SPD’s Peace Initiative: ‘The Better to Eat You With’
The following is an edited excerpt from an article on Germany’s national election that was originally published in Bolschewik No.18, September 2002
The subordination of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) to capital jeopardizes its popularity with its working-class electoral base. However, as the SPD does not currently face a challenge from its left, the German bourgeoisie is not prepared to countenance a left turn by the chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, merely to pick up votes. The bourgeoisie’s reformist agents within the workers’ movement only put forward class-struggle demands in order to contain working-class radicalizations—not to prevent an openly bourgeois party like the CDU/CSU [Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union] from forming the government.
Before last summer’s floods lifted the SPD (and its chancellor) up on a wave of national unity, it was languishing at the bottom in the opinion polls. Schröder’s previous efforts to promote capitalist austerity had failed to win support from the intended victims. So he played the Iraq card. His aim was not only to turn a looming international crisis into a national truce, but to find some political ground where the current interests of German capital did not appear starkly counterposed to the interests of the masses. Opinion polls show that up to 80 percent of the population oppose German participation in any war on Iraq.
The chancellor of imperialist war against Yugoslavia and Afghanistan has not morphed into a chancellor of peace. It is simply that, at this point, a war on Iraq is not in Germany’s interests. A successful military campaign against Iraq, even with German participation, would only increase the influence of the U.S. in this strategic oil-rich region, at the expense of German and European capital because of the disparity in military might. Schröder is peddling his policy as a program for peace, but in reality it is based on a sober recognition that Germany is not yet properly prepared to wage war. This is why Schröder’s new-found pacifism is embroidered with rhetoric about the “German way.”
German Arms Drive vs. U.S. War Drive
The Bundeswehr [German Army] is not currently equipped to play a role as anything but an extra in a “massive attack” on Iraq. If Germany does not participate in such an attack, however, its interests in the Middle East will suffer. Throwing all its available military assets into a short-term campaign in Iraq would drain resources from the Bundeswehr‘s longer-term project of systematically upgrading its capacity for intervention outside Germany. A war against Iraq therefore presents a choice between two unpalatable options, both of which involve the risk of Germany falling further behind its chief imperialist rival. So the “red”/green government is promoting international opposition to an attack on Iraq:
“Faced with increasingly concrete U.S. war plans, the German government was forced to take a position. In contrast to Kosovo and Afghanistan the circumstances allow this to range from skeptical to oppositional. Schröder’s red/green coalition is saying ‘no’ to war against Iraq at a time when criticism in the U.S. is getting louder…with U.S. military chiefs pointing out that the operation that is really necessary goes beyond what even the mightiest military power in the world can achieve while all other operations are too risky and ineffective. It is saying ‘no’ when, for the first time, it appears possible that the major European powers can agree on a common line and thereby become a factor of significant weight. Despite the recent differences between French president Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Schröder over recent EU agrarian reforms, they are clearly supporting each other in opposing a military strike against Iraq.”
—Süddeutsche Zeitung, 5 August 2002
“France has advocated a relaxation of sanctions against Iraq for years. Iraqi debts to France are so high, that for this reason alone France is interested in a normalization of relations in the long-term.”
In addition to a debt of approximately $5 billion, French companies are believed to have negotiated lucrative oil agreements with Saddam Hussein. These agreements are blocked so long as UN sanctions are in place, and would be threatened by U.S. domination of Iraq.
The U.S. is attempting to use its economic strength and immense military superiority to gain geo-strategic control of the Middle East and Asia. In the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, America secured agreements to expand its military presence in countries stretching from former Soviet republics in the Caucasus to the Philippines. This represents significant progress toward solving a key problem outlined in a 2001 Pentagon strategy paper:
“The distances are vast in the Asian theater. The density of U.S. basing and en route infrastructure is lower than in other critical regions. The United States also has less assurance of access to facilities in the region. This places a premium on securing additional access and infrastructure.”
—Quadrennial Defense Review Report
Since the end of the Cold War the military strength of each imperialist state has become an increasingly important factor in determining its share in the redistribution of global markets and economic resources. The “appeal” by CDU politician Karl Lamer to his “American friends” at a February 2002 NATO defense meeting in Munich to “include us in the strategy as well” was dismissed by the U.S. representative: “If you put more money into defense, then we can again talk seriously” (Rheinische Post, 4 February 2002). The extent of the imbalance is evident in the fact that, according to NATO general secretary George Robertson, the U.S. annual military budget is $379 billion compared to only $140 billion for the rest of NATO.
The rearmament of German imperialism is fraught with difficulties. To project military power globally, Europe, and particularly Germany, must significantly expand its air transport capacity. One suggestion made during the Munich meeting was to solve this problem by simply purchasing planes from the U.S.:
“The appeal by [SPD defense minister] Scharping that the U.S. not keep its technology a secret, but make it accessible to its allies, provoked a sympathetic response from the U.S. representatives: the Europeans could simply buy excellent American products instead of themselves spending years developing military cargo planes like the ‘Airbus.’ Of course, this division of labor was not at all to the liking of the Europeans. This did not bother the U.S. representatives in Munich.”
— Rheinische Post, 4 February 2002
Both sides are putting forward perfectly “normal” positions for imperialist rivals. European money spent on U.S. weaponry benefits the American arms industry (and enhances its technological edge) at the expense of European producers. Providing funds for U.S. companies to develop new weapons programs would strengthen their monopoly. The U.S. already uses its leverage to demand that American replacement parts (rather than cheaper Asian substitutes) be used in all American weapons systems and to insist that all repairs are carried out by American technicians. As a result, many planes are grounded until the monopoly holder delivers. If European armed forces were entirely dependent on American cooperation, it would mean that all imperialist interventions would require Washington’s approval, thus eliminating Germany as a serious global competitor.
On the other hand, a precondition for European governments striking out on an independent path of development, as with the “Airbus,” is the prospect of stable, long-term cooperation amongst competing states with divergent interests. If one state (e.g., Britain, which has reportedly been considering buying Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster instead) opts out, or cuts its order significantly, the whole project could be jeopardized by a soaring cost per unit. The resulting shortage of engineering and production capacity could also force the Airbus project to involve Russian and Ukrainian enterprises, which would mean sharing sensitive military “know-how” with non-NATO countries. In the end, there is no guarantee that all the technological problems would be solved, nor that the project would stay on budget. While U.S. planes can be ordered immediately, developing and deploying the Airbus would take at least until the middle of this decade—and the redivision of spheres of influence is already underway. It is hardly surprising that the German bourgeoisie, and those of the other European states, is divided on how best to proceed. No final decision has been reached, but all parties agree that the Bundeswehr’s capacities must be upgraded.
No Third Way
Just as the promotion of imperial interests lies at the root of all capitalist politics, a complete break with one’s “own” imperialist rulers is the basis of proletarian, class-struggle politics. A truce with one’s “own” bourgeoisie is the hallmark of class traitors.
Four years of social-democratic government have left a legacy of social cuts, racism, repression and war. The social-patriotic leaders of the ex-Stalinist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), such as Gabi Zimmer, have made it clear that they are not opposed to military interventions in principle, but that they should not be the main, or only, means of advancing German foreign policy. In other words, they believe military intervention should be supplemented by political interference, economic blackmail and diplomatic pressure. The PDS’s role in the government in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Berlin and, until recently, Sachsen-Anhalt leaves no room for confusion regarding their domestic social and economic program. They have proved to the German bourgeoisie that they are democratic “socialists” who can be relied upon.
Neither of the bourgeois workers’ parties (the SPD and PDS) have even pretended to have any intention of acting in the interests of the working class and oppressed. At the local and regional levels where they hold office, their everyday behavior shows that despite their proletarian base, they are parties that serve capital. Workers have no expectations that either of these parties will lead any sort of resistance to the capitalists. This means that, once they take office, their betrayals are unlikely to disappoint their base and lead a section of it to break to the left in the direction of class-struggle politics.
Some workers are vaguely afraid that things would be worse under Stoiber [the Christian/Conservative candidate] than if some combination of the SPD, PDS and Greens were to form the government. Whether carrying out an imperialist military intervention, attacking democratic rights, or imposing another round of austerity, the reformists will always claim that under Stoiber it would have been even worse. The “logic” of lesser-evil politics is a Catch-22. The only reason revolutionaries offer critical electoral support to reformist workers’ parties is to dispel any illusions workers may have in the capacity of these organizations to fight in their interests. If workers are to draw revolutionary conclusions from the inevitable betrayals of the reformists, they must first have expectations to be disappointed. For class-conscious workers there is no choice in this election: No vote to SPD or PDS! For class struggle against Stoiber and Schröder! Smash German imperialism through workers’ revolution!
Whose World Is This?
Class-conscious workers in Germany must demonstrate their opposition to imperialism through active solidarity with the oppressed. If Iraq is attacked tomorrow, they must stand for its military defense and the defeat of the imperialists. The main enemy is always at home—the German bourgeoisie and its state. Revolutionary anti-militarism has nothing in common with pacifism. Communists do not call on the conscripts in the Bundeswehr to throw away their guns, but to turn them around—the enemy of these workers in uniform, as of all the exploited and oppressed, is their “own” German bourgeoisie. Together with an insurgent workers’ movement, they can play a crucial role in replacing the capitalist state with one based on workers’ councils with elected (and recallable) representatives who are paid no more than an average worker’s wage. The working class has the power to expropriate the exploiters and create a democratically-controlled, planned economy oriented to meeting the needs of everyone in society, instead of maximizing profits for the benefit of a tiny minority. A workers’ state would act to promote international solidarity and support liberation struggles around the globe. The spread of workers’ power internationally will make it possible to uproot the entire imperialist world system, and to employ the huge productive forces developed under capitalism to satisfy the needs of the entire human race.
We are well aware that this program is not immediately realizable—not because objective conditions are not ripe, but because the political consciousness of the vast majority of the working class (and most of the left) does not transcend the political framework of reformism, i.e., what is acceptable to the bourgeoisie. We cannot determine our policy on the basis of the existing reformist consciousness of the workers. There is a deeper social reality. If the workers follow the bourgeoisie they do so in opposition to their own interests, and at the expense of their own living standards, and ultimately their lives. The reality of life under capitalism forces the working class to resist. Those spontaneous outbursts of struggle cannot overthrow capitalism on their own. Moreover, the reformists—the labor lieutenants of capital—are always ready to derail any serious working-class rebellion.
Through conscious intervention into these elemental upheavals, communists can deepen them, radicalize them, and ultimately help turn the struggle against the capitalist social order itself. Revolutionaries must demonstrate to the workers through propaganda, as well as through lessons drawn from their own practical experience, that socialism is the only alternative to free market barbarism, and that the only way to get to socialism is through workers’ revolution. In doing so, communists must draw the lessons of the important struggles of the past; develop a revolutionary, class-struggle program; demonstrate how every critical social issue points to the necessity of socialist revolution; and consistently struggle to establish the organizational and political independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie. Both social democracy and Stalinism, as reformist ideologies, are in the final analysis, agencies of the bourgeoisie within the working class. Trotskyism alone represents the tradition that began with the publication of Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. The Leninist vanguard party is the necessary instrument for the realization of the Marxist program. The only road from the capitalist reaction of today, to the world socialist revolution of tomorrow, lies through the struggle for an authentically communist international party, deeply rooted among the oppressed and exploited masses of the world—the future gravediggers of imperialism.