Socialism Today                     The monthly journal of the Socialist Party

Issue 48

About Us

Back Issues



Contact Us



Issue 48, June 2000

No winners in German poll

THE CONSERVATIVE Christian Democratic Union, CDU, officially ended their corruption scandal with the election of a new party leader, Angela Merkel, at their congress on 10 April. On 14 May, the federal state elections in the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), were seen as a major test for the established parties. They all failed!

All the parties lost out as the turnout fell to an all-time low of under 57%. This reflects what Socialistische Alternative (SAV, the German section of the CWI) pointed to when we commented on the corruption scandal. This was not only a crisis for the CDU but for the entire bourgeois establishment; and the alienation of a big part of the working class and young people with capitalist institutions continues to grow. The low turnout confirms recent opinion poll findings: that a majority of voters neither trust, nor see themselves represented by, any party. This fact alone is a cry for a new mass workers' party.

North Rhine-Westphalia includes the working-class Ruhr area, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) stronghold for decades, with votes in the past reaching well over 50% and, in some areas, 60%. It now looks very different. Last year, for the first time the SPD lost its majority on the Essen local council (and the mayoral elections), in the biggest city in the Ruhr. And in May's federal state elections, the SPD's share of the vote slipped by 3.2% - a loss of almost 700,000 votes! The Greens were pushed into fourth place as their vote slumped by over a third to 7.1%, down by almost 300,000.


The elections were a defeat for the national 'Red-Green coalition' under chancellor Gerhard Schröder and foreign minister Joschka Fischer, as well as for the federal-state Red-Green coalition in North Rhine-Westphalia. This rejection of red-green politics and SPD corruption (the SPD in North Rhine-Westphalia has been involved in several 'minor' scandals of its own) limited the decline in the CDU vote, but the party still lost 400,000 votes, ending up in second place with 37%.

Many people were surprised at the success of the Liberal FDP (Free Democrats), who were not even represented in the state parliament and yet doubled their vote to reach nearly 10%. They stood on an aggressive neo-liberal programme and were able to mobilise a significant section of right-wing, former SPD and CDU voters. This does not represent a long-term stabilisation of the FDP's position, however. The FDP 'got lucky' this time, being able to exploit the opportunity of the CDU scandal and dissatisfaction with the Schröder government. The ups and downs of the FDP reflect the growing instability in capitalist politics.

For the first time the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) stood in a North Rhine-Westphalia state election, but only won a disappointing 1.1% (80,000 votes). The party, which has a mass base in the East but only between 2,000 and 3,000 members in the West, seems incapable of seizing the opportunities arising out of the right-wing politics of the Red-Green coalition government. On the contrary, the party leadership has pushed the PDS further to the right, openly accepting the market economy.


The PDS has joined a federal state coalition government with the SPD in the Eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and has backed its anti-working-class measures. On a council level the PDS has dozens of mayors and strong council positions. But in many cases it has agreed cuts in social services and privatisation. At a recent SAV meeting, in a debate with Irish Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins, a PDS councillor in Berlin said, 'In those councils where we have a majority we sometimes wished the old times would come back when we were in a minority, because there is not enough money and not much we can do'. The PDS does not organise protests against the attacks by employers and the government and does not mobilise its members and supporters against the fascists.

There was a setback for the PDS leadership, however, at a recent party congress on the question of UN military interventions. The leadership wanted to end the party's principled rejection of any UN military intervention, arguing that decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis. Two-thirds of the delegates voted against the leadership, reflecting the deeply-rooted pacifism in the party.

Yet, in another important debate on the direction of the party, the leadership won a clear victory. The congress decided that a new party programme will be discussed, which will be a more clearly right-wing programme with a full acceptance of the market economy. This reflects the political weakness of the left in the PDS.

The congress defeat over the UN question opened up a leadership crisis when both the party chairman, Bisky, and the leader of the parliamentary group, Gregor Gysi, declared that they will not stand for these positions again. But this does not mean that there has been a strengthening of the left wing. The move to the right will continue because the left in the party have no alternative programme and are limited to reformist politics, with some maintaining a pro-Stalinist position regarding the history of the party and the former East German state. These are the main reasons that the PDS is unlikely to develop as a mass party in the West. Others are not attracted to it because it is not a fighting force for the interests of working-class and young people.


The call for a new mass workers party and the building of a socialist alternative, therefore, are still essential ingredients of the work of Marxists in Germany.

Sascha Stanicic

Home | Issue 48 | About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page