By calling for a vote for the Left Party in Berlin’s lower house elections next month, Socialist Alternative (SAV)—the German section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)—has once again made clear where it really stands: not on the side workers, but of the Senate, which has been inflicting brutal austerity policies on the population of Berlin since 2001.
As a consequence of the 10-year rule of the Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Left Party Senate, Berlin is one of the poorest federal regions in Germany, and is riven by deep social divisions. The Left Party and its predecessor, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), have cooperated with the SPD in Berlin to cause unprecedented social devastation and a massive redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top of society.
Shortly after taking power in 2001, the SPD-Left Party Senate passed the so-called “risk shield law” to save the debt-ridden Berlin Banking Society. The law set aside a sum of €21.6 billion to underwrite the lucrative financial investments of Berlin’s elite. To finance this scandalous gift to the rich, the SPD-Left Party Senate has radically cut incomes, sold off state property to private investors, dismantled thousands of jobs, and drastically cut expenditure in education, social welfare and cultural facilities.
In its declaration concerning the lower house election, SAV now says that it considers “a vote for the Left Party the most sensible option under the given conditions”. It thereby registers its support for the class politics of the Left Party. It is attempting to bolster the Left Party at a time when it—like all the other official parties—is being discredited among broad masses of the population due to its austerity policies.
The SAV group is fully aware of the real character of the Left Party in this respect. Its election statement admits “that many people are disappointed in the Berlin Left Party and no longer willing to vote for it”. It writes that also “during the SPD-Left Party’s second term in office, there was an increase in welfare cuts, privatisation and job cuts”.
Nevertheless, it claims that “a vote for the Left Party should be seen as the most likely way to vote against welfare cuts, war and the impoverishing Hartz IV benefits system”.
Seemingly absurd at first glance, this argument reflects the SAV’s lurch to the right in recent years. It shows just what is to be made of SAV’s occasional pseudo-left criticisms of the Left Party—or rather, the criticisms it used to make.
As one of the groups in the Election Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (WASG) during the Berlin elections of 2006 (two years before the financial crisis), SAV still considered it necessary to run its top candidate, Lucy Redler, independently of the Left Party. At that time, it declared it was not willing “to participate in policies of welfare cuts, privatisation, wage reductions and job losses”.
One of SAV’s leading representatives, Sascha Stanicic, proclaimed that solidarity with the Left Party should “not come at the expense of political principles”; the Left Party was described as “unwilling to change its political course”, campaigning in the hope of “furthering its coalition with the neoliberal SPD”.
In the past five years, there has not been the least change in the right-wing politics of the Left Party. However, what has changed is SAV’s attitude to the Left Party. In 2006, SAV still deemed it necessary to pose in opposition to the Left Party to defuse social discontent to the austerity policies of the SPD-Left Party Senate.
This opposition did not at all have a principled character. In 2005 SAV had called for the election of the Left Party at a national level, where it stood in opposition—in contrast to its position in the ruling coalition of the Berlin city administration. Now, however, SAV is promoting the Left Party even in the Berlin election campaign.
SAV’s sharp move to the right is closely related to objective social developments. The more the capitalist crisis deepens, the more SAV closes ranks with the Left Party and the unions. By defending these bureaucratic organisations against opposition from below, it supports them in their task of keeping the working class under control.
It was no coincidence that the Berlin SAV announced its entry into the Left Party in the midst of the international economic crisis in September 2008. West German members of SAV had been members of the Left Party since its official launching in the summer of 2007.
Most of the Berlin SAV group were immediately accepted into the new party. The Left Party regarded the SAV among its ranks as a welcome “left” fig leaf for its right-wing politics. Entry was initially denied to only a few of SAV’s leading members—for example, Lucy Redler, Stefan Stanicic and Holger Dröge, who had not yet been forgiven for the WASG’s opposition to the Left Party in the 2006 election campaign.
But the initially spurned SAV members were also welcomed into the Left Party well before the start of the current campaign in Berlin. In return, they agreed to support Left Party policies and participate in the party’s election campaign.
Fearing that class struggles like those already underway in Egypt, Tunisia and Greece will also spread to Germany, SAV is specifically working to prevent the development of an independent movement of the working class against the capitalist system. Allied with the Left Party and the unions, it now acts openly as an adversary of the workers.
Instructive of SAV’s political role was the strike two months ago at Berlin’s Charité hospital—a strike sold out by the ver.di public service union with the help of SAV.
SAV played a key role in the enforcement of a collective agreement entirely in the interests of the Charité management and the SPD-Left Party Berlin Senate. For the sake of a minimal pay increase, the approximately 10,000 non-medical hospital employees are forced by the agreement to accept a five-year contract, involving a collective industrial peace obligation for the whole duration. Calling off the strike also isolated the already-outsourced employees of the Charité Facility Management (CFM), thus locking their low wages into place.
Carsten Becker (an SAV member who is chairman of the ver.di Charité union team) and Stephan Gummert (of ver.di at Charité, but who is also an SAV sympathiser) are two of the main figures involved in the sell-out of the strike by SAV. Operating as officials of ver.di, they do not represent the social and political interests of the workers, but those of a privileged union bureaucracy, hostilely opposing the working class, and doing everything to preserve the status quo and protect its own privileges.
To mask its right-wing policies, SAV is increasingly forced to lie openly. In its election manifesto, it falsely stated that the strike at the Charité hospital was proof that “union struggles can be successful”, and the workers had won “a substantial salary increase”.
In reality, the Charité strike showed that nothing can be “successfully” combatted with this appendage of the Left Party and the unions. It is obvious that the long term of the collective agreement heralds further privatisation plans and wage cuts. That is why the contract has met with broad rejection and outrage within the workforce.
The bitter experience of workers and young people with SAV, the Left Party and the unions in recent years has shown that the working class can defend its own interests only by taking up the struggle against these groups. The claim that they are more socially concerned or progressive than other bourgeois parties is wrong. Attributes such as “socialist” or “left” are used by SAV and the Left Party without the least justification in order to confuse workers and bar the way to a truly socialist programme.
Workers and young people must defend their interests against the right-wing policies of the Left Party and SAV. They must conduct the fight against social inequality, war and the dismantling of democratic rights independently of these organisations, which disguise their right-wing politics with pseudo-leftist phraseology. Their allies in this struggle are the workers and youth around the world confronting the same basic problems.
The precondition for this struggle is the building of a revolutionary party on the basis of an international socialist programme. In Germany, this is the Socialist Equality Party (PSG), the German section of the Fourth International.