National Sections of the L5I:

The political crisis in Germany: no to another Grand Coalition!

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

The failure of talks to form a coalition government of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union, CDU/CSU, the Free Democratic Party, FDP, and the Green Party, in mid November, revealed a deep crisis in German politics. That the negotiations failed was not in itself unexpected but many were surprised that it was the neo-liberal FDP that walked out and brought them to an end.

Since then it has become clear that the Liberals' move was not "spontaneous" but had been long prepared. Although reports suggested agreement had been reached, with the Greens moving yet further to the right and accepting the CSU's demand to limit refugee numbers to 200,000 per year, the FDP always intended a much more neo-liberal economic policy.

For them, there were “too far-reaching” concessions to "redistribution","statism" and "green environmental policy", especially as these apply to the European Union. In addition, the FDP is turning towards a more national-liberal course, comparable to that of the new Austrian ÖVP chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Of course, all four parties are"pro-European" in that they want a global strengthening of the EU under German domination. The FDP, however, wants no concessions on debt and austerity to the semi-colonial countries of the South, or to give France any room for government investment and economic stimulus programmes.

The majority of the CDU/CSU and the Greens pursue a different course, similar to that of the SPD. They recognise that overcoming the EU crisis and building a powerful bloc in the longer term interests of German capital involves certain concessions to its strategic imperialist allies, especially to France but even to the weaker states, too. Without that, the EU and the euro zone will be in danger of drifting further apart and, ultimately, of collapsing.

Although this problem has been obscured in public statements by those about "ecological change", migration and taxation, it was, and is, at the heart of the political crisis. The German bourgeoisie was able to strengthen its economic dominance in Europe, but it failed to transform the EU into a bloc that can take up the struggle for the re-division of the world. On the contrary, this objective has suffered severe setbacks. The whole European project has entered a crisis (Brexit, the situation in Spain, Italy) and German supremacy has actually been weakened.

The Merkel government was able to impose an austerity policy on Greece, but it was successfully challenged from the right during the "refugee crisis", and could not prevent Brexit.

In most European countries, including Germany with the Alternative for Germany, AfD, right-wing populist, nationalist, racist, right-wing extremist or even fascist groups are advancing. Their common breeding ground is the threat of EU failure. This means that, despite a certain economic upturn, the EU is in a deep, historic crisis that is affecting all other issues. The "executive committee" of the German ruling class and the German political think tanks do not have a uniform answer to the question, and normally the question itself is not even openly discussed.

The "Merkel system", which wanted to introduce German supremacy in the form of a "moderator", relying above all on Germany's economic weight and the dominance of EU institutions, has practically failed. This is the real cause of her "loss of authority" in Europe, in the country and even within her own party. At the same time, this has strengthened reactionary nationalist responses - especially in the form of the AfD, but also in all the other bourgeois parties. The failure of the coalition talks creates yet another problem for the EU, as its leadership’s power has been weakened. Therefore the continent is threatened with falling further behind not only the USA and China, but even Russia.

At the same time, the negotiations took place against the background of an increasing social polarisation within the country. Since the beginning of the century, and especially since the introduction of the Agenda 2010 laws, social inequality between the classes and within the working calling class has been growing. This also severely weakened the roots of the CDU/CSU and SPD in their "traditional" milieus. Since the SPD governed with the policies of the ruling class anyway and the Left Party was not capable of a combative, visible opposition policy, the political spectrum shifted to the right.

It was not only the SPD that lost the support of millions of wage earners. More and more are not covered by the institutions of "social partnership" - and even those who are still experiencing moderate improvements fear that sooner or later they will be forced into the growing number of "precarious" sectors.

The crisis of the CDU/CSU has meant that it can no longer fulfill its function as a unifying bourgeois "people's party". Its supporters from middle-class and petty-bourgeois circles fear that it will not be able to secure their future and are looking for alternatives. Today, the openly bourgeois spectrum in parliament is de facto fragmented into five parties (AfD, CDU, CSU, Greens, FDP). This lack of unity in the bourgeoisie reflects not only its own deep divisions but also the increasing difficulty of binding other classes to its main party. It is becoming increasingly difficult to form a government that can act in the interest of c capital as a whole because more and more divergent, even opposed, bourgeois ideologies and interest groups have to be reconciled.

In this situation, the ruling class is forced to openly acknowledge a political crisis. It is lucky that the economic situation is still relatively favourable at present. Moderate growth is likely to continue in Germany and the EU in 2018. This will make it possible to alleviate the debt problem on the continent in the short term and also provide some scope for re-distribution of a growing state income in Germany itself. On the other hand, the low-wage sector, the area of insecure or precarious conditions, will continue to exist, if not even grow. More and more pensioners are threatened with poverty in the next decade. While the growth of the economy could lead to tougher wage bargaining, because the room for distribution is still favourable, the threat of mass dismissals such as those at Siemens and Thyssen-Krupp also represent precursors of future developments.

Pressure on the SPD
In the current political crisis, the ruling class, bourgeois media "experts" and all "respectable" bourgeois parties, that is, the ones who failed to form a coalition themselves, are demanding that the SPD accept its "political responsibility". They want to avoid new elections which would probably strengthen the AfD without creating any better possibilities for a coalition. Some currents do not disagree with the FDP's bringing negotiations to an end. What they want is a Grand Coalition to which the FDP can act as a "respectable,", neo-liberal opposition, thus preventing the AfD from monopolizing the position of a right wing opposition.

Pressure on the SPD has increased massively. The day after the failure of the talks, the SPD executive and chairman ruled out a Grand Coalition. Then the party changed its position and agreed to talks about it. The pressure did not come only from the open bourgeois forces. One wing of the SPD also openly called for a "rethinking" of the position. Federal president Steinmeier played a particularly important role, using the considerable formal power of his office and his authority over the parties for resolving the political crisis.

The leaderships of the industrial unions are also clearly in favour of a new Grand Coalition. They claim that the last one did much for the workers, such as exemptions from pension cuts for older workers and an 8.50 Euro minimum wage. Although they do not say it publicly, they also welcomed a restriction on the right to strike for smaller unions like the train drivers'. The SPD leadership has now largely accommodated to this pressure but emphasises that "everything is open" and that a "maximum" of social democratic politics must be visible in any coalition. All this is intended simply to prepare the SPD membership for a new political catastrophe. The majority vote of the SPD party conference to enter negotiations on December 7th was a further step in this direction.

The formation of a Grand Coalition, perhaps including the Greens, would be a political setback for the working class. It would mean a further period of class collaboration between the main party of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois workers' party SPD. Via the trade union bureaucracy, the SPD would ensure that, at least for the industrial core of the working class, industrial disputes would not threaten the stability of the government.

The potential strengthening of the AfD would not only be used by the SPD as an argument for the Grand Coalition, but also by the unions to justify a "moderate" policy aimed at partnership with capital and cabinet. In reality, the continuation of the trade union policy of the past years will further alienate working class voters and even push them towards the AfD. Social-chauvinism and industrial pacts with capital will, once again, prove not to be a means of fighting the right, but of preparing its advance.

The formation of a Grand Coalition, however, is not a foregone conclusion. Schulz and the SPD executive know that their initial rejection of it was one of the few popular decisions under his leadership. They know that another Grand Coalition could ruin the party just as class collaboration has ruined its Dutch and French sister parties. Therefore, they want to shift the responsibility for the formation of a coalition to the members in the form of a ballot. At the same time, they retain full control over the conduct of negotiations and also over the presentation of any proposed deal. These pseudo-democratic tactics, and the SPD leadership’s aim to utilise a ballot of the party members as a plebiscite must be exposed and condemned.

Both inside and outside the SPD, all those against the formation of a new Grand Coalition must campaign against it. They must expose every concession, every turn of the SPD leadership. All SPD branches should follow the example of the Young Socialists who have openly opposed a new Grand Coalition, exploratory talks and possible negotiations. Unfortunately, their position is itself inconsistent, since it does not exclude support for a CDU/CSU minority government. Therefore, the rejection of coalition negotiations must be supplemented by the demand that the SPD must not tolerate or support any bourgeois minority government.

In addition, we should demand the immediate resignation of the SPD and its ministers from the current "executive government". In the unions, as many branches as possible should openly oppose any relaunch of the Grand Coalition. Active, class-struggling members should call for mass assemblies to discuss the governmental issue and the position of the trade unions. Inside the SPD, all forces who reject a Grand coalition should unite for a NO in the ballot. The Left Party should also start a campaign against a new Grand Coalition.

“Die Linke” (Left Party) could play a key role in the current situation, pushing the SPD leadership onto the defensive with pressure from the left. But it remains effectively passive, declaring that it is "not afraid of new elections" and wants to cooperate with the SPD in opposition. It does not say what this means concretely; on which demands and goals would it collaborate? The word mobilisation is never mentioned.

Instead, the leadership of the party is itself sowing confusion. Oskar Lafontaine attacks from the right, when he proposes a "new unitary movement" which - under his unquestioned leadership, of course - is supposed to establish a new "unifying" force across the left-wing party and the SPD. Like Mélenchon's "La France insoumise" this is to combine social-chauvinism, patriotism and a return to the welfare state. This left-wing populist line is also represented by Sarah Wagenknecht in the Left Party. Such a project, if it ever goes beyond a mere idea, will not solve the crisis of the left, but only deepen it.

The left, both within and outside the Left Party persists in a peculiar passivity in the face of the situation. One part, for example, Der Funke (The Spark) the IMT section in Germany, calls for new elections, which it believes will benefit the left Party either because of a new policy, wherever that might come from, or because supporters of the Greens and the SPD would reject their parties' moves to the right. Elections as such will not solve anything (for the left). Rather, the demand provides a false, electoral focus for the political crisis.

To this day, a large part of the "radical left" has either not taken any position on the current crisis or resorted to just brief statements. The "post-autonomous" currents do not address the political crisis at all. The Maoist MLPD has not yet published anything, the DKP states in one paragraph that the "crisis of the government" is not theirs. The AKL (a left wing current in the Left party) published a rather detailed statement from the SAV , the German section of the Committee for a Workers' International, CWI, which focused on the preparation of the left for new elections.

RIO, the section of the Fraccion Trotskista, only commented on current events and fears that rights will benefit from all development opportunities. Hardly any group demands that the SPD does not form a Grand Coalition or support a minority government. This central question is simply ignored by the majority of the German “far left”. Politically, they fall behind the leadership of the Left Party or the Young Socialists!

A campaign against a re-launch of a Grand Coalition inside and outside the SPD, and especially in the trade unions, should be linked to calling on the SPD, the Left Party, the trade unions, the radical left and social movements to use the political crisis to their advantage.
This requires mobilisation on the streets, in the worklaces, at schools and universities for immediate social and political demands; in short, a workers' united front to fight the right-wing and the expected attacks of the ruling class. We propose the following demands for such a united front:

• Fight against precarious employment – for the abolition of the Hartz laws and all coercive laws against the unemployed! Prohibition of continually repeated temporary contracts! Minimum wage of 12 Euro/hour net! Minimum benefits of 1600, -/month for the unemployed and pensioners! Equal pay for women and migrants! 30-hour week with no loss of pay!

• Public housing for all - financed by taxation of the rich, real estate speculators and profits! Expropriation of empty living space for the immediate relief of housing shortages! Tenants' committee to control prices and construction!

• Fight racism! Mobilisation against AfD, right-wing, racist and fascist groups! No deportations! No to anti-Muslim racism! Open borders to all, equal citizenship rights, right to work and free choice of residence for all refugees and migrants!

• Programmes of socially useful work for the expansion of childcare facilities, schools, universities, health and culture under workers' control! Programme for the ecological restructuring of energy and transport, expropriation of the large corporations in these sectors under workers' control!

• Abolition of reductions in local government budgets through the so-called “credit cap”! Financing of the above measures by progressive taxation of assets, companies and profits!

• No to the restriction of democratic rights! Abolition of all intelligence agencies! Repeal of all so-called "security laws" for state surveillance!

• No to militarism and foreign deployments of troops! Withdrawal of all German troops from abroad! No armament programme for the Bundeswehr! Not a cent for the army!
- Instead of nationalism and European imperialism: Europe-wide common class struggle against austerity and to defend the interests of the working class!

Such a united front, or even decisive struggle for individual demands, could bring about a turnaround in the class struggle. Even though we have no illusions whatsoever that the SPD leadership, the leaders of the trade unions or even the Left Party want to take the initiative for it, or would even want to be part of such a united front, we propose that all organisations of the Left and the workers' movement should convene an action conference as soon as possible. This should not only discuss the current situation but also decide on joint actions and establish regional and local mobilisation structures for their implementation.

This proposal is aimed in particular at the anti-capitalist left. If it joined forces in this situation and came to agreements on action, it could exert real pressure on larger organisations, such as the Left Party, trade union affiliations or even parts of the SPD that are against a new Grand Coalition.

It could thus come closer to what we need in the face of the shift to the right: a credible, class-struggle and mobilising left-wing social force, which attracts all those who want to fight racism, chauvinism, low wages, militarism and attacks on democratic rights. If the radical left does not try to give any impetus in this situation, a further layer of wage earners are likely to be politically disappointed and, in frustration, to fall into passivity or even go to the right.