One and All, NATO Socialists and Pawns of German Imperialism
German Left in Lockstep
in “Changed Times”
The parliament of German imperialism marches to war with “great unity.” Closing ranks in the Bundestag as all parties declared Russia’s military action in Ukraine “illegal under international law.” During the debate on 27 February 2022, Left Party spokeswoman Amira Mohamed Ali (at the lectern, top and bottom left) tells Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) that Die Linke copied and pasted many passages from the government motion into its own.
The following is a translation of the article “Die Gleichschaltung1 der Linke in der Zeitenwende,”2 in Permanente Revolution No. 6, Winter 2022/23, published by the Internationalistische Gruppe, German section of the League for the Fourth International.
In his government statement in the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) on February 27, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) proclaimed a “Zeitenwende,” a changing of the times. Accusing Russia of waging a war of aggression that was “contrary to international law” and “cannot be justified by anything or anyone,” he received, according to the official protocol, the applause not only of the parties of his red-yellow-green (SPD, FDP, Greens) “traffic light coalition” but also of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), the Left Party and some members of the Bundestag of the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany). When he then announced arms deliveries to Ukraine and the establishment of a “special fund for the Bundeswehr” (the German army) of €100 billion euros, anchored in the Constitution, to beef up the German military, only his coalition colleagues and the CDU/CSU applauded.
Speakers from the various parties then took the floor, including the Left Party (Die Linke).3 From Die Linke we heard the same refrain as from Social Democrat Scholz: “Of course, we clearly share the view that Russia is waging a war of aggression against Ukraine in violation of international law,” said the co-chair of the Left Party caucus, Amira Mohammed Ali. The Russian attack “cannot be relativized by anything, it cannot be justified by anything,” and Russian troops “must be withdrawn immediately.” Sanctions? “Makes sense” if they strike at Putin and Russian oligarchs. Weapons to Ukraine? On that the Left Party filed a motion reaffirming the previous, hypocritical position of all Bundestag parties not to supply weapons to war zones. But, she said to Scholz, on condemning the Russian attack there is “great unity among the democratic caucuses in this House.” That is why in the Left Party motion, “many passages of your motion are also taken over verbatim.” On NATO instigating the war? Or the fascist contamination of the Kiev regime? Not a word.
So, the “democratic caucuses” in the Bundestag close ranks. The parliament of German imperialism marches off to war with “great unity.” This war in Ukraine was instigated by the Western powers’ NATO military alliance encircling Russia, ripping up its pledges that it would not extend “one inch” eastward, which was a condition of German capitalist reunification in 1990; by the U.S. and European Union (EU) staging a “color revolution”4 in Kiev in 2004 and a coup led by fascists and ultra-nationalists in 2014, overthrowing the elected “pro-Russian” government; by holding annual large-scale “war games” to practice an invasion of Russia; by categorically refusing to give Moscow any security guarantees. After all this, what does Die Linke do? It endorses NATO’s argument for war against Russia. In short: the Left Party, social democrats of the second mobilization, are also social-imperialists, like their big brothers the SPD, only with a wafer-thin pacifist fig leaf.
It was only the ultra-rightist Alternative for Germany that even mentioned the extension of NATO to Russia’s border; that the German government used “false promises” to Ukraine to “lure [it] into the EU and NATO”; that Berlin had been financing Ukraine for the last eight years, and that the government, as well as Scholz personally (as vice-chancellor of the 2018-2021 Grand Coalition led by Angela Merkel), bear “joint responsibility” for the war. Of course, for the fascistic AfD, such “antiwar” tones serve as window dressing for their racist hate campaign against refugees and multiculturalism, and for their call for the “biggest rearmament offensive since the Second World War,” extending far beyond the €100 billion. And, of course, these arch-reactionaries also label the Russian war a “breach of international law.”
Left Party Wedding (Berlin) branch at massive 27 February 2022 demonstration against Russian invasion of Ukraine and for “solidarity” with Ukraine, hence with its fascist-infested government and armed forces.
In reality, “international law” is pure fiction. “Wars of aggression” are forbidden? And the wars of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, Afghanistan (with German participation) and Iraq? State borders must never be changed by military force? So what about the destruction of multinational Yugoslavia, starting with Berlin’s recognition of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991, and the massive shipment of arms from Germany to the fascistic Croatian government of Franjo Tudjman? Breakaway territories (like Donetsk and Lugansk) are not allowed to “unilaterally” exit an internationally recognized state, especially with “foreign” military support? And the birth of an ethnic Albanian state of Kosovo, with the help of US/NATO military midwives? Of course, the U.S. never speaks of “international law,” only of a “rules-based world order” ... according to Washington rules. The United States has refused to unconditionally accept the rulings of the International Court of Justice since it declared the U.S.-contra war in Nicaragua to be illegal under international law in 1986.
While all parties in the Bundestag – bourgeois as well as social-democratic – were beating the war drums against a Russian “war of aggression” against Ukraine that supposedly “violates international law,” we Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International have underlined NATO’s responsibility for instigating the nationalist (on both sides) Russian-Ukrainian war. We called for smashing the U.S./NATO war drive against Russia and China, along with the imperialists’ anti-Russia sanctions. And as we have done since 2014, we reiterated defense of the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” and stressed the need to permanently stop the Ukrainian nationalists/fascists pushing ethnic cleansing of the Russian-speaking population of Donbass. Now that the conflict has turned into a NATO war via its Kiev proxy regime against Russia, we stress that it is the duty of all opponents of imperialism to defend Russia and China against the imperialist war.
In doing so, the LFI has given no political support to any of the adversaries, and has always called for revolutionary workers struggle against the capitalist rulers in Kiev and Moscow. Drawing on the Leninist lessons of World War I, we insist that the main enemy is imperialism, which must be defeated through the struggle for international socialist revolution. Thus, when a full-scale Russia-Ukraine war broke out, and later transformed into a NATO proxy war against Russia, the LFI acted firmly, according to criteria that we had already established beforehand. It has been different with most of the left, where the Russia-Ukraine war has produced the greatest confusion, programmatic wavering and political disarray in decades. The pseudo-Trotskyists cuddle up to pro-Ukrainian imperialist “peace” demos and try to cover their betrayal with empty formulas critical of NATO. The remaining Stalinists, nationalist opponents of Lenin’s revolutionary internationalist program, ask themselves whether Russia is imperialist or not.
Just imagine: the imperialists are waging a war in Europe, and while the social-imperialists in government (SPD), together with the Green warmongers, are driving it forward, they are “critically” (or uncritically) accompanied by the social-imperialists on stand-by, while other leftists are paralyzed! Their reformist policies of various hues, and their inveterate opportunism, forbid them to say the essential thing: “the main enemy is at home.” And, precisely because it is impossible for them to wage revolutionary class struggle against the imperialist enemy, this capitulation creates the ignominious situation in which it is the far right that is leading antiwar protests! To combat this conspicuous collapse of the left, a tenacious programmatic struggle is needed to forge the nucleus of an authentically Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party of the working class capable of fighting for the liberation of all the oppressed – through international socialist revolution.
Die Linke on War Course
While the main agent of pro-imperialist German social democracy, the SPD, is directly driving the murderous slaughter from its position in the government, the Left Party, an auxiliary and junior social democracy, is still formally in opposition – at least at the federal level.5 But instead of mounting a real resistance, it is the antithesis of that. Various leftists in and around the Left Party want it to play the role of an opposition more credibly. However, their dancing around Die Linke’s shadow opposition is only a charade on the grand stage of class betrayal. The Left Party – along with its supporters – is fulfilling its actual reason for existence: its role in preventing and aborting the rebirth of a proletarian revolutionary movement. It seeks to keep the lid on the churning pot of workers’ unrest over capitalist crises and binds the working class to the imperialist war course. It cannot be ruled out that Die Linke could be part of a future federal government if its services were needed to quell labor unrest or if war fatigue increased.
The pro-NATO forces emerged strengthened from the Left Party conference held in Erfurt at the end of June 2022; Die Linke’s pro-imperialist course in the Ukraine-Russia war was not altered, receiving majority support with “alternatives” to arms deliveries. The debate centered on the party executive’s Motion 3, “Stop Wars and Rearmament.” It blamed Russia alone for the war in Ukraine, called for withdrawal of Russian troops and made suggestions to the imperialists on how to improve and change their sanctions policy, in order to effectively promote regime change in Russia. It cast NATO as a military alliance that has sometimes gone overboard, which they had criticized, but that their criticism failed to say that others, namely Russia, were waging what it termed “imperial wars.” The Chinese deformed workers state also came under rhetorical fire in the leadership motion. And that was it: no mention of NATO’s eastward expansion and of the role of this imperialist military alliance in instigating this war.
To be sure, the party leadership did not accept a motion seeking to legitimize arms deliveries to Ukraine. That will come later, as a prerequisite demanded by the bourgeoisie before they let Die Linke lay hands on government affairs. Moreover, as said above, this refusal only reaffirms the conventional policy of German imperialism from the pre-February 24 epoch. In any case, the openly warmongering forces within the Left Party are growing beyond Gregor Gysi6: now the Berlin chairwoman and newly elected deputy party chair are among them. By accusing Russia of pursuing an “imperialist policy,” Die Linke wants to suppress a fight against the real imperialists and their NATO military alliance, and in particular against German imperialism. Alluding to Clausewitz’s statement that war is the continuation of politics by other means, Die Linke believes that “war must not be a means of politics.” In reality, one has to say that the politics of the Left Party are the continuation of the NATO war in Ukraine by other, “anti-militarist,” means.
Die Linke “peace tank,” at 14 April 2022 rally in Neubrandenburg, where Left Party Bundestag caucus co-chair Dietmar Bartsch spoke. Bartsch wants to rush Ukraine into the European Union. It was precisely the lure of Ukrainian membership in the EU that triggered the nationalist/fascist Kiev coup of 2014.
In addition, the co-chair of the Left Party, Janine Wissler, an ex-pseudo-Trotskyist in the tradition of the renegade Tony Cliff, called for sanctions against Russian elites and also for a cap on gas prices in order to make the ban on Russian natural gas more bearable. For his part, the co-chairman of the Left Party caucus in the Bundestag, Dietmar Bartsch, wanted fast, serious negotiations for Ukraine to join the European Union. With the EU’s austerity demands, this will hit Ukrainian working people hard, and would complete Ukraine’s economic uncoupling from Russia, which was a purpose of the far-right Maidan coup of 2014. Basically, the policy of the Left Party aims to improve the war policies of German imperialism. With its “fight” for participation in the government, it wants to help shape and co-manage the austerity policy, the deportation policy and the war policy. It wants to have its hand on the levers of the repressive organs of the ruling class to suppress the oppressed classes. The politics of Die Linke are simply class betrayal.
This quite openly pro-imperialist, pro-NATO course did not go unchallenged, but in all critical votes the Left Party leadership was able to clearly assert itself against the critics of NATO in its own ranks. Moreover, the NATO critics are by no means genuine anti-imperialists or socialists, much less revolutionaries. The replacement motion, tabled by Left MEP Özlem Demirel, received 42% of the votes at the party congress. But the differences with the party leadership can only be discerned with a magnifying glass. The motion begins by declaring, “No to Russia’s war – for immediate withdrawal of troops.” The “Russian war of aggression” is classified as “contrary to international law,” it proclaims “solidarity” with “the Ukrainians who are defending themselves against the Russian attack” – i.e., with the Ukrainian army, including fascist units like the Azov Battalion. Although it talks of NATO’s “shared responsibility,” this has to do with the conflict with Russia that “preceded” the war, while it blames Putin alone for the war.
The left dissidents are obviously trying to maintain their good reputation – and in the case of some, their paid offices – in the face of the very latest knock-out epithet, “Putinversteher,” Putin understander. Moreover, their motion declares support for the “‘Appeal: No to War!’ and mobilizations of the peace movement.” The appeal, initiated by Die Linke and SPD members, expresses their unity “with the hundreds of thousands of people who after the start of the war ... took to the streets to express their outrage at Putin’s war,” and their “solidarity with the Ukrainian population”: “Together with them we demonstrated against Putin’s war and for peace.” Although the appeal declares that “massive rearmament of the Bundeswehr does not help the people in Ukraine” and it criticizes the “acquisition of conventional weapons,” the huge demonstrations, full of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, have pleaded for such a rearmament. With all their pseudo-pacifist rhetoric, these anti-Russian “peace” demonstrations serve only as propaganda for the imperialist war machine.
A revolutionary response to the suffering and justified pacifist sentiments of the broad masses of working people, in Ukraine and elsewhere, would organize anger at the consequences of the imperialist war on a class basis. In Germany it would call for the abolition of imperialist sanctions, for the import of Russian gas (put Nord Stream II into operation) and for workers’ actions against arms deliveries and militarization. Above all, it would call for defeat of the imperialist warmongers whose eastward expansion of NATO prepared the present war and whose refusal to give Russia any security guarantees triggered the war. A party that makes such demands and translates them into action would not be welcome in capitalist parliaments, but it could lead a revolutionary struggle against this imperialist war.
Leftists in Die Linke Called Up to the Anti-Russia Front
Then there is the hodgepodge of smaller groupings in and around Die Linke, several of which falsely pose as Trotskyists, even though their pro-imperialist policies are the opposite of Leon Trotsky’s uncompromising struggle against imperialism. Let’s briefly consider the positions of these groups on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Antikapitalistische Linke (AKL, Anti-Capitalist Left):7 “Russia’s war against Ukraine is a war of aggression against a sovereign country. This war is contrary to international law!... The AKL ... demands the immediate withdrawal of all troops and the cessation of all acts of war. This war is an imperialist war by a capitalist regional power against a smaller state.” (AKL Resolution, 10 April 2022)
Gruppe ArbeiterInnenmacht (GAM, Workers’ Power Group):8 “Immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine! Recognition of Ukrainian independence and statehood by Moscow! No support for Western economic sanctions against Russia! For workers action to stop the supply of arms and ammunition to all warmongers while the aggression continues!” (Statement by the League for the Fifth International, 24 February 2022)
Internationale Sozialistische Organisation (ISO):9 “To end this war, Putin’s regime must be sanctioned and Ukraine must be supported in resisting the aggression. Immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from all of Ukraine, including territories occupied since 2014. Solidarity and support for the armed and unarmed resistance of the Ukrainian people. Arms supplies at the request of the Ukrainian people in the fight against the Russian invasion of their territory.” (Statement of the International Bureau of the ICFI, 1 March 2022)
Marx21:10 “The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was an act of imperialist aggression and a violation of the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination. For Ukrainians it is a war of national self-defense. At the same time, it is a proxy war against Russia on the part of the Western imperialist powers, led by the U.S. and organized through NATO. We are against both imperialist powers.” (IST statement on the war in Ukraine, 15 March 2022)
Sozialistische Alternative (SAV):11 “No to the war in Ukraine! For the right of the people of Ukraine to decide their own future, including the right of self-determination for minorities! For the return of Russian troops to barracks in Russia and the withdrawal of all NATO troops from Eastern Europe. No trust in the ‘peacekeeping’ imperialist forces involved!” (Statement by International Socialist Alternative, 24 February 2022)
Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (SOL):12 “Stop the war in Ukraine. Withdrawal of Russian troops and end of bombing. Withdrawal of NATO troops from Eastern Europe. Build the international movement of workers and youth against the war.” (Statement of the Committee for a Workers’ International, 24 February 2022)
Sozialistische Zeitung (SoZ, Socialist Newspaper):13 “The Russian attack on Ukraine must be roundly rejected as an imperialist act.… Nothing can justify the aggression – not even the active encirclement policy on the part of NATO, which actually forms the background for the Russian actions.” (Sozialistische Zeitung, 15 March 2022)
As you see, these positions are strikingly similar. Some call for arms deliveries to Ukraine (which can only come from NATO), others for the withdrawal of NATO troops from Eastern Europe (a little late for that, a solid dozen Eastern European countries are already members of NATO). But they unanimously ascribe sole responsibility for the war to Putin and Russia, and call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, while most support the Ukrainian “resistance,” i.e., Kiev’s armed forces. In so doing, these pseudo-Trotskyists agree with the Left Party’s NATO socialists and join in the anti-Russia hue and cry whipped up by Western media.
This has been noticed by parts of the bourgeois press, e.g., taz (Die Tageszeitung), the daily newspaper close to the Greens . The taz complains:
“Resistance to rethinking is currently to be found in many texts and verbal interventions, all of which follow a similar structure. At the beginning they condemn Vladimir Putin as an aggressor, usually with the sentence: ‘This war of aggression cannot be excused by anything.’ Then follows a big but – and the same phrases that have been used for all these years….”
– “The left and the Ukraine war: the NATO-was-at-fault left,” Die Tageszeitung, 8 March 2022
The warmongers have noticed the pro-imperialist “blueshift”14 of today’s not-so-far-left left. But they require more. They demand the complete Gleichschaltung (regimentation) of the left: “Let’s not have any bellyaching when eating crow,15 comrades!”
RIO: Pied Piper of Reformists in Die Linke
Naturally, there is friction among the different brands of the left in and around Die Linke. Some still want to hide their surrender behind a fig leaf, others are utterly shameless, like supporters of the anti-Trotskyist “International Bureau of the Fourth International” who claim that joining NATO is exclusively “the business of the Ukrainian people” (instead of fighting against Ukraine joining the imperialist military alliance). For revolutionary communists based on the program of Lenin and Trotsky, there is no point in rooting around in this swamp, whose denizens have long since adopted the logic of reformism. The right-centrist Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (RIO), German offshoot of the misnamed Trotskyist Fraction, thinks otherwise, constantly proposing blocs, fronts, or even a common organization with these impostors. Now that Die Linke is clearly facing a split, RIO is stepping up its maneuvering in this milieu.
As early as the fall of 2021, before the German federal elections, RIO started its campaign against government participation by Die Linke, offering the various left-wing currents in that party an alliance against the right-wing governmental course of the party leadership. This was a desperate attempt by RIO to keep the Left Party’s reformist project alive as a supposed opposition. Die Linke’s payoff for its pro-capitalist course was a miserable 4.9% of the votes in the federal election. Its presence in the Bundestag was only saved by winning three seats by direct election.16 This caused some ripples among the membership. But the leadership reiterated its course of jettisoning almost everything that differentiates Die Linke from the SPD in order to get junior partner posts in a coalition – or at least keep their posts in the red-red-green (or R2G) Berlin Senate (city government). (Now, due to problems with the 2021 election, there will be a repeat election in February 2023 in Berlin, with Die Linke’s shaky government posts once again at risk.)17
After the election, RIO’s Klasse gegen Klasse website ran the call, “Berlin: Why All Leftists Should Reject the R2G Coalition Agreement,” ending with the suggestion: “Instead, it will be necessary to continue to put pressure on the new Berlin Senate on the streets and in the workplace, the universities and schools.” Just refusing to participate in bourgeois governments hardly amounts to breaking with reformism. Only a few years ago, (Young Socialists leader) Kevin Kühnert spearheaded a revolt in the ranks of the SPD against the continuation of the Grand Coalition (GroKo) with the CDU. Kühnert spoke vaguely of a “renewal” of the party. In the end, the GroKo was continued until a new coalition with bourgeois parties could be cemented (resulting in the current “traffic light” government) and nothing else changed in the SPD, except that Kühnert became No. 2 (general secretary of the SPD). A bit of left-wing posturing in your youth can spice up your CV in the social democracy.
As we saw before the elections, RIO and Klasse gegen Klasse simultaneously campaigned for a rejection of the R2G coalition within Die Linke and for the creation of a new party slightly to its left. We see here the various methods of the reformist program in action as RIO sought to put pressure on the capitalist state: a) from the streets, b) from within a reformist party, c) from outside of the reformist party, and d) through a new reformist party. These continual machinations are a distinguishing trait of the Trotskyist Faction, which it learned from its forefather, Nahuel Moreno, whom it later disowned. These pseudo-Trotskyists are following in the footsteps of arch-Stalinist Maurice Thorez, who, as leader of the French Communist Party, brokered the popular front between the Socialists and the bourgeois Radicals in 1935, but remained outside the government. As Leon Trotsky observed in June 1936, when France was gripped by mass strikes (which the Stalinists betrayed in the service of the Popular Front), the French CP “wish[ed] to preserve an outward semblance of independence in order better to subject the working masses to the People’s Front, i.e., to the discipline of capitalism” (“The Crucial Stage” in Whither France?).
Since the Left Party’s latest electoral defeat (2.9% in the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia), it has been in an “existence-threatening” crisis (as party co-chair Wissler put it). Should it lose its parliamentary group status in the Bundestag and in state parliaments, this could mean financial bankruptcy. “They receive a lot of money for election campaigns, parliamentary work, political education work and party-related foundations (the Left Party estimates around €150 million in 2021),” according to one account.18 With a split in the party hovering in the air, RIO saw its time had come. In view of the involvement of Die Linke in the imperialist NATO war drive, they made another attempt to build a new “revolutionary” party together with all sorts of reformists:
“Therefore we are proposing to the AKL, the SAV, SOL, Marx21, as well as to the progressive parts of the Left Party youth and to all those currents and individuals who want to set about building an actual socialist opposition, that after the Left Party congress a conference be organized to take stock of the party congress, and to debate there the question of how, in view of the social-chauvinist and imperialist rearmament policy of the ‘traffic light’ government, a class-struggle, socialist and revolutionary alternative can be built in a break with reformism.”
–Klasse gegen Klase, 19 June 2022
But the experienced impostors of SOL, SAV, AKL, etc. need no assistance from RIO in maneuvering and posing as a “left” opposition, so this variant of its pressure-politics projects also failed to succeed.
In the fall, as far-right forces mobilized thousands of nationalist demonstrators against the war, the energy crisis, inflation, etc., and the Left Party’s “Enough Is Enough” campaign met with little response – partly because it was not antiwar – RIO published a call “For a Revolutionary Break with the Left Party” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 15 October 2022). With signatures from some current or former members of the Left Party youth group, RIO issued a call for a conference to draw the line on 15 years of Die Linke. In preparation for this January 2023 conference, RIO asked rhetorically, “Is a revolutionary socialist party to the left of Die Linke possible?” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 28 December 2022). Leaving aside how much of a following this initiative aroused, one must first and foremost ask what the hypothetical party is supposed to stand for. This article speaks of a “transitional program.” To get an idea of what RIO means by that, let’s take a look at its “emergency program” for the (stillborn) “Hot Autumn”19 (Klasse gegen Klasse, 3 October 2022).
Some 5,000 protested in Leipzig on 5 September 2022 (above), at rally called by the Left Party against high energy and food prices. To assure that the rally would not turn into an anti-war protest, the leadership brought in NATO backer Gregor Gysi (below), as main speaker. The party’s campaign for a “Hot Autumn” was a flop, while rightists brought up to 100,000 onto the streets in the east against the war and inflation.
In this seven-point program we read of a “price freeze now” for “gas, electricity, fuel, food, rent”; automatic adjustment of wages and benefits according to inflation; “expropriation of the energy companies without compensation under the control of the employees”; “social and ecological restructuring of the energy system and the entire economy”; “End the war. Neither Putin nor NATO. End sanctions and arms shipments. No €100 billion for rearmament!” Also “Admit all refugees! End of the system of holding camps! Against right-wing incitement!” Etc. So you have to ask, how are all these nice things supposed to come about? There is talk of “strikes against war and crisis,” which would involve “organizing among the rank and file of the unions themselves” since “the union leaders prefer to make pacts with the companies and the government” – but nothing about a struggle against the union bureaucrats. Various demands amount to begging the government, while the rest are just pious wishes.
This is not at all a Transitional Program like the founding document of the Fourth International written by Trotsky. There are no provisions that would serve as a bridge between the current demands of the masses and the goal of socialist revolution. How should a price freeze be implemented? It says nothing about union-based committees to control prices. How should the right-wing incitement against immigrants and the left be answered? No mention of workers defense committees. Who should implement the “employee control” of nationalized energy companies? The bourgeois state? Workers control, as conceived by Trotsky and the Communist International as a transitional demand, can only be achieved through workers occupying the workplaces. And on the key issues, there’s nothing about fighting for a workers government, socialist revolution, or a workers vanguard party to lead it. All in all, this is a reformist program that a slightly more left-wing Left Party could put forward.
But is this then supposed to be an “immediate program” distinct from the transitional program? That would be the dichotomy between the minimum and maximum program of social democracy. Especially around the war, the class question sharply stands out. “The war will not be stopped by NATO weapons” (!), writes RIO, addressing “opponents of the war” (i.e., defenders of Ukraine) who seek salvation in the imperialist military alliance. Instead, these hustlers for a third way call for workers action that “simultaneously blocks NATO and Russia war logistics.” In doing so, they equate NATO imperialists with their targets. Revolutionary communists, on the other hand, call for workers action against arms deliveries to Ukraine in order to defeat the U.S./NATO imperialist war against Russia . In any case, the purported pacifist neutrality of RIO is wholly fictitious. With their perennial policy of chasing whatever “movement” is currently popular in petty-bourgeois milieus, these professional tailists often end up on the side of bourgeois reaction.
So too with the war in Ukraine. The RIO/FT are well aware that the enormous pro-Ukrainian “peace demos” are in fact mobilizing in support of the imperialist war against Russia. An article on the large-scale demonstration in Berlin at the end of February reported that “hardly anyone at the rally opposed the militarization of Germany…. In addition to a sea of blue and yellow flags, flags of the European Union could be seen everywhere” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 28 February). But “several hundred thousand people in the capital took to the streets.” “What is to be done?” RIO asked itself. Its answer: join in. So it came to pass that on March 13, when union leaders once again brought tens of thousands onto the streets of Berlin, RIO and other opportunist left groups organized a supposed “class-struggle and internationalist bloc.” But even here, they had to admit, there were “many voices in favor of sanctions and, in some cases, for arms deliveries to Ukraine” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 13 March).
Beating the war drums at “peace” demonstration in Berlin, 13 March 2022. DGB union chief Rainer Hoffman called for “strong sanctions” against Russia, while many participants waving blue and yellow Ukrainian flags called for more arms deliveries from NATO to Ukraine.
It wasn’t just “voices,” the DGB leadership that initiated the demo called for “tough economic sanctions” against Russia, and was only “critical” of (i.e., not opposed to) the militarization. Whether the left propaganda bloc takes a stand for or against arms deliveries and sanctions is beside the point. They take part in demos for “solidarity with the Ukrainians,” i.e., with the Kiev regime, which serves as NATO’s spearhead against Russia. These are mobilizations for the war against Russia, and RIO, with its “Neither Putin nor NATO” banner, goes along for the ride. The multicolored left opportunists are swimming with the war tide. These NATO auxiliaries have enlisted in the war effort and are making their contribution with pseudo-pacifist slogans to gutter propaganda for the imperialist assault on Russia. Even when it comes to smaller demos of the left, e.g., on May 29, called by the “Social Programs Rather Than Guns” alliance, this is only a dispute over the state budget, not resistance to imperialism.
ICL Tries In Vain To Mobilize Pacifists
The final link in this chain of lockstep leftists who have enlisted in the imperialist war against Russia (and ultimately against the Chinese deformed workers state) is the centrist International Communist League (ICL) and its local section, the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (SpAD, Spartacist Workers Party of Germany). As the Left Party leadership chases after the warmongering SPD and the party left bows to the leadership, the various reformist pseudo-Trotskyists are chasing after the left in the Left Party, while the centrist variants are hot on the trail of the reformists. As noted earlier, the RIO/FT has tried in vain for several years to lure leftists in the Left Party into one project or another for a slightly more left-wing party. And just as in the fall of 2021 RIO sought to foment opposition within Die Linke against government participation, in the spring of 2022, the SpAD brought up the rear, using the same methodology, with an initiative, “Kick NATO Supporters Out of Die Linke.”
As a reminder, the ICL (and before it, the international Spartacist tendency) was the embodiment of revolutionary Trotskyism for three decades, until the mid-1990s, when, following the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and allied Eastern European bureaucratically deformed workers states including East Germany, the ICL succumbed to the wave of defeatism within the left worldwide.20 The founders of the League for the Fourth International and the Internationalist Group were cadres expelled from the ICL in 1996-1997. The latter-day ICL abandoned the Leninist-Trotskyist program bit by bit until, in 2010, it scandalously defended the military invasion and occupation of Haiti by U.S. imperialism. During a year and a half of the pandemic, the ICL/SpAD completely took leave of the class struggle, not even capable of taking to the streets to protest the murderous racist police repression. Then, just as the bourgeoisie decided to abandon the lockdowns, these ex-Trotskyists suddenly discovered that supporting these measures (which in fact they were the only ones to religiously follow) is class betrayal.
Awakened from its long slumber, the SpAD/ICL took a look around and tried to orient itself politically. In doing so, it discovered a supposed conflict between the pro-NATO leadership of the Left Party and pacifist tendencies in the membership and tried to exploit this contradiction. It proposed to exclude open NATO supporters like Gregor Gysi and Thüringen prime minister Bodo Ramelow from Die Linke, even printing up a motion to that effect, and went to the Erfurt party conference with a banner that got a mention in some bourgeois media. With all this, they only made themselves look ridiculous since, as we have shown, the entire Left Party has embarked on the pro-NATO, anti-Russia war course. Not only that, with their super-sly tactics, they prettified pacifist currents and even German imperialism. The SpAD writes of Die Linke:
“For decades their position ‘against rearmament’ and ‘against foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr’ was compatible with the goals of German imperialism.... The ‘peaceful’ policies of German imperialism over the past 30 years have focused on the exploitation and subjugation of the dependent countries of Europe from Lisbon to Athens to Riga within the framework of the EU [European Union] and with the help of the euro, thereby further expanding its economic and political dominance in Europe under the umbrella of U.S. imperialism.”
– Spartacist, Spring 2022
During its long COVID sleep, the SpAD had obviously been struck by pacifist fever delirium and afflicted by a wondrous amnesia. It has forgotten Germany’s imperialist military deployment in Afghanistan and the massacre in Kunduz;21 also the First Gulf War in 1990, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the KFOR troops in Kosovo,22 the naval mission in the Horn of Africa and the Mediterranean, and the German armed forces in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Western Sahara, the training of the peshmerga23 in Syrian Kurdistan. Apparently all forgotten or unnoticed, along with German frigates in the South China Sea, “Defending Germany in the Hindu Kush” and the defense of German security and freedom in the “Indo-Pacific.” The fact is that pacifist rhetoric often leads to military action, much as the Social Democracy in 1914 suddenly forgot its ringing antiwar resolutions with the outbreak of the imperialist World War I, and as can be observed with the pacifist German left today.
Pacifism is a bourgeois ideology, and “peace movements” are by their very nature popular fronts built on defense of the capitalist foundations. As Trotsky wrote in an article in the middle of the revolutionary year 1917:
“Theoretically and politically, pacifism has just the same basis as the doctrine of social harmony between different class interests.
“English and American pacifism … provide[s] an outlet for the petty-bourgeois citizen’s fear of world-shaking events, which after all can only deprive him of the remnants of his independence; they lull to sleep his watchfulness by useless notions of disarmament, international law, and arbitration tribunals. Then, at a given moment, they hand him over body and soul to capitalistic imperialism which has already mobilized every means necessary for its end: technology, art, religion, bourgeois pacifism and patriotic ‘socialism.’
“‘We were against the war, our deputies, our Ministers, were all against the war,’ cries the French petty bourgeois: ‘Therefore it follows that we have the war forced upon us, and in order to realize our pacific ideals we must pursue the war to a victorious end.”
–Leon Trotsky, “” (June 1917)
That is why the high-speed Gleichschaltung, or regimentation, of the reformist and centrist left that is unfolding before our eyes is not unexpected news. On the contrary, it is the corollary of the policy of class collaboration that underlies both social-democratic and Stalinist reformism. For the same reason, the centrist maneuvers of RIO/FT and the SpAD/IKL have been failures. Parties and political tendencies built on reforming capitalism (with slogans like “social programs not rearmament,” “books not bombs,” “butter not cannons,” etc.) are inevitably inclined to participation in government, and in times of great social and economic upheaval necessarily succumb to pressure for national unity.
Internationalistische Gruppe at Luxemburg-Liebknecht-Lenin demo in Berlin, January 15. Signs say: “Defeat the U.S./NATO Imperialist War Drive and Proxy Regime in Ukraine”; “SPD/Greens, Butchers of Yugoslavia, German Imperialism Out of the Balkans”; and “Defend China Against Imperialism and Counterrevolution.”
The Zeitenwende, or changing of the times, that we are witnessing today follows on the heels of a pandemic that has rocked the entire capitalist world, it comes amid capitalism’s mounting decline, and now with the crazed war drive of the U.S. and NATO/EU imperialists against Russia and China, the escalating threat of a thermonuclear world war. Reformism is dead, peace movements are doomed to failure – and to transform themselves into war movements. Thus, the only way out for the exploited and oppressed of the world is class struggle, directly pointing to international socialist revolution. This was the program of Lenin and Trotsky, for which the Internationalistische Gruppe and the League for the Fourth International are fighting today. ■
- 1. Gleichschaltung was a Nazi German expression for the regimentation of the universities and other cultural institutions in Hitler’s Third Reich, according to which they all had to march in lockstep with the regime.
- 2. Zeitenwende, the expression from German chancellor Olaf Scholz has been alternatively translated as “historic turning point,” “change of era,” “changing times,” all indicating that the Russian invasion of Ukraine signifies that Germany, Europe and the world are no longer in the “postwar era.”
- 3. The Linkspartei (Left Party), or Die Linke, is a social-democratic party formed in 2007 by a merger of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), which was the successor to the former Stalinist governing party of the DDR (German Democratic Republic), the East German bureaucratically deformed workers state, and a West German offshoot of the SPD, the traditional party of German social-democracy. The electoral scores of Die Linke have declined substantially over the last decade, but it still has 39 members of the federal parliament and over 100 seats in state legislatures in eastern Germany, where it regularly gets between 10% and 30% of the vote.
- 4. The “color revolutions” were a series of coups d’état instigated by the United States to install pro-Western regimes in former Soviet-bloc countries (Serbia 2000) and Soviet republics (Georgia [Rose] 2003, Ukraine [Orange], Kyrgyzstan [Tulip] 2005).
- 5. The left party has since the late 1990s been in governing coalitions at the state level, including in Berlin until earlier this year, and still is in Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Thüringen, where it is the largest party.
- 6. Gregor Gysi was the main leader of the PDS since December 1989 when he presided over the liquidation of the DDR as it was swallowed by imperialist West Germany.
- 7. Led by the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) of Peter Taaffe.
- 8. Section of the League for the Fifth International (L5I), led by British Workers Power.
- 9. German branch of the “International Committee of the Fourth International” (ICFI, formerly United Secretariat), followers of Ernest Mandel.
- 10. From the International Socialist Tendency (IST), supporters of the anti-Trotskyist renegade Tony Cliff.
- 11. German affiliate of International Socialist Alternative (ISA), which split in 2019 from the CWI.
- 12. German section of the CWI.
- 13. Other supporters of the ICFI.
- 14. In physics a “redshift” refers to the increasing wave lengths of light, bringing it closer to the red end of the spectrum, emitted by an object that is moving away, while an object coming closer (in this case to the political “mainstream”) will emit shorter waves, the “blueshift.” The flags of both NATO and the European Union are blue.
- 15. Kröten schlucken, swallowing toads.
- 16. Elections to federal and state parliaments in Germany are two-fold, some seats awarded by plurality in the election district while others are distributed by proportional representation based on percentage of the national (or state) vote, so long as the party receives at least 5% of the vote. In the 2021 vote, the Left Party fell below this threshold.
- 17. Due to irregularities in the 2021 vote in Berlin, a repeat election was held on 12 February 2023. As a result of a decline in votes for the left, the incumbent red-red-green (SPD-Die Linke-Greens) coalition lost its majority and was replaced in the city government by a Grand Coalition of the SPD and Christian Democrats.
- 18. “Against the wall: Theses on the situation of the Left Party at the end of October 2022,” Junge Welt, 18 October 2022. In addition, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, as a foundation linked to the Left Party, received in 2021 €79.8 million in financing from the German state.
- 19. In September 2022, as it became clear that far-right forces were leading opposition to the war, Die Linke called for a “hot autumn” of struggle against escalating fuel and heating costs. But the campaign fizzled, mainly because it did not oppose the imperialist war and sanctions which sparked the inflationary spiral.
- 20. In 1989-90, the then-revolutionary ICL intervened in the DDR where it uniquely fought against capitalist reunification of Germany, including running in the last DDR election, on a program for a “Red Germany of Workers Councils.” The founders of the LFI played a leading role in that intervention. In 1990-92, the ICL also intervened in the Soviet Union fighting against counterrevolution. The latter-day ICL has since abandoned the Trotskyist program it fought on then.
- 21. During almost the entire U.S. war on and occupation of Afghanistan, from January 2002 to July 2023, several thousand German troops were stationed in the northeastern region, which the Bundeswehr was in charge of, supposedly in a non-combat role. In September 2009, the German commander called in an airstrike in Kunduz where two hijacked jet fuel tankers had bogged down. Villagers rushed to siphon off the precious fuel, and when the U.S. jets struck, it set off a fireball, in which at least 140 people were killed. See “ ,” in The Internationalist No. 30, November-December 2009.
- 22. The Kosovo Force (KFOR), is a NATO “peacekeeping” military force that has occupied the region since 1999 when it was effectively split off from the former Yugoslavia by U.S./NATO bombing of Serbia. This was the first time the German Luftwaffe (air force) engaged in combat since World War II. See “German Fourth Reich: Back in the Balkans Again,” , April-May 1999.
- 23. Peshmerga is the generic term for Kurdish fighting forces of several different factions. The forces in Syrian Kurdistan, trained and armed by U.S. and other NATO military forces, including the German Bundeswehr, are the YPG (People’s Protection Force), allied with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) which, however, is banned in Germany and other NATO countries.