Shifts Among the Left in Germany

by Dan Armstrong
The new ?Grand Coalition? government in Germany, a joint government of the Conservative CDU and its partner the CSU with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), now called the GroKo for short, is just starting to present its policies for the next period. Support for the CDU and the SPD remains static. There is a wait-and-see mood in the party and the land.

But already Left-wing social democrats are stirring. This weekend a group of 22 leading SPD members launched an appeal for a “new perspective for the left”. The signatories include numerous members of the SPD national executive, chairman of the Berlin party, chairman of Young Socialists and other influential members.

The call is for joint discussions with the Linke and the Greens to reach an agreed platform for the next elections in 2017 and in the meantime to exert pressure on the SPD as part of Grand Coalition to act in the interests of trade unions, migrants and the poor.

The call itself is riddled with weaknesses: praising the SPD election programme of September 2013, sowing illusions about the ability to control capitalism and so on. It also sees future discussions as involving mainly party officials rather than the rank and file. It refers to the fact that one-quarter of SPD members rejected the proposal to join a Grand Coalition with the CDU in December and says that it is the job of signatories to keep opposition voices inside the ranks of the party. The implication is that without a left wing, many of such SPD members may drift away and join the left-wing Party, Die Linke, which is now the main opposition party in parliament.

The proposal of the SPD left is to seek a consensus with which all three parties can agree. Even if this could be reached such a position would be far removed from a robust left-wing programme. Nevertheless, the fact the call is being launched means that the process of developing a left wing within the SPD may be beginning and presents an opportunity for marxists to join the discussion and try to involve the rank and file.

Die Linke?s Congress

As predicted, the recent Hamburg conference of the German Linke produced a shift to the right. Over 60% of the delegates were from the East German regions, and half over 50 years of age. The new leading candidate for the European elections, Gabriele Zimmer, used to be the chair of the PDS, successor party to the SED, the governing party of East Germany.

While most of the actual speakers were younger, bearded and bespectacled academics from the western branches, the solid backbone of the party, mostly ex-councillors and other officeholders, sat and watched the proceedings and followed the recommendations of the leadership. As a result virtually all the resolutions were defeated. The various left groups denounced the present EU, some confusedly calling for reforms while others like the SAV (German affiliate of the CWI) calling for Socialism without a worked out transitional programme. One of the academic speakers wore a t-shirt bearing the words FCK SPD.

In this short conference there were hours devoted to a stage play, dance and songs, speakers for the handicapped or describing the plight of migrants, including an appeal to collect cash for a Greek clinic. A few token left-wingers were allowed through to the Electoral Lists, including Sahra Wagenknecht’s office assistant.

On the EU, most of the speeches denounced it as imperialist, incorrigible and militarist, but the position paper passed by conference defeated exactly this wording. Gysi, Left Party leader in the parliament, also softened his line on NATO, rejecting the idea that Germany should leave the alliance but instead calling for its future dissolution. His view is that the Linke is not an extra-parliamentary opposition but a normal party. It should seek links with groups outside parliament “including” the unions, the church and even said it should open itself towards conservative voters.

All these moves have manoeuvred the party into a position to be able to negotiate with the SPD to form a coalition at the latest by the next election, maybe sooner if the cracks in the coalition in Berlin widen.

These moves to the right by the Linke draw the wrong conclusion from events and ignore the important opportunities now opening up inside the SPD.

In the membership vote on whether to accept the Grand Conservative-Social Democratic Coalition, 80,000 said NO. It is rather remarkable that in spite of all the adverse circumstances at least 80,000 members were not swayed or intimidated… and voted NO. That is significantly more than the 21,000 members, who in 2003 opposed the “Agenda 2010” by Gerhard Schröder. And they are even more than the current 63,000 members of the party DIE LINKE.

The whole Juso – young socialist – organisation rejected the Grand Coalition. Whole areas of the party at rank and file level, particularly in the Ruhr, held local votes against it too.

Sadly, the Linke is slotting into its future role as Official Opposition with glee at the moment. They are showing few signs of applying a United Front tactic as we understand it, rigorously criticising the weaknesses in the SPD coalition treaty, and making appeals to the rank and file of the social democrats to campaign around a joint set of demands.

Instead, their Congress suggests that they are content to wait until the next election in order to join a new government with the social democrats.

In this situation, a clear headed assessment of the relations between social democratic workers and left reformists and marxists is absolutely critical in the immediate future if gains are to be made from these developments.

In a nutshell: If you can’t win the social democratic workers, you can’t have Socialism.

Dan Armstrong

1 thought on “Shifts Among the Left in Germany”

  1. I believe this article is a bit confused on how to relate with SPD. We must fight for a “red-red” coalition with a strong Die Linke. The internal power balance between the two parties will shape on how much a left-wing program a coalition government could produce.

    We should argue, from a socialist standpoint, for unity and call for a positive criticism rather then denouncing SPD. We must remember that the reluctance for SDP to cooperate with Die Linke has it’s historical roots and that it will be a process to overcome this.

    Creating spaces for grassroots members to meet is essential, I’d suggest to German comrades that trying to bring together activists in both parties is a key element in creating unity but also to bolster confidence in socialist ideas.


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