Nothing In It for Working People and the Oppressed
Germany: Coalition Dance in
the 2021 Election Farce
“Red-Red-Green” Senate: Enemy of Workers and Immigrants
for the Left Party – For a Revolutionary Internationalist
Top candidates for federal chancellor in German elections (from left): Annalena Baerbock (Greens), Olaf Scholz (Social Democrats), Armin Laschet (Christian Democrats).
The following article is translated from a leaflet of the Internationalistische Gruppe, German section of the League for the Fourth International, in the run-up to the September 26 federal elections.
The last year and a half have been hellish for working people, the poor and oppressed throughout the capitalist world. A deadly plague, COVID-19, that in Germany alone has infected over 4 million people and caused almost 100,000 deaths (out of 230 million cases and almost 5 million dead globally). Stop-and-go lockdowns, millions of workers on short workweeks, hundreds of thousands laid off in the worst recession since 1949. A heat wave in June followed by flash floods in July. A military ceremony with torches before the Reichstag on August 31 to commemorate German imperialism’s failed “mission” as junior partner in the bloody U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Yet the campaign for the September 26 federal elections which will replace federal chancellor Angela Merkel after almost 16 years in office is the same old coalition dance as usual. In this election, there is no choice for the workers.
Too lame to be called a circus, what stands out about these elections is the sinister mediocrity of the candidates of the major parties. The Christian Democrat Union (CDU) lead candidate Armin Laschet, the giggling Catholic reactionary, is only a puppet of investment banker Friedrich Merz, head of BlackRock Germany, Social Democrat (SPD) Olaf Scholz as Hamburg’s interior minister ordered the vicious forced feeding of vomit-inducing agents to Africans accused of drug dealing. Then as mayor orchestrated the police-state assault on protesters at the G20 summit in 2017.1 Later, as finance minister, he claimed ignorance of the massive Wirecard financial scandal.2 As for the Greens, a 100% bourgeois party, it is so pro-business that it earned a seal of approval from the Financial Times, the voice of London bankers. Its candidate Annalena Baerbock has so far mainly distinguished herself by warmongering talk of “upping pressure on Russia” and taking a “hard line” on China.
With German borders sealed off to refugees, there is an all-party consensus around support for the police and the Bundeswehr (army), subsidies for capitalists and austerity for everyone else. This line-up permits an almost kaleidoscopic variety of possible governmental coalitions, including the free marketeers of the Free Democrats. Scholz can legitimately pose as the continuator of the Merkel era. The contradiction between the bourgeois program of the SPD and its working-class base has been accentuated by decades of coalition, mainly the “grand coalition” with the CDU but also with the other bourgeois parties. After the SPD-Green government of 1998-2005 launched imperialist war in the Balkans and the Hartz IV assault on workers and the unemployed,3 the official social democrats are in any case not very credible as a “lesser evil.” Meanwhile, the fascistic Alternative for Germany (AfD) postures as the only genuine “opposition.”
For its part, the alt-social-democratic Left Party is now begging for a “red-red-green” coalition4 on the national level, while fearing it could drop below the 5% cutoff point or three constituency seats necessary for representation in the Bundestag. After abstaining in the parliamentary vote on retroactively authorizing additional troops to assist in the departure of German imperialist forces from Afghanistan, the party tops have now rushed out an “Immediate Program” which buries its previous verbal opposition to NATO and leaves the door open to supporting future military interventions, especially if the troops wear UN blue helmets. The Left Party proposes a 13 euros (= US$15) per hour minimum wage (Scholz is offering 12 euros) but co-chair Janine Wissler underlines that even this is open to negotiation, etc., etc.
What this would mean has amply demonstrated in Berlin, where an earlier “red-red” Senate sold off the public housing that a Berlin referendum being held in conjunction with the September 26 elections now proposes to return to municipal ownership (see “Berlin Referendum: Only Socialist Revolution Can Provide Housing for All,” below). The current coalition government of the city-state (the Senate) – under a Green transportation senator – is now privatizing the S-Bahn (Berlin’s historic elevated railway). The red-red-green Senate has attacked the workers and oppressed again and again in the service of capitalist austerity. Workers at both Vivantes and Charité hospitals are now striking to raise their wages to the level of other public-sector workers. This is because the cleaning, transportation and food services were spun off into for-profit subsidiaries by a previous “left” government in 2002. The entire labor movement should be mobilized to defend the striking hospital workers.
Striking clinic workers of the Vivantes Hospital in August. All Berlin labor must stand with the hospital workers.
By putting up Franziska Giffey (who has declared herself opposed to expropriations) as lead candidate, the Berlin SPD is proclaiming its opposition to the housing referendum (for expropriation of the large real estate companies) and underlining its support to the racist crusade against “criminal clans” which alibies both police and fascist terror.5 The Left Party must also assume responsibility for the police raids on the shisha bars and the continuous repression of leftists and immigrants as part of the ruling coalition. Meanwhile, in Leipzig, when thousands of anti-fascist protesters marched on September 18 to demand freedom for Lina E. – who has been framed by the police and its Soko Linx (special commission on “left-wing violence”) squad, and is innocent of any crime – the local Left Party distanced itself from its city council member Juliane Nagel, under vicious attack by the bourgeois press for registering the demo.
With the Left Party losing any kind of credibility as an opposition party, the fake “revolutionaries” buried inside it or buzzing around it are hard-put to find any convincing arguments for voting for it. In a September 7 statement titled “Election Program Chucked” Sascha Staničić, spokesman for the Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität - SOL and the Anti-Capitalist Left tendency in the Left Party, laments that Wissler & Co. have trampled on the party’s congresses, program and membership. This, of course, is standard operating procedure for social-democratic parties everywhere. But SOL6 has a “clever” plan to retain a few voters who might otherwise migrate to the SPD or Greens: the Left Party could give parliamentary support to an SPD-Green government without formally participating in it.
From outside the party, a September 8 ArbeiterInnenmacht7 leaflet warns of attacks on social programs from the CDU, SPD and Greens. As for the Left Party, it says that this party is being “held hostage” in the Berlin Senate. With this alibi, ArbeiterInnenmacht praises the Left Party’s “progressive” demands and lists all the nice things the party could do in parliament. The very next day, an article on the Lefts’ “Immediate Program” admits that the party has become an appendage of the SPD/Greens, concluding by demanding that members fight to return to the party’s original pale pink program. But this is just window dressing for its policy of “critical support to the Left Party in the elections (ArbeiterInnenmacht, 20 September).
The Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (R.I.O.)8, in turn, is positioning itself slightly to the left, calling to cast an invalid vote in the election. R.I.O.’s chameleon-like character is expressed on the one hand in its call for opposition groups in the Left Party to fight against government participation, and on the other, its calls for a new broad electoral party a few steps to the left of the Lefts. Such a party already exists in France – the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party) – which as it sidles up to the “left” populist Mélenchon9 has now driven out R.I.O.'s French comrades.
In its election coverage, R.I.O. writes “We Need Revolutionary Deputies in Parliament – Like in Argentina” (22 Septenber) and “Why We Need a Left That Is Financially Independent of the State” (12 September). Yet its Argentine mother party, the PTS, has campaigned for years as part of the Workers and Left Front (FIT, now FIT-Unidad), an electoral coalition with a thoroughly reformist program, and is very financially dependent on, in fact lives off of the financial subsidies and parliamentary deputies’ salaries it receives from the Argentine capitalist state. For details, see our article “The Left Front in Argentina: A Reformist Electoral Cartel” (The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018).
All of these “socialist” groups are intertwined with the Left Party in various ways, and their differing tactical recipes are all oriented to this reformist party, either in a vain attempt to push it to the left or to rip off a chunk of it. When they even mention “socialism,” what they mean is a social-democratic government of the capitalist state. The Internationalistische Gruppe, in contrast, insists that a socialist revolution that establishes proletarian power will not come from endless electioneering for the bourgeois parliament, but by fighting for a revolutionary program through our own working-class organizations – unions, factory committees, defense guards and ultimately workers councils. The starting point is to cohere the nucleus of a Bolshevik-internationalist party, as part of the struggle to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International. ■
Berlin Housing Referendum
Real Estate Corporations Without Compensation
– But Only Socialist Revolution Can Provide Housing
Tens of thousands have marched in support of referendum proposal to expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and other real estate corporations. Above, April 2021.
The following article is translated from a September 2021 Internationalistische Gruppe leaflet.
Berlin 2021: Skyrocketing rent, students can’t find housing, people forced out of the city because they can’t afford to live here. Some 8,000-10,000 homeless living on the street, while 100,000-plus apartments stand empty. The capital and many other cities around Germany are in the throes of a real housing crisis. Behind it are the real estate corporations that are making a killing from speculation. The tenants movement has repeatedly brought tens of thousands into the streets to defend rent control, and now for the initiative for “expropriation of Deutsche Wohnen & Co.,” which owns 114,000 apartments in Berlin, along with Vonovia (43,000), Akelius and other real estate sharks that together control 240,000 of the city’s 1.5 million housing units.
In the Berlin referendum on September 26, voting “yes” in favor of the expropriation of corporations that own more than 3,000 housing units will be a protest statement against these parasites. It will also serve to test Article 15 of the Constitution, which allows for “socializing,” or transferring to public ownership of “land, natural resources, and means of production.” Remarkably, this is first such attempt in the history of the Federal Republic. But the referendum is not on a specific law, so even if it passes, it would depend on the bourgeois Greens and/or the reformist Social Democrats (SPD) and Left Party to implement it (or, more likely, water it down). And, of course, there is absolutely no guarantee that the capitalist courts won’t arbitrarily reshuffle federalist “principles” to invalidate the results of the referendum.
The decision of the Federal Constitutional Court in April cancelling the Berlin rent cap law was already an attack on all working people and tenants in Berlin. As a result, tenants have been hit with increased monthly rents of hundreds of euros, and in some cases now owe back rent amounting to thousands of euros. According to the high court, the 2020 Berlin rent cap was rendered null and void by the national “rent control” law of 2015. This law permits individuals in selected urban areas to challenge rent increases of 10% above the average increases in rent there. This feeble law looks very much like a preemptive strike to block any more effective rent control measures – which is no doubt why the Christian Democrat (CDU) and SPD government parties supported it.
This is not the first such attack by the Constitutional Court on Berliners. In October 2006, it ruled that the city could not receive federal subsidies until it had further slashed educational and cultural spending and sold off public housing. The city government of the SPD and PDS (forerunner to the Left Party) hastened to comply. Soon after its creation in 1951, the court outlawed the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) and reaffirmed repressive laws against homosexuals. It later overturned the 1992 abortion rights law, upholding the ban on abortion of §218 of the criminal code (while accepting that it is in the discretion of parliament not to punish abortion in the first trimester). And it has given a green light to German imperialism’s military adventures abroad
In short, the Constitutional Court is not a neutral arbiter of “justice” but the defender of capital and enforcer of capitalist rule. Hence to raise the slogan “No confidence in the Federal Constitutional Court,” as the Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (R.I.O.) does in a call for an April 21 public meeting is to claim that this central organ of the German bourgeois state is merely unreliable, rather than a direct representative of the class enemy.
Rent control has existed in various forms, at different times and places in Germany and elsewhere as an aspect of the capitalist welfare state. It is a minimal reform that can benefit the working class analogous to the minimum wage. Nothing more and nothing less. It is perfectly legitimate to fight for rent control, to defend and extend it, but without pretending it is any kind of solution to the housing crisis – which it isn’t. The SPD/Green/Left government had no plan B for after the Constitutional Court decision knocking down the rent cap, and did not contest its verdict.
This exposed the Left Party’s role in prettifying the red-red-green coalition, as the rent cap was its justification for participating in this racist, repressive capitalist government. To call for a national campaign for a new rent cap law, and to denounce solely the CDU as the party of the real estate corporations, as the Left Party is now doing, is to cover up the dirty role of the SPD and the Left Party itself in previously privatizing municipal housing, and in carrying out tenant evictions and evictions of squatters now as part of the city-state government.
So what is to be done now in the face of the rent increases and demands for payment of back rent? The government has promised financial assistance to those unable to pay the increased rents. There is however, no information as to how this assistance is to be provided. Sozialistische Alternative (SAV) conjures up the fantasy world of a “left government” that would encourage tenants to “refuse to pay the back rent they underpaid” and that would “pledge to finance back payments and legal costs from public funds” (www.sozialismus.info, 21 April). Similar sentiments from the Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (SOL), which envisions a truly “left government” that would guarantee that it would “assume the risk for legal penalties or back payments” (Solidarität, 18 April). Don't bet on it. Of course, the SAV and SOL both call for voting for the Left Party, as always.
Of the so-called “far left” groups, only ArbeiterInnenmacht actually calls for a rent strike. But while envisioning a mass tenants movement “based on the mass organizations of the workers movement,” it underscores that this would be to “pressure the incoming state government.” Thus it calls to “demand that the Left Party make socialization a condition for negotiating a new coalition,” along with pressuring the “left” wings of the SPD and the bourgeois Greens (Neue Internationale, September 2021). So instead of opposing this class-collaborationist coalition on principle, ArbeiterInnenmacht wants a tenant-friendly popular front. And while saying “Expropriation? Sure! Compensation? No Thanks!” in the fine print it calls to “keep compensation as low as possible.”
For its part, in the aftermath of the Federal Constitutional Court decision overturning Berlin’s rent cap law, R.I.O. called for work stoppages against rent increases, but then in the next breath calls on the government to pay tenants who have had to pay back rent, and to “massively tax” companies that demand repayments (Klasse gegen Klasse, 16 April). But since there is no rent cap, this would be passed on in the form of new rent increases. On the referendum, R.I.O. focuses on the call for expropriating real estate companies without compensation. Revolutionaries, of course, oppose paying even one euro to these parasites. Yet the constitutional clause on which this referendum is based mandates compensation.
In its propaganda, R.I.O. calls on the DGB to “win the right to housing through strikes” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 2 September). As if it were so easy. In another piece it calls for “no profits from rent” and for a “massive program of public housing construction, paid for by property taxes and taxing the profits of the large real estate corporations” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 8 September). This is the usual “tax the rich” rhetoric common to all reformists and bourgeois “progressives.” And since the referendum for a municipal takeover of about one-seventh of Berlin’s housing would have to be implemented by the city/state government, R.I.O.’s call, although with slightly more militant language, is like those of the SAV, SOL and ArbeiterInnentmacht, amounts to a pressure tactic on the popular front.
Municipalization would be a supportable minimum reform, but hardly a first step towards “socialism.” It would simply return to state control various holdings sold off after 2006. It could perhaps put the brakes on runaway rent increases for some tenants. But it would not solve the need for new housing. Far from building public housing, the “red-red-green” Senate is now buying back, at inflated prices, run-down housing that it had previously sold to Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia. Some in referendum movement envisage a scheme in which representatives of the tenants and workers would be involved in administering municipalized housing. But when implemented by a capitalist government, these schemes would be at best tokenistic and, like trade-union bureaucrats sitting on company supervisory boards, would help chain the working class to the bosses.
With millions of people who have been hit by the coronavirus and the resulting lockdowns (e.g., small businesses, freelancers, workers on reduced work schemes) unable to pay rent, genuine revolutionaries defend rent strikes and resistance against evictions. Unoccupied apartments, which in Berlin are so plentiful that they could provide housing for all the homeless, should be occupied with the backing of labor, so that no one should be thrown on the street during this pandemic. But instead, the red-red-green coalition government has taken the opportunity to liquidate various occupied buildings/centers (Liebig 34 last fall, Meuterei this year) as well as dispersing homeless encampments that are getting in the way of the real estate sharks. Mobilizing the workers movement against such attacks is essential.
Riot police commandos during eviction of Liebig 34 building, October 2020.
In addition to the Berlin Tenants Union, a number of important unions are supporting the “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen” referendum, including the GEW (education), Ver.di (services), IG Metall (auto) and IG Bau (construction). Their power must be harnessed to turn even minimal reforms into reality, particularly as the SPD and Greens, while not opposing the referendum outright, have no appetite for “socialization” of any kind. But the various ostensibly revolutionary groups in and around the Left Party are mainly engaged in pressure politics on the capitalist government, while blowing “pink soap bubbles” with their various schemes to resolve the housing crisis under capitalism. This is just municipal reformism, when what’s required is revolutionary class struggle.
Written almost a century and a half ago, Friedrich Engels’ pamphlet on The Housing Question (1873) was a polemic against the petty-bourgeois socialists of his day, notably Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with his push for home ownership by the workers. According to the Proudhonist, says Engels, “capital invested in houses shall produce no interest,” just as today R.I.O. today calls for “no profits from rent.” Engels goes on:
“But one thing is certain: there are already in existence sufficient buildings for dwellings in the big towns to remedy immediately any real ‘housing shortage,’ given rational utilization of them. This can naturally only take place by the expropriation of the present owners and by quartering in their houses the homeless or those workers excessively overcrowded in their former houses. Immediately upon the proletariat conquering political power such a measure dictated in the public interests will be just as easy to carry out as other expropriations and billetings are by the existing state.”
Engels’ conclusion: “As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labor by the working class itself.”
In the propaganda of the opportunist left over the housing question in Berlin, you will look in vain for calls for socialist revolution. To achieve “affordable housing,” at most they call for “socialization,” “nationalization under democratic control,” “socialist measures,” “expropriation without compensation” or even an occasional mention of “socialism,” but all without bringing down the capitalist state. Instead, they all seek to exert pressure on that state to resolve the crisis. Ultimately, resolution of the housing question can only come in the framework of a collectivized, planned economy. And as the influx of Swedish and U.S. capital into the Berlin housing market underlines, rooting out the parasites means international socialist revolution. ■
- 1. See “G20 Summit Police State Terror in Hamburg,” The Internationalist No. 50, Winter 2017.
- 2. A financial scandal of accounting malpractices that led to the 2020 bankruptcy of Wirecard,AG, Germany’s largest payment processing company.
- 3. In 2004, the Social Democratic-led federal government introduced the Hartz IV reform of social program legislation that introduced forced labor (paying 1 euro per hour) to qualify for welfare payments and steep cuts to unemployment benefits.
- 4. “Red-red-green” coalition = SPD, Left Party and Greens.
- 5. The Berlin police have repeatedly attacked immigrant “clans” on the pretext of a war on drugs, while fascist thugs regularly vandalize immigrants’ businesses, housing and cars. See “Germany: The ‘Neukölln Complex’: State Apparatus Complicit with Fascists,” The Internationalist No. 62, April-June 2021
- 6. SOL is affiliated with the Committee for a Workers International led by Peter Taaffe.
- 7.ArbeiterInnenmacht is affiliated with the League for the Fifth International of the British Workers Power group.
- 8. R.I.O. is the German affiliate of the Trotskyist Faction, led by the Argentine Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas (Socialist Workers Party).
- 9. Jean-Luc Melenchon is head of the left-populist party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). See “The Opportunist Left Hitched to the Yellow Vests,” The Internationalist No. 56, May-June 2019.