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German election: Another Merkel government in prospect

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Even before Germany's general election on September 24, the outcome already looks certain; the conservative party, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, CDU, and its Bavarian sister party, CSU, will again be the strongest party in parliament. Compared to 2013, there may be a loss of perhaps 5 percent but that was a landslide victory in which the party gained 7.7 percent on its previous tally.

Given the political turmoil that Germany has seen in the last couple of years, the political crisis of the European Union and the increased tensions with the US under Trump, such stability is quite remarkable. Indeed, at a time when long-established political leaders and parties in many countries have been defeated or torn apart, it is practically unique.

Merkel

Of course, part of the reason is economic. Whilst it has suffered a number of setbacks in its attempts to re-organise Europe, that is, the European Union, under its hegemony, and the tensions with the US have become more open, German imperialism has been able to use its dominance in the EU and the Eurozone to make others pay for the crisis. It has not only maintained its industrial exports but increased them.

This has allowed a certain degree of inner socio-economic stability and the continued integration of the core sections of the industrial working class and the skilled workers in services and the public sector. Unemployment rates have declined since the global recession and the wages of workers in export industries have actually risen in recent years. Whilst these increases have not been large, and have been conceded rather than fought for in struggle, they have led to a strengthening of class collaboration and corporatism in the large multi-nationals.

Where the national bargaining rounds were accompanied by industrial action, this was controlled and strictly confined to largely “ritual” mobilisations organised by the union apparatus. The Grand Coalition between the CDU and the Social Democrats, SPD, was a political expression of this and the strength of German capital, including the super-profits it gained from the semi-colonial world, was the material basis for this class collaboration.

Of course, the SPD may end up suffering the political collateral damage of its own policy. In 2013, it had a disastrous result with only 25.7 percent. Whilst its new leader, the former head of the EU-parliament, Martin Schulz, still claims to be fighting to be Chancellor in an SPD-led government, it is almost certain that the party will lose even compared to 2013. Opinion polls suggest only 21 to 23 percent of the vote. Schulz initially tried, with some success, to present himself as more leftwing, with an emphasis on “social justice”, but this was overshadowed by the SPD’s record in government.

Moreover, his own promises looked rather suspect when he started to “attack” Merkel from the right on the question of immigration and then ruled out any coalition with the Left Party. Instead, he offered a coalition with the Green party and the (neo)liberal FDP as his governmental alternative to a renewed Grand Coalition. No wonder the SPD campaign not only lacks credibility but also appears rather surreal.

All the same, it would be wrong to suggest that Merkel and the CDU have benefited only from the weakness and the disillusionment of working class supporters of the SPD. She has also gained from global instability, the rise of right wing and populist forces in Europe and elsewhere and, maybe most importantly, from the irrational and threatening aspects of Trump and his cabinet. Against this background of adventurism and populism, she presents herself as a force for stability in an increasingly unstable world. Together with Macron and the French government, she promises to stabilise the EU and to increase Europe’s, that is, German imperialism’s, role in the world.

This enabled her to re-stabilise the CDU/CSU and consolidate her dominance of the conservative camp. However, as became clear in the so-called “refugee crisis”, her leadership was challenged from the right not only in the European Union, by the governments of Hungary or even Austria, but at home by the rise of a far-right, racist party, the Alternative for Germany, AfD, currently around 10 percent in the polls. This is still far less than the Front National in France or the Freedom Party in Austria, but it shows that there has been an important right-ward shift within sections of the German population. It is most marked amongst parts of the petit-bourgeoisie and the middle strata, but also the labour-aristocracy and disillusioned and demoralised layers of the unemployed or low-paid and precarious working class.

Clearly, at the moment, the AfD is no governmental option for the German ruling class, because it rejects the European capitalist unification project and wants to get rid of the Euro, which is a historic gain of the German bourgeoisie. However, if the planned collaboration between Germany and France fails to overcome the continued crisis of the EU, even sections of German finance capital could turn to a very different strategy. Such a shift could open the way to AfD entry into a CDU-led government without Merkel, but this is clearly not on the cards in 2017. However, it should not be forgotten that, at the high point of the “refugee crisis”, Merkel faced massive right-wing opposition within her own party, particularly from its Bavarian wing, the CSU.

For the time being, however, Merkel has re-established herself as the undisputed leader of the conservatives. Her party will be in the comfortable position of choosing between three potential coalition partners. Firstly, it could continue the Grand Coalition with the SPD. Clearly, this would enable her to rule over and silence the trade unions, in the event of an economic downturn and increased social tensions. However, entering into a coalition again, as an even weaker junior partner, could prove politically suicidal for the SPD. As the policy of Agenda 2010, of Blairism in the UK or of Hollande in France demonstrate, this cannot be ruled out, particularly because there is no left-reformist like Jeremy Corbyn on the horizon in a party that has been tied strongly to German imperialism for decades.

The other options for the CDU are the Green Party and the FDP. Many in the CDU would prefer a coalition with the FDP, the most neo-liberal and pro-free market of all German parties. In the last elections, it failed to pass the five-percent threshold but, with 10 percent in the polls, it is now likely to re-enter parliament. For the German bourgeoisie, the FPD can still play a useful function; ensuring that a government does not “forget” its most overt, naked economic interests. Since, despite the stable appearance of German politics, recent years have seen a move to the right, a coalition between FDP und CDU could gain an absolute majority, even if the AfD do gain around 10 percent.

The third contender for government with the conservatives is the Green Party. Already, in coalition with the SPD under Schröder, this party has proved beyond any doubt that it can be “trusted” to serve the ruling class. Today, the Greens have moved further to the right and are openly campaigning for a coalition with the CDU.

The next government’s attacks

So, Merkel has many potential partners for her fourth term and a number of key aspects of the next government’s policy are already clear and more or less undisputed for all of them.

The first and most important task is to address the EU crisis. Together with the French government under Macron, the aim will be to make another push for capitalist unification under German dominance. In this respect, Brexit, which otherwise is a set-back for the EU, may turn into an advantage, since it removes the most serious obstacle to a stronger political and military unity. It is also clear that, unlike Juncker, who will soon reach the end of his term as head of the European Commission, the German and French “pro-European” strategists will advocate a “two-speed Europe” in order to integrate the core of the EU while retaining the weaker and “slower” countries at its periphery. This could also be used to discipline a number of “disobedient” East European countries.

Secondly, the next government will combine this with a racist policy of sealing off Europe. As with the deal with Turkey, the EU is establishing centres in Africa for processing “selected migration” from both the Mediterranean states and from countries like Sudan in order to stop “uncontrolled migrants” from ever reaching the EU.

This will be combined with a push for a strengthening of “Europe’s global role and responsibility”, code for more foreign intervention not only on the political-diplomatic and economic, but also the military, front. Therefore, the German government will increase its arms spending. It will use the “unilateralism” of Trump, and his “anti-European” stance, to justify increased European/German militarism. Plans for a “European army”, in essence close military collaboration, have also been revived in the light of Brexit.

The other aspect of this will be a tightening up of internal security and “anti-terrorist” laws, closer collaboration between the secret and police services of the European states and the slashing of democratic rights. Such a policy will inevitably go hand in hand with “democratic” nationalism, albeit a “European” version, with continued racism against Muslim people constantly feeding racism and chauvinism. As we can see in France with the permanent prolongation of the state of emergency and the first harsh sentences against anti-G20-activists, this “law and order” policy will also be directed against the left and the labour movement.

Furthermore, there will also be a number of serious social and economic attacks on the working class itself. Firstly, the next CDU-led government will reject any serious measures which might reduce the growing divisions within the German working class. In the last decade, almost half the German working class, often women, youth and the racially oppressed, have been forced into so-called “atypical employment relations”. There are now some 18.5 million low waged workers with insecure and precarious jobs, not covered by collective agreements, out of a total workforce of 42.5 million. In addition, there are the millions of unemployed, low paid workers and pensioners who live below the poverty line, and their numbers are rising.

The last government introduced a minimum wage of €8.50 per hour, not enough for an acceptable standard of living or for a decent pension, but even this mild reform was then watered down with “exceptions”. It is this section of the working class, which is not organised and is neglected more or less openly by the union leaders, that will be hit hardest by further attacks on social security, privatisations and increasing prices for housing. Nonetheless, as can be seen from the crisis hitting the car industry, the jobs of well-paid industrial workers could also be under threat.

There are, however, two factors that could really undermine the next German government. The first of these is the on-going EU crisis and the prospect of increasing political instability on a global scale, the second the possibility of a major economic downturn or cyclical crisis hitting Germany's large scale capital.

Revolutionaries and the elections

For revolutionaries and activists of the working class and social movements, the question therefore arises, how to use the elections and the election campaigns to prepare the resistance against the attacks of the next Merkel government.

The SPD, the “traditional” social-democratic party, and the union leaders it represents, are strongly tied to German imperialism. Whether they end up in a coalition or in “opposition” in the next parliament, they will lose the election because they have tied themselves to Merkel, German capital and their “European” project almost without reservations. Whilst it still remains a bourgeois workers' party, that is, a party that firmly stands for the bourgeois system although it is organically linked to the working class, the Gruppe ArbeiterInnenmacht, German section of the LFI, will not call for a vote for it.

Instead, we call for a vote for DIE LINKE (the Left Party). Of course, this party is also, without any doubt, reformist. It is a bourgeois workers' party like the SPD. It differs from the SPD, however, in that it represents those workers, youth, immigrants (if they are entitled to vote) who want to fight any continuation of the policy of the Grand Coalition. The Left Party is the only party that rejects military interventions and NATO or, indeed, a European military alliance. It rejects militarisation and increased arms spending. It rejects austerity, privatisation and social-cuts. It rejects the racist deals with Turkey and the policing of the Mediterranean.

Of course, it does so on the basis of a programme of social reform, rather than socialist revolution, which presents a lot of utopias about a “peaceful, social, democratic, ecological, feminist … Europe” without challenging private property and the bourgeois state apparatus. Where it governs on a regional level, in Berlin, Brandenburg and Thuringia, it has demonstrated the bourgeois character of its programme and politics in practice.

Nevertheless, millions of German workers will vote for it, even if they have doubts about its credentials. They will do so because, in this election, it is the only party that will enter parliament, with an estimated 8 to 10 percent, for which a vote represents a rejection of the politics of the government and all the bourgeois opposition parties from the far right AfD to the FDP and Greens.

That is why we call for a vote for the Left Party. Our support is critical, however, we do not drop our criticism of its programme and strategy, or its anti-working class politics where it governs regionally and locally. Nevertheless, a vote for the Left Party will be a measure of the potential for a fight-back against both the capitalist attacks of the incoming government, and the far-right and openly racist forces like the AfD.

We combine our support in the elections with a call on the Left Party, its leadership, its members, its voters, to actively prepare the fight-back against the next government. In order to facilitate this, we call for the convention of an action conference – not just to analyse the result of the elections and the next government's programme, but to discuss and agree on a course of united action against those policies.

The Left Party, both its leadership and its activists, should take the lead in calling such a conference together with other forces like the Anti-G20-alliance, which mobilised tens of thousands in July, the anti-racist movements and immigrant organisations, which rallied 7000 against all deportations and for the right to stay on September 16, and the trade unions who are currently campaigning against privatisation in the health sector and for a massive increase in jobs.

Obviously, such a conference of all those who want to fight the attacks of the incoming government, must not confine itself to domestic German issues. The struggle against militarisation and foreign intervention must be at the top of the agenda alongside taking the initiative for a European wide coordination of struggles. The formation of a Merkel-Macron axis cannot be fought just on the national terrain, it must be fought by working class unity across Europe and globally.