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Germany: Challenges, dangers and opportunities
OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT has reached over 5 million, a new all-time high in post-war German history.
Still, according to Welt am Sonntag, the real figure is closer to 8 million if you add those who have given up looking for a job and are no longer officially registered at the job centres and those who are looking after family members.
As a result of recent changes in unemployment regulations, Hartz IV, about 100,000 people will be forced to move into smaller and cheaper accommodation.
All this is part and parcel of the neo-liberal policies of the social democratic-led SchrÜder government and the bosses' offensive in the workplaces. These examples only give a small glimpse of the incredible changes taking place in a country which was once renowned for its quality welfare state.
While there has been working-class resistance over the past year, the need for a political and programmatic alternative becomes ever more obvious.
ACCORDING TO a recent opinion poll, 3% have indicated that they would certainly vote for the newly formed left-wing party Work and Social Justice (ASG) in the next elections. 19%, particularly workers and young people, have indicated they would consider voting for it.
This underlines the potential that exists for the building of a new party that is not aligned with the political establishment and offers an alternative to the policies of falling living standards.
However, with a membership standing at 3,800 nationally, ASG has not tapped into this potential.
With the regional state elections coming up in May in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous and traditionally "red" regional state, ASG has the possibility of turning the situation around and beginning to concretely establish itself; provided that they engage in a serious campaign on the streets to defend jobs, wages and conditions and put forward a clear alternative to the cuts policy of the government.
SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE (SAV), the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Germany, has been involved in promoting and building the new party from its early days and has argued for a programme that breaks with capitalism.
However Klaus Ernst, IG Metall union official with a high profile within ASG, and others, consistently say that the new party's programme should remain within the framework of capitalism.
At the end of February, around 200 members held a convention in Gottingen. Because of the great need to discuss programmatic issues, the agenda was extended. SAV members intervened into the discussion to explain the need for a socialist programme.
There were only four speakers that came out explicitly against a socialist programme. One member of the party's executive (also a member of Linksruck, the German sister group of the British SWP), explained that a socialist programme would frighten off people.
Socialist programme - a barrier?
In Rostock, a city in one of the most deprived regional states in East Germany, SAV member Christine Lehnert was elected to the city council in June 2004. Since then, SAV and Christine have been involved in numerous campaigns to defend the interests of working-class people.
Most importantly, SAV struck a victory against the neo-liberal attacks of the government. In Rostock, the unemployed cannot be forced to move into cheaper accommodation and cannot be forced to accept the so-called "█1 an hour jobs". This proves: a socialist programme based on active campaigning and linked to day-to-day issues is not a barrier.
Furthermore, a government opinion poll published last August found that 51% of west Germans and 79% of east Germans thought socialism was a good idea that had been "badly implemented".
Top down approach
SAV MEMBERS in Rostock have also been involved in building a local ASG branch in the city. Three leading SAV members, amongst them councillor Christine Lehnert, have now been denied membership of ASG, a decision that was approved by the NEC.
Elements within the leadership of ASG are adopting bureaucratic measures which, can be a major obstacle for developing and building ASG into a mass force that is so urgently needed to fight government policies.
This contrasts with SAV's call for the party to be open to all and have a democratic and federal character.
In The Socialist 12 March 2005: