The crisis of reformism

Reformism has deep historical roots in Germany. The foundation for the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) at the changing of the years 1918/19 meant the existence of a new party which continued the revolutionary traditions of the “federation of Communists” around Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The KPD became a mass-party, the social democrats (SPD) stayed one until their ban in 1933. Members of KPD and SPD who were haunted promised during the experience of fascism to overcome the divisions of the working class movement. But soon after 1945 — also due to the influence of the allied powers — this conclusion from fascism was forgotten. The SPD became a carrying force in the restoration of capitalism with all the known consequences. The KPD was banned in 1956 and it wasn’t until 1968 that the DKP was allowed to form a legal party.
During the period of confrontation between the world-systems the SPD became the party of the “third way” between capitalism and socialism. The situation of the working class improved to a certain extend due to reforms which were the result of struggle. This had the effect of integration into the capitalist system and was added to by the interlinking of SPD and trade unions. These were the major factors for the SPD-dominance in the German working class movement.

After the end of the competition between the world-systems and the change of German capitalism into its neo-liberal form, reformism plunged into crisis. The SPD changed from a party which tried to integrate the working class into capitalism through reforms to just another neo-liberal party.

Now, political contradictions between trade unions and the SPD are breaking open. Particularly social democratic union officials are hit by these contradictions.

In 1990 many leading social democrats were jubilant, convinced the area of political dominance by the SPD was coming. But in fact what came was the crisis. Since 1990, the SPD has lost more than 1/3 of its members (350,000).

Its potential electorate is now below 30% at an election participation of slightly above 70%.

Social democratic government policy under chancellor Schröder was a form of neo-liberal policy. Capital needed this type in order to integrate the working class movement or at least to limit its ability to fight.

Since 1990, SPD has been working at a new party-program, discussions about it had to be postponed several times.

Since 1984, the winning of the 35 hr working week, there has been no single progressive reform in the FRG. The balance of power has been shifted towards the dominance of capital-orientated policies for the time being.

The PDS before the elections

Ideologically the PDS defined itself as a pluralist party which sees its roots in the social democratic, the communist and the bourgeois ideology.

Its program keeps socialism as an aim but it does not strive for the necessary changes through a break with the ownership (of the means of production) and the power (of the capitalist state). The PDS articulates anti-capitalist positions and claims which it completely ignores where it participates in governments like in the states of Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Leading personalities within the PDS ignore the true history of the working class movement. Their picture of history is one of delegitimisation of socialism in Europe.

In some position anti-communism in a leftwing disguise shows clearly.

Many features of the PDS can only be understood if one tries to understand the experiences of the break down and destruction of socialism in Europe and in the GDR. When asked, the majority of PDS-members define themselves as Communists. They have but no concept to develop a political line which differs from a party waning to be merely opposition within capitalism and which would fight for dominance within their party. After successful elections in the 90s and gaining representation in the national parliament, PDS plunged into crisis after achieving only 4.2 % in 2002. The activities of the party which are fixed on parliamentarism were completely concentrated on improving this result at the next elections.

Early elections – challenge for the left in Germany

As one result of the resistance against social cuts, in 2004 a new left-reformist connection made up of mainly social democrats and other left wingers came into existence. 

The fist step was an “electoral alliance” made up of members of the ver.di. trade union, intellectuals and dissatisfied ex-PDS members, as well as ex-social democrats. Then an “alternative social justice” was initiated mainly by union officials of the metal workers union (IGM).

The electoral alliance started in the North, mainly in Berlin, while “the alternative social justice” developed in the South, especially in Bavaria.

The difference between them was that the electoral alliance pushed for a broad front against neo-liberal policies (from Communists to “social conservatives”) in order to give these forces weight in elections. The social justice project was more concerned with the “re-education” and “cleansing” of the SPD, wanted to found a party quickly which would exist until such times when the SPD returns to its traditions and original aims.

For this reason members of the DKP have been involved in the electoral alliance from the start but not in the social justice project.

Both projects had put resistance against social cuts into the centre of their policies. Leftwing Keynesian claims against “Agenda 2010” and the anti-social “Hartz-laws” were being developed. Sympathy, agreement and support for both projects came from parts of the PDS with a trade-union-leaning, leftwing social democrats and left wingers with no party ties, ex-members of the DKP amongst them.

In 2004 both initiatives developed a common platform and joined to form the WASG. It contested the state-elections in Nordrhein-Westfalen , pulling 2 % of the vote. The early elections for national parliament in 2005 were a challenge and worked as a catalyst for a new formation of the left.

PDS and WASG at the elections

The formation process for the elections in 2005 can only be understood if one knows the law of the FRG. Joint lists are not legal. Neither WASG, nor the leadership of the PDS had any intention to stand together for these elections, in fact such a move was being rejected. At a later stage the PDS-leadership was prepared to open their lists for WASG candidates, the WASG rejected this because they saw the PDS as a follow-up of and in connection with the GDR and the SED.

Talks only started after pressure from many known personalities on the left and the sharpening of the question about how the left would fight a successful election campaign. A crucial move in the process was the step by ex-SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine to join the WASG and his declaration that he was prepared to stand as candidate.

He saw common ground with the PDS which he had defined as a social democratic party earlier. In his books “growing anger” he had pursued the idea that a new left reformist party was necessary.

PDS members supported the name-change into “the left” and the WASG stepped back from standing in the elections, their members were placed “safely” (high up) on the lists of candidates by the left party. The formation process caused a lot of friction especially because the short time until the elections left little room for political debate.

The initial predictions for the result of the left had been for over 12 %. In reality they achieved 8.7 % and 54 members of parliament.

The formation of the left party 

The election-manifestos had been decided upon by separate congresses, the joint manifesto was produced at a special congress by the left party where members of the WASG were guests but not delegates. The election campaign was dominated by protests against social cuts. It took on claims of working class — trade union — and anti-globalisation movements.

The “left public” perceived the left party as the only political subject worth voting for. Movements, initiatives and other parties, the DKP amongst them, supported the left party and called for voting for them. Eleven DKP members stood as candidates on their lists in different states. This meant a breaking of the PDS-ban for our members to stand on their lists. At the same time the leadership prevented DKP members from being placed high enough on the lists to have a chance to become elected MPs.

The overall election campaign influenced positively the movements outside parliament. It enhanced debate about alternatives to neo-liberal policies. The result created hopes for a strengthening of the left and that their positions — through a lengthy process — could become acceptable to a majority and force a shifting of the political axis.

Looking at the situation realistically, the left has a long way to go to achieve this.

Both the WASG and the left party are now wanting to form a united party, based on left reformist policies.

The congress on Dec 10th and 11th started this process by creating a framework, the amalgamation of the two is supposed to be completed by 20007. The membership will then have to decide on the framework and the new left party could stand for the parliamentary elections in 2009.

There is already speculation within the left party about possible coalitions with the SPD.

The process so far has not grown from bottom up, it was forced from top down. This fact creates plenty of contradictions and resistance. An additional problem is the difference in culture between former members of the SPD and the SED as well as different political views.

The process is particularly difficult in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, states where the ex-PDS, now left party, is in coalition government with the SPD and in charge of the policies of social cuts, policies which happen just like in other states.

In both places the WASG majority is in favour of standing its own candidates in competition to the left party.

In other states heavy arguments and political controversies are breaking open, especially in preparation for elections in 2006.

It is difficult to predict further developments. It looks as though the joining of both parties is going to be completed. A major factor is the need of success in state elections in the western parts. The left party-dominance is partially due to its secure financial situation, other than the WASG it has the resources to make politics public.

The leadership of the left party and some leading members of the WASG — like Oskar Lafontaine — have a strong desire for the fast building of a united party and it looks to be pushed through, even against strong resistance.

The DKP views the building of the left party as part of a necessary re-shaping of the left, we see the need to give the Marxist left a stronger profile. A block against neo-liberalism which is broader than the left is a major task in these times.

The attitude of the DKP

In many discussions since the start of the left-reformist breakaways from the SPD, the DKP has urged time and again to bring together all forces which stand against the shift of the political axis towards the right, also in elections. For us, movements outside parliaments remain the decisive ones.

We have always advertised to include some of these movements and to act as the political arm for them.

The DKP developed the suggestion — instead of the fast foundation of a new party — to create an umbrella under which all left forces, parties and organisations who wish to do so, could work together, debate questions of common interest, co-ordinate participation in elections and add force to the movements outside parliament.

We think this model of co-operation is the better alternative than a new party and we think this to the very day.

This suggestion has not been discussed, it has been rejected. The DKP was not included in talks about the co-operation and further projects.

My suggestion — and I am convinced it represents the opinion of the majority of our members — is that the DKP must continue to exist as an independent political force. We are a party which stands for the revolutionary break with the ownership situation and the political power, we develop our policies on the basis of scientific socialism and we view the working class as the revolutionary subject. Such a force which stands without ifs and buts for a socialist future is crucial, independent of its size and political influence, which unfortunately is limited at present.

At the same time I am for co-operation as close as possible with comrades and colleagues who are members, followers or voters of the left party.

The political challenges are growing. In the face of the sharpening contradictions in this society there will be discussion and new positions emerging. The question about the future of mankind will be debated more intensively. Ideas about socialism and their pros and contras will be discussed more often. The chances for the DKP are growing, mid- and long term. Parallel, a wide struggle against the policies of war, social cuts and destruction of democratic rights is necessary now. Labelling has never proved useful, convinced of their own ideas, Communists are looking for the dialogue with other political forces.

I am convinced, we can only win.