On the weekend of May 13-14, the national executive of the Election Alternative—Labor and Social Justice (WASG) dismissed the regional leaderships of its organization in the states of Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and replaced them with so-called “commissarial national co-coordinators.” The first measure taken by the new commissioners was to withdraw the applications made by the state branches of WASG to participate in regional elections this autumn.
Commissar Hüseyin Aydin also called off a special party congress planned by the Berlin WASG group. When the Berlin congress was held May 16 in defiance of Aydin, he promptly declared all resolutions and decisions made by the delegates were to be “invalid.”
The planned state election campaigns, in which local WASG candidates would oppose Left Party-PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) candidates, cut across the plans of WASG to merge with the Left Party-PDS. The regional WASG organizations had voted to run their own candidates because in both Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania the incumbent governments include the Left Party-PDS, which has fully participated in attacking the jobs, wages and conditions of the working class.
Germany has not witnessed such dictatorial behavior by a party leadership since the collapse of the Stalinist dictatorship headed by the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in East Germany. Even conservative bourgeois parties have, in public, shown more respect for democratic standards than WASG.
The question arises: how will a party that treats its own members with contempt and abuses their democratic rights deal with workers and broad layers of the population, should it come to power? The dictatorial methods employed internally by the WASG executive committee make it clear that the party would not be adverse to using such means to suppress opposition from below.
The undemocratic measures adopted by the executive committee are bound up with WASG’s political orientation and cannot be understood apart from it. The decision to crack down and prevent at all costs an electoral candidacy by WASG regional organizations in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania shows that WASG lines up behind the anti-social policies which have been implemented by the Left Party-PDS in alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) over a period of four years in Berlin and for eight years in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
A brief review of the political balance sheet of the Left Party-SPD governments in Berlin and Schwerin makes clear why the WASG executive committee is not prepared to tolerate any debate or critical examination of its policies. In both states, the Left Party is responsible for implementing the anti-social measures which it condemns in its program.
In many of its programmatic documents, WASG declares its opposition to privatizations in the public service. But in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Labor and Social Minister Helmut Holter (Left Party-PDS) has played a leading role in privatizing such services, with catastrophic results in the form of rock bottom wages and the nation’s highest rate of unemployment (officially 22.1 percent).
In Berlin, the first official act by the incoming SPD-PDS Senate was to enact a 21.6 billion euro guarantee for the bankrupt Berlin Banking Company (BGB), subsidizing private fund owners and shareholders by transferring the debt onto the backs of the population.
At the same time, a drastic cost-cutting program was adopted which involved the loss of 15,000 jobs in public service, longer working hours and decreased wages. Employees of the city’s public transport corporation had their wages and salaries cut by ten percent (15 percent for new-hires). According to its own data, the Senate saved a total of 38 million euro annually from its cuts in the public service.
In order to guarantee yields for private investors in Berlin’s water supply industry, water fees were raised by an average of 25 percent. Additional measures taken by the Senate include: introducing parental responsibility for providing teaching materials in Berlin schools, a substantial increase in pre-school fees, increased working hours for teachers, 75 million euros in cuts to the city’s universities.
While WASG and the Left Party-PDS have organized a nationwide campaign to demand a legal minimum wage of 10 euro, the Berlin Senate recently decided to switch its postal service to the private company PIN AG, which pays its workers around 5 euro per hour.
When WASG commissar Aydin told the recent special party congress that the Left Party-PDS was “absolutely opposed to privatization and welfare cuts and committed to a return to collective bargaining agreements,” he was met with gales of laughter and catcalls. With the collaboration of the Left Party-PDS, Berlin was the first German state to quit the state labor rate community (TdL) as a necessary step for implementing drastic wage and welfare cuts for public service workers.
The selection of Aydin as commissar by the WASG executive to replace the dissident regional committees was no accident. He embodies the type of trade union bureaucrat who is frequently to be found in the ranks of WASG.
Over 25 years ago, at the age of 18, Aydin began work at the Thyssen steel factory in Duisburg. He soon joined the Social Democratic Party and four years later was a full-time trade union rep in his factory. At the beginning of the 1990s he played a key role in dismantling jobs in the steel industry in his function as works council representative and leading member of the IG Metall trade union.
In 1996 he became a full-time union secretary for IG Metall in North Rhine Westphalia. Last year he switched from the SPD to WASG, which he now represents in the German parliament (Bundestag).
Aydin has had ample opportunity to prove his expertise when it comes to bureaucratic maneuvers and intrigues. Just last year, for example, he worked with the party executive committee to dissolve the original regional organization of WASG in North Rhine Westphalia after a group of Opel auto workers tried to argue their point of view inside WASG.
The dismissed Berlin regional party council has announced that it will not accept the action of Aydin and the decision of the national leadership, and will proceed against them “with all means.” At the special party congress, the delegates expressed their support for the regional leadership by a large majority and decided to go ahead with their plans to put up candidates in the autumn elections.
Nevertheless, the action taken by the WASG national executive undermines the political basis for the activities of the Berlin WASG. After all, the central argument employed by the Berlin WASG and the group Socialist Alternative SAV, which has some influence inside the regional organization, is that the building of WASG is the answer to the anti-social policies of the Berlin Senate. On a national level, they continue to support plans for the unification of the Left Party-PDS and WASG.
Now the WASG national executive has made it patently clear how absurd this position is. The planned unification of the Left Party-PDS and WASG is based on the premise of rejecting and suppressing any challenge to the general right-wing thrust of bourgeois politics in Germany.
This development contains important political lessons for the working class. The fact that the Left Party-PDS and WASG have exposed themselves as bureaucratic apparatuses even prior to their unification is an expression of the advanced crisis of the capitalist system. On a daily basis, the clichés about the possibility of a “socially progressive” means of organizing the “free market” economy are disproved by the dominance of an international financial oligarchy over social life, and supposed “left” parties are being rapidly transformed into the last line of defense of the bourgeois order.
In Italy, Refounded Communism (Rifondazione Comunista) has taken up posts in the government of Romano Prodi in order to impose those social and welfare cuts which the Berlusconi government failed to carry out. In France, radical groups such as the Revolutionary Communist League (Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire) are offering their services as props of a future bourgeois “left government.” The most important conclusion to be drawn is that there is no alternative for the working class other than the building of a new party that fights on the basis of a socialist and internationalist perspective.