Workers Vanguard No. 1129
9 March 2018
German Trotskyists Say
No to SPD Coalition with Merkel
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The following article was issued on February 21 as a supplement to Spartakist, newspaper of our comrades of the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands. On March 4, a referendum of German Social Democratic Party (SPD) members sanctioned a grand coalition federal government known as GroKo, renewing the SPD’s current partnership with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their CSU Bavarian affiliate.
After many years of selling out the interests of the working class in coalition governments with the Greens and the CDU/CSU, the SPD has plunged into a deep crisis. The SPD leadership’s swing back toward again forming a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU led to open opposition within the SPD. There had been tremendous enthusiasm in the SPD base when, in the wake of the SPD’s major election setback last September, its leadership announced that it would no longer participate in a GroKo. A rude awakening soon followed, and the SPD leadership is now trying to make a new GroKo palatable to its base.
At the SPD party conference on January 21, the leadership barely managed to obtain a narrow majority for entering negotiations with the CDU/CSU for a new GroKo. Following the conclusion of these negotiations, SPD leaders now aim for a “yes” vote for GroKo with its anti-worker policies, an aim that is supported by the DGB trade-union tops. There is strong opposition to GroKo in the SPD, and we Marxists also say: “No to GroKo!” Rejection of the GroKo would destabilize German imperialism and the EU [European Union], thereby making international class struggles easier.
While the Jusos [SPD youth group] are leading the campaign in the SPD, they are giving voice to a much broader dissatisfaction, especially among the SPD’s working-class base. For 20 years the SPD has, virtually without interruption, helped administer German capitalism in coalitions with bourgeois parties, with catastrophic results for the working class and immigrants. Particularly hated are Agenda 2010 and the Hartz Laws adopted [early last decade] by the SPD/Green government led by [former SPD Chancellor] Gerhard Schröder, which have led to systematic wage-slashing, two-tier wage scales and an ever-greater redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. The Left Party, wherever it is in state government, has carried out policies identical to those of the SPD. The working class is bled dry so German capitalists and bankers can fill their pockets. The low-wage sector of the workforce has become the largest in all of Europe.
The SPD [Schröder] government proclaimed the “war against terror” that has fanned racist witchhunting of Muslims and massively expanded the means of state repression, all of which is ultimately aimed at the entire workers movement. With their treacherous policies, the SPD and Left Party paved the way for the rightists and the [racist/nationalist] AfD [Alternative for Germany]. Successfully combating the consequences of these policies requires hard class struggle against the capitalists.
The opposition in the SPD remains wholly within the bounds of reformism, believing it possible to achieve a “social” capitalism through elections and parliaments. No, socialism cannot be achieved through administering the bourgeois state in a parliamentary democracy. Rather, the bourgeois state must be smashed and the dictatorship of the proletariat established under the rule of workers councils.
The GroKo and Popular Fronts
The Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, section of the International Communist League, opposes not only GroKo but all coalitions (popular fronts) of bourgeois workers parties (the SPD and Left Party) with bourgeois parties. Bourgeois workers parties are, as Lenin said, parties with a working-class base but a leadership that pursues pro-capitalist politics. Similarly, we opposed on principle the SPD/Green coalition of Schröder and [Joschka] Fischer and are also against a possible coalition of the SPD, Left Party and Greens. The capitalist class is not averse to such governments when the task is one of pushing through unpopular measures directed against the working class. The interests of the working class are always subordinated to the bourgeois component in such alliances.
Even if a bourgeois workers party [like the SPD] forms a government by itself or in coalition with another bourgeois workers party (like the Left Party), such governments do not constitute “workers governments” (as some leftists claim) but capitalist governments. Between 2002 and 2011, the coalition of the SPD and the Left Party/PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism] in the Berlin Senate had as its central task imposing an austerity program against public workers and salaried employees and ripping up their collective bargaining agreements. This coalition came into being only in order to attack the workers and guarantee the profits of the capitalists.
In cases where a mass reformist workers party claims to represent the interests of the working class and runs independently of and against the parties of the bourgeoisie, it can be appropriate for revolutionists to employ the tactic of critical electoral support (in Lenin’s words, “the way a rope supports a hanged man”). Critical electoral support serves as a means for revolutionaries to deepen the contradiction between that party’s proletarian base and its pro-capitalist leadership. However, the inclusion of even very small capitalist formations (like the Greens or other liberal formations) acts as a guarantor of the bourgeois program, suppressing this contradiction.
Support to the EU Is
In contrast to the SPD and the Jusos, we Trotskyists, i.e., proletarian-internationalist Marxists, stand in fundamental opposition to the EU, which is dominated by German imperialism. The EU is a consortium of capitalist states. Its goal is to both maximize the exploitation of the working class and enforce the economic domination over and subjugation of the poorer countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain by the imperialist powers, centrally Germany. The common currency, the euro, is the EU’s financial instrument to this end. The purpose of the EU is to increase the competitiveness of the European imperialists vis-à-vis their rivals in the U.S. and Japan. Despite left social democrats’ fantasies about a “supranational,” “social” Europe, the EU is an unstable formation exposed to the continual tensions arising from the different national interests of the European imperialists, which repeatedly threaten to rip the EU apart.
In the July 2015 referendum held in Greece by the bourgeois party Syriza to determine “yes” or “no” to additional EU-dictated austerity measures, over 60 percent of voters delivered a stinging rebuke to the imperialists and voted “OXI” (no). Preceding the referendum, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE) called for “OXI,” pointing out: “Anything but a clear ‘no’ in this referendum is a betrayal of the interests of workers here and internationally.” The TOE advocates the exit of Greece from the EU and the euro. Similarly, our British section, the Spartacist League/Britain, voted for Brexit. Lenin wrote in “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe” (August 1915):
“From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism—i.e., the export of capital and the division of the world by the ‘advanced’ and ‘civilised’ colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary....
“Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists…but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America.”
“Freedom for German Capital!” is at the core of what the EU is all about: the deregulations and privatizations, which apply to hospitals, the service sector, public transportation and utility companies, are mandated by the EU and carried out by successive governments. EU policies are massively directed against the working class in Germany, which means that it is in the workers’ own interest to be against the EU.
But the SPD and the Jusos hail the selfsame EU as the best thing that ever happened to Europe, and the Left Party provides the rent-a-crowd for this lie. Many workers share the SPD’s position, with the trade-union tops preaching that Germany’s leading role in the EU is in the interest of the workers since Germany’s export-oriented industry profits massively from the euro. Behind this is the false notion that workers have joint interests with their bosses, a view also promoted by the lie that it is in the workers’ interest to defend “Standort Deutschland” [Germany: the place for investment and industry]. Using the threat that otherwise plants will be moved [to other countries], the Social Democratic trade-union bureaucracy opened the way to a deep split in the working class by establishing a two- or three-tier wage system, with increasing parts of the working class losing ever more of their rights through precarious employment conditions. By increasing profits, these anti-worker measures have led directly to German imperialism assuming a greater leadership role in the EU.
The trade-union bureaucrats have further strengthened this system of precarious employment by failing to organize these workers and striking rotten deals with the bosses. Take IG Metall [the metal workers union], which agreed in its union contract to a clause extending the period from 18 to 48 months before temporary workers are to be hired permanently (a farce in either case, since they’re transferred or fired beforehand). Such precariously employed workers feel less and less represented by the SPD, which is, after all, centrally responsible for their plight. And they are also not represented by the trade unions, which leads to depoliticization. Even worse, due to their precarious status, or the fear of it, workers are driven to the AfD, which is itself deeply anti-working-class. What is necessary is for the unions to organize all workers and take up the fight against precarious employment. The still well-organized skilled workers must grasp that this system will in the long run destroy the unions and with them their still relatively good working conditions.
Opposition to the EU and to German imperialism at home is central to this struggle. Internationalist class struggle is necessary to defend workers against assaults from the EU and the capitalists! Germany is still the industrial powerhouse of Europe, and its powerful working class, when set in motion, can play a decisive role in this desperately needed struggle.
What’s necessary is a class-struggle leadership of the trade unions, one that will not play by the bosses’ rules and those of their government. It will then become clear that the state and government stand on the side of the bosses. Police out of the DGB! For mass pickets that no one crosses! Programs of public works at full union wages to reintegrate the long-term unemployed! A 30-hour workweek at full pay for all! Down with labor-broker hiring, temporary jobs and contract work! Down with the Hartz Laws! For medical treatment and care at the highest level, free at the point of service! For class-struggle solidarity with the Greek and South and East European workers! Ultimately, only unity on a socialist basis, achieved through proletarian revolutions and the expropriation of the bourgeoisies, can bring about rational worldwide economic development without exploitation. For the Socialist United States of Europe!
SPD: Trojan Horse of Counterrevolution
Since the  capitalist counterrevolution in the DDR [the East German deformed workers state] and shortly afterward in the Soviet Union, the German bourgeoisie has regarded the “welfare state” as superfluous and has increasingly undermined it. The necessity of competing with the social gains in the DDR and giving capitalism a more humanitarian face has vanished. The destruction of the DDR made it possible for the European imperialists to carry out their plans to privatize large parts of the postal service, railways and airports. The Treuhand [privatizing agency], which smashed the East German Kombinate [industrial conglomerates], was the model years later for the austerity measures forced on Greece by the Troika [EU, IMF and European Central Bank].
We Trotskyists always stood for unconditional military defense of the DDR, the other deformed workers states of East Europe and the Soviet degenerated workers state against internal counterrevolution and the imperialist threat. And we do so today with the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. The SPD under Oskar Lafontaine, its candidate for chancellor [in 1990], was a driving force behind counterrevolution in the DDR. Lafontaine preferred a slower capitalist reunification, in order to make Anschluss [annexation] to imperialist West Germany more palatable to the working class of the DDR. The SPD was the Trojan horse of counterrevolution and central to its purpose was selling the notion that bourgeois parliamentary democracy is the best of all systems. The SED-PDS [the Stalinist ruling party in the DDR], which sold out the DDR when Mikhail Gorbachev gave the green light for capitalist reunification, also bears responsibility.
We Spartacists, on the contrary, in 1989-90 fought for revolutionary reunification of Germany through a political revolution [in the East] to sweep away the Stalinist bureaucracy and a socialist revolution in the West to overthrow the capitalist class. In the elections to the Volkskammer [DDR national assembly] in 1990, we were the only organization that fought for “No to capitalist reunification!” and “For a workers soviet Germany!” We are proud of our struggle, which we lost to overwhelming forces. It was a litmus test for revolutionaries, for anyone who does not defend already achieved gains cannot win new ones.
Full Citizenship Rights
for All Who Live Here
In a FAZ article (20 November 2017), Nils Heisterhagen, policy adviser of the SPD parliamentary fraction in the [state of] Rhineland-Palatinate, demands: “‘Merkel must go,’ this has to come from the SPD soon.” He insists that “the SPD must sound the call for an attack on neoliberal-style capitalism. It is not the right-wing populists that are the SPD’s main enemy but the neoliberal, global, self-righteous elite I initially referred to.” Not a word from Heisterhagen about class struggle or mobilizing the working class against the bosses.
Instead, he argues that to fight the AfD the SPD must make the question of “internal security” its own cause, writing: “Internal security is important for everybody—from the little man to the company boss, but above all for many people in the ‘middle.’... For what is needed for more security is a strong state.” Heisterhagen advocates heightened repressive measures against immigrants and refugees. At present, increased state repression is directed particularly against the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party], with Kurdish demonstrations in effect banned. Down with the ban on the PKK and all Kurdish associations! Down with the state-promoted anti-Muslim witchhunt!
The bourgeois state and its institutions cannot be used to advance the interests of the working class. On the contrary, the working class must recognize that the bourgeois state is fundamentally hostile to it. A fight for full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it here is necessary to sweep away the divisions in the working class along national, ethnic and religious lines.
People flee their countries primarily because of imperialist wars and trade policies—like those of the EU—that destroy the economies of oppressed neocolonial countries. In 1999, under the pretext of preventing a new “genocide,” the SPD/Green government seized the chance to finally send the Bundeswehr [German army] into battle by joining NATO’s war against Serbia. Since then, the Bundeswehr has been playing an ever-larger role in all sorts of imperialist slaughter. The solution is destruction of the system of imperialist exploitation, oppression and war, for which socialist revolutions in the imperialist centers will be decisive. That is what the ICL is fighting for.
Opportunism in the Left
The fake-Trotskyist SAV [German section of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International], which works inside the Left Party, sees “both advocates and opponents of a GroKo as driven not by fundamental differences of content but by fear.” While there does exist a great deal of political agreement between the Jusos and the SPD leadership, the “no” to GroKo in fact reflects great dissatisfaction in the SPD’s proletarian base. For its part, the SAV concentrates on building the social-democratic Left Party and refers to the SPD as a “former workers party.” As late as 1990, these reformists were in the SPD and called for the openly counterrevolutionary SPD to go “on the offensive” in the DDR. Now they share responsibility for the class-collaborationist politics of the Left Party and in principle have nothing against its popular-frontist alliances and betrayal of the working class.
The pseudo-Trotskyist Gruppe ArbeiterInnenmacht (GAM) [Workers Power Group] has grasped that there is a polarization in the SPD. However, if you look at the practice of this organization, it is shaped by tailing after the Social Democracy. They share the SPD’s pro-EU line and oppose the result of the Brexit referendum: “Leaving the Union or the Euro zone...constitutes a reactionary response to the crisis.” In Moscow in 1991, these “revolutionaries” stood on the barricades of Boris Yeltsin, who was leading the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. Their tradition is one of always calling for voting for the SPD and/or the Left Party, even when these organizations are campaigning for coalitions with bourgeois parties. The GAM claims to be exploiting a contradiction [within a bourgeois workers party], one that is no longer there when it runs as part of popular-front alliances. For the GAM, the political independence of the working class is a matter of indifference.
The Lessons of October
In voting for war credits in August 1914, the SPD openly passed over to the side of its own capitalist class. When the workers of Russia under the leadership of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks carried out the first successful socialist revolution, the SPD leadership opposed this revolution. Fundamental to the Bolshevik victory was that Lenin’s party had early on split from the reformist Mensheviks; the Bolsheviks were built as a conscious vanguard party. When the defeat of German imperialism in World War I could no longer be concealed and German workers and soldiers in November 1918 began to set up councils on the Russian model, the SPD leadership sprang to the aid of rotting capitalism in order to save the capitalist class from a socialist revolution in Germany.
The SPD leaders Ebert, Noske and Scheidemann even called their capitalist government the “Council of People’s Deputies,” obviously so as to mislead the workers and soldiers in revolt as to its character. The SPD was aided by the centrist (revolutionary in words, reformist in deeds) USPD [Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany] led by Hugo Haase and Karl Kautsky, who had been expelled from the SPD. In November/December 1918, the SPD and USPD formed a coalition government. At the turn of the year, having the USPD in the government was no longer necessary. The SPD heading the capitalist state power used the arch-reactionary Reichswehr and Freikorps to go after and defeat the revolutionaries. At the behest of the SPD, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by the Freikorps, beheading the leadership of the newly founded KPD [German Communist Party].
By arguing that the National Assembly (parliament) and workers councils could and should exist side by side, Kautsky’s USPD aided the SPD in re-establishing bourgeois order. This is fundamentally wrong: a government resting on parliament is a capitalist government (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie) and irreconcilable with a government of workers councils (the dictatorship of the proletariat). When the situation had stabilized, the SPD set about dissolving the workers councils.
Up to the end of 1918, the Spartakusbund [predecessor to the KPD] had belonged to the USPD. The Spartakusbund around Luxemburg and Liebknecht should have split much earlier from the SPD and USPD, as Lenin had done in Russia. This could have given the working class the necessary leadership in the class struggles against the imperialist war and in the 1918 revolution.
The young KPD was still dragging too much social-democratic baggage with it when once again a revolutionary crisis erupted in Germany in 1923. French occupation of the Ruhr and the countermeasures of the German government set off a deep crisis marked by a disintegrating economy and hyperinflation. The workers were fleeing the SPD and the trade unions linked to it in droves. Instead of orienting the working class toward the seizure of power, the KPD pursued the illusion that the left wing of the Social Democracy could be a “revolutionary” partner and joined the SPD in capitalist state governments in Saxony and Thuringia, as the supposed springboard to revolution. Instead, entry into these governments served to put a halt to revolution. The 1923 defeat of the German Revolution was extremely demoralizing for the working class of the Soviet Union, which had been urgently hoping for international extension of its revolution. This defeat laid the basis for the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.
Thus, the basic question is the stance leftists take toward the bourgeois state, the bourgeoisie’s instrument of repression to maintain its class rule. To overthrow this state, what is required is a revolutionary workers party based on the example of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and anchored in the working masses. Building such a party that will intervene in and lead class struggles is an urgent historical necessity.