German SPD conference: Schulz attacks Merkel from the right

Anyone wondering why Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz is far behind the Christian Democrats’ (CDU) Angela Merkel in the polls received their answer at the SPD’s party congress in Dortmund on Sunday. The party, which was once built by workers, presented itself in the disgusting manner for which it is justly reviled as the party of social cuts, militarism and the intelligence services.

In his speech, which lasted more than 80 minutes, Schulz constantly attacked Merkel from the right. He did not utter a word about the pressing problems confronting millions of workers and young people: precarious working conditions, poverty and the acute danger of war. Instead, he complained that the CDU/CSU was not conducting an election campaign, and called for more police and an increasingly aggressive German and European foreign policy. Merkel’s statement that “one can to some extent no longer rely on the US,” was criticised by Schulz with the remark, “Well, can one be less concrete? To what extent is some extent?” Ever since the election of the erratic President Trump, Schulz continued, it had been clear that the US government was no longer reliable.

Like the Left Party and Greens, the SPD is playing a leading role in transforming the widespread opposition to the right-wing billionaire in the White House into support for German militarism. The German army had to be paid the necessary respect and billions more had to be invested in the army, declared Schulz amid the raucous applause of the delegates.

The election programme, adopted unanimously, reads in part like a strategy paper from the military or intelligence agencies, for whom the SPD speaks. It called for a European defence policy and the gradual establishment of a European army, both dominated by Germany.

In the section “Germany’s responsibility in the world,” it is stated, “Our country has become a partner asked and called upon to do more in the framing of international relations. We are ready to assume leadership responsibilities in Europe and beyond together with our partners, and provide a stronger contribution to the resolution of regional and global security problems.”

This explicitly includes military interventions. The SPD acknowledged its support “for a modern armed forces capable of action, which must have appropriate capacities for national and collective defence as well as for overcoming international crises.” The soldiers had to be “able to rely on the best possible equipment being made available and sufficiently qualified personnel to support them … to this end, measures necessary for recruiting trainees and creating the operational framework must be implemented.”

The SPD continued to repeat its few demagogic phrases about more “social justice” at the congress ad absurdum. Schulz explicitly praised new French President Emmanuel Macron, whose cabinet extended the state of emergency within the past week and is preparing major attacks on the working class. Another celebrated speaker at the congress, alongside Schulz, was former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose Agenda 2010 began a process of unprecedented social attacks and forced millions of workers into low-paid, precarious jobs.

The SPD and trade unions know that the anger and disgust over the growth of social inequality and militarism they have created is mounting, and they fear open class struggles. This is why they are calling for more police and additional powers for the intelligence services. The “war on terrorism” merely serves as a pretext for the intensification of the abolition of basic democratic rights and their actions against refugees.

Schulz, the son of a police officer, could barely control his demand for a strong state at the party congress. “A fighting-ready police” was required, he declared, before thanking the police present in the congress hall. Merkel and the CDU were too relaxed on questions of internal security, he continued. The North Rhine-Westphalia CDU had “between 2005 and 2010 cut police numbers to the breaking point and now they are shedding crocodile tears because there are security problems. This is just hypocrisy!”

The election programme is even more explicit: “We want to have more police officers visible on our streets. We need more investigators for a better and quicker uncovering of so-called petty crime like burglaries and stealing. For this we want to better equip the police: with more well-trained personnel.” The SPD plans concretely “to create 15,000 new positions in the federal and state police.”

In addition, the Social Democrats intend to expand video surveillance, strengthen “cooperation between police and domestic intelligence” and build up the intelligence services. “We want to put the spying deterrence of our intelligence agencies in the technical and legal position to enable them to act more effectively against cyberattacks and spying by foreign agencies. We will expand the federal agency for security in information technology (BSI),” the programme states.

In addition, there will be more Internet surveillance and censorship. “Beyond that, we want to combat the spread of hate crimes and so-called fake news … the spread of illegal content like hate speech, insults and slanders in social media should be pursued better and more swiftly,” the Social Democrats demand in a section entitled “It is time for more security in daily life.”

The SPD cynically blames the population for the rise of right-wing parties in Germany and Europe. Schulz complained that a lack of respect led to a lack of trust, including in the state. “And the right-wing populists exploit this! Like the le Pens, that multimillion family business of xenophobia and racism! Or the inheritors of Mr. Strache in Austria! Or the unspeakable Geert Wilders!”

In reality, the SPD bears central responsibility for the rise of the right. On the one hand, the SPD created the social misery that drives many impoverished people to desperation. On the other, the SPD produces the political frustration exploited by right-wing demagogues by pursuing policies in the interests of the rich that they sell as an allegedly “left” party.

In the face of mounting class tensions, the Social Democrats are now adopting the programme of the far right so as to divide the working class and direct its anger into right-wing channels. To do so, they are playing the anti-Muslim card. “We want to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards hate preachers and Islamists,” the programme states. “Extremist Islamist mosques [will be] closed and their financing banned.”

The demand for stronger deterrents against refugees also sounds like it has been lifted from the programme of the right-wing Alternative for Germany. “The external borders must be better protected against illegal crossings … we therefore want to strengthen the mandate and work of Frontex, the European agency for border protection and coastguard.” Rejected asylum seekers would be “more strictly deported to their country of origin.”

Following the party congresses of the Left Party and Greens, the SPD congress has now also underscored that the struggle against social inequality, the rise of the right and the return of German militarism requires a break with the red-red-green parties, including all of their pseudo-left appendages. All of these parties are opponents of the working class and defend the banks and major corporations. Only the Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (SGP) advocates a socialist programme and fights in the working class for a revolutionary programme in opposition to capitalism.