Monday, September 18, 2006

Set back in Germany

Bad result in Berlin's state election this weekend. (sorry for any inaccuracies in translating German to English - I am a little rusty) Note also that criticism in this posting about the Greens is specific to the German incarnation, which is increasingly right wing.

SPD (New Labour) 30,8%
CDU (Tory) 21,3%
Linke (real socialists) 13,4%
Grüne (right wing greens) 13,1%
FDP (more Tories) 7,6%

Remember that the PDS. die Linke have been just under 17% for several years, and their leader Gysi got 22% first preference last year. The PDS are a remarkable party, with around 68000 members, that they have rescued from the wreckage of the old ruling communist, SED. Remember that the SED had 2 million members, so the PDS membership is only that part who are really committed to socialism, and of course many new younger people have joined with no links to the old DDR state. PDS leader Gregor Gysi was a dissident in the old DDR, so the party embodies the progressive aspects of the DDR, and not the repressive parts.

The drop in their result is largely being blamed in the German press on the WASG standing against them in Berlin, Lucy Redler (SAV -CWI, affilate of the Socialist Party in England - formerly the Militant) got 3%, under the 5% hurdle to get into the state parliament. (Bear in mind that this 3% was not under the banner of the SAV itself, but standing as the WASG, a mainstream mass party already represented in parliamant, so it was an especially bad result for Redler)

The WASG are an important split from the SPD, led by former party big hitter (Think Tony Benn, if he had actually won the deputy leadrer election), with 10000 members, mainly in the West, and who did extremely well in last years eletion, particularly in the industrial belt of the Saarland (equivalent to Labour heartlands in North East England). Between them the PDS and WASG have 54 members of parliament

There is also already some self criticism that this set back may be due to their coalition with the SPD. Linkspartei-Bundesgeschäftsführer Dietmar Bartsch hat inzwischen eine "selbstkritische Analyse" in Aussicht gestellt. Die Wähler hätten die Linkspartei für ihre Arbeit im rot-roten Senat der Bundeshauptstadt "schwer bestraft", sagte Bartsch in der ARD. (The voters have severley punished the Links Partei for ther work in the red-red senate of the capital city, said Linkes Partie national secretary Dietmar Bartsch. )

The PDS have followed a “dented shield” policy of seeking to pull the SPD (Labour) to the left, and opposed as far as possible neo-liberalism. The following web broadcast is only in German, but is a good explanation of the PDS position. (In particular there have been difficult decisions, due to the low level of confidene in the working class for struggle,). The CWI make a lot of mileage about events at the Charité hospital, which the SPD wanted to privatise. In order to prevent privatisation, a reduction in service and a bonfire of workers rights, the PDS have worked with the unions to see there are ways of reducing the wage bill, to keep the service open and in public ownership. Obviously it would be better if the unions would fight and a campign could defend both the current wages, and the social ownership. But in reality there is no mood for a fight, there is much much less mood for a fight than when the Militant called off action in Liverpool. Sometimes you have to bend so you don't break.

Here is the rather shrill web broadcast by the CWI member, Lucy Redler. (unfortunately also only in German). the WASG stood against the PDS, against the wishes of the WASG party nationally, as this damages the prospects of fusion between the WASG and PDS next year (due to some federal legislation). The CWI have (yet again!) put narrow self-interest before the bigger picture of strengthening the whole socialist movement. The Greens are completely right wing, ambiguoss on the war on terror and embrace neo-liberalism The up shot is that there is likely to be a red-green coalition (SPD-Green), committed to neo-liberalism and privatisation. Thanks CWI !!!

Gregor Gysi, Linkspartei: "Das ist eine bittere Niederlage für uns in Berlin.Die Grünen sind hier so geil und scharf aufs Mitregieren, dass es mir schon ganz unheimlich ist." Gysi: "This is a bitter blow for us in Belin, the Greens here are so venal and focussed towards coallition government, that to me is completley obvious"

Petra Pau, Linkspartei: "Wir haben unser Ziel 17 plus X deutlich verfehlt. Es wird zu entscheiden sein, mit wem die SPD regieren wird." Pau: We have clearly failed to reach our goal of 17 plus per cent, it remains to be seen who will rule with the SPD"

Claudia Roth, Die Grünen: "Ein unglaublich tolles Ergebnis! Es gibt in Berlin einen Wahlgewinner – und das sind die Grünen. Ein eindeutiges Votum der Berliner für Rot-Grün in dieser Stadt. Und das mit Betonung auf Grün." Roth (Green). An unbelievably good result. In Berlin there was an election winner, and that is the greens. A doubtless vote for a Red-green coalition in this city, and that with the emphasis on the Greens"

Gysi sagt, die klare Erkenntnis dieser Wahl sei, dass es der Linkspartei und der WASG gleichermaßen schade, wenn sie gegeneinander antreten. "Die WASG kommt ohne uns nicht ins Parlament und wir verlieren unnötig drei Prozent." Gysi said that the clear realisation of this election was that the PDS and WASG are both damaged of the stand against each other. "The WASG wouldn't be in parliament without us, and we unnecessarily lost 3%"

OUTSIDE BERLIN: Really bad in Mecklenburg Vorpommern, where the nazi NPD got over 38% across one whole town, and after the election there was a savage attack on PDS members, the press reporting it was a marvel no one killed.


daggi said...

I read this blog often, so I may well comment/reply in detail. But just a couple of points.

PDS: "remarkable". Hmm. I'll definately get back on that.

And something that needs correcting, as it's just wrong: the "schrill party political broadcast" isn't one. As it makes clear within the first two seconds, it was one of a series of "video podcasts" on themes central to the WASG campaign, available to watch or download via the WASG Berlin website.

The WASG Berlin party political broadcast - as broadcast on televison, can be seen here

On the WASG "being a split from the SPD" - not entirely correct, and certainly not in Berlin. The WASG's history is a bit more complicated than that, and to say this is like stating that "Respect was formed from the anti-war movement". There may be some amount of truth in it, but that ain't half the story.

Don't forget: the PDS vote halved.
Why? Because of the WASG? Hardly. Some of those who voted PDS in 2001 voted WASG instead. If they hadn't stood, they would have stayed at home, like the rest.

The WASG now have representatives on 6 local councils in Berlin.

And it's not a "mainstream mass party already represented in parliament". That has nothing to do with mis-translation or rusty German, it's just cobblers. In the federal parliament there is the PDS/"Linke" group, which stood with a few prominent WASG members on their (the PDS') electoral lists. Mainstream? The leadership would like it so, but it's not quite the case. Mass? While the WASG in Berlin has had its membership increase by 16% since it became highly likely that it would "go it alone" in yesterday's elections ( see ), a membership figure of 12000 does not make a mass party. Perhaps it's the second smallest mass party in the world?

Lastly, the PDS' vote in Berlin collapsed demographically most amongst younger (under 35) voters.

daggi said...

The membership figure of 12000 refers to the WASG nationally (in case anyone should imagine the CWI (and Linksruck (IST/SWP), highly active in the Berlin WASG - but doing electoral work for the PDS) have been doing such a great job of recruitment in the capital city)-

Best wishes, Daggi

AN said...

Thanks for that Daggi, on a second viewing it is indeed obvious that Lucy Redler's web-cast was not a party political broadcast. I still think it is a bit shrill!

I agree that the WASG membership I quote is across the BRD, I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. It being a "mass party" is I think a claim I would defend (with some caution as you are right to point out). Certainly the breakthough in last year's federal elections represented a mass electoral base, even if that has not translated into members. What is more the results were a step change from the former level of results for the PDS alone, especially in the West.

What I observed from the German newspapers during last year's elections was that Die Linke was given serious converage (even if often hostile). Certainly in contrast to England the amount of press coverage that Die Linke gets is equivelent to that of a mainstream party.

On the serious political questions though, it is remarkable that the CWI, who used to argue that socialists had to be in the Labour party, and who previously campigned in Britain for a Labour vote for governments much to the right of the PDS, and whose councillors sat in Labour groups in councils that had more right wing policies than the PDS, now believe that it is neceesary to challenge the PDS at the polls.

I am intersested in why you think the PDS vote has fallen so mauch over the last year, as I understand they have been in colaition in Berlin for some years now, or am I wrong on that?

AN said...

BTW I understand the membership of the WASG is around 850 in Berlin, is that correct?

It also seesm that the composition of the WASG is untypical in Berlin, as it seems from here to be more trot dominated, whereas in the Western Laende the WASG is more left social democratic.

Would you agree Daggi?

Mark P said...

That's a particularly grim report from Andy Newman, managing to combine simple inaccuracy with a spectacularly tendentious reading of the situation facing the German left.

1) The WASG is not a split from the SPD, although some elements in it were previously in the SPD.

2) If we are now counting parties with 12,000 members (including "double members" of both PDS and WASG) as "mass parties", we really have lowered our horizons. Even the PDS, which is many times the size of the WASG, isn't a mass party in Germany as a whole although it does have mass status in large parts of the former East Germany.

3) The Berlin WASG is not simply Socialist Alternative (SAV), nor do the SAV dominate it numerically. The Berlin WASG is largely composed of anti-cuts activists of many stripes, most of whom became politically active opposing the neo-liberal policies of the SPD/PDS state government. It also includes a substantial number of former PDS members who left that organisation in disgust at the coalition policies. The reason why the SAV is prominent in the Berlin WASG is not because of huge numbers but because its general analysis chimes with that of the local anti-cuts activists.

4) The PDS is not a "real socialist" party as Newman naively or dishonestly claims. It is an ex-Stalinist party, turned into a reformist one and now happily implementing neo-liberal policies. That does not mean that the Berlin WASG (or the SAV) are opposed to a merger with the PDS or that they think it must be opposed at the polls in all circumstances. The issue is on what terms will a merger take place?

5) The point is that the PDS, which has a policy of taking part in neo-liberal coalitions wherever possible and which has steadily moved to the right over the years, desperately needs the WASG. Prior to the launch of the WASG, the PDS had fallen below the 5% barrier nationally. It was (and is) an ageing party which looked to have a long decline ahead of it in its Eastern heartlands and no possibility of a breakthrough in the West. The WASG changed that.

Because the PDS desperately needs the WASG, the WASG does not have to simply accept being absorbed into an unchanged PDS, still in coalition, still implementing neo-liberal cuts. It can demand that a new party have a democratic structure, that it refuse to enter neo-liberal coalitions, that it fights against cuts rather than implementing them.

Unfortunately the WASG leadership is as reformist, opportunistic and careerist as their PDS equivalents and the last thing Lafontaine and co want is to fight for the supposed principles of their own party. That's what the fight in the WASG is about: merge into an unchanged PDS or demand a new party of the left which is better than that.

This is a particularly raw issue in places like Berlin where the PDS is in government and is implementing massive cuts. Here the WASG national leadership wants its members to join an organisation many of them left over its governmental policy, while it is still committed to that policy. It wants activists who came into politics to oppose the SPD/PDS cuts, to campaign for the election of another SPD/PDS cuts coalition. That this didn't go down well is hardly surprising.

6) As Daggi notes, the PDS managed to lose half its votes in this election. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of its cuts and coalition policies from its support base.

And yet all we get by way of analysis from this site is some drivel about the SAV putting its interests before those of the movement as a whole...

LeftyHenry said...

Democratic socialism has a hard time achieving it's goals considering that a party of mostly lower class working class people don't have the type of money right wing neo-con parties which are predominantly upper middle class entrepenuers. Money in capitalist elections decides everything, most importantly your ability to campaign and get your message out....

AN said...


Your characterisation of the PDS as not "real socialists " but "an ex-Stalinist party, turned into a reformist one and now happily implementing neo-liberal policies" reduces a very complex process into slogans.

Personally I am happy to include ex-stalinists and reformists in my definitioon of socialists

Using "reformist" as an insult word suggests that you think that the choice in Germany (or Britain) is between reform and revolution! The fact that I have heard CWI comrades desctibe the SSP also as reformist shows the degree to which your "leninism" stands as an obstacle to understanding the present situation.

The actual choice is between the class struggle left and social partnership. When the issue of revolution actually comes that is when we find out who is a reformist and who is a revoltionary. Remember that the most exemplary products of the"leninist" paradigm were Zinoviev and Kamenev, who opposed Octiober. So what value being a "revolutionary"?

The collapse of the DDR, and the embracing of neo-liberlism by the SPD (though less so than Blair) gives the opportunity to build a new left. It is in this context that the aspect of the WASG that is nationally significant is not the part of it that has drawn activists together, but the split from the SPD of Lafontaine - that is what puts on the table the prospect of a true mass party (and a combined membership of 80000 counts as the founding of a mass party surely - most certianly a big break out of the sect ghetto.)

BUt the process is an uneven one, and in the absence of mass struggle, or the likelihodd of it, to oppose neo-liberalism then the debate about participation in coalitions (as with the PRC in Italy, in L'unione coalition) is a real one. The PDS does not actually enter "neo-liberal" coalitions, which implies coalitions with out and out bosses parties - it enters coalitions with the SPD. Now even while I will accept that the SPD has effectivley become an out and out bourgeois party, it still has a social democratic electoral base, and many members are still social democrats. There is therefore a role for a constructive engagement still with the SPD. The debate as to what extent that should permit coalitions will be a long runing one.

It is perferctly reasonable to continue to engage with the process, and support the PDS, while at the same time agitating for resistance to cuts and provatisation.

What i fail to understand is how what you are arguing now is consistent with the fact that the Militant stayed in the labour party, calling for a Labour vote and your councillors served in labour council groups, when Labour were far to the right of the current PDS.
Remeber Derek hatton withdrawing a motion from labour conference in defence of Liverpool in the interests of party unity. Now Hatton may have been a maverick, but behind that decision stood Grant and Taafe.

In the absence of a mood to fight it is difficult for socilaists in leadership positions. Note the capitualtion of the SP(CWI) comrades on the PCS executive over the issue of pensions, becasuue they tought (correctly I think) that there was no mood for a fight. The criticism of the SP PCS exec members from some other parts of the left used exactly the same language as you are using against the PDS.

Mark P said...

1) Yes I think the distinction between revolution and reform matters, even in times like the present when a revolution is something for the rather distant future. The distinction matters because it informs our views of how the workers movement should be rebuilt, what goals it should set itself, how it should organise and crucially how it will approach issues in the here and now. The idea that betrayal is inherent in reformism isn't just a slogan. It's a summary of a more complex but important reality.

Revolutionaries are not different from reformists only at some semi-mythical moment of future choice. Our political projects, approaches, organisations and attitudes are different at their core.

2) My description of the PDS as "an ex-Stalinist party, turned into a reformist one and now happily implementing neo-liberal policies" is certainly over-simplified. Any one sentence description of a real political process is bound to be. It does however in a general sense correctly describe the PDS, which is a great deal more than can be said for your touchingly naive two word description of them as "real socialists". By collapsing everyone on the broad left, from revolutionaries to careerist ex-Stalinists into some vague category of "real socialists" you rob yourself of any real ability to distinguish what is positive and useful from what is negative. In this case it leads to an inability to tell the difference not between those who want a revolution at some stage in the future and those who do not, but between those who are implementing cuts and those who are fighting them.

3) In my view the correct description of the SSP (before its implosion) was "centrist", although I don't like using the term because I'm not fond of jargon. Far from this understanding getting in the way, it allowed Marxists to see both the positive and the negative features of the SSP's growth and evolution. While those who want to obscure the difference between reform and revolution and blindly cheerlead for every "broad" lash up, simply had nothing of interest to say about the reformist and nationalist pressures which the SSP came under.

4) You are confused in your description of what a "neo-liberal coalition" means. It is possible for parties linked to the workers movement to implement neo-liberal policies, just as most capitalist parties have not historically been neo-liberal in their policies. The SPD/PDS coalitions operate neo-liberal policies. Therefore they are neo-liberal coalitions.

The class character of the parties is a related but not identical point. As far as the SPD is concerned, I think it makes little sense to analyse it as anything other than a capitalist party. The PDS, despite its complex past and relatively puny size, is perhaps best considered something along the lines of a "capitalist workers party", although again we are getting into jargon territory.

5) This brings me on to your comments about the difference between the PDS and the old Labour Party, which strike me as somewhat bewildered. Firstly I would disagree that the PDS is significantly to the "left" of the social democratic parties of the 1970s or 1980s, but this is not a key point.

Marxists do not have some eternal political tape measure which they apply to the programme's of political parties when deciding to stand against them or join them or table some motion. What we do is assess the tasks facing us as they flow from the particular situation at any one time. In Germany at the moment the issue is not that the PDS is so malevolent that it is an issue of principle to stand against them rather than work inside that party. In fact a Socialist Alternative member was elected as a councillor a couple of weeks ago standing on a joint list of the WASG and PDS.

The issue is what kind of party is to emerge from the current merger. Is it going to be a party which operates like the current PDS - a reformist party drifting slowly to the right, which is committed to neo-liberal coalition. Or is it going to be, to use your terminology, a "class struggle party"? What the Berlin WASG and Socialist Alternative have been doing is to try to force the latter idea onto the agenda, an idea which horrifies the "real socialists" who lead the PDS.

Because of the long drawn out decline of the PDS and the opportunity which the birth of the WASG offered it, the WASG is now in a position to force the PDS leadership to abandon their accomodations with neo-liberalism.

This is a window of opportunity which won't be there for long. Once the merger takes place on the PDS leadership's terms there will be much less space for debate, much less politically up for grabs and at best socialists will be looking at a long slow battle inside a parliamentary oriented reformist party. That's why people who care about what kind of unity, what unity is to be used for, have to fight their corner. And the first task is to defend the WASG's anti-cuts principles against the PDS' existing cuts policies.

That's what the argument within the WASG is about - join an unchanged PDS or demand something better from the merger. Although unsurprisingly naive "unity at all costs" merchants like yourself miss all that.

AN said...

"simply had nothing of interest to say about the reformist and nationalist pressures which the SSP came under."

Yawn - here we go again.

AN said...


You arguments would be moore convincing if the CWI had not walked out of the English SA, and acted in an entirely unprincipled way in Scotland.

In fact of course the CWI opposes the idea of a broad party if it compromises your own interests to operate as a party within a party. Declaring yourself a revolutionary vanguard, that we should all follow in awe, becaaue you are after all always correct.

Amir said...

You say:

"PDS leader Gregor Gysi was a dissident in the old DDR, so the party embodies the progressive aspects of the DDR, and not the repressive parts."

Wikipedia says:

"Gysi's political career started in the then-ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) of East Germany, to which he was admitted in 1967. In 1971 he became a licensed attorney, and during the 1970s and 1980s defended several notable dissidents, including Rudolf Bahro, Robert Havemann, Ulrike Poppe, and Bärbel Bohley."

Not quite the same thing I'm sure you'll agree.

But then what can one expect from your admission that you don't have the intellectual discipline to actually read a single one of Norman Geras' books but are happy to mischaracterise his blog contents in such a juvenile way as you do in the post above this.

The word 'lightweight' comes to mind.

AN said...


I may not have read Geras's book (becasue neither the subject nor the writer's views interest me) - I have however read Jens König’s “Gregor Gysi – eine Biographie”.

To be an attororney for dissidents in the former DDR was a form of dissidence, Gregor Gysi was indeed crtical of the authororitarian aspects of the state.

How anyone who relies on Wikkipedia for their facts can accuse others of being a lightweight is humerous.

AN said...

And Amir

What you need to understand about the SED was that it had 2 million members, and if you wanted to achieve anything at all with your life, then people joined it. It was the only political instsitution

What is more the DDR was a complex place, and alongside the repressive and authoritarian rule there was also good social provision. And to a certain degree the authoitarianism had been promotes by deliberate destabilisation of the DDR economy and society by the west.

So it was not unreasonablr for people who wanted a better world to join the SED either.

Mark P said...

So, after a couple of posts in which you fail to mount any serious defence of your original article, you give up trying and resort to spewing out a couple of snidey rent-a-sectarian remarks instead. It's about half a step above putting your fingers in your ears and yelling "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!". But still, I think the exchange above, before you found yourself back at the playground level, rather speaks for itself.

Amir said...

"What you need to understand about the SED was that it had 2 million members, and if you wanted to achieve anything at all with your life, then people joined it. It was the only political instsitution"

Fine, but don't characterise members of the ruling party as 'dissidents' - your position is either naive or politically dishonest.

AN said...


I have a friend who was a political exile from Iraq because he was an opponent f Saddam. He was also a member of the ba'athist party.

AN said...


I apologise if you thought me remarks "sectarian" - rather I was trying to point out that underlying the disagreements about Germany was actually a deep underlying politicall differnece in our approaches towards the question of broad parties.

I will try to adress the issues more seriously here.

To a certian degree, the issue of Germany is one where there is a difficulat tactical and strategic choice to make, and I think the CWI have made the wrong choices, but time will who is right.

There are three issues. One is the desirability of broad parties, such as the SSP. Second is the nature of the PDS. Third is the tactical issue of the coalitions.

With regard to broad parties - to me this seesm to be the strategic onjective of the moment, and the paradigm of the "Leninist" groups such as the CWI and SWP, has outlived its usefulness.

If we agreee with Amir's characterisation that no one who was a member of the SED could have been disastisfied or dissenting from the DDR, then there is notthing preogressive about the PDS at all, and unity should be - on pronciple ruled out. I do not believe this to be the case, given the contradictory nature of the DDR. A politically repressive state that neverthless embodies non-market economic relations, and progressive social polcies.

On the third question - we have the same issue in Italy with PRC - there is clearly a dilema in that the PDS do not stand on an electoral platform of cuts and privatisation - their manifesto calls for those cuts and provatisations to be opposed. Their practice in coalition with the SPD compromises that position. So the question is how the left deals with the contradiction of a party that says one thing and does another. My own view is that unity with the WASG puts more pressure on the PDS towards the left, Whereas standing against them electorally, and therefore splitting the left vote and possible forcing the PDS out of opposition and ushering in a neo-liberal red-green coalition will weaken the tensions within the PDS not exagerate them. At the same time a red-green government in Belrin will be worse than the red-red one. The low level of comabativity of the German working class also means that the option of a class struglle response to neo-liberlism is only a propaganda demand, not a practical alternative.