The winner of the German general elections: The ruling class

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Regarding the German federal elections of September 18, 2005, it is being said that it has produced no clear winner. Although it is true that the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) will be the strongest fraction in the new Bundestag, they have nonetheless suffered a serious electoral setback, with only 35 % of the votes cast. Although the Social Democrats (SPD) improved their situation strongly during the course of the electoral campaign, they nonetheless achieved their third lowest vote in the post war epoch (just over 34%). Although the Liberals (FDP) were able to improve their position, regaining their status as the third strongest parliamentary fraction, they nonetheless failed to achieve their declared goal of replacing the ruling “red-green” government by a “black-yellow” (CDU - FDP) coalition. Although the Greens were able to more or less maintain their share of the vote, they declared themselves on the night of the elections to have been voted out of office. Only the “Left Party-PDS” (a combination of the east German PDS and ex-Social Democrats plus leftists from the west), running for the first time under this name, is considered to have made successful gains, since at the first go it achieved more votes than the Greens.

In fact the German economy itself has been declared as the main loser of this election. This, not only because companies at home and abroad had been expecting a CDU/CSU/FDP government to be formed, but also because there are fears that political instability might make itself felt in the Federal Republic, a country which, at least in this respect, has until now has always been known for being particularly stable. Aspects of this possible scenario include: the absence of clear government majorities, the difficulties of the task of forming a new government, the persistence of the mutual blockage of certain legislation between the federal and the provincial governments, and the possibility of renewed elections ahead of schedule. All of this, it is alleged, might slow down the pace of the “reforms” which the whole ruling class is so frenetically calling for.

Regarding all of this, it has to be affirmed first and foremost that one clear winner has emerged from these elections: the bourgeois class in its struggle against its main enemy, the working class

The elections against the working class

When Chancellor Schröder, after the bitter electoral defeat of the SPD at the May 21 provincial elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, prematurely called general elections for the autumn, this decision was greeted by the whole ruling class as a necessary response to the growing “reform fatigue” and “frustration with politics” within the population. Now, neither the “short but intensive” electoral campaign, nor the result it has produced (which has been called a “sensation” and a “political earthquake”) have been able to overcome this much complained of alienation of the population towards the ruling “elite” and its political system. But what the bourgeoisie has succeeded in doing is mobilising the working population to the electoral booths despite this frustration and alienation. Indeed, the level of electoral participation was, at almost 78 %, only one percent lower than at the last general election three years ago. Moreover, the different TV debates between the politicians were able to attract a relatively high number of viewers. Nor can it be denied that, in the past few weeks, the elections have become the main subject of discussions in pubs and public places. Other major news items, such as the way in which, after the hurricane in the southern states of the USA, the ruling class, for days on end, left the poorest of the working population to their own, often fatal fate, were pushed aside after a few days in the media. Other events, such as the solidarity strike at British Airways in London-Heathrow, the gigantic attack against the Volkswagen employees announced at Wolfsburg, or mass layoffs and plant closures at Henschel in the Ruhr  (as well as at Siemens and Infineon), almost disappeared out of sight. How did the bourgeoisie succeed, despite all the popular frustration with its politics, to mobilise so many people for the elections, thus cloaking itself with the legitimacy with which it will try to impose even more vicious attacks? How did it manage to give the working class, which every day is reminded by the brutality of the economic crisis of the realities of class society under capitalism, the impression that this society after all is composed of “sovereign citizens”, each of whom is, thanks to the right to vote, allegedly able to exercise a certain influence over the fate of the whole?

How the bourgeoisie coaxed the workers to the ballots

In order to answer this question, two notable results of the elections ought to be  considered. First of all, the strong performance of the Left Party-PDS. Since German “reunification” the PDS, as the successor of the former ruling party of the GDR, has increasingly been reduced to the backwaters as a regional protest party of the east. At the last general elections for the first time it even failed to fulfil the minimal criteria to form a parliamentary fraction of its own. Now it has emerged as a nationwide party doubling its share of votes. And although in the west it narrowly failed to achieve its goal of  5 %  - thus still remaining essentially an eastern party – it did manage to gain over 18% of the votes in one western constituency, in the Saarland, thanks to its leading candidate Oskar Lafontaine. The national average of 8.7% of  votes cast gained by the Left-PDS represent, to a large extent, voters who in the absence of a “left” alternative probably would not have voted at all. Above all the unemployed seem to have voted for the left. Lafontaine and the PDS leader Gysi have thus made an essential contribution to the mobilisation success of the bourgeoisie.

Secondly, the electoral recovery of the SPD during the course of the electoral campaign was no less significant. As we already recalled, the catastrophic performance of Social Democracy at the North Rhine-Westphalian elections was what triggered off the decision to dissolve the Bundestag. But now, only a few months later, the SPD not only gained almost as many votes as the Christian Democrats, but emerged as the party with the strongest vote in, of all places, North Rhine-Westphalia. One should not forget that this province still represents one of the most important concentrations of the working class in Germany. In fact, Social Democracy has succeeded surprisingly well in mobilising its traditional electorate, in defiance of all the pre-election predictions. This unexpected performance pleased the whole bourgeoisie, and not only from the point of view of mobilising workers. The Social Democratic Party is the jewel in the crown of the political system of the bourgeoisie in Germany, perhaps even in Europe. In particular, this party played the decisive role in the smashing of the proletarian revolution in Germany – and thus world wide – at the end of World War I. A too severe defeat for Social Democracy at this election might have led to tedious internal power struggles possibly resulting in a longer term weakening of the party.

When the electoral campaign began, initially a comfortable electoral majority was being predicted for a CDU / FDP government, whereas the SPD was being estimated below 30%. Even an absolute majority for the Christian Democrats alone was considered possible. In relation to this the result actually gained by the Union (just over 35%) is almost a fiasco.

How did this come about? After seven years during which the Schröder-Fischer government imposed increasingly brutal attacks, putting in the shadows anything undertaken by the preceding conservative government under Helmut Kohl, a mood developed within the population to want to punish the SPD for this via a kind of protest vote. This electoral attitude, far from upsetting the ruling class, was actually favoured and encouraged by it. Precisely this kind of electoral protest – despite all the anger about the attacks and against the ruling class which is behind it – actually entices part of the population to nonetheless participate in the game of the democratic state. Moreover, the bourgeoisie wanted to profit from this mood in order to have a change of government. This, not so much because of any particular dissatisfaction with the existing one, but in order – in the face of the increasingly visible incapacity to deal with mass unemployment within capitalism – to give the impression that the government and not the system is to blame. In view of electoral predictions very much in her favour, the chancellor candidate of the CDU, Angela Merkel, decided on a risky strategy. She wanted to counter the growing distrust towards bourgeois politics by playing the card of “honesty” – by announcing at least part of the attacks in advance (for instance an increase in value added tax). The result: the existing protest mood, which until then had directed itself against Schröder, now turned against the Union. Since the Christian Democrats had begun, already before the elections, to behave as if they were the new government, the (for the moment) powerless anger of the population began to direct itself against the CDU.

Even though this element of the ‘protest vote’ has contributed to introducing into the German political game a hitherto unknown factor of unpredictability, it is above all proof of the power and elasticity of democracy as the most important weapon of the bourgeoisie against the working class. As a result, even when workers no longer want to have anything to do with bourgeois politics, many of them can still be led to participating according to the democratic rules of the game.

A stalemate situation which the bourgeoisie would have liked to avoid

One of the reasons the main fractions of the bourgeoisie favoured the calling of general elections at this time was, as we have noted, the feeling that after seven years in government a spell in opposition would be good for Social Democracy. But when Schröder himself called these elections, he was pursuing his own agenda, with the goal of remaining in office. In Weltrevolution 130, we already pointed this out, as well as the two main planks of his strategy. Firstly, the maintenance of unity within his own party (avoiding fraction fights during electoral campaigns is still a principle upheld by German Social Democrats). Secondly, obliging the Union to put up Merkel, the opponent against whom he reckoned he would have the best chance. This former protégé of Helmut Kohl from the eastern provinces, who has not yet been able to build up a power base of her own within her party, had in fact only been seen as a provisional party leader since none of the powerful provincial dukes of the CDU had been able to impose themselves against each other. Moreover, Schröder had reckoned with his inexperienced challenger losing her nerves and making mistakes, as she did at the time of the American invasion of Iraq when, more than any other German politician, she expressed her understanding for the position of the Bush administration. In fact, in order to win the elections, more or less all the Union had to do was to criticise the incapacity of the government regarding unemployment, and make some vague promises to improve things. But precisely because she had no power base of her own, Merkel wanted to win the elections in her own way. The provincial power brokers of the party tried, in vain, firstly to maintain their countenance, and then to prevent the worst, while they watched Merkel let their comfortable electoral position run down the drain. In the end, it was not enough to permit Schröder to maintain his majority. But it was more than enough to land the German bourgeoisie in something of a mess. At all events, during the whole of post war German history, the conditions for the formation of a stable government have probably never been as difficult as now.

From the beginning to the end of the electoral campaign, the economic crisis and mass unemployment remained the dominant themes. All the tactical cleverness of Schröder would not have been able to prevent a clear victory for the conservatives, if the Merkel fraction had not had a false estimation of the mood in the country. The economic crisis in the leading industrial country of Europe is today so profound, that the fear of pauperisation has gripped large parts of the population, including layers of the middle classes which had by and large been spared until now. Parts of the traditional voters of the CDU are themselves touched by this process. We no longer live in the days of Maggie Thatcher. Through the radicalisation of her neo liberal language in the course of the electoral campaign, Merkel scared off parts of her own voters.

The bourgeoisie begins to react to a changing situation

In any case, the German bourgeoisie has already begun to adjust its party political apparatus, in order to face up to new challenges. In the face of an increasingly unpredictable political situation, of a certain tendency towards dispersal within its ranks, but above all in response to the first signs of a subterranean maturation of consciousness within the proletariat, the party political state apparatus is being confronted with the same demands as the economic and the military sectors. It is supposed to become more flexible, efficient, versatile and “intelligent”.

The most important aspect of this rebuilding is at present the attempt to develop a five party system through the establishment of the Left Party as a  political force in Germany as a whole. Even the most powerful bourgeoisie cannot produce such new forces with a wave of its hand. Most of the new parties in western Europe in the past decades have either emerged from some kind of “social movement” (such as the Greens from the ecological and pacifist movements in Germany and elsewhere) or thanks to a charismatic leader like Le Pen in France, Bossi in Italy or Fortyn in Holland. In Austria, a similar kind of personality, Jörg Haider, transformed an already existing party to his own ends. The new Left Party in Germany includes all of these ingredients. The former GDR Stalinist party forms its nucleus. The protest marches of the unemployed last autumn were used in order to set up certain party structures in the west, with the active help of Trotskyist activists. Finally, the charismatic, demagogic former SPD leader Lafontaine has joined in order to head the new party.

One of the first successes of the Left Party at the elections was that it was able to absorb part of the electoral protest vote which might otherwise have gone with the neo Nazis. Had the NPD managed to get into the new Bundestag (something which became likely after their success at the provincial elections in Saxony), this would have been a considerable embarrassment in particular at the foreign policy level, since German imperialism is nowadays pleased to present itself as an anti-fascist power.

But this project involves more long term goals. The flexibility and stability of the post war political system of the Federal Republic was based to an important extent on a three party system, with two main parties and the little FDP in between tilting the scales. This arrangement allowed for a change of government whenever necessary, through a change of allegiance by the FDP, the party which also thus embodied the continuity of government, particularly in foreign policy questions. This equilibrium had to be sacrificed when it became necessary, through the establishment of the Greens as a fourth force, to absorb the potential of the “68-Generation” for the running of the state. If the bourgeoisie succeeds in establishing the Left Party in the long term as a fifth force, the traditional German party political balance could be re-established, although with another, more complex composition. Here, both the Liberals as a centre-right party and the Greens as a centre-left party could assume (together or in turn) the role of tipping the scales towards a right or a left government, and cementing government continuity. However, it should be kept in mind that this new political landscape is still under construction. Whether or not the bourgeoisie can already use it in order to find an easy way out of the present difficulty of forming a new government will be shown in the course of the present negotiations.

The ruling class is obliged to react to developments within the working class

But the historically most important aspect of the development of the Linkspartei-PDS is that, for the first time since 1945, the main fractions of the German bourgeoisie are seriously considering the establishment of a national political party left of the SPD. This is indeed a paramount indication of a fundamental change taking place in society at large, not only in Germany, but world wide. After 1989 it was claimed that there can definitively be no alternative to capitalism. Since then, the fact that – not only in Germany – all the main parliamentary parties were basically calling for the same thing, appeared less as a political weakness of the bourgeoisie than as the living confirmation that there can be nothing outside capitalism and democracy. But now the bourgeoisie has recognised that it is becoming dangerous to have all the main parties demanding the same sacrifices, with no force in parliament appearing to express fundamental criticisms and alternatives. This is the danger, in response to which the most talented left wing demagogues of the bourgeoisie, the former Social Democrat Lafontaine, and the former Stalinist Gysi, have made their comeback to politics. What the ruling class is afraid of is that the working class might begin recognising that there is no solution to the crisis within capitalism, and recommence its age old search for an alternative to capitalism, to exploitation and to class society.


From: Weltrevolution 132.