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Germany: Grand Coalition saved - SPD wrecked?

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Even before the result of the ballot on joining a Grand Coalition (or "GroKo", as it is known in Germany) with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats was announced, SPD Executive Board members had sent an all-clear signal to the CDU/CSU, capital and the "European partners". The party leadership had avoided the worst possible outcome and would be able to continue in government as before, it could even claim a "democratic mandate" for itself.

In the short term, Scholz, Nahles and Klingbeil have no doubt established themselves. Once again, the need to "act responsibly in the interest of the state", not to mention the fear of further losses to the racist Alternative for Germany, AfD, had won the argument with the party membership.

As always with opportunism, a short term gain has been bought at the cost of long term interests. Even if the AfD probably would have benefited from new elections, a further decline of the SPD and another crushing defeat in the next Bundestag elections are the virtually certain consequences of another GroKo. All that remains to be seen is whether this government will last until 2021, or whether the end will come sooner.

For the working class as a whole, the formation of the GroKo is bad news. The new government will continue the domestic and foreign policy of German imperialism. More "Europe" is code for its reorganisation under German and French domination, in order to assert the interests of capital politically, economically, geo-strategically and, in view of the worsening world situation, also militarily. For this, the strategic alliance with France and the strengthening of the EU's core are central, while the rest of Europe is finally to be brought into line politically as well.

Domestically, policy will continue to be social partnership in the interests of capital, at the expense of a constant increase in work pressure and intensity for the "core strata" and continued expansion of the low-wage sector. The cap on borrowing will continue to mean poverty in old age while supporting the private health care system and justifying austerity programmes and privatisation. For migrants and refugees there will be "assembly points", exclusion and deportation.

Imperialism, neo-liberalism garnished with social partnership, and a right-wing lurch disguised with a few humanitarian phrases, that is the essence of the Grand Coalition.

Reasons for the result

The party Executive wants to talk up its "success" and the "democratic mandate" given by the ballot. The turnout was high, 378,437 of the 463,722 party members took part, with 66.02 percent in favour of the GroKo, 33.98 percent, that is, 123,329, against.

The SPD leadership is pleased that the result was so clear. The "NoGroKo" opponents themselves had expected, if not a victory, at least a better result than that. Nonetheless, the Executive's victory should not be seen as an unalloyed approval of the GroKo.

It took several months of media and internal party pressure to drive the SPD away from its rejection of another term of coalition last September when the election results were announced. The majority had to be created step by step, through a special party congress, the "involvement" of critics and, finally, the ballot. Only in this way was it possible to bridge the gap between the leadership and the grassroots and create a "change of mood" in favour of the Executive Board.

The party leadership used the media barrage, the constant appeals to the SPD to accept its "responsibility" and to continue the policy under a new Merkel cabinet, as an argument to "carry on as before", adding that GroKo might be bad, but there was no alternative.

The SPD's decline in the polls was also used as a justification. Many members were intimidated by the possible consequences of new elections and the argument that "Anyone against GroKo will lead the SPD to electoral defeat and strengthen the AfD".

The fact that it was precisely the untrustworthy policy of the SPD that led to the alienation of millions of wage earners and, in the worst case, even led to the election of racist right-wingers, was deliberately ignored. The party leadership, itself responsible for the downfall of the SPD, essentially blackmailed party members by blaming them for any increase in the AfD vote if new elections were called.

Finally, the party apparatus aso used its monopoly over communication with the membership. The local public discussions and party meetings in the run-up to the vote attracted thousands. The debates were controversial and democratic, often with a majority against the Grand Coalition. At the regional conferences of the SPD, however, things were very different; after the results of the coalition negotiations had been "presented" and praised as the best deal possible, the members of the Board had the right to speak. Only after all of them had spoken, that is, after perhaps two hours, were rank and file members allowed to speak.

This bureaucratic attitude was even more evident in written and online communication. The coalition agreement was published in a 200 page edition of "Vorwärts", the party newspaper. There was only one interview with an opponent of GroKo, Kevin Kühnert, Chair of the Young Socialists and the NoGroKo campaign, all other contributions came from supporters of the coalition. Contrary to earlier promises, only the arguments for the coalition agreement were presented on the ballot papers.

The monopoly of the apparatus was strengthened by the willing support of the trade union leaders and works' councillors, one of the most powerful groups that had supported GroKo from the beginning. They correctly see it as a continuation of their social partnership policy at company and trade union level, which is to a certain extent the foundation for the "strengthening of the EU", that is, for the strategic goal of imperialist foreign policy.

In addition to the leaderships and apparatus, the party's Executive Board relied on the more passive members of the SPD, those who did not, or could not, participate in the discussion and thus were less exposed to the arguments of the opponents of the GroKo.

They also relied on the tradition of automatic loyalty to the "party", which has all too often served the apparatuses of social democracy (as well as the Stalinist parties) well in the German workers' movement. Finally, the SPD leadership also used the manipulative mechanisms of old and new forms of plebiscitary democracy, be it the traditional "information letter" of the Executive Board or the social media, which further strengthened their monopoly over opinion.

In this sense, the victory of the Executive was also a victory for the system of individual ballots, rather than the democratic traditions of the workers' movement, in which decisions are made at general assemblies or democratically elected delegates' conferences, after prior discussion.


All the same, the result should not be seen as any guarantee of stability for the SPD or the future federal government. The GroKo will be sworn in, Merkel will continue as head of government and Nahles will probably lead the SPD. However, she should not see that as a huge vote of confidence.

The fact that the crisis of the SPD is by no means over, but will almost inevitably deepen, has also been recognised in its own way by the party leadership. Rarely have the losers of a vote and their "measured contributions to discussion" been praised in such a way. The party leadership around Scholz and Nahles never tire of invoking the "renewal" of the SPD as they settle for the GroKo.

In reality, this "renewal" is merely an incantation to silence the no votes and to keep the internal party critics and opposition members at bay in order to slow down the further disintegration of the SPD or even avoid a split.

If there were really to be a "renewal", it would have to start with a substantial change in SPD policy, that is a break with Agenda 2010, the Hartz laws and the Grand Coalition. It is no coincidence that left-wing and critical SPD members yearn for a return to the "old" social democracy, that is, left-wing reformism, referring to the past of social-state redistribution promises and looking for a Left winger like Corbyn in Britain.

The fight against low wages, poverty in old age, the lack of education, racist isolation, foreign intervention, the dismantling of democratic rights and the achievements of the women's movement, to name but a few, is certainly not revolutionary, but even the most optimistic Social Democrat must realise that any such "change of course" could only be implemented against Merkel and the CDU/CSU. In other words, there can be no renewal under the GroKo and with a Nahles-Scholz board of directors. That should be clear to all those who voted no.

Under GroKo, the promise of a "common renewal" can only be a deception, and participating in it is nothing more than self-deception. What is needed is opposition and a break with this policy. How this break is to be carried out is an essential question for the workers' movement and the Left in Germany.

In his first speech after the ballot, Kühnert rightly pointed out the impossibility of a renewal under the GroKo and stressed that the Young Socialists had not signed the coalition agreement, "only" the SPD had. Good. But what does that mean? Does it just mean we should be a little more critical of the "renewal" and act as if we had nothing to do with the GroKo policy itself? Or does it mean an irreconcilable fight against the Nahles-Scholz party leadership? Here Kühnert remains consciously vague - and that is exactly what is not needed.

Rather, the NoGroKo supporters have to organise themselves as an oppositional faction against the Executive. Otherwise the potential strength of the more than 100,000 no votes threatens to fizzle out. Such a movement should stand its own candidates for the Chair and Executuve Board at the party congress. It should present its own programme and make it clear that it will not submit itself to the decisions of the GroKo.

The Young Socialists and other party leftists have called for a break with the Agenda 2010 policy, spoken out against state racism and foreign intervention. If all this is to be more than empty words, it must be followed by action - in the SPD, in the parliaments and on the streets!

Members of parliament who support this line should vote against Merkel and the new cabinet as well as against all anti-labour and reactionary laws of the GroKo. Together with all critical trade unionists, the Left Party and the organisations of the "radical" left and the oppressed, they should form joint action alliances against the government's attacks and call an action conference for this purpose.

The Young Socialists could thereby stimulate an inner-party opposition. Kühnert should draw the obvious political conclusion from the fact that the Young Socialists have not signed the coalition agreement, they must mobilise against the GroKo on the streets, at schools, universities, in the districts and in the workplaces. In addition, as a socialist youth organisation, they should declare their organisational and political independence from the SPD.

This could initiate a shift to the Left in the SPD. At the same time, it would also raise the question of the political objective, the political programme. As revolutionaries, we support every step of left-wing social democrats and Young Socialists in fighting for reform. But we know from historical experience that a reformist programme, a programme of social reform, even if linked to the ultimate goal of socialism, must come up against the limits of capitalism and the political and repressive power of the ruling class concentrated in the state. That is why we believe that a return to a "real" social democratic programme is not enough, a transitional programme for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is needed. We want to discuss this with the left in the SPD and the Young Socialists, and, at the same time, fight together against the Grand Coalition.