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Good Riddance to an Imperialist Gremlin

The German conservative politician Wolfgang Schäuble is dead. Good.

Nathaniel Flakin

December 29, 2023
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Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. A Latin saying reminds us to say nothing bad about the dead.

When news broke yesterday that Wolfgang Schäuble had died at 81, the entire German establishment had only good things to say about the conservative politician. Everyone, from the far-right AfD to the left-reformist LINKE, praised the great “democrat” and “statesman”

We Marxists enjoy Latin idioms (“Nihil humani a me alienum puto!”), but we have no problem saying bad things about the dead. Schäuble was one of the worst. As a leading member of the conservative CDU, he spent over 50 years in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, and filled countless government positions, most recently as the parliament’s president.

What stands out about Schäuble is his unabashed corruption. In the 1990s, he got at least one envelope with 100,000 German marks in cash (around 50,000 dollars or euros) from a weapons dealer. Schäuble lied about the affair at every step. He was eventually forced to resign, but the public prosecutor decided not to press charges.

Such a scandal would have ended a political career in almost any other country. Germany likes to think of itself as almost free of corruption. In reality, German politicians have turned corruption into a high art. For Schäuble, this was a tiny speed bump, and he was brought into Angela Merkel’s cabinet just five years later.

As finance minister starting in 2009, Schäuble gained notoriety as the main enforcer of brutal austerity dictates against crisis-ridden Greece. He forced the Greek government to drastically cut spending for hospitals and schools in order to pay off German banks. Schäuble ruled out of a monstrous Nazi building in central Berlin, while his agents in Athens ordered the privatization of state assets.

Schäuble was no less brutal towards working-class people at home. He helped turn Germany into a land of temporary contracts and low wages, while the heirs of Nazi billionaires pay almost no taxes. His legacy is the the Schwarze Null (Black Zero): a “debt brake” was introduced into the constitution, requiring balanced budgets and permanent austerity. Anyone who enters Germany’s crumbling schools and understaffed hospitals can see Schäuble’s life’s work.

The man’s entire lifetime was dedicated to strengthening the German bourgeoisie by attacking poor people at home and abroad. Before his stint at the finance ministry, Schäuble was interior minister, and he gave the police vast new powers of surveillance and repression.

Before that, Schäuble was the main architect of the reforms that bulldozed East Germany’s economy within just a few years. This shock therapy, combined with the work of West German secret services full of Nazis, has led to an enormous surge in right-wing politics in the former German Democratic Republic. When Schäuble is praised as a “democrat” today, it’s hard to think of anyone who did more to encourage fascist politics.

On the international Left, Schäuble’s death might not provoke the same joyous parties as the recent demise of Henry Kissinger or Elizabeth II — let’s take a moment to remember how much fun it was when Thatcher died!

Socialists in Germany, though, are happy that this imperialist gremlin is gone. Schäuble stood for the profound cynicism as the heart of capitalist “democracy”: he would repeat liberal phrases while dropping bombs, cutting wages, and grabbing for piles of cash. He was an imperialist down to his bones. Instead of praising him, like all German politicians are doing, we should say many bad things about the dead.

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

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