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International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

What the German elections show

Peter Schwarz

This article originally appeared in “Neue Arbeiterpresse,” newspaper of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, on December 7, 1990.

This article examines the role of the social democrats and Stalinists in the electoral victory of Helmut Kohl’s CDU/CSU coalition in the December 2, 1990 elections.

The victory of Helmut Kohl’s coalition government in the elections to the Bundestag on December 2 is not due to its own merits, but to the betrayal of the social democrats of the SPD and the Stalinists of the SED/PDS.

Indeed Kohl’s CDU/CSU achieved its worst result since 1949, with only 44.1 percent of the votes cast. But hundreds of thousands of workers preferred staying at home rather than giving their vote to the SPD.

In eastern Germany, the CDU managed a small increase in its percentage vote, from 42.7 percent at the time of the East German Volkskammer elections in March, to 43.4 percent in the present elections. In absolute terms, however, the CDU lost 850,000 votes, as only 74 percent of those eligible to vote in the east actually did so, 18 percent less than in March. In addition, the extreme right-wing DSU (the sister party of the Bavarian CSU), which received 700,000 votes in March, has all but disappeared from the political map.

In western Germany, the CDU/CSU just maintained the percentage vote it received at the last Bundestag elections with 44.3 percent; however, when the reduced turnout is taken into account, this represents an actual loss of some 1.2 million votes.

Chancellor Kohl celebrated this as a “victory” because of the increased vote for his coalition partners in the liberal FDP, who achieved an 11 percent share overall, and because of the loss of votes for the SPD, Greens and PDS.

The SPD received 33.5 percent of the vote—35.9 percent in the west and 23.6 percent in the east. This is their worst result since 1957.

The Greens failed to reach the 5 percent level in the west, the minimum percentage required to achieve representation in the Bundestag, and so are no longer in parliament. In the east, where they were part of a joint slate with the Alliance ‘90 coalition (including the New Forum group), they won only 6 percent of the vote.

The PDS, Stalinist successors to the SED of Honecker, lost about a third of their vote in the east, compared to last March, and barely reached 10 percent. In the west, where they spent millions in advertising, they were unable to gain a foothold, with only a 0.3 percent vote.

The losses of the big parties benefited many smaller ones, such as the ultra-right-wing Republicans, with 2.1 percent, the pensioners party, the “Greys,” with 0.8 percent, and others, all of which were below the 5 percent minimum and therefore will not be represented in the Bundestag.

The Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, the German section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, which participated in a Bundestag election for the first time, received 162 votes in Berlin and 678 in Saxony for its statewide slates. In the individual constituencies of Duisburg and Chemnitz, the BSA candidates received 40 and 70 votes respectively. Taken together with the hundreds of letters which the BSA has since received as a result of its election broadcasts on the television and radio, this demonstrates a growing interest for the revolutionary program of the Fourth International.

The reason for the devastating election defeat of the SPD is their anti-working class policies and program. Since the engineers and printers strikes in 1984 brought the Kohl government to the brink of collapse, the SPD has stopped every protest against the policies of the CDU-FDP coalition and has in practice supported their attacks on pensions, health and unemployment benefits.

In eastern Germany, SPD members such as Rohwedder, the head of the board of trustees, have carried out millions of layoffs through the privatization of the former state factories. SPD functionaries who head the unions ensure that every act of resistance is isolated and sold out, as in the recent rail workers strike.

The SPD’s election program differentiated itself from that of the government only in the fine print. All promises of social reform were eliminated. Instead, SPD leader Lafontaine competed with Kohl and Lambsdorff (the FDP chief) as to how the costs of taking over the GDR can best be extracted from the working class.

While the SPD decidedly sabotaged every mobilization of the working class, they endeavored to whip up right-wing sections of the middle class. The SPD city government in Berlin systematically embarked on a law-and-order campaign. They first initiated a spectacular police raid on the PDS party headquarters, then in an almost military action, they organized the clearance of squatters from occupied houses. Finally, one day before the election, they issued an arrest order for murder for Erich Honecker, the former GDR head of state. Meanwhile, Lafontaine was whipping up racial antagonism with his demands for quotas for immigrants.

The result of these policies is that numerous former SPD voters did not vote, while simultaneously there was a move to the right among the middle classes.

According to an analysis by one institute, 550,000 of those who voted SPD at the last Bundestag election abstained this time. Comparatively, the CDU lost only 180,000 votes through abstentions, the FDP 75,000 and the Greens 270,000.

Above all, workers who had previously supported the SPD stayed away. In heavily industrialized areas with high unemployment, such as the Ruhr, where the SPD has traditionally received a large majority, SPD losses and abstentions were particularly high. In Duisburg, the SPD suffered the largest overall drop in its vote (10 percent). In Essen and Gelsenkirchen, the voter turnout dropped by 10 percent.

The anti-working class policies of the SPD’s program had even more drastic results in the east. Whereas in the west the majority of workers still voted SPD, the social democrats could not achieve comparable influence in the east. Not even a quarter of all workers there voted SPD.

In contrast, Lafontaine’s right-wing program found support with the petty-bourgeois layers who had voted Green or PDS at the last election. The SPD won 600,000 votes from the Greens and 260,000 from the PDS. At the same time, many SPD voters drifted to the CDU/CSU (500,000), to the FDP (420,000) and even to the extreme right-wing Republikaner (110,000).

The collapse of the Green vote casts a sharp light on the class character of this organization. They were never a “left” alternative to the SPD. The Green Party arose in the 1970s as a motley collection of middle class elements who had at first been attracted to the reformist promises of Willy Brandt, but then, following the rightward turn of the SPD under Helmut Schmidt, moved away in disappointment.

Their program, which is a confused mixture of ecology and democratic and social reforms, has always refused to take a clear standpoint on the side of the working class. Wherever they have been in government and have been confronted with demands from the workers, such as in the kindergarten teachers strike in Berlin, they have opposed them.

The sharp class conflict which now arises as a result of the annexation of the GDR has pulled the ground away from all illusions in some “left” petty-bourgeois politics lying between the class fronts. Piece by piece, the Greens have cast off everything which had outwardly differentiated them from the other bourgeois parties. In the desk drawer of their parliamentary offices—before they were unexpectedly forced to leave—there was even a draft law already drawn up to limit the immigration of foreigners.

The other bourgeois parties have since discovered how a few decorative environmental demands are quite compatible with their existing program, especially when these serve to justify factory closures and mass layoffs. The transition of Green voters to these other parties was only the logical consequence of this development.

The PDS, which at the start of these elections had claimed to be a “left” alternative, is now reduced to its real role as the heirs of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Their influence remains limited to those areas where the previously privileged representatives of the GDR state apparatus and the Stasi secret police live. In east Berlin they received 24.8 percent of the vote. In the Berlin-Hellersdorf/ Manzahn constituency, PDS Chairman Gregor Gysi won the only direct seat.

In west Germany, the PDS gained only 0.3 percent of the vote, which is hardly more than the old SED satellite party the DKP.

The new government, although of identical composition, will be decidedly different from the last On the very day after the election, spokesmen for big business demanded that Kohl now begin the program of cuts and attacks which he had previously put off so as not to impair his election victory.

The Handelsblatt business newspaper commented under the headline “The cruelty begins”:

“After the promises of the government to publish an account of their budget plans before the election have been revealed as pitifully inadequate, it now comes to the acid test and all the horrors of cuts and restructuring bound up with this.

“The state bank and economics institutes have warned time and again in the last weeks that the continued rise of state debts to pay for unity cannot go on. The figures are alarming enough: without any savings the budget deficit for 1991 will rise to over 180 DM billion (120 billion US dollars).” The victims of the Handelsblatt’s “cruelty” are workers, pensioners and the sick. Many regulations, such as those governing short workweeks with which the real scale of unemployment has been hidden, have time limits which now expire. This coincides with extensive cutbacks which will lead to the destruction of whole areas of the public sector and mass layoffs in postal, rail and many social programs.

These measures can only be carried through under conditions of class war. The rail workers strike, the strike preparations in the postal service and the growing resistance against factory closures demonstrates that the working class is not prepared to passively accept these attacks. At the same time, struggles are beginning in the west in the engineering and steel industries and in the public sector for improved wages and conditions. For this reason the comments in the bourgeois press about Kohl’s election victory are noticeably restrained. They fear that Kohl—who made numerous promises in the election campaign—will not be in a position to cope with these conflicts.

The Suddeutsche Zeitung commented: “The ‘unity’ bonus, whenever there was such a thing, has only just prevented the drop in Kohl’s reputation, if this is measured in the number of votes cast.... Kohl can continue to govern. It is an open question as to whether this is because many people trust his leadership in difficult times or whether it is rather that they maliciously want to see him fail—not because they enjoy failure, but because it should not be an SPD chancellor who fails.”

The Financial Times lists the political and economic problems which will confront the government in the next weeks under the headline “Mixed blessings of victory.” They come to the conclusion: “The main question for Sunday night surrounds not the election result, but how long Mr. Kohl’s new government can stay out of the mire.”

In this situation, the SPD and union bureaucracy play an important role in dampening all resistance in the working class and clearing the path for the government’s class war program. This was confirmed on election night when the SPD mayor of Berlin declared his readiness to enter a grand coalition with the CDU in the city government.

The SPD in Bonn had declared its willingness several times prior to the election to collaborate with the government in carrying out cuts and layoffs, and even to go so far as to enter a grand coalition in times of a “national emergency.”

The participation of the Fourth International in these elections, for the first time in the history of the German Federal Republic, shows that there is a way out of the dead end into which the policies of the SPD and Stalinist SED/PDS have driven the working class.

Of course, the enormous political disorientation which has been created in the workers movement as a result of decades of domination by social democracy and Stalinism cannot be overcome overnight. This is why the program of the BSA has found agreement only among a small minority. However, the inevitable sharp class conflicts in the coming months will demonstrate in the eyes of many workers the correctness of the BSA’s program.

The BSA has insisted that it is not socialism which collapsed in the GDR, but Stalinism. The BSA warned that capitalism offered nothing to the working class other than mass unemployment, oppression and war. This warning has been fully confirmed. Only socialism holds a future for the working class, and this can only be constructed internationally. Stalinism, like social democracy, bases itself on a reactionary nationalist program. At the center of the BSA’s program are three main points: the international unity of the working class, the struggle for a socialist program and for the Socialist United States of Europe.

The BSA is calling on all who voted for this program or who supported our election campaign to join the BSA and the International Committee of the Fourth International.