Fwd: [FI-P] IV327Germany
alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Thu Jan 11 17:34:16 MST 2001
The congress of the PDS at Cottbus
In broad terms, the congress of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS)
held at Cottbus on October 14-15, 2000 had three main results. First, it
allowed a consolidation of the leading personnel in the PDS leadership
bodies. Secondly, a worrying "patriotic" trend in the political development
of the PDS received a new vigour. Thirdly, this congress was the expression
of an "armistice" inside the party, announced unilaterally by the
leadership. So the debate on the political orientation of the PDS remains
open. That is why the socialist fight for the PDS is today more important
than ever, whether one is a party member or not.
Since its exit from the SED*1 at the end of 1989, the PDS' public
expression, the elaboration of its thought and positions as well as its
process of decision taking carried the imprint of a small number of
people: Gregor Gysi, Lothar Bisky, André Brie and Dietmar Bartsch.*2 At the
preceding congress in Münster there was a rupture*3: Gysi and Bisky
announced their retirement, Bartsch did not become, as predicted, the new
president of the party and André Brie, who sat in the European parliament,
became a rare sight among the circles of party strategists in Berlin.
The congress at Cottbus represented above all an enlarged recomposition of
the leading circle of the PDS. What happened there related to the previous
setback to those who wanted to transform the PDS into a "proper" party,
integrated into the official political field of the greater Germany. In
1995, when Sarah Wagenknecht*4 was elected to the management committee of
the party, there were ultimatums and blackmail. At Cottbus, on the
contrary, when Gabi Zimmer*5 was asked if she would cooperate with Sarah
Wagenknecht in the event of the latter being elected, she said she would
collaborate with any democratically elected member of the management
After the electoral success of the PDS at the elections for the Bundestag
in 1998*6 the party leadership intended to rapidly present it as an
acceptable coalition partner at all levels. To this end a project was
established at the end of 1998, during a behind-closed-doors meeting of the
parliamentary group, defining the PDS as a "transitional party", a
candidate without prior conditions for entry into federal government from
2002. Essentially, two "external" factors have until now stopped the
implementation of this orientation:
1. The classic dynamic of capitalism has pitilessly broken the illusions of
the PDS leadership in the "social reformist policy" of the new federal
government constituted by the SPD and the Greens. As in past decades, the
SDP in government has shown itself "modern" to the extent that it
efficiently satisfies the demands of the movement of capital. It was
already the case at the end of the 1960s under Willy Brandt with the grand
coalition,*7 when the SDP imposed laws worthy of a state of emergency and
professional blacklists. It was again the case later when SPD chancellor
Helmut Schmidt proceeded to a global dismantling of democratic rights. It
is still the case today when as Sarah Wagenknecht pointed out at Cottbus
the SPD uses its trade union influence to pursue the dismantling of taxes
on companies, the partial privatization of retirement funds and the
accelerated deregulation of the economy. The new orientation of the PDS
2. NATO's war against Yugoslavia also stayed the hand of the PDS
leadership. An "anti-militarist" party in the eyes of its members and the
overwhelming majority of its electors, the PDS could not follow the path
taken by the Greens.*8 The attempt to make a decisive step in this
direction at Münster failed: the great majority of delegates opposed the
resolutions from the party managing committee and the parliamentary group
seeking to examine wars carried out under the mandate of the UN "case by
case" to decide if the party should support or oppose them and this
despite the fact that Gregor Gysi had presented these resolutions as
crucial for the "political capacity" of the PDS, letting it be understood
that his remaining chair of the parliamentary group and his candidature as
head of the list were linked to their confirmation by the congress.
Moreover, Lothar Bisky had declared a little before the Münster congress
that he was no longer a candidate to the chair of the party, no!
t wishing to serve as a "dustbin".
Nonetheless, it was differences between individuals rather than the vote to
oppose wars under UN mandate that led to the PDS' crisis of the leadership.
After Münster a feverish personal recomposition took place in the leading
bodies of the parliamentary group and the party.
Dietmar Bartsch was rejected as chair of the party in favour of Gabi
Zimmer, who many (including myself) thought capable of an inclusive
approach, rallying and unifying the party in its diversity. As a
supplementary sign of the desire for an opening, Roland Claus was chosen as
head of the parliamentary group.
The election of the leadership of the parliamentary group (which took place
before the congress, on October 2), like the election of the party
leadership bodies at the Cottbus congress, had four particularities:
There was no candidate opposed to the single proposal of the leadership.
The election for the post of spokesperson, where Petra Pau (78 %) and
Kirsten Radüge (8 %) were candidates,*9 was an exception.
In the whole of the leadership of the parliamentary group and among the
new leaders of the party (president, three vice-presidents, general
secretary and treasurer) nobody supported the decision of the Münster
congress against wars under UN mandate.
The integration in the leadership of the parliamentary group of even so
much as one of the seven deputies elected from the West was explicitly
An attempt was made to encircle the new president of the party, Gabi
Zimmer, by "strong men" who were previously partisans of a course of
normalization and purging of the party. We have Bartsch as general
secretary and Porsch as one of the vice-presidents; the candidature of
Helmut Holter as deputy vice-president was rapidly withdrawn and he was
presented "only" as a "simple member" of the managing commitee. He was
moreover elected to this function with the second highest score.
The new cadres in the leading posts of the parliamentary group and the
party often combine several functions. For some that means they work day
and night in the service of party in the cities, towns and villages. Others
could see it as a sign of a siege mentality. Porsch, Holter and Pau each
have three responsibilities of leadership at the levels of the regional
party, the parliamentary group and the federal party.
We should also mention that Dietmar Bartsch with 76.3% and Peter Porsch
with 67.9% of votes cast given that they were the only candidates
registered mediocre results. But "elections are elections", as they say,
and this could be the epigram for the congress as a whole. The leading duo
quickly showed how little fundamental debate mattered in this congress: the
TV programme "Heute" on ZDF*10 on the Saturday night of the congress showed
short extracts from Gabi Zimmer's speech and quickly moved on to the
football stadium opposite the congress hall, where Gregor Gysi and Lothar
Bisky were present as supporters of "Energy Cottbus".*11
During the preparation of the congress there was a debate provoked by my
amendments to the general motion on orientation, which, according an
increasingly reduced place to the critique of capitalism, bore witness to a
tendency which runs the risk of making the PDS no longer differentiable
from the parties of the right. This debate should be pursued with the
greatest seriousness after the Congress.
Many delegates and guests who entered the congress building were indignant
at the slogan decorating the room. The banner said in big characters: "that
a good Germany flourishes" and in smaller letters "Bertolt Brecht". Several
speakers and not minor ones stressed how much it mattered to them to be
able to use freely words which in this country have been confiscated by the
right, indeed by the Nazis. Gabi Zimmer said in her speech: "Germany is
beautiful. I love it and I hate at the same time the things which make it
appear hateful. I fight that which does not allow a good Germany in the
sense meant by Brecht to flourish. Georges Marchais ended every congress
speech with the slogan: "Vive la France!" "Vive la France!" I agree with
him here also."
I know that such words are not meant in a "nationalist sense". They
represent however a wrong political direction which renders the PDS
interchangeable with the parties of the right and will cost it dear at the
Firstly, a congress slogan should be unambiguous. This is not the case
here. The half phrase "that a good Germany flourish" could be adopted by
other parties, including by those of the right. The reference to a (dead)
author changes nothing. We never forget that images of the left like those
of Che Guevara and Karl Marx have today become advertising images.
Secondly, out of its context, a half-phrase poses still problems. Few
delegates and still less television viewers will seek out the complete
works of Brecht to read what the author wrote a few lines further on: "that
facing Germany the peoples no longer shrink as before a brigand". The poem
in question, which dates from 1950, was a proposal for the national anthem
of the GDR, founded in 1949, which presented itself then as the alternative
to the imperialist and militarist Germany. It was a time when, in the West,
Konrad Adenauer wanted the division of Germany and the SED and KPD pursued
a national line which posed many problems even taking account of the
conditions of the time. This example should precisely be a lesson: the KPD
then followed the directives of Stalin and an extremely Stalinist regime
applied inside the party. It thus isolated itself and in the following
elections in 1953 did not succeed in crossing the threshold of 5%, losing
its parliamentary representation.!
It was then possible to ban it without raising protests among democrats
and social democrats.
Thirdly, France is precisely not Germany. The slogan "Vive la France" is
linked to the French Revolution, whereas "Long live Germany" recalls the
Nazis. The PCF also has, moreover, a past of "national unity" that we
should criticize and not borrow. For example it had a timorous attitude
during France's colonial war against the Algerian revolution and accepted
both the French nuclear programme and the notion of a "force de frappe".
A new and very professional advertising film for the PDS shown twice
during the congress also goes in this direction, showing the transports
of joy of German unity in 1990 and the mass emotions accompanying it.
The first reaction of the PDS leaders after the Münster congress was to
urge the party to revise immediately the decision on NATO wars. The cadres
were advised in different conferences that "good" delegates should be
elected to the next congress. For this congress all delegates received a
book-present which explained the programme of the PDS as exclusively as
possible from the point of view of the "reformers". In some federations,
like Saxe, the regional managing committee mailed all delegates a list of
the candidates to the leadership that they should support at the congress.
In short: Brecht's famous poem on the insurrection of 1953 *12 could be
read today in the following manner: "After the insurrection of Münster, the
secretary distributed tracts and e-mails, in which one learnt that the
people of the party had lost the confidence of its leadership and that it
had to be recovered through a redoubled submission. Would it not have been
simpler for the leadership to dissolve the party and elect another?"
The dissolution of the party or rather its self-destruction is not on
the agenda, at least for the moment. A little before the summer holidays
the strategy was modified in an obvious manner. Michael Brie*13 was had
recognized that a purge would be unproductive for the projects of the
"reformers". Hence a new strategy, based on the following elements: Münster
becomes a blank spot in the history of the PDS; the decision taken then is
stigmatized as taboo; the "phenomenon" encountered at the Münster congress
is identified as "a problem of communication"; and above all, what is at
stake primarily is clarifying questions of personnel and putting off until
later questions of content, including that of a new programme.
Thus was developed the manipulation at Cottbus. As if nothing had happened
there, the speeches of the leaders referred openly to Münster. There was no
time for a serious debate on fundamentals. The congress began on Saturday
morning and only lasted a day and a half. On Saturday evening unusual
concern was shown for the beauty sleep of congress delegates. The debate on
orientation was relegated to the Sunday morning and thus shortened. Some
dozens of contributions presented were removed through an overall
procedural resolution and without the least debate. Many other
contributions were purely and simply put off as "material" to party organs.
Faced with such procedures some hundreds of members of the PDS and dozens
of sections and other structures should be discouraged. They had invested
their energy in contributing to a debate which, it is now obvious, had
ended up in the wastepaper bins.
The absence of a left opposition at the congress relates to the fact that
such a 'left' is only at its beginnings as well as the organization of the
general debate in which less than half of those down to speak were in the
end called to the rostrum. At the end of the day there was not the least
coordination or cooperation among the delegates critical of the leadership.
The Communist platform had in my opinion put forward too few motions and
proposals on the current policy of the PDS. Yet Sarah Wagenknecht's speech
presenting her candidature to the managing committee of the party, which
was greeted with great enthusiasm, made it obvious that a frankness of
expression still survives among many delegates. That was also shown by the
result of the votes: Wagenknecht was elected to the new committee with
61.6% of votes cast the best result for a candidate from the Communist
platform since the existence of this current.
In the advertisement for the PDS mentioned above, Gregor Gysi makes a short
statement in which he says, in measured fashion, that the PDS could risk
"political incapacity". Here is another example of the political style
Brecht had alluded to in 1953: the reference is taken from a speech by Gysi
at the end of the Münster congress, in which he criticized the resolution
against UN wars and attributed to two thirds of the delegates such a
* Winfried Wolf, a PDS deputy in the Bundestag, and a member of the
regional leadership in Bade-Wuerttemberg, is a former editor and regular
contributor to SoZ-Sozialistische Zeitung, the bimonthly edited by the
Union for a Socialist Politics (VSP). This article appeared in the Berlin
daily Junge Welt.
1. SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei - United Socialist Party) was created
in 1946 by the merger in the zone of Soviet occupation of the Stalinist and
social democratic parties (the SPD and the KPD). It was the party of the
ruling bureaucracy in the GDR until its disappearance in 1990.
2. Gregor Gysi, lawyer, Bundestag deputy, president of the PDS group in the
Bundestag until the Cottbus congress; Lothar Bisky, president of the party
until the Cottbus congress; André Brie, PDS deputy in the European
parliament, one of the "chief ideologues", protagonist of a "modern
socialism", anti-Stalinist and moderate; Dietmar Bartsch, treasurer of the
PDS, member of the managing committee, belonging to the apparatus hard
3. The Congress of Münster was held in April 2000. It has been interpreted
by the media as the beginning of the end of the PDS, an irresponsible party
with too many nostalgics and leftists. Some left sectors on the other hand
saw it as a victory against the rightwing tendencies inside the PDS. To the
great astonishment of the leading nucleus around Gregor Gisy, the majority
of the delegates rejected the motion of the managing comittee on peace
policy, which would have overturned the radical and principled pacifism of
the PDS and created the possibility of a future approval by PDS deputies of
the sending of German troops in the framework of UN operations. For Gysi
this vote would have served as a "sign of responsibility" opening the door
to the entry of the PDS in a SPD-Green-PDS government, the medium term
desire of the modernizing and rightist current dominant in the party.
4. Sarah Wagenknecht, spokesperson of the Communist platform inside the
PDS, reelected to the managing committee at Cottbus, was made popular by
Der Spiegel and the mass media. The Communist platform is a grouping within
the PDS of around 2,000 members, above all intellectuals, with nostalgic
tendencies, often without alternatives at the level of political
orientation (link to the social movements, governmental participation).
5. Gabriele Zimmer is the new president of the PDS.
6. See IV September 1998.
7. At the end of the 1960s the SPD participated in a "grand coalition" with
the CDU and the Bavarian CSU in the federal government, with the former
Nazi Kurt-Georg Kiesinger as Chancellor and Willy Brandt as foreign
minister and vice-chancellor. It was the time of the extra-parliamentary
opposition, cultural protest and the political radicalization of student
and working class youth. The professional bans ("Berufsverbote") date from
1972 (SPD-FDP coalition with Willy Brandt as chancellor).
8. Entering the government with the SPD, the Greens ("Grünen") abandoned
their pacifist tradition.
9. Petra Pau, president of the party and the PDS parliamentary group in
Berlin; Kirsten Radüge, member of the Landesverband Hamburg of the PDS,
split before the congress, belonging to an ultra-left wing which had been a
big scapegoat for the leading nucleus of the PDS.
10. Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, second television channel, non-commercial.
11. "Energy Cottbus", a football club who played Bayern München on the
Sunday of the Congress.
12. After an increase in work norms of 10% on May 13 1953 which cut
workers' monthly wages by 10%, a strike and demonstrations broke out in
East Berlin on June 16. It was crushed by the Soviet Army and the East
German police force (25 dead officially, more than 400 according to
dissident sources, 4,000 imprisoned, 22 condemned to death). Parodying the
official speeches of the time, Bertolt Brecht wrote a satirical poem
(published only after his death in 1956) advising the SED leaders to
dissolve the people and elect a new one.
13. Michael Brie, academic, brother of André Brie, member of the leadership
of the Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung, a foundation linked to the PDS, theorist of
a 'modern socialism'.
"Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus" or "Sozialistische Volkspartei"
The main article of the daily Neues Deutschland of Berlin, de facto
newspaper of the "Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus" (PDS), presents
thus the congress of October 14 and 15:
"The PDS came out of its congress of last week-end at Cottbus with a clear
orientation towards an opening towards society and cooperation with the
SPD. The new president of the party, Gabriele Zimmer, elected with 93.3% of
the votes, received the mandate for his plan to develop the PDS as a
"sozialistische Volkspartei" (Popular Party).
To understand the meaning of the term "Volkspartei" in German political
culture, it is necessary to be familiar with the debates inside West German
social democracy before the adoption of the famous Programme of Bad
Godesberg (abandonment of all reference to Marxism in 1959). There was a
polemic on the definition of the party: "Arbeiterpartei" (workers' party)
versus "Volkspartei" (people's party). For the right of the SPD of this
time, faced with the decline of the number of industrial workers, it was
necessary to orientate towards white collar workers as well as engineers,
technicians and managers, equated to the "middle class" rather than
defending the "narrow and corporatist" interests of the working class. [Fr.
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