by david broder
Over three weeks after the German election which left both the Social Democrats (SPD) and the conservative CDU with too few seats to form a government, the two parties finally agreed on 10 October to form a “Grand Coalition” for the first time since 1969. The SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is one casualty of the coalition, since the deal gives each of the parties 8 of 16 cabinet posts, with the Chancellorship going to the CDU's Angela Merkel. What the deal really indicates is the need for a rebellion against the neoliberal SPD leadership by trade unionists and the left within the party.
As the Left Party’s chairman Lothar Bisky points out, the fact that Merkel has become Germany’s first ever female Chancellor would only have “meant a break in German history if she stood for a policy of the sex equalisation and aimed at an adjustment of living conditions”. The by now rather clichéd comparisons with Thatcher — “the Iron Mädchen” — are obvious. That said, the coalition deal was in itself somewhat of a triumph for the SPD leadership, in that they control the finance and foreign affairs ministries — although the claims by some newspapers that there is a big rift on policy between the two parties is clearly ridiculous. In fact, the SPD’s attacks on the welfare state and trade union power were not just election promises, but the reality of Schroeder government.
The WASG, which broke from the SPD for those very reasons, is now planning its own demise via a more concrete unification with the mainly East German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). The Left Party, which secured 8.7% of votes in the September 18th election, was merely an electoral arrangement to prevent clashing candidates, but now the leaders of the two groups want a permanent merger. Bisky, a PDS member and former member of East Germany’s ruling Stalinist SED, is arguing for dual membership for WASG members and a timetable for fusion. It would be a mistake for the WASG comrades to rush into this — a merger with a party tainted by Stalinism and reformism is no way to take on the right-wing drift of the SPD. Indeed, given that both the PDS and WASG websites refer to how SPD members will have to consider what went wrong with Schroeder’s project, it’s a shame that WASG supporters didn’t remain in the SPD to work with such disillusioned members.
The two groups’ websites also justify the idea of the Left Party working in coalition with the SPD (as it does in the Mecklenburg and Berlin state governments). Undoubtedly this would have been far preferable to the Grand Coalition that Germany’s workers are now facing. The SPD would not even consider forming a coalition with the Left Party, which would have alienated its bourgeois supporters, when the option of joining forces with the conservatives and controlling the majority of ministries remained open. The Grand Coalition has a huge majority in the Bundestag and will undoubtedly be able to implement its “reform agenda” to attack German workers — with little hope for Germany's millions of unemployed. Nevertheless, what the coalition with the CDU does do is to give an opportunity for the WASG and the left of the SPD to expose the SPD leadership’s craven neoliberalism, and create a space to build a movement against it.