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Germany: Political turmoil after the elections
Lafontaine flirts with WASG and PDS
AS A consequence of the disastrous defeat in the regional state elections in North Rhine Westphalia, the former heartland of the Social Democrats (SPD) in Germany, chancellor Schrder issued a surprise call to bring the general election forward one year.
In the run-up to the elections, the SPD leadership adopted a more left-wing rhetoric in order to win back their core voters.
But while a large majority agreed with the SPD's verbal criticisms of capitalism, most did not believe the SPD was serious. Consequently, they received a battering in the polls for what many working-class people quite rightly see as the most severe attack on their living standards since 1945.
SPD and Greens in turmoil
With the Christian Democrats (CDU) decisively leading the polls, it is very unlikely that the SPD-led government coalition will be elected for a third term. Schrder is offering to the so-called left wing of the parliamentary group some minor concessions in relation to Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV, the government's hated austerity programmes.
In fact, the election campaign has started already and the Greens and SPD have started to blame each other for the failure of this government. There is some degree of panic within the Greens. They are no longer represented in any regional state government and with the national government coalition coming to a end, they may find themselves out of the ministerial game for a while.
WASG and PDS
WASG (Work and Social Justice - the Electoral Alternative), the new left party in Germany, stood in the elections for the first time and scored 2.2%, around 181,000 votes. Significantly, they became the third largest party amongst the unemployed.
Oskar Lafontaine, (the former finance minister under the first term Schrder government who resigned because he disagreed with the SPD's neo-liberal policy), has finally returned his SPD membership card and announced that he would be ready to stand in an alliance which involves the WASG and the PDS (the reconstituted ruling Communist party in the former East Germany).
The PDS has only got two representatives left in Parliament. They lost their status as parliamentary group in the 2002 elections when they failed to get over the required 5% hurdle or failed to get the majority for their candidates in three constituencies.
In Berlin, the PDS is part of the ruling coalition with the SPD and has carried out severe cuts in the public sector, including crche closures, privatisation and a 10% wage cut for public sector workers. Wherever they have taken on government responsibilities, they have carried out similar policies. As a consequence, a number of former PDS members have joined WASG.
According to the latest opinion polls, a formation which involved Oskar Lafontaine would have the potential to receive up to 18% of the vote, which underlines once again the desire for a genuine left force amongst a decisive section of the German working class.
The PDS has offered to reserve high up positions on their "open list" slate to WASG members, which the WASG leadership does not accept.
Having secured twice as many votes in the North Rhine Westphalia elections as the PDS, they feel that they are in a stronger position in West Germany. Also, WASG has got the position to reject any coalition that involves parties that carry out social cuts.
Members of Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Germany, who are active within WASG, argue that one of the pre-conditions to cooperate with the PDS should be their withdrawal from government coalitions with the SPD.
The working class does not want left unity on paper but in practice. They want to see a real alternative to the neo-liberal agenda of the government. They are fed up with attacks on their living standards.
Undoubtedly, there are a lot of hopes with Lafontaine's reappearing on the political arena and the pressure is mounting that the left, which often seems to be divided, comes together.
However, it is only unity on a political programme that can strengthen the position of the working class. The WASG should organise a special conference to democratically discuss on what grounds they want to cooperate with the PDS.
WASG members should welcome the possibility of a joint all-German left party but should appeal to PDS members to put pressure on their party leaders to withdraw from any involvement in social cuts.
The current developments have already led to a politicisation in German society. A genuine new formation could attract thousands of workers, youth and unemployed who are currently fed up with all the established parties.
In The Socialist 2 June 2005: