Friday, March 02, 2007

Left Unity at the crossroads

The two most advanced broad left projects in Europe are the PRC in Italy, and the alliance between the WASG and PDS in Germany. The last few weeks have seen parallel developments in both projects, relating to the degree to which left parties can participate in government.

I have argued before that the fundamental division in the left at the moment is not between reform and revolution, but between the class-struggle left and those who accept the given constraints of capitalism, and therefore bow to the logic of neo-liberalism. There is a parallel but not entirely the same division between those who are prepared to enter coalition governments, and those who do not.

In Italy, Senator Franco Turigliatto has been threatened with expulsion from the PRC for voting against the l’Unione Coalition’s plans to commit Italian troops to the Afghan war, and for the massive expansion of a US military base in Italy at Vicenza. His vote threw Prodi’s centre-left government into crisis, but as Turigliatto says in his open letter: “The main responsibility lies with the government itself and the policies which it adopted during all these months, and which has gradually moved away from all those who voted for it. This crisis emerged partly for obscure reasons and partly because the reformist wing of the Unione wanted to dramatise the situation, in order to force the alternative left to keep silent on the most important questions. A crisis which was used to stop any demands at all and to establish the “neoliberal” trajectory of governmental action. In that sense the debate in the Senate was blackmail, in particular on Vicenza.”

Given the overwhelming urge in Italy to get rid of the far-right buffoon Berlusconi, and his post-fascist allies, the PRC were under tremendous pressure, including from their own members to join the coalition, but to make their participation work they had to be prepare to turn to the mass movement to strengthen their hand in arguing the terms of their participation. Instead Bertinotti's leadership was been dragged to the right to accomodate to the neo-liberal Prodi.

In Germany, the merger of the WASG and PDS is gathering pace. The WASG is a significant development, with former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine, and several trade union and social movement activists. The PDS Left Party has evolved out of the remains of the former ruling SED in the DDR, but has significantly altered since 1990, most of the careerists and bureaucrats have left, and the ideology has become more social democratic.

As Volkhard Mosler of the SWP’s sister party, Linksruck argues (in German – all the translations are my own so I apologise for any inaccuracies): ”The unification process of the two left parties in Germany, the WASG and the Left Party PDS has entered its decisive phase, and with that has shifted the focus of the debate. It is no longer a question of whether there will be a new party, but rather what the new party will look like. The future battlelines are also taking shape. Oskar Lafontane has demanded that the Left Party in Berlin should leave the coalition with the SPD, should the privatisation of the Berlin Savings bank takes place. As a result of which the leaders of the Left Party parliamentary factions in the East German state parliaments have come out on the side of their under-pressure Berlin comrades." (see below)

Lafontaine is exactly right, there is no problem with the class struggle left being prepared to enter coalition governments, and thus deprive the right wing of office, provided it uses it position in order to strengthen the real class struggle outside parliament, and is prepared to resign rather than permit anti-working class legislation. Over the imposition by the EU of bank privatisation, the PDS could use their governing role as authority to lead a militant mass movement, and i so doing they will either drag the SPD behind them or break a considerable part of the SPD's support towards them

Volkhard Mosler explains what is at stake very well, in his article “Who doesn’t fight has already lost” – There will be difficulties in bringing together the PDS and WASG, but “the conclusion cannot be “better smaller but purer” and turn back to what is commonly regarded as a purer WASG. Instead of that we should start a Western party building campaign and in the Autumn this year recruit new members with the goal of strengthening the class struggle and movement oriented wing of the new party. In addition, we must cooperate with all our strength in the organisations in the East German states, with those who don’t want to follow the vacillating course of their leadership. The pessimists claim that the struggle over the character of the new party is already lost. In reality, for the first time since the 1968-movement, socialists stand a chance of becomming a mass movement. Provised we keep our eye on the ball".

It is worth reading the following article about the PDS leadership, recently published by Linksruck:

The bankrupt Dessau Declaration
by Volkhard Mosler
(again my translation and my German isn't perfect!)

The leaders of the Left Party parliamentary factions in the East German states have issued a “Dessau Declaration” as the conclusion of a joint conference. In it they explain that for “left politics” to progress a “political majority is always necessary” in both “society and parliament”. They are right to observe that without a left majority in parliament no left government can come about. But then they leap to a false conclusion that without left governments no political progress is possible. That is a mistake, and several examples from history tell differently.

The state accident, health and pension provisions that exist today were introduced at the end of the nineteenth century by the arch-conservative Chancellor Bismarck. Bismarck was no friend of the “common people”. The “dangerous” Social Democratic Party (SPD) was persecuted by him under the anti-socialist laws. What drove him was the fear of revolution. He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm after a strike of 90000 workers in the Ruhr in 1889, advising that he should consider “that almost all revolutions are brought about by the absence of timely reforms”

The social improvements which were anchored in law, whether under Bismarck, during the German revolution of 1918-1920, or after 1968, were all driven by class struggle. It was a minor issue which party was in office, compared to the pressure from the industrial struggle and the streets.

The faction leaders further write that the left gains “credibility” through programmes and proposals that are achievable within the given political space. They celebrate the government polices of the Berlin Left Party as a successful example of this. By so doing they gloss over the fact that since joining the government the polls show a drop for the Berlin Left Party from 26% to just 12%.

The leaders see the “given space” as unchangeable. In so doing they resemble the so called political realism of the other parties. The Greens call themselves Realists, and the SPD boast about their pragmatism, as they orient themselves on the achievable.

The lawyer, Wolfgang Heine, who was a spokesperson for what was at that time the “reformist left” in the SPD wrote in 1898 that the party should follow the direction of “struggling for what is possible in the given circumstances”. And he added “I ask all rational people, should our politics strive for what is impossible in the given circumstances”. To which Rosa Luxemburg answered: “Certainly our politics should and can struggle for what is possible under the given circumstances.”, but with that “it is emphatically not decided, how and in what way we struggle for that possibility”. That is exactly the correct question, and it remains so to this day.

The Dessau Declaration states that “compromise is a necessary commodity” for achieving the goals of the left. In the debate with the “realists” of her own time, Rosa Luxemburg emphasised that it would be a mistake to believe “that one can achieve the best results through the path of concessions (compromise)”. Those who would push through improvements for the working masses and the socially disadvantaged only by negotiation with the powerful, without building political pressure from below, will never achieve their aims. By way of such parliamentary “exchanges .. we arrive in exactly the same position as a hunter who does not shoot game, and at the same time gives up his shotgun”: no reforms will be achieved that way, and the left will lose the trust of its supporters, as it will sell them one worsening of conditions after another as necessary compromise.

Realistic socialism doesn’t mean accepting the existing conditions as simply given. Whoever does that will find themselves continually on the retreat, as others define the conditions.

The dockers have brought the EU’s so called “Bolkenstein directive” to a halt through a Europe-wide strike. By so doing they have defended their jobs and working conditions from a major offensive from the European bosses. Had they followed the authors of the Dessau Declaration they would have bowed down to the wishes of the EU commission as the “given conditions”. Then in turn today [the Bolkenstein] guidelines would be the “given conditions”.

The Faction leaders [of the Left Party] should learn from the dockers how to build a fight-back and resistance. The EU is again the opposition in the dispute about the privatisation of the Berlin Savings Bank. Instead of turning themselves into the long arm of the EU, the Berlin Left party should mobilise the Berlin people against Brussels instructions, and put themselves at the forefront of the protests. If they don't first do that, they cannot dismiss the alternative left as unrealistic.


Liam Mac Uaid said...

Germany has been on my mind too. The story of the creation of the German Communist Party is more instructive in many regards than the Russian experience. I've tried to began exploring it here

Dave A said...

Rifondizione's move to the right means their MP's have now voted twice to support the continued presence of Italian troops in Afghanistan, and to commit Italian troops to the Lebanon.

Turigliatto's "crime", for which he has now been expelled from Rifondizione for two years, was to hesitantly abstain in a vote in support of Prodi's foreign policy.

On Thursday there was the vote of confidence in Prodi, on the basis of his new 12-point neo-liberal programme. Turigliatto says he is opposed to all 12 points, and correctly describes the Unione coalition's actions and plans as worse than the previous government - that is, worse than Berlusconi.

But when the vote of confidence was taken, the left all voted yes: Rifondizione, including Sinistra Critica and Turigliatto.

Unlike Berlin, where the coalition is with the SPD, a bourgeois workers party despite its neo-liberal policies, l'Unione is a popular front. It includes purely bourgeois parties: the rump fragments of Christian Democracy, including Prodi himself. They are the ones who call the tune, as always in popular fronts.

Joining such popular front coalitions compromises on the need for the political independence of the working class. With the SPD-WASG coalition in Berlin, it is not a matter of such principle. But even in coalitions with neo-liberal bourgeois workers parties, the result is that class struggle becomes subordinate to parliamentary manoeuvering. Strikes and demonstrations are used as a way to try to push the coalition partners more to the left, rather than as the only way that neo-liberal attacks can be resisted.

The left parties role in coalitions becomes that of providing left cover for neo-liberalism. The left opposion within the left parties oppose this. Linksruck call for the strengthening of the class struggle wing within the WASG. Turigliatto calls for standing with the unions, peace campaigners and communities resisting neo-liberal attacks.

But neither Sinistra Critica nor even Linksruck says clearly where the roots of the mistakes of WASG/Linkspartei and Rifondizione lie. Both parties are left reformist, and have leaderships who support class struggle - unless it threatens their own careers.

Yes, revolutionaries should work seriously with left reformists who support class struggle. But that means no diplomatic evasions: for many of them, such support will be unreliable when it comes to a crunch.

AN said...

Dave a.

This is a very schematic account on your part I fear.

For one example, it is lafontane who is giving the backbone to the demand that the PDS should leave the Berlin red-red coalition rather than implement privatisation. Yet is he not a "left reformist".

With regard to the L'Unione coalition, there was a tremendous urge in Italian political left to get rid of Berlusconi, to ignore that the PRC would have been isolated,, and the right would have won the lection, giving a much less favourable context for class struggle left.