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PDS crisis: the storm after the lull?

THE POST-ELECTION congress of the German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS, the former state party in Stalinist East Germany) saw a defeat for the party’s rightwing. But was this a shift to the left?

In the general election on 22 September the PDS lost 600,000 votes and ended up with just two constituency-elected members of the Bundestag (parliament). This was punishment for the cuts its representatives have carried through in the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Berlin and other local authorities.

Three weeks later there was much noise at its party congress in Gera (on 12/13 October), with the party’s business manager, Dietmar Bartsch, having announced before the congress that he would stand against party leader Gabi Zimmer. But at the congress he did not take part in the discussion and quietly withdrew his candidature. Several right-wingers also were not re-elected into the party leadership.

So the strategy of the rightwing was defeated. They had wanted to use the electoral defeat to align themselves more closely with the ‘social-democratic’ SPD. Zimmer, who was re-elected as party leader, denounced this sharply at the congress: ‘unconditional participation in government, unconditional toleration of the government, support at any price — that’s opportunism!... Today the PDS is seen by many people as a party which agrees to everything except waging war’.

Previously, during the debate on the future programme of the PDS, Zimmer had campaigned clearly against the left but now she suddenly appeared as a representative of the left. She probably did not feel at ease herself: "The actual differences are not big… In reality, we have a conflict inside the camp of reformers". (Neues Deutschland, 14 October)

There is a gulf between the rank-and-file and the leadership, too. At the congress banners demanded: ‘No power for those greedy for power’; ‘Socialism instead of social democracy’; and ‘Socialism instead of Bartschism’. But the harshness of the congress debate was largely a result of the bitter arguments inside the PDS apparatus: Zimmer leant on rank-and-file support, with her position that the PDS needs an independent perspective, and did this using more left-wing phraseology. Bartsch & Co wanted to keep the door open to save their careers by coming together with parts of the SPD later. Neither side, however, demanded an end to the participation in state governments in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

At this congress the PDS put on a left face. Maybe we will see more PDS banners on demonstrations, with the new party leadership in attendance more often. But this part of the party also wants to participate in government – only with a profile of its own, not as an appendage of the neo-liberal SPD. They also have no alternative to capitalism, so they want to make sure that ‘necessary’ cuts are as ‘fair’ as possible – a policy of the ‘lesser evil’. Zimmer had this position when she stood for party leader last year and it was this very policy which led to the party’s recent electoral collapse. The chair of the PDS in Berlin, Liebich, is quite right to call the new course of the PDS ‘schizophrenic’: for one cannot be in opposition and in government at the same time.

The congress was a storm in a teacup. Instead of protests against welfare cuts, the PDS offers cuts and attacks but with its participation in state and local government. After its defeat in the federal election the PDS is mainly an East German governmental party. The congress did not change this. Rank-and-file members want a more left-wing (especially anti-war) leadership, but there appears to be no initiative to fight for it. Holter and Wolf (PDS members in the state government of Berlin) have more leverage. But they deliver lull instead of storm.

Doreen Ullrich & Wolfram Klein

Sozialistiche Alternative (SAV)

CWI Germany


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