After the elections: Where is Germany going?

There is greater instability in Germany than ever before in post-war history. Both big parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) lost considerably. The virtual deadlock is caused by the fact that after a short and very polarised election campaign both camps failed to get anywhere near a majority of seats.

“There you are”, sighed a disappointed and frustrated commentator in today’s editorial of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s leading bourgeois newspaper. On behalf of his class, this bourgeois journalist deplores the mess that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s venture of an early election has created. In his desperate gamble, Schröder had urged the Federal President of the Republic to dissolve parliament in order to strengthen the political stability needed to continue his policy of “reforms” (i.e. counter-reforms). In the end, his coalition was defeated last Sunday. At the same time, the editorial also rebukes their (i.e. bourgeois and Christian Democratic) Federal President Horst Köhler for his obvious miscalculation. In spite of all respective legal doubts due to the restrictions of the German constitution, Köhler had obviously considered that by dissolving parliament and clearing the way for a snap election he could help his party to achieve an electoral triumph and be swept back into office.

There is greater instability in Germany than ever before in post-war history. As we reported two days ago, both big parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) lost considerably. The virtual deadlock is caused by the fact that after a short and very polarised election campaign both camps failed to get anywhere near a majority of seats. The ruling class had prepared for an all-out attack on the working class after a desired takeover of their traditional parties, the CDU/CSU and FDP. On the other hand, Schröder and leading Social Democrats who are increasingly out of touch with the harsh reality many people find themselves in had (mis-)calculated that by calling an early election he would catch the shattered left wing forces by surprise, keep them divided and out of parliament. Yet the leaders of the (still mainly Eastern) PDS and the (mainly Western) WASG, a left split of disenchanted SPD members and trade unionists, recognised that they could only win on the basis of a common slate. So they stood together and won. Thus, the left representation in parliament has risen from 2 to 54. This re-emergence of the left is historical since it puts a significant left force back to the parliamentary arena. Their share of 8.7 per cent nationally by far eclipses the 4 to 5 per cent the PDS has had in the past as well as the 5.3 per cent scored by the old German Communist Party (KPD) in the first Bundestag election in 1949. Although bourgeois politicians and social democrats did their utmost to discredit the Left Party and their new leader Oskar Lafontaine with a dirty filth and slander campaign, the party advanced on all fronts, East and West. Their parliamentary party also includes a number of well known trade union full timers and even former prominent SPD leaders such as Oskar Lafontaine and Ulrich Maurer.

Election analyses indicate that the Left Party gained one million votes from the SPD, 400,000 votes from the camp of "non-voters", i.e. people who did not bother to vote last time as well as a sizeable number of votes from all the other major parties. Thus, the Left Party vote played a decisive role in preventing a right wing majority of seats and votes.

Given the fact that both SPD and Greens fought a relatively left wing campaign, promising to keep the social balance and defend the interests of ordinary working people, the elections in a way reflect a shift to the left in German politics. Whereas the CDU/CSU and FDP represent a combined vote of some 21.2 million, the “camp” represented by SPD, Greens and Left Party is considerably stronger, representing a total of well over 24 million voters. Yet unlike in France, Spain or Scandinavia, a parliamentary cooperation of the “left” is excluded at this stage. While celebrating the fact that a Thatcherite victory under the CDU/CSU and FDP was prevented, the SPD leaders have stressed before and after the elections that they would not even talk to the representatives of the Left Party, let alone cooperate with them. This policy of branding the Left Party as “extremist” and “populist” could strengthen the left even more since – for the time being – there is no temptation for them to join a reformist government and thus get involved in some form of counter-reformism.

Although there is a lot of confusion and speculation as to possible coalitions and alliances,  the ruling class will sooner or later put pressure upon their representatives to cobble together some sort of coalition. So far, leading spokesmen of different big business associations have put forward two possible options that they are seriously considering: On the one hand, a coalition of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Greens is a theoretical possibility. Although there are some differences on questions like ecology and women’s rights, the Greens have widely accepted neo-liberal premises and many of their leaders might well come to terms with the CDU/CSU and Greens to get or save well-paid jobs. Yet after their left wing phrase mongering in the election campaign and attacks on the right wing parties, to enter such a coalition could cause trouble with parts of their rank and file and even promote a split.

On the other hand, given the enormous opportunism and statesmanship of the SPD apparatus, it is not excluded that the SPD could become a junior partner in a “Grand Coalition” with the Christian Democrats. The SPD right wing would be prepared to swallow quite a lot to keep their government positions and delusion of power. To appease their rank and file, they would argue that by forming a block with the Christian Democrats they had prevented the worst anti-union hardliners of the Liberals from coming to office and carrying out their programme. To clear the way for a Grand Coalition, however, it might be necessary for both parties to find an excuse to dump their leaders, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel, since both of them were the losers of the election yet still claim the chancellorship and with their stubbornness might block the road towards an agreement.

Whatever government will be formed, it will be under enormous pressure from big business to launch new attacks against the working class. The shocking level of state indebtedness will lead to a new round of cuts of public spending. Social protest will be inflamed.

Given a possible Grand Coalition, a polarisation is also opening up within the union movement. Whereas the more moderate elements that are dominant in the executives of some unions will seek a compromise with such a government and try to prevent any head-on confrontation, IG Metall chairman Jürgen Peters has openly come out in favour of a government of the SPD, Greens and Left Party and criticised the SPD’s refusal to consider such an option. This is significant as Peters, like most other top union leaders, still holds an SPD membership card, whereas a surprisingly high number of full time and lay union officers have supported an appeal to vote for the Left Party. Peters argues that SPD, Greens and Left Party are “natural allies” and that there is a “left majority” in the country.

In any case, this is the beginning of a new period on instability in Germany. The good old days of the economic miracle are over for ever. People will be faced with the harsh reality of capitalism and increasingly seek a way out.

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