[Marxism] (GLW) Winfried Wolf: GERMANY - Pre-existing 'grand coalition' now formalised & more analysis
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Tue Nov 8 10:25:51 MST 2005
GERMANY: Pre-existing grand coalition now formalised
by Winfried Wolf, Berlin
[Winfried Wolf is a freelance journalist, an author, and a former leading
member of the Trotskyist Fourth International. From 1994 to 2002 he was a
member of German parliament for the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS).
Today he is co-editor of Zeitung Gegen den Krieg (Newspaper Against the
On October 10, a de facto decision was made to form a new federal
coalition government, made up of the conservative Christian Democrats
(CDU/CSU) and the centre-left Social-democratic Party of Germany (SPD).
If that also means a historic break in post-war German politics as many
observers have claimed it is yet to be seen.
However, in one aspect the result is truly historic: With the CDUs Angela
Merkel becoming chancellor, for the first time in Germany, a woman will
head the federal government.
>From May 22, the battle for power was dominated by the gender question. On
that day, after the SPD lost the North-Rhine-Westphalia state election,
then chancellor Gerhard Schroeder decided to hold a new federal election
and immediately personalised the campaign with the slogan she or me.
She, a politically inexperienced woman, moreover one coming from the
former communist east, or me, the worldly wise chancellor, who once in
government talked of women and such fuss [hullabaloo].
Schroeder reinforced his machismo on the evening of September 18, election
day. Before millions of TV viewers he declared in a roundtable debate
between party leaders: Only with me as chancellor can there be a stable
government. But the conservative CDU/CSU won 1% more in the elections
than the SPD.
On October 10, Schroeder and his SPD had to cave in, accepting as the new
chancellor a woman who for 15 years has operated in male-dominated
structures and has learned to beat male chauvinists with their own weapons
and with her own networks. The fact that in content and methods Merkel
like Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher before her does not
differ from the men's world is part of the nature of the capitalist
The new grand coalition is affected by three specific characteristics
and one continuity.
First, it is a coalition of losers. The CDU/CSU lost 3.3 percentage points
of the vote from the previous federal election in 2002, receiving 35.2% on
September 18. The SPD lost 4.3 percentage points, down from 39.5% in 2002.
For the first time in German post-war history, both major parties received
a combined vote of less than 70%.
Furthermore, the voter turnout was for Germany very low 77.7%,
meaning that more than a fifth of the voters did not cast a ballot.
Secondly, the CDU/CSU and the SPD will hold equally strong positions in
the new cabinet. The CDU/CSU will take six ministries economics,
defence, interior, families, education, and farming. The SPD will hold the
eight ministries foreign affairs, finance, employment, justice, social
welfare and health care, transport, environment and foreign aid. Formally,
there will be an 8-to-8 balance in the cabinet, since Merkel and her
chancellery minister each will have a vote.
The formal equality in cabinet between conservatives and SPD results from
the successful power plays of Schroeder. But it remains to be seen if that
will pay off in the end for the SPD. Rather, it will be mitgegangen,
mitgefangen, mitgehangen (gone together, trapped together, hung
Thirdly, what unites the coalition politically is both major parties
commitment to carrying through pro-big-business neoliberal economic
policies. There will be further reductions of taxes on capital and
additional taxation for working people, especially another increase of the
value-added tax. The rolling back of the welfare state will be
continued. At the same time, militarisation of the republic will be
accelerated. Constitutional changes that will allow use of the German army
in internal affairs are looming.
Which takes us to the continuity. The new coalition government is just the
formalisation of a de facto coalition that has existed for six years
between the major parties. Almost all important decisions of the previous
SPD-Greens coalition government were supported by a de facto coalition
that comprised 95% or more of the members of the parliament.
This informal grand coalition pursued the same two key policy points
that will shape the new, formal, grand coalition, and which characterise
all neoliberal governments around the world: On the one hand, there is the
accelerated redistribution of income from the bottom to the top and, on
the other, there is the militarisation of society.
The decisive tax reform in 2000 which transferred to German corporations
about US$94 billion between 2001 and 2005 was voted for by SPD, Greens,
CDU/CSU and Free Democrat MPs. The same broad coalition voted in principle
for Agenda 2010, with its Hartz-IV laws that are aimed at eroding working
peoples pensions and other social welfare entitlements.
Similarly, all foreign deployments of German troops including the German
army's first participation since 1945 in a war (in 1999, against the
federal republic of Yugoslavia) was supported by all four of these
The draft legislation for a European Union constitution received a 97%
majority in the German parliament. Only two days before the majority No
vote in France on this draft constitution, in the German upper house
(Bundesrat), which is made up of MPs elected by states, only one state,
Mecklenburg-Pomerania (with its SPD-Party of Democratic Socialism
coalition government), abstained all the others agreed to the draft EU
constitution with its obligation to increase military spending, as did the
SPD-PDS governed state of Berlin.
The continuity between the previously de facto and now formally
constituted grand coalition government became evident on September 28,
when the old Bundestag (parliamentary lower house) had a special last
session. The only agenda item was the deployment of German troops in
Afghanistan. The new MPs could witness from the visitor area how 98% of
the old MPs said Yes to the expanded deployment of the German army at
It was a kind of inauguration rite for the new Bundestag, an affirmation
of continuity of the long existing grand coalition against the working
people of Germany and the world, against the environment, and for
corporate profit and militarisation.
Once again, a near-100% majority was to be demonstrated, which won't
happen too often from now on, as for the first time since 1952 the
Bundestag will have a strong fraction to the left of the SPD in the form
of more than 50 Left Party MPs.
>From Green Left Weekly, October 26, 2005.
Visit the GLW home page.
GERMANY: Success of Left Party which way forward?
Winfried Wolf, Berlin
The Left Party.PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism] performed best in the
German federal election on September 18. Receiving 8.7% of the national
vote, it has more than doubled its result from 2002, when it failed to
jump the 5% hurdle that allows its national list candidates to enter
Even though the opinion polls from August predicted the party would
receive 10-12%. However, it needs to be emphasised that for the first time
since 1952 (when the German Communist Party, KPD, failed to enter
parliament in the second general election after World War II), we can see
across the nation a parliamentary party that is to the left of the German
Social Democrats (SPD).
Encouraging is also the composition of the Left Party voters 23% of the
jobless voted for the LP, which is above the average 8.7%, and so are the
blue-collar workers with 12%. And it is exactly those two important
sections where the PDS failed to a large extend in the 2002 elections.
Also, the LP's result on September 18 was an east-west nationwide victory.
In the east, the LP achieved 25.4%, in the west it was 4.9%. That means an
increase of 8.5 points in the east (or 150%) and in the west the party
more than quadrupled its vote from the 1.1% it scored three years ago.
In the far west Ruhr basin, the LP beat the Greens in important industrial
cities with a high unemployment rate. In Saarland, home state of Oskar
Lafontaine (former SPD chairperson and Saarland premier, now a leader of
the LP/WASG), the LP received 18% of the total vote.
But there remain three main weaknesses of the LP, which were confirmed
during the election campaign and afterwards.
First, the social question: Despite an overwhelming number of LP voters
indicating that social justice is a crucial issue for their decision, the
LP remains weak on this. The election manifesto and program hardly
mentioned unions and workers, and there was no key message on how to fight
against Germany's record unemployment. The idea of work-time reduction was
only mentioned in general terms, and it was stated that only employees
with low incomes should be granted full compensation for reduced work
hours. Lafontaine even propagated the following thesis which otherwise
sounds like very right-wing rhetoric: The state is obliged to prevent
family fathers and women from losing their jobs, because foreign workers
take them away on cheapest wages.
The important issue of war and peace was the second weak spot: Right in
the middle of the election campaign, party leader Lothar Bisky saluted the
proposal to nominate Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for the Nobel Peace
Prize. And shortly after the election, when the old Bundestag (German
parliament) once again decided to extend the deployment of German troops
in Afghanistan (against the votes of the two LP.PDS MPs), LP member of
European Parliament, Andre Brie often referred to as mastermind of the
PDS, now LP when asked What impression do you get of the work of German
soldiers in Afghanistan?, replied: The troops do a very good and
The third and decisive weak spot is the fact the Left Party is not what
its candidates mainly got rewarded for in the elections: It is not the
beginning of something new; it's essentially a renamed PDS. The
cooperating second party, the WASG, contributed greatly to the good LP
election result, but only 12 of the 54 elected LP MPs are from the WASG,
and on the executive level of this new fraction, it has only 2 out of 12
But above all, the LP-renamed-PDS is a government party in the states of
Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pomerania, a junior partner in coalitions with the
SPD. While the LP election platform demanded the extension of the public
sector, SPD-PDS-governed Berlin is attacking the public sector, e.g., the
SPD-PDS government privatised electricity and water supply.
The SPD-PDS government in Mecklenburg-Pomerania conducts a land reform,
where it reduces the amount of districts (that are also electorates) from
18 down to 5, thus putting more distance between the government and the
citizens, and also slashing almost a quarter of public sector jobs.
Nevertheless, a number of Left Party parliamentarians will become
pro-active on socialist policy-making and they will closely cooperate with
extra-parliamentary movements. More than 4 million Germans voted against
neoliberalism and militarism on September 18. In conjunction with new
struggles in society, this promises the chance for some dynamic
The main conclusions to draw from the 2005 elections are: Gerhard
Schroeder and his SPD got punished for their neoliberal politics, and
Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats Angela Merkel failed to win majority
support. For the first time, the SPD and the Christian Democrats together
received less than 70% of he national vote. The regained relative strength
on the left and the obvious weakness of the right must be used to advance
>From Green Left Weekly, October 12, 2005.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.
GERMANY: Left MPs assess election outcome
Axel Troost, national co-chairperson of the west German-based WASG
(Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice), and Michael Leutert,
vice-chairperson of the east German-based Left Party-Party of Democratic
Socialism (Die Linkepartei.PDS) in Saxony, were both elected to the German
federal parliament in the September 18 national elections on the ticket of
the Left Party, which scored 8.7% of the national vote and had 54
candidates elected. Leutert and Troost spoke separately to Green Left
Weekly's Norman Brewer.
What is your assessment of what the grand coalition government between
the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democrats (CDU) will mean for
the German left?
Leutert: For the left, a grand coalition means clarity, as the two major
parties will now act together in government to enforce anti-social
programs. But they could also rely on Free Democrats and even Greens
support, as fundamental differences have all but disappeared between all
of the four parties. Only the Left Party rejects the current neoliberal
course that is being imposed on our society. Unlike mainstream
expectations, I don't think that the Greens will turn back to their
leftist roots. The opposite will occur they will adapt to the CDU, make
themselves compatible, try CDU-Greens alliances on the state level to test
out that constellation for future federal governments.
Troost: We wanted to prevent a right-wing CDU-Free Democrats coalition
government, and that's what we have managed. Under the prevailing
circumstances, a CDU-SPD grand coalition is the best variant for us. We
have a strong left opposition and I don't mean the Greens here; they
will develop a profile that is compatible with the CDU for future
Will the Left MPs support an SPD-Greens minority government against the
Leutert: Never! In public, they always say that [the Left Party] wouldn't
be up for negotiations on a coalition, that we just nag and indulge in
fundamental oppositionism. But that's not true. The opposite is the
case. We campaigned with our election manifesto and we would negotiate on
that political basis taxing assets, abolishing the welfare-slashing
Agenda 2010 and replacing it with a guaranteed basic income, no German
troops abroad, minimum pensions, revamping the education system. The
SPD-Green coalition got thrown out, but the CDU-FDP bloc did not get
elected in. So voters have clearly rejected neoliberalism. Just in
percentage terms, they voted for a left majority, as both the SPD and
Greens have tried left point-scoring with tax the rich and defend
social justice rhetoric. That reality is what the other parties can't
acknowledge. Therefore they won't get any of our votes when it comes to
electing the chancellor.
Troost: A clear No!. We are for a fundamentally different economic
system, as well as the abolition of the inhuman Hartz-4 reforms, a just
taxation system, and so on. The SPD and Greens don't want to cooperate
with that, and we will not support their neoliberal agenda.
How would you judge cooperation between LP-PDS, the WASG and independent
left activists in the election campaign? How will that proceed now after
Leutert: It differed from place to place, but overall it was quite
successful. In Saxony, it went excellently. Our ticket reflected a new
left broadness: Besides members of the Left Party and WASG, we had former
Greens, ex-SPDers as well as members of the Communist Party (DKP) high on
the list. Both the WASG and DKP produced their own campaign material. From
here, negotiations on fusing the left will begin on the federal level.
On the state level, we have already set up joint Left Party-WASG strategy
and program working groups. How to fit in the DKP, we will have to work
Troost: We successfully managed to be united in the campaign. Now, we need
to emphasise the differences to achieve clarity on the course of unity
talks. It will take us up to two years, but we have the time, and we
should take it to discuss left politics on all levels and discover common
ground. There are three questions: How do we see participation in
governments under current circumstances? How important is the
extra-parliamentary wing of the social movements for us? Which additional
sectors of the left (like the DKP) can we integrate, that is, how open are
How can the extra-parliamentary opposition make use of and also support a
strong left in parliament, and do they want it?
Leutert: Their biggest benefit is that through us they regain the chance
to carry their positions from the streets into parliament. Most of us play
an active role ourselves in the extra-parliamentary opposition. We will
set up a contact point for the movements in some offices. We want better
networking of the various initiatives and more effective cooperation with
the parliamentary left.
Troost: The WASG insists on an extra office for the movements, sponsored
by the parliamentary fraction of the left, and we have already set up a
commission to deal with it. With this, we want to demonstrate from the
very beginning our seriousness about supporting extra-parliamentary
movements and get a big profile here. Unions are the strongest force
outside parliament, so we will start an initiative together with the
unions for developing pro-worker legislation like minimum wages.
>From Green Left Weekly, October 12, 2005.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.
Send a letter to the editor to GLW at greenleft.org.au
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