[As published in Proletarian Revolution No. 65 (Fall 2002).]
The statement below was issued by the COFI section in Germany last summer in opposition to left organizations that habitually give electoral support to the Social-Democratic Party.
The main result of the German general election in September was that the working class once again was lured into voting for the Social-Democratic (SPD)/Green coalition. Only several weeks before the elections it looked like the opposition Christian Democrats would win, but two major factors turned the wheel around at almost the last minute.
The government declared its opposition to engaging German forces in any war against Iraq, and Chancellor Schröder seized the opportunity of the immense floods to show “leadership qualities.” Nevertheless, the voters taught the SPD a lesson by reducing that party’s vote by 1.7 million, but kept the coalition in power by increasing the Greens’ vote by 800,000.
The main electoral victim was the allegedly socialist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the heir of the former Stalinist ruling party in East Germany. The PDS lost 600,000 voters and was almost eliminated from the federal parliament, where it now has only two members. This defeat was mainly due to the fact that it had joined in coalition governments with the SPD in several federal states but had proved to be totally unable to prevent the SPD from attacking the workers. The idea of some far leftists that the PDS is worth supporting as a point of attraction has become a pipe dream, now that its political reformism is no longer accompanied by electoral success.
A couple of weeks after the elections, voters are now facing the fact that they have systematically been lied to by the leaders of the coalition. Now that they are in power, these misleaders are doing the opposite of what they promised on almost every front. While Chancellor Schröder and his ministers seem to remain firm on nor sending German soldiers to Iraq, they have made it clear by now that they will help U.S. imperialist aggression against this country in various other ways. Air bases will be placed at the disposal of U.S. forces, and German forces will be engaged further in countries like Afghanistan to allow the U.S. to concentrate on a new war.
The German masses, however, are even more concerned about the ever-increasing attacks on their standard of living and social security. Polls show that only four weeks after the vote, the Christian Democrats would now win an election. As we said in our election statement, the working class has no major illusions in the SPD. The ideological confusion and general feeling of weakness within the working class translates into the fact that it shows no signs yet of engaging in major battles to defend its past achievements. As long as this state of affairs lasts, the so-called “anti-capitalist movement” is bound to remain comparatively toothless as well, both ideologically and politically.
There will be elections to the German federal parliament on September 22. They will formally decide whether the next federal government will be led by the Social Democrats (SPD) or by the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU)--at best, because a ’grand coalition’ between the SPD and the CDU/CSU can not be ruled out at all.
One of the groups which claim to be Trotskyist, the ’Gruppe Arbeitermacht’ (GAM, Workers Power) in its call for a vote for the SPD and/or the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, ex-Stalinists) summarizes the results so far of the SPD/Green government’s policies in power as follows:
In the past four years Schroeder and Fischer have done a lot for the ruling class. Their record speaks for itself:
- Two wars involving the German Army, transforming it to become a world-wide intervention force;
- "Internal security” strengthened by Interior Minister Schily’s “Anti-Terror Pact";
- Massive tax cuts for big business, banks and the wealthy;
- More extensive privatization of public services;
- Opening up the pension system for privatization;
- Introduction of the Euro to challenge the dollar as the leading imperialist currency;
And above all: through the alliance with the trade union bureaucracy and social-democratic control of the unions, the defensive struggles of the workers could be prevented from developing and widening. Yet imperialist capital is a thankless master. ‘Red-green’ has done its duty, now’s the time for Stoiber’s conservative cudgel.
To this summary of the well-paid efforts of the SPD/Green government at pulling the wool over workers’ eyes, a great number of further ’successes’ could be added. However, we don’t think that this is really necessary.
Unlike the anarchists, who reject on principle any participation in elections to bourgeois institutions, our position as Marxists is a tactical one. But we are fundamentally opposed to any participation in a bourgeois government (unlike, incidentally, the Spanish anarchists in the 1930s).
The basis of our approach to bourgeois elections is the question of how to free the working class, the potentially revolutionary subject within capitalism, from the ideological and political influence of all factions of the bourgeoisie—both the ruling big bourgeoisie and the various layers of the petit bourgeoisie—in order to transform it from a sociological class into a political class of and for itself. This political independence of the working class is manifested in its revolutionary socialist consciousness and the class struggles it wages on this basis. The realization of the class’s potential to become a revolutionary subject led by its own vanguard party is the only reason for existence of a communist organization.
It is the precondition for a future for the overwhelming majority of the world’s people, a future not characterized by exploitation, oppression, war, hunger, ecological and psychological devastation. At a time when the sicknesses of imperialism, which the bourgeoisie’s ideologues had prematurely declared dead, have returned with a vengeance, this perspective is the only feasible one even to secure significant reforms in the interests of the laboring masses within the capitalist system.
It is on this basis that we must answer the question, whether a call for a vote for any of the parties running in this election corresponds to these criteria. To foreshadow the answer: KOVI-BRD (COFI-Germany) holds the opinion that it would not.
Since for the left, which we want to address with this statement, it should be undoubted that a vote for any of the openly bourgeois parties, such as the CDU/CSU, the FDP, the ’Party of Bible-Believing Christians’, the NPD or Schill’s ’Party of the Law-and-Order Offensive,’ would be an open betrayal of the working class, what remains is to talk about the SPD, the PDS and, unfortunately, the Greens, as well as about several mini-parties which declare themselves to be Marxist, such as the DKP, the MLPD and the KPD.
As we have mentioned, some ‘Trotskyists,’ like the GAM, call for an SPD vote like Pavlov’s dogs. It may still command the support of large layers of the organized working class, even though it has not officially called itself a workers party since the Godesberg convention of 1959. But does this mean, that Marxists have to support that party “like the rope supports the hanged man” (Lenin) in order to be able to confront the illusions held by its supporters with reality?
The leader of the American Trotskyists, James Cannon, said in 1948:
It has been argued that ‘we must go through the experience with the workers.’ That is a very good formula, provided you do not make it universal. We go with the workers only through those experiences which have a class nature. We go with them through the experience of strikes, even though we may think a given strike untimely. We may even go with the workers through the experience of putting a reformist labor party in office, provided it is a real labor party and subject to certain pressures of the workers, in order that they may learn from experience that reformism is not the correct program for the working class. But we do not go through the experience of class collaboration with the workers.
As far as the SPD is concerned the truth is that the workers are less dumb than large parts of the left, since they don’t have any illusions in the SPD as a party waging class war or fighting for socialism. At best they view the SPD as the ’lesser evil’. However, this often suffices to cripple the working class in the face of attacks by the bourgeoisie within the SPD, by means of the organic relations between the trade union bureaucracy and the SPD, in a way that would be hard to imagine in the case of an openly bourgeois government. A call for an SPD vote therefore does not help to destroy illusions in the party regarding the class struggle and socialism. There are no such illusions!
As far as the PDS is concerned it is much less organically linked to the labor movement than the SPD. The rightwards tendencies which have become stronger in recent times have been inherent in the party from the beginning. The PDS developed out of the Stalinist SED and, ideologically, is a miniature, pluralist ’popular front.’ The left-reformist and centrist forces within the party can only become more marginalized under the conditions of class struggle that is for the most part dormant and a paralyzed working class which has not been able to free itself from the grip of its traditional misleaders from the SPD, trade unions and Stalinist bureaucracies.
A success of the PDS in elections would only further strengthen the rightward shift of this party, as it would be understood as a reward for the policies of its present leadership. Furthermore, a strengthening of the party or even a return to the federal parliament would heighten the prospects for a coalition with the SPD. The fact that the PDS is the only party still expressing a strong pacifist tendency is under these conditions of secondary importance. This pacifism, always bourgeois, is in itself a helpless attitude when confronted with reality, and will decompose into ultimate unrecognizability the more the party is successful and draws closer to the SPD. The drive to the troughs of power, proper to the leaders of the PDS as to every bourgeois politician, stands in contradiction to all its presently declared ideals and will undoubtedly overcome them. Furthermore, it is not at all in the interests of the working class to nourish new reformist parties after the betrayals and demise of Social-Democracy and Stalinism. Such new parties will inevitably follow the paths of their repellent models.
The Greens are, as is well known, not a working-class party at all. They have already blazed the rightward trail the PDS is preparing to follow, and in doing so have corrupted a considerable number of people who were subjectively leftist. In view of their record, revolutionary leftists should be delighted to see this party’s eventual disappearance from the political landscape, even if nothing can be done about the sad fact that such famous ’rrrevolutionists’ as Joschka Fischer & Co. will be rewarded with high pensions for services delivered to their bourgeois masters.
Voting for grouplets like the DKP, MLPD or KPD is politically meaningless. None of them is rooted in any noticeable section of the working class. None of them have any chance to even achieve a symbolic success. All three of them are in different degrees linked to their Stalinist heritage, and thus, notwithstanding the sincerity of many of their militants, they are the representatives of the intrusion of a petit bourgeois bureaucracy into the working class and a political current which, in the 20th century, acted as the gravedigger of the one and only proletarian socialist revolution, the October Revolution. A vote cast for such a group at best symbolizes the wish to put the bourgeoisie’s back up a bit, and at worst it means ideologically supporting groups which either more or less offensively advocate Stalinist ideology, as is the case with the MLPD and the KPD, or who have only incompletely broken with it, such as the DKP.
The working class in the Federal Republic of Germany current lacks a party of its own. The vote for any of the bourgeois parties can not be taken by revolutionaries as a basis for their exposure since the working class does not harbor any illusions in them transcending capitalism, or even merely significant reformist illusions. A victory of the once reformist SPD or the still reformist PDS would therefore give as little self-confidence to the working class to engage in new class struggles as it did four years ago when the SPD/Green government was voted in. Under these circumstances we reject participation in the forthcoming elections.
Bonn, August 30, 2002