Civil war is raging in the SPD, the German Labour Party, following the successes of the radical left Die Linke party in recent elections. The crisis has grown to such an extent that a recent opinion poll put the SPD at 22 percent, with Die Linke at 14 percent.
There are now growing splits between the right and left inside the SPD – with the right openly attacking party leader Kurt Beck and demanding he retract his candidacy for chancellor in the general election scheduled for 2009.
Beck had tacked the rhetoric of the SPD sharply to the left in an attempt to thwart the growth of Die Linke, while at the same time ruling out any cooperation with it.
When that strategy failed, Beck said that Andrea Ypsilanti, SPD leader in Hesse, could form a minority state government with the Greens and be elected the state’s leader with the votes of Die Linke.
But this brought protests and defections from the right of the SPD, and Ypsilanti did not stand.
This led to a situation where Roland Koch, the conservative prime minister of Hesse who had been voted out, is still ruling – despite not having a majority.
Up until this debacle an uneasy truce held in the SPD, where the right didn’t object to Beck’s leftward lurch in the hope that it would keep Die Linke out. This truce has now broken down.
This is partly because the bosses are exerting pressure on conservatives and the SPD alike to attack the welfare state in the face of a looming US recession.
So far the German taxpayer has been presented with a bill of roughly 20 billion euros for bank bailouts due to the subprime crisis. All experts agree that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
The conflicts in the SPD have cost the party dearly. In polls the SPD’s ratings have fallen to an all-time low, especially in their former heartlands.
In Saarland, the political home of Die Linke leader Oskar Lafontaine, a recent opinion poll has put Die Linke at 29 percent – almost double the SPD’s 16 percent. That means there is a chance that Die Linke will get more votes than the SPD in this state’s elections in 2009.
This would be the first place in the west where Die Linke could overtake the SPD. In the east it is already stronger in Sachsen, Thüringen and Sachsen-Anhalt.
The crisis in the SPD takes place as the class struggle increases.
Despite a major public sector strike due to start in mid-April being called off, strikes involving public transport workers in Berlin and workers at the Deutsche Post are set to begin next week.
The success of Die Linke has intensified the debates inside the new party about its future course.
The rising struggle has strengthened the hand of those in Die Linke who want to build it as a working class party that bases itself inside the movements.
They also see the chance to loosen the grip of the SPD on the trade union movement – thus making an overdue revitalisation of the workers’ movement possible.
But those within Die Linke who orientate mainly on joining coalition governments with the SPD are worried by its meltdown because they see the chances of coalition dwindling away.
They are also worried that the hard oppositionist stance that Oskar Lafontaine and many party activists in the west are taking could be a barrier to an agreement with the SPD.
Lafontaine has never ruled out joining a government with the SPD, but he has put down minimum conditions, such as the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, an end to privatisation, the scrapping of the Hartz IV unemployment laws and the reduction of the retirement age from 67 to 65.
Attempts to water down these conditions, for example to tie the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan to exit conditions, have so far failed.
Die Linke is set to begin its first party conference on 23 May. Hopefully Germany’s new spirit of resistance will inspire the debates there.
Stefan Bornost is a member of Die Linke and the editor of the Marx21 magazine. Go to their German site » www.marx21.de