Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Germany, France today - Britain tomorrow

The following article has been written by Terry Pearce, one of the TU officers of the CNWP, on how the process towards forming a new mass workers' party may unfold and the tasks facing those of us who are fighting for such a party.

For a prolonged period we have seen international capitalism in the ascent in the class struggle, especially in the US and UK. Blair and Bush believed that capitalism faced a golden future with deregulated economies and a flexible de-unionised work force. Whilst it is true that the working class has suffered defeats, it is also true that the working class has not been crushed during this period. In the UK we have seen a slump in trade union membership to around 6 million and a number of sections of workers such as the miners driven back to work following the bitter strike of 1984 - 85. We have seen similar set backs for workers around the world, including in the USA. However in spite of these problems the working class remains intact and is beginning to show signs of starting a fight back, at the same time international capitalism is being rocked by a crisis in its banking system and the US is now officially in recession.

There never was a golden future for capitalism. Together with a looming crisis, there is the growth in competition from China and India as well as a potentially revolutionary situation developing in their own Latin American back yard. Added to this the unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a totally unstable situation for capitalism on a global scale. We see both the US and UK governments pumping billions of dollars and pounds into their faltering financial institutions and the markets swing around wildly. Whether we are facing a real crisis of the capitalist system is hard to determine at this stage however one thing is certain the hoped for golden future is turning a very dark shade of grey.

The question for us is how do we react to this fast moving situation, how can we work to build militant resistance to the inevitable attacks on workers wages and conditions by the New Labour government as it seeks to solve the problems of capitalism at the expense of the workers. One thing is certain to me - we must build a political alternative to New Labour and the Campaign for a New Workers Party is a good beginning. While a minority on the Left say that workers will never turn their backs on the Labour Party, the reality is the Labour Party has turned its back on workers. This is a process we have seen elsewhere over the last period and we are now seeing signs that workers in a number of countries are breaking from the pro-business ex-social democratic parties.

Recent Regional elections in Germany and France have shown that an increasing number of workers are fed up with the rightward drift of the ‘traditional parties’. In Germany, De Linke has united a number of left wing factions including disillusioned activists from the SPD along with ex-Communist Party members from the old East Germany. They have seats in the German Parliament and recently won up to 14% of the votes in Regional Elections, in several Regions winning seats and holding the balance of power. This has shaken the SPD leadership so much that they are making left noises in an attempt to shore up working class support. Whilst De Linke is far from being a revolutionary party it is stirring up memories in the minds of many SPD members of a more militant past before its leaders totally capitulated to class collaborationist politics. It is not clear at this stage where De Linke will end up politically, however at this moment it is beginning to attract support from an increasing layer of activists disillusioned and angry at the role of the SPD leadership.

In France it can be said that French President Sarkozy and his right wing policies have enjoyed one of the shortest political honeymoons in history, almost as short as the one he enjoyed with his new wife. Not only hit by a wave of strikes he has now suffered a shattering defeat at recent regional elections. This is not just at the hands of the so-called Socialist Party but also from a growing Left vote. The votes for the LCR were quite significant in some areas of the country, and are as much a judgment on the Socialist Party and their rightward political trajectory as they are of Sarkozy. With the virtual collapse of the French Communist Party there is a political void on the Left, and with the move to right of the SP a new political party of the working class must be built in France.

Whilst we cannot of course make precise comparisons in the UK with developments in Germany and France, it is clear that workers are becoming disgruntled with the old worn out ex-social democratic parties that have become in many cases so pro-big business as to appear no different to the Conservatives. In the UK workers have no mass party that represents their interests and at this time there has been no significant left split from the Labour Party, however hundreds of thousands have left the Labour Party in disgust and this situation could change rapidly as tensions grow over the next period between the trade unions and New Labour. Whilst there are always dangers of a move towards the far right at times of capitalist crisis I believe that we will see a revival of militancy amongst organised workers as well as a growth of angry campaigning in local communities as services are slashed and privatised. The CNWP must intervene politically in all of these developments with our arguments for a new workers party that is totally opposed to the pro-business policies of New Labour. The developments in Germany and France could be the music of the future; we must make sure we play our part in building a fighting political socialist alternative to capitalism and the establishment parties in this country.

Terry Pearce


Walter Held said...

I sent this to Terry Pearce but he didn't seem to think it was necessary to amend his piece. So I'm submitting these corrections on Germany from Germany. I'm sure you wouldn't want to mislead your supporters.

Walter Held

"Before you actually submit your piece to the CNWP you might like to
correct some errors:
- The party is called "Die Linke" - The Left.
- It hasn't won 14 percent in recent elections. It won 5 percent in Hesse and in Lower Saxony, just scraping into the regional
parliaments. The 14 percent referred to is an average of support of east and west Germany; in the west with no old Commu nist Party support it hovers around 4 or 5 percent. In the old east regions it has up to 28 percent using the remnants of the SED bastions in local government.

You may like to correct these factual errors for the CNWP.

In addition the Die Linke is moving to the right at the moment, with
Petra Pau in the leadership distancing the party from members of the
western DKP - communist party - saying she sees no advantage in
having them as members and assuring its potential partners in the SPD
that it is not as radical as it is painted.

I don't share your interpretation that the SPD is making left noises
because of the Linke; but that is a matter of opnion, not fact.


Paul Gerrard said...

Walter may be right about the odd percentage point but I think he seriously underestimates the enormous break from the past that the electoral success of Die Linke represents:

* significant numbers of TUists walked away from the monolithic SPD and started a new formation, WASG which then amalgamated into Die Linke (there is no denying the pressures to accommodate with Stalinism that this involved)
* a key former leader of the SPD - Oskar Lafontaine - joined it. Imagine if ten years ago Tony Benn had left the Labour Party and started a new group!
* while it is stronger in the East it is a national party available to anyone throughout Germany and is present in I think 10 out of 16 regional parliaments (Walter will correct me)

Walter is probably right about the political standpoint of Die Linke, compromised as it is in supporting privatisations and redundancies in those regions where it is in coalition with the SPD.

But let's not under-estimate the impact of a totally new formation in an increasingly fluid situation. I've just read a piece on the aol website about the CSU's electoral prospects in Bavarian elections (due in September) which are threatened by internal migration from the East, loss of support from the middle class etc. Hard to imagine - the CSU might lose in Bavaria!!

CNWP supporters need to see - and welcome - the breakdown of old allegiances right across Europe.

In solidarity

Paul Gerrard

Walter Held said...

I am glad to see that Paul is trying to analyse the situation in a considered way. But to claim that that the difference between 14 and 5 percent is an "odd percentage point" is a strange view of numbers.

Die Linke in the west has about the same - or rather less than - the BNP's share of the vote in London - 4 to 5 percent. It is only the remnants of the DDR bureaucratic machine which give it an apparent strength through averaging out the numbers.

Saying that "significant numbers of TUists walked away from the monolithic SPD and started a new formation" is also something I do not recognise; firstly the SPD is in no way "monolithic". there are many currents in the party and there is even an organised Left Wing in the parliamentary fraction with its own chairman and spokeperson!

The membership of Die Linke is still around 80 percent based in the east and most of them are over 60 years old. Only a few hundreds joined the WASG in the west, and many were not trade unionists at all. Rather in many places the membership was more a kind of Claimants' Union of the unemployed. There is some growth in the west now, but it is very patchy. In my area, the Linke only exists on paper and no recruiting or campaigning goes on at all.

The fact that Oskar Lafontaine - a former national chairman of the SPD - joined the party could have been a blessing except for the fact that he is held in complete contempt by the vast majority of trade unionists, social democrat rank and filers and the general public. This is because he is an arrogant prima donna who is regarded as having betrayed his party, resigning his minister's portfolio and walking out on Schroeder's new SPD government in a fit of temper. And disloyalty is something which the labour movement does not easily forgive.

Getting elected to regional parliaments is one thing, although not terribly hard in Germany where proportional representation gives neonazis plenty of seats in east German Land-parliaments. The real question is what you do with your fractions once there. And as Paul admits, Die Linke has proved itself heavily compromised in Berlin where it has shared power with the SPD for years now. Such behaviour led the German section of the CWI - the SAV - , sister group of the Socialist Party in the UK, to walk out of the founding conference of the Die Linke and to oppose them publicly instead of trying to work within the new party. So the CWI here in Germany don't see the Die Linke as a New Workers' Party!
And neither do I.


Greg Maughan said...

Good to see a bit of debate going on the blog.

Firstly, I think I should make it clear that Terry isn’t a member of the Socialist Party and as far as I am aware is not aligned to any other political party – I make this point as Walter’s last post seemed to indicate that he was. This blog, as with the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party as a whole, is not dictated by the Socialist Party and as such Terry’s article is his own opinion. Having said this, I would concur with a lot of what he has written.

Walter also states that he does not “share [Terry’s] interpretation that the SPD is making left noises because of the LINKE” The notion that the SPD are ‘posing left’ is, I think, over-egging it. However, it is true that the dramatic loss of support and membership that the SPD has suffered due to its record in the Schröder years and its role in coalition with Merkel combined with increased support for DIE LINKE (THE LEFT) in opinion polls has led to a layer of the SPD to oppose certain anti-working class ‘reforms’ in an attempt to protect their positions. This can be seen in the Social Democrats feeling compelled to now oppose a few aspects of the brutal attacks on the unemployed being carried out, even though they had initiated and implemented them in the previous Schroder government.

This is a phenomena which we have seen a number of times in the past, where the pressure of the then-social democratic parties combined with the weight of the workers movement forced the ruling classes political representatives to at least ‘look over their shoulder’ and sometimes hesitate before attacking the working class. As such, it is not just the SPD, but all of the establishment parties who to one extent or another are attempting to appear more ‘social’ in their nature. An editor of the German paper Der Tagesspiegel recognises this shifting political lexicon when he states “Germany’s political class is paralysed as the country drifts to the left” (Wall Street Journal, 03/03/08).

The parliamentary ‘left-wing’ of the SPD which Walter refers to has existed as a small entity for some time now. It proved wholly incapable of acting as any sort of block to previous neo-liberal measures, in particular Agenda 2210, and therefore has not been noticed by the large numbers opposed to the SPD’s behaviour in government.

It is again a reflection of the social discontent amongst many German workers and the fear that this may be expressed within the political sphere that some SPD politicians have now joined this group. However, rather than strengthen the left challenge within the SPD the character of these new members of the bloc suggests that it will water down what was already an ineffective opposition. Those genuine SPD parliamentary members involved in it would be more effective campaigning outside of the SPD and trying to help build a genuine working class political alternative.

On Oscar Lafontaine, we have many disagreements with him. These include some quite strong criticisms. Despite this, in walking out of the SPD government and then later out of the party in protest at Schröder’s neo-liberal programme he took a principled stand and one that many workers in Britain would love to see Tony Benn or John McDonnell take. Walter states “disloyalty is something which the labour movement does not easily forgive.” Yes, disloyalty to your class! Lafontaine’s opposition to neo-liberalism and the fact that he sometimes, but unfortunately not always, raised the idea of socialism as the alternative to capitalism has had a tremendous effect in Germany. Last October the Financial Times Deutschland wrote of the “Lafontaine Republic”, an exaggeration, but an example of the impact he has had.

In different circumstances in the past, it could have been the case that walking out of the SPD may have been seen a betrayal, but many workers no longer look at it in this light; like New Labour in the UK, the SPD has become an out-and-out party of big business. While the SPD are now trying to be perceived as more ‘social’, generally it is no longer looked towards as a vehicle for social change by the vast majority of working class people, in particular trade unionists and those engaged in struggle against attacks set rolling by the Schröder -led SPD government.

For all his short comings, Lafontaine’s profile played a positive role in raising what was then the WASG’s profile and building support for a party outside of the political establishment.

On the tactics of the SAV (the German section of the Committee for a Workers’ International), we were opposed to the political basis of the unprincipled merger with the ex-Stalinist PDS. One of the key reasons for this, as Walter has pointed out, was the PDS’s continued participation in so-called ‘red-red’ coalitions on a regional basis with the SPD and the cutting of public service pay and services that has been carried out by these coalitions. The CWI in Germany has continued to work within DIE LINKE in most regions. For instance, SAV councilors (who were already elected before the formation of DIE LINKE) in Aachen and Cologne joined DIE LINKE when it was formed and still remain as DIE LINKE councillors. This is not to say that the SAV and the CWI internationally see DIE LINKE as the definitive new mass workers’ party in Germany – there is still a struggle to be conducted, both inside and out of DIE LINKE, before it may become one.

On the question of electoral support for DIE LINKE, the alliance that formed it received 8.7% of the vote in the 2005 federal elections, which was the first electoral showing for the new formation. Currently they stand at 11 – 13% in national opinion polls. On support in the West, Die LINKE gained 8% support in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous regional state, in the latest opinion poll conducted there - not “rather less than the BNPs share of the vote in London” as Walter would have it. This is in an area considered an SPD ‘heartland’ and the same opinion poll saw their support slump to 29%.

The downturn in the world economy and recession which we are now moving into will have a big impact on workers political consciousness internationally. In Germany, DIE LINKE came from bitter opposition to Agenda 2210 and a relatively limited increase in struggle against the Hartz IV attacks. It was not born out of the sort of intensified class struggle, particularly industrial conflict, which saw, for instance, the emergence of the PT (The Workers Party in Brazil, now bourgeoisified under Lula) in the 1980s or COSATU, the South African trade union federation, which was pronouncedly socialist and ‘revolutionary’ in its first phase of existence. Therefore, its support in elections and opinion polls is not reflected in its ‘active base’. However, even before the economic crisis starts to really bite, we have seen an upturn in trade union struggle, exemplified by the magnificent strike of transport workers organised in the GDL union. As larger layers of workers are compelled to struggle, they will look for a political channel – the SPD is ruled out due to its national as well as local role, but we need to have a flexible approach as to what channel the struggle takes.

However, as Terry states “we cannot of course make precise comparisons in the UK with developments in Germany”. Discussion of international developments is useful and illustrates a number of directions which the fight for a new mass workers’ party may take us. It also demonstrates that the fight isn’t over once a party has come into existence, as can be seen by the SAV and other principled lefts within and around DIE LINKE fighting against coallitionism. As such, supporters of the CNWP here would do well to follow these international developments and should be encouraged by the fact that workers’ across the globe have had enough of the bosses parties and, although at different stages, are attempting to build the same sort of working class political alternative that we in the CNWP are.

Greg Maughan
Socialist Party

Walter Held said...

I replied to Greg's last piece on the same day. I waited a week but I see that my answer to Greg Maughan's piece has not seen the light of day in this blog. Sorry to spoil the CNWP party with facts.

Or is a committee still considering whether a comment from Germany on German politics should be allowed to compete with the SP line?


Greg Maughan said...

Walter, if you posted your reply as a comment on the blog it would have gone up automatically. If you've sent it in as an article you want to have hosted on the blog, I have no idea where you sent it to as nothing has been recieved from you. No big conspiracy - you probably just sent it to the wrong email address.

Walter Held said...

Thanks for the reply, Greg. I posted my reply on the same day as your piece as a comment on the blog, previewed it and and pressed the button to publish it.

It never appeared. Hence my remarks.

I append it below for a second time. It's about the same length as your last contribution.


"I enjoyed reading Greg's reply on behalf of the SP because he argues
his case and brings in some facts and cites events to back it up.

Since we are interested in establishing a reliable analysis in order to orentiate ourselves for current and future tasks rather than trying to agitate each other, perhaps you will allow me to comment on what Greg wrote.

We are witnessing two interwoven political processes with the SPD and the Linke. The crumbling of support for the neoliberal Schroeder wing in a situation of continuing economic stagnation and anti-working class cuts has led to a growth of critical voices both amongst social democratic parliamentarians and also rank-and-file bodies. The same
process caused the establishment and the growth of the Linke in its
various guises (PDS, Linkspartei, die Linke). So it would be
misleading to say that the existence of the Linke has *caused* a growth of the SPD left; they are expressions of the same process.

It is quite true that the official Leftwing of the SPD in parliament
and in the SPD Workers' Caucus was completely lame for a long time; we
have seen the same process elsewhere, with good rank and filers holding back from criticising "their" social-democratic government
through feelings of loyalty and fear of a return to direct bourgeois rule. This is what happened in Germany, too; the SPD/Green government kept its leftwing in check using the threat of a return to Helmut Kohl-type of government. As we know the SPD misused this loyalty to
bring in vicious social cuts. They got away with it for years, too.

Now that there is a Grand Coalition of SPD plus CDU/CSU, the misplaced
loyalty of the labour movement has melted to a great extent. Echoing
rank-and-file discontent, the SPD fraction in the Grand Coalition is
using every opportunity suddenly to voice reformist demands over a
minimum wage etc. The contours of an SPD split are also evident with
extreme rightwingers like Steinbrueck and Steinmeyer allying
themselves with the right of the CDU against their own party. Even
some layers of the christian democrats are trying to head off the growth in anticapitalist feeling by championing some of the same demands (e.g. the CDU's Ruettgers in the Duesseldorf state parliament backing minimum wage rates etc.).

The media too are split over how to cope with the rumblings in the
working class; my regional television station runs anticapitalist documentaries in its evening news roundup. Some bourgeois organs, as Greg rightly cites, are jittery and carry scare stories about the "return of the communists".

There is much and growing potential for marxists in this present
stage. First of all in some unions, a number of which are fighting for
wage claims and raising semi-political slogans to justify them; in some areas, there is an active Linke group, although there is nothing far and wide in the part of North Rhine Westphalia where I am based apart from a tired electoral list for the next set of elections. No statements, no meetings, no leaflets, nothing.

I have not seen any polls which give the Linke 8 percent in this
Land. It is possible that the group can achieve this in certain
limited places but I would expect them to continue hover around 5
percent for some time to come which is about where they have been for
a long time now. And it must be said that the Linke have done almost nothing to justify support ampngst the working class so far. Carrying a couple of banners and heckling at a mass trade union and SPD demo in Bochum does not constitute a program or a record. Like it or not, it is still the creaky old SPD which has the deep roots everywhere in the industrial centres.

Whether Oskar Lafontaine has been useful to building the left or not I am not sure. Even amongst the Linke rank and file he is often seen as snobbish, arrogant, a know-it-all. Imagine what would have happened if he had stayed on as Party chairman inside the SPD in the early years of the neoliberal Schroeder government?! He could have rallied the opposition of the unions and the local parties to the terrible cuts being proposed in Berlin. Instead he threw in the towel because he couldn't get his budget proposals accepted and slunk off to his villa without a word of explanation to the public. He just stood on the balcony of his luxury home holding his child and grinning in an embarassed manner to the press. No-one in the labour movement knew why he had resigned and disappeared. He thus crippled the SPD left and left the oppositon with no voice. To this day, he is regarded as a disloyal prima donna and well-paid talkshow guest.

Greg is repeating the same statistical errors as Terry Pearce did before him. I am sure we all want to be scrupulous about this. If you go to: http://stat.tagesschau.de/wahlarchiv/wid246/index.shtml
you can see the results analysed by region. The "new" Laender (i.e.
the old DDR) gave the Linke 25.3 percent. The "old" Laender (west
Germany) showed 4.9 percent of the vote going to the Linke, with North
Rhine Westphalia giving it 5.2 percent back in 2005. Not bad, but not 8, 9, 11 or 14 percent.The latest poll (14.5.08
gives the Linke 6 percent in NRW, or 0.8 percent growth over the past
three and half years. Not so hot considering what huge nticapitalist
protest movements and moods there have been.

Don't misunderstand me, I would be pleased to see the Linke grow and
overtake the rotten old SPD, which has a century of compromise and
betrayal behind it. But it is, in spite of membership loss and
demoralisation, still by far the biggest political group which the
working class is still turning to. See the example of the Nokia demos
in Bochum a few weeks back.

I would think marxists should orientate towards the membership of the Linke (or Solid - the youth group) where there is a viable local group and which is not dominated by old stalinists or anti-socialist trade unionists (of which there are still very many inside the Linke and who
were highly visible of the Founding Congress). Elsewhere there are
much bigger groups like the Jungsozialisten who have an open
membership outside the SPD, or trade union youth groups.

The Linke has a mild, reformist political programme and thanks to
Lafontaine a throughly keynesian, non-socialist theoretical basis,
hoping to take the edge off capitalist exploitation and tame its excesses. So there is plenty of work for marxists to do there.

In the next period, I would expect the Linke to grow somewhat, but the
novelty it enjoyed amongst some voters can easily wear off if it
doesn't become a campaigning, fighting organisation. The signs are not good as far as local councillers or parliamentarians of the party are concerned. But already, local alliances between the Linke and SPD councillors are springing up so there will be plenty of opportunities
to discuss which policies are right for the movement. I would urge
CNWP supporters not to allow themselves to be misled by tendentious reporting or by spongey statistics which actually don't hold much water.

Walter Held"