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Germany: 'Unity' at the expense of the working class
A reply to Linksruck, sister organisation of the British SWP
In recent months political and social activists in Germany have been gripped by the widely publicised open debate in the WASG (Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice, the anti-neo-liberal party that developed in 2004). The debate is over its policies and the basis upon which it should unify with the L.PDS (Left-party.PDS), the former Stalinist ruling party in East Germany.
Robert Bechert, cwi, Berlin, Germany
As the socialist has previously reported, this debate has increasingly centred around the question of next September's Berlin regional elections. Since 2001 the Berlin city government has been run by a SPD and L.PDS coalition that has been, in many ways, the national pace setter in carrying out cuts in living standards. After much discussion the Berlin WASG decided not to run candidates on the L.PDS's list but, instead, to stand independently.
This decision provoked controversy within the WASG which came to a head at the recent WASG national congress. Against a background of public threats by party leaders to split if they did not get their way, the congress voted to oppose the Berlin WASG's decision and to take measures against it. The congress was sharply polarised on this issue.
A resolution moved by the most left-wing members of the WASG executive calling for a "fundamental change of course in party building" and opposing any "administrative measures" was only defeated by 156 votes to 143, even after the WASG leader Oscar Lafontaine specially intervened in the discussion to say that this was the most "important decision" facing the congress.
The most consistent supporters of the attacks on the Berlin WASG have been members of Linksruck, the sister organisation of the British SWP. Every time they spoke at the congress they supported the attacks on the Berlin WASG.
Recently a number of leading Linksruck members have been given jobs by parliamentarians in the Left group mainly made up of L.PDS and WASG Bundestag (Federal Parliament) members.
These jobs are only given to supporters of the L.PDS and WASG leadership's policies; two other parliamentary workers are losing their jobs because they opposed some of the leaderships' policies.
Linksruck's role in providing a 'left' face for the WASG leadership is amply illustrated for English speaking readers in an article, from the 6 May 2006 edition of Socialist Worker, the paper of the British SWP, in which they say: "Linksruck has argued that it is necessary to have critical but unconditional support for unity between the WASG and the PDS. We have to walk on two legs. One of the legs has a wound, but that doesn't mean that we should cut the whole leg off!"
Linksruck believes a merger between the WASG and L.PDS would be such a step forward that everything else must be subordinated to that goal.
This has led to Linksruck arguing that, as fusion is the most important issue, it is necessary to stand in the Berlin elections in a list headed by one of the main architects of the city government's neo-liberal policies. It is also the justification of their abandonment of any serious political opposition to the WASG leadership.
Any step forward by a real workers' movement is important but that does not mean ignoring political issues, especially when it involves acceptance of a neo-liberal programme of cuts in the living standards of working-class people.
Under certain conditions it may be necessary for Marxists, after discussion and debate within a wider formation, to accept less than a full socialist programme. Under no circumstances does this mean agreeing to counter-reforms.
Linksruck choose to ignore this distinction and in doing so cross the line and join those who support and implement neo-liberal attacks against the working class.
In Germany the SAV (Socialist Alternative, the CWI in Germany) has argued, for over ten years now, for the need to form a new workers' party and joined the WASG as soon as it began to develop in spring 2004. The SAV has not opposed a merger between the WASG and PDS but argued that firstly it has to be on a principled basis and secondly has to involve wider forces in a new truly democratic party.
But in Berlin, since 2001, the SPD/L.PDS city government has been in a coalition that has carried out cuts in wages, widespread privatisations and many other social attacks.
Here are just two concrete examples. This city coalition broke away from national public sector wage agreements in order to cut wages. In the Berlin transport authority, BVG, the SPD/L.PDS coalition cut pay by 10% for existing staff and 15% for new workers.
The Berlin L.PDS ignored the L.PDS's national policies and forced unemployed workers to take the so-called "one euro jobs", something that the WASG nationally also opposes. Now in Berlin over 35,000 unemployed only receive state benefit, if they agree to work as cheap labour for the 'bonus' payment of one euro per hour worked.
In this situation the Berlin WASG decided that it was impossible to stand with the L.PDS unless it fundamentally changed its position not just in words, but in deeds.
In addition, SAV members called for the L.PDS to end the coalition it has with the SPD in Berlin.
The Berlin WASG tried to discuss these issues with the L.PDS. It sent the L.PDS a letter in April asking for discussions, but they did not even reply. Then, after much debate, the Berlin WASG confirmed that it would run its own list next September, arguing that it was impossible to ask workers to vote for a list that included a party carrying out social cuts.
Linksruck accept, on paper, many of these criticisms of the Berlin L.PDS. In Socialist Worker they write that the Berlin city government has "driven through New Labour style policies of cuts and privatisations". But, as the Berlin L.PDS has over four times more members then the local WASG, its "New Labour" policies would dominate an election alliance at this time.
However, Linksruck ignore this simple fact and de facto argue that Berlin workers should vote for a party implementing "New Labour style policies" in the interests of 'left unity'.
Linksruck leaders have endorsed a joint statement recently produced by the WASG national leadership and the Berlin L.PDS leadership. This statement is presented as a basis for a joint election campaign and on the basis of it, Linksruck has demanded that the Berlin WASG does not stand independently in the regional elections.
Linksruck present this joint statement as a shift to the left by the L.PDS in Berlin. In fact it is nothing of the kind. The L.PDS in Berlin say that it is a continuation of their previous policies. This is shown by the fact that there is no commitment within the statement to abolish the "one euro jobs".
While this statement says hospitals and council housing in Berlin should remain under public control, it leaves open the possibility of their part-privatisation.
Linksruck are right about the widespread desire for "left unity" but silent about how the WASG leadership misuse it. More significantly Linksruck do not pass comment about the attempts to blackmail the WASG congress.
The SWP article states that "before the conference, WASG was on the brink. What changed the mood was that the national leadership, especially Lafontaine, made it clear that the party would break apart unless there was a clear statement of unity."
This is a shameful cover-up of Lafontaine's key supporters' blackmail tactics. The issue was not that the "party would break apart", rather it was a public threat by the right wing to split away if the congress rejected their positions.
Obviously Linksruck do not want to criticise the split threats by Oscar Lafontaine's supporters. (In Berlin, Linksruck members walked out of the last regional WASG congress as soon as they were defeated on the issue of September's election.)
In contrast, the SAV argued that delegates at the WASG national conference should resist this blackmail and 47% did so.
Yet Linksruck ignored all this. At no time during the WASG congress did Linksruck supporters put forward any criticisms of either Lafontaine or the L.PDS. Indeed the Linksruck leader sitting on the WASG national executive has consistently supported Lafontaine's position and threats against the Berlin WASG.
When the WASG congress voted on whether or not to expel SAV members from the the WASG most Linksruck delegates abstained.
Linksruck's collapse into an organisation applauding Lafontaine and securing well-paid jobs for its own top members has deeply alienated many of the best activists in Germany. Linksruck may think that they are gaining influence, but influence won on the basis of supporting neo-liberal policies and keeping your mouth shut is completely unprincipled.
The SWP article mentions a bloc between the right and unnamed "sectarians" which is clearly a reference to the SAV who have won significant support within the best activists in the WASG and the wider workers' movement, as demonstrated by the massive publicity for Lucy Redler, one of its leading national spokespersons, who has been elected as the Berlin's WASG's top candidate in September's election.
These fighting elements increasingly see the SAV as containing some of the most consistent and determined campaigners against the attacks on living standards and to build a new alternative, a new workers' party that can fight capitalism.
In this struggle the SAV, unlike Linksruck, is widening the support for the ideas of socialism by combining struggles on immediate issues with arguments on why and how capitalism can be overthrown.
In The Socialist 11 May 2006:
Socialist Party election analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news