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Gerhard Schröder: Germany's Tony Blair?

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In March 1998, Gerhard Schröder was nominated as the SPD’s candidate for Chancellor in the September general election. His long time rival, SPD party leader Oscar Lafontaine, nominated him. This is the SPD’s “dream ticket".

Martin Suchanek of Gruppe Arbeitermacht analyses the background to his rise and his prospects should the SPD form the new government after the elections.

Gerhard Schröder established his uncontested place as SPD candidate for Chancellor after a landslide victory in the provincial elections in Lower-Saxony. The party leader Oscar Lafontaine, was forced to nominate his rival. Thus the most popular SPD politician with the electorate was proposed by the most popular SPD leader amongst the party membership.

What are the differences between these two men? Schröder certainly represents the right wing of the SPD.

Like most of the current party leaders, he started his political life on the left wing of the party. In the 1970s he was the leader of the Jusos, the SPD youth organisation and a supporter of the pro-Stalinist wing of that organisation.

In the early 1980s he defended anti-nuclear power protesters as a lawyer, calling for nuclear disarmament and the closure of nuclear power plants. He was the first regional SPD leader to form a coalition government with the Greens, in Lower Saxony.

As late as 1994, when he lost against Rudolf Scharping in the race for the SPD candidacy, he was perceived as the left wing candidate as against the “traditionalist” Scharping.

However, Schröder was already moving rapidly to the right, as could be seen from the fact that he was supported by the right wing of the trade union bureaucracy - most importantly the IG Chemie (chemical workers’ union) leader, Rappe.

Therefore it was no surprise that, as soon as Tony Blair became the leader of the British Labour Party, Schröder began to imitate him.

He declared “law and order” central to social democratic values. He “discovered” the need to tighten immigration controls. He publicly disagreed with his own party’s policy of a guaranteed apprenticeship for all young people, paid for by the bosses. He worked hard on projecting an image as “young and dynamic", as a “moderniser” in German politics.

However, it would be wrong to regard Schröder and Blair as identical. There are important differences both in terms of their aims and the relation they seek between their party and the trade unions.

Unlike Blair, Schröder does not aim to break the organic links between the SPD and the German working class. Rather he represents a wing of social democratic reformism with roots in both trade unions and the party bureaucracy.

This wing sees the way forward for the unions and the party as accepting neo-liberalism and “globalisation” whilst softening their social effects. It represents a type of “business unionism", willing to concede a scaled down role for itself in a leaner, fitter, “restructured” German capitalism.

This part of the labour bureaucracy sees no alternative to working harmoniously with the bosses to make German capitalism more competitive on the world market. It hopes to win a slice of the pie for itself and some-crumbs to placate its social base in the labour aristocracy.

These bureaucrats and politicians do not want to lose their lucrative positions within the gigantic system of social partnership which ties the unions up with the employers and the-state, even if this has to be scaled down.

This could mean reducing the role of national bargaining over working time and wages and bonuses, replacing it with more plant based agreements.

For this section of the unions the role of the SPD would be to introduce political measures to ensure that the unions still play a role in German politics.

A second difference with Blair is that Schröder is not a convinced “anti-statist".

He agrees to privatisations, to reduce taxes on profits and to make cuts in welfare spending out of desperation rather than enthusiasm.

He personally would prefer Keynesian counter-cyclical intervention in the economy. He, like many German politicians, spontaneously prefers a “strong” (and paternalist) state. But, unlike his rival Lafontaine, and the more “traditionalist” wing of the trade union bureaucracy around IG-Metall leader Zwickel, Schröder is convinced that Keynesianism will not work in the present period.

That is why he is the SPD politician most liked by the bosses.

The model he espouses for the future of German capitalism is the one pioneered by Volkswagen. As the prime minister of Lower Saxony, whose Land government is the largest share holder in Volkswagen, he was important in pushing through the deal between the unions, the Betriebsrate (works’ councils) and the VW management to introduce a 28-hour week with a dramatic drive for flexible working in the company.

This model of enterprise corporatism is the sort of thing many of the labour bureaucrats and those parts of German capital, which want to stick to a modified form of social partnership, envisage for the future.

Schröder’s problem, however, lies in the fact that this model docs not suit the interests of all sections of German capital. As could be seen in the struggles around sickness pay in Autumn 1996, there is an important faction of the German bourgeoisie which is looking for a strategy to break up the social partnership system and with it the influence of the labour bureaucracy altogether.

However, before we turn to the problems Schröder may face if he becomes Chancellor, we have to look at the third and most important difference with Blair.

It is also the most important in terms of future conflicts in the workers’ movement.

When Tony Blair became leader of the British Labour Party, he worked systematically to take control of the party. Whilst Blair’s rule is certainly not absolute and the Labour Party still rests on the organised working class as its social base, Schröder is very far from dominating the SPD in the way Blair and his faction now dominate the Labour Party.

Schröder is not the chairman of the SPD, and will not become the party leader over the next period. His followers are in a clear minority both amongst the membership and in the leadership of the party.

Therefore, Schröder is far from being free from inner party pressures and the need to compromise with other sections of the social democratic apparatus and the trade union bureaucracy.

This is personified in Lafontaine’s role in the party. Not only is he the leader but he is bound to get a key post in the next government or else become leader of the party’s parliamentary fraction.

It is also reflected in the fact that the only minister Schröder has yet appointed for his cabinet (if he is the winner in the elections) is a trade union leader - Franz Riester, the deputy leader of IG Metall.

Whilst Riester is one of the “new realists” in the German trade unions (and that is why he has been appointed by Schröder) this also reflects the fact that the working class and the trade union movement expect the SPD to fulfil a number of its promises.

It also reflects Schröder’s recognition that the SPD remains a focus for the hopes of workers and youth and needs the mechanism to control them. Trade unionists become ministers when working class expectations cannot be ignored but have to be channelled into an endless series of parliamentary manoeuvres and compromises, until hardly anything is left of them.

Of course the union leaders can also be expected to keep “their” members’ dissatisfaction under control, since it will be “their” minister and “their” government which will be overseeing German capitalism for the next period.

Thus, the so-called “twin peaks leadership” of the SPD, Schröder as candidate for Chancellor and Lafontaine as party leader, not only reflects a conflict within German reformism, it also serves an important purpose.

The party simultaneously shows its right-wing face to bosses but its fake left face to the working class, as a way of maintaining the loyalty of workers to the party.

So, when Schröder is meeting senior managers, industrialists and bankers, promising measures to improve the competitiveness of German business, Lafontaine will be calling for an increase in corporate tax at a Juso conference or at a trade union meeting.

However, it would be wrong to exaggerate these differences, since they are also the result of a quite conscious division of labour between the leading figures.

When Schröder speaks in front of working class voters, at May Day rallies or in factory assemblies, he makes more or less the same promises as Lafontaine.

Conflicts and unity

We can expect that a future SPD-led government in Germany will also be the arena for a struggle between these currents as will the parliamentary fraction. Schröder will not be able to simply push through his right wing agenda.

This conflict is likely to take place in a period of rising working class demands, particularly from the organised sectors of the class, and a rising tide of class struggle.

This upward swing is already underway as is shown by the increase in strikes and important economic and political disputes over the last few years. The bosses have scored isolated successes.

More importantly the German working class suffers from a post-war record level of 4.5 million unemployed.

That is if we take the official figures: if we take into account “hidden” unemployment, the number would be almost 8 million! Nevertheless, the German labour movement has clearly has not been decisively beaten by these attacks.

What is more, this reserve army of labour does not, as in the 1929-53 depression, undermine most trade union resistance, nor have the bosses got the whip hand in the factories.

As the strikes against the cuts in sick pay and the occupation of Bonn by the miners demonstrated, the German workers are able and willing to defeat the bosses or even a government.

Reformist politicians fear such a strong workers’ movement. A mobilised and confident working class creates different pressures on them. These work as both unifying and dividing forces on the labour bureaucracy.

Unifying, because all wings of the bureaucracy share a common need to keep the working class under their control. A fully mobilised and self-organised class that transcends their political objectives and outflanks their “plans” is clearly the worst case scenario for many of them.

On the other hand such working class pressure divides the bureaucracy because the various sectors of it are differently affected by the pressure of the workers and by the attacks of the capitalist class and the government. They are thus forced to react to this situation with different reformist strategies.

Schröder and Riester represent the wing of the trade union bureaucracy which wants to secure the position of the labour movement by scaling down its influence voluntarily, but they are opposed by a “traditional” wing of the bureaucracy in the unions and the SPD.

The “traditionalists” aim is to return to the “golden age” of German corporatism in the 1960s and 1970s. In terms of international politics they are modelling their perspectives on Jospin rather than Blair.

These groupings are represented throughout the entire apparatus of the unions. Of course, each has its strongholds.

The right is strong in the IG Bergbau, Chemie, Energie (the industrial unions of miners, chemical workers and energy workers) and the IG Bau (building workers’ union), whilst the “traditionalists” in the bureaucracy have their strongholds in some of the smaller unions, IG Medien (print workers) HVB (trade, banking and insurance workers) and above all in the IG Metal], which is still the flagship of the German trade union movement.

However, as can be seen in the case of Riester, there is a strong right wing tendency even in this union. A similar situation exists in the public sector union (OTV).

In addition to this, a “left wing” of the reformist apparatus has been developing, particularly amongst the middle and lower ranks of the bureaucracy and some elements of the Vertrauensleutekorper (the bodies which represent trade union members at enterprise level).

The two factions have other things in common beside their fear and suspicion of a militant upsurge of the workers. They are both agreed on important elements of the programme of a future SPD-led government.

This is summed up in the call for a “pact for work".

This is the demand for the government to bring together the unions and the bosses to agree a set of measures to reduce unemployment in exchange for concessions on the wage front, a reduction of taxation, a further drive on flexible working time and a general intensification of work.

It must not be forgotten that the originator of this strategy was IG Metall leader Klaus Zwickel, who proposed it at the IG Metall conference in autumn 1995. For the first time in its history, the union itself proposed a reduction in wages, in order to get the bosses to create jobs.

It was the Kohl government which refused to participate in this and thereby encouraged the bosses to demand more concessions and to attack sick pay a year later.

It has to be said, however, that even then the “pact for work” was not just an abstract idea. A number of important local “pacts” were struck and these led to “voluntary” wage cuts and the reduction or abolition of overtime payments.

A future SPD government will take this plan up again, but, as Schröder and Lafontaine, Riester and Zwickel all repeat time and again, “the bosses have to do their part of the deal as well and create jobs".

Although such a pact will not meet the needs of the working class, the German bosses have made it clear that it will not meet their goals either.

Despite the fact that the SPD enters the election campaign with the most right wing leader it has ever had, the bosses are still campaigning massively for the ruling governmental coalition.

Despite their repeated, and sometimes savage criticism of the Kohl government for its reluctance to push through the attack on the unions and its “betrayal” of the bosses in their struggle against 100% sick pay, the bosses have unleashed a full scale propaganda war for this government, a mixture of enthusiasm, desperation and brazen lies.

For example, one of the bosses’ leaders, Olaf Henkel, praised the government’s record.

All failures were just the result of the SPD’s “blockade” in the second chamber, where the social democrats stopped the introduction of the governmental “pension reforms” and some other reactionary bills.

In a speech at the beginning of the year, Henkel even went on to calculate that there would be a reduction of the unemployment figure by 500,000 by the end of 1998 as a result of the government’s politics.

This “miracle” was performed by not mentioning the fact that at the same time nearly as many workers would be made redundant.

Of course, such buffoonery rebounds on them almost immediately, but it shows how desperate the German bourgeoisie feels and how uneasy it is about entrusting the political executive to the Social Democracy at the moment.

The role of the unions

If all they had to worry about was the SPD’s policies and programme, there would be scarcely any reason for them to lose sleep.

Of course, the SPD is making some promises to the working class, but, like Jospin at the beginning of his term, most of them are made under the proviso that there is “enough money” to finance them. Therefore, most of the SPD’s promises are made in areas where the government will not have to pay the bill, i.e. outside of the public sector.

They have promised to abolish a number of laws which reduced working class and trade union rights. These include not only the 100% sick pay guarantee, but also laws which regulate the right to strike and the right to appeal against being made redundant.

In addition, they want to introduce a guarantee of apprenticeships for young people, paid for by the employers.

What is worrying the bosses is not these promises, but the fact that an SPD government might be coming to power as the result of the rising tide of activity and expectations of the working class.

This can be seen not only by the recent increase in struggles and mobilisations but also in massive trade union support for the SPD’s election campaign.

The DGB headquarters alone has started an advertising campaign “for jobs and social justice” which is costing DM8 million (£2.7 million).

When we take into account that the major industrial unions are investing similar sums in such campaigns, this not only shows the determination of the trade union bureaucracy to get “its” government into power, but also the will and determination of the organised working class to get rid of the Kohl government.

Slogans like “Down with Kohl!” and “Fatty must go!” are the most popular slogans in Germany today.

Neither is the trade unions’ campaign confined to advertising. The May Day demonstrations focused on the call for a new “political majority".

There will be a series of demonstrations up to the elections in September together with factory meetings and trade union representatives visiting apprentices’ schools to get their message through. Even the monthly unemployed demonstrations have been largely focused on the elections.

This is, for all its low level political content, beyond doubt a campaign by the whole German labour movement, its trade union and political wings. Indeed this campaigning by the unions has caused a lot of anger from the government and the bosses, who accuse the unions of “embezzling” the subs of their members.

The DGB campaign, they claim, constitutes a breach of its character as a union of all workers, irrespective of their political affiliation, taking the Christian-Democratic workers hostage to the SPD.

If anything, this attack actually strengthened support for the campaign.

Even the Christian-Democratic Workers’ Association, which is a part of the CDU, immediately distanced itself from the government’s criticism in order not to be seen as too close to the CDLJ leadership and the government.

The reason for the growth of sup port for the SPD amongst the working class is easily explained.

The social democracy is still seen as “its” party by the majority of the working class in Germany (a position which it has to share with the PDS in the former “East Germany"). Despite their official “political neutrality", the trade unions are strongly tied to the social democratic party.

For historic reasons, however, this important organic link with the working class via the trade unions is organised very differently from other bourgeois workers’ parties of the British Labour Party type.

The unions and SPD

Unlike the Labour Party in Britain, the SPD was not founded by the trade unions.

Because of the belated development of German industrial capitalism, the trade unions, as a national movement, came into being at a time when the Social Democracy and its formally “Marxist” leadership had already been constituted as a mass nation-wide party.

Also unlike the British party, which was a reformist party from the outset, the German Social Democracy only developed into a reformist bourgeois workers’ party in the early twentieth century. Indeed its definitive political collapse in came in 1914.

In that process of conversion, the trade union bureaucracy played an important role as a support group for the revisionists in the party, calling for the “independence” of the unions from the party; that is from the potential “danger” of being forced to call for political strikes, particularly from supporting what the union leaders considered a “general nonsense” (the general strike).

Even in the early days of its development, German social democratic reformism had features which became dominant, particularly after the Second World War.

A clear division of labour between the party and unions was worked out: the unions (i.e. the union bureaucracy) were responsible for the economic struggle, the party (i.e. its apparatus) had to deal with electoral politics.

Between the wars, the ADGB (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, the German TUC) was the trade union of workers affiliated to workers’ parties (Social Democrats, Independent Social Democrats, Communists) and independents, but not of the open bourgeois parties.

After the war, the Christian Democratic unions did not reconstitute themselves. but the trade unions were built anew as “unity trade unions", i.e. also including the members of the Christian Democrats and the Bavarian Christian Social Union.

Of course, the fake character of this political “neutralism” is obvious when we bear in mind that all the central leadership bodies of the unions were stuffed with SPD members in the late 1940s.

The division of labour between the SPD and DGB was strengthened in 1952, when Adenauer’s government pushed through laws which limited political rights within the enterprise and introduced the dualism between trade union and workplace representation of the workers in Germany. This had two effects.

On the one hand, the trade unions almost exclusively limited their activity to wage bargaining, on the other hand, the SPD’s hold on the unions was strengthened.

An almost monolithic control of the bureaucracy over the working class and extremely vicious purging of the left wing in the unions and workplaces started from that period onwards.

Whilst the SPD clearly did not change its relation to the working class, it changed its politics during the 1950s towards a very right wing reformism.

This was politically marked by agreeing to “West Germany” joining NATO, accepting that capitalism should now be called the “social market economy” and so on.

All this was codified in the Bad Godesberg programme in 1959, which formally broke with “Marxism” as the ideological basis of the SPD, i.e. with the Kautskyian cover for its politics.

"Socialism” - the traditional Sunday speech - became a humanist vision from then on.

For the German Left, however, Bad Godesberg not only signalled a right wing move of a bourgeois workers’ party, but became the point when the SPD ceased to be a workers’ party altogether. This view was backed by the SPD’s claim that it had become a “people’s party".

However, what people are and what people claim to be can be quite different things.

In terms of its politics, the SPD had not been a “Marxist” party expressing the interests of the working class since the early 20th century. In that respect the idea that the SPD changed qualitatively in 1959 is nothing but a pseudo-left cover for an opportunist view of the SPD before that period.

In qualitative terms, the SPD’s programmes and politics were, of course, as bourgeois before 1959 as they were after.

The apparently “left” side of the argument that the SPD had no specific relation to the working class anymore, that it was no different from the CDU or the FDP (or the Greens today) led to catastrophic, politically self-defeating consequences for the German Left.

They claimed that the SPD (and even the unions, since they were so closely allied to the SPD) were outside the workers’ movement! Never mind that this almost emptied the “workers movement” of most of its workers, leaving a few official Stalinists and some Maoist sects.

The workers in the unions and the SPD were described as workers without any element of working class consciousness. The weapons for fighting social democracy were, therefore, limited to denunciation and self-proclamatory efforts by various Maoist “parties".

It is not accidental that these erroneous ideas did not originate in the workers’ movement, but in a movement which was totally isolated from the organised working class, the student movement of 1968.

Since then, different currents of the German far left have confused the right wing form of social democratic reformism in Germany with its break from the organised working class.

In reality, the rightward move of German social democracy from the 1950s onwards was the result of important defeats of the German working class (demobilisation of the masses after the breakdown of the Nazi regime; reconstruction of bourgeois rule under the surveillance of imperialism and Stalinism: the workplace laws of 1952, the smashing of the East German workers’ uprising of 1953).

This allowed for the stabilisation of the capitalist order in West Germany and laid an important basis for the “economic miracle". The latter then laid the basis for a large labour aristocracy and a bureaucracy which based itself on it.

Organic links

This domination of the workers’ movement by social democratic reformism is not only seen in the close ties between the trade union and SPD bureaucracy.

What this means in practice is that the overwhelming majority of trade union officials are SPD members and, similarly, some 90% of SPD MP’s are trade union members, although obviously not all are leading figures.

SPD members also frequently hold the seats on enterprise boards which the unions or works’ councils appoint.

Of course, there are also managers who are members of the SPD, but, unlike the open bourgeois parties, the SPD has no representation or say in the bosses’ associations.

Its strength and function for the German capitalist class lies not in the fact that it represents the interests of any particular fraction of the bourgeoisie but that it represents and controls the working class politically.

Although organisational closeness and political partnership with the unions is nowadays the most important element of the SPD’s organic link to the working class, it is clearly not the only one.

Leaving aside important historic ties, the SPD is also a party with mass working class membership. Whilst the branch meetings of the party have clearly become boring and dry, it would be wrong to think that they just exist on paper.

It is not accidental that the SPD and the PDS are the parties which are most dependent on individual membership dues, which finance their activity and count for more than 50% of their income.

On the other hand, they are also the parties with the lowest percentage of corporate donations to their total income (only around 10%). Regular financial contributions are typical for parties with mass working class membership.

It is little wonder that open bourgeois parties and the petit-bourgeois Greens show a different trend in their income structure.

More than a third of the income of the FDP and the Greens comes from donations and around a quarter of the CDU/CSU income. Only one third or less of their income comes from regular membership subs.

Obviously, the relation between the working class and a party is also expressed in voting patterns. Unlike repeated bourgeois (and radical petit-bourgeois) assertions, which are little more than prejudices, electoral results show that the SPD vote still rests on the working class.

Indeed, the SPD’s share of votes amongst working class people increased strongly after the Second World War.

That can be partially explained by the fact that both the SPD and KPD (German Communist Party) had weak roots amongst catholic workers between the wars.

It was only after the second world war, that the SPD broke into that layer and turned areas such as North Rhine-Westphalia into Social Democratic fortresses.

In 1957, it gained an absolute majority of votes amongst blue collar workers for the first time in its history.

Apart from the 1990 elections, where the vast majority of workers in the East voted CDU, the SPD has maintained that position.

It reached its high point in the early 1970s and again in 1987, when almost two thirds of all blue collar workers voted SPD. The SPD’s success in recent elections and in the polls also largely came from their ability to mobilise workers to the polls.

In Lower Saxony, the SPD had its best results in working class strongholds like Saizgitter and Braunschweig.

What is different from the 1980s, is the fact that the SPD has also begun to gain (whilst clearly not so strongly) amongst white collar workers and the “middle strata".

These voting patterns are not only important to demonstrate that a relation between the SPD and the working class still exists. The example of Saizgitter also helps to illustrate how this relationship works.

Saizgitter is a small town around an important steel plant. An Austrian company wanted to take over this plant, threatening the loss of thousands of jobs in the region.

The workers demanded that their jobs be saved from this takeover.

The SPD government of the Land, none other than Gerhard Schröder, reacted quickly. It nationalised the plant (of course with compensation) and resold it to a capitalist who “guaranteed” the jobs. No wonder then, that the SPD vote was 70% in the town.

This model can be generalised insofar as it points to what many workers expect or hope an SPD in power will do: secure “standard” rights of the workers, no further attacks, no further job losses, significant reduction of unemployment, in short a “breathing space” after one and a half decades of conservative government.

However, as the electoral result of the fascist front organisation DVU showed in Sachsen-Anhalt, there are clearly limits to the influence of the SPD.

Whilst the SPD did well amongst workers who still have got a job, be it industrial or service sector, the DVU gained strong support amongst the unemployed and the youth, who, even if they have a job, see little prospect for the future in a country with more than 20% unemployment.

After the elections?

Given more than 16 years of Kohl’s government, of constant attacks on social benefits, of mass unemployment and of attacks on trade union and democratic rights, it is small wonder that the working class wants to get rid of this government.

In addition, the struggles against the bosses and the government over the last year demonstrated to many activists in the factories, in the offices and amongst the unemployed and the youth, that militant industrial action alone cannot solve these problems. The working class needs a political answer to political attacks.

Also, trade union struggle cannot solve the question of mass structural unemployment. The working class needs a government which will solve these problems.

Of course, no future SPD-led government will do anything of the sort.

Only if there is an electoral landslide will it even be a government of a bourgeois workers’ party. Most likely the SPD will be in coalition with the Greens. If Kohl stages a comeback or the SPD underperforms there could even be a “Grand Coalition” with the CDU/CSU.

But in order to fight the present government, the working class uses the political tools it has to hand and that means the organisations which exist. For the vast majority of the organised working class this is the SPD (or the PDS in the East).

Therefore, it is almost certain that the SPD will become the strongest party in parliament after the forthcoming elections.

It could, together with the other bourgeois workers’ party, the PDS, even be strong enough to command an absolute majority of MPs. It could base itself on the mobilisations of the working class to push through its most pressing demands and form a minority government. Or it could attack the open bourgeois parties as an opposition.

That, however, is most definitely not what the SPD leadership intends to do.

It clearly does not want to form a government which could become a “hostage” to working class demands, protest or even support. It would prefer to form a coalition with the Greens or even with the CDU/CSU.

Whilst there are obvious differences between these two coalitions, the working class must oppose both of them. For many workers, this is obvious for a coalition with the CDU, However many believe that an SPD/Green government (irrespective of whether this would include the PDS or not) would be a “left” government: indeed that the Greens would play the role of a left wing pressure on the SPD.

Whilst such a petit-bourgeois party may appear more left wing on some issues, it clearly is not a party rooted in the workers’ movement.

Unlike the SPD and the PDS, which are characterised by a contradiction between their social base and the bourgeois politics of the parties, such a contra diction docs not exist within the Green Party.

There are no channels by which an organised workers’ movement (or even a fraction of it) could exert pressure on their leaders and put them to the test.

Therefore, the Greens inevitably would become a vehicle for the bourgeoisie to exert pressure on an SPD-Green coalition, rather than a “left wing” corrective.

For the SPD and trade union leaders, who themselves do not want to break with capitalism and therefore with “their” ruling class anyway, this is not a problem. On the contrary, it gives them an additional excuse for not implementing working class demands, since the “coalition partner” has to be respected.

The likelihood of such a development can also be seen from the development of the Green Party over the last two decades and the role it has played where it is already in coalitions.

In Bremen, for example, the Greens have been in the forefront of the privatisation of public services. The call for an “ecological tax reform” by Greens is a classic example of making the working class pay for capitalism’s destruction of the environment, raising energy prices for consumers via indirect taxes.

For all the reasons that the SPD leaders fear an enthusiastic and confident working class and would prefer a coalition, revolutionaries wish to see them put into office with the largest majority possible.

This will give them the least excuse for their betrayals when they come.

It will be vital to intervene in the election campaign against the coalition plans of the SPD leadership, to demand an SPD or an SPD/PDS government (if the PDS makes the 5% hurdle) and nothing else.

Even more important, however, will be the struggle against the concessions to the bosses on wages embodied in the “pact for work” and against a revival of the social partnership which tics the unions to the bosses and the state.

Clearly such a struggle will last beyond the election period and will require a lot of tactical skill by revolutionaries, since it has not only to be conducted against the trade union and social democratic bureaucrats, but also, in part, against the reformist consciousness of the working class masses and their very real illusions in corporatism.

The election campaign, however, will inevitably increase political awareness and activity within the class.

Revolutionaries have to take advantage of this to popularise a programme of demands focused on the most urgent needs of the class: for example, immediate repeal of all restrictions on political and trade union rights, an end to business secrecy, open the books of profitable and unprofitable firms to workers’ inspection, a programme of public works, paid for by a wealth tax, to bring down unemployment, especially in the East and amongst the youth.

Such demands will only be won when the working class itself is mobilised.

Given the obvious fact that millions expect the SPD to act in their interests, we have to campaign alongside them to put “their” parties into government but also to demand that the party carry out these demands in office.

This is the only way in which German revolutionaries can take forward both the fight against the bosses and against the parties which currently have the allegiance of the working class.

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