Article from the October 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
German elections:- Workers reject Neo-liberalism By Chris Loughlin
GERMAN election held on 18 September produced a stalemate "hung" parliament. In scenes more reminiscent of the Weimar Republic (the state taken over by the Nazis in the 1930s) neither of the two major parties has enough seats to form a majority in the parliament. Once the results began to become clear both Angela Merkel (leader of the conservative CDU/CSU) and Gerhard Schroder (leader of the ex-social democrat SPD) exclaimed, "I won!"
The reality however is that Germans voted to reject neo-liberalism, privatisation and a new government of cuts. After the rejection of the EU constitution by both Dutch and French voters for left-wing reasons, the real winner in the German elections was the left.
Merkel's CDU/CSU gained 35.2% and 226 seats, Schroder's SPD got 34.3% and 222 seats. Both parties lost more than 3% in comparison to the 2002 election and the CDU/CSU has yet to recover from the drubbing they received in 1998 when the German electorate threw them out of office.
Merkel's favoured coalition ally the extreme neo-liberals the FDP gained nearly 2.5% and now have 61 seats in the parliament. The vote for the FDP represents a sharpening of class polarisation in Germany and the illusions of layers of the middle classes in neo-liberal capitalism. Schroder's coalition allies in the last German government, the Green Party, fell by a half percent and now has 51 seats in the parliament.
However, while many Germans are horrified by the neo-liberalism of the SPD/Greens, they also realised that Merkel, the CDU/CSU and FDP represented an even more open and blunt pro-capitalist agenda. Up until a few weeks before the election, Merkel led Schroder by over 20% yet the result put them both neck and neck for seats. An element of "lesser evils" did play a part in the election as Germans said "no" to a vicious anti-working class government that would have been led by Merkel. This result for both Merkel and Schroder is their worst result for their respective parties in nearly 50 years, the last time their combined vote was less than 70% was in 1949!
Neither Merkel nor Schroder can now form a government, as they don't have the 307 seats necessary. This has resulted in much horse trading and elbowing for position but a "grand" coalition of the CDU/CSU and SPD seems the likeliest outcome. However a new coalition government may not be reached before the deadline for a new government to be formed has passed on 18 October. This would lead to a new election having to be called but this is not really likely to happen as German capitalism wishes to plough ahead with neo-liberal reforms without another election.
The real winner was the Left Party (a coalition of the ex-state Communist Party in East Germany and left-wing ex-SPD members). A new formation that only formally declared its intention to stand a few months before the election managed to gain 8.7% of the vote and 54 seats in Parliament. Now the fourth largest party in the parliament, the Left Party has a historic opportunity to fight the viciously neo-liberal "Agenda 2010" introduced by Schroder and the Greens. Just by standing in the election, the Left Party forced the SPD to at least try and adopt a leftward face, this did not work, as the German workers are not that stupid.
The Left Party was undoubtedly helped by the profile of Oskar Lafontaine (a high profile ex-SPD member who was a government minister in Schroder's first government). This gave the Left Party a bigger media profile, but there is also a certain amount of respect for Lafontaine, who is seen as defending the ideas that the SPD used to stand for. However, polls before the election put the Left Party on 11-12% and one reason why the Left Party did not fulfil its potential was due to the stench of Stalinism from the ex-ruling party in East Germany, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) being members of the Left Party coalition. In western parts of Germany the PDS are seen as unreconstructed Stalinists and some layers of German workers are rightly concerned about what role the PDS will play in the Left Party, as they have been involved in attacking workers' conditions in some states.
Whatever government emerges from this bombshell of an election it will not a stable one. Polarisation and sharpening class contradictions will continue to emerge as the captains of finance and industry call on the German working class to suffer more. Neo-liberal reforms are the order of the day, but society is in revolt. Yet, with the great result for the Left Party the idea of neo-liberalism being the only thing on offer is dead and buried. The crisis of German capitalism looks set to continue for another period.