Corruption scandal shakes Germany's Christian Democrats

In Germany, the new millenium has been ushered in by a party financing and corruption scandal which was more exciting than many thrillers and caused a political earthquake of unprecedented dimensions.

In Germany, the new millenium has been ushered in by a party financing and corruption scandal which was more exciting than many thrillers and caused a political earthquake of unprecedented dimensions. The Christian Democratic Party (CDU) which until the end of 1999 appeared to be the most solid and united bourgeois party in Europe and given the difficulties for Schröder´s "red-green" coalition had appeared to be close to a return to power, suddenly saw its popular support shrink from day to day. The crisis has culminated in an open split between Helmut Kohl (who had been Federal Chancellor for 16 years and party leader for 25 years) and the majority in the party leadership and membership including some of his hitherto closest cronies. Kohl renounced his position as honorary chairman of the party and did not turn up in parliament for four months but has not surrendered.

Over 50 years, Germany´s Christian Democrats had been capable of maintaining a dominant position in home politics. Being founded in 1946 as a merger of various bourgeois parties and tendencies that had existed in the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic, the CDU has managed more than any other of their sister parties to maintain popular support and win all but two out of 14 general elections since 1949. Being a bourgeois party, it has always been decisively influenced by leading big business circles who organised the fund raising and the collecting of donations from millionaires and industrialists. At the same time, they had largely managed to maintain popular support amongst small businessmen, middle classes, farmers and self-employed people and their associations as well as civil servants and a minority of the working class especially in catholic and/or rural areas. Many of those fellow travellers and party activists who had always had illusions in the "christian", "law and order" and moralist slogans cynically used by the leaders have been shocked and disillusioned enormously by the recent revelations about money laundering, illegal party funding and the high degree of criminal energy displayed by leaders such as Kohl and Kanther (the former Home Secretary/Minister of the Interior) whom not so long ago they regarded as law-abiding and honest men.

Money laundering

Revelations began when the Augsburg Department of Public Prosecution initiated investigations and the interrogation of the former CDU treasurer Walter Leisler Kiep. The almost daily exposures highlighted facts that do not surprise Marxists but come as a shock to all those who wrongly believe that politicians who make and execute laws were really law-abiding. According to German laws on party financing, the names of all major donors have to be published. The system of black funds involving banks in Liechtenstein and Switzerland has consistently been created under Kohl´s leadership in order to avoid this obligation. Like old women who do not trust the banks and keep their savings in stockings or under their pillows, the Christian democrats used messengers who carried millions of Deutsche Marks in banknotes from one place to the other. Whereas the issue of compensation for the few surviving slave labourers under Hitler´s Nazi regime is still not settled, the regional leaders of the Hessen CDU around Kanther had the cheek to cynically claim that they had received considerable anonymous donations from deceased Jewish industrialists until in the end under the pressure of continous revelations they had to admit that it was just a lie and fairy tale.

The revelations so far are obviously only the tip of the iceberg. But it has been made absolutely clear that money buys and rules the world and in concrete cases money makes the decisive difference to get certain political decisions passed. In 1991, Kohl intervened personally to get German tanks delivered to the regime in Saudi Arabia - and shortly after the CDU was donated one million Marks by the industrialists concerned. There is the case of Agnes Hürland-Büning, a third rate politician and former deputy minister who got an 8.5 million DM fee for "consulting" the Thyssen company. There is the case of former deputy minister Holger Pfahls (who used to be the right hand of the former Bavarian Christian Democratic leader Strauss) who is being searched by the law enforcement authorities on a warrant of arrest.

In East Germany, where Western capitalists and many dubious speculators and "investors" have made a fortune out of the privatisation and sell out of industries, premises and assets, many are beginning to realise that with Kohl´s promise in 1990 to create democracy and prosperity for all have been betrayed once again. In this context, it has become known that the French oil company Elf Aquitaine has donated 85 million DM from black funds which have leaked into Germany through different channels (including once again foundations in Liechtenstein and Swiss banks) and in return got the privatised East German petrol stations at a very good price and at the same time got billions of Deutschmark as subsidies for the takeover and modernisation of the Leuna oil refinery. Yet the files and records on these and other deals and transactions seem to have been removed from the Federal Chancellor´s Office under misterious circumstances before the Christian Democrats had to hand over the keys to Schröder´s team in 1998.

Breathing space for Social Democrats

The scandal around Kohl and the CDU has meant a breathing space for the Social Democrats who shortly after their takeover of office in autumn 1998 had lost in virtually every regional election in 1999. But in February 2000 - against previous expectations and fears - they were able to defend power in the Northern state of Schleswig-Holstein where the Christian Democrats were clearly defeated. In the state of Hessen, where the SPD lost power in early 1999 after the local Christian Democrats had waged a racist campaign and scored an unexpected victory, the SPD is campaigning for a dissolution of the regional parliament since the Christian democrats there have been heavily involved in all this financial business; two thirds of the population are convinced that the Hessen prime minister and CDU leader Koch is not as innocent and ignorant as he claims to be.

But by and large, many SPD leaders - while scoring points for the decisive regional election in Northrine Westfalia in May - seem to be keen to save the CDU from collapsing and disappearing from the political scenery and keep saying that a strong and renovated CDU was indispensable for a well functioning democracy and that without the CDU figures like Haider would have a chance in Germany and therefore it was better to have the CDU and so on and so forth.

So they give the new generation of CDU leaders such as the prospective new party chair Angela Merkel (who comes from the East and was promoted by Kohl since 1990 but as General Secretary since 1998 distanced herself from Kohl just in time in late 1999 to be regarded as "Anti-Kohl", "fresh" and "non-corrupted") and the new parliamentary leader Friedrich Merz (a reactionary demagogue) the "democratic" credentials they do not deserve. "The reds and greens could do anything they liked, and we are paralysed", a CDU politician rightly deplored in January 2000. But the "reds" and "greens" do by and large what big business likes and seem to be keen to collaborate with the CDU on decisive issues. So big business leaders have accomodated themselves with the perspective that the coalition under Schröder might last longer than they had initially envisaged. Although big business is still mainly oriented towards the CDU, they can live very well with the Schröder government from which - after the May elections - they will expect, demand and probably get more "reforms" in terms of liberalisation and deregulation as well as drastic cuts in the welfare state.

In addition, there have also been revelations about "personal abuse" of power by regional SPD leaders which lead to the resignation of Schröder´s successor as prime minister of Lower Saxony, Glogowski, and the Finance Minister of Northrhine Westfalia, Schleusser. It is true that the charges concerned amount to "peanuts" in comparison with the systematic money-laundering and breach of the law by the Kohl apparatus, and it is also true that Social Democratic leaders are "cheaper" than Christian Democrats, but ordinary workers and labour movement activists expect "their" leaders to be different from the bourgeois politicians.

No real democracy under capitalism

This crisis is more than just a crisis of the CDU and an accumulation of some unfortunate mistakes of vertain individuals. It is a crisis of a social system in which money and profit rule everything and morals and decency are subordinated. It reveals the gap between the fine words of "democrats" and "civilised christians" and their actual rottenness. In the 20th century, Germany saw sharp changes of different political regimes. But one thing has not changed: the rule of big business who accomodated themselves with all sorts of political leaders and superstructures and bought the political decisions they wantes. Above all in an epoch of almost daily spectacular new mergers we must be aware of the fact that economic power is also political power.

After the collapse of the Nazi regime and the end of the Second World war in 1945, many activists in the labour movement had this lesson in their minds and tried to build a new democracy based on socialist foundations. "Monopoly capital has helped Hitler to take power and prepare the war against Europe. While huge fortunes can still be accumulated in the hands of irresponsible individuals in Germany, democracy is not safe. The enormous economic power of the companies must be taken over into common ownership", SPD leader Kurt Schumacher rightly pointed out in 1945. Since then, the SPD and union leaders as well as many activists have forgotten this essential lesson of history.