We Vote for Class Struggle!
IBT statement on the September 2017 German federal elections, translated and lightly edited from the original article, first published in German on 12 September 2017.
The continued consolidation of German imperialism as a rising global power provides the backdrop to the 2017 federal elections. Germany has extended its spheres of influence internationally, particularly in West Africa, the Balkans and Afghanistan, becoming the leading imperialist power within the EU, aided by the introduction in 2003 of the draconian domestic austerity program “Agenda 2010.”
The increasingly independent role of German foreign policy is an important political development. Simultaneous collaboration and rivalry with the U.S., still the planet‘s leading imperialist power, is reflected in wrangling over relations with Russia. NATO has significant influence over the former Warsaw Pact states and its troops continue to encroach eastward into the Balkans and Baltic states at Russia’s western frontier, threatening the Russian government with one military maneuver after another. Russia’s conflict with the current Ukrainian regime over Crimea is another source of tension between Russian and NATO interests. While German capital is aligned with NATO, it also does lucrative business with Russia, which means that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other Western powers in the wake of Crimea’s affiliation to Russia primarily disadvantage Germany and the EU. In line with its current strategy of weakening the EU, the U.S. continues to tighten these sanctions while Trump celebrates the prospect of Brexit and encourages the right-wing Polish government to also consider leaving. Trump is well aware that whatever weakens the EU will at the same time weaken its major European rival – Germany.
In June 2017 the U.S. Senate passed further sanctions against Russia, hindering Nord Stream 2, expansion of the pipeline which delivers gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. These sanctions have also hit participating companies from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Britain. In the wake of this, Germany‘s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern released a statement sharply criticizing U.S. policy:
“The Bill that has now passed concerned the sale of American liquefied gas and the squeezing out of Russian natural gas from the European market, write Gabriel and Kern, the two social-democratic politicians. The Bill is ‘remarkably frank’ on this. Its objective is securing jobs in the U.S. natural gas and oil industries.
“The new sanctions could put pressure on EU firms participating in construction of the pipeline – such as BASF and OMW, according to Gabriel and Kern. ‘Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, not the United States of America’, write Gabriel and Kern. Sanctions as a political instrument should not be linked to economic interests. ‘Threatening’ European companies ‘with penalties on the U.S. market if they participate in natural gas projects such as Nord Stream 2 with Russia or finance them introduces a completely new and very negative quality into European-American relations,’ they continue.”
The regenerated Free Democratic Party (FDP) would like a seat at the governing table, which makes the comments by FDP chairman Christian Lindner rather remarkable:
“‘The security and prosperity of Europe depends on its relationship with Moscow.’ Lindner continues: ‘I‘m afraid that we will have to treat Crimea, for the time being, as an enduring provisional situation,’ said Lindner to the Funke Mediengruppe’s newspapers.”
Combined with Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s opposition to American proposals to attack North Korea, these differences over Russia are a direct challenge to U.S. foreign policy. The Federal Eagle no longer flies in the shadow of the American Eagle; the loot is to be redistributed.
The current election campaign has been overshadowed by American sabre rattling against North Korea. The Stalinist regime in North Korea is without doubt an extremely perverted version of socialism in one country and we give no political support to the Stalinists, but as Leninists we militarily defend North Korea against capitalist counterrevolution. In the event of an imperialist attack on North Korea, the U.S. military bases in Germany would become important logistical centers for carrying out this criminal campaign and it will be incumbent upon the German workers‘ movement to block weapon transports.
Although Germany attempts to portray itself as the ‘more peaceful’ alternative to U.S. imperialism, we should not be fooled: Germany will undertake extensive rearmament in the coming years in order to increase its military strength. All parties competing in this election have clearly and explicitly specified this as their aim. No amount of “affordable housing instead of guns” pacifism will help to counter this militarism, only an anti-imperialist strategy standing in the revolutionary tradition of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Not a man, not a woman, not a euro for this system! The main enemy is at home!
The reactionary deal made to prevent refugees from leaving Turkey has caused thousands to drown in the Mediterranean. This collaboration with Erdogan‘s increasingly authoritarian regime to reduce the influx of refugees into the country is crucial for German imperialism. The government denounces Erdogan and his draconian policies only because he has become too self-confident and knows how to take advantage of his position in the ongoing EU-Turkish refugee deal to wrest concessions from German imperialism, such as loosening visa restrictions for Turks living and working in the EU. At the same time, the German bourgeoisie utilizes public disgust against Erdogan to stoke racism against German-Turks by smearing them as Erdogan‘s fifth column.
Berlin has nothing to say on the tens of thousands of incarcerated leftists in Turkey. Instead, persecution of the Turkish left opposition within Germany has sharpened, with numerous Turkish and Kurdish militants sitting in German jails. The recent police search of a Munich flat in response to a YPG image posted on Facebook demonstrates the priorities of state repression – the Turkish regime, alongside Israel, is Germany’s most important partner in the Middle East and this assistance is motivated by the desire to have a foot in the door when the region is repartitioned. It is necessary to decisively oppose these methods, routinely used by imperialist countries against neocolonial states in order to enforce their will. All Bundeswehr soldiers out of Turkey! International solidarity with political prisoners in Turkey! For the immediate release of Turkish leftist prisoners in Germany!
The Red-Red-Green Proposal
In the recent period it hasn’t been necessary for the bourgeois workers‘ parties to spend much time averting strikes or redirecting working-class protest into parliamentary channels. A handful of strikes over the past few years have led to moderate wage increases, which have subsequently been cancelled out by the rate of inflation. There have been few militant struggles. While the railway workers‘ strike did manage to have some impact, the federal government succeeded in thwarting the ostensibly radical train drivers’ union GDL with the Unitary Pay-Scale Law which defines only the largest union in the company as the legitimate representative of the workforce. We advocate the formation of industrial unions and therefore the fusion of unions affiliated to the national union federation DGB with craft unions such as the GDL, even though it has undoubtedly been more militant than the DGB-affiliated railway and transport union EVG in recent years. A merger would allow class-struggle GDL members to argue more militant positions within the EVG. The Unitary Pay-Scale Law should be clearly understood and opposed as an attack on militant strikes. Bernd Riexinger explained the opposition of the Partei die Linke (Left Party):
“Concerning the deliberations of the Federal Constitutional Court on complaints of various trade unions against the Unitary Pay-Scale Law, Bernd Riexinger, chairman of the Left Party, declares that ‘we maintain that the Unitary Pay-Scale Law is an inadmissible restriction of the right to strike and attack on collective bargaining. I assume that the Federal Constitutional Court will withdraw it.’”
The Left Party would rather rely on the Federal Constitutional Court than even mention class-struggle measures against capitalist attacks – the only way this law can be overturned. We do not call for a vote to any party of German imperialism. Since its foundation ten years ago, the supposedly “socialist” Left Party has yet to provide evidence that it represents a class-struggle opposition to the status quo or even any indication that it could become so. The Left Party is focused on joining the government, even at the price of approving further austerity measures. Not only does the Left Party’s electoral program provide no perspective for the objective interests of the working class, but large parts of the party leadership want to enter into a coalition with the SPD and the bourgeois Greens. No vote for the Left Party!
Recurrent discussion about a SPD-Left Party-Green government as an alternative to Merkel and the AfD demonstrates illusions in parliamentarianism, the functioning of capitalism and bourgeois rule. There are various reasons to reject a Red-Red-Green government, which can only serve to diminish already low class consciousness. The SPD and the Left Party are bourgeois workers‘ parties which have long aspired to serve as left cover for the German bourgeoisie. A coalition between these forces and the Greens would go one step further since the Greens are unambiguously a bourgeois party. Such a cross-class coalition, or popular front, is not currently required by German capital due to the low level of class struggle. This climate of little militancy and the Left Party’s at best ambivalent posture towards strikes has meant it is seen by broad layers of the working class as not a serious opposition. Real improvements for the working class can only be brought about on the basis of class struggle. Left Party comrades who reject participation in government need to recognize that not only their party leadership but also large sections of the membership would like to enter the government and throw all principles overboard on the federal level, just as the party has already done on the regional level.
G-20 summit and the election campaign
The G-20 meeting and the protests against it in Hamburg in early July marked an important milestone both for the self-image of German imperialism as an aspiring world power and for the ability of potential opposition to mobilize. In the run-up to the summit, left-wing mobilizations were hit with bans on demonstrations and camps. When images of burning barricades and looted shops circulated around the globe, the anti-democratic rabble-rousers of the government and opposition, including the Left Party leadership, considered this approach vindicated. But it quickly became obvious that this witchhunt was based on police lies, amplified by corporate media propaganda. Based on this misinformation campaign, the ruling class was able to demand further inroads into basic democratic rights, culminating in the banning of the website linksunten.indymedia.org. Although we have criticisms of this radical left communication platform, we defend Linksunten’s right to exist. The current campaign by the Ministry of the Interior against left-wing extremism and the sentences that have been issued against anti-G-20 activists show once again that we should have no illusions in the state and its justice system. German imperialism has regarded the left as the enemy since the foundation of the state in 1871.
The mobilization of the left against the G20 was remarkable but also demonstrated its limitations. As long as there is no mass revolutionary organization, the repressive apparatus of the state will always succeed in dominating the splintered left and workers‘ movement and isolate it from the rest of the population. The resistance must not be divided:
Drop all charges against G-20 activists!
Defend the basic democratic right of freedom to demonstrate and assemble!
Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is likely to enter the Bundestag. Its reactionary views on social welfare and its racist, anti-Muslim and nationalist politics are disgusting, but the racist poison of AfD cannot be neutralized by voting for other parties. Undoubtedly, its ideas play a key role in inspiring regular fascist attacks on migrants and refugees. The bourgeois state plays into the hands of AfD with the banning of Linksunten and the diligent shredding of files linking the state to the murders carried out by the Nazi terror group NSU (National Socialist Underground). AfD distinguishes itself from other attempts at political organization to the right of the CDU by successfully appealing to sections of the population disappointed and left behind by capitalism, even within the trade-union milieu. The depths of social disadvantage are a product of the policies of the establishment parties, who opened the door to poverty and desperation with Agenda 2010 and other cuts. In order to drain the swamp of AfD, it will be necessary to engage in militant class struggle to show those voters who are attracted by its pseudo-social populism that their living situation can only be improved by a thoroughly revolutionary perspective. The popularity of AfD has resulted in its racist positions being integrated into government and opposition policies.
RIO: Naively avoiding the political fight
The Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (RIO) and its website klassegegenklasse.org have some following among the radical left in Germany and it is therefore important to review its statements on the 2017 elections closely. RIO‘s core position is as follows:
“Instead of campaigning for the Left Party, which wants to govern at any price, revolutionary socialists should present themselves independently. […] There are absolutely no advantages for the exploited and oppressed to gain from the Left Party entering into the government.”
The Left Party is represented in three regional governments that carry out deportations, cuts, arming of the police and many other attacks on the working class. It is obvious that workers cannot expect anything from it. In contrast to others standing in this election, the Left Party, like the SPD, is a bourgeois workers’ party. The rank and file often support struggles for the exploited and oppressed, recently coming out in large numbers during the protests against the G-20 summit, while their bourgeois leadership faithfully reiterated the lies of the state and the police.
The denunciations of leading Left Party member Sahra Wagenknecht over “excessive violence” at the Hamburg protests provide a typical example of how social-democratic leaders ingratiate themselves with future coalition partners and signal their loyalty to the ruling class. Leninists attempt to utilize this contradiction between the leadership and the rank and file in order to break the most advanced layers toward the perspective of building a revolutionary party. This does not happen on demand but requires long-term systematic work. The weapon of political critique is crucial in changing consciousness. RIO begins with clear criticism of the Left Party but then paints an enticing picture of the future:
“Instead of campaigning for social chauvinists and governmental socialists they [revolutionaries within the Left Party] could present themselves under their own banner: consistent opposition to privatization, repression and deportations; against any bourgeois government, for a government of the workers; against capitalism and for socialism.… International examples should be encouraging. The Left and Workers’ Front (FIT) in Argentina regularly receives more than a million votes. The anticapitalist worker Philippe Poutou of the NPA in France also got almost half a million votes this year.”
This statement is directed at comrades of Sozialistische Alternative Voran (German section of the CWI), Marx21 [Cliffite tradition] and the Internationale Sozialistische Organisation [of the “Fourth International”]. RIO assumes that there is a faction within the Left Party prepared to break and launch an electoral campaign representing the exact opposite of Left Party policies. However, all these groups have made it clear in various statements over the last few years that no right turn by the Left Party can go far enough to justify a split. If these ostensible revolutionaries do not want to break with the Left Party, the hope that other parts of the membership will do so is at best naive. It is necessary to address the concrete situation no matter how bleak it seems. Last, but not least, the approval of motorway privatization by regional governments in which the Left Party participates indicates that it is more important for the party to feast in the troughs of governmental power than to struggle for measures to improve the living conditions of the working class. A few local campaigns are no compensation. This set of priorities illustrates a common theme running through the Left Party’s ten-year history. The supposedly leftwing forces tail the party leadership, expressing their frustration but never drawing the necessary organizational and political conclusions. It is an illusion to believe that a handful of left reformist and centrist tendencies organizing as an electoral alliance independently of the Left Party could elevate the weak class consciousness of the workers‘ movement. A left-wing break from the Left Party is only plausible under the pressure of class struggles in which the its leadership would be forced to turn on its own rank and file.
The SAV and Marx21 demonstrate the poverty of the would-be socialists within the Left Party. The SAV counsels against Left Party participation in government and declares that it fights for a “militant and socialist Left Party.” Yet it has been conducting deep entryism since the party was founded and has offered no far reaching criticism of the leadership, regardless of whether it advocates privatizations, deportations or the cleansing of alternative spaces such as occupied houses. The SAV refuses to break with this reformist and opportunist party no matter how rotten its policies become. Even worse is the operation of Marx21 inside the Left Party. When Sahra Wagenknecht claimed to “fight” the AfD earlier this year by effectively adopting its positions, Marx21 was still willing to sing her praises:
“Sahra Wagenknecht is an important representative of the Left Party. She reaches an audience of millions. As a top candidate of the Left Party she has a particular responsibility to represent the party‘s program in the outside world. She does so very well when she criticizes the neoliberal policies of the current and previous governments, when she calls out the hypocrisy and the betrayal of the Greens and the SPD or when she raises the question of fleeing refugees in order to criticize imperialist economic policies, which are responsible for the hunger and poverty in large parts of Africa and Asia. However, her assertion that chancellor Angela Merkel‘s policy of ‘uncontrolled open borders’ is related to terrorism is wrong.”
Marx21 even describes the policies of the Berlin coalition government that includes the Left Party:
“After each terror attack the calls become louder for harsher security legislation and the expansion of the security apparatus. It is a mistake for Sahra Wagenknecht and other leading politicians of the Left Party to join in. In Berlin the Red-Red-Green coalition has now even decided to spend millions rearming the police: nine million euros immediately for 12,000 service weapons that are supposedly needed and 8.8 million euros for new machine guns.”
Despite this, Marx21 does not want to break from the Left Party – quite the opposite. Instead they warn against weakening the Left Party’s ranks:
“The Left Party and all its functionaries and members of parliament have a huge responsibility. For many millions of people in Germany the party is an alternative to the neoliberalism, racism and militarism of the established parties. A weakened Left Party will not be of use to anyone who wants to fight the shift to the right. If it can become recognized as the radical opposition against capital, racism and the ruling form of politics, it can win.”
In its ten years of existence the Left Party leadership has made it more than obvious that it is anything but a “radical opposition against capital, racism and the ruling form of politics.“ The longer the SAV, Marx21 and others spend their time alibiing the Left Party, the easier it will be for the Left Party and SPD to sell their parliamentary speeches to the workers as the only way to gain influence in society. Eventually the Realpolitik of the SPD and Left Party will drive more disappointed voters into the arms of the AfD.
Building a revolutionary party is critical for successfully confronting today’s reactionary state of affairs. The wave of capitalist attacks on the working class – supported by the SPD and Left Party wherever they are in the driver‘s seat – shows that only consistent class-struggle measures can turn the tide. This requires the establishment of militant caucuses in workplaces that are able to link the current consciousness of the working class to a revolutionary perspective of overturning capitalism using the method of the Transitional Program. Only a break with the illusions of pro-capitalist reformism can prevent activists from wasting their political energies on parties whose sole purpose is to sooner or later get into government to administer the capitalist status quo. The SPD and Left Party are roadblocks on the way to workers‘ power because they want to preserve this irrational system which breeds exploitation, war and racism. A hundred years ago, the October Revolution showed the way forward for workers and the downtrodden to break the chains of capitalist oppression – today the working class needs to follow that example to end the madness of capitalism.