Monday, January 28, 2008

Massive breakthrough for Germany's Left Party

Lower Saxony results here
Hesse results here

Die Linke, the German Left Party, has scored two major victories in the State elections of Hesse and Lower Saxony. It scored 5.1% in Hesse, the area around the wealthy city of Frankfurt, and a staggering 7.1% in the North Western state of Lower Saxony. Big losers are Chancellor Merkel's CDU party in Hesse, which ran a racist moral panic campaign over immigrant youth crime, and the Social Liberal SPD in Lower Saxony, which despite making a verbal turn to the Left, could not stop the hemorrhage of support to the newer Die Linke party.

Die Linke unites socialists, Left Social Democrats and former Communists against the neo-liberal politics of Germany's Grand Coalition government, and this solid vote in two Western German states announces its arrival on the political stage big time. As the Financial Times puts it-

"campaigning for a minimum wage of €8.40 ($12.15, £6.25) an hour – matching the French level – as well as for nationalisations, a cap on managers’ pay and the departure of American troops from Germany and of German troops from Afghanistan has struck a chord with voters. In particular, its programme has chimed with a widespread feeling that after five years of wage restraint, the fruits of Germany’s robust economic recovery are not being shared widely enough. Opinion polls put the party’s national rating at 11-12 per cent, ahead of both the FDP and the Greens".

A strong anti capitalist Left party in Europe's biggest State will encourage wider left wing unity in other countries- France's Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) looks set to follow the example after debate at its conference this weekend.

Other media: Red Balloon on the rise (FT)

The perspective of a new left: 'Die Linke'

With the foundation conference in June 2007 there now exists officially a new parliamentary left party in Germany. 'Die Linke' is the product of a struggle against neoliberalism and its most important next step. The Left Party in the last federal election of 2005 got 8.7 % or 54 seats. This process is an interesting example for everybody against the attack of capital on social rights. The following essay is written by Christoph Hoffmeier, a member of the former Socialist Worker NZ sister organisation Linksruck that joined Die Linke to be part of this new project. He will be analyse this new body with its specifics and discuss its perspectives from a point of view as an international socialist.

Political Situation - SPD in Crisis

The German social democrats (SPD) is in a deep crisis. In 2003,under pressure of the German capital, the second Gerhard Schroeder Government pursued a radical neoliberal policy. This policy was called 'Agenda 2010' and was the totally opposite for the programme on which they were elected. Schroeder argued, a protection of social rights in the process of globalisation makes social cuts necessary. It was a capitulation to capital to protect its profits. In the following years, the SPD lost thousands of members and plummeted down in the polls. This process was so dramatic, that they called for elections two years before they were due. Under the new Grand Coalition government of conservatives (CDU) and SPD, they lost they even more authenticity. There are three main reasons:

They weremaintaing attacks on social rights like the raising of GST by 3% or the retirement age from 65 to 67. Also, the mass of the people could not participate at the small economical boom (2.7 % rate of growth in 2006) and with the increasing of the Afghanistan mandate lost they her image of an anti war government that they earned with their position to the Iraq war.

The new left

Schroeder's politics of neoliberalism produced a rampant discontent in the working class and also inside the trade unions. This discontent transacted into an open protest against it. A handful of western Germany trade unionists and SPD members started an initiative to keep pressure on the SPD leadership to stop the policies of Agenda 2010. Their reaction was clear, they were expelled. But this does not stopped the process; they started a debate about the initiative and after several discussions formed the electoral initiative for work and social justice (WASG). In autumn 2004 began a process of weekly demonstrations of tens of thousands against social cuts. It was mostly a protest of unemployed people because the most savage cuts were against this group. The demonstrations spead throughout the whole of Germany, but was strongest in the east part. A look at the unemployment statistics gives an explanation, the rate is at 16%- twice as high as in the west.

And there are even more differences to explain by an analysis of 'Die Linke'. This party is an combination of different traditions of the German left of both parts, expressed in the founding of WASG and the subsequent fusion with the party for democratic socialism (PDS) last year. The WASG is a product of the protest against social cuts and mass dismissals under Schroeders red-green government. It is primarily a constellation of former social democratic trade unions with classical left Keynesian ideas. Furthermore found the protest against negative aspect of globalisation and the Iraq war its condensation in this group, there got many members her first political experience or got her re-politicization after the 1970s.

The PDS in contrast has another history. It has emerged from the former state party of the GDR (eastern Germany). After the collapse of the eastern state, this party did not exist any more as the party of a ruling bureaucracy. All careerists and bureaucrats left the party quickly and convinced socialists and a small circle of full-time functionaries convinved of the party's importance remained. The advancement of the PDS during the 1990s is best described as the social democratisation of a former Stalinist party with a Marxist ideology. Any longer, the PDS understands politics like a ruling party and as politics via ministries and administrations. It does not exist an understanding of great or change of society by a mass movements, because it had no experience in it like the left in western Germany.

Hence the new left party is best characterised as a "wide coalition of various political traditions" (LR 224, 11/06). The political tendencies inside 'Die Linke' can be divided into three main wings. There is one strong right wing, a big left wing and also a small tendency of revolutionaries. Both the right and the left wing believe in change inside the bourgeoisie system. Their aim is to get in government to enforce political claims. The strategy of both wings is based on a policy of corporatism between employers and labour. It follows a wrong assumption, seeking to replicate the Keynesian policy of the 1960s and 1970s, leaving unnoticed a near disappearing of the margins for workers' participation inside eines verschaerften (getting worser) capitalism.

However, the left wing try to implement this policy by the support of a successfully mass mobilisation of social forces. They know about the relevance of a shift to the left inside the balance of power between the main social classes. To get into power at any costs is disclaimed by this political wing. So called the former SPD leader, that joined the WASG in 2005, Oskar Lafontain a couple of requirements to the SPD for a possible government. One of its requirements was a tacking back of Agenda 2010, stop of all military interventions, especially in Afghanistan and a minimum wage of 8 Euros. The clearest expression of this class and movement orientated wing is the platform 'Sozialistische Linke' (SL).

Last but not least a small tendency of revolutionary lefts. This tendency agrees with the second wing in its orientation on mass mobilisations to implement political claims. But at the same time this tendency goes further with its accentuation on revolution as that perspective for a self-sustaining protection of social rights and a development of society. Part of this tendency is the former separate revolutionary organisation Linksruck that appreciated "a movement party that is under influence of different ideological and social particles (Teile) as appropriate and developable" and further defined, "in a socialist sense as important" Linksruck was from the beginning part of the process of building a new left and argued hard against reservations for a fusion of WASG and PDS. The current political situation in Germany with the foundation of the new left is understood as a situation where "all political thrust are only via 'Die Linke' possible and get effectively influenced inside the society". ("Alle politischen Vorstoesse koennen nur ueber die Linke wirksam in die Gesellschaft politisch eingreifen"). Linksruck decided to collaborate in building 'Die Linke' and try to win majorities for a revolutionary socialist position in a tradition of Luxemburg, Lenin and of an International Socialism inside that party. (Bulleton II, 04/07)

For connecting all supporters of this roots and for a deeper impact inside this process of building a new left is the magazine Marx21 designed. It will discuss which kind of a new left party has to be built for a successful struggle against attacks by the capitalists on social rights. It will be a platform for building a growing revolutionary wing inside the party that could be a base for a future revolutionary mass organization. Therefore, all former members of Linksruck are called to be part of the 'Sozialistische Linke' inside the new left. This wing is not as strong as it could be for an organization of 71,000 members but with 400 supporters a reliable start has been made so far.

Anyway, the single number of members has nothing to do with the real political impact. In the whole process of building the new left argued Marx21 consequently for a fusion of WASG and PDS against sectarianism on the right and left. The strongest doubts came from the left inside the WASG, that feared a drift to the right by a PDS that governed in the state government of Berlin with the SPD. But in the same time, Marx21 was an uncompromising critic against this politics of the PDS leadership in that state. With this combination of unity and criticism Marx21 earned a large influence inside "Die Linke' that is far larger than it's own size assumed. This policy was also a basis for a close alliance with founders of the WASG from the left social democratic camp. Now, there are two supporters of Marx21 members of the electoral committee. By the next state election in Hess on January 27 this year one of them could become MP of the state parliament. Also, supporters of Marx21 played an important rule by the generation of an SDS student association. This facts are the current expression of that policy based on an activity inside different local branches.

Perspectives for the new left

The new left 'Die Linke' gets its practical potency from its programmatically weakness. It is a project in progress and the way that it will takes unpredictable. This progress deepens on different factors like the objectively balance of power between the classes and on subjective factors like a balance of ideas inside the party. Both factors are important and only understandable as reciprocal progress. For instance, Oskar Lafontain as one of its leaders represented the party well, when he described themselves as social democrat. He is right, than the SPD with its policy has been changed but also the general conditions. An intensification of competition inside the capital system abates the margins for a policy of social rights a la 1970s. To implement such simple claims will call capitalism basically into question. If this question will be answered as a new effort of human capitalism or as a fundamentally alternative is still open. So wrote the party whip during the debate to the political program that "'Die Linke' wins plausibility with proposals and schemes that are realizable inside this given frame (structure)" (LR 227, 03/07). Therefore, it is important to be involved in this project even more for revolutionaries; it could be the crucial different.

Today, the balance of 'Die Linke' is to be impressive, so far. The plain fact of existing the new left brought the SPD in shier panic. They try to go adrift from its image as party of social cuts and adopt one of the main claim of 'Die Linke' for a minimum wage. But it shows at the same time, the biggest faults that you can do if you try to built a counter hegemony is to underestimate your political opponent. The SPD lost its allure for a bulk of the working class not yet, that shows the current pools for the state elections in Hess where they gets nearly 34%. Therefore, it has to be built a left that includes all groups and milieus of the working class. It has to organize more young workers and students, migrants and womans than it does today. The new left should become to, what Thomas Haendel member of the executive committee formulated as follows: "We built the new left. Capitalism will never make its peace with the human beings; therefore, we will never make our peace with capitalism. Let us be the strongest that the weakest have."