Elections in Berlin, Germany

The results deepen the crisis of the German government

October 20, 2011

On September 18, parliamentary elections were held in Berlin. Mayor Klaus Wowereit of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), who has governed since 2001, won with 28.3% of the vote, allowing him to be the leader of the city for the third consecutive time. But in reality, all parties lost, an expression of the growing crisis of the government of Angela Merkel. This political impasse has to be seen in the context of the capitalist crisis, which – although it has not hit Germany as hard as other European countries – is causing more and more layers of the population to question the political system.

How can it be that all parties lost?

While the SPD emerged as the largest party for the third time, its vote declined by 2.5% compared to the elections in 2006. Meanwhile, the CDU (the conservative party of Chancellor Angela Merkel) gained two points (23.4%). The Greens won 17.6% of the vote, four points more than in 2006. Six months ago, when they won elections in the province of Baden-Württemberg, some commentators thought they would emerge as the largest force with 30% or more – clearly they were wrong. The party DIE LINKE (The Left Party) fell almost two points to 11.7%. Since 2002, they had formed part of the so-called "red-red government" together with the SPD, a government that had made a series of social cuts hitting the most vulnerable sectors.

The most dramatic loss in the election was that of the liberal party, FDP, who together with the CDU form the current national coalition government. Scoring only 1.8% (below the fascist NPD party which won 2.1%!), they fell well below the 5% needed to enter parliament. The party president and current finance minister Philipp Rösler had tried in the last week to slow the decline of his party by declaring himself in favour of an ordered default by Greece, by stopping the payment of rescue packages by the German state. This attempt at last minute populism to avoid an electoral failure did little to hide the fact that the FDP represents nothing more than the interests of minor sectors of the bourgeoisie.

The only winners of the election were the Pirates, a very new and very young party that was formed five years ago to fight for freedom on the internet and, based on that, for more transparency and citizen participation. They gained 8.9% of the vote at their first showing, surprising even themselves. This party, which has no program, has already spoken out in favor of a market economy and private property, so it is only a matter of time until they integrate themselves into the bourgeois regime, as the Greens did 30 years ago. The success of a party with no tradition or experience is an expression of the crisis of a regime that has lost legitimacy.

A deepening crisis

After the restoration of capitalism in East Germany, the strengthened German state began to develop a hegemonic role within the European Union. Now it increasingly forces through its imperialist policies, imposing its plans on weaker imperialist powers such as Greece, in a clear process of semi-colonisation in the region. This has enabled it to export the crisis and avoid greater economic instability at home.

However, this process has not been without contradictions. At the level of government, the current coalition between Christian Democrats (CDU) and Liberals (FDP), with Angela Merkel at the head, has lost its legitimacy. This government enmeshed in constant internal conflicts has been unable to strike a clear path. An extreme case of this crisis was the lack of agreement about the Greek sovereign debt, where there is no agreement on how to resolve it either in the government or even within Merkel’s party. This creates an ongoing crisis within the governing caste and a loss of legitimacy amongst the population.

We should not forget that the elections that gave the chancellory to this coalition were marked by a loss of votes for the main political parties and an abstention rate of nearly 40%, a result showing a loss of credibility of the party system among the population. Now, based on the election results in Berlin (where the Liberal FDP suffered a grievous blow), there are sectors claiming the impossibility of maintaining a government without legitimacy and calling for early elections.

In the midst of an economic crisis of historic significance that is gripping Europe, in which Germany’s role will be key, stability appears to be becoming more fragile. It is possible that the effects of the crisis that the German government has sought to avoid will rapidly begin to impact the German economy and the poorest and most vulnerable sectors. For this reason, the possibility that we will see radical movements in the streets of the European giant is becoming more likely.

No one represents the interests of workers

In the elections, there were two lists to the left of DIE LINKE. The small German Communist Party (DKP), the former diplomatic representation of the Stalinist GDR in West Germany, made a campaign in support of struggles for better wages and affordable housing. But at the same time they defended German Stalinism and even the construction of the Berlin Wall. They even presented a former defense minister of the GDR, 90 years old, as a candidate!

At the same time, the even smaller Party for Social Equality (PSG), which claims to belong to the Fourth International and comes from the tradition of Gerry Healy, carried out a traditional ultra leftist campaign, rejecting any work in trade unions or fronts of struggle. The largest organisations that claim the legacy of Leon Trotsky – Marx21 (linked to the British SWP) and SAV (linked to the Committee for a Workers International) – are working within DIE LINKE and called for critical support for that party.

RIO, the Revolutionary Internationalist Organisation, sympathising section of the FT-CI in Germany, campaigned for a blank vote in these elections, as no party represented the interests of the workers and the disadvantaged sectors. We called for building up a revolutionary, socialist, working class alternative with a statement handed out at various electoral events.

by Chucho Kahl and Wladek Flakin, Berlin, September 22, 2011

Revolutionary Internationalist Organization (RIO), sympathizing section of the Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International (FT-CI) in Germany, http://www.klassegegenklasse.org

This article first appeared in Spanish in “La Verdad Obrera†, weekly paper of the Workers’ Party for Socialism (PTS), argentinean Section of the FT-CI, http://www.pts.org.ar