and economy minster, Harald Wolf, went on the offensive, celebrating the record of Die Linke’s Berlin policy – which has meant, for example, privatisations or wage cuts in the public sector, which have provoked many bitter struggles. In the main conference speech, Lafontaine, who wishes to become the next premier in the Saarland, also supported that aim. He warned the SPD: "The only chance for you to fulfil your election promises will be in coalition with us!"

The main features of the congress were demands for regulating (instead of overcoming) the capitalist system, for employee participation in companies (instead of nationalisation), and for an openness to further coalition governments with the SPD. In the dozens of pages of the election manifesto drafted by the national committee, the word ‘socialism’ is mentioned only once. And, in this case, it is not as the goal to overthrow capitalism and replace it by a new social order but as a "system of values". That goes hand in hand with the attempts by the party leaders to look for solutions inside the framework of the market economy.

However, despite its participation in the Berlin government, and its influence in many east German communities, in the west and on a national level Die Linke is still seen as an opposition force. Despite all its political deficiencies, in the election campaign it prominently demands a public-sector programme of €100 billion to create two million new jobs, rejects privatisation and cuts, and opposes sending German troops abroad. Despite the weaknesses in energetically orienting to workers and youth in resistance, it has not completely turned its backs on protests, and the main tests are still to come on the basis of intensified class conflict. But, proceeding along today’s course will most likely mean that in September, Die Linke will register below the 14% which it got in opinion polls 18 months ago. Stagnation means retreat in a time like this, to paraphrase the great German Marxist, Rosa Luxemburg.

There is the real danger that in the coming conflicts and struggles important opportunities will be lost to double and triple the membership, to sink roots in the working class, to establish an anti-capitalist, socialist programme and to take real steps in the direction of becoming a fighting working-class party – as a decisive weapon in the class struggle.

Aron Amm

Sozialistische Alternative (SAV – CWI Germany)


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