On Monday afternoon, October 31, an earthquake shook the political establishment and the SPD as the party’s chairman Franz Müntefering informed the party executive and the public that – against all expectations – he was going to resign from the leadership at the national party conference in two week’s time. This declaration, which came out of the blue, was the consequence of his defeat in the vote of the party executive on the question of the nomination of the future general secretary. In the secret ballot at the executive meeting earlier on Monday afternoon, 24 executive members supported the left candidate Andrea Nahles, whereas Müntefering’s favourite, right-wing candidate Kajo Wasserhövel only scored 11 votes.
This underlines the serious crisis the party will face once it has entered a grand coalition. Representatives of both left and right within the SPD fear that given the harsh policy to be expected from a grand coalition, the erosion of voters and members towards the Left Party will gather momentum. Being good patriots and loyal party soldiers, the left MPs are prepared to swallow the harsh attacks by a grand coalition for the sake of “party unity”. Yet to prevent too many supporters from deserting, they had hoped that by getting Andrea Nahles into the important position of general secretary they could establish a more left wing counter-weight to the government wing around Müntefering. Yet for Müntefering and Schröder this is unacceptable, because it could represent a left-wing coalition after a future breakdown of the grand coalition. Yet the (soft) left’s utopian dream of such a “peaceful coexistence” with the consent of the right wing has been shattered.
The left got their majority in yesterday’s executive meeting with the help of some younger careerists in the party leadership who also would like to utilise the young face of Andrea Nahles and her left-wing image to integrate critical and left-wing members and trade unionists. Yet once again we have seen that these “left” leaders have no idea of how to fight the right wing. First of all they were surprised and shocked about their success in the executive and the earthquake that followed. Then they disappeared from the surface for the rest of the day and did not use the publicity to get any of their ideas across in the media. When the media and right-wingers like Schröder attacked them as childish and irresponsible “parricides” who had enraged good old Müntefering, they began to step back. On Tuesday afternoon, Andrea Nahles indicated that she might renounce the general secretary’s position to avoid further trouble in the party.
So it is obvious that as long as the SPD left accept the right wing logic that “there is no alternative” to a grand coalition, they will be exposed as impotent softies and be the anvil rather than the hammer in this game. As long as they do not boldly campaign against the coalition and for a left majority committed to socialist policies, they will be reduced to the role of tame lap dogs.
Yet it is of the utmost importance that there is a deep crisis developing within the future coalition and within its component parts even before the coalition is wrapped. The crisis around Müntefering (who in the end still seems to be prepared to enter the grand coalition as vice chancellor) has also triggered off another resignation as Edmund Stoiber, who up until now was the Bavarian prime minister and head of the CSU, the Bavarian wing of the Christian Democrats, announced that against the agreement signed only a fortnight ago he was not going to be the minister of the economy in the future cabinet.
So while both in the SPD and Christian Democrats no discussion about the respective losses in the elections has taken place, the crisis is expressed on the levels of personalities at this stage. Yet this is only a harbinger of future earthquakes and turbulences.