The German Elections as a Victory for Democracy

By Norman Markowitz
Published September 21st 2005 in Political Affairs
The Federal Republic of Germany has had an election that German and international commentators call "frustrating," "inclusive," a "stalemate." I don’t look at it that way at all.

Instead, I see it as an example of the superiority of a multi-party system that gives voters serious chances to register their choices in politics. I also see it potentially as a major step forward for the German people, who can, if their leaders have the courage, establish a left-center coalition government, a popular front for the 21st century, that will defeat the reactionary "reforms" which both conservatives and rightwing Social Democrats in Germany and through the world see as the only possibility for economic survival in the "new economic order."

First, the Left Party, a new party representing left Social Democrats who would not follow Chancellor Schroeder in sacrificing labor on the alter of reform, and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) made up primarily of former Socialist Unity Party (Communist) members from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), was created in the election campaign. This coalition party received nearly 9% of the vote on a platform of militant defense of workers rights and opposition to reactionary "reform," a vote slightly more than the middle-class radical Green party, which has been in coalition with Schroeder’s Social Democrats for years.

The Conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) received about 36% of the vote, less than a point more than the SPD, and the pro business "free market" Free Democratic Party (FDP), traditional CDU ally, around 9% according to present tallies.

Schroeder campaigned on the basis that he was able, competent, and would manage "reform" in a painless way, unlike the Conservatives. Angela Merkel, the CDU leader, campaigned on the policy that the SPD’s economic policy was a failure and she would implement the "reforms" in a forceful and effective way.

Instead of voting for Merkel because she was not Schroeder, or voting for Schroeder because he was not Merkel, the electorate, an important section of which wants neither of them, had choices – unlike their counterparts in the U.S. Enough voters had the courage to make their choices known by voting for the Left Party or supporting the Greens, who, however vacillating they are (they have become an almost textbook case of Karl Marx’s characterization of the petit bourgeoisie in politics) have been critical of the "reforms." On the center- right, those who support the anti-labor policies but, perhaps, are not too happy with the idea of a woman as Chancellor, were able to register their votes for the FDP.

Those who construct the next government will have to take all of these constituencies into account in a serious way. Unlike the U.S., where George W. Bush could in effect become President in 2001 while running second in the popular vote, stealing the electoral vote, and then embarking upon an ultra-right policy that he would have had no mandate for even if he had really won the election, the German political leaders will have to craft a government that cannot flout the will of the 51% of the electorate that voted for Center-Left and Left parties and get away with it. At least they have much less of chance to do that and get away with it.

Press reports say that bitter personality disputes at this point are undermining any positive democratic resolution in Germany. Chancellor Schroeder has continued the ritualistic refusal of his party and their allies to bring the Left party into the government even though that is the only way that a government representative of the majority of voters can be formed. Talk of an odd couple "Grand Coalition" of the Social Democrats and Conservatives (which Germans have had before) has been undermined by Schroeder’s refusal to give up the Chancellor’s post to Merkel or any other CDU leader. Of course, such a "grand coalition" would be a sort of state duopoly which would force a center-right policy down the throats of an electorate which has clearly voted against such a policy in the face of a fragmented opposition. It would be the most irresponsible and least democratic solution, a settlement that would only satisfy the business leaders and those politicians for whom politics itself as a business.

A government of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left Party, a peoples front coalition bringing together all of the forces of the broad left and center-left, might begin to offer Germans and by example Europeans something like a "New Deal" in the positive American sense, namely a government that would experiment in the interests of labor and the whole people in its economic and social policies, seek to de-emphasize exports and produce jobs by producing goods and services for the domestic market. Such a government might also actively seek to equalize living standards and employment opportunities in the former "East Germany" instead of treating them as a poor relation to be patronized at best and swept under the rug politically.

Such a Germany might act as a positive force in Europe as against both the Ultra-right Berlusconi coalition in Italy, the anti-Labor Chirac government in France, and Tony Blair’s hybrid New Labor-Old Tory government in Great Britain.

In the early 1930s, the failure of the powerful SPD and KPD (German Communist Party) to work with each other and centrists on a United Front policy to fight the depression was a major reason why the Nazis were able to gain power and establish their dictatorship.

Today, fortunately, neo-Nazis have not shown any strength in these elections, unlike elections in France and Austria, where parties regarded as neo-fascist have made significant electoral gains using anti-immigrant campaigns and Italy, where the "National Alliance," prettified successor to Mussolini’s Fascist party, is part of Berlusconi’s coalition.

Today, Germany in foreign affairs is generally associated with positive policies, that is, opposition to the Bush war in Iraq and support for the United Nations. Today, Germans have a chance to do what they have never done under any unified German state, whether it be that of the Kaiser, the weak and isolated Weimar Republic, the Hitler-Fascist "Third Reich," or the various postwar U.S. NATO bloc governments – pursue policies that will win the respect of Europeans and people through the world by providing answers to both U.S. led militarism and "global neo-liberalism."

There has never been in reality a left center national government in all of German history. The Weimar governments in which Social Democrats played a leading role in the early years were "left" only in their relationship to the pre-war empire and in the imagination of Nazis and other rightists. The postwar Social Democratic led governments, even that of Willi Brandt, in practice as far to the left as any German government outside of the DDR ever got, never strayed far from the U.S. NATO bloc and extended rather than innovated pro-labor domestic social politics.

A left-center government in Germany, at the center of Europe and one of the world’s great economic powers, would have a tremendously positive influence on both world affairs and the life of the German people. For such a policy to become real, the majority that voted for the SPD, Greens, and Left Party must convince the leaders of those parties to represent and work for them, not for their own power and prestige, to establish a coalition government and implement a program that defends rather than slowly abandons the welfare state. It is an opportunity to provide a "New Deal" for Germany and a potential alternative to the back to future "globalization" policies that are intensifying poverty in the poor countries and undermining social security in the rich ones.

Reach Norman Markowitz at pa-letters@politicalaffairs.net.