Socialist Worker

Preserving unity on the German left

A meeting in Germany last weekend laid the basis for a mass left party which could reshape the country’s political scene, says Volkhard Mosler

Issue No. 1999

illustration by Tim Sanders

illustration by Tim Sanders

A debate has been raging in Germany for over a year now. How do we build a new left party across the whole country?

We currently have a “grand coalition” government made up of the right and the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour Party. This coalition is pursuing a vigorous neo-liberal agenda and has deployed German troops to serve in Afghanistan.

So there is an urgent need for a left alternative. There are two major forces involved that could form the basis for such an alternative.

The first, WASG, is a new party of 12,000 members based in West Germany. It contains many trade unionists and activists who split from the SPD as it moved to the right.

The most prominent figure in WASG is Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD leader. The organisation also contains forces drawn from the far left, including Linksruck, the Socialist Workers Party’s sister organisation in Germany.

The other major force on the left in Germany is the PDS, the old ruling party in Communist East Germany, which has about 60,000 members and about 1,000 full time workers.

There is a great desire for unity between these forces, but there are also problems.

WASG was built around the central question of social justice. It has been heavily involved with the social movements in Germany, but many of those in the organisation do not consider themselves socialists, and criticise the PDS for having too left wing a programme.

Other left wing groups within WASG criticise the PDS for being prepared to go into coalitions with the SPD at a regional level, and argue that this makes unity between the PDS and WASG impossible.

However, Linksruck, along with many other members of WASG, argues that it is possible to criticise the actions of the PDS while building the kind of unity that is urgently needed.

These debates recently came to a head in the German capital, Berlin. Here the PDS has for a number of years been running the city in coalition with the SPD. Because the capital is deeply in debt, the local authorities have driven through New Labour style policies of cuts and privatisations.

So there are good reasons to be critical of the PDS. But on the other hand, it is too simplistic to say that it is just the same as the SPD. The PDS is highly critical of the SPD. It helped to build the anti-war movement and has been a part of every major left wing campaign.

Many old members of the PDS still consider themselves to be Marxists, and attack their own party’s neo-liberal policies in Berlin.

Linksruck has argued that it is necessary to have critical but unconditional support for unity between the WASG and the PDS. We have to walk on two legs. One of the legs has a wound, but that doesn’t mean that we should cut the whole leg off!

The desire for unity has also been reflected by two referendums in WASG, both of which saw about 80 percent of members back unity with the PDS.

But in Berlin, an unholy alliance between left wing sectarians and the right wing was able to dominate the debate inside WASG. Members in the city voted at the beginning of April to stand against the PDS in local elections set for September.

A motion arguing against this was backed by about a third of delegates at a meeting of the Berlin WASG.

Faced with this, the national conference of WASG, which took place last weekend, was a big step forward. A coalition of forces, including Linksruck, Lafontaine and many trade unionists put forward a serious unity position.

It was decided by a clear majority to campaign for unity in Berlin and to reject attempts to stand against the PDS.

Before the conference, WASG was on the brink. What changed the mood was that the national leadership, especially Lafontaine, made it clear that the party would break apart unless there was a clear statement of unity.

The next stage is to write a draft constitution for a united organisation and to debate this in both parties.

By spring next year both parties will have held conferences and voted on whether to join together. By June next year there could be a united left party across Germany.

Who’s who?

  • SPD the German equivalent of the Labour Party, now in a “grand coalition” with the country’s Tories
  • PDS the former East German Communist Party, now a major left party in the east of the country
  • WASG a left wing split from the SPD mainly in the west of the country
  • Linksruck the SWP’s sister organisation in Germany and part of WASG

Volkhard Mosler is a leading member of Linksruck and secretary of the Frankfurt section of WASG.

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Article information

Sat 6 May 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1999
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