Germany: The grand coalition and the Left Party
11 January 2014
The grand coalition of the Christian Democratic Union CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD), which began its work shortly before the Christmas break, heralds a new stage in the class struggle.
Its policies are not determined by the vague statements of the 185-page coalition agreement, but by the global financial and economic crisis, and the escalation of international conflicts. Its programme can be summarised in three points: tougher austerity measures in Germany and Europe; building up the repressive powers of the state; and militarism.
This will rapidly bring the third government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) into conflict with large sections of the working population. Despite its four-fifths majority in the Bundestag (parliament), voter support on Election Day was restrained. Only 48 percent of the electorate voted for the CDU, CSU and SPD. Thirty percent did not go to the polls, and 16 percent of the votes cast were for parties that failed to clear the five percent hurdle needed to gain seats in the Bundestag.
Under these circumstances, an important role falls to the Left Party. Although it too has lost many votes, the formation of the grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD means it is the largest opposition party. With 64 deputies, it has one seat more than the Green Party. This lends it an increased presence and the attention of the media.
The Left Party is carrying out its role as opposition leader completely in the spirit of being a reliable support for the government. Following the British tradition, where the main opposition party is officially known as “Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition,” the party could be correctly called “Angela Merkel’s most loyal opposition.”
While the party occasionally criticises the government in order to neutralise growing social opposition with toothless parliamentary waffle, its participation in numerous Bundestag committees, the party-affiliated Rosa Luxembourg Foundation and other mechanisms means it is firmly integrated into the work of the grand coalition.
The standing committees of the new parliament have not yet been elected, but Left Party deputy Gesine Lötzsch has a good chance of winning the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, which is traditionally awarded to the largest opposition party. The Budget Committee plays a key role in enforcing compliance with the debt ceiling, which forces the federal government, states and municipalities to implement massive cuts in social spending to avoid new borrowing.
The Left Party was already represented in the interior and defence committees, which have access to the internal workings of the secret services and the army and are committed to uphold strict confidentiality—which Left Party deputies loyally observe.
The Left Party deputy Petra Pau collaborated in the investigation of the series of murders carried out by the far-right National Socialist Underground (NSU), working closely with the CDU and the SPD to cover up the role played by the secret service. A similar role was played by Christine Buchholz, a member of the Marx21 tendency in the Left Party in the investigation by the parliamentary defence committee into the Kunduz massacre in Afghanistan.
Left Party deputy Sevim Dağdelen, from Bochum, sat in four standing committees—as a full member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as an alternate member of the Committee on Internal Affairs, the Defence Committee and the Committee on European Union Affairs.
Left Party deputy Ulrich Maurer was even a member of the G-10 Commission, which must approve all wiretaps by the intelligence agencies.
The Left Party’s role is not confined to practical cooperation with the government parties; it also draws up arguments in support of the government’s plans for austerity, increased state powers, and militarism. Its parliamentary faction leader, Gregor Gysi, has developed a special talent for this. He now plays a role similar to that played 15 years ago by Joschka Fischer, who mobilised the ex-pacifist Greens behind the NATO wars in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Gysi has used his media appearances to publicise his opposition to parts of his party’s draft European election program critical of the EU, which a February 15-16 party conference is expected to adopt. In order to contain the growing opposition to the EU, the authors of the draft had referred to the European Union as a “neo-liberal, militarist and widely undemocratic power.”
For Gysi, this went much too far. “For us left-wing internationalists, there is no going back to the earlier nation state. We must be proponents of European integration,” he said to justify his defence of the EU, which has become the main instrument of social counterrevolution in Europe.
Gysi also rejected the demand to withdraw from the military structures of NATO. “That is conceived on too national a basis,” he said. “That would mean that NATO remains as it is, with Germany no longer participating in it.”
At a conference of the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation last December, Gysi called for strengthening internal security and argued that on this basis Europe could be more independent of the United States. “Incidents such as the NSA scandal show that one can talk about European security policy without swimming in the wake of the NATO-EU imperial powers,” he said. For the Left Party, “this is an interesting subject.”
At the same conference, Gysi spoke of a “democratic appropriation of the conception of nationhood” by the Left Party.
Gysi also wrote the preface to the book Left Foreign Policy: Reform Prospects, in which leading representatives of the Left Party speak in favour of foreign military missions by the Bundeswehr (Armed Forces) and for a more active role for German imperialism.
The Left Party is also preparing to enter into government, should the grand coalition get into trouble. During last autumn’s election campaign and then in the exploratory talks on the future government, the party wooed the SPD and the Greens with the promise that they could best realise their own programmes in cooperation with the Left Party. Now both parties—the SPD at the federal level and the Greens in the state executive in Hesse—are in coalition with the Christian Democrats.
However, the SPD is also keeping the door open for a future federal government involving the Left Party. In mid-November, an SPD party conference agreed that coalitions with the Left Party at the federal level were possible in future, something the SPD had previously excluded. As a prerequisite, the SPD demanded, “There must be a responsible European and foreign policy within the framework of our international obligations.”
The Left Party has responded with a further shift to the right. It constantly strives to prove that it is “fit to govern,” and agrees with the SPD and the Greens on all fundamental political issues. The party “right” around Gysi and its so-called “left” kick the rhetorical ball back and forth, but their public disputes are only used to lend the right-wing policies of the party a “left” hue. The representatives of the various wings are largely in agreement on the essential political content.
Thus Janine Wissler, a member of the Marx21 tendency, led the negotiations on a coalition government with the SPD and the Greens in Hesse, constantly emphasising that such a coalition would not fail on account of the Left Party.
Sahra Wagenknecht, the Left Party parliamentary group vice-president and another icon of the party’s so-called “left wing,” responded in parliament to the first policy statement of the Chancellor. She did not refer, as she usually does, to Ludwig Erhard, the CDU finance minister and Chancellor of the post-war period, but rather to Catholic Pope Francis, the leader of an institution that has embodied murky reaction for centuries.
The Marx21 tendency, which is linked to the International Socialist Tendency (IST), agitates repeatedly for “humanitarian” military interventions. It has described the imperialist intervention in Syria as a revolution in order to drum up support for a military offensive.
The Socialist Alternative (SAV), which is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), maintains close contact with the unions, which in turn are among the main pillars of the grand coalition.
Given the intensification of the social crisis, the representatives of the ruling class are closing ranks to constitute an all-party coalition against the working class. This is the significance of the grand coalition. The Left Party and its pseudo-left supporters are an important part of this process. Claims that there are “healthy,” “left-wing,” let alone “socialist” elements in this party are completely misguided.
This is shown by the history of the Left Party. The eastern part of the organisation stems from the tradition of Stalinism, the gravedigger of the October Revolution and responsible for the worst crimes against the international working class. As the ruling state party, the East German Stalinist SED suppressed the working class for decades.
In 1989-90, in its new guise as the Party of Democratic Socialism, and together with its affiliated Stalinist parties, it reintroduced the capitalist free market, with catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions of workers.
The western part is recruited from trade union and former social democratic functionaries who broke with the SPD, fearing an independent socialist movement by workers against social attacks introduced by the SPD-Green government headed by Gerhard Schröder. These forces have since been joined by various pseudo-left groups such as Marx21 and SAV, which were drawn to the anti-working class character of the Left Party and seek to advance their own careers as bourgeois politicians in its midst.