The significance of the German elections

25 September 2009

None of the problems confronting working people can be resolved through the Bundestag (federal parliament) elections this Sunday, September 27. The working class needs a new party based on an international socialist programme. This is the significance of the participation of the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (PSG—Socialist Equality Party), the German section of the Fourth International.

Never before have Bundestag elections been manipulated to such an extent as this Sunday’s poll. For months, the government, the establishment parties and the media have been trying to hide what is coming after the election.

The vote takes place in the midst of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s. But the crisis has not been a topic of discussion in the election campaign. The government has spent billions in reflationary measures, incentives to purchase autos, and an extension of income supplements for those on short-time work in order to postpone a social confrontation until after the election.

Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union—CDU) has conducted a presidential-style election campaign that has evaded any concrete proposals. All the other parties in the Bundestag have joined in the charade. They have made all sorts of promises, knowing that they will be dropped as soon as the polling stations close and the business of repaying massive state debts gets underway.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) announced reforms in family and educational policy. The CDU suggested an increase in the child benefit. And the posters of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) demand that “Work must become worthwhile again!” The worst deceiver is the Left Party, which claims in all seriousness that it is possible to return to the reformist politics of the 1970s without challenging the power of the banks and corporations.

Only in recent days has the veil begun to lift somewhat. Some in the media believe it is time that the public consider what is to come after the election. Behind the scenes, all parties are agreed—including the Left Party—that what is required is a government that will declare war on the working class, a government that uses all of the state’s means of coercion to shift the burden of the economic crisis onto the backs of working people.

The economic weekly Wirtschaftswoche launched the first salvo last week. The morning after the election, “Germans will wake up in a different country,” it wrote. Then everyone will be talking about what was not mentioned in “the so-called election campaign”:

“A 152 billion euro shortfall in revenues, 320 billion euros in new debts, holes in the social insurance scheme, 90,000 jobs that are in jeopardy in the auto industry, 180,000 jobs at risk in the financial sector, the soon to be four-to-five million unemployed. Regardless of the election results, the next government will be talking about ‘blood, sweat and tears.’”

On the Anna Will talk show last Sunday evening, Economics Minister Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg (Christian Social Union—CSU) and Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück (SPD) spoke about harsh austerity measures. “Yes, we will have to make savings, and we will have to do without one or other of our comforts,” said Guttenberg. Steinbrück put the new budget deficit at 100 billion euros and indicated that the deficit, together with an expected 320 billion euro reduction in tax revenues, meant drastic cuts would be required.

Since then, representatives of the employers’ associations and banks have made clear what they expect from the incoming government—or, to be more precise, what they require of the next chancellor. “A harsh austerity course” is inevitable. The expiration of the short time work regulations will mean a dramatic rise in unemployment. The pressure on the social security system will increase and therefore benefits will have to be reduced, while state revenues are boosted through tax hikes.

While the banks and speculators have received hundreds of billions of euros to cover their losses, without a single person responsible for the financial disaster being held to account, we are now being told, “The coffers are empty; the population must pay for the mounting state deficit.” The same bankers and executives who have pillaged the state treasury and received bonuses worth millions from the bank rescue package are now demanding drastic social cuts, the expansion of low-wage labour, and an increase in value added tax.

Rarely before has the class character of society been so clear. But all such questions were systematically excluded from the election campaign. Voters were robbed of any possibility of debating and democratically registering their will on the critical issues.

Another question was also suppressed in the election campaign: the war in Afghanistan. Behind the scenes, it was long ago decided that the number of German troops will be increased substantially after the election, escalating the death toll of German soldiers. The recent massacre in Kunduz, the greatest war crime committed by the German army since the end of the Second World War, signalled the new course.

An air strike carried out on the orders of a German officer cost at least one hundred lives, including many civilians. The media and politicians reacted with war hysteria. The Sьddeutsche Zeitung said it was time to put an end to “sugar-coating and self-deception.” Germany was at war in Afghanistan and should “finally do it properly.”

Chancellor Merkel unreservedly supported the military leadership and said in a government statement that she would not tolerate any criticism “from home or abroad.”

In this question too, voters are being excluded from any influence on government policy, although the majority of the population opposes the Afghanistan war. All parties in the Bundestag agree that the German armed forces should not be withdrawn from a war for control of the most important oil and gas reserves in the world.

Here too, the Left Party plays a particularly cynical role. While it demands the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan on its election posters, it has long since adapted its politics to those of the federal government. It reacted to the massacre in Kunduz by making it clear that it was not demanding an immediate withdrawal, and instead called for an “exit strategy.”

“Exit strategy” is just another term for an escalation of the war and an increase in the number of troops deployed. The same phrase was used by Foreign Minister Steinmeier to support his plan to expand the number of German soldiers and trainers.

This nascent German militarism is not only directed abroad, but also at home. Since the crimes committed by Hitler’s armies, the use of the German armed forces at home has been banned. But the plans of the Interior Ministry to overturn this ban are far advanced. This goes hand in hand with increasingly severe restrictions on fundamental democratic rights. Last year, the state stepped up its monitoring of telephone and computer traffic by 30 percent. The state and government officials look on the population as opponents and prepare to suppress all resistance from below.

The election next Sunday will not decide whether planned attacks on the population and escalation of the Afghanistan war will take place. These decisions have long since been made. The election will merely determine which government constellation carries them out.

Until recently, a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union and the Free Democratic Party was the favoured outcome in ruling circles. The FDP is considered to be a guarantor of business interests, and by entering the government it would also strengthen the business wing of the CDU. Moreover, the return of the Social Democrats (SPD) to the opposition benches could be used to deflect the danger of the development of powerful extra-parliamentary opposition—as arose during the CDU-SPD grand coalition of the 1960s.

But this scheme is now regarded as too risky. FDP leader Westerwelle and his demands for tax cuts for high earners and employers have come under increasing criticism. They could provoke resistance that might overwhelm a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the FDP.

More recently, those calling for a continuation of the existing CDU-SPD grand coalition have found increasing support. At the beginning of the week, Die Zeit ran an article headlined, “Once again, CDU-SPD would be the best.” The newspaper argued that “the approaching trials facing our country” could be managed only “by a strong and self-confident SPD.” The social cuts carried out under the previous SPD-led government of Gerhard Schröder had proven this. Meeting the coming challenges would demand “everything from the future federal government. Only the two people’s parties can do what is necessary and long overdue. Together!”

It is thus quite possible that the grand coalition under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel (CDU) will survive the September 27 poll and remain in office. However, that does not mean everything will stay the same. The coming attack on the working class has been under preparation for a long time.

The Left Party and the Greens play a crucial role in this. Both parties have already shown that they unreservedly support attacks on the fundamental rights of working people.

The Greens, in coalition with the SPD, enacted the welfare and labour “reforms” of the Hartz laws and Agenda 2010. They also played an important role in removing restrictions on the German armed forces, making possible its deployment in international military operations.

For eight years in the Berlin city legislature, the Left Party has clearly shown how mendacious its social criticism is. Wherever the party has taken on government responsibility, it has acted as a right-wing party of state.

In the new parliament, the Left Party and the Greens will play a double role. They will offer a phoney parliamentary opposition in order to prevent the development of extra-parliamentary opposition. At the same time, both are prepared to take on government responsibility in one form or another in order to stabilise bourgeois rule.

These conditions underscore the significance of the participation of the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (PSG—Socialist Equality Party) in the elections. We are standing candidates in order to take forward the building of a new party which will enable working people to intervene independently in political events. We are the only party to openly say that capitalism has failed and that the great social problems of the day can be solved only through the socialist transformation of society.

The election is taking place in the shadow of great historical events. Seventy years ago, the Second World War began, whose terrible consequences can still be felt today. As then, the working class today confronts a social struggle that has only two possible outcomes: Either the working class conquers political power and forms a workers’ government, breaking the dictatorship of the banks and democratizing the economy, or the ruling class will resort to dictatorial measures and, as in 1933, impose a dictatorship, mass poverty and war.

The building of a new party must be based on the lessons and principles of past class struggles. While nationalism and chauvinism are being systematically encouraged, the PSG fights, as the German section of the Fourth International, for the unification of the working class throughout Europe and worldwide on the basis of a socialist programme.

Under these conditions, the building of the PSG takes on enormous significance and urgency. We call on all readers of the World Socialist Web Site able to cast a ballot on September 27 to vote for the PSG and to actively participate in the building of our party.

Ulrich Rippert

Ulrich Rippert