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Germany: WASG national congress - shift to the right
AMID THREATS by part of the national leadership to split away, last weekend's national congress of the WASG* (Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice) agreed to unify with the Linkspartei.PDS (L.PDS, Left Party/PDS - the former East German 'Communists') and to take measures against the Berlin WASG if it went ahead and ran its own list of candidates in next September's regional election.
Robert Bechert, CWI, Berlin
The congress met against a background of increasingly open threats by leading WASG members to leave the party if they did not get their way. The leading group around former SPD government minister Oskar Lafontaine were determined to defeat opposition to their watering down of the WASG's founding principles in order to secure a quick fusion with the L.PDS.
The central point of debate came around the question of Berlin. This is because since 2001 the Berlin city government has been run by a SPD and L.PDS coalition that has cut living standards.
This city coalition broke away from national wage agreements in order to cut wages and increase hours, and has carried out widespread privatisations and many social cuts. In this situation the Berlin WASG decided that it was impossible to run a joint list with the L.PDS unless it changed its position.
This decision of the Berlin WASG has been under continuous attack from the national WASG leadership as threatening its unification plan. Members of Socialist Alternative (SAV; the CWI in Germany) have played an important part in the Berlin WASG adopting this principled anti-cuts position and consequently have themselves been threatened by the WASG leadership.
Nationally the media has heavily followed the debate that has been presented as being between Lafontaine, the L.PDS leaders and the Trotskyist Lucy Redler, the SAV member elected as the top Berlin WASG candidate for September's election.
From the congress's opening the WASG leadership stressed that only a fusion with the L.PDS could provide a way forward, without any real political discussion on what a new party should stand for.
This actually ignored reality. The 2,200,000 increase in the "left" vote between the 2002 and 2005 Bundestag elections was overwhelmingly due to the WASG's formation and then Lafontaine joining the WASG shortly before the election.
On its own the L.PDS has drifted between stagnation at best and decline. But, because Lafontaine played an important part in securing the left's 8.7% vote last September, the split threats by his supporters had a big impact in the WASG congress.
Despite this pressure at least a third of the congress delegates supported the Berlin WASG's decision to stand independently. 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 Lafontaine intervened.
The closeness of this vote clearly alarmed the right wing who, fully supported by Linksruck (the group linked to the British SWP), then moved to change the original order of voting to ensure that their resolution was taken before a "soft left" motion that opposed both the Berlin WASG's position and any "administrative measures" against Berlin.
However a number of delegates, frustrated by this defeat, left the congress and thereby allowed the right wing a bigger margin of victory in later votes; although they never won an absolute majority of delegates.
The WASG congress's decisions are a dangerous development. It is clear that the WASG right wing are not really interested in building a mass membership party and, in their drive for unity on any basis with the L.PDS, are prepared to accept participating in governments that carry out social cuts.
It seems likely that there will now be a drive to unify the parties earlier than the original 2007 target and that possibly the leadership will attempt to exclude from the new party at least some of their opponents. On such a basis the medium term future of such a party is open to question.
* WASG is the new left-wing political formation formally launched in January 2005. It was established in opposition to the neo-liberal attacks of the then social democratic party (SPD) government and the bosses.
It is a broad anti-neo-liberal electoral alternative which contains a variety of political currents. The Socialist Party's counterpart in Germany, Socialist Alternative (SAV), actively participates in WASG.
In The Socialist 4 May 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party workplace news
1926 General Strike
International socialist news and analysis